May 19, 2013
And here's the full roster.
Now availableHardball Times Baseball Annual 2013, with 300 pages of great content. It's also available on Amazon and Kindle. Read more about it here.
Or you can search by:
THT E-bookThird Base: The Crossroads is THT's e-book, available for $3.99 from the Kindle store. The good news is that anyone can read a Kindle book, even on a PC. So enjoy the best from THT in a new format.
our CafePress store. We've got baseball caps, t-shirts, coffee mugs and even wall clocks with the classy THT logo prominently displayed. Also, check out the THT Bookstore. Please support your favorite baseball site by purchasing something today.
All content on this site (including text, graphs, and any other original works), unless otherwise noted, is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
All stats are current through June 14.
There are many popular memes about "partial-season" players in baseball. Adam LaRoche and Mark Teixeira can't hit in the first half. Kosuke Fukudome can only hit in April, while CC Sabathia can't pitch in April. And, of course, the one that inspired this writing, the notion, largely perpetuated by Matthew Berry and the folks at ESPN, that Dan Haren can't pitch after the All-Star break.
Some of these myths have some result-based credence to them (Teixeira, for instance, has a career slash line of .237/.348/.427 in April (.775 OPS), whereas his career OPS marks in May, June, July, August and September are all above .900), but do they, particularly the Haren one, have "predictive" substance behind them?
First, let's look at the pitcher Haren has been for his career. In short, he has been about as consistent and elite a pitcher as there is. Over the course of his eight-plus years in the major leagues (2011 is his ninth), Haren has proven to be very durable—pitching 216 or more innings each of the past six years, and on pace to do so again this year—and has compiled a 3.59 ERA and 1.18 WHIP along with 1338 strikeouts to only 339 walks over 1561 major league innings.
On the peripheral level, the surface checks out, as validated by a 3.60 FIP, a 3.55 xFIP, a 3.84 tERA (this tends to be a higher figure than FIP, though scaled to look like ERA), and a strong strikeout rate (20.7 percent K rate versus an 18.0 percent MLB average) that comes from the ability to induce a good number of swings-and-misses (career 9.7 percent swinging strike percentage, MLB average is 8.4 percent).
Even his batted-ball normalized numbers check out, as Haren's expected WHIP and eFIP check in at superior rates of 1.23 and 3.69, respectively.
Haren is also a relatively neutral batted ball-type pitcher (career 1.20 GB/FB ratio, 0.78 GB/AO ratio) who has played in relatively neutral home run-inflating parks (Angel Stadium, with a home run-per-outfield fly ball (HR/OFFB) park index of 102, is the most home run-inflating park of his career), though he has never experienced any type of home run luck (career 11.5 percent HR/OFFB percentage, 11.3 percent MLB average).
As a flyball-neutral pitcher with good strikeout rates and low walk rates, there are very few, if any, holes in Haren's game. More inspiring, however, is Haren's consistency. Since his breakout year in 2007, Haren's relative ERA indicies have been as follow: 138, 139, 142, 106*, 148.
*Though Haren's BABIP-inflated first half ERA+ was 93, his second-half ERA index was 139.
All in all, with Haren, what you see is what you get, and you tend to get what you paid for.
In Roto leagues, full-season expectations are everything, but in H2H leagues, or micromanaged Rotisserie leagues, splits are important. As any Alex Rios owners last year can tell you, as much value as a player puts for in the first half, irrespective of his end-of-season line, if his second half is nerve-wrecking, not only can he make you forget all the good he did for you, but a front-loaded player can cause you to nose-dive from the top of your league's standings.
Noting how great Haren's end-of-season statistics have been over the past half-decade of baseball, let's investigate whether or not he truly is one of these "front-loaded" players you need to deal rather than hold.
First, the results. Per Baseball Reference, Haren's second-half results have not been up to par with his first-half surface stats. Though Haren is the owner of a robust 3.21 ERA and 1.09 WHIP with 751 strikeouts to 181 walks (4.15 K/BB ratio) over 880 innings pitched in the first half for his career, his career second-half numbers clock in at a 4.07 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP with an equally good 7.8 K/9 ratio (587 strikeouts over 680.1 innings pitched), but more walks (158, for a 3.72 K/BB ratio).
Now, a 4.07 ERA and 3.72 K/BB is not horrible (keep in mind the league-average ERA and K/BB over this period were approximately 4.40 and 2.00, respectively) nor something to sneeze at, but in light of his career end-of-season numbers and stellar first-half numbers, you can understand why owners generally want to sell Haren by July.
But is this "sell, sell, sell" attitude particularly warranted, despite the results? Or does it breed a market inefficiency that you can exploit to your advantage? Because we at The Hardball Times are bigger fans of inner, rather than outer, beauty, let's dig a little deeper into Haren's first- and second-half splits; beyond the results, and into the process.
Based on the FIP formula, Haren's first- and second-half splits are a lot less extreme than they seem by ERA standards (0.86 points). Though Haren tends to walk a few more batters in the second half (4.4 percent uBB versus 3.9 percent), his second-half FIP (3.70) is only 0.40 points above his first-half FIP (3.30). This split is less than half as severe as his ERA split, and relative to his career FIP (3.60), it is not too far apart from what you are paying for.
Digging further, we also find that Haren's second-half batted ball profile indicates that he tends to give up fewer fly balls and more ground balls in the second half compared to the first half. Whereas Haren's career first-half flyball rate is 38.8 percent, his second half rate is 34.4 percent.
In fact, if we calculate Haren's "exFIP" (exFIP is xFIP calculated with HR/OFFB in place of HR/FB, done because a popup can never be a home run) we find the split even tinier, with a 3.35 first-half exFIP and 3.63 second-half exFIP. Haren's expected WHIP splits between his first and second half are even smaller.
So, while it is clear that Haren has been a better pitcher in the first half for his career, his peripherals say that the talent splits between the first and second half for Haren are relatively marginal. Pitchers tend to wear down over the course of a 162-game season, and the cold April weather warms up by July, so I was not be shocked to find that second-half league ERAs tend to be higher than first-half ERAs.
In 2009, for example, the first-half league ERA was 4.09, while the MLB average ERA was 4.57 in the second half. The same was true in 2008 (4.19 versus 4.52) and 2007 (4.36 versus 4.61). 2010 was a different story (4.16 versus 3.98), but the second half of last season marked the beginning of the "new era of the pitcher" everyone loves to write about. In 2010, in fact (and ironically), Haren's first-half ERA (4.60) was higher than his second-half mark (2.87).
So why the major ERA split for Haren?
For one thing, Haren has always been a bit lucky with balls in play during the first half, while the opposite can be said of his second halves. For his career, Haren's first-half BABIP is .274, while his second-half BABIP is .318. His cumulative career BABIP is .291.
In addition to BABIP, Haren has seen more of his fly balls leave the yard in the second half than in the first half. Whereas Haren has a HR/FB rate in the high-nines for his first-half career, that number is close to 11 percent in the second half (10.5 percent MLB average). That is not too surprising, as every 10 degree increase in temperature tends to boost flyball distance by a couple percent.
So what does this mean?
If you currently own Haren, it means do not panic. You own one of baseball's most elite pitchers, and there is no real reason to sell him, especially at a discount, to try to poach a pitcher who is not a "second half dud."
