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Chat: Rob Mains

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Monday August 21, 2017 1:00 PM ET chat session with Rob Mains.

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Rob is a feature writer at Baseball Prospectus and is probably in better shape than you.

Rob Mains: WARNING: DO NOT LOOK DIRECTLY AT THIS CHAT WITHOUT PROTECTIVE EYEWEAR!! (sorry, but you should've anticipated something like that)

John (San Francisco): What do you do with a player like Ryon Healy if you're the A's? He showed real promise last season shooting through the minors and in a half season in the majors last year. This year, he continues to show power, but everything else -- defense, on base ability, baserunning -- is lacking. With so many other DHs on the team or on the horizon, what do the A's do with a guy like Healy? He seemingly hasn't made adjustments now that pitchers have film of him. Is .250/.280/.480 a major leaguer?

Rob Mains: Yeah, things didn't really turn out there the way we might've though, eh? (Full disclosure: For those of you who follow my silliness, Healy was the 2016 Full Vogelsong Player of the Year as well as the must of August.) But he's pretty much the hitter PECOTA anticipated; we had him at .260/.291/.406, .253 TAv, before the season. He's actually been a little bit better, largely because everybody hits at least 20 home runs this year.

His performance equates to a .259 TAv so far, which is a little below average. That works on the right side of defensive spectrum, but not at the left end where Healy resides. We've got him finishing the year with 1.0 WARP on the nose, about half of last year's 1.9 in more than double the playing time. That's not good! But it's still a major leaguer.

On the other hand, it's not THAT bad. He has, to date, the fourth-highest TAv among DHs (assigning all of his plate appearances to DH, where he's played the most). That is, in case you weren't sure, totally nuts, Cruz, Encarnaction, HanRam, then Healy. Ahead of, among others, Holliday and Morales and Trumbo and Beltran and VMart and Pujols. So on a *relative* basis, he's decent for a DH. Add in the fact that he can play the two infield corners, giving him some defensive value relative to the bat-only guys, and he has some value.

But to your point--yeah, this is probably what we're going to get. (I should also note that FRAA isn't as down on his fielding as DRS and especially UZR.) He'll turn 26 in January, so there probably isn't a gang of development to go. And as you point out, on a team with Matt Olson and Matt Joyce and Jaycob Brugman and Stephen Vogt, he's a little redundant. Realistically, I'd expect him to stick with the team until there's someone on the farm who *has* to take his place. He's not old, he's cheap, and he isn't going to kill you at the corners. So he has value.

Ron (Texarkana): Rob, I missed the chat with hot Mark Barry, but I am hoping you can help me out.. Who has a better fantasy projection going forward, Stephen Piscotty or Hunter Renfroe?

Rob Mains: Ron, I decided not to mess with this one--I went to the source. Here's what the hot Mark has to say:

"I'd easily go with Piscotty. Renfroe will hit some homers, but he has a .285 OBP this season, so that'll limit his upside. I'd probably be willing to chalk up Piscotty's 2017 mostly to injuries, and he's mashing at Triple-A, so you could even see some production from him down the stretch this season."

I'm not going to override anything he says. The only thing I'd note is that Refroe appears to have a clearer path to playing time. But we all know what a bad hitter who gets a lot of PAs can do to our rate stats.

Alec Denton (Atlanta): As the latest reports make as clear as ever, it sounds like the Pirates have given up hope that Jung Ho Kang will be able to return to the U.S. and play out his contract in Pittsburgh. If I'm reading the information correctly, that contract calls for the Pirates to pay him $3 million this year and has a team option for $5.5 million ($250k buyout) next year. First, do you know whether the Pirates have paid him any of the $3 million for this year? Second, if you're Neal Huntington and you think Kang is a lost cause, can you avoid paying even the buyout for next year, or is your move to exercise the option, on the theory that you'd want Kang if his immigration circumstances change, but that you won't have to pay him the $5.5 million if he cannot return? Third, if Kang returns to the U.S. in 2019 as a free agent, what kind of offers, if any, do you think he will receive from teams? Fourth, I will gin up a wine question to atone for a three-part question about a guy who hasn't played all year and may never play in the majors again.

