The Sticky Stuff
There’s been a lot of talk this past week about MLB cracking down on Sticky Stuff being used by pitchers, with much of that talk rightfully centered on Trevor Bauer. But the story really started with the minors, which included Giants pitching prospect Kai-Wei Teng.
Get ready for Sticky Stuff to be an even bigger topic in baseball this season and next. “Sticky Stuff” is the generic term for many different things, much as “Steroids” were over the last few decades. People are comparing the two topics, though they aren’t truly the same level. There is one thing that is similar, though: right now, we don’t know how many people use Sticky Stuff, but the thought is that a lot of pitchers do now. Maybe even a majority.
If you’re not familiar with the topic, the short of it is that more Sticky Stuff means better spin rates and often better strikeouts. This leads to more movement on a baseball. To get a bit more nuanced on the history and arguments around this, I’m going to refer to Jomboy, who has a good breakdown from YouTube (NSFW language).
There’s a lot to talk about and debate about the use of Sticky Stuff, and whether it should be allowed or not, but I’ll defer that talk from me. The question to me is, how is this going to affect Giants prospects?
Let’s look at the Eugene Emeralds. This past week, their strikeout numbers dropped. It’s also been just over a week since Teng’s suspension. So I graphed out their strikeout percentage (Strikeouts/Batters Faced) over their season.
The red line is the date of Teng’s ejection. While the individual data points move up and down, predictably, there’s a trend there. Before and including Teng’s ejection, the Emeralds struck out 35.4% of the batters they faced. After the ejection, their strikeout percentage dropped to 23.3%.
Okay, but this in of itself is not a sole indication of use of Sticky Stuff. I highlighted which teams Eugene was facing, and almost the entire length of games in question were against the Vancouver Canadians. That’s notable, because Vancouver currently has the lowest strikeout total of the six teams in the High-A West (286). Eugene (who obviously their own pitchers cannot face) has the second lowest total (303). Meanwhile, Tri-City, Hillsboro, and Spokane (who the Emeralds have faced) have the top three spots.
There are other factors to consider. Teng, obviously, missed a start during the later dates. The club also lost two of its top pitchers to promotions. Jose Marte (56% strikeout percentage) and Caleb Kilian (42.7%) were promoted to Richmond on May 24th, and the team’s strikeout rates suffered a bit after that, too.
In the end, Teng’s 10-game suspension won’t have a huge impact on his career. He’ll miss essentially two starts, and should be back on the mound soon. I’m sure with MLB’s new enforcement, we’ll see many, many more suspensions across the minors.
Let me make it clear: I am not accusing the Emeralds pitching staff, or anyone else, of cheating. The change of rule enforcement, and the reasons behind it, are a topic of serious debate with good points on both sides. And it is not at all clear that Sticky Stuff is behind these changes. I only want to look at the potential of how this change in rule enforcement might affect Giants pitching prospects going forward. To do that will require a lot more data.
For now, this is something to keep an eye on, at all level, and for all organizations. Pitching in general is under a lot of attention over the last two seasons. Strikeouts are up, batting averages are down. MLB is looking at changing defenses and mound distances, as well as Sticky Stuff. Changing rules will make evaluating pitchers even harder than ever.
Sam Long: Major Leaguer
As the Giants deal with more injuries and ambiguity, the front office has been showing a bit of willingness to try to catch lightning in a bottle with callups. Later this week, they’ll do so with Sam Long, who is getting the call after just 22.2 innings about A-Ball.
Long has had an amazing journey, leaving baseball for a time before coming back to try to make it, having a season taken away due to the pandemic, and then joining the Giants and becoming a buzzworthy pitcher in the spring. But, is it a bit early for Long?
Before this season, the highest level Long had pitched at was at Low-A in 2019, with a 3.06 ERA splitting time as a starter and reliever. He had put up excellent peripherals, with 112 strikeouts to 28 walks in 97.0 innings. This season, he’d had a 3.00 ERA in four starts at Double-A, starting out rough but getting strong with each start. He didn’t allow a run in his two appearances in Triple-A (only one was a start, because in the other game he was piggybacking off a rehabbing Tyler Beede).
