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Danny Santana Is More Interesting Than You Think

The 2019 season was a respectable, if not particularly remarkable year for the Texas Rangers. Following a 95-loss campaign that cost manager Jeff Banister his job, the Rangers bounced back to a 78-84 record, nowhere close to a wild card berth but nonetheless good for third place in a loaded AL West. On the whole, it’s not a stretch to say it was a successful season in Arlington — 78 wins is an impressive total for a team that lost its two best hitters in July and had exactly two non-replacement-level starting pitchers.

That doesn’t necessarily mean they were fun or interesting. Outside of Lance Lynn and Mike Minor possibly breaking WAR, the most curious thing about the 2019 Rangers may have been the truly out-of-the-blue breakout of Danny Santana. In a nutshell, after a 4-WAR debut in 2014 bolstered by a .405 BABIP, Santana appeared to be an afterthought unlikely to return to being a big-league contributor, checking in at well below replacement level over the subsequent four seasons split between Minnesota and Atlanta. Santana signed a minor league deal with Texas this past January, rewarding them with a 28 HR/21 SB season, slugging .524, and posting a 111 wRC+ across 511 plate appearances, all while playing every position on the diamond past the pitcher’s mound. Quite the turnaround!

Then again, one can’t be blamed for not paying much attention to what Jay Jaffe called “one of [2019’s] most unlikely breakouts.” In the year of the juiced ball, a light-hitting utility guy more than doubling his career home run production wasn’t as newsworthy as it ordinarily would be. Besides, most observers appear inclined to believe that 2019 was more flash in the pan than an All-Star leap. Jaffe concluded that “ability to hit pitchers of both hands will keep him relevant on a daily basis,” while remaining skeptical that another 28-homer performance or .352 wOBA output is in the cards. “A high BABIP paired with a high strikeout rate and a sudden burst of power screams regression,” Jake Mailhot recently opined. Even Rangers blogs are less than sold on his place on the team going forward. Read the rest of this entry »

Six-Trick Ponies: Could the Reds Do More with Michael Lorenzen’s Tools?

Michael Lorenzen is one of a kind. We’ve heard plenty of his multi-faceted accomplishments as of late. As far as pitchers go, the guy can mash. He was a two-way star at Cal State Fullerton, slashing .335/.412/.515 in his draft year, while posting 19 saves and a 1.99 ERA out of the bullpen. In the big leagues, he’s a career .267/.306/.514 hitter with seven home runs in 116 plate appearances. The hits haven’t come cheap, either. His 14 batted balls this season have had a remarkable 98.70-mph average exit velocity, despite him only barreling one of them.

Lorenzen can also move better than most. His top sprint speed of 28.2 mph in 2019 places him in a tie with Bryce Harper, Shohei Ohtani, George Springer, and Jorge Polanco, among others. His general athletic prowess means he’s been serviceable enough to play in the field with some level of frequency, converting all eight of his chances in 34.2 innings split over three outfield positions. On September 5th, the day after his historic performance, he even earned himself a start in center field for the out-of-contention Reds.

His Swiss Army knife capabilities aren’t the only reason he’s unique. Lorenzen is an outlier on the mound as well. Lorenzen has spent the last four years as a solid reliever, working to a cumulative 3.48 ERA over 290 innings out of the Cincinnati bullpen. After a failed run as a starter in his rookie season, he seems to have found his niche working in the later innings.

This is far from out of the ordinary. But while failed starters tend to simplify their pitch mix upon shifting to the bullpen, Lorenzen has doubled down on his six-pitch arsenal, throwing each of his four-seamer, sinker, cutter, changeup, cutter, slider, and curveball between 7% and 28% of the time. It’s rare enough for any pitcher to have a true six-pitch mix, much less a reliever. I ran a Statcast search to find every pitcher since 2017 (when Statcast arsenal data begins) to have thrown at least six pitches between 5% and 40% of the time, minimum 250 pitches per season. Lorenzen still stands out: Read the rest of this entry »

Inside Aaron Bummer’s Transformation, or How to Make a Lights-Out Reliever From Scratch

A look at the relief pitcher ERA leaderboard yields names many baseball fans are now familiar with. Felipe Vazquez, Adam Ottavino, and Ken Giles have been in the spotlight before. The breakout seasons for All-Star trio Kirby Yates, Shane Greene, and Liam Hendriks have been well documented. Will Harris has been quietly dominant for multiple years. Even Scott Oberg had 200 innings of respectable relief pitching under his belt entering this year.

And then there is Aaron Bummer. Like most of his teammates on the White Sox who don’t routinely flip their bats into near-earth orbit, Bummer is fairly anonymous to the baseball world at large. Yet he has been without question the best arm in a surprisingly respectable White Sox bullpen, notching 49 innings across 41 appearances in 2019, posting a 1.65 ERA that is good for third amongst qualified relief pitchers.

Bummer is an outlier on this leaderboard in more than name recognition. The names ahead of him are racking up the strikeouts, with Yates posting a 14.58 K/9 to go with his 1.08 ERA while Hendriks holds 12.42 and 1.30 marks, respectively. Bummer averages a measly 7.88 K/9 by comparison. Few other relievers with such stellar ERAs have struck out batters at the low rate that Bummer has.

Bummer has largely accomplished this through an astronomical 68% ground-ball rate, surpassed by only worm-burner sensei Zack Britton. So how did this 19th-round relief-only prospect who topped out at 23rd on any White Sox prospect list turn into a ground-ball machine with one of baseball’s most effective fastballs? Let’s take a look. Read the rest of this entry »