Rob Mains: Alec, I will try to give you an answer as long as your question. Even longer! And thanks for asking me this one in advance--I needed to a little legwork. For those of you just tuning in, you can submit questions for BP chats in advance by just clicking on the chat at any time once it appears on the homepage. Getting your questions in early gives guys like me more time to ponder them...

Kang is on the restricted list. Players on the restricted list don't draw a salary. So no, they aren't paying him this year. I'm not sure whether his presence on the restricted list voids the buyout next year, but $250K is chump change even to Pittsburgh.

Next year and 2019 are both interesting issues. As I assume everyone reading this knows, Kang is not playing this year because he couldn't get a visa due to his legal problems. Basically, South Korea didn't want him to let him go, and the U.S. didn't want to let him in. Heck of a guy! But here's the thing: He's a good player. In 2015, he was second on the team in TAv and fourth on the team in WARP despite only 457 PAs. Last year, in fewer PAs (370) he was first in TAv and second in WARP. If he were with the Bucs, he'd play shortstop (Mercer's arb eligible next year and will a FA after the season) ane third base (Freese is a FA after next season too, unless the team picks up his $6M option). And next year Mercer will turn 32, Freese will be 35, and Kang will be 31. So there's plenty of reason for the team to want him back, if he can get a visa.

But I'll be they'll pass. I'd guess that a future with Harrison (and eventually Ke'Bryan Hayes) at third, and Kevin Newman or Cole Tucker at short is more likely to one with Kang.

So if he were to return as a 2019 FA, I think he'd get a lowball contract--a million or two?--provided he has at least some KBO or MiLB experience to back it up. As for a landing spot, who's the Oakland Raiders of MLB? The Rays? The A's?

Dusty (Colorado): Is it time we start taking Wander Javier serious as a prospect?

Rob Mains: I'm not a prospects person. My colleague Jarrett Seidler is, though, and he's good. Here's his take: "He got $4 million out of the Dominican so I think we've been taking him seriously for a while! But he's good."

So yeah, take him seriously at will.

Sean99 (Chicago): Can Rogelio Armenteros be a mid rotation starter?

Rob Mains: Again, I'm not a prospects person. My colleague Kate Morrison is, though, and she's good. Here's her take: "I really like Armenteros, but I'm not sure he's a mid-rotation starter unless he demonstrates an improved third pitch consistently. Here's my report on him from earlier in the year. http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=31933"

BC (Urbandale): Josh Bell. How good can he be? Multiple time all- star? Peak?

Rob Mains: He's the best Pirates first baseman in...I dunno, 25 years? 30? Since Sid Bream or Jason Thompson or even Pops? (Note: This is an exceptionally low bar. The Pirates have a long-running competition with the Mariners to see who can trot out the crummier 1Bs).

I think being an NL All-Star at first is tough as long as Goldschmidt and Votto and Rizzo and Freeman and Bellinger walk the Earth. But that's not to say he can't be a good, solid player. I know some Pirates fans are disappointed by this year--I think it's the batting average--but he's exceeded our preseason projections for homers and WARP and his .291 TAv compares to our .278 projection. He's generated more power and less contact than expected, but the net trade's worked. His defense at first base, in my opinion, has been weak, but he's only 25 and fairly new to the position, so there's room for improvement. Ceiling? I'd say maybe 30 bombs, .275/.375/.500? That's probably not All-Star caliber given the position depth but certainly a solid, middle-of-the-order bat that'll stick at the cold corner longer than Pedro Alvarez or Gaby Sanchez or Garrett Jones or...

P.S. OPS with runners in scoring position, Pirates: Bell 1.004, McCutchen .926, Frazier .889. His 9 HR w/RISP is tied for 8th in the majors. I'm not a big believer in clutch stats, but people have to get past his .258 BA.

a.j. (las vegas): Which White Sox pitching prospects looks like they will stick as starters? Seems to be a lot of reliever risk.

Rob Mains: As Dirty Harry said in Magnum Force, a man's gotta know his limitations. One of mine--I have several--is that I don't know prospects. You are really better off asking one of the smart people on our prospects team. (I'm dyin' here, waiting for a baseball history question.)

