My September 10 Sunday Notes column included Chris Antonetti addressing his team’s 2023 offensive struggles. According to Cleveland’s President of Baseball Operations, “The problem isn’t power, the problem is that we need to score more runs.” While I don’t necessarily disagree with the exec’s opinion, it is nonetheless true that the Guardians hit the fewest home runs of any team and finished fourth from the bottom in runs scored. Moreover, they finished 76-86 after going 92-70 in 2022.
I revisited the issue, at least in part, during this month’s GM meetings. I asked Antonetti’s second in command, Mike Chernoff, if the club needs to reassess some of its philosophies going forward.
“If you rewind the clock one year, we felt like we massively outperformed industry expectations,” Cleveland’s General Manager told me “We won 92 games with the youngest team in baseball. This year, we again had the youngest team in baseball. We hit a few unfortunate and untimely injuries with some of our starting pitching, but at the same time we transitioned three young starters in [Gavin] Williams, [Tanner] Bibee, and [Logan] Allen to the major-league team. We just didn’t perform as well offensively. So we don’t feel like wholesale changes are necessary. We feel like we have a really strong foundation off of which to continue building, but we also don’t have a lot of room for error as a small-market team.”
Industry expectations are one thing, in-house projection systems are another. With that in mind, I asked Chernoff if the 2022 Guardians outperformed their own projections, and if the 2023 club underperformed them.
“Projection systems are just loose estimates of what you think can happen,” Chernoff said. “Often you see things emerge in real time, and we saw our team come together a year ago and really rally around a new style of baseball and the youth of the team, especially after José Ramírez signed on long term. That was a real turning point for as an organization. I don’t think we’re stuck to what our projections are. We like to think about, ‘How do we put the pieces in place to see what can emerge from that group.’”
Much of Cleveland’s offensive-side-of-the-ball success in 2022 came from low strikeout totals and high stolen base numbers. This season, stolen-base numbers were way up across the league while strikeout totals were slightly down. Did a lessening of the Guardians’ advantage in those style-of-play areas negatively impact the team’s fortunes?
“I don’t think so at all,” opined Chernoff. “And we’re not looking, necessarily, to just build a contact-oriented team. Ideally, we’d like to develop power. We traded for Kyle Manzardo, who’s got a ton of power. We recently drafted Chase DeLauter, who’s got a ton of power. We just added Johnathan Rodriguez to our [40-man] roster and he’s got a ton of power. We’re hopeful that we’re going to have a balanced team over time.”
The three players Chernoff named certainly have the potential to add punch to the lineup. Manzardo went deep 17 times in Triple-A, added six more in an AFL stint, and has been assigned a 50 FV by my colleague Eric Longenhagen. DeLauter (45 FV) was drafted 16th overall in 2022 and is projected to produce far more than the 10 home runs he hit between the AFL and a truncated-by-injury minor-league campaign. Rodriguez, who recently turned 24 and remains relatively unheralded, banged out 29 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A.
Which brings us to “we also don’t have a lot of room for error as a small-market team.” Those words from Chernoff speak volumes. The Guardians had the seventh-lowest payroll in MLB this season, and there is little reason to believe that is about to change meaningfully in a positive way. Cal Quantrill was just dealt for a prospect, and with Shane Bieber set to become a free agent after the 2024 season, he could very well be next. When it comes to team-building philosophy, one thing Chernoff and Co. don’t have is the power to spend big. Limited by small-ball ownership, they can only do what they can do.
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Diego Cartaya is the top prospect in the Los Angeles Dodgers system, but that doesn’t mean he is coming off of a good season with the bat. Far from. The 22-year-old catcher slashed just .189/.278/.379 in 403 plate appearances with Double-A Tulsa. Displaying what my colleague Eric Longenhagen has described as “rare raw thump,” he did propel 19 of his 67 base hits over outfield fences.
I asked L.A. GM Brandon Gomes where the Macaray, Venezuela native is developmentally.
“Diego is continuing to progress this offseason,” replied Gomes. “We’re having conversations and diving into different areas on his swing and how to tackle different fronts. I think it does get a little lost on how young he is, especially for the level. While I know his offensive year wasn’t where he would have hoped, he took major strides in game-planning, in receiving and throwing, in leading pitchers’ meetings and understanding how to lead a staff, which are all incredibly important — some intangibles that you want to see out of catchers. So we did see growth in a lot of areas, even though the offensive performance wasn’t where we would have wanted it.”
Following up, I asked the 39-year-old GM if catchers are maybe less linear in their development, hitting-wise, than are players at other positions.
