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Wednesday, May 15, 2013
The Daily Grind provides daily match-up advice for tinkerers and daily fantasy players. I welcome advice to help make this column more effective, including notice of impending weather events, new injuries, and changes to platoon situations. Ownership rates are from Yahoo!
The daily picks are a mixture of Daily League specific advice and information for the more typical fantasy owner.
Yesterday was a bit of a disasterpiece. I hope few of you used Scott Kazmir or John Lackey (I used both). There's still reason to be cautiously optimistic about both guys, but I would emphasize the caution part more going forward.
Pitcher (to start): Phil Hughes is up to 52 percent owned and remains the best streaming option for the day. He will face the Mariners.
Mike Leake is a decent fallback due to his match-up with the Marlins.
Pitcher (bum): The Phillies got to lefty Scott Kazmir last night, and I predict they'll hit well against Corey Kluber too.
The only thing keeping Mike Pelfrey from being an everyday mention in the exploit column is the five-day rotation.
Coming off four bad outings to start the season, Shaun Marcum has a tough assignment against the Cardinals.
Wade Davis versus Barry Enright sounds like a high-scoring affair.
Hitter (power): Colby Rasmus and Adam Lind may benefit from facing Ryan Vogelsong.
Domonic Brown homered yesterday and has a friendlier match-up tonight.
Hitter (speed): Lorenzo Cain has spent some time circling the waivers in my leagues. He has a nice combination of speed and power. He'll also face Kluber today.
Nate Schierholtz faces Jon Garland.
Eric Young Jr. is starting and leading off on occasion. Use him with impunity.
Pitcher (to start): Honestly, don't try to force it tomorrow. Nobody has a match-up where I can comfortable expect an ERA under 4.00. If you absolutely must use somebody, Jose Quintana, Jerome Williams, Francisco Liriano and Felix Doubront are the best dice throws.
Pitcher (bum): Hiram Burgos got skipped after blowing up against the Reds. The Pirates have a solid offense and will look to exploit any rust he shows.
Aaron Harang will likely struggle against the voodoo Yankees.
Edinson Volquez may be lucky enough to not face Bryce Harper or Jayson Werth, but the Nationals lineup will still be a challenge for him.
Hitter (power): If Harper is out another game, Tyler Moore will get the lovely Volquez match-up.
Travis Hafner and Lyle Overbay should enjoy facing Harang.
Garrett Jones will see Burgos.
Hitter (speed): Keep on using Young.
Zack Greinke and Curtis Granderson return to the lineup.
Harper was held out yesterday, citing nausea (among other things). That's a bit worrying. The team docs said he did not have a concussion, but nausea is a symptom of a concussion. It bears watching.
There is currently a small risk of storms in St. Louis and Philadelphia, but otherwise it's another fine weather day.
Posted by Brad Johnson at 5:47am
Well, it turns out Andrew Bailey isn’t as close to returning as I may have thought late last week, giving Junichi Tazawa a more lengthy look at the closer’s job in Boston. Problem is, he’s been somewhat terrible since inheriting the job, leading to speculation that a closer platoon with him and Koji Uehara might be possible. Meanwhile, Heath Bell has settled in as the D-Backs closer, though a blown save last week reminded us that he’s hardly a lock for 25-30 saves the rest of the way.
Going even further back in this column’s 2013 track record, Aaron Hicks belted two homers the other day against the White Sox, though that just soothes my ego after the collapse of Jake Westbrook’s fantasy value and Felix Doubront’s recent problems.
But if you wanted to talk about last week’s column, you’d be reading it, wouldn’t you? Let’s look at some new blood.
Will Venable | San Diego Padres | OF | 11 percent Yahoo ownership; 7.6 percent ESPN; 20 percent CBS
YTD: 106 PA / .247 / .327 / .452 with 5 HR and 7 SB
ZiPS updated: 479 PA / .246 / .319 / .421 with 15 HR and 25 SB
Twitter pal Lee Wilson on Friday asked me for my quick thoughts on Venable vs. Craig Gentry and Jordan Schafer. After a quick eyeballing of the three players’ stats, I favored Venable, based on his more consistent playing time and better speed. But the real reason I like Venable—well, at least to the extent one can like a guy with a career .742 OPS—is his 15.4 percent line drive rate entering Wednesday, which is more than three percentage points below his career average. When that climbs, we’ll see his BABIP creep up toward his career .315 level, which will raise his .247 average.
The good news is that Venable is starting to heat up after hitting just .206 last month. Since May began, he’s hit .360 with three home runs and four steals entering Wednesday’s action. Not coincidentally, that hot streak began just after the Padres regained their best offensive player in Chase Headley and Jedd Gyorko began hitting as well. It’s also been encouraging to see Venable hit .327 at Petco Park—yes, that average is inflated by a lofty BABIP, and we’re just talking about a friggin’ six-week stretch here, but for a guy who’s struggled in San Diego throughout his career, perhaps the moved-in fences are a sign that he’ll begin to play better at home.
