A little more than a month ago, I started this column by expressing empathy for Ryan Braun owners blindsided by the news that Major League Baseball would be seeking lengthy suspensions for those involved with the growing Biogenesis steroid scandal. On Monday, that suspension became official, as both the league and Braun announced he’ll be sitting out the rest of the 2013 season due to a 65-game performance enhancing drug suspension, without appeal.
Soon after news broke, I saw a tweet from ESPN fantasy writer Eric Karabell that got me thinking. First, the tweet and my response:
@karabellespn Or at least be aware of all the risks before doing so …
— Jack Weiland (@jackweiland) July 22, 2013
Back in June, when the prospective suspensions were announced, I felt for Braun owners because that particular news seemed somewhat out of nowhere at the time. But should owners have been that surprised? Braun was, after all, previously connected with steroids and cleared of wrongdoing on what was at best a mix-up, and at worst Braun getting caught red-handed. He wasn’t suspended then, and it’s certainly true that all players carry suspension risk (because as much as we know these days, there is still way more that we do not know, like it or not). But fantasy owners who did not bump up Braun’s PED suspension risk prior to this season were doing themselves a disservice.
Then, amazingly, Braun owners got a Get Out of Jail Free card. In the wake of the Biogenesis news, it was written many, many places (including here, at The Hardball Times) that the appeals process would probably delay the start of these rumored suspensions to 2014. There was nothing to worry about; people even wrote that fantasy owners should considering trying to buy low on Braun due to irrational, unfounded fear of a suspension actually occurring this season.
I won’t say I told you so (because I did not) but Braun owners who did not factor his extra risk into the equation prior to the season, and who chose not to shop him aggressively after the suspension talk first surfaced will get no sympathy from me. Even (especially?) if your name is Eric Karabell.
Fantasy baseball is about making evaluations, and most often those involve trying to ferret out a player’s true talent level (as elusive a beast as there ever was). If in doing so we ignore the entire picture of a player, if we choose to ignore their warts in pinning our hopes on them, then the blame lies squarely on our own shoulders. If you ran the risk of pursuing Braun with gusto, or you chose not to trade him when you had a chance last month, then you can’t be upset that the known risk therein blew up in your face. It was there all along; you just elected to look past it in favor of seeing only his shiny triple slash line.
None of this is to deny how much it smarts that Braun won’t be playing again this season. It undeniably does. But when you ride in on a three-legged horse, you can’t be shocked that it got a little more wobbly than you had hoped. Or something.
And that concludes my rant on Ryan Braun and the owners who (used to) love him.
Today, let’s look at some DL stashes, an underwhelming (but very good) National League pitcher, and a young American League outfielder having a successful stint at Triple-A.
Colby Lewis | Texas Rangers | SP | ESPN: 0.1 percent ownership; Yahoo!: 4 percent; CBS: 16 percent
ZiPS projection: 7-4, 4.02 ERA in 15 starts
Last week I stumped for Chris Carpenter as he set out on his first rehab assignment for what was to be a(nother) stunning comeback, but it seems that tale is not to be. News broke that Carpenter is “going to take a step back” after feeling numbness in his hand (something injury guru Will Carroll called “worst-case scenario” on Twitter). So, I am abandoning last week’s advice and stumping for another DL-stash whose return seems right around the corner. And if the mention of him in this column has the same effect it had on Carpenter (and Roy Oswalt before him) … well, uh, sorry Rangers fans. I owe you one dollar.
Colby Lewis has made a pair of rehab starts at Double-A, and although the results haven’t been special (four strikeouts, three walks, and seven earned runs in 5.2 innings pitched) he says his ailing elbow feels good. His velocity is not where he wants it to be (sitting 85-86, touching 87) but with so much time off some of that has to be expected. Lewis will make at least two more starts in the minor leagues, and those bear watching closely. If the velocity is improving, and his elbow feels good, and he seems close to rejoining the Rangers, he is immediately a must-add player in all leagues, and a rare one who is unowned in most of them.
Even so, at this very moment, he should be owned more than he is. Consider Brandon Beachy, who is also rehabbing an elbow injury, and also close to returning to major league action. Beachy has been owned in more than 60 percent of CBS leagues for nearly two months; he’s currently owned in 38 percent of Yahoo! leagues. The fact that there is such a vast difference in their ownership rates, despite the similarities in their stories, presents itself as a market inefficiency. Jump on that.
Recommendation: Bail on Chris Carpenter if you heeded my advice last week (whoops, sorry!), jump on Lewis if you have space for a DL stash or an empty roster spot, or at the very least follow news of his next two rehab starts very closely. This is a player whose ownership will skyrocket when the good news of his return breaks.