Haren currently owns a 2.54 ERA and 0.98 WHIP. His peripherals says that, as always, he's earned those numbers. Though Haren is no longer pitching in the NL and, as could be expected, striking out about a half-batter fewer per nine innings, he is currently inducing ground balls and popups at career-best or second-best rates.
He owns a 2.51 FIP, and a 2.99 xFIP that is 35 percent better than the rest of the league. Even xWHIP's more-inflated numbers love Haren, claiming his performance to date to be worth a 3.26 eFIP (4.00 MLB mean, compared to a 3.80 MLB mean for xFIP) and a 1.12 WHIP (top 15 among all major league pitchers, including relievers, with at least one game started).
Haren is not someone to trade away unless you get someone just as good in return, and that's not an easy standard to meet, even in the rekindled era of the pitcher.
If you do not currently own Haren, it means you should exploit the myth that Haren can't pitch in the second half. The myth does not mean you can get Haren for Zach Britton, but it does mean you might be able to trade away a "lesser" pitcher like Matt Garza, Josh Beckett, Mat Latos, or Anibal Sanchez as the substantial majority piece (if not a one-for-one deal) in a deal to get him.
You also might be able to swap out ceiling and risk for reliability, moving Josh Johnson as the All-Star break (and his alleged return from the disabled list) approaches. You might also be able to get Haren plus a useable fantasy piece for your team in what should otherwise be a one-for-one deal (e.g., trading Sabathia for Haren plus something).
Either way, you want Dan Haren on your team in the second half.
Posted by Jeffrey Gross at 5:11am (6) Comments
Friday, June 17, 2011
Travis Snider| Toronto| OF| 17 percent Yahoo! ownership
Oliver ROS: .251/.313/.420
A regular resident of this column, Travis Snider appears yet again. Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos recently noted that the organization is happy with Snider's approach at the plate and mentions his opening up his stance. Good news for those hoping to see him back in the majors.
His home run totals in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League leave much to be desired, but hide some positives, namely a stellar 15.5 percent strikeout rate. In his last 10 games, he has been exceptionally hot, to the tune of .500/.558/.842 with eight doubles, one triple and one home run in 38 at bats. That's 10 extra base hits in just 38 at-bats, and it's not as if he's taking an all-or-nothing approach: His walk-to-strikeout rate (BB:K) is five-to-four in that same time span.
The Blue Jays have seen lackluster play from Rajai Davis and Juan Rivera, and of course they have Corey Patterson receiving regular playing time. (Patterson, in spite of his admirable recent play, has 4,360 plate appearances that suggest this is the best you'll get.)
As the Jays creep further out of the playoff race, expect to see them look at some of their long term pieces, including Snider. A sleeper favorite of mine coming into the season because of his raw power and ability to hold his own at such a young age in the majors, he remains a potential power source for deep leaguers upon promotion. Should he get hot, he could find his way onto some medium sized mixed-league rosters as well. Keep tabs on him, but it's probably not necessary to race to the free agent pool at this point. Those in dynasty formats should give strong consideration to taking advantage of a buying opportunity on a young man who's just 23.
Recommendation: Should be stashed in some large mixed-leagues with deep benches, and by owners in AL-only formats with bench wiggle room.
Mike Moustakas| Kansas City| 3B| 39 percent Yahoo! ownership
Oliver ROS: .255/.298/.458
The Kansas Royals have dipped into their pool of minor league talent and plucked Mike Moustakas. He's had success in his first five games, reaching base by both a walk and a hit in each of his first four games. The surprising part of that last sentence is the walk part, as he's not noted for drawing too many free passes. Most likely it's a small sample size issue, but it is something to pay attention to moving forward. He's also smacked his first career home run, something he should do with some frequency in his career given his strong power tool.
Talented enough to make waves at a weak position in leagues of all sizes, Moustakas should see his ownership rate shoot up in no time at all. He's likely already owned in most competitive leagues, but the question is, what do you do if you are an owner of his?
I'd suggest fielding offers. His Minor League Equivalency (MLE) for his 2011 output is .239/.294/.405. That's putrid. While MLEs aren't the be-all-and-end-all, they should serve as some sort of baseline for those looking to gauge expected major league performance out of the gate. Moustakas' bat is good enough to transition quickly, but it may not. With the excitement still in the air over his promotion, now may serve as the high point for dealing him in re-draft leagues. Owners shouldn't give him away, but packaging him with another solid player in an attempt to net a more established talent is worth kicking the tires on.
Recommendation: Should be universally owned.
Rich Harden| Oakland| SP/RP| 1 percent Yahoo! ownership
Oliver ROS: 4.25 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 9.2 K/9, 4.1 BB/9
For many, Rich Harden's year to date line above says it all: injured. A perpetual occupant of the disabled list, Harden is on the mend yet again, and ready to tease those willing to allow him to. At this point though, what's the real expense? He's almost universally unowned, and only requires being stashed on the fantasy DL. Wednesday saw him throw two innings of a simulated game, and he's expected to start for Triple-A Sacramento on Monday.
He was both terrible and injured for the Rangers last year, but was an absolute strikeout machine his previous two seasons. Rob Neyer may be reluctant to be fooled again by Harden, but I'll be a willing slave to my lust of strikeouts and fall prey once again to the white elephant that is the dream of a healthy and productive Harden. Those who clicked the link to Neyer's article will see the typical coach talk with manager Bob Melvin gushing about Harden's fastball. As Ben Pritchett noted in the wonderful world of social media (i.e. on my facebook wall), it'll take more than coach talk to convince most that his fastball is lively, and rightfully so. I hope Monday's rehab start will produce reports of actual radar gun readings.
Those in deep leagues with an open DL spot would be wise to stash Harden. Others should add him to their watch lists, as starters capable of striking out more than a batter an inning don't grow on trees. Perhaps Harden no longer qualifies as one of those select few; we shall see. Further aiding his appeal is his spacious home ballpark, which is especially helpful for him given his extreme fly ball tendencies. In a change of roles, Harden is looking to fill the shoes of one of the many injured A's starters. Who'd have thought?
Recommendation: Should be stashed on the DL by large mixed-league owners in need of pitching help, and those in some AL-only formats in need of pitching help.
Andrew Miller| Boston| SP| 1 percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD: 2.47 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 8.36 K/9, 4.8 BB/9 (Triple-A)
Oliver ROS: No projection
Where there is a long time underachieving former top prospect showing signs of life, you're likely to find me lurking not far behind. This time the lead role is played by Andrew Miller, who looks to have his date set to return to the big stage. A former first-round pick of the Detroit Tigers, and one of the main trade pieces in acquiring Miguel Cabrera, Miller has been a bust to date, but has a chance on Monday to begin work on shedding that label. The Red Sox intend to promote him to face the San Diego Padres, offering him a soft opponent for his 2011 major league debut.
This season began much the same as previous years for Miller, with spotty control and command resulting in too many walks. Something seems to have clicked in his last four turns in the Pawtucket rotation, though, as he's walked just three batters in his last 25.1 innings while striking out 26.
A lot remains to be seen with Miller. First and foremost is whether he's able to sustain his recent pristine walk rate, but that's not all. He must show that he's retained the stuff that excited scouts and prospect buffs while improving his walk rate. Finally, he has to show that he's not just pumping in get-it-over pitches to avoid free passes, and that he's throwing quality strikes.
