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Friday, May 31, 2013
Sabermetrics' most virulent critics have long insisted that baseball nerds remove the human element from the game, reducing players to a set of numbers and binary code with little regard for them as human beings. Incidentally, I suspect that these detractors aren't huge fans of fantasy baseball.
Here at Trader’s Corner, we're doing our best to vindicate those very critics, breaking major league players down to their core numeric elements (take that, Hawk Harrelson!); we endeavor to assess performance trends both sustainable and untenable in an effort to identify players who could command considerable profit over the trade market. This week, I examine three players—one overperforming and two underperforming—who represent viable trade/pickup candidates in light of recent performance trends.
Do we really want to live in a world where Carlos Gomez is a more valuable fantasy asset than Ryan Braun? It’s almost an offensive notion, and we therefore share a collective obligation to undermine Go-Go’s accomplishments through the first two months of 2013. In all fairness, he’s been extremely impressive, and at 27 has emerged as a top-25 fantasy player in the nascent stages of 2013, but there are a few signs that point to regression, and owners should look to maximize return on Gomez as his market value is peaking.
Gomez’s .330 batting average has been a pleasant surprise for both fantasy owners and a decidedly moribund Brewers team, but a cursory look at his peripheral stats suggests no substantive changes in his approach that could’ve contributed to his early success this season. His 4.5 percent walk rate is actually a smidge below his career mark (5 percent), and he continues to strike out a ton, whiffing in 21.6 percent of his plate appearances.
Cases like this usually point to one culprit; indeed, the one figure that deviates dramatically from Gomez’s career norm is a gaudy .383 BABIP, the seventh-highest among qualified hitters, and a 73-point upgrade over Gomez’s lifetime mark. Dismissing a high average fueled by a lofty BABIP is lazy, but when considered in conjunction with a player’s batted-ball profile, this statistic can shed some light on how randomness has affected a player’s batting average.
As it happens, Gomez is not pounding line drives with unprecedented frequency—his 16.7 percent line drive rate in 2013 represents a negligible improvement over his career mark—but a disproportionate percentage of Gomez’s fly balls are eluding defenders; he’s fashioned a .255 BABIP on fly balls. For comparison’s sake, when Dexter Fowler fashioned an ungodly, league-leading .390 BABIP in 2012, he managed a mere .056 BABIP on fly balls.
As the sample size increases, it seems reasonable that Gomez’s BABIP will shrink to something a little more reasonable, and his batting average will more closely resemble the .247 career mark he had prior to 2013.
Perhaps even more surprising than the improved batting average, however, is the impressive power Gomez has exhibited through the first third of the 2013 season. He’s collected 10 home runs already—an astonishing feat considering he’s reached double digits in home runs just once over a full season, in 2012—and his .270 isolated power is almost double his .145 career pop index. I feel as though my words don’t adequately articulate how ridiculous his power surge has been, so here’s a chart.
While he’s made steady improvements in this department each year of his career, his ISO in 2013 represents a complete reconstitution of his offensive profile. Clearly, Gomez is working diligently to silence those who suggested his 19 home runs last season were an anomaly, but despite his powerful start to 2013, he’s simply not going to sustain this level of power over a full season. Only four qualified hitters—Josh Hamilton, Edwin Encarnacion, Miguel Cabrera and Ryan Braun—produced an isolated power greater than .270 in 2012. One of these things is not like the others. (Hint: it’s Gomez.)
He’s reaping the benefits of a hitter-friendly home ballpark—nine of his 10 longballs have come at Miller Park—but this, too, shall pass. Or at least regress. Gomez’s .377 ISO at home is as ludicrous as it is unprecedented. Last year, when Braun and Corey Hart combined for 71 home runs, neither one boasted an ISO at Miller Park north of .327; when Prince Fielder socked 50 dingers for the Brew Crew in 2007, his home ISO was a comparatively meager .366. Carlos Gomez is not Prince Fielder.
He’ll continue to steal bases—with 10 already, he should be a lock for upwards of 25, provided he stays healthy&mdash but there’s a strong likelihood his batting average and power start to dip in the near future, and his prospects for scoring runs aren’t overwhelmingly positive on a Milwaukee club that ranks 22nd in runs per game (3.96). I’d recommend shopping him aggressively before he outgrows his Five Category Stud costume.
Nope, that’s not a typo. Despite his unsightly rate stats (6.11 ERA, 1.57 WHIP) and a paucity of wins, Jackson is better than his numbers suggest. The right-hander has been victimized by some rotten luck this year, and with his market value essentially in the basement, now is the ideal time to pounce on him, as he’s likely due for improvement in the near future.
