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Nationals interested in Grant Balfour; would like to trade Drew Storen

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After a flubbed signing with the Orioles, free agent reliever Grant Balfour has recently drawn some interest from the Nationals, Ken Rosenthal reports on FOX Sports. The Nationals have a trio of relievers who could close, but as Rosenthal explains, they would prefer Rafael Soriano’s $14 million option for 2015 not to vest and for Tyler Clippard to remain in the set-up role. They would also like to trade Drew Storen.

In his second year of arbitration eligibility, Storen will earn $3.5 million in 2014 and can become a free agent after the 2016 season. Rather than explore signing the 26-year-old to an extension, the Nationals would prefer to trade him as he is coming off of his worst season in four years as a Major Leaguer. Storen posted a 4.52 ERA in 61 2/3 innings. However, he was noticeably better after returning from a demotion to Triple-A Syracuse from August 2-14. Between August 16, his first start back in the big leagues, and the end of the season, Storen posted a 1.40 ERA in 19 1/3 innings. According to a report, Storen added a quick leg kick and altered his arm slot.

As for Balfour, the Orioles claim they backed out of their two-year, $15 million deal with Balfour due to wrist and knee concerns, rather than his right shoulder. He is coming off of four consecutive seasons with at least 55 innings pitched and a sub-2.60 ERA.

Blue Jays reliever was a bike messenger a couple of offseasons ago

DUNEDIN, FL - FEBRUARY 21:  Matt Dermody #50 of the Toronto Blue Jays poses for a portait during a MLB photo day at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Dunedin, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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The Toronto Sun has a story about reliever Matt Dermody of the Blue Jays. Dermody made his big league debut in 2016, pitching in five games. Before that he pitched three full seasons in the minors, never rising above A-ball, before paying in three levels of the minors last season, just before getting to the show.

It was certainly a wild ride for Dermody after his time in the bush leagues. But nowhere near as wild as some of his rides in the 2015-16 offseason, when he took a job as a bike messenger in New York:

. . . four times he was involved in accidents, the worse being when he was sent head over heels on to the street.

“I was going down 2nd Ave. and I was riding behind another bicycle in the middle of the street,” said the 6-foot-5, 190-pound lefty. “But the bike in front of me decides to break really hard and swerves and I didn’t have time to react so I hit him and I flew over him and I skid on the ground and all the contents in my bag flew out on the street, traffic stopped and everything. I’m pretty fortunate I didn’t get hurt. I landed pretty nicely and kept working.”

It’s good that he’s fine and he can laugh about it now, but the story is just as telling as it is, in hindsight, amusing.

Dermody was a 28th round pick, so he didn’t get a sizable bonus. Not having risen above A-ball, he wasn’t making much money and, in all likelihood, did not yet show up too prominently on the big club’s radar. He was both incentivized to take a job that is super dangerous and allowed to do so because no one asked or, apparently, cared. This past offseason, with his big league debut behind him and a chance to make the 25-man roster for the full year, he has stayed home and worked out, no doubt with the front office and coaching staff keeping tabs on him.

It’s a nice story, but it’s one that provides you with a pretty good look at how major league teams look at — or, in Dermody’s case, don’t really look at — their minor leaguers.

 

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)
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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.