The Giants, of course, rolled the A-Ball pitcher dice with both Camilo Doval and Gregory Santos earlier this season, putting them in the Majors with no experience above A-Ball. Both struggled, with Santos having a 22.50 ERA after three appearances and Doval having a more mixed run with a 7.59 ERA in 13 games. Both have gone on to Sacramento, where they’ve also had rocky times.
Long is a different situation for two reasons. First, he’s gotten some time, very brief, in higher levels and has shown the ability to do well. But the other side is that Long is a starter. It may very well be likely that Long is up for just one start before he heads down. This makes me a little less nervous about Long coming up than I was about the others.
But Long should not stay up, for his own development. He needs to build up his arm. Right now, he’s only a starter by his role, but he’s not throwing like one. The longest outings he’s had this season have been four innings. In 2019, when only half his appearances were starts, Long averaged just over three innings. Long’s stuff looks good, but he needs to be able to go deeper into games, and prove he can beat batters a third time through the lineup. And he needs to build up the strength and endurance to be able to throw that many pitches in a lot of starts over a full season.
The Giants need starting pitching prospects. There’s not a lot of depth in that area at the moment. Shifting Gregory Santos out of starting lost the Giants one of their highest potential starters, but they had to after deciding to protect him for last year’s Rule 5 draft and starting his options clock. Long has looked like an amazing free agent pickup that would add depth in that area, but I hope the Giants don’t rush him. Finish off his development in the minors, and the Giants will have a very exciting pitcher for the future.
The Olympic Qualifying tournament is over, but games won’t be. Team USA has advanced to the Olympics, while two more teams, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, will continue to a final qualifying tournament from June 22nd to 26th.
For the Giants, this will likely mean Diego Rincones will take more time off. Rincones has been a great hitter in High-A and really started to elevate himself this season, and he acquitted himself well in the first tournament. Richmond’s manager, José Alguacil, will also be taking more time off, for sure.
James Sherfy, who was on Team USA, is a bigger question. Team USA’s roster may change for the Olympics, and Sherfy may be replaced. He got into only one game in the tournament. Also, Sherfy went rather suddenly onto the Injured List after being returned from the tournament with a as-yet unreported injury. Sherfy remains one of the most intriguing pitchers they have had at Triple-A this season, and with the Giants in bullpen need, Sherfy has to be in that mix.
Of course, hanging over this entire thing is that the Olympics still may not happen. Coronavirus continues to rage across Japan, and their vaccination rates are minuscule compared to the United States. There have been calls across the country and the world to call off the Olympics…so we’ll see.
A Different Kind of Promotion
One of the longest-serving coaches in the Giants system won’t be there any longer. Steve Kline has gotten the job as head coach at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP)!
The Division-II School will be getting one of the most personable and popular coaches in the Giants system, and has been coaching with the Giants since 2008. He’s been the pitching coach at Richmond this season, but has served at every level of the system over that time, sometimes as pitching coach or as bullpen coach.
Kline will stay with the Flying Squirrels and the Giants through late August before he moves back to Pennsylvania to take on his new coaching job. He’s originally from the area, with his hometown of Lewisburg behind just a little over 100 miles from his new job. I have no doubt, though, that his star as a coach may continue to rise, and more Major League organizations may see a future for him in their systems, including a possible return to the Giants one day.
In the meantime, I wish Kline the best of luck in his future job. I’d always thought he was a future SF Giant coach. I hope he might be again one day.
Hitter of the Week in the Triple-A West
There are a lot of hitters at Sacramento, but the guy standing out is not who you’d expect:
McCarthy has been racking up the home runs for Sacramento. He’s got a lot of competition in that Sacramento outfield, but what he’s doing has been very impressive.
The Reading/Listening List
Here’s a feature story on Marco Luciano from MLB.com. This isn’t exactly an in-depth story on his life, but it’s got some good quotes, especially one from Luciano which is what I like to hear from a player.
Sam Long is now a Major Leaguer. A lot of people were getting excited about him in the Spring, but if you haven’t read a little about his story and journey, here you go.
