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System Sundays: The Seth Elledge Scouting Report — And Other Stuff

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An exhaustive — and exhausting — writeup of all the moves made by the Cardinals the past few days.

Miami Marlins v St Louis Cardinals
Goodnight, sweet prince. I hope Grandma has her checkbook ready for all those Yankee Stadium dingers you’ll be hitting now.
Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images

Wow. Things are happening, folks.

Just, seriously. Like, just, so. many. things.

Okay, so it’s not really that many things, but it is a lot of things. Particularly when viewed through the lens of the typically stodgy, slow-moving Cardinals’ organisation, the recent flurry (I am contractually obligated, as are all other sports writers, to refer to this sort of burst of activity as a ‘flurry’), of moves made by the Redbirds is at least slightly shocking. I feel like there’s about a 50% chance next time we see John Mozeliak in short sleeves he’s gonig to be sporting a new and moderately embarrassing tattoo, a la Randy Quaid in Kingpin.

Now, admittedly, we aren’t seeing earth-shattering moves being made here; mostly roster churn in the bullpen and toward the back end of the 40-man, but it’s still been very interesting the past week seeing the front office operate with the philosophical imperative of organisational continuity at least partially out the window for now. There has been essentially zero caution shown the past four days, and really not a ton of caution since the firing of Mike Matheny.

So first off, let’s deal with the first move(s) first, and then we’ll move on to last night’s late night surprise.

Friday

The Subtractions

Cardinals designate for assignment Greg Holland, Tyler Lyons, place Brett Cecil on disabled list with foot inflammation

Okay, so far so good. Greg Holland has been, in a season full of disappointments and strange missteps, the most disappointing misstep of all. We’ve been over the Holland saga again and again, but just to put one final bow on the whole mess: I was against the Greg Holland signing, mostly because of the loss of the draft pick, and because I didn’t think he was necessarily all that good anymore. His strikeout rate in 2017 was still very solid, but I watched a decent number of his appearances, and he looked to me like a guy very much on the edge of just not really having it anymore. Too many sliders, too much offspeed in general, too many pitches down and out of the zone, relying too much on hitters chasing. He no longer had the stuff to really challenge hitters in the strike zone any longer, and I was not at all convinced he was very good.

However, I never dreamed he would be the kind of abject disaster we actually saw this season. I thought we were talking about a garden-variety not very good anymore reliever, not a literal can of gasoline. I think there’s a very good argument to be made that just without the Holland addition, the Cardinals are three to four games better in the standings right now. That’s a tough pill to swallow for $14 million.

Oh, and Jon Heyman says Holland is looking to sign with a contender. Keep cashing those Boras Corp. checks, Jon.

The Tyler Lyons DFA is much more surprising to me, and makes me sad to see. No, Lyons hasn’t been good this year; in fact, he’s been only moderately less disastrous than Holland. But Lyons was one of our guys, and a real success story of the Cards’ player development system. He was a ninth round pick out of Oklahoma State, and made a slow, steady rise through the system. Originally mostly a sinkerballer with a good changeup but not much breaking ball to speak of, Lyons morphed into a slurve monster last year, and put up one of the best Cardinal relief seasons we’ve seen in awhile.

Looking at Lyons’s number this year, the strikeouts had certainly fallen, but the walks were basically even with last year, and he was largely getting killed by too many fly balls and an elevated BABIP. Basically, he wasn’t fully healthy, and never did get his command back to the sharpness we saw last season. I assume this means his time in the organisation is over; some non-contending team will absolutely take a chance on picking him up and trying to get him right. I wonder if the Cardinals have concerns about his health or durability long term; Tyler hasn’t exactly been an iron man in his career.

Finally, the Cecil DL stint makes a lot of sense, as you’re still paying him for two more years, his 2017 performance was actually really solid once you get past the first month of the season, and, well, you’re paying him for two more years. Just letting him walk would still cost you the money and get you nothing in return. Therefore, Michael Girsch called Brett into his office the other day, told him what a great job he was doing, and then asked him to help move that sofa over against the other wall, at which point the sofa accidentally slipped out of Girsch’s hands and dropped right on Cecil’s foot.

The Additions

Cardinals call up Tyler Webb, Daniel Poncedeleon, and Dakota Hudson

We’ve seen Daniel Poncedeleon in action already this year, and I have to say that the organisation calling him up to serve in a relief role is very encouraging to me. The Cardinals have, over the past several years, allowed a handful of really intriguing arms to languish in the minors as starters, rather than call them up to serve as relief. I understand the need for rotation depth beyond your major league five, but when you’re running seven, eight, even nine deep in starters I think it’s arguable you’re leaving some value on the table if the bullpen is struggling while talented arms are just waiting for an emergency. It’s the Mike Matheny break glass in case of emergency long reliever problem writ large as an organisation.

