I am writing this on the worst day of the year—the break after the All-Star Game, in which there is no Major League Baseball to be found. Not anywhere! (Trust me, I looked.) Does it get any worse than this?
Oh, it does? Much worse? Well, whatever, this is still terrible, and this is all Baseball’s fault.
Ahem. I mean, oh hey! Welcome back, Baseball! Glad to see you! You look great, have you lost weight? Let’s never fight again; I cannot bear to be apart.
Since nothing has happened since we last checked in, without dwelling too much on who deserves the blame for that, let’s make this short and sweet and dive right into the goodness that the waiver wire
always sometimes provides. Today I would like to check in on two young pitchers involved in major trades last offseason.
Henderson Alvarez | Miami Marlins | SP | ESPN: 0.1 percent ownership; Yahoo!: 1 percent; CBS: 6 percent
YTD: 0-1, 4.58 ERA in three starts
ZiPS projection: 2-5, 4.60 ERA in 12 starts
It’s hard to get a read on exactly what Henderson Alvarez is, besides a rare member of the Men With Two Last Names club.
In his 63 inning major league debut in 2011, Alvarez was a guy with solid strikeout numbers (15.4 percent), who hardly walked anybody (3.1 percent), and induced tons of groundballs (53.5 percent). His ERA (3.53), FIP (3.97), and xFIP (3.38) were all very attractive. It was a great debut and he entered the 2012 season as an intriguing player for fans and fantasy owners to keep an eye on.
In case you hadn’t heard, the Blue Jays starting pitching was a bit of SNAFU last year. Most of that was due to injury, but undoubtedly underachieving efforts from Henderson and Ricky Romero were significant factors as well. In 2012, Henderson barely struck out more batters than he walked (9.8 percent vs. 6.7) and his ERA, FIP, and xFIP were all higher than they were during his first taste of major league ball (4.85, 5.18, and 4.42, respectively). The Blue Jays sent him to Miami in November as part of the 12-player trade that brought Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, and Mark Buehrle north of the border. He seemed a shoo-in to have a job in the Marlins rotation to start this season, but shoulder inflammation derailed that plan and he only just made his 2013 debut on July 4.
In his three starts his strikeouts are back around his 2011 level (13 percent) but his walks are up as well (7.8 percent). Since his previous strikeout and walk rates have been all over the board in his short major league sample, it’s tough to say what to expect. In his last three seasons in the minors, spent mostly at Double-A, he averaged 17 percent on his K-rate, and 4 percent on his walk rate. It seems likely that Henderson’s 2011 rates are more closely aligned with his skill level than 2012s are. He also gets a ton of groundballs, in a park that is right now the second stingiest at allowing home runs. That’s a combination to get excited abou —especially when you consider Alvarez’s job security pitching in the Marlins rotation.
Recommendation: There’s an interesting profile here. He isn’t the sexiest, but he can be quietly effective. In deep leagues, speculate now and hope for the best. In mixed leagues, wait and watch.
Randall Delgado | Arizona Diamondbacks | SP | ESPN: 0.5 percent ownership; Yahoo!: 3 percent; CBS: 21 percent
YTD: 1-3, 3.92 ERA in six starts
ZiPS projection: 3-7, 4.46 ERA in 15 starts
Elsewhere in the “young pitcher involved in a mega-trade” beat, let’s look at Randall Delgado, who also happens to be a fellow member of the fraternal order of Men With Two Last Names.
Actually, whoa. That’s weird, but moving on …
Delgado was once a top prospect for the Braves before being traded to Arizona in the Justin Upton deal. The righties’ prospect stock had fallen, if ever so slightly, as he graduated to the major leagues. The consensus last year was that his ceiling was not quite as high as it once seemed, but that he was a safe bet to be a solid mid-rotation starter. Much of that probably stemmed from the fact that he simply walks too many batters, while not fanning enough to make up for it.
According to MinorLeagueCentral, Delgado’s three-year walk rate at Double-A and Triple-A for the Braves was 10.4 percent, consistently above the league average during each of his stops. His strikeouts, too, were above the league average at all of those stops, but shade more towards good than great.
His 17 starts last year were more of the same. His strikeouts were good (not great) and his walks were bad (not horrible). His low-4 ERA, FIP, and xFIP might have confirmed for some that Delgado’s ceiling is indeed lower than we originally thought, as most players’ ceilings are.
Against this backdrop, what he’s done to date in 2013 is nothing short of incredible. Not only has Delgado cut his walk rate to more acceptable levels, he’s blown far beyond that to darn near elite levels. While simultaneously maintaining a strikeout rate of 20 percent, Delgado has cut his walks to just three percent of batters faced. To put that in context: if he had enough innings to qualify, Delgado would be tied for the best BB% in the league, just 0.4 percent behind Adam Wainwright. I hope I don’t have to explain how impressive that is.
He’s doing so (presumably) by throwing more strikes. His Zone% is up 10 percent, year-over-year. He’s generating a healthy number of swinging strikes (10.4 percent) and maybe most importantly he has an absurdly high O-Swing% of 40.1 percent (a ten percent increase over last year there, too).
To put that in more clear English: Randall Delgado has thrown 10 percent more pitches in the strike zone this year, and at the same time he’s been able to generate 10 percent more swings at pitches outside of the strike zone. That is a very, very good combination.
As always (and I hate the part where I have to be a downer) there’s a catch. The Arizona rotation will be quite crowded when Brandon McCarthy and Trevor Cahill return from the disabled list. It seems all but certain that Delgado will not retain one of those five jobs, as manager Kirk Gibson has been talking about whether or not he will even stay up with the big league team. It is trading season, though, and you never know what will happen. Either way it’s worth putting Delgado on your radar, and acknowledging that he might indeed be more than a mid-rotation type after all. Time will tell.
It needs to be stressed (always, but especially here) that all of these numbers are from small samples of work across many different leagues. He’s only made six major league starts this season. So while I’m encouraged by Delgado’s improved control, and even more encouraged by his ability to continue striking batters out at the same time, we need to see a lot more of this before we feel safe about recalibrating our thoughts on Delgado’s true talent level, his ultimate ceiling, and how rabid fantasy owners should go after him.
Recommendation: Watch closely, especially in the run up to the trade deadline. If he lands in a spot where he can grab more starts than Arizona, give him a shot. If not, make sure to squirrel him away as a possible sleeper for next season. It’s never too early.