Monday, March 31, 2014

Your 2014 Giants: All Together Now

Predictions can go wildly wrong, as things (or fate) happens that can't be anticipated.  However, we as humans love to do this, want this.

Here is my stand.  It is much like a plan.  No plan is perfect or foolproof.  But you have a starting point for what you think will happen, and based on that, you can have an expected endpoint.  Then you adjust from that as the season wears on, like when all the injuries hit last season, I downshifted my expectations on how they would do.  It's not all good, but it is what it is.  That's OK, we got two shiny trophies to keep us warm in the off-season.

The opening day roster has been announced.  Here is Schulman's which I liked since it was easy to read and take in:
The roster includes five starters (Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Tim Hudson, Lincecum and Vogelsong), seven relievers (Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez, Jean Machi, Yusmeiro Petit, Gutierrez and Huff), two catchers (Buster Posey and Hector Sanchez), six infielders (Brandon Belt, Arias, Crawford, Pablo Sandoval, Hicks and Adrianza) and five outfielders (Michael Morse, Angel Pagan, Hunter Pence, Gregor Blanco and Perez).
Bochy also announced that Arias is a starter, per se, right now.  He gets to start at 2B most of the time, but when Bochy holds Crawford out for select LHP, he'll start at SS instead, and Hicks would get to start at 2B. Bochy announced it as a platoon, so Crawford will be sitting out for a lot of LHP for that to be true.    Otherwise, the starters are who we thought they would be, except for Scutaro.  He also mentioned that depending on the pitching (L/R), either Pence or Belt would bat 2nd.

ogc thoughts

I think the Giants can win 90-100 games this season.  That should be good enough to make the playoffs, and win the division most of the time.

This is based on a variety of datapoints.  First of all, I used a variety of player projections, plugged them into the lineup calculator, then used Pythagorean with the pitching projections to get a winning percentage that I applied to a 162 game season.  Most of the projections worked out to 90-92 games won.  I think there some good chances to outdo those projections.

First of all, Sandoval is a huge upside (and downside) outlier.  If he's injured a whole lot, it could be as bad as last year.  But he's fitter this season and he showed what he could in 2011 when fit;  that's the huge upside vs. the possible, but not as bad downside.  But I expect an upside, but at worse, he should not be that much lower than the projections, which has him around 800 OPS.  But if he hits, he should be way over 900 OPS.

 Last season, we only had Belt and Pence as very good hitters, but if Sandoval and Posey comes through, we could have four of them plus an average one in Pagan, which we didn't really have either, as both Torres and Blanco were below average in his stead.  That would be day and night between the two seasons, offensively.

Plus, second of all, Morse can be an upside.  Frankly, I don't know what he will do.  However, with Blanco as backup, the downside can be tolerated if the other guys are hitting, plus this would give opportunity to other OF to show what they can do.  However, if Morse can be kept healthy, he had some pretty good seasons not that long ago.  Heck, he had a great start to 2013 before he got injured, he had 11 homers and a .789 OPS.  That could give us five good hitters in the lineup, plus Pagan, and I think Crawford is ready to break out at some point, though the platoon shows the Giants don't think so, not against LHP.

Third of all, Lincecum can be an upside.  With three good to great starters in Bumgarner, Cain, Hudson, Lincecum is our new Zito, who keeps the rotation going good at around 4 ERA.  He should be no worse than 2013, but if he can continue improving, he could give us four good to great starters.

Fourth of all, Vogelsong can be an upside.  Who knows what he can do.  Don't look good from spring training.  However, as I've shown from 2009-2012, the Giants had one really bad rotation slot each season, and still were among the Top 5 teams in RA during that period.  So there's no downside here, if he flops, we have survived that before with 3 good to great starters and 1 average 4 ERA starter, and that gives opportunity to Petit and Escobar to show that they can do.  However, if he can figure out how to return to his 2011-2012 performance, that is a huge upside.  Even if he can be around 4 ERA, that's still an upside.

Fifth of all, Belt should be an upside.  He hit really well last season, but after his grip change, he's been a different hitter, a much better hitter.  I will be disappointed if he's not over 900 OPS this season.  And I'm disappointed that no long-term contract was done with him, I expect his price to go up a lot this season, and perhaps that is why there was no deal.