Maybe it comes with the territory—if you voluntarily join the Cubs, you’ve pretty much dug your own grave—but Jackson has essentially personified Murphy’s Law over the past couple of months. His 0.85 HR/9 is a notable improvement over last year’s 1.09 mark (he’s at an even one homer per nine innings for his career), a potential byproduct of a batted-ball profile that features a greater percentage of ground balls than it historically has. However, Jackson isn’t getting rewarded for his worm-burning ways; a .341 BABIP, the fifth-highest in baseball, has resolved to direct those grounders toward vacant swaths of grass instead of a defender’s glove.
Name GB% LOB% ERA
Alex Cobb 56.00% 86.30% 2.66
Mike Leake 52.60% 81.20% 3.02
Jordan Zimmermann 50.40% 80.20% 2.37
Jason Marquis 53.60% 79.60% 3.70
Justin Masterson 54.80% 77.90% 3.07
A.J. Burnett 55.70% 77.40% 2.72
Felix Hernandez 52.00% 77.30% 2.51
Trevor Cahill 57.60% 76.50% 2.88
Scott Feldman 50.60% 74.40% 2.82
Lucas Harrell 53.10% 73.60% 5.43
Jaime Garcia 63.00% 72.30% 3.58
Jon Lester 50.00% 71.80% 3.34
Stephen Strasburg 51.60% 70.70% 2.49
Doug Fister 57.10% 68.50% 3.65
Jon Niese 54.90% 67.40% 4.40
Roberto Hernandez 52.80% 67.20% 4.87
Tim Hudson 53.00% 64.10% 5.37
Edwin Jackson 50.30% 56.40% 6.11
Wily Peralta 55.60% 56.30% 6.35
Only two of the 19 starters with a groundball rate above 50 percent possess a strand rate below 60 percent. Jackson is one of them. Notice the strong negative correlation between a robust left on base percentage and an enviable ERA. So far this season, Jackson’s increased groundball output hasn’t helped him work out of jams; he’s converted just 7.3 percent of his double-play opportunities, the 12th-lowest rate among pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched.
That’s an astonishing figure considering the Cubs possess the second-most efficient defense (.735) in baseball. As counter-intuitive as it seems to have faith in anything Cubs-related, be confident that Jackson’s fortune will turn, and these ground balls will cease to elude defenders with such regularity. When that happens, his ERA won’t look nearly as garish, and it’ll probably start to approximate the sub-4.00 average he’s fashioned over the past four seasons.
While his walk rate (3.74 per nine innings) represents a step in the wrong direction from where he’s been the past few seasons, Jackson’s ugly WHIP, much like his ERA, is fueled by that hefty .341 BABIP. Through his first 10 starts, Jackson has allowed 10.4 hits per nine innings, his highest figure since 2007. As his BABIP regresses to the mean (particularly against lefties, who have compiled an unsustainable .422 BABIP against him) the WHIP will begin to deflate.
Jackson likely won’t accumulate a ton of wins on the North Side—the Cubs aren’t exactly an offensive juggernaut, averaging a modest 4.04 runs per game—but his strikeout numbers are up, averaging 8.83 per nine, and once his luck starts to turn, he could provide some value in deeper leagues. Look to capitalize now, while the market for his services is virtually non-existent and he’s saddled with a disparity of nearly two and a half runs between his ERA and .
This may constitute heresy. And under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t encourage jettisoning a player with the talent and skill set of Matt Kemp. But something ain’t right.
Bullish fantasy owners expected Kemp, surgically repaired and entering his age-28 season, to play an integral role in the revamped Dodgers’ inevitable domination of the NL West this year after he missed 56 games in 2012 to hamstring and shoulder injuries. Things haven’t gone as planned—that may be the understatement of the century—and Kemp’s struggles this season have epitomized what’s been a disappointing two months in Los Angeles.
Kemp’s numbers across the board represent massive departures from his career marks, and have precipitated rampant speculation that he may not have fully recovered from his shoulder injury and subsequent surgery, a notion articulated best by the venerable Peter Gammons. The Dodgers insist he’s healthy, but the performance suggests otherwise.
A career .292 hitter, Kemp is hitting a mere .251 so far this year despite a robust .348 BABIP that registers just four points below his career mark. A lofty 28.6 percent strikeout rate, his highest since breaking into the league in 2006, has factored heavily into his problems at the plate this year; not surprisingly, his swinging-strike rate is up, registering at 15.6 percent—Kemp hasn’t whiffed this frequently since his rookie year. His sub-standard 6.7 percent walk rate has further compounded his on-base issues and continues to adversely affect his ability to score runs.