“I think so, because we challenge with them with so much,” said Gomes. “Our expectation at the major-league level is so incredibly high. Trying to set that foundation, you can only spend so many hours in a day looking at video, talking to pitchers. So they do get pulled in different directions. To your point, sometimes it’s not quite as linear.”
The Hall of Fame includes 22 men who have been inducted as managers. Which of them is the only one to have won an MLB batting title during his playing career?
The answer can be found below.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have hired Justin Horowitz as their new Director of Amateur Scouting. A graduate of Georgetown University, Horowitz has worked in the Boston Red Sox organization since 2012.
The Tampa Bay Rays have hired Buddy Carlyle as their new minor-league pitching coordinator. The 45-year-old former big-league hurler has spent the last seven years in the Los Angeles Angels organization.
Dave Stenhouse, a right-handed pitcher who appeared in 76 games for the Washington Senators from 1962-1964, died last weekend at age 90. An American League All-Star in his rookie season when he went 11-12 with a 3.65 ERA over 197 innings, the Westerly, Rhode Island native was the father of Mike Stenhouse, who played for three teams across the 1982-1986 seasons.
Rob Belloir, an infielder who played in 81 games for the Atlanta Braves across the 1975-1978 seasons, died earlier this week at age 75 (per Baseball Player Passings). One of 45 German-born players in MLB history, the Heidelberg native was drafted out of Mercer University by Cleveland and went to Atlanta as the PTBNL in a trade centering around Blue Moon Odom and Roric Harrison.
The answer to the quiz is Joe Torre, who led the National League with a .363 batting average playing for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1971.
Numerous players needed to be placed on 40-man rosters earlier this week in order not to be available in the upcoming Rule-5 draft. With that in mind, let’s look back at last year’s major-league Rule-5, which saw the first six picks either stick with their claiming clubs or with the teams they were subsequently flipped to.
The Washington Nationals took Thad Ward first-overall and the 26-year-old right-hander proceeded to pitch in 11 games and put up a 6.37 ERA over 35-and-a-third innings.
The Oakland Athletics selected Ryan Noda second-overall and the 27-year-old first baseman went on to log a 123 wRC+ over 495 plate appearances.
The Pittsburgh Pirates took José Hernández with the third pick, with the left-hander going on to make 50 appearances and post a 4.97 ERA over 50-and-two-thirds innings.
The Cincinnati Reds tabbed Blake Sabol with the fourth pick, then promptly traded the 25-year-old catcher/outfielder to the San Francisco Giants, for whom he logged a 92 wRC+ over 344 plate appearances.
The Detroit Tigers took Mason Englert fifth-overall and the recently-turned 24-year-old right-hander went 4-3 with a 5.46 ERA over 31 appearances comprising 56 innings.
The Colorado Rockies claimed Kevin Kelly, then sold him to the Tampa Bay Rays with whom he went 5-2 with a 3.09 ERA and one save over 57 appearances comprising 67 innings.
The LG Twins won their first Korean Series since 1994, beating the KT Wiz in five games. Ji-hwan Oh was named series MVP after swatting home runs in three consecutive games, and driving in eight runs overall.
Josh Altmann and Tyler Beardsley were top performers as the Australian Baseball League season got underway on Thursday. Altmann, a 29-year-old former Texas Rangers prospect who played indie ball this year, had two doubles and a home run as the Adelaide Giants trounced the Brisbane Bandits 12-1. Beardsley, a 29-year-old former Minnesota Twins prospect who likewise played indie ball this year, threw six scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts as the Perth Heat blanked the Melbourne Aces 4-0.
Elkin Alcala has eight saves and a 1.93 ERA over 14 innings for the Mexican Pacific Winter League’s Venados de Mazatlan. The 25-year-old right-hander from Cartagena, Colombia played in the Miami Marlins organization from 2016-2019.
Starlin Castro is 24-for-65 with a pair of home runs for the Dominican Winter League’s Aguilas Cibaenas. The 33-year-old infielder player for the independent Atlantic League’s Spire City Ghost Hounds this summer. His last MLB action came in 2021 with the Washington Nationals.
Trevor May mentioned some of his favorite players to watch when I talked to him midway through the 2023 season. The since-retired right-hander named Daniel Vogelbach and Joey Votto — “I love everything Joey says now” — adding that he enjoys guys who are eccentric and are having a good time. Two other players he named have lower profiles.
“Reyes Moronta with the Angels, who I saw when I was rehabbing in Triple-A,” said May. “Big guy, throws hard. His whole vibe. Joey Wiemer with the Brewers. I love everything that guy does. I don’t know if he knows that. He’s fun. He’s got Hunter Pence vibes for me.”
