Yonder Alonso

Springtime Storylines: What did the Mat Latos deal do for this team?

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2012 season. Up next: The San Diego Padres.

The Big Question: What did the Mat Latos deal for this team?

We are seeing fewer and fewer blockbuster trades in baseball these days, but the Padres pulled one off last winter, shipping out ace Mat Latos and getting back a bunch of guys: Yonder Alonso, Edinson Volquez, Yasmani Grandal, and Brad Boxberger.  It was quite a haul, and given that it’s way easier to develop or attract pitching in Petco Park, it seems like a pretty winning trade for the Padres. But how much will the trade help now?

Well, if it pays off this season, it will probably be because the third most important guy in the trade — Volquez — returns to form after an awful 2011.  The real value here come in Alonso and Grandal, and each of them face some challenges. Alonso is going to have a lot of pressure on him to be a middle of the order threat, especially since Carlos Quentin will miss the first month or so of the season.  Grandal is going to be stuck in the minors for a while, it seems, as the Padres just extended Nick Hundley’s contract through 2015.

Alonso will at least get the plate appearances and hopefully the pressure and the spaciousness of Petco Park won’t be too intimidating. Padres fans looking for the Grandal portion of the deal just have to be patient and hope that the Padres can figure out how to turn either him or Nick Hundley into some other parts they’ll need in 2013 and beyond.

What else is going on?

  • While this team has been offensively challenged for a while, there are a core of good hitters here in Cameron Maybin, Alonso, Hundley, Will Venable and Jesus Guzman. But man, that park kills ’em all.
  • That park also helps pitchers, and that makes the rotation seem better than it really is. They play half of their games on the road, obviously, and no one in this rotation save maybe Cory Luebke impresses you that much when you take them away from San Diego.
  • Losing Heath Bell is a blow, but the Padres have not wanted for good relief pitching in some time. Huston Street will slip into the closer’s role and import Andrew Cashner will provide some firepower in support. The pen, as always, will be a team strength.
  • The Padres may not scare anyone right now, but they have one of the top farm systems in the game and that is the sort of thing that keeps hard core fans interested. My spies in San Diego (well, my brother) tell me that there is a lot of excitement about the organization as a whole, even if no one thinks the big boys will do much this year.

So how are they gonna do?

Probably fifth place. Nothin’ personal, man, but they just don’t have the pop and they don’t have the top end pitching to compete, even if it only takes slightly above .500 ball to be in the conversation in this division for most of the season.

Don Mattingly thinks pace of play can be improved by changing views on strikeouts

Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly sits in the dugout prior to a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles, Monday, April 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo
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Marlins manager Don Mattingly has one potential solution to the pace of play issue: change the way people value strikeouts, the Associated Press reports.

Strikeouts have been rising steadily since 2005. Then, a typical game averaged 6.30 strikeouts. In 2016, there were 8.03 strikeouts per game. There are many explanations for this phenomenon. For one, teams are searching specifically for young pitchers who can throw hard — like triple-digits hard. They figure they can teach them the other pertinent skills in the minors. Second, Sabermetrics has shown that a strikeout is only marginally worse than an out made on a ball put in play. Sometimes, the strikeout is preferable, especially if there’s a runner on first base with less than two outs and a weak hitter at the plate. Sabermetrics has also shown home runs to be the best and most efficient way to contribute on offense. Furthermore, younger players tend to focus more on power in order to get noticed by scouts. Unless it’s paired with other elite skills, a scout isn’t going to remember a player who hit the ball into the hole on the right side, but he will remember the kid who blasted a 450-foot homer.

Here’s what Mattingly had to say:

Analytically, a few years back nobody cared about the strikeout, so it’s OK to strike out 150, 160, 170 times, and that guy’s still valued in a big way. Well, as soon as we start causing that to be a bad value — the strikeouts — guys will put the ball in play more. So once we say strikeouts are bad and it’s going to cost you money the more you strike out, then the strikeouts will go away. Guys will start making adjustments and putting the ball in play more.

[…]

If our game values [say that] strikeouts don’t matter, they are going to keep striking out, hitting homers, trying to hit home runs and striking out.

Simply believing strikeouts are bad won’t magically change its value. However, creating social pressure regarding striking out can change it. Theoretically, anyway. Creating that social pressure is easier said than done.

There is a dichotomy here as well. Home runs are exciting. Strikeouts and walks are not. Often, though, the three go hand-in-hand-in-hand. A player actively trying to cut down on his strikeouts by putting the ball in play will also likely cut down on his strikeout and walk rates. There doesn’t seem to be an elegant solution here. Wishing for fewer strikeouts, walks, and homers doesn’t really seem to give way to a more exciting game.

Sean Doolittle: “Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans.”

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 25:  Sean Doolittle #62 of the Oakland Athletics pitches during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on June 25, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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In the past, we’ve commented on Athletics reliever Sean Doolittle and his girlfriend Eireann Dolan’s community service. In 2015, the pair hosted Syrian refugee families for Thanksgiving and their other charitable efforts have included LGBTQ outreach and help for veterans.

Athletes and their significant others have typically avoided stepping into political waters, but Doolittle and Dolan have shown that it’s clearly no concern to them. In the time since, the Syrian refugee issue has become even more of a hot-button issue and Doolittle recently discussed it with Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.

I think America is the best country in the world because we’ve been able to attract the best and brightest people from all over the world. We have the smartest doctors and scientists, the most creative and innovative thinkers. A travel ban like this puts that in serious jeopardy.

I’ve always thought that all boats rise with the tide. Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans. But if we include them, we can make the pie that much bigger, thus ensuring more opportunities for everyone.

Doolittle, of course, is referring to Executive Order 13769 signed by President Trump which sought to limit incoming travel to the United States from seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. A temporary restraining order on the executive order was placed on February 3, a result of State of Washington v. Trump.

Doolittle spoke more about the plight refugees face:

These are people fleeing civil wars, violence and oppression that we can’t even begin to relate to. I think people think refugees just kind of decide to come over. They might not realize it takes 18-24 months while they wait in a refugee camp. They go through more than 20 background checks and meetings with immigration officers. They are being vetted.

They come here, and they want to contribute to society. They’re so grateful to be out of a war zone or whatever they were running from in their country that they get jobs, their kids go to our schools, they’re paying taxes, and in a lot of cases, they join our military.

Around this time last year, Craig wrote about Doolittle and Dolan not sticking to baseball. They’re still not, nor should they be. Hopefully, the duo’s outspokenness inspires other players and their loved ones to speak up for what’s right.

[Hat tip: Deadspin’s Hannah Keyser]