Personally, I see Poncedeleon’s best fit in the bullpen anyway, though admittedly he’s done very well as a starter to this point. I just think he could boil his repertoire down and possibly be a beast in the ‘pen, although I will also say his changeup looked better in his one major league start than I can ever remember it being in his minor league games I’ve watched.

As for Dakota Hudson, him I still prefer as a starter long term, but he’s also a good candidate for relief work, given a pair of plus pitches already and the fact his two other pitches still need development. We saw what he can do yesterday going sinker/cutter, and it was damned impressive. Still, over the long haul I hope he remains in a starting role, but I’m not going to complain about seeing an immensely talented young pitcher working at the big league level, rather than putting up great numbers in Triple A.

I’ll be honest: I’m not really all that high on Tyler Webb. He’s a soft-tosser with a good slider from the left side, and his minor league strikeout numbers are certainly intriguing. However, having watched him a few times in Memphis, I’m just underwhelmed. For instance, I like Tommy Layne a whole lot more in a similar role, as far as lefty relievers in Memphis go. However, Webb was already on the 40 man after having been claimed on waivers earlier this season, so he gets the audition first. It’s fine. I’m just not expecting much.

The Swap

Cardinals trade Sam Tuivailala to Seattle Mariners for RHP Seth Elledge

Now this, I think, is a really smart move. Look, I love Sam Tuivailala; he was my spring surprise pick this year (and really wasn’t a bad choice at all, considering how good he was in March), and I’ve been waiting for him to take that big step forward for three seasons now. Unfortunately, he hasn’t taken said step, and has mostly settled in as a serviceable seventh-inning type, rather than a shutdown setup man that he looked to have the talent to become. He’s established himself as a relative dependable pitcher, though, and should absolutely help bolster the Mariners’ bullpen by providing a solid option to deepen their selection.

The biggest issue with Tuivailala, really, was the fact he is out of options, and thus limited the flexibility of the roster. You obviously don’t mind relievers without options if they’re shutting down the opposition consistently, but Tuivailala hadn’t ascended to that level. He was exactly the sort of shuttle arm you value quite highly, but when he’s required to be on the roster, things get more complicated.

So, the Cardinals moved Tuivailala for a pitcher who probably ends up pretty similar to Tuivailala, only still in the minors, not yet on the 40 man, and thus with a full complement of options to begin using in the next year or two.

Seth Elledge, RHP

6’3”, 230 lbs; Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 20 May 1996

So, what’s so great about this guy?

I’ve looked for my scouting report on Seth Elledge, which I’m certain I wrote up here last year, but I can’t find it. I have my notes still from 2017, but I can’t find the actual VEB post. It’s possible I’m confusing him with Brandon Koch, his predecessor as the Dallas Baptist closer, who I do have a published scouting report on, and I actually didn’t get around to a full writeup of Elledge. If not, let me remedy that now.

Elledge is a big, physical pitcher, strongly built, who uses that big frame and powerful legs to generate plenty of velocity. It’s a power sinker he works with, rather than a straight four-seamer, and hitters have a tough time lifting the ball against him when he’s going well. The velocity is plus but not elite, sitting around 94-95, though he would occasionally touch higher than that in college. Still, it’s a heavy 94, and has enough movement to both stay off barrels and occasionally miss bats entirely.

His primary offspeed pitch is a really good slider that has tons of movement but he struggles somewhat to command. Hitters don’t do much with the pitch, particularly righties, but you’ll also see more 1-2 counts turn into 3-2 counts on two sliders a foot outside than you might prefer. In other words, the stuff is there, but he needs to tighten things up. The slider can also get a little too horizontal when he drops his arm slot and gets under the pitch, but overall it’s got plus potential.

He has a changeup as well, but barely uses it now. I can’t say that I’ve seen enough of them to have an opinion, honestly. I do wonder if the Cardinals might not try to get him to incorporate an occasional four-seamer to work at a higher velocity up and out of the zone for swings and misses. Even if not, Elledge already gets plenty of empty swings, having posted strikeout rates above 35% at every minor league level so far.

If he’s good, it will look like: The power sinker-slider combo and big frame put me in mind of Mitchell Boggs, to keep it in a Cardinal context, but looking back I’m always amazed at how few strikeouts Boggs actually generated, considering how good his stuff was, particularly as a reliever. Basically, though, you can just pick your favourite hard-throwing slider guy and you’ve got a decent comp. It’s not a unique profile, but Elledge has the potential to pitch toward the back of a bullpen, certainly.