Sixth of all, none of the projections look hard to reach.  If anything, they are conservative, and that's OK, it gives us a starting point that we can pivot off of.   Particularly with the hitters, like Sandoval and Belt.  The projections look easy to meet barring injuries, but could be easy to beat if hitters do as well as hoped.  If they just meet the projections, that's a 90-92 win season.

The 25-man Opening Day Roster

Not a lot of surprises.  With Scutaro placed on the DL, that gave Hicks an open spot, though he'll mostly be platooning (short of) 2B when Arias is playing SS against LHP.  Looks like he'll be the one gone when Scutaro returns.   With Affeldt on the DL, that gave Gutierrez a spot, as it had been pretty clear going into the final days that the Giants were going to go with Petit and Huff as the long men out of the bullpen, and Machi as the other reliever, after Hembree got sent down and Law, as good as he was doing plus being one of the last cuts, the Giants tend to not dump talent they like (such as Machi) when Law could easily be sent down to minors without losing a option or anything.  Still, injuries are regular in the bullpen, so expect to see Hembree and Law up at some point in 2014, and don't be surprised if they make the playoff roster, a la K-Rod.

And it was pretty clear that Adrianza had won the fight for the backup spot since Abreu was DFAed (he got through though and resigned to a minor league deal).  Even Colvin/Perez was pretty clear because Colvin had been battling back issues and Perez, while delivering his special brand of superlative defense, was also hitting well this spring.

The biggest surprise was the DFA of Kieschnick in order to clear a spot for Gutierrez.  He did not do well last season in his call-up - there was media notes that the Giants did not like his lack of aggressiveness with the bat while hitting, an odd thing since he's known for striking out a lot while hitting for homers - and he had not done well this spring.   Should he end up leaving, good luck, sometimes a change of scenery helps loosen up a player enough to play to his potential in a new place.

Some players come back, but I don't know if Roger will even be necessarily welcomed back.  The Giants have cleared most of the AAA outfielders except for Brown plus now there is Colvin there, assuming he accepts that designation (not sure what type of contract he signed), and perhaps Herrera and Parker will be promoted from AA to AAA this season, plus Dominguez needs a spot too (OF?) with Duvall and AnVil probably in AAA taking 3B and 1B, respectively (AnVil not as sure a thing for that, but it appears that he only has one more option left that will be used this season, so they need to see where he's at this season). In addition, Perez has been hitting well this spring and in any case, provides the great defense.  So the move, while initially shocking to me, seem to be logical given the above.

I've seen some worry about the starting pitching and relief corps.  And some of this is supplied by the beats, looking for something to write about.  Most of it appears to be wrapped around how poorly they have pitched recently in spring starts and appearances.

If the worry was about some particular mechanical thing pitchers were doing or worse, something physical, I would be more worried, but if it is just performances, there can be a lot of reasons behind them, including still trying out stuff, hiding your best stuff from opponents that you will see soon, psyching out opponents by letting them think they own you when you are holding back your best stuff (Greg Maddux was a master of that, from what I've read), maybe you have a cold or illness sapping your strength, or maybe your stuff just don't fly in Arizona air, or just plain bad luck in one or two starts, that happens a lot in baseball, the BABIP gods can strike back at any time.

In addition, at least Escobar is probably ready for the majors by mid-season, and I wouldn't bet against Blackburn either, if we really need someone.  And Crick when he's on, he looks ready (see the double digit K's start with no walks), he just need to be consistently on.  There could be a whole rotation of ready starters at some point in the season, with Escobar, Kickham, Crick, Blackburn, Blach, and others potentially stepping up.

I'm not too worried about Affeldt's injury.  He's a pro, he'll get healed up fast and in shape fast, as long as we got him for the last five months at full strength plus the playoffs, it's all good.  Meanwhile, it gives Gutierrez to show off whatever it is that made the Giants pick him up.  He was the former closer for the D-backs a few years back, so he has some talent.  Plus, there is Hembree and Law, both probably chomping on the bit to make the majors this season.

When Affeldt returns, I expect the cut options to include Huff as well as Gutierrez, depending on who is pitching better, and perhaps Machi as well, his spring was up and down.  I expect Petit's leash to last into mid-season, at which point the Giants would consider bringing up some of their young arms:  Escobar, Blackburn, Crick.  Weaver felt it was good to acclimate pitchers to the majors like this before handing them full-time starting jobs.  Though Cain, Lincecum, and Bumgarner seemed to have little problems fitting in.