Anyway, Jarrett was kind enough to give me this answer: "I just wrote about this last week. Most likely starters of the top guys are probably Dunning and Hansen." Here's a like to Jarrett's insightful piece. http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=32553

Trip (SC): My farm consists of Gleyber Torres, Vlad Guerrero Jr, Franklin Barreto, Austin Meadows, Scott Kingery, Mickey Moniak, Blake Rutherford, Michael Kopech, Mitch Keller and Tyler Mahle. Plus recently graduated Amed Rosario, Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier. Is there any positions or areas I should focus on as I work to be competitive in 2019?

Rob Mains: Trip. Dude. You're kidding me, right? That is a ridiculous farm system, and seems pretty well-timed for your 2019 target date. I mean, really.

Just to be sure, I checked with Scooter Hotz of our prospects team. His take: "I agree with your assessment. I would also add that with prospects, donít worry about positional need. Focus on getting the best prospects regardless of position. If you end up with a surplus of players at a position in the majors, use the trade market to re-organize your roster positionally. That will give you more value than prioritizing positional need over getting the best player available."

(I will note that Scooter and I are in a fantasy league together. I've spent the entire year with a surplus of OFs and a lack of RPs, and he had a surplus of RPs and a lack of OFs, and we never got it together to make a trade. So do as we say, not as we do)

Sean99 (Chicago): Is Jeff Hoffman a lost cause?

Rob Mains: Well, he's only 24. And he's from my neck of the woods (upstate NY), so maybe I'm biased, but no, I don't think he's lost. Rockies pitchers are...well, you know. He'd allowed only three homers in 42 1/3 innings through the end of June, and that wasn't going to last, and he's been really lit up (game score < 40) in only five games. My biggest concern: 25 K%, 7 BB% through 6/30, 13% and 10% since. He's in the zone a lot--his 52.9% Zone rate is 11th among 142 pitchers with at least 1,200 pitches--but his 26.8% O-Swing rate (i.e., chase rate) is 115th. That suggests to me that he's not fooling anybody with his stuff outside the zone, hence the reduction in Ks and the rise of BBs.

Given that four of his bad starts have come in his last six games, might it be fatigue? He pitched 104 MiLB innings in 2015, and 150, mostly in AAA, in 2016. He's at 135 2/3 so far this year. He seems a candidate for a move to the bullpen or a 10-day BS "arm fatigue" DL stint to see if he can recuperate and recapture something. He's not ace material, but he should be better than he's been lately.

ironcityguys (home): Should the Braves see any advantage in promoting Ronald Acuna to Atlanta in September? It seems he's ML-ready as a 19yo. Similar question for Nick Senzel and the Reds?

Rob Mains: More from the redoubtable Jarrett Seidler: "Well, he's only 24. And he's from my neck of the woods, so maybe I'm biased, but no, I don't think he's lost. Rockies pitchers are...well, you know. He'd allowed only three homers in 42 1/3 innings through the end of June, and that wasn't going to last, and he's been really lit up (game score < 40) in only five games. My biggest concern: 25 K%, 7 BB% through 6/30, 13% and 10% since. He's in the zone a lot--his 52.9% Zone rate is 11th among 142 pitchers with at least 1,200 pitches--but his 26.8% O-Swing rate (i.e., chase rate) is 115th. That suggests to me that he's not fooling anybody with his stuff outside the zone, hence the reduction in Ks and the rise of BBs. Given that four of his bad starts have come in his last six games, might it be fatigue? He pitched 104 MiLB innings in 2015, and 150, mostly in AAA, in 2016. He's at 135 2/3 so far this year. He seems a candidate for a move to the bullpen or a 10-day BS "arm fatigue" DL stint to see if he can recuperate and recapture something. He's not ace material, but he should be better than he's been lately."

Dudes, you're killing me with the prospects questions. "Rob, did Juan Gonzalez deserve any of his MVPs, and if not, who should've won those years?" "No, and A-Rod both years, arguably Griffey in '96 and either Jeter (who got screwed out of two other MVPs) or Garciaparra in '98." Thank you.

Rob Mains (Upstate NY): Dummy, you screwed up the answer to the Acuna/Senzel question.