With so many questions to be answered, it'll take more than one start against the Padres to properly establish clear answers, but it's a starting point. Those in need of pitching help in deep mixed-leagues and AL-only formats should consider adding Miller for his start on Monday, as he's got a good match-up, making him a quality streaming option with the potential of sticking on rosters.
Recommendation: Should be owned by pitching starved owners in deep mixed-leagues and AL-only formats and monitored by others.
Matt Moore| Tampa Bay| RP| 0 percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD: 2.75 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 12.06 K/9, 2.75 BB/9 (Double-A prior to his June 16 start)
Oliver ROS: No projection
Instead of a trade target this week, I've opted to highlight a minor league player available in the Yahoo! player database who is a great dynasty league option. He's unlikely to help re-draft owners, but he's an exciting player to keep tabs on and may see a cup of coffee in September as a bullpen arm should the Rays find themselves in the playoff hunt (much like they handled David Price). As glowing as Moore's season line is, it could be prettier if it included his no-hit, two-walk, 11 strikeout performance on Thursday night.
Moore is a southpaw with electric stuff and a drool-inducing career minor league strikeout rate. The fly in the ointment with him historically has been his poor command. This season has seen him continue a trend of strong command that can date back to post All-Star break last year. Surprisingly, his improvement in throwing strikes hasn't hurt his strikeout rate, as his 12.09 K/9 this year illustrates. It looks as if the Rays have yet another tantalizing youngster on their hands.
Recommendation:Should be owned in all dynasty leagues where he's available.
Posted by Josh Shepardson at 6:16am (11) Comments
Saturday, June 18, 2011
All stats current through June 15
Javier Vazquez | Marlins | SP | 24 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 7.05 ERA, 1.65 K/9, 6.85 K/9, 1.54 K/BB, 32.1% GB%
Oliver ROS: 4.20 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 7.8 K/9, 2.72 K/BB
What a fall from grace Javier Vazquez has experienced over the past season and a half. Once one of baseball's perpetually underrated aces, Javier Vazquez has lost several ticks off his fastball and seen his K/BB ratio fall from elite to mediocre. Now barely able to throw 90 mph, Vazquez has had hardly the rebound many predicted following his second stint on the Yankees, posting an ERA over 7.00 and WHIP above 1.60 over 66 innings. The owner of a career 3.33 K/BB ratio just two years ago, Vazquez's K/BB ratio over the past two seasons has not been able to crack the league-average 2.00 mark. Vazquez has not been particularly unlucky, either. His 4.69 xFIP last season (5.56 FIP) and 4.82 xFIP this season (5.11 FIP) have been substantially below the league average. You can largely blame a walk rate (3.72 BB/9 last season, 4.23 mark this year, 2.47 career rate) that's exploded out of the blue
In light of this, Vazquez hardly looks like an ownable commodity. But brighter skies may lie ahead. Over his past six starts (ot counting his June 16 start), Vazquez has averaged around 90 mph on his fastball, up from the 88 mark he's been routinely averaging over the past two seasons. Furthermore, and more important, check out the xWHIP Calculator's quantification of those outings:
I will not try to convince you that Vazquez is back to form—his average fastball velocity is still two miles an hour under what it was two years ago—but what Vazquez's last month of outings shows is that he has not been nearly as bad as his results would seem. Vazquez's K/BB ratio, strikeouts per nine rate, and groundabll rate have been in line with his career rates. If you are hurting for pitching, you'll have to take a risk here or there. Vazquez may be worth a look.
Recommendation: Vazquez should be owned in 14+ mixed league and NL-only formats, while monitored closely in 12-team leagues. Ten-team leagues can ignore Vazquez for now.
Carlos Pena | Cubs | 1B | 48 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .223/.352/.437
Because he's batting only .221 on the year, it is understandable why many owners have steered clear of Pena. Low batting averages can be truly toxic, outbalancing batting average benefits of players like Miguel Cabrera. But hey, that's why they call it cheap power in fantasy, and Pena and Mark Reynolds are the modern poster boys of cheap power.
Only, Pena isn't as bad as his full season numbers indicate. Pena had an atrocious April (.159/.217/.122, 29.9 percent strikeout rate, no homers, only one extra base hit, but has been vintage Adam Dunn ever since. In May, Pena batted .258 with seven home runs and 19 runs/RBI. So far in June, he's been just as good, batting a slightly lower .234, but with three home runs over just 47 plate appearances. More encouraging, though, Pena has struck out 40 times in May and June combined (136 plate appearances). He has also walked 30 times for a robust 0.75 BB/K ratio. If you need power, and you like Dunn, you should consider Pena in home run-friendly Wrigley Field.
Recommendation: Pena should be owned in any league that employs corner infielders. Pena should be universally owned in leagues that use OBP over AVG (17.1 percent walk rate).
Sergio Romo | Giants | RP | 13 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 2.18 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 14.37 K/9, 8.25 K/BB, 43.9% GB%
Oliver ROS: 2.94 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 9.8 K/9, 4.57 K/BB
Elite, non-closing middle relievers are an underrated fantasy asset. Though get very few saves unless they steal the closing gig, they tend to rack up great numbers elsewhere. They help balance and anchor your staff's ERA/WHIP, allowing you to safely take starting pitcher risks via matchups stream (e.g., whoever is pitching against the Padres at Petco) or speculation (e.g., Danny Duffy). In recent years, these pitchers have caught on. Mike Adams is owned in one third of leagues, Johnny Venters is owned in more than 70 percent of leagues, and even the injured Luke Gregerson is owned in a quarter of fantasy leagues.
Romo has 33 strikeouts (to only three unintentional walks) over 20.2 innings pitched. Though he has no saves, he does boast three wins and a superior 2.18 ERA and 0.82 WHIP. Romo's numbers are so good, in fact, that despite the relatively low number of saves or wins to his name in comparison with all other pitchers in baseball, Romo is almost a top 150 overall player (No. 158), and top 75 pitcher this season.
So why is Romo owned in only half as many leagues as the injured Gregerson who, while undeniably elite last year, has been far from his old self in 2011? You've got me.
Recommendation: Sergio Romo should be owned in all fantasy leagues; even shallow mixed.
Bud Norris | Astros | SP | 49 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 3.48 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 9.20 K/9, 2.65 K/BB, 38.6% GB%
Oliver ROS: 4.51 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 8.3 K/9, 1.95 K/BB
What more is it going to take to get fantasy players on the Bud Norris bandwagon? Over his past five starts, Norris has remained as elite as I touted him in early May. Over 33 innings, hes has allowed only 10 earned runs, struck out 26, and unintentionally walked only 11. That's been good for a 2.73 ERA, a 1.21 WHIP, and a 7.1 K/9 that is so low only because he struck out just two batters over eight innings in his one-hitter against the Cardinals on June 8.
Though his value is deflated because he has accrued only four wins this year (blame the Astros' anemic offense), Norris has been just as valuable as Romo according to Yahoo's player rater. Norris has proven himself a top 30 pitcher at this point, a No. 3 starting pitcher at worst, and needs to be owned in at least 50 percent of leagues. Particularly with Norris' ownership rate lt 49 percent, there is no reason that Brandon Morrow should be owned in 74 percent of leagues.
