Now that we’re halfway through April, here’s a few trends to weigh in on… and I promise I won’t use that eternal dirty word: “sample size.”
It’s still early, but…
Stephen Strasburg: …Strasburg’s strikeout rate is “down” at 9.00 per nine. I’ve regressed his line to 9.977 strikeouts per nine, which is slightly less than what everyone would like, but still exceptional. The real driver here is that his Z-Contact rate is up about six percent from his two previous seasons. A 90.2 Z-Contact rate won’t cut it for Strasburg owners, so that’s the figure to watch right now. If he can get it back to the mid-80s, where he’s sat most of his career, the K/9 rises to 10.75 and he’s the #1 starting pitcher through 160 innings pitched. If it stays where it is, he’s a top 15 guy but not what you were hoping for.
Mat Gamel: …Gamel’s already stolen three bags and now has his first regular season home run since 2009. His strikeout rate is also down. To this point in his career, Gamel has been sabotaged by his 31.8 percent strikeout rate. This season, it stands at 19.0 percent and is regressed to 22.2 percent. It’s not all fun and games, as he’s swinging at the wrong pitches (O-Swing is up to 32.5 percent, Z-Swing is down to 57.3 percent), but it seems to be working for now as those all-important contact percentages are way up. His batting average looks like it will be good too, even if he doesn’t have a K-rate below 20 percent. Because he’s always had a high BABIP, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. I see a 75-23-85-12-.275 in his future, which translates to a 1.5 points-above-average third baseman in 12-team leagues. That’s a very nice total for any player, let alone one that many have overlooked. Did I mention he also grades out as above average at first base? Go grab him. He’s putting it together before our eyes.
Nolan Reimold: …Reimold is hitting like a right-handed Boog Powell. Four home runs in four games and a .351 average have a way of getting your attention, but you have to ask yourself whether he’s more Chris Shelton or Jay Bruce. I’ll lean toward Jay Bruce, though I’ll hack off a few home runs and add a few more points of batting average. Either way, he’s looking like he’ll be a great asset—and with all those extra at-bats coming from the leadoff spot, he could be in for a very nice year. I’ll update my previous assessment of him and give him a 95-25-85-11-.265 line while noting that that’s a 2.05 point player. Take it and run with it!
Joe Mauer: …has a home run and even stole a base—something he hasn’t done since 2010! Both are excellent signs! I have him in a key league and reached a bit to get him, so I’ve been a little anxious when it comes to Mauer. Health will always be a concern, but upping his steals projection from zero to five adds half of a point to his value and I now see a 3.0-3.5 point player, which could be tops at the position as long as that guy down in Texas named Napoli decides not to hit over .280 this year.
Yoenis Cespedes: … has shown unbelievable power and equally horrific contact skills. A 74.4 percent Z-Contact rate has everyone but Jack Cust laughing and its left him with a 36.4 percent K percentage (35.4 percent regressed K rate). For now, that Z-Contact bears watching, but give him a bit more of a trial before you get skittish and deal him.
Starlin Castro: …is running more often than Forrest Gump. It’s anyone’s guess how many steals he ultimately ends up with, but I wouldn’t get carried away. He could very well steal 30-35 bases, but he isn’t going to be the next Jose Reyes. Vintage Rafael Furcal and in-his-prime Edgar Renteria are reasonable comps, though. There’s a quiet, growing murmur that he’ll be a first-rounder next year, but that judgment is exaggerated. I think he’s a 4.0 point player with all these extra steals, which is still exceptional but more of a fourth rounder. If he can hold down the third spot in the Chicago lineup, I’m comfortable estimating a 85-9-80-32-.307 line for the shortstop. Castro is just the kind of player I love. His game is incredibly balanced and he contributes in all five categories. And, though he’s on my team, part of me hopes he doesn’t reach 10 home runs so that he’ll fall in drafts next year. Maybe if he could hit just nine… I’d love to have him again.
Matt Moore: …is struggling with free passes. For a guy who was drawing gaudy comps as the left-handed Stephen Strasburg, this certainly isn’t the start Moore’s owners were hoping for. A couple issues: first, his fastball velocity is down almost two miles per hour from last year. Second, his O-Swing percentage stands at an putrid 21.6 percent. If batters don’t start diving out of the zone for his offerings, the walks will remain high – possibly in the 4.5-5.0 walks per nine (BB/9) range, which would forecasts a 1.37 WHIP. If it rises to 30.0 percent, he’s an elite pitcher again with a 1.28 WHIP, albeit still a high walk rate at 3.5-4.0 BB/9. Want some good news? He’s missing bats in the zone at a rate reserved only for relievers (77.9 percent Z-Contact). Right now is a great time to try to acquire him, but beware. The low-velocity, low Zone/low O-Swing combo that hints at arm fatigue could be at play here (see The San Francisco Bullpen, below). Also troubling are those huge fly ball numbers (57.5 percent). But hey, “It’s still early” and I’m still betting on a successful season despite the mixed early returns.
Adam Dunn: …forgot how to hit… again. With one home run and a 41.9 percent whiff rate, it looks like he’s going to repeat his dismal 2011 performance. I think its fair to sound the panic alarm, but know that there is a wee bit of good news. His plate discipline profile indicates that he’s largely the same hitter as he was in 2010, his last productive season. Last year’s collapse was BABIP and HR/FB induced while this year, BABIP hasn’t been a problem. If you can stash him on the bench, do it, but I wouldn’t blame you if you cut bait. His upside says he hits .245-.250 while his downside says he does the exact same thing as last year. See if you can hold onto him with a bench slot for about 50 more plate appearances (about two weeks) to see if he comes to. If he hasn’t turned it around by then, whatever upside that might be coming around the corner is not worth waiting for.
Lance Lynn: …is pitching like an ace. I’ll be safe/boring, play the percentages card, and remark that he probably isn’t an ace—but it wouldn’t be the first time a guy’s strikeout rate exploded upon first exposure to the big leagues (Cory Luebke, anyone?). At the very least, he is the epitome of a league average fantasy hurler (165.5 K, 12.8 W, 3.89 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 192.5 IP = 0.033 points above average, 12-team leagues), which means you need to make room for him on your roster. I erred in leaving him off my list of Top 10 SPs after 200, but I won’t make that same mistake twice.
The San Francisco Bullpen: …I really thought this would have happened to Brian Wilson last season. His shoulder was terribly fatigued due to the huge innings load—and as evidenced by his declining fastball velocity and decreasing Zone percentage against a backdrop of stable O-Swing percentage. What do I mean by this last point? If a pitcher has a tired arm, they lose velocity, their arm angle drops, and they start missing their spots. Without the visual aid of video, one way to approximate this is to observe a large drop in Zone percentage when O-Swing percentage has not increased. The logic here is that these extra out-of-the-zone offerings are due to a tired hurler missing his spots (and are not the result of a pitcher recognizing that hitters are chasing out of the zone, and therefore throwing out of the zone more). While we will all miss the talents and theatrics of the Bearded One, its time to turn to Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla, who are expected to duke it out for the closer’s job. Casilla got the first crack at the job on Tuesday (with Romo getting the 8th), but Bruce Bochy said this would be a committee. Roster Casilla immediately, and if he gets the next opportunity, the job is presumably his. I don’t think Casilla holds the job all year, so if a true split occurs, grab Romo as he is the far better pitcher.