Hell, the build and power two-seam/slider combo is pretty reminiscent of the current version of Bud Norris, if you want a current comp. Elledge doesn’t throw the cutter Norris added a couple years back to combat lefties, but otherwise he’s a very similar feeling pitcher.

via Baseball Census:

Saturday

Cardinals trade Luke Voit + $1 million international cap space to Yankees for LHP Chasen Shreve and RHP Giovanny Gallegos

Let’s get it out of the way now: it makes me very sad to see Luke Voit go. I have a soft spot for the local kids, pretty much always, and I will miss hearing about Luke’s grandma paying him for home runs. I was also really hoping that once the Cardinals moved Jose Martinez to an American League club, Voit could step into his spot on the roster as a lefty-mashing platoon partner for Matt Carpenter-slash-big bat off the bench. Alas, it was not meant to be. I can’t really say I blame the Cardinals, though; Voit is about as redundant a player in the Cards’ system as one can possibly imagine. Jose Martinez does what he does. Rangel Ravelo in Memphis isn’t an exact comp, but he’s pretty similar. John Nogowski in Springfield is currently running a 140 wRC+ based primarily on walking literally twice as often as he strikes out, and only striking out 6% of the time. The biggest reason Nogowski hasn’t moved up to Memphis before now, in fact, is probably the fact that both Voit and Ravelo were already there, and that leaves a real dearth of at-bats for low defensive spectrum hitters to go around.

I’m happy for Voit, who should get more of an opportunity with the Yankees than he did here, at least to take some ABs against lefties from Greg Bird or some DH/late-inning pinch hitting appearances. Bird is currently running a 116 wRC+ for the Yankees, and that’s actually only a little better than what I think Voit could do with regular playing time in the big leagues. A 110-115 wRC+ seems eminently doable to me, having watched Voit play, and that’s a plenty useful player. Just not a great one, and not one you have to make room for when your organisation is already swimming in right-handed first-base bats.

As for the international spending money, that’s literally nothing. The Cardinals, being in the penalty phase for going over last year, couldn’t really use that money, and so they threw it in to get a deal done. It’s exactly what you should be doing with hypothetical money that you aren’t really going to be able to spend.

Now, on to the return.

I will immediately cop to being a bit of a Chasen Shreve honk, for reasons I don’t entirely understand. His results have never been great, but really enjoy watching him pitch. It’s probably just because he actually throws a splitter, which I always love for some odd reason. Maybe because my mother had a huge crush on Bruce Sutter back in the 80s.

A big part of why this deal happened is the Yankees trying to clear roster space for their new acquisitions, Zack Britton and JA Happ. New York needed spots for both guys, and Shreve was very likely going to be the guy to lose his spot in favour of Britton. Thus, a two for one deal was born.

From the Cardinals’ side of things, this is both a continuing remake of the bullpen which has been so disastrously bad this season, but also a continuation of the philosophy we saw them employ this past offseason in trying to construct a ‘pen; namely, both of these players are very high-strikeout pitchers. At times, very, very high strikeout pitchers. And yes, I realise that saying the Cards are continuing to try and build a ‘pen in the same way they tried this past offseason sounds potentially very ominous, considering how things turned out, but that doesn’t mean targeting high-strikeout arms is a bad idea. In fact, I would argue it’s a great idea, and the fact the Cardinal bullpen has been so bad this year is because those high-strikeout arms haven’t struck anyone out this year.

To the players actually acuired:

Chasen Shreve, as I’ve said before, is one of my guys on another team I really love to watch pitch. He came up several years ago through the Braves’ organisation, and was then dealt in the Manny Banuelos trade. (Remember Manny Banuelos and how hyped he was as a Yankee prospect?) There was a point, when Aroldis Chapman was struggling, that Shreve was basically the lefty saviour of the Yankees’ bullpen.

The stuff for Shreve is outstanding; he works around 92-93 with his fastball, and it’s better up than down, I think. Which may actually be a big part of what’s gone wrong for him, but I’ll get to that in a moment. He’s got some funk to the delivery, as well, with a slightly slingy arm action that’s somewhere between Tyler Lyons and Marc Rzepczynski. It makes the fastball appear faster than it is, and he gets a lot of called strikes to my eye.

The prize of the arsenal for Shreve is a wicked split-finger pitch that just disappears completely when he’s got it going. He’ll throw it to either handed hitters, and it’s one of those where you see full swings at a pitch that bounces in front of the plate some days. Shreve leans on the pitch pretty heavily, throwing it about 40% of the time, and that’s probably justified. He also features a slider, but it’s a much more fringe sort of offering to my eye. It’s not bad, per se, but it’s also not going to make a big impact most of the time. I do wonder if he could tighten it up into a cutter to perhaps have a little more horizontal movement and maybe take some of the telegraphed hump out of his current version of the pitch.

So why, you might ask, is a guy with such good stuff available for Luke Voit and some amateur spending money? Well, because the results for Shreve have, far too often, not matched up with the stuff. His walk rate is elevated, though not disastrously so — he’s at 10.6% this year, which isn’t great, but also isn’t enough to torpedo a reliever’s effectiveness. The real issue for Shreve in his career is a ridiculous proclivity for allowing home runs. Like, home run rates that are censored in a lot of countries.