Rob Mains: Yes I did. Sorry. Jarrett: Acura especially could use the cop of coffee to see if he's a 2018 MLBer but it does mess with service time if you care about aggressively manipulating that and it does cost you an offseason 40-man spot. Same with Senzel except I think he's a bit farther out.

tbdubbs (Upstate NY): Is there any hope for Maikel Franco moving forward? What's the best outcome for him?

Rob Mains: I was just thinking about the Phillies this morning. I'm sure that of the preseason predictions we made here at BP, my biggest whiff will be the Giants, whom I thought would be good and instead were terrible. But I have company with that one. I think I picked the Phillies ahead of both Atlanta and Miami. That one's pretty bad.

And Frankel's a big reason. Not the only one--the pitching been's a lot worse than I thought--but man, has he ever taken big steps back in each of the past two seasons. Best outcome, of course, is that he gets back to where he was as a rookie. But we have two seasons worth of a guy who, while he doesn't whiff too much, doesn't have the glove to justify staying at third nor the bat to move to the other corner. One ray of hope: He can't possibly keep up a .228 BABIP. So yeah, there's hope. But the current iteration isn't somebody who contributes to a winning team. I think he's a 1-2 WARP player--better than this year, not special.

ironcityguys (home): Are all the infield changes/injuries the biggest factor in the poor performance of many of the Mets' returning young starters- Gsellman, Matz, Lugo, etc.?

Rob Mains: Mets groundball defensive efficiency, 2016: 73.8%, last in the NL. Mets groundball defensive efficiency, 2017: 73.0%, last in the NL. They're worse this year, but only a touch. And Lugo's not a groundball pitcher. So while the Mets infield has been hit by injuries and characterized by some roster decisions that are, um, counterintuitive (the decomposing corpse of Jose Reyes leads the team in games played), I don't think that's the issue.

Matz and Lugo have had health issues, of course, and I was lower than my peers her on Gsellman--as you probably know, five of his eight starts last year were against the Phillies and Braves. No, I'd chalk it up to the pitchers themselves, with a footnote that I think better days lie ahead for Matz and Lugo if they can stay healthy (which, I know, this is the Mets).

Sean99 (Chicago): What kind of pitcher does Sean Newcomb evolve into?

Rob Mains: I know that in the Annual this year we said his upside is a No. 2. Not with a 13% walk rate, he's not. If he can develop command, I could see him being very good. But I don't see a lot of evolution on that front. He had three starts in June with a Game Score over 60 and he's 0-for-9 since. Yeah, I know, GS is not a super stat, but it's indicative at a high level. Right now he's looking to me like a Julio Teheran type of guy--talented but maddeningly inconsistent. Getting strikes is really a good thing.

Jeb (IC): Whats Austin Meadows ceiling?

Rob Mains: Jeb, this may become a really pertinent question...Meadows, as you know, has had kind of a wasted year. Came out of the gate terribly, starting hitting, then got hurt. I think he's going to be a decent major league player. He has all five tools, though--searching for the right metaphor--they're not enormous tools? I mean, he can do a lot of stuff OK, but not great. In other words--he's not going to make anyone forget Andrew McCutchen. Actually, he'll probably flash a better glove and arm than Cutch, but it's hard to see him matching anything McCutchen does at the plate.

Jarrett Seidler adds: "That's about right, he's never really put it together at the same time and we are starting to worry about the constant injuries reducing the talent."

Sean99 (Chicago): Has Trevor Bauer finally figured it out?

Rob Mains: I think that every time it appears that Trevor Bauer has figured it out, he'll overthink it, and wind up not figuring it out again. I know he's a delete-your-account kind of guy on Twitter, but when he's pitching well, I find him one of the more entertaining pitchers in the game. I just don't have confidence that guy will stay with us very long, and he'll go back to being the guy who had a 6+ ERA in June.

Sir Nerdlington (Colorado): How do MLB execs track who is on waivers? There must be an internal system MLB uses, no?