I'm not too worried about Scutaro's injury either.  We have more than enough hitters to make up for that, this is not like 2009 where our offense was anemic.  I would like to see the Giants give Adrianza a chance to show off what he can do.  Arias appears to have gotten the first nod since he's the pro and got the contract, but if he falters, Adrianza could be taking that role in May sometime.  The lineup should be able to cover for any offensive issues here, and if Scutaro can come back healthy enough, he could boost the lineup even more, like in 2012.  And, in any case, there seems to be a steady supply of aging, long in the tooth secondbasemen who has one last gasp in their bats, to help propel the Giants to their championships.

Overall 2014 Season

So given that the lineup calculator puts the offense calculator puts the lineup to be above average, and the upsides noted above, I feel pretty safe to say that the Giants should win 90-92 games this season, which usually is enough to win an NL division title.  But if things go our way, which I think a number of them should, like Sandoval and one of Lincecum/Vogelsong, I would not be surprised by 95+ wins.  In fact, I think there's a good chance that they will be closer to 100 wins than 90 wins, and remind us of the 2003 season, when we led from start to finish (obviously won't happen this season since LA already is 2-1).

More importantly, the rotation looks pretty good for bear in the playoffs.  We should have three good to great starters at minimum, with Bumgarner, Cain, Hudson, and my hope is that Lincecum would have made the full conversion to pitcher and not thrower by the end of season.  He still has the stuff to strike out guys, when necessary, but if converted, now more importantly knows where NOT to throw the pitch to each hitter.  Vogelsong being good, in the playoffs, is not necessary if the other four are going good.  If he turns things around, either he or Lincecum would be a great super-utility long reliever, like Lincecum was in 2012.

I wasn't afraid of the Dodgers during the off-season and with Kershaw going on the 15-day DL, that makes my stance even stronger.  Remember, they were mostly the same team they were when they were many games under .500 in late June last season.  Then suddenly Hanley came in and got hotter than he has been since 2009 (I would call fluke, his BABIP was .363 last season, about 30 over his career, 60 over his BABIP for 2010-2012).  And you combine it with a rotation that had an ERA under 2 and a bulllpen with ERA under 1, for two months, that's how you go 42-8 and take over the division.  I'm willing to bet that doesn't happen again.  And Puig, after his hot start, batted just slightly over .800 OPS, which is still good, just not GREAT.  And he has had a bad start to this season.

Same for the D-backs before they lost their ace Corbin for the season to TJS.  They were a legit .500 team last season and Trumbo, Arroyo, and Reed won't change that much with Corbin out.  And I don't think there's any reason to be afraid of either the Rockies or Padres, they were much under .500 last season and did nothing big to take a jump up, though they do have some young stars who are taking their next step upward, but that's not usually exponential jumps that they will need to reach 90 wins and be playoff competitive, especially the Rockies who were last last season.  And the Padres lost Maybin and Johnson for extended periods, two key players to any hopes they have of making the playoffs.

So the D-backs, Rockies and Padres are all either starting from a really bad 2013 roster and/or dealing with big losses in the injury front and thus the Giants should be able to take care of them 1:1, like they did last season when they were 45-36 (90 win seasonal rate) in April/May/Sept against mostly the NL West.   And LA isn't that far away from the 30-42 team that they were on June 21 last season before they went into warp drive.  Whereas the Giants have improved their roster by adding in Morse and Hudson to the starters, plus Cain should be back to his gold standard ways, and Posey has beefed up his stamina to last longer into the season as a catcher.  Only injury (knock on wood) can derail our path to the division title and the playoffs, I feel.

Addendum:  Giants Scouts and Coaches Rule!

I heard some of Krukow's radio show this morning.  People talk about how he's a homer but he wasn't like that in today's analysis of the new guys on the roster.  And I've never felt that way about him other in the general sense that he rooting for the Giants, but that doesn't mean he don't lay down some concerns about Giants players along the way.  He's just excited about the Giants generally.