The 30-year-old Venable, of course, is hardly a newcomer to fantasy circles, having been a full-time player for the past three years after debuting with the Padres in 2008. He's a left-handed-hitter who remains an extreme platoon player, evidenced by a putrid .580 OPS against southpaws. But despite his familiarity as a not-great-but-not-awful fantasy option and someone who’s averaged 26 steals over the past three years, he’s still available in plenty of leagues. He’s never going to be a must-grab, but a hot hand is a hot hand, and the stolen bases alone give him should merit him consideration in five-outfield leagues.
Recommendation: Pass in standard mixed leagues, but pick him up while he’s hot everywhere else.
Jeff Locke | Pittsburgh Pirates | SP | 10 percent Yahoo ownership; 8.5 percent ESPN; 44 percent CBS
YTD: 39.2 IP / 4.88 FIP / 4.99 K/9 / 4.31 BB/9
ZiPS updated: 154 IP / 4.61 FIP / 6.05 K/9 / 3.92 BB/9
When I saw the southpaw’s CBS ownership jump by more than 20 points in the past week, I figured he was ripe for a spin in the waiver wire. After all, Pittsburgh is about as good a place to stay anonymous as there is in baseball, and perhaps this guy is the real deal looking for just a little positive PR to get his ownership going.
Locke, 25, was drafted in the second round by the Braves in 2006, and was traded, along with two other players, in the 2009 deal between Atlanta and Pittsburgh for Nate McLouth. In the minors, Locke pitched well, compiling a better than 3:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, a fine 1.26 WHIP and an ability to get strikeouts. Armed with a fastball that doesn’t zoom beyond the low-90s, the Princeton grad was never tabbed as a spectacular prospect, but is expected to hang around the majors as a back-of-the-rotation hurler on a good team.
So what explains the jump in his ownership? Well, a 2.95 ERA certainly doesn’t scare away prospective fantasy owners, and a 3-1 record in seven starts isn’t half bad. Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends. Want proof? Take your pick: A 4.84 xFIP. A crazy 81.5 percent strand rate. A 21 percent balls in play average. A 7.1 swinging strike rate. Yeah, seven starts is not a gigantic sample size, but it’s not a trend that portends a happy ending, either.
I’m not here to discredit Locke as a big leaguer or wish a pox upon his house, and if he can continue to pound the strike zone and limit walks, I don’t think a 4 ERA with a 6 K/9 is impossible by the time 2013 is over. But a market correction is right around the corner, and when that happens, you’ll want to be someplace else, preferably wearing a helmet while nestled in a concrete bunker.
Recommendation: Stay away in mixed leagues.
Denard Span | Washington Nationals | OF | 19 percent Yahoo ownership; 23.9 percent ESPN; 56 percent CBS
YTD: 151 PA / .277 / .344 / .350 with 0 HR and 5 SB
ZiPS updated: 595 PA / .275 / .335 / .369 with 3 HR and 18 SB
Can I ask a dumb question? Why is the leadoff hitter on arguably the best team in the National League hanging around the waiver wire in so many leagues? What’s wrong with a guy who steals bases, scores runs and posts a decent batting average?
Well, past history, for starters: Fantasy owners went ga-ga over Span’s 97 runs, .311 average and 10.4 percent walk rate back in 2009. But they then watched with abject disappointment as his on-base percentage collapsed in subsequent years, a situation compounded by a nasty concussion he suffered in 2011 and a shoulder injury last year that limited him to 128 games. Even after a 3.6 WAR season last year, his wOBA was off by more than 30 points from his 2009 season, and his stock entering 2013 was nowhere near what it was back in his salad days.
Then there’s the dearth of power. We’re talking about just 23 home runs over more than 2,800 career plate appearances (none so far this year) and despite once leading the league in triples, his career ISO barely breaks .100. For Span to be considered a mixed-league outfielder, he needs to keep up his production in his three categories to offset the damage he’ll do to an owner’s batting average and home runs.
So far this year, I’d say the results are mixed. His on-base percentage is acceptable but not ideal, as is his stolen base total, the byproduct of just six attempts. Span’s also suffering from a nasty 19.2 percent infield flyball rate, which will come back down to earth soon enough, and a 14.6 percent strikeout rate that stands to regress back to his career average. As for his health, he had appeared in all but three of the Nationals’ games entering this season, so there’s little reason to believe he’s not 100 percent.
And therein lies the key to Span’s fantasy value: Staying on the field. Assuming a baseline batting average of .280, he could very well produce 90 runs hitting atop a lineup that will produce better as the season unfolds, and I don’t think a return to 20 stolen bases is out of the question. I realize Span, a solid defender, is much more valuable in real life than in fantasy, and in a perfect world, an owner would prefer a more well-rounded stolen base producer than him. But Span does enough things well to justify a hike in his ownership levels, and as the summer progresses, I think that will happen.