Recommendation: Bud Norris is a must-own pitching commodity, even if you decide not to start him for each outing.
Posted by Jeffrey Gross at 2:48am (8) Comments
Monday, June 20, 2011
Every year, big names fall on the waiver wire. Be it a prospect call-up, a frustrated owner prematurely cutting ties (e.g., what I did with Madison Bumgarner this year), a move of desperation in light of shallow benches and deep injuries (e.g., the "perfect storm" league where I own Hanley Ramirez, Joe Mauer, David Wright, Pablo Sandoval, Jason Heyward, Ike Davis, Brandon Beachy, Josh Johnson and former DL pains Brian Matusz and Geovany Soto, or some other occurrence, an economic game of how much to spend on whom and when inevitably results.
So how much do you spend on Eric Hosmer, an early elite prospect call-up? Or Jerry Sands, a supposed impact player of a less-elite level? Or what do you do if Anthony Rizzo and Mike Moustakas are both sitting on waivers after their call-ups last week (some leagues play where you cannot own or bid on a player until they have one game under their belt)? Do you wait for Brett Lawrie and Dustin Ackley?
The answer is never a clear one, and I cannot give you a simple answer. FAAB bid recommendations are a lot like snowflakes. Value is infinitely complex and unique, and it depends on the size of the league (12 teams? Five outfielders?), the format of the league (mixed? AL-only?), the depth of benches and DL spots, and your team's current standing in your league.
What I can tell you, however, is that the timing of the FAAB bid makes a major impact on the expected return of the player, and that timing is rarely considered a factor.
One of the more distinct concepts I can still recall from my days as an undergrad studying economics is the discount factor. Put simply, a discount factor, often an interest rate, accounts for the difference between present and future value. A dollar now is never (okay, maybe almost never, as deflation/stagflation does exist sometimes) worth a dollar in the future.
Let's say, for example, the bank pays five percent interest on your CD account, and that you can open a CD account with any balance. If you begin in year N with X amount of money, and you put that money in the beginning of year N into that CD account, it will grow in value to X*1.05 dollars. In other words, the future value of X is 1.05X.
Conversely, we can evaluate the value of future money now by looking at the same interest rate. Instead, suppose that you will have Y dollar in the future, say because of an impending lawsuit settlement. You cannot have the money from the source now, but will have to wait one year.
If you want to figure out either how much money you would need now to attain Y in one year by putting said money into the CD account noted above (or alternatively how much you should sell the rights to collect on your settlement for), you just need to do the math from above in reverse. If present value (P) times interest rate (R, here five percent) equals future value (again, Y), then Y = 1.05P, or the present value is Y/1.05.
As you will notice, with the denominator being larger than one, present value is lower than the future value. That may seem simple enough, but it is a powerful thing to note that is often ignored in trading and FAAB budgets.
It is to say, alternatively, that a transaction worth Z today is more valuable than a transaction worth Z in the future; that trading for Prince Fielder today is more valuable than doing so in two weeks, and that bidding on Hosmer now is better than bidding the same amount on Anthony Rizzo in the future, even if you think both players are equally valued.
So what does this all mean? It means that shelling out FAAB money on Hosmer in the beginning of May is more valuable than shelling out a similar sum on Rizzo in the beginning of June. The season is only 162 games long, and every day you wait, your opportunity cost is approximately 0.6 percent of potential value.
This 0.6 percent figure could and should be thought of as a discount rate applied to a player's expected production in evaluating FAAB money. It means that a worse player today could be worth more than, or equal value to, a better player who will not be on waivers until some period in the future.
Let's use Rizzo and Hosmer as an example in comparative bidding, and begin by assuming that the two are roughly equal in rate value (production per game). Both are highly-touted, power-hitting prospects that play in offense-suppressing parks with comparable-enough 2010-2011 minor league numbers.
Hosmer was called up about 35 days earlier than Rizzo. If each player, over a comparable sample of plate appearances, is roughly equal to X dollars of production, Rizzo's late call-up induces a penalty value of -15.4 percent. In other words, if you think Rizzo is worth a FAAB bid of X, then your bid on Hosmer should be approximately 15 percent larger than what you would bid on Rizzo.
As the expected waiver pool thins, there is also a scarcity premium that should be considered. Imagine that by the All-Star Break, all of Domonic Brown, Hosmer, Rizzo, Moustakas, Ackley, and Desmond Jennings have been called up.
That could leave Lawrie as the lone "impact" hitting prospect of great consideration that you can count on to be on the big league roster getting a healthy series of playing time. If Lawrie is worth X to you at his call up time, then you better bet more than X, particularly if it is a hard-to-fill position like second, shortstop or third.
This might all seem simple in form, but timing truly is an overlooked value concept in fantasy baseball, where we preach patience.
On one hand, we say "ride out his slump" and caution blowing all your FAAB budget on the first day of the season to acquire a huge prospect like Heyward or Michael Pineda. On the other hand, as noted above, every day you wait is another day the impact of the move you seek to make loses some gravity of impact.
A lot of owners bid conservatively on Hosmer in my leagues, whom I won on every FAAB bet I could place for under $70, because, as they relayed to me, why overbid now when there are comparably valuable players looming out there, some who play premium positions, such as Rizzo, Moustakas, Lawrie, and Ackley (who, in my eyes, is just Kelly Johnson with less power and a bit more batting average). "Why throw away $70 on Hosmer when I know I can probably win Rizzo for less?" one owner relayed to me.
The answer is all of the things I have said above. With Hosmer off the board, there is one less prospective impact player on the waiver wire. You also get Hosmer, even if inferior to Rizzo, a whole month earlier. Particularly if you were employing Luke Scott or Ike Davis at first entering May, having Hosmer today over Rizzo in the future could mean the difference between a league title and another disappointing finish.
Posted by Jeffrey Gross at 1:31am (0) Comments
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Some weeks, it seems like no matter what you do, every decision works out exactly the way you intended it to. The pitchers you sit down due to poor match-ups get lit up, while anyone you actually start pitches like Cy Young. Your offense seems to be rolling every night and racking up counting stats exactly the way you intended them to when you pieced the team together on draft day. For me, week 12 was one of those weeks.
On the offensive side of the spectrum we were led again by recent free agent Michael Morse. On the week, Morse hit .375 with nine runs scored, three home runs and seven RBI. He’s been exactly the boost that our offense needed to get rolling. Not to be outdone, his teammate Danny Espinosa had quite a week himself, hitting .444 with five runs, three home runs, eight RBI and a pair of steals. When we went into the draft, our plan was to keep passing on the second base position until the later rounds, and then nab Espinosa. Other than the batting average, that decision has paid off swimmingly.
Ryan Howard continues to plod along and do his thing. The average is low as expected, but he homered twice again this week and drove home five runs. Our targeted shortstop, Elvis Andrus, continues to shine, scoring five runs and stealing two bases this week. Ty Wigginton was forced into action this week due to Justin Morneau’s injury, and he responded by hitting .368 with six runs, a homer and a steal.
Knowing Vladimir Guerrero wasn’t going to play over the weekend due to the Orioles playing without a DH in a National League park, we slid Will Venable back into the lineup hoping he’d get a couple of at-bats. Even he contributed, with four hits, a run, and an RBI, and even stole a base.