More disconcerting, however, is the complete absence of power that, in my profoundly unqualified medical opinion, bespeaks some kind of lingering injury. Considering the body of work, such a precipitous decline simply doesn’t compute at this juncture of Kemp’s career in the absence of some physical problem.
As Fangraphs’ Jeff Zimmerman notes, amazing baseball players don’t stop being amazing baseball players at 28 years old. Outside of an injury, the only other remotely plausible explanation for Kemp’s paltry .084 isolated power is that he is, in fact, possessed by the spirit of Mickey Lolich. Entering Friday, Kemp has just two home runs on the season—one of which was characterized as “just enough/lucky” by ESPN Hit Tracker—and his prospects aren’t entirely encouraging with half his games coming in a ballpark that hasn’t been so hospitable to the home run this year.
His problems at the plate notwithstanding, Kemp has done a fine job on the basepaths, picking up seven stolen bases&mdash he had nine over 106 games in 2012—consequently assuaging any lingering concern over his hamstring problems. But while the steals are nice, it looks increasingly unlikely Kemp will ever replicate his sensational 2011 campaign, when he posted a 115/39/126/40/.324 line, finishing second in NL MVP voting behind only Ryan Braun.
It’s tough to characterize Kemp as a true “sell low” candidate because, well, his name is Matt Kemp, and players with his kind of pedigree will retain substantial market value even as they struggle. But it has become overwhelmingly apparent that something is amiss, and owners should explore trade options with those willing to pay a premium for marquee names.
Posted by Jonah Birenbaum
I should have known. I absolutely should have known. As soon as I saw Dioner Navarro
(again, just to be clear, DIONER NAVARRO) hit his third home run Wednesday, I should have known something was up. Baseball was going to be weird again. And I should have (probably) taken to Twitter to alert the masses that it was going to be an absolutely off-the-wall day of crazy.
Instead? Well, I did this:
Just to recap, your optimal fantasy lineup from Wednesday's games went like this:
C - Dioner Navarro, three HR
1B - Chris Davis
, two HR
SS- Troy Tulowitzki
, two home runs
3B - Ryan Zimmerman
, three home runs
OF - Domonic Brown
, two home runs
No one else had more than one, so say you had Neil Walker
, Marlon Byrd
, Carlos Pena
, and Jason Bay
, who also hit home runs, your fantasy team would have parked 16 dingers Wednesday alone. I know someone out there, somewhere, had this lineup. Right? Someone? If you did, please email me so I can send you a virtual high-five, because, man, well done. Seriously.
This got me thinking about "the best optimal fantasy day," and it's an idea I'll probably flesh out later in a separate article, but doing research yesterday I was hard pressed to find a better single day fantasy lineup. Have you ever had a day like the one above? What's the best single day you've ever had? Or had against you? Do you still think of those days wistfully/with great heartache? Let us know in the comments or via Twitter (@jackweiland, @karl_de_vries).
As always, let's recap some recent waiver wire subjects before we get to today's featured players.
is the subject of many waiver wire pieces on the interwebs lately, and for good reason. His sub-3 ERA and strong strikeout and walk rates make him an attractive option. If you're a Hardball Times Waiver Wire reader you made this pickup when I first suggested it a month ago. Just saying.
Sit down for this one; Eric Chavez
is injured again. It was fun while it lasted, I suppose.
More disappointing news: the Braves have designated former waiver wire recommendation Juan Francisco
(the hombre with two first nombres!) for assignment. I still like him as a cheap source of power, so I'll be interested to see where he lands. If he can get playing time, he could still be a solid waiver find. Or maybe I'm just hoping against hope. Chris Johnson
will likely see the lion's share of the playing time at the hot corner for the Bravos going forward.
fended off a nagging groin injury and avoided a stint on the disabled list, but did suffer his first blown save of the year this week. I still find his peripheral stats troubling, and I'm still looking to trade him. Any takers?
On the plus side, Scott Feldman
has continued to excel for the Cubs, and has more job security than when we first discussed him here.
My man Karl de Vries wrote some excellent and entertaining things last week about Bryan Shaw
and Cody Allen
, and you should read it immediately. Seriously, skip the rest of this column and go back to that one (just kidding, don't leave me!).
Today let's look at a pair of pitchers who made their major league debuts in 2011, and are pitching well at the moment.
