MLB Rundown: The Other Thompson Makes a Splash

May 20, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Trayce Thompson (21) singles during the fifth inning against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
May 20, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Trayce Thompson (21) singles during the fifth inning against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports /

In this week’s MLB Rundown, we take a look at Trayce Thompson’s recent success, James Shields’ rude welcome to Chicago and other interesting stats and facts around the league.

The “Other Thompson” makes a splash.

By now we’re all aware of the great story that’s unfolding this season in Chavez Ravine. Trayce Thompson has taken his opportunity and run with it. The somewhat less famous brother of NBA star Klay Thompson has emerged from a platoon split in the Dodgers outfield to a full-blown starting job with the Yasiel Puig injury and the release of Carl Crawford.

In 44 games with the Dodgers this year, Thompson is batting .271 with 10 HR, 22 RBI, 24 R and 4 SB. More importantly he’s showing tremendous plate discipline as his 11.3 percent walk rate and 0.52 BB/9 would suggest. That says a lot about the kind of player Thompson can project to be. His .556 slugging percentage and .285 ISO tell us that when he puts the ball in play, he exhibits above average exit velocity.

His elite athletic skills will go a long way in making certain he remains an above average outfielder. I might be overly excited about Thompson, but I believe we could be looking at a future All-Star for years to come in the middle of the Dodgers lineup.

“Big Pain” James

Wednesday night marked the big day for both the White Sox and newly acquired right-hander James Shields. Look, we all know the backstory here, so I won’t bore you with overused details. The one thing I will blast on repeat is this: This is not going to end well. I realize the White Sox aren’t on the hook for a ton of money: $5 million in 2016, $10 million in 2017 & 2018 and a $2 million buyout option in 2019. Of course all of that hinges on whether he opts out of his contract after this season. So there’s that.

But my concern is what they might have sacrificed by panicking to make this deal. They could have allocated those funds to a more appropriate cause, like more offense. That, in my humble opinion, would have been more beneficial than adding an aging arm who most likely will barely be replacement level, at best.

Shields, known for his durability and ability to “eat innings,” has been anything but those things over the last two seasons. He’s averaging just 6.12 innings per start this season; that’s down a tick from the 6.13 he averaged in 2015.

Last year, his bread and butter pitch – a four seam fastball – averaged 91.1 MPH. This year he’s throwing that same pitch for an average of 90 MPH. That’s just not going to get it done. To show you how much he’s struggling in 2016, here’s a look at his strike zone plot, courtesy of Brooks Baseball:

We’re talking about a 34-year-old pitcher who’s given up 17 earned runs and 16 hits over his last 4.1 innings, with diminished velocity. All of the sudden he’s been given the task of helping a struggling, offensively challenged team make it to October.

I’ve said before and I’ll continue to beat the drums of war… This will not end well.

Around the League

  • After starting off ice-cold in April (.159 BA), Kyle Seager has turned things around in a big way. Over his last 30 games, Seager is slashing . 342/.406/.535 with 4 HR. The key to the turnaround might be his willingness to take the ball to the opposite field. During that stretch Seager’s been taking the ball the other way at a 29 percent clip, which would represent the best mark of his career. This newfound skill along with improved plate discipline has pushed his on-base percentage to .351 – a full 17 points higher than the .334 he turned in during the 2014 campaign.
  • Since winning the 2013 AL Rookie of the Year award, Wil Myers has struggled to find any sort of consistency. Just a little over two months into the 2016 season, Myers has set his previous struggles aside and is surging his way to an All-Star season. Myers has turned in six straight multi-hit efforts and has launched 12 home runs in 331 at-bats. His seven steals thus far have surpassed his 2015 total of six and he’s turning Petco Park into a slugger’s haven –  hitting .338 with a .946 OPS. Myers is currently 10th in the NL in runs scored (38) and 8th in total bases with 119.
  • Zach Davies has been giving Brewers fans something to cheer about, albeit under the radar. After getting off to a rough start in 2016, one that saw him produce an 8.78 ERA after his first three stars, Davies has turned in two straight quality starts. He’s given up 2 ER or fewer in six of his last seven outings and has lowered his ERA to 4.29 over that same stretch.
  • Jon Gray recorded his third double-digit strikeout game of the season last weekend when he fanned 12 batters in a win vs. San Diego. He’s allowed 2 ER or fewer in five of his previous seven starts and carries a 28 percent strikeout rate and a respectable 3.43 FIP.
  • With Michael Brantley on the DL for what’s presumed to be an extended stay and Marlon Byrd forced into “early retirement,” the Indians are in desperate need of some steady outfield production. Luckily for Cleveland, Tyler Naquin has answered the call. Well, at least he did this past week. Naquin blasted 3 HR and is hitting a crisp .353 over the last seven days, while turning in an elite level .525 slugging percentage. He’ll need to cut down on his strikeouts (32.9 percent K-rate) and work on his plate discipline (5.9 percent BB rate) to remain a part of the Indians’ new four-man outfield rotation.

More from Call to the Pen

  • Will Harris locked down his second save opportunity of the week, slamming the door on the Rangers Wednesday night. Harris hasn’t been scored upon since his first appearance of the season on April 7 and owns a 0.33 ERA and 0.72 WHIP. His ratios are all elite level, including his 7.50 K/BB and 1.30 BB/9. If Houston wants to continue to climb back into the AL West race, Harris should be their closer moving forward.
  • Joe Ross has an interesting set of splits this season. Against right-handers, he’s been flat-out dominant, holding them to a .178/.218/.284 triple-slash over 137 innings. Now for the bad news. Lefties have absolutely lit him up in 2016, torching him for a .279/.362/.424 line. It’s easy to see why teams are stacking their lineups full of left-handed bats whenever Ross takes the bump.
  • The debate on who’s the better player between Mike Trout and Bryce Harper will go on for presumably many years to come. In 2016, however, there really isn’t a question. Trout ranks inside the top 10 in each of the following: Position Player WAR (1), Offensive WAR (1), OBP (8), OPS (5), RBI (7), Walks (4), Adjusted OPS+ (3), Runs Created (4) and Offensive Win % (4). Meanwhile, Harper – a fantastic player in his own right – shows up in just three leaderboard categories inside the top 10. The Nationals slugger ranks 2nd in bases on balls, 1st in intentional walks and 10th in OBP. Baseball Reference even keeps track of an obscure stat called Power/Speed, which combines the efforts HR x SB and creates a leaderboard. Trout comes out on top in that as well. He’s ranked 4th while Harper comes in 6th. I’m in no way disparaging Harper’s game. He’s a wonderful player who may very well end up being the best of his generation, but for now that title belongs to Mike Trout.

Next: Dodgers Trade Deadline Overview

  • There are a few reasons as to why the Rangers currently reside in first place in the AL West. Production from unexpected sources such as Nomar Mazara and Ian Desmond have certainly helped along with the outstanding play of Jurickson Profar. In my opinion there have been two key ingredients to Texas’ success in 2016: The first being their ability to close out close ball games. The Rangers are 12-4 in one-run games. That’s an outstanding mark this early in the season. Couple that with the early Shawn Tolleson bullpen issues and that number might be even better. Secondly, their pitching staff has somehow held it together and has even worked some magic along the way. The Rangers are last (15th) in the American League in strikeouts and 9th in walks allowed and have the 14th ranked FIP. But… in some amazing, inexplicable fashion they rank 5th in the AL in runs allowed. Go figure. Can they keep that up the rest of the way? It’s highly unlikely, but it’s been fun to watch up to this point.