We finished the week hitting all our weekly goals on offense. Our team hit .308 for the week, bringing our yearly total up to .255. That’s still too low, but is at least trending in the right direction. We scored 43 runs on the week and drove home 48 which bests our target in both categories. We also managed to blast 12 home runs and steal eight bases.
The only downside to our offensive week (besides the 0-15 from Nick Hundley), was losing our first-round pick Carl Crawford to a hamstring injury. As bad as the first month of his season was, he had at least been a fairly productive player for us over the past six weeks. Losing him makes our already weak outfield corps that much worse. I want to publicly wish him a very speedy recovery.
As good as our hitting was for the week, our pitching was on another planet. Justin Verlander led the way, showing everyone what an ace truly is. Two complete games, one earned run, a 0.389 WHIP and 17 Ks. Studly.
Scott Baker threw eight shutout innings, struck out 10 and won his game. Nick Blackburn threw eight shutout innings and won his game. Josh Outman threw seven shutout innings and won his game as well. Michael Pineda wasn’t as good, allowing a run in his six innings of work, but he won also. That gave us six victories on the week, which was as welcome a sight as you can possibly imagine.
Chris Carpenter and Ryan Vogelsong didn’t win their starts, but neither pitched poorly either. They also combined for 13 strikeouts. Drew Storen allowed an earned run, but also recorded two saves. Not to be outdone by his bullpen counterpart, Joel Hanrahan racked up three saves of his own.
We had decided to start Blackburn and Outman over Matt Garza and James McDonald, who we left on the pine. Though both of our bench pitchers also won their starts, their combined ERA ended up being 6.17. We’ll just go ahead and pat ourselves on the back for that one.
For the week, our staff pitched a total of 66.2 innings. We allowed a grand total of nine earned runs. Nine. That computes to an ERA of 1.21. Our WHIP was equally as sparkling at 0.780. With 50 strikeouts, six wins and five saves. Life sure is good sometimes.
All of this firepower on both sides of the ball allowed us to finish second overall in the NFBC for the weekly period. We also moved into second place in our league, closing in on the first place team. And if that wasn’t enough of a good week for me, I also finished first overall for the week in CDM’s diamond challenge. Like I said, sometimes things just align perfectly.
As for this week, we had a lot of decisions to make and reasons to believe that this week won’t be a repeat of the last. For starters, we have to replace our first-round pick, which is never an easy task. With nothing but slim pickings on the waiver wire in the outfield, we secured the services of Josh Reddick for $2. I hope he can grab a couple of starts in Crawford’s absence and contribute something to our counting stats.
We also have to deal with Guerrero sitting for the first half of the week in another NL park. Between that and having Morneau and Brandon Belt still on the DL, it leaves our offense painfully thin. Wigginton will continue to man our corner infield slot for the time being. If he can repeat what he did this week, I’d be more than thrilled. Justin Turner remains as our middle infielder, and I hope he'll continue to hit second and score runs for the Mets. Ryan Raburn still has to play full time for us, and is now our fourth outfielder. At least he has started to warm up somewhat, and is playing on an almost daily basis.
Our fifth outfielder and utility spots have to go to Reddick and Venable, since we don’t have any other choices. I’m hoping that one of them hits their way into regular playing time, and will continue to play through the weekend.
On the pitching side of things, we don’t have any double starters this week, leaving us with only seven starts. This also has me worried as we stand to lose more ground in wins, and may also come up short of our strikeout target. Obviously the two closers are in. Verlander, Pineda, Baker, Blackburn and Vogelsong have all pitched far too well to sit down. Chris Carpenter has to win his second game eventually, and I just don’t have the heart to sit him down just yet.
This leaves our final spot between Jake Peavy versus the Cubs, Garza at the White Sox or McDonald vs. Baltimore. Garza hasn’t pitched well since coming off the DL, and scares the hell out of me pitching in that bandbox in Chicago. McDonald is very inconsistent, but has a decent shot at a win. Peavy has been lights out when he’s been healthy, but that is obviously a huge concern. This one could go down to the wire, but as of now I’m leaning Peavy.
Well, here’s to hoping that week 13 can somehow carry over the tremendous momentum that my teams enjoyed in week 12. Regardless, I’m soaking in this moment, and even if it’s only for a week it’s sure nice to be on top. Best of luck to all of you in week 13!
Posted by Dave Shovein at 1:08am (0) Comments
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Growing up in a solidly working-class home, one of the earliest economic lessons I learned was the value of a well-made generic. Over the years, budget conscious folks experiment with store-brand versions of products from American cheese to cough syrup. As time passes and more trials are conducted, you learn things that help refine your preferences to form a fairly nuanced set of tastes. Store brand ketchup and cola doesn’t really approximate Heinz and Pepsi, but store brand mustard and ginger ale do a good job mimicking French’s and Schwepps.
I remember that having a cupboard speckled with store-brand goods sometimes created some social tension when a friend from a better-off family would come over to hang out. Some of my friends didn’t trust me when I told them that the difference between Frosted Mini-Wheats and Frosty Wheat Squares (or something) was more in their heads than in reality. Sometimes, we’d have to go to the store with my mom. When we were there and mom picked up the generic items, sometimes I even made a point of grabbing my friend and pointing out the overwhelming similarities in the ingredients. Some of my friends came around and others never did.
To this day, I know people who swear that Advil and ibuprofen are different products. Kudos to the work of brand managers, I guess. (Bonus points for those who turned their products into eponyms – products for which a specific brand name have risen to the point that the brand of product is commonly used to describe the underlying product itself– like Band Aid, White-Out, and Kleenex.
These memories came flooding back to me this week as a co-owner and I have been trying hyperactively to make deals to add a closer and/or upgrade one of our weaker outfielders. What do we have to offer? A whole lot of delicious tasting, well-made products with very little brand recognition.
My co-owner and I are in the position where the friend just refuses to accept the overwhelming inherent similarities between the ingredients on the two boxes. Check out our pitching staff in this 12-team mixed league.
Francisco Liriano (claimed off waivers when somebody jumped ship early)
(on DL – Brandon Beachy).
This is an absolutely filthy staff. We have five of the 20 top ranked starters, according to Yahoo. The problem is—only one of them could skip the line to a club by mentioning his name.
Originally, my co-owner and I sat down and said that we were going to be willing to trade any of our starters with the exception of Pineda or Kershaw for a stud closer. Shopped them around, no dice. So, we scaled back our plan and added about eight or 10 more closers to this list we’d accept. Still, no dice.
Really? We can’t land Huston Street, Francisco Cordero, or Sergio freaking Santos for Anibal Sanchez, Gio Gonzalez, or Jhoulyis Chacin?
I get it; brand recognition is comforting and familiar. Over time, people develop emotional relationships with products, through which people project properties, attributes, and powers onto these items beyond what their ingredients necessarily imply capable of these products.
But, here’s the other thing to remember, high-end brands rarely go on sale; they are very rarely bargains and often times actually cost more than they are worth. Store-brand goods, however, often present opportunities for big bargains—the trick, as in actual bargain shopping in the supermarket, is knowing which stores brand items are bargains (imitation Corn Flakes), and which are just poor substitutes for the real thing (imitation cream cheese).