Rob Mains: I actually know the answer to this! I was on a long drive a while ago and I heard Jim Bowden or Jim Duquette (I think it was Bowden) on MLB Network Radio explain it. Yes, there is a internal system, with the list updated realtime. They were responding to a question as to whether it's possible to sneak a player through waivers, given that there can be literally hundreds of guys on waivers at any point in time. The answer was no, that can't really happen anymore, not when the information can be downloaded at any point and scrutinized by analytics teams--not some intern, a team of people--at front offices. The sneaking-through-waivers thing is a relic of the past.

Matt (Chicago): Longer term, if you're the Cubs , which young player- Happ or Almora- deserves to get the real shot at locking down CF, on a more or less regular basis? They certainly each have their pluses and minuses.

Rob Mains: I don't know that it's really an either/or. Put it this way: I think Happ gets more playing time, but Almora gets more in center. With 13-man pitching staffs, the flexibility that a player like Happ, or Zobrist, or Baez offers is really hard to turn down. So I don't see CF being necessarily locked down like it was last year with Fowler.

My colleague Matt Trueblood is really knowledgeable re the Cubs, and he chats pretty frequently. You should ask him this question and trust whatever he says more than I.

Alec Denton (Atlanta): Commemorative wine bottles are a thing, and they are a thing in the baseball world. For example, there is a series of commemorative 2016 Chicago Cubs Word Series champion wine bottles. If you have or would purchase a commemorative bottle of wine, have you opened it, or would you open it, and, if so, under what circumstances?

Rob Mains: THANK YOU FOR ASKING ABOUT WINE ALEC.

My knee-jerk reaction is to say, no, I wouldn't buy a commemorative bottle of wine. There are actually official MLB wines. Not making this up. http://mlb.mlb.com/wine/index.jsp And while I believe these are decent wines--I know the vintner of the Yankees Riesling, and it's a good one--I can't see paying a premium for wine just to have the bottle. Then there's the problem of storage: You should store wines with a cork on their side, which sort of goes against the idea of owning a bottle you'd want to display.

But then I remembered that in our den I have a commemerative box of Wheaties that my mom got me after the Twins won their first World Series. She also got me a lucite display case. So I carefully opened the box from the bottom, took out the bag of cereal, closed the box up, and put it in the display case. I've had it for decades. So I suppose it's OK to display a wine bottle.

So here's what I'd do. If the wine has a screwcap (which, by the way, is not a sign of inferior quality; I just wouldn't age a screwcap wine more than five or six years), I'd drink it, replace the screwcap, and then display. If it's a corked still wine, well, if it's a good wine, I'd VERY CAREFULLY remove the foil at the very top of the bottle--just the circle that covers the cork--then extract the cork, drink the wine, and display the bottle. If you do it right, the foil should be intact, other than at the very top of the bottle--from the side it'd look fine. Display at will. If the wine's not good, you don't have to drink it.

But to your question--on the website I referenced, there's a Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series Championship Brut. There is no way you can open a bottle of sparkling wine without messing up the appearance of the top of the bottle. You have to remove the foil, the cage, and the cork, and you're not going to be able to put them back together. So I'd just plunk down the $24.99 for a souvenir that I'd never open.

But I think a Wheaties commemorative box looks cooler.

Matt (Chicago): How soon can one of the Cubs P prospects help our their rotation? Any of those guys have mid rotation or better upside?

Rob Mains: And one more the Jarrett Seidler BP Chat, hosted by Rob Mains:

"Adbert Alzolay and Trevor Clifton are mid-rotation upside guys that could help in a year or two."

Three takeaways: (1) Jarrett is really good at this stuff. (2) All of you asking me prospects questions: Start a petition to have Jarrett do a chat. (3) I have no idea whether Alzolay and Clifton are real people. But I have faith in Jarrett!

Dave (Williamsburg): What does the future for Fernando Tatis Jr. look like? Does he stick at shortstop?

Rob Mains: Sorry, Dave, I don't know. Jarrett on whether he sticks at shortstop: "Probably not."

Rob Mains: Well, the queue's empty, and I feel an urge to go outside and fastidiously avoid looking skyward. Thanks for all the questions, sorry I couldn't help with the prospects, and my thanks again to Jarrett Seidler and Kate Morrison for their assistance. Enjoy the eclipse and the subsequent days as well. And let me say in closing that yes, the 1976 AL batting race really was insane.


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