First, he was very positive about Juan Perez.  Beyond his superlative defense, Kruk noted that he has made adjustments to his hitting and he thinks he can hit at least .280 in the majors now.  Second, while he loves Adrianza's defense, his bat's "a little long" so he's not sure if he'll ever hit in the majors, but sometimes players make that adjustment once they are up here and being easily handled by pitchers.  Hicks, however, he only noted how bad his minor league average was (.247) so his only plus is his legit power.  Makes it look like he's gone when Scutaro returns, whenever that may be.

About the pitchers, he had nothing really to say other than about JC Gutierrez, a lot of good point, about how JC has good mid-90's velocity plus, oddly for a high velocity guy, a true 12-6 curveball, not a slider or changeup, he seemed to really like him.  He seemed to have made the team only because Affeldt is out, but if he pitches well enough, it might be another pitcher who gets DFAed when the DL is over.  He could be the Vogelsong of 2014

So the Giants again picked up another guy off the trash heap in JC, and we'll see if he joins the long line of reclamation projects that work (or not, like Wellemeyer, there are misses).   I wonder sometimes how the Giants find these guys and get value from them, but it has been pretty clear during this great stretch of competitiveness that the Giants have a lot of good scouts and coaches.

From diagnosing Bumgarner's mechanical issues to diagnosing Belt's mechanical issues, talk about two great examples of turning a struggling prospect, unsure of when they are doing well (both of the B's have noted in interviews that they had no idea of when they were being successful;  the Giants coaches have helped them learn when they are doing things right).  As both has shown, sometimes players get in the way of their own success by not knowing how to be consistently successful or by not listening to their coaches recommendations.  And I understand that, after being successful and rising to the point where they are now, they can't just let go of that and make the changes suggested in fear that they will not be successful anymore. Kind of like what Brown is going through the past couple of seasons, before he started getting with the program and making the changes.

Or their scouts identifying when players have made very positive changes, in Torres and Casilla.  Torres changed his hitting techniques greatly - too bad nobody did that for him when he was young, imagine what a career he could have had with his work ethics.  Casilla apparently added a new pitch in the off-season, which the A's did not notice and thus why they let him go before the Giants snatched him up.  Plus, if that was all he needed to change so greatly, why didn't their coaches teach him that long before then?

And, of course, there is the study that found that hitters joining Bochy managed teams end up adding, on average, one win per season in improvement over what they were doing before.  In a variety of ways, in recent years, we have learned that the Giants scouts and coaches are pretty sharp in how they see talent and teach players on how to be more consistently successful.  Not all takes to it, and other times, you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, but these are all good examples of the skills that the Giants staff has in identifying and teaching talented players in how to bring that to the diamond every day.

11 comments:

  1. Wow, you are seriously optimistic. That is ~ a 15 game up swing, which seems hard to do with an average defense/ pitching and better offense. Sure, you have a reasonable analysis method but I think the data used was already optimistic. Your rose colored glasses view matches less than 25% of the crowdsourse experts (http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/breaking-down-espns-first-mlb-season-forecast/). The way I see it this is an 83 win team (but I lean pessimistic and my analysis is totally subjective). The pitching really has gotten only slightly better; Cain will return to form, Timmy will be the same (despite offseason changes), Hudson will be league average and Vogy will finally be done and his replacement will have typical growing pains). The starting defense is passable (because Morse & who ever is at 2nd aren’t) and the late game replacements are better, but their offense leaves much to be desired. I’m glad I’m not Bochy having to make decisions in the middle to late part of the game when the score is close and the starter has run out of gas. The offense will be better, how could it not be? Pagan alone will do that, Belt shouldn’t regress, Morse is better and the platoon should help Blanco. But those improvements probably aren’t enough to overcome the pitching and defense to allow them to win more than 90 games. It will be a fantastic season if your prediction comes true though.

    On another note, please tell me more about the analysis showing batters get better when they join a Bochy managed team.

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    1. I will have to dig it up, but I thought it was in a recent THT annual, but so far I can't find it. So I'll pass along this link, which I found searching on my blog for it, this discusses how certain managers bring value to their teams.

      http://obsessivegiantscompulsive.blogspot.com/2012/03/bochy-among-best-managers-ever-in-war.html

      http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2012/3/28/2908044/manager-wins-above-expectancy

      But since I can't find it, I'll stop referring to it until I can locate it again. Thanks for reading.