I invite all potential trading partners over to Fangraphs to look at the ingredients in the Anibal Sanchez “Tussin” and tell me there’s 50 percent more active ingredient than in the Clayton Kershaw brand name expectorant?
James Shields has benefited from some luck this year, but his peripherals have shown us what kind of ingredients he has—and the caliber, or product, he’s capable of producing—for years now. Chacin may be getting the most luck of this group of overachievers, but acknowledging this is giving most of the league too much credit, as far as I’m concerned. Thus far, none of those who rejected our offers have come back with comments about Chacin’s LOB percentage looking unsustainable, and his BABIP reeking of good luck. They turned him down for the same reason they turned down Sanchez, who suffers from none of these problems, because they don’t recognize the crest on the chest pocket of the polo shirt.
So, what are my co-owner and I left to do, sitting atop this pile of no-frills gold bars, and needing to trade some for some textiles?
If it seems nobody believes in our guys, then we will double-down on our devotion. We’re going to have to hold on to our undervalued assets and sell the Birkin bag. (Did I just lose points for making a handbag reference in a fantasy baseball column?)
Store-brand goods are hard to trade. Other teams are uncomfortable granting them appropriate value if they haven’t owned the unfamiliar talent and grow their own appreciation for the worth of that asset. If you draft well, every year you will wind up with talent that you can’t trade for equal value because the market’s perception has yet to catch up to the immediate reality. A few weeks ago, I wrote about my own cognitive dissonance as I tried to shed my branding blindness in relation to Alex Avila.
If you own Alex Avila or Anibal Sanchez, chances are that, unless a potential trading partner owns that player in a another league, he's going to be yours to keep. Keep your store-brand delicacies. Enjoy them. Lick your fingers.
Conversely, if you worship at the altar of ingredients labels, and not glossy print ads and celebrity endorsements, throw out some lowball offers for the store-brands that are the real deal. You never know when the owner of such a commodity is too spoiled and brand-conscious to respect it.
We tried to offer our league-mates deals that were actually in their favor in terms of overall value, but they were too cool and have heard of Anibal Sanchez-brand jeans. That’s alright by me, because at the end of the season, his initials will be stitched across the behind of girl they lust after and they'll gawk while they walk into a pole.
We know you like designer goods, fellas, so line up; Clayton Kershaw sweaters are on sale… complete with the designer price tag to match.
Full disclosure – My co-owner and I also think that other teams may just be deciding to freeze us out of the closer market. We’ve been hopping between 1st and 3rd place for a while now without competing in saves. As long as we have this Achilles heel, our team has a points ceiling, but if we get back in the mix in that category, our upside spikes. So, it’s also possible teams have noticed we have one profound weakness only and have decided it’s not worth plugging that hole even if they gain a few points from it because they risk creating a juggernaut. But, again, if that’s the case, we’d prefer other teams just tell us this, as it would save time for both sides.
Posted by Derek Ambrosino at 5:07am (7) Comments
Friday, June 24, 2011
All statistics current through at least June 21.
If you haven't been following Frank McCourt's precarious situation (the Dodger's Divorce), then I highly recommend reading this insightful and comprehensive article about how McCourt has been exploiting the Dodgers for his personal gain, why Bud Selig rejected his negotiated deal with Fox, and how much of a convoluted pyramid scheme McCourt converted the Dodgers' operations into. It's a great read.
With Danny Espinosa's ownership rate skyrocketing from below 20 percent to near 60 percent in the past 14 days on the heels of a .326/.333/.609 triple-slash line (.942 OPS, three homers, 10 RBI), we'll have to seek a new mainstay fixture for this year's NL Waiver Wire column. In search of such, here's this week's gaggle of targets and under-appreciated sources of winning.
Zack Cozart | Reds | SS | 0 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD (AAA): .318/.361/.496
Oliver MLE: .288/.328/.450
With Reds shortstops batting a combined .225/.274/.263 (a composite .246 wOBA, 47 wRC+, and -0.5 WAR, with fielding, batting and base-running considered), there is nothing standing between anyone who can pretend to be a shortstop at the minor league level and the Reds' current starting shortstop jobs. GM Walt Jocketty must surely be kicking himself for signing Edgar Renteria for $2.1 million. Thankfully for the Reds—who would benefit from simply getting rid of Renteria and Paul Janish and replacing them with a random middle infielder from the high minors at the league minimum—they have a quality shortstop prospect, Zack Cozart, waiting at Triple-A.
From a fantasy perspective, Cozart is not particularly exciting—he owns a career minor league line of .270/.332/.424 (.756 OPS)—but in the "post-Jeter" era of non-hitting shortstops (i.e., an era where shortstops have gone from hitting like the old Derek Jeter to hitting like old Derek Jeter), such numbers could be fantasy relevant. Whereas major league shortstops posted OPS marks above .715 (often above .735) between 2000 and 2009, this year they are hitting a combined .261/.316/.373 (.690 OPS).
They fared equally poorly last year (.262/.318/.373), and, even with the emergence of Hanley Ramirez, they have been trending in the wrong direction as a group since the start of 2008. This is why, unless you shell out the big bucks for Ramirez or Troy Tulowitkzi or rolled the dice on a $33+ bid on Jose Reyes, fantasy experts caution against overpaying a premium to fill the vacuum that has become shortstop in recent years. On the flip side of not overpaying for underwhelming production, however, is seeking out the best shortstop bargains available.
Cozart's 2011 performance at Triple-A could be called a breakout, though his batting line, in light of his career rates, leaves me a bit skeptical. Over 63 games (285 plate appearances) this year at Triple-A (the International League, not PCL), Cozart has hit .318/.361/.496, slugging seven home runs and stealing eight bases. Last season he hit 17 homers last season while stealing 30 bases. Overall, Cozart has 50 home runs and 54 stolen bases, profiling as a balanced power/speed combo up the middle.
In terms of offensive contributions, his production has looked a lot like Jason Knipis with fewer walks and a 20 point lower batting average. Oliver also likes Cozart's 2011 performance to date, equating it to a .288/.328/.450 major league line, though, as hinted above, his 2008-2009 minor league production numbers would have been akin to a sub-.700 OPS performance at the major league level.
At the major league level, Cozart profiles as a solid shortstop who will not kill your team's power/stolen base numbers, but help you little else elsewhere. Per 600 plate appearances, Oliver sees Cozart able to post 15+ home runs and double digit stolen bases, but doing so while batting in the .240s. Cozart does not walk a whole ton, which means he would be getting on base less than, or at most, 30 percent of the time. Limited times on base limits Cozart's speed and runs potential.
On the positive, Cozart has elite defense, so could easily stick with the Reds once called up. To my unrefined eyes of analysis, Cozart's immediate offensive ceiling looks akin to Ian Desmond with fewer steals and a few more homers or Danny Espinosa. That might seem unexciting in a vacuum, but you take what you can get out of shortstop at this point in the season. I would probably rather have Dee Gordon's speed and batting average upside, but in a league where you'll need Cozart, I guarantee you Gordon's off the board by now.
Recommendation: Cozart could be a valuable shortstop or middle infield option in deeper mixed (14-team) and NL-only formats, but can be safely ignored in shallower leagues.