Shreve has been with the Yankees for four seasons now, and these are his HR/9 numbers: 1.54, 2.18(!), 1.59, 1.89. Similarly, these are his HR/FB% in those same years: 16.4%, 22.2%, 15.4%, 23.5%(!!). Giving up home runs at those rates is a really fast way to tank your numbers, hard. Chasen Shreve has the stuff of a relief ace, and the results of a middle reliever.

It is worth pointing out, though, that Yankee Stadium is one of the homer-happiest ballparks in all of baseball, and very hitter-friendly in general, with a park factor of 104. Now, that’s not enough to explain all of Shreve’s issues, but it’s certainly worth a try to get him out of the Bronx and see if some of his big fly problems might calm down simply because fewer medium-deep fly balls are going over the short porch in right field. At the very least, it’s worth seeing if a new set of eyes can help him get that issue under control, and allow his strikeout stuff to have the impact it deserves to have.

via MLB:

Now, on to Giovanny Gallegos. In the Yankees’ relief machine, a guy like Gallegos is very easy to overlook, but it’s worth pointing out that he led all Triple A in whiff rate last season. He struck out just over 40% of the batters he faced last year in the minors, and not quite 36% this year in Triple A. The guy has swing and miss stuff, certainly.

That being said, he’s also going on 27 as a right-handed relief-only guy, so it’s not as if you just traded for a superstar prospect. Gallegos signed somewhat late as a nineteen year old out of Mexico, and then took some time to get going. He’s another strongly built guy along the lines of Elledge, but not quite as bulky.

The stuff for Gallegos is easy plus; he works at 94-95, again similar to Elledge, but it’s a four-seamer and looks to me to have nice ride at the top of the zone. When it’s down, it looks much more hittable. He complements the heater with a tremendous curveball, a true 12-to-6 hammer that he’ll throw anywhere from 78-85 mph, and his high arm slot gives the pitch remarkable drop. I’d feel comfortable throwing at least a 60 on the pitch, and I could see going even higher than that. The fastball is tough to square up, but the curve can just make hitters look helpless.

Now, stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the issue for Gallegos at the major league level, so far, has been an elevated home run rate. He actually doesn’t have any of the command issues that have plagued Shreve, but he has that same bugaboo of an awful lot of his fly balls finding their way into the Bronx bleachers. In the case of Gallegos, it’s at least partially a function of his repertoire making him a fly ball pitcher, as that four-seam fastball just doesn’t lend itself to putting the ball on the ground, but he’s also been very unlucky in terms of HR/FB% this season at the big league level.

Basically, the bet on Gallegos is the same as the bet on Seth Elledge; namely, you’re looking at huge minor league strikeout numbers and just betting that translates up the ladder. He’s already made it to the majors, with some success, but has suffered from homeritis. It’s interesting that in both Shreve and Gallegos’s cases, you’re looking at pitchers who have been hurt most by the long ball, going from one of the homer-friendliest parks in all baseball to one of the stingiest. I don’t know if that’s specifically part of the Cards’ thinking in picking up these two pitchers, believing that a change in home ballpark could make significant changes to their profiles, but it’s certainly worth paying attention to. If Gallegos can translate his minor league strikeout rates to the major leagues, you could really be looking at something special.

via Jorge I. Cansino:

Both Gallegos and Shreve are already on the 40-man roster, and thus will have to go on the Cards’ 40-man as well. Shreve has no options remaining, which is obviously a limiting factor, but Gallegos still has at least one after this season, I believe. Possibly two, but probably just one. That adds some flexibility to the 2019 bullpen, obviously, and is very helpful.

At this point, I think we have to assume the Cardinals still aren’t done making moves, as it seems like the governor has, at least temporarily, been taken off the front office. And I have to say, each of these moves seems to me to be very smart, very canny. Which, sure, isn’t surprising, considering how smart the Cards’ front office mostly is, particularly when it comes to somewhat-complicated minor trades, but it’s still worth noting. You moved a major league reliever who was out of options and a first base-only bench bat who was as blocked as a player can possibly be in favour of three relief arms, one of whom isn’t even on a 40-man roster yet and two of three possessing minor league options still.

Of course, there’s no guarantee any of these players work out; look no further than this year’s bullpen to see how badly even smart bets can turn out for a team. And even with the obvious talent on display in those three relievers, we are talking about limited players. Relief-only arms, even very talented ones, are not franchise-altering moves.

But then again, if you hit on three non-franchise-altering moves, sometimes you end up with something that can be. It’s not likely, of course, but making these small, smart plays to try and build a better relief corps for next year and beyond is absolutely worth celebrating. Just...quietly.