Tyler Chatwood | Colorado Rockies | SP | ESPN: 18.8 percent ownership; Yahoo!: 10 percent; CBS: 27 percent
YTD: 3-0 in 29.2 innings pitched (five starts), with a 2.12 ERA, a 2.32 FIP, and a 3.19 xFIP
ZiPS Projection: 6-6 in 111 innings pitched (21 starts) with a 4.41 ERA
It's easy to forget how highly regarded Chatwood once was. After the 2010 season, in its 2011 Prospect Handbook, Chatwood was the second ranked prospect in the Angels system*, and the BA had this to say about his future:
If he commands his pitches better, he profiles as a front-end starter. If not, he could thrive in a bullpen role.*Reminder: This was a system at the time that had Mike Trout, Jean Segura, Garrett Richards, and Mark Trumbo*
His stock as a prospect never got any higher, as he posted an ERA+ of 79 with the Angels in 2011 and then 86 after being traded to the Rockies prior to the 2012 campaign.
This year the Rockies have turned him into a human yo-yo
, bouncing between the majors and Triple-A as injuries have made his services needed on the big club. He's been nothing short of incredible, as his ERA, FIP, and xFIP attest. He's striking out batters at a rate well above his career average (21.3 percent vs. 13.4 percent) and he's walking fewer batters as well (7.4 percent vs. 10.8 percent). Seeing as those career averages are based on 236 innings (and his first 236 innings as a major league player), it's worth looking at how his strikeouts and walks rate against his minor league body of work.
The answer? Pretty well. In his minor league career, Chatwood has struck out just under 20 percent of the batters he's faced, and walked around 11 percent. In his time at Triple-A (split across four partial seasons), he's fanned more than 18 percent of the batters he's faced, and walked just 8.5 percent. So, his strikeout and walk rates are not crazy, nor are they foreign to him.
This is where the human yo-yo starts to work overtime. Stay with me here.
His BABIP does seem a tad high at .337 (good news), but his strand rate of 79.5 percent seems unsustainable as well (bad news). He hasn't allowed a single flyball to leave the yard (bad news), but his excellent groundball rate of 57.8 percent will help him limit the number of home runs he yields pitching in Coors Field (good news).
So what do we have? A pretty good pitcher, pitching at levels not far from the ones he pitched at in the minor leagues, who has some good luck in his current statistical profile, and some bad luck. Sounds like a solid bet to me.
One last concern before we move on: Chatwood's fastball is a good pitch, but he's currently using it 72.7 percent of the time. If his curveball and changeup aren't good enough to use more often, I worry that hitters will start to tee off on the fastball, and we'll see a drastic overall decline. Or (even worse from a fantasy perspective) he'll be turned into a setup man for Rafael Betancourt.
Chatwood's profile is all over the map, with parts that are quite encouraging, and parts that are quite frightening. For now, I'm advising buying here (at least when he's in the majors). People forget he was once a highly regarded prospect, and he stalled for awhile turning into a quality major league arm, but there's more to like than dislike in general.
Corey Kluber | Cleveland Indians | SP | ESPN: 1 percent ownership; Yahoo!: 4 percent; CBS: 16 percent
YTD: 3-3 in 41.1 innings pitched (six starts), with a 4.57 ERA, 3.21 FIP, and a 2.91 xFIP
ZiPS Projection: 8-12 in 143 innings (24 starts) with a 5.06 ERA
If Chatwood was once a highly regarded prospect who stalled out, and is now achieving a modest level of success, well, then Corey Kluber is almost nothing like that guy. Except for the success part, that is.
In the same 2011 Prospect Handbook, Baseball America had this to say about Kluber, the 26th ranked player for the Indians:
He racks up whiffs more with his deceptive short-arm delivery than with pure stuff [...] He still needs to refine his command, because he's around the strike zone almost too much and is fairly hittable [...] Kluber doesn't have high upside, but he has good feel for pitching and could be a back-of-the-rotation starter.
Not exactly a glowing report.
Yet if you look at his numbers today it would be tough to find fault.
He's striking out batters—lots of them—and hardly walking any (25 percent and 4 percent, respectively). His velocity is strong (92.7 miles per hour). His strand rate is healthy, but not so much that regression is expected (70.2 percent). His groundball rate is not bad (44.9 percent). His whiff rate is on point (11.1 percent). His first strike percentage is something to marvel at (63.7 percent). His .351 BABIP is probably due for a drop.
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.
He's in the rotation right now because Brett Myers
is injured, and now it looks like Myers return might be to the bullpen, rather than the starting five
. With Scott Kazmir
struggling mightily as well, Kluber's job doesn't seem in immediate danger, and some much due good luck could make that a forgone conclusion.
I'm buying here in AL-only leagues all day, and acting on a spot-start/two-start-week basis in mixed leagues. There's a lot to like here, though. I am positively impressed.
Posted by Jack Weiland
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