Jaison Chourio slashed .321/.446/.419 with a 132 wRC+ in 231 plate appearances between the Arizona Complex League and Low-A Lynchburg. The 18-year-old switch-hitting outfield prospect in the Cleveland Guardians organization is the younger brother of Milwaukee Brewers outfield prospect Jackson Chourio, who currently ranks No. 3 on The Board.
Oliver Dunn slashed .343/.455/.616 and swiped a dozen bases without being caught for the Arizona Fall League’s Scottsdale Scorpions. Traded from the Philadelphia Phillies to the Milwaukee Brewers earlier this week, the 26-year-old second baseman had 21 home runs and a .902 OPS for Double-A Reading.
Justice Bigbie had a solid Arizona Fall League season on the heels of a breakout year in the Detroit Tigers system. After slashing .343/.405/.537 with 19 home runs across High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A, the 24-year-old outfielder batted .292 over 83 plate appearances with the Salt River Rafters,
Who was the toughest pitcher he faced in the AFL? I asked that question to the former Western Carolina Catamount, and the two guys he named were Davis Daniel, a 26-year-old right-hander who made his MLB debut with the Los Angeles Angels in September, and Jack Perkins, a 23-year-old right-hander in the Oakland Athletics system who split the summer between High-A Lansing and Double-A Midland.
“Davis Daniel has one of those fastballs where you get in the box and it seems harder than what the report says,” explained Bigbie, whom the Tigers took in the 19th round of the 2021 draft. “I mean, everything he had was good. His fastball had good VAA [vertical approach angle], so it had a little bit of up-shoot. And he knew how to pitch. It was just a tough at-bat.
“Jack Perkins, who was with Mesa, is someone who has always been tough to hit off of. He was in Lansing this year, so I’ve faced him a couple of times. He’s another good arm. He was a tough at-bat for me, something I knew that I was going to have to grind out.”
Perkins had 15 strikeouts and didn’t allow an earned run in 12-and-a-third Arizona Fall League innings. Daniel had 25 strikeouts and allowed four earned runs in 19 innings.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
Baseball Savant now has a Pitcher Running Game Prevention leaderboard. Mike Petriello provided a primer at MLB.com.
How does MLB’s pitch tracking system work? Emma Baccellieri explored that question at Sports Illustrated.
Our Esquina’s José de Jesus Ortiz presented us with an explanatory list of the top Latino managerial prospects.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Los Angeles Angels right-hander Dean Chance made five starts against the New York Yankees in his 1964 Cy Young Award season. In them, he allowed 14 hits and one run (on a home run by Mickey Mantle) over 50 innings.
San Diego Padres left-hander Randy Jones had 22 wins and 25 complete games in his 1976 Cy Young Award season. He fanned 93 batters in 315-and-a-third innings.
Pete Vukovich went 32-10 with a 3.42 ERA from 1981-1982, his first two seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers after being acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals as part of a seven-player trade. The right-hander was awarded the AL Cy Young in the second of those seasons.
Bob Welch went 61-23 with a 3.21 ERA from 1988-1990, his first three seasons with the Oakland Athletics after being acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers as part of a three-team, eight-player trade. The right-hander was awarded the AL Cy Young in the last of those seasons.
Joe Torre had 2,342 hits and 2,326 managerial wins.
Hall of Fame manager John McGraw slashed .334/.466/.410 in 4,946 plate appearances from 1891-1907. Primarily a third baseman during his playing days, “Little Napoleon” batted .391 with a .547 OBP, and 124 walks to go with just 21 strikeouts, with the National League’s Baltimore Orioles in 1899.
The Milwaukee Brewers signed Sal Bando to a free-agent contract on today’s date in 1976. A four-time All-Star third baseman with a 130 wRC+ for the Oakland A’s from 1968-1976, Bando played five seasons in Milwaukee and went on to become the club’s General Manager from 1992-1999.
The Los Angeles Dodgers traded Pedro Martinez to the Montreal Expos in exchange for Delino DeShields on today’s date in 1993. The Hall of Fame right-hander went 55-33 with a 3.06 in four seasons north of the border before being dealt to the Boston Red Sox on November 18, 1997.
Players born on today’s date include John Roskos, a first baseman/outfielder who went 4-for-49 while playing for the Florida Marlins and the San Diego Padres from 1998-2000. His .082 batting average is fourth-lowest in MLB history among non-position players with at least 50 plate appearances, with only Frank Hemphill (.070), Mike Gerber (.076), and Fred Tauby (.077) posting lower marks.
Also born on today’s date was Steve Gerkin, a right-handed pitcher who went 0-12 for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1945, his lone big-league season. Terry Felton (0-13 in 1982 and 0-16 for his career) is the only pitcher in history with more single-season and career losses without being credited for a win.