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    2. Well, as long as my post is, I've been writing on a number of these factors that lead to my optimism. And I would note that I'm not wearing any type of rose colored glasses, I would root for my team whether I project them to lose (like I did in 2007, for instance) or to win. My main objective here is to gather the facts that I can find and see where my expectations should lie, whether it be 70 wins or 90 wins.

      Crowdsourcing works in more objective endeavors, I feel, though it can work for subjective ones like this. However, I would note that most probably most of the voters are biased greatly by how poorly the Giants did in 2013, when it was mostly injuries that caused most of their issues, injuries that I don't think are likely to recur in 2014.

      I have noted before, when the Giant were healthy in 2013, they were 45-36, a 90-win rate season. My projection only relies on Lincecum being the same as in 2013, though on Cain regaining his form, but as I noted in my PQS analysis, Cain's starting quality took a huge leap in his last 10 starts over his prior year of starts, roughly one year after his no-hitter. That the poorer pitching started with the no-hitter, that can't be a coincidence. And I just used the projections for all the pitchers, which has Hudson probably slightly higher than average ERA for the NL, a worse forecast for Timmy, Vogie, and Cain too, so if Cain returns to normal, Timmy pitches like 2013, and Hudson is closer to his career norms, those are all improvements on what the projection systems are saying about them.

      As I noted here and elsewhere, the Giants had Top 3-5 rankings from 2009-2012 even when someone sucked, so if Vogie struggles, as well as our prospects, it's fine as long as the trio of Bumgarner, Cain, Hudson pitches to their historic performances, Lincecum pitches to his 2013 performance.

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    3. Oh, and you say that the pitching only got slightly better. 1) Bumgarner is getting better and better. 2) Cain should be much better than in 2013. 3) Hudson should be much better than what Zito gave us in 2013. And as I noted, 3 good plus 1 4-ish starters like we did in 2009-2012 got us Top 3-5 ranking in RA in the majors. That's with Randy Johnson, Todd Wellemeyer, and all the parade of prospects (Sadowski, Martinez, etc) who came up and didn't do all that well during that period.

      The defense is passable but the offense even without Morse or Scutaro/Arias still has Pagan/Belt/Sandoval/Posey/Pence in the lineup, that's still a pretty good lineup, and when you have good to great pitching, you can win a lot of games with an average lineup: a good lineup will get you that much more wins. I think any lineup with those five guys is an above average lineup.

      Look at the offenses that are between average and the top of the league, most of them have a lot of holes in the lineup, fans in general seem to think that a lineup is poor if you have a number of holes in it, but the sad fact is that holes is a common thing in baseball, that is why the 6/7/8 hitters on average don't have that high an OPS on average. So even if Crawford doesn't hit that well this season, if he hits over 700 in the 8th spot, he'll be an above average hitter in the NL there.

      And I would note again, I used the lineup calculator on a variety of different projections, both high (Bill James) and low, then used pythagorean on the pitching compared to the lineup calculator to see how many wins that would produce. Those all produced 90-92 wins. So if you want to call all the publicly available projections systems to view the Giants with rose colored glasses, you can, I'm just reporting what the projections they provided would logically produce for a team.

      And, as I've noted, I think you think too little of the pitching (you didn't even acknowledge the replacement of Zito with Hudson, a huge change).

      Delete
  2. Thanks for the link to manager affect. Yes, I probably underestimate the pitching and the offense, but not by much and not nearly as much I think your calculations over estimate them. My point was that your calculations were an outlier and unlikely and I'm sorry if that got lost in my supporting my estimated season win total. There is nothing wrong with being an outlier, especially if you have good reason to be there (which you do). I think this is a second place team that might make the playoffs and will finish within 7 of the Dodgers. They are a competitive team and will be interesting to watch especially in the middle innings when it comes to deciding when to make the switch for defense. Getting that correct is going to be a key factor to winning lots of games with this pitching staff.

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    1. There you go again, labeling my calculations as an "outlier". Calling it that don't make it so. If you have a problem with any of the projections systems out there, you can call them outliers, but my calculations are not outliers, they just take the input and give an output.

      The switch is not what will lead to a lot of winning. First off is three aces delivering among: Bumgarner, Cain, Hudson, Lincecum. Another key is the lineup staying healthy. A big key is Belt continuing where he left off last season (so far, so good). And additional key is Posey having his usual great second halves (yet to be seen).