But the toughest thing to read was this:
Get well soon, Duane. You’re one of the best in the business, and you’ve influenced so many Giant fans, including myself. Love ya, dude.
Highlights of the Week:
Braden Bishop is having a heck of a start to his Giants career. This triple is just one of many that he’s put into play for the River Cats.
You know me, I love me some defense. Last week, Patrick Bailey was showing off his arm behind the backstop. This week, we saw Joey Bart show off a bit.
In the outfield, Bryce Johnson has been awesome in center at Sacramento, and he’s probably going to earn a chance in SF at some point on the strength of that defense alone.
Okay, I like power too, I admit it.
Speaking of power, we’re seeing Sandro Fabian start to show off some.
Not all power has to push balls out of the park. Those line drives that are too fast for outfielders to get to are fun to watch as well, such as Marco Luciano drives.
I also like #PitchersWhoRake
Monday’s Quick Notes:
AAA: Reno 7, Sacramento 6
C Joey Bart: 4-5, 2 R, 2 RBI, 1 HR (4)
RF Braden Bishop: 4-4, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 3B (1)
CF Bryce Johnson: 2-5,1 R, 1 CS (1)
SP Aaron Sanchez: 2.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 SO, 1 HR
RP Ty Weber: 4.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 3 SO
RP Camilo Doval: 0.1 IP, 0 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 0 SO
RP Sam Selman: 0.2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 SO
RP Sam Wolff: 1.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 0 SO
RP Trevor Hildenberger: 0.2 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 0 SO
Two River Cats pitchers who made their debuts in Triple-A on Monday did pretty well, but the rest of the bullpen struggled a bit. Aaron Sanchez started his rehab with a solid two innings, giving up a solo home run. Meanwhile, Ty Weber was brought up from San Jose, and put up four scoreless innings. Unfortunately, the final three innings brought on six runs behind them for the loss.
Meanwhile, the team got two 4-hit games from the lineup. Joey Bart put up his first home run since his return from the IL while setting a season-high in hits. Meanwhile, Braden Bishop continues his resurgence with his new team, with a perfect day raising his batting average to .538 in his first seven games with Sacramento.
- Joey Bart now has four doubles and four home runs in 17 games so far this season, and is batting .349/.397/.603.
- Braden Bishop’s triple is his first since 2019, and gives him one of each a double, triple, and home run with Sacramento.
- Aaron Sanchez last pitched in San Francisco on May 4th, when he gave up four runs on seven hits and a walk. He had 10 walks and four hit batters in 28.1 innings in SF, but had no free passes in his first rehab.
- Ty Weber had a 2.45 ERA in 14.2 innings at San Jose this season before his promotion, with a 15:1 K:BB ratio, but had been struggling with hits allowed, allowing a .295 batting average.
- Camilo Doval got jimmy-jacked this week. He was called up to SF on June 5th (Saturday), didn’t get an appearance, and was optioned back to Sacramento on the 7th (Monday). He got right into a game, and walked two of the three batters he faced, while the other one hit a sac bunt. Both runners would score once Doval was lifted from the game.
This week, the Cubs revealed their new special “City Connect” uniforms…
And now, there are four of these release.
The colors can be a bother, as team colors are such a big part of team branding, it’s weird to see Boston’s bright yellow or Miami’s bright red uniforms. Sure, there may be reasons (such as Miami’s referring to the Havana Sugar Kings), but generally, I’ve been underwhelmed by these designs. Only the White Sox “Southside” jerseys really resonate with me, even if that jersey perhaps took the least risks.
I bring this up because there are three more teams getting jerseys later this season, and one of them is the Giants. (The other two are the Dodgers and Diamondbacks.) What will Nike do to represent San Francisco as this city connect?
Will we see bridges? Probably. Maybe references to the San Francisco Seals or Sea Lions, though probably not the Mission Reds (San Francisco’s other PCL team, who shared Seals Stadium for a while). Will there be a Bay Area theme? Maybe something tech oriented? Boy, that last one will upset people if they do that.
I hope Nike doesn’t butcher the team brand, though. Trying to sell more jersey is whatever, I’d prefer teams to make money that way than putting ads on jerseys. But for heaven’s sake, make it something good.