There are two ways to approach writing this column, where Karl and I attempt to unearth hidden gems from among those the baseball spotlight hasn’t touched, or has left behind. One involves throwing as many darts as we possibly can. The other involves throwing as many darts as we possibly can while also caring where those darts land. Today’s column is an attempt at the latter of those approaches. Our articles are only as good as we are credible, and our credibility is only as good as our picks. So today I’m going to take a spin through the first nine weeks of the 2013 season, and tally up where my advice was strong, and where it lacked.
WEEK 1: March 29
Brandon Maurer | Seattle Mariners | SP
YTD at time of writing: N/A
Now: 2-7, 6.93 ERA, 5.61 FIP, 4.79 xFIP
An inauspicious debut for me. Maurer was (is) a prospect I was (am) quite keen on, mostly due to positive reports about his stuff, the fact that injuries had been the main roadblock on his career path, and the fact that Baseball America tossed a “frontline potential” label on him in its prospect annual. Here’s what I said in my piece March 29:
The bottom line is the guy can pitch. He has talent, including a mid-90s fastball and as many as three other major league caliber pitches of varying quality. He’s healthy, and he’s coming off a very impressive spring, where he beat out strong competition for a job pitching in what has been a pitcher’s park (although with the fences moving in, to what extent that will continue is open for debate).
I still believe these things, and still like Maurer long-term, but it’s also clear the jump to the major leagues is exceedingly difficult. I should have included a caveat about how hard it is to predict when a prospect will be ready to perform at the game’s highest level.
We’ll count this as a significant whiff. If you rolled out Brandon Maurer after reading my advice here, I owe you one dollar.
Update: Happ had a good thing going until May, when one very bad start, and one frightening line drive to the head derailed his season. He hasn’t pitched since. His strikeout rate was above 20 percent and walk rate was below 10 percent in April, so if he returns soon (and he is throwing again) he could again be a waiver find. Axelrod is basically what I said he would be: worth a roll of the dice based on matchup in deep leagues, with high potential to get slapped around.
Week 1 record: 2-1
WEEK 2: April 5, 8
Jim Henderson | Milwaukee Brewers| RP
YTD at time of writing: 2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.79 FIP, 3.09 xFIP
Now: 23.2 IP, 1.52 ERA, 1.95 FIP, 2.65 xFIP
Based on some early seasons struggles from incumbent closer John Axford, and impressive strikeout and walk rates from 2012, I correctly called this change for the Brewers. Henderson was cruising in that role until a strained right hamstring landed him on the disabled list, and turned the ninth inning duties over to Francisco Rodriguez. Henderson will regain his closer status in time, and has made an excellent find for the Waiver Wire chronicles.
Update: I viewed Drew and Escobar as upside plays at a thin position, and neither has panned out—although I was careful to state we don’t really know what kind of physical state Drew is in these days. I advised against Beckham, who has continued his run of stunning awfulness, and didn’t expect Sogard to keep his name in the lineup enough to have value. My thoughts on Seth Smith have not changed; against right-handed pitching he’s a valuable hitter, and that remains the case. His OPS in games started by righties this year is .874, so he’s not a full-time player, but if you manage his use he certainly can provide value. My take on Fernandez was to ride the wave while it lasts and that remains the case. Huge improvement from Week 1 here.
Week 2 record: 5-2
WEEK 3: April 17, 19
Juan Francisco | Milwaukee Brewers | 3B/1B
YTD at time of writing: .333/.366/.564
The hombre with two first nombres. You’ll notice when I write that now, I no longer include the exclamation point, which is mostly the result of THWTFN being designated for assignment by the Braves. It’s bad when the guys you suggest people pick up get DFA’d. Really bad.
The thing is … I still see value here, especially since he landed in a situation that has him seeing more regular playing time. He’s been playing third and first for the Brewers since arriving in Milwaukee, and will continue to do so until Corey Hart returns from his knee injury.
Update: Boy, there’s a mess of bad catching in that list, most of whom I touted here. Castillo crushed until the luck dragon reared it’s ugly head and returned his numbers to Earth (and then considerably farther below on what appears now to be a journey to the center of the Earth. (Yes, that was mostly an excuse to make that link-related joke.)) Jaso shows flashes of usefulness, however Norris certainly does not, I was wrong on Johnson, and right on Cervelli mostly because he was injured shortly after my piece was published. The roller coaster continues.
Week 3 record: 2-4
WEEK 4: April 24
Rafael Betancourt | Colorado Rockies| RP
YTD at time of writing: 7 saves, 1.93 ERA, 9.1 IP
Now: 11 saves, 3.20 ERA in 19.2 IP
A number of factors caused me to caution against a potential dropoff for Rafael Betancourt, all of which remain a concern today. His strikeouts are down and walks are up. His velocity is down. His O-Swing% and swinging strike rates are both down, although not as much as they were in April. One more factor can now be added to the list, though: the groin injury that landed the veteran on the DL. In total there are still so many warning signs that I am still selling here all day. The results on the field haven’t taken a nosedive like I said they might, but I still see that as a distinct possibility.
Update: If I learned anything from Brandon Maurer in Week 1, it sure didn’t show here. I stumped fairly hard for Webster to provide tons of value at some point this season, and his stint in the majors mostly resembled a car fire. Rex Brothers was my pick to replace Betancourt if he lost his job, and that is indeed what happened when Betancourt landed on the DL. He’s been very good in that role, and he’s still my pick in the Rockies’ bullpen going forward.