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  3. If you don't think that predicting many more wins for the Giants than everyone else out there is an outlier, we are going to have to agree to disagree.

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    1. OK, thank you for clarifying your point!

      I thought you were talking about the methodology or the data, my apologies.

      Yes, the number of wins is an outlier relative to what others are saying, I get so focused on one thing sometimes, I don't see the simple explanation. Thanks again for explaining.

      And I'm OK with being an outlier in this way. That's why I wrote a response to a reporter whose writing I liked that the Giants did have a plan for post-Giants, and that it was pitching, pitching, pitching. Why I told people that they were wrong about the Giants in 2008, that they would be closer to .500 than 100 losses (though frankly that one could have gone either way, it just barely tipped closer to .500). Why I told people since 2009 that the Giants were going to win a World Championship with the group of players they had assembled and that the 2010's would be considered The Decade of the Giants when all is said and done. And I predicted 90 wins in 2010 and was wrong, they got 92 wins.

      And so I've been predicting more wins for the Giants than other people for a long time now.

      So yeah, we'll have to agree to disagree.

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  4. Forgot to add a few disappointments out of spring training.

    First off, I was hoping for a Sandoval extension. They are so far apart, I can't imagine how they would meet in the middle. But apparently Pablo has OKed continuing the negotiations during the season, though only to mid-season, the All-Star break, probably. And both sides have apparently continued. That has to be good news, because otherwise why continue if they don't think there is a compromise available?

    I was also disappointed that Brandon Belt was not signed to some sort of long-term deal. I have to assume that his side is betting on a great 2014 season on which to negotiate from, given his improvements from his adjustments to his grip and batting box location. Maybe the Giants will give us a surprise mid-season, if he continues hitting as well has he has, of a deal.

    Otherwise, things went pretty much as expected, other than Scutaro and Affeldt coming out injured, but that's going to happen to somebody each spring, randomly. Luckily, neither are crucial nor long term absence. Plus, this gave Adrianza some opportunity to get some starts and play some, so as long as Scutaro can return by mid-season and help boost our offense then, plus the others continue hitting even if our 2B don't, we should be OK.

    Also, there was the news that Villalona still has two options left (Alex Pavlovic reported that he's covered to 2016) which is great news because that gives the Giants up to three more seasons to see how well he does in the upper minors. That would explain why the Giants chose to place him in AA this season.

    He's doing well so far. In four games this season, he's hitting .294/.333/.471/.804 with 1 HR in 17 AB and 4 RBIs (but 5 K's and no walks, continuing to be a three-true-outcomes type of hitter). He's only 23 YO, which is still relatively young for a prospect to be in AA.

    He had a .327 BABIP in San Jose in 2009, then in his return, .258 in his return in 2013, but if you take out his first 10 games, where he appeared to be adjusting back to life as a pro, .283 BABIP. And he continued that in AA, .292 BABIP. His BABIP now is .364, so he probably cools off a lot in BA, so he will need to pound out more extra-base hits to keep his OPS near 800. However, his ISO in 2013 was 204 in San Jose (239 after 10th game) and 178 in Richmond, so there is little margin for him to improve unless he starts hitting for more extra-base hits than previously. He's at 177 right now. Assuming his BABIP falls to around .300, that would push his OPS to around .700, or where he was last season.

    He basically needs to hit for some more power, push it to the 239 range he was at when hitting well for SJ, as well as take a few more walks, to keep in the mid-700 range, which would not be that bad for him to achieve. Plus, he needs to revert back to hitting LHP well, while keeping hitting RHP well, which he did not do well last season.

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    1. I should clarify: Pavlovic reported that AnVil had two options. I tweeted him and asked if that means to 2015 or 2016, and he said 2016, which I re-tweeted.

      And that's really good, he could stay in AA in 2014 and 2015, then move to AAA in 2016, when he's 25 YO, still young for making the majors, assuming he continues to develop. And I don't see why not, the question is whether he'll strike out too much once he reaches the majors. Right now, yeah, he's probably going to whiff a lot, but maybe with 3 more seasons of full-time hitting, he can figure things out, as he has good bat speed and has been young relative to the league so far. He could blossom as Adrianza did last season in AAA.

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