Charlie Morton | Pittsburgh Pirates | SP | ESPN: 2.8 percent ownership; Yahoo!: 3 percent; CBS: 10 percent
YTD: 2-2, 3.35 ERA in 7 starts
ZiPS projection: 4-5, 4.11 ERA in 14 starts
RotoGraphs colleague Mike Podhorzer wrote this about Morton last month:
About a year after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Charlie Morton returned to the mound for the Pirates. Given the lengthy and arduous rehab process, many pitchers experience an uptick in fastball velocity after coming back from the procedure. In 2012, Morton averaged just about 90 mph with his fastball, but 91-92 in the seasons before that. This year, his velocity jumped to nearly 93 mph in his first start and he was hitting the mid-90s with regularity in his start yesterday. He induced an 11.6% SwStk% during his first start with five strikeouts in five innings, though the extra oomph on his fastball did not translate into strikeouts in his second outing.
We know that TJ returnees typically struggle with their control early on, which could be problematic for Morton given that he already owns an uninspiring 3.7 BB/9 over his career. So that could certainly be a concern. But, he has been an extreme ground ball pitcher over the last two seasons, which should take some of the sting out from the extra base runners given his ability to induce the double play. The increased velocity is exciting, as Morton has not been much of a strikeout pitcher in the past. If he could push that strikeout rate into even league average territory, then along with an elite ground ball rate, he could make himself useful in most fantasy leagues. In fact, his skill set could potentially show little difference from another groundballer with suspect control, Justin Masterson.
I have nothing to add. (Just kidding!)
Morton has made five more starts since that story went live, and man he looks like a pretty good pitcher right now. He’s maintained the uptick in his velocity, is still getting an absurd amount of ground balls (62.6 percent), and has even managed to keep his walk rate more or less in line (just 6.8 percent, well below his career average, and not grossly higher than 2012’s major league walk rate of 4.9 percent).
FIP doesn’t love him, most likely because his BABIP seems a tad low at .270 (career average .316) but it stands to reason a guy putting the ball on the ground as often as he does will have BABIPs that are more dependent on the fielders behind him. The Pirates defense has generally been better this year than last (led by Pedro Alvarez, who is currently a plus defensive player at third base after being kind of a butcher last season).
It seems Morton has also been somewhat unlucky when it comes to round trippers, as well. He’s yielding home runs at nearly twice the league average, and when you consider how rarely batters put it in the air against him, the five home runs he’s allowed this year seem a bit high. There’s a lot to like here. Podhorzer had it for you first a month ago, but Morton is still owned less than he should be across the board.
Recommendation: Sneakily a pretty good pitcher. Worth adding now in NL-only leagues, and worth keeping an eye on in mixed leagues. The profile here can play in larger formats.
Avisail Garcia | Detroit Tigers | OF | ESPN: 0.1 percent ownership; Yahoo!: 0 percent; CBS: 6 percent
YTD: .241/.273/.373 in 88 plate appearances
ZiPS projection: .245/.274/.363 in 271 plate appearances
The little yellow tag on CBS currently reads: “Avisail Garcia on fire at Triple-A.”
I saw that note in searching for players to write about today, and my interest was piqued. Garcia is a prospect I liked (at one point) and one I haven’t been following closely. Was he sent down because he was playing well but getting bad results (a la Will Middlebrooks)? How exactly is he on fire at Triple-A? Like, literally? He is incinerating? Because that seems like a serious medical condition, and someone in the Tigers organization ought to check that out. Or, like, do they mean he is hitting a lot of baseballs down there? I sincerely hoped it was the latter.
Turns out, it’s really neither. Well, I guess that’s not true. He is hitting lots of baseballs in his most recent trip down to Triple-A. In the nine games since his demotion, Garcia has a .341 average, and that sounds really nice, but it’s horribly misleading. His shiny average is being buoyed by an unsustainable .412 BABIP. He also only has one extra base hit during this stint (a double), and has hardly been walking at all. Overall at Triple-A this year he has a 1.029 OPS, which (again) seems damn impressive. But when you look deeper, you see it’s really just an insanely high average (.426) held up by an insanely high BABIP (.524), that he isn’t hitting for tons of power (.157 ISO), that he’s not walking much (3.6 percent), and that he’s striking out more than you’d like (20.5 percent).
All in all, it is considerably less impressive than I expected to find when my mouse hovered over that “This guy is en fuego!” tag. And that’s really the point of this: buyer beware. Don’t take news like that for granted; investigate it. I like Garcia, and I think he has a chance to have a fine career, but as 2013 waiver wire fodder I am zero percent convinced his numbers at Triple-A mean he’s ready to be that guy.
Recommendation: Don’t be fooled by his seemingly awesome numbers at Triple-A right now. He’s not that guy.