Week 4 record: 2-1
WEEK 5: April 29, May 3
Luis Valbuena | Chicago Cubs| 3B
YTD at time of writing: .237/.338/.475 in 68 PA
Now: .247/.360/.416 in 198 PA
Curiosity compelled me to examine the Cubs third basemen, and my finding was that Luis Valbuena could actually have value to fantasy league owners. He has power and patience, and I saw no immediate threat to his playing time, especially from the empty husk that once made up Ian Stewart‘s body. A month and a half later, this still looks like one of my better finds.
Update: This was one of my better weeks. Lackey, Slowey, Stults, and Feldman have all been varying levels of good. Hernandez’ ERA is still rough, but I’m inclined to believe he’s still suffering from some bad luck that will soon even out. I’m counting this as a sweep.
Week 5 record: 6-1
WEEK 6: May 8
Matt Joyce | Tampa Bay Rays| OF
YTD at time of writing: .212/.237/.435 in 94 PA
I should probably mail Joyce a thank you note for making me look like a boss. Because he did that. Matt Joyce made me look like a boss. This is what I wrote last month:
Assuming Joyce can bring his line drive rate up from his absurdly low 9.5 percent, his BABIP of .203 should also rise, and with it his batting average. This will make his triple slash line look much more attractive. He’ll never challenge for the Triple Crown, but he can provide power and plenty of walks.
He’s done just that, raising his line drive rate to 16.9 percent, and his OPS by 186 percentage points. As a result, his ownership rate is close to 90 percent on CBS right now, nearly triple what it was when he first appeared here. Good call by me.
Update: DeJesus was due for an obvious drop in production, although I expected him to retain more value going forward than he has. He’ll also miss the next month with a shoulder strain. Ozuna had a blazing fast start to his time in Miami, but has slowed up considerably since. Jeff Moore aced that test for me, but I’m counting it towards my record because I need all the help I can get.
Week 6 record: 2-1
WEEK 7: May 13, 17
Scott Kazmir | Cleveland Indians| SP
YTD at time of writing: 2-2, 5.33 ERA, 5.58 FIP, 3.87 xFIP
Now: 3-4, 5.89 ERA, 5.25 FIP, 4.12 xFIP
Kazmir was a flavor of the day in May after two impressive starts. I warned against jumping on that bandwagon, and a month later that advice looks as strong as ever.
He’s one of the hot topics this week, and his strikeout totals might be pretty at times, but my hunch is his ERA, walks, and lack of innings will make him much less useful to fantasy owners than he will be in real life to the Indians. There are better options available in your league right now. Pass.
Update: Garza returned to the Cubs, although his on field results have left much to be desired. Heeding my advice on staying away from Danks has worked out so far, as well. Moreland, Loney, and Chavez provided incredible returns, while Kawasaki has continued his impressive walk rate, but otherwise hasn’t done anything to help fantasy teams.
Week 7 record: 5-2
WEEK 8: May 22
Jerome Williams| Los Angeles Angels| Pitcher
YTD at time of writing: : 2-1, 3.05 ERA
Now: 5-2, 3.14 ERA, 3.81 FIP, 4.06 xFIP
The Junkyard Dog!
Williams stepped into the Los Angeles rotation when Jered Weaver hit he disabled list, and although he didn’t set the world on fire, he has been very strong for the Angels. His strikeout rate (16 percent) and walk rate (6.1) are solid, and although his BABIP of .259 will almost certainly rise closer to his career level of .276, there’s value here for fantasy league owners. The problem remains his lack of a rotation spot. Or, viewing it through a different lens, Williams has been too valuable bouncing between the bullpen and rotation for them to lock him into the starting five on a permanent basis. He remains a player to watch, and one I really like, but that is almost entirely contingent upon being in the rotation long-term.
Update: Oswalt made his season debut Thursday night after this was written. So that pick may be smart or may be dumb, we will all find out tomorrow together. Jurrjens hasn’t done squat.
Week 8 record: 1-2
WEEK 9: May 28, 31
Corey Kluber | Cleveland Indians | SP
YTD at time of writing: 3-3, 4.57 ERA, 3.21 FIP, and a 2.91 xFIP
Now: 5-4, 3.58 ERA, 3.14 FIP, 2.93 xFIP
Saving the best for last. This is what I said about Kluber a month ago:
It’s important to note that we’re still dealing with a small sample of Kluber’s major league work, and the scouting reports from his days in the minor leagues do suggest that his success there was less about filthy stuff and more about a deceptive delivery, so the sustainability of the rates above is dubious. But, man, that’s a good profile. If you did not know anything about Corey Kluber and then looked up his stats, you would probably think he’s a player fantasy owners drool over. Instead, he’s Corey Kluber.
Since then, Kluber’s numbers look even better, and his ownership rate (49 percent on CBS) seems still low for someone doing what he’s doing. I know he’s Corey Kluber, but ignore that for a minute and pick him up. You’ll thank me on your wedding night.
Update: Gomes is not walking at all, but he is still hitting for power. Castro has been a revelation in Houston, and Grandal has yet to do much in San Diego. Chatwood has dealt with injuries but is carrying a sub-3 ERA and is still well worth adding.
Week 9 record: 3-2
Total Record: 28-16
I’m essentially the prognosticating equivalent of the 2013 St. Louis Cardinals. Not bad, but now might be a good time to remind you that past returns are not indicative of future performance.