Recommendation: It’s time to think about Span in standard mixed leagues again.
Posted by Karl de Vries at 3:08am
Lately, I’ve been working on a few projects related to the concept of the “opposite field premium.” I think that opposite field hitting ability is something that we don’t pay enough attention to, and that the ability to hit to all fields can only become more valuable to a major league hitter over the next few years.
The majors' best opposite field hitters are better hitters (overall) than the average hitter. Additionally, defenses can't shift against good opposite field hitters. Joey Votto agrees, and so should you.
Considering my interest in this type of work, it makes sense that I’ve been keeping a close eye on Mike Moustakas this year. Almost one out of every two balls that Moustakas hits in play are pulled, but his pull percentage alone doesn’t really do justice to his (in)ability to hit to left field. I don’t think I can come up with words that are strong enough to make this point clear to every reader, so I’ll let the numbers do the talking.
In the table below, I’ll use weighted runs created as a proxy for hitting ability. Weighted runs created (or wRC) measures a hitter's offensive output in runs. The wRC+ metric uses 100 as league average, and we interpret differences from 100 as percentage point differences above/below league average.
If you’re wondering how to interpret a negative wRC+ value, I don’t have a great answer for you. FanGraphs defines an awful hitter as someone who posts a 40 wRC+ or lower (a hitter who creates 60 percent less runs than league average). A hitter with a wRC+ of zero technically creates 100 percent less runs than the average player (or zero runs, relative to the average). Moustakas is clearly a very good hitter when he pulls the ball, if not one of the league’s best. But just how awful is Moustakas as an opposite field hitter? It’s hard to tell, actually, because he breaks the scale.
Side note: According to this metric, only two players were worse opposite field hitters than Moustakas was in 2012. Interestingly enough, the first is Jimmy Rollins—a switch hitter. The second is Aaron “I broke my hand because I tried to go the other way” Hill.
I guess it is obvious at this point that Moustakas hasn’t entered 2013 with a more balanced offensive approach. The gap between his pull and opposite field production is even wider now than it was in 2012, and his overall offensive production has been disappointing. Can we attribute Moustakas’ recent struggles to this one, glaring flaw? And what do these splits tell us about Moustakas’ unique swing?
What does he hit where?
Royals fans can find some solace in the fact that Moustakas has average-ish plate discipline. In fact, he has swung at fewer pitches outside the strike zone this year (relative to 2012). However, it’s possible that Moustakas has an issue determining which pitches should be pulled, and which pitches should be hit the other way. If you look at the graph below, you’ll see that he is hitting outside pitches to left field—this is a good thing. However, he pulls the ball so often that he likely is also be pulling some of the outside pitches that he sees. I've plotted pitches that Moustakas hit to left field in 2012 below. We see this strike zone from a catcher's point of view.
It appears that Moustakas does hit pitches that are thrown on the outer half to left field at least some of the time. He also pulls a good number of these pitches, but he doesn’t have a lot of success doing that. In an earlier article I wrote on Zack Cozart's struggles at the plate, I argued that some dead pull hitters tend roll over and hit lazy ground balls on pulled outside pitches.
We can get a better idea of how well Moustakas handles fastballs on the outer half if we compare his results to league averages. Below, I’ve pulled up two graphs that do just that (courtesy of baseballheatmaps.com). Moustakas is a better hitter than the rest of major league baseball in the green/red areas of the strike zone, and a worse hitter than average in the blue zones. Again, both strike zones are shown from the catcher’s point of view.
With these plots, we can confirm what I originally thought to be true. Moustakas can’t hit pitches that are thrown on the lower outer edge of the plate. My guess is that he has trouble with these pitches because a pitch thrown to the outside corner can’t be effectively pulled by any hitter. I’ll have a full study on this topic soon, but for now you’ll either have to agree with me or write an angry comment below.
These negative run values can be partially explained by fly outs to left field (recall Moustakas’ ridiculous opposite field fly ball rate), but they can also be explained by swinging strikes. Moustakas swings and misses at about the league average rate, but he whiffs most often at pitches low and on the left side of the plate. What’s more, the area of the strike zone in which he swings and misses most often sits just below the area in which he often flies out to left field.
Mike Moustakas has a swing that clearly wasn’t built to hit pitches thrown low and away from the lefty. You may not call the outside corner a hole, but Moustakas’ current approach isn’t as versatile as it could be. I think his dead pull ability is extremely impressive, as he was able to heavily rely on it last year while remaining somewhat productive. But is Moustakas still a bona fide major league hitter if pitchers begin to pound the outside corner? Maybe not.
Posted by Noah Woodward at 3:01am
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