Ike Davis | Mets | 1B | 60 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .271/.346/.474
Ike Davis was a major sleeper heading into the season, capable of hitting .280+ with 20-25 bombs and good RBI production out of the middle of what should have been a productive offensive lineup, (Two years ago, you'd surely fear having to consecutively face Jose Reyes, David Wright, Jason Bay and Carlos Beltran.) But an ankle injury part way through May derailed a breakout campaign. Hitting .302/.383/.543 (.395 wOBA) over his first 36 games, with an 11.4 percent walk rate, seven home runs and 25 RBI, Davis' production ranked top of the crop, vaulting from solid corner infielder to borderline top 10 first baseman.
Unfortunately, that ankle injury has not healed as expected and Davis might need season-ending surgery. Given the lack of progress and healing, even if Davis does return this year, I'd be skeptical that he could pick up where he left off. Davis was a nice, cheap first baseman who provided a lot of value for the first 20 percent of the season for very little money, but there is no point in continuing to waste a DL spot on him if there's a better or more useful player in need. It pains me to say this, but it's probably time to cut ties with Davis in non-keeper leagues, and hope he has a great year for cheap in 2012, though I suspect the "under the radar" train will have departed by then.
Recommendation: Davis can be safely dropped in all but the deeper leagues, with even those following suit if the Mets first basemen needs ankle surgery. He should be kept in keeper leagues, however.
Brandon Beachy | Braves | SP | 23 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 3.45 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 9.34 K/9, 3.83 K/BB, 31.0% GB%
Oliver ROS: 3.85 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 8.0 K/9, 2.83 K/BB
I have a sneaking suspicion that Brandon Beachy is owned in so few leagues only because he's been injured for quite some time. However, with Beachy being activated this week, he immediately returns to must-own commodity status in all eligible formats.
Having been out for so long, Beachy, despite elite numbers, is ranked outside the top 250 in Yahoo, and will not show up in any "past 30 days" (or shorter) searches. Accordingly, if he's been dropped, he might be flying under the radar in your league. I dropped Beachy in one league back when he got injured. (My roster at the time, in a two DL spot league, included Geovany Soto, Ike Davis, Aaron Hill, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, Jason Heyward and Josh Johnson, all of whom were on the DL when I dropped Beachy). Someone was able to swoop-in in our competitive league before I could snatch him back up.
Here is some perspective on just how good my preseason NL Rookie of the Year pick had been before his injury. Among all pitchers who have tossed at least 40 innings this year (a 155-player sample), Beachy's K/9 rate (9.34) ranks ninth overall (sixth among starting pitchers). Furthermore, among this same group, Beachy's xFIP (3.27) ranks 23rd overall (21st among starting pitchers, 15th among NL starting pitchers) overall, while his xFIP- (87) ranks top 35 overall as well.
Beachy's surface stats have been quite strong as well. He has pitched 44.1 innings of 3.45 ERA, 1.08 WHIP baseball with 46 strikeouts to only 10 unintentional walks, both rates ranking top 15 among all pitchers with 40 or more innings pitched this season. His 1.08 WHIP may "only" rank top 30 among all pitchers with 40 or more innings, but his 1.11 xWHIP ranked 10th overall back when I calculated the xWHIPs of every pitcher who made at least one start through the end of May.
Beachy's homers-per-outfield fly rate (10.0 percent), is dead in line with the major league average rate this year (10.1%). Thus, even without any home run luck on his only clear pitching weakness (a low, sub-35 percent groundball rate), he's managed to put up elite numbers. In Beachy's first rehab start, he threw five strong innings with eight strikeouts and only two walks, with good velocity.
Beachy pitched so well, in fact, that the Braves fast-tracked his rehab and started him Wednesday. The result: a win on six innings of one-run, 11 strikeout pitching. All signs point to Beachy as ready and able, and he is a pitcher you want to own. Having been injured for so long, it is unlikely that an innings cap is going to hinder Beachy's production the rest of the way. If you can acquire him at an injured discount, you should do so immediately. Heck, I would even trade Michael Pineda—a similar pitcher, only in the AL, and with a looming innings pitch cap (allegedly)—a similar pitcher, only in the AL, and with a looming innings pitch cap (allegedly)—for him.
Recommendation: Beachy is a must-own commodity, even in shallow 10-team leagues with low innings pitched caps.
Cory Luebke | Padres | RP | 2 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 3.45 ERA, 1.00 WHIP
Last week, I explained the general fantasy value of elite non-closing relievers. Continuing that theme, but digging deeper than your popular names (e.g., Sergio Romo (13 percent owned), Sean Marshall (17 percent owned), and Mike Adams (32 percent owned), I suggest taking a look at the barely owned Cory Luebke.
A former first-round pick and top 10 Padres prospect each of the past few seasons, Luebke has the potential to be a valuable upper middle-of-the-rotation major league starter. With a strong slider and solid change-up, "Luebke the Starter" has the tools to get batters out on both sides of the plate while inducing above-average strikeouts and a healthy amount of ground balls.
As a reliever, however, Luebke, like Marshall, could potentially be one of baseball's elite non-closing relievers. Being a reliever rather than a starter, Luebke can lean more heavily on his slider without worrying about putting as much stress and mileage on his arm as he would if he were starting. More quality sliders means more swings and misses (12.4 swinging strike percentage this season), which in turn means more strikeouts (9.92 K/9, up from a minor league rate of 7.5). As might be expected of a starter turned reliever, Luebke gets an extra mile per gallon on his fastball out of the pen, raising the utility of his already above-average fastball.
All said and done, Luebke has been an elite reliever thus far at the major league level, pitching a composite 56.2 innings since his call-up last year. Over that span, he has posted a quality 3.49 ERA and 1.09 WHIP that should and could improve in the future in light of a composite 2.93 FIP, 3.04 xFIP (80 xFIP-), and 2.56 tERA, though pitcher peripheral measurements— due to smaller samples, variable leverage usage, etc.—tend to be relatively weak when applied to relievers.
Oliver thinks that Luebke is for real, projecting a 3.59 ERA and 1.21 WHIP for the rest of the season. I think that Oliver is underselling Luebke's ERA a bit, due to the fact that most of his minor league numbers come as a starter. I would peg Luebke capable of posting a low (3.30s) three ERA with a 1.20ish WHIP and strong strikeout stuff the rest of the season, emerging as the Padres' "next" Mike Adams/Luke Gregerson.
Recommendation: Luebke should be owned in any mixed league with an innings limit cap above 1,200, and is a must-own commodity in NL-only formats. As with any non-closing reliever, that advice tends to apply more to Roto leagues than H2H formats.
Jonathan Broxton / Hong-Chih Kuo | Dodgers | RP | 71/21 percent Yahoo ownership (respectively)
YTD: 5.68 ERA, 1.89 WHIP, 7.11 K/9 // 9.53 ERA, 1.94 WHIP, 14.29 K/9 (respectively)
Oliver ROS: 3.47 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 9.9 K/9 // 2.97 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 9.9 K/9 (respectively)
Don Mattingley has said that Broxton will inevitably regain his closer job at some point after coming off the DL. That's what Brad Mills said about Brandon Lyon, however, and we all know how that turned out. I guess the lesson is never say "will." Broxton has not been at all sharp this season, with his fastball velocity and strikeout rate continuing to trend in the wrong direction.
Broxton claims much of his struggles come from pitching through injury since the second half of last season, but even with the extended rest, big fat Broxton has not been sharp in his rehab outings. If Broxton, irrespective of performance, is truly destined to return to the closer role, then he should be owned in all leagues.
However, as someone who does not believe in fate in baseball, I'd buy the short stock and nab Hong Chih-Kuo in light of Mattingly's announcement. Unlike Broxton, Kuo, other than being fragile, is not showing any real chinks in his peripheral armor. Kuo does not have as much gas on his fastball as Broxton (though a career average of 92.8 is not exactly a Tim Wakefield soft-toss), but has always exhibited equally impressive strikeout stuff (career 10.56 K/9) with slightly better control (career 3.65 BB/9) that's been vastly improved in two of the past three seasons (being injured in the third...).
Kuo's problems, beside injury, largely stemmed from mental problems, and while there are many psychologists and former baseball players (particularly Steve Blass, LLC) who would tell me what I am about to say is completely wrong, I strongly believe that players with good stuff do well and tend to right the ship in the long run; especially when they get the treatment they need. Hence, I am not worried about Kuo's ability to continue to pitch as well as he has throughout his career.
And heck, even if Kuo does not close, he'll still be a valuable reliever. Until Broxton comes back, though, Kuo should see the majority of the Dodgers' save opportunities.
Recommendation: For now, Broxton should be owned in most formats, but should not be started until he proves himself a reliable and healthy pitcher. Meanwhile, Kuo should also be owned and deployed immediately in the majority of leagues, especially by saves head-hunters.
Chase Headley | Padres | 3B | 24 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .280/.350/.418
True to my preseason prediction, the unsexy Chase Headley has steadily performed under the radar with solid, but underwhelming numbers. Despite near career low power output—a .108 ISO and only two home runs through 74 games (289 plate appearances) this season compared to a .125 career ISO mark with 32 home runs over 408 games between 2008 and 2010)—Yahoo rfanks Headley ranks at the No. 14 overall third basemen, and No. 165th best player overall this season. That puts his value ahead of other, more universally owned players such as Chipper Jones (63 percent owned), Maicer Izturis, Aramis Ramirez (90 percent owned), Casey McGehee (63 percent owned), and even Scott Rolen (35 percent owned).
How is he doing it? Well, some of it is a career-high .377 BABIP (.326 xBABIP, .338 career BABIP), but a lot of it also has to do with improving his approach at the plate. Further exemplifying the silliness of Fangraphs' use of K/AB as the basis for strikeout percentage, Headley's "K%" looks stable between this year (22.5 percent) and last (22.8 percent). Truth be told, however, it has improved, with Headley's strikeouts per plate appearance dipping from a below-average 20.6 percent last season to a much healthier 19.3 percent this year.
Thanks to a huge rebound in his walking ability (from 8.3 percent last year to 12.8 percent this season, 10.1 percent in 2009), an ever-improving swinging strike rate, and better contact with pitches outside of the zone, Headley has been able to better square the ball and put it into play with authority (three-year best line drive rate of 23.8 percent). This all, coupled with Headley's relatively low popup rate, leads me to believe that, while his improved batting average will come down some as he reverts to his true talent line, he should be able to maintain an improved batting average around .280 through the rest of the season.
Given the pathetic performances by third basemen this season, a .280 average, five to seven home runs and 10-12 stolen base production the rest of the way might make him a borderline top 12 (starting) option at third base. Even if not, Headley probably deserves a spot on your bench or some time in your corner infield slot.
Recommendation: Headley should be owned in all leagues with 12 or more teams, especially in leagues that employ corner infielders. Shallow leagues (10-team leagues or 12-team leagues with no corner infielders, 1 utility spot) can safely ignore Headley, who is not a keeper.
Roger Bernadina | Nationals | OF | 9 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .260/.319/.389
A solid source of stolen bases in the minors, the 27-year-old Bernadina (aka "The Shark") seemed blocked by Michael Morse, Jayson Werth, Rick Ankiel, and then later, and surprisingly, Laynce Nix. With Adam LaRoche and Ankiel injured, however, Bernadina is finally getting an extended chance to prove his worth in center field to the Nationals this year. Through his first 40 games, Bernadina has exploited that opportunity. Batting .282/.340/.409 (.350 wOBA, 120 wRC+), Bernadina has already blasted four home runs and stolen 10 bases (zero caught stealing!) in only 162 plate appearances.
Bernadina is attempting to steal just about one out of every five times he is on base, which would put him well above the major league average rate of one in 13. Though he has not shown himself to be particularly adept at walking thus far into his young career (only a composite 56 walks in 714 major league plate appearances for a 7.8 percent rate, Bernadina did walk at a respectable 10.5 percent clip in the minor leagues, and thus could see his on base rate improve in the future, leading to more stolen base opportunities.
Bernadina's BABIP (.339) may seem a bit high in light of his high strikeout rate (20.4 K/PA) for a guy with no power and his career BABIP (.300), but Bernadina's xBABIP on the season checks in at .331 thanks to his good wheels (6.6 speed score) and a tendency to chop the ball into the ground (52.8 percent groundball rate). For the rest of the year, I could see Bernadina hitting in the mid .270s with a good on-base clip and 20 more stolen bases, provided he keeps his full-time gig. That kind of production makes him worth owning in more than nine percent of leagues; particularly if the Nationals keep batting him out of the No. 2 hole.
Recommendation: Bernadina should be owned in any eligible format that employs 50 or more outfielders.
Jason Bourgeois | Astros | OF | 12 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .286/.329/.383
Everything that I wrote about Bourgeois a couple of weeks ago remains true and unchanged. Then, classifying Bourgeois as an third or fourth outfielder type, I wrote "If given a full time job for the rest of the year, Oliver sees Bourgeois swiping 20 or so more bases...but he could reasonably touch 30. Bourgeois has that special speed...to make a dramatic impact on the stolen base totals of league laggards."
Playing time, as hinted in the article, and as any Bourgeois owner can attest to this season, has been the one thing standing between Bourgeois and 60-plus stolen bases this season. With Hunter Pence's elbow hurting, however, Bourgeois has been getting a full clip of playing time the past week. With interleague play in full swing, particularly if Pence goes on the disabled list, Bourgeois should continue to see extended playing time with the Astros and thus provide a fountain of stolen bases (and a good batting average to boot) for savvy owners. If Bourgeois is a free agent in your league, and you are in need of speed, call your local temp agency immediately and mention my name for a waiver wire discount.
Recommendation: For at least the next week or two, perhaps longer if Pence goes on the disabled list, Bourgeois should be owned in any league where Rajai Davis types have value (i.e., all but the shallowest).
Buy-low player of the week
Chris Carpenter | Cardinals | SP | 89 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 4.47 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 7.11 K/9, 3.25 K/BB, 45.3% GB%
Oliver ROS: 3.38 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 6.7 K/9, 3.02 K/BB
Along with Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria, David Wright and Joakim Soria (to name a few), Chris Carpenter has been one of baseball's biggest high-cost busts this season. Despite being ranked just outside the top 10 in my preseason positional rankings this year (Yahoo more conservatively ranked him as its No. 23 starting pitcher, one spot ahead of Shaun Marcum), Carpenter has not been even a top 900 overall player this season. Currently ranked by Yahoo as the 925th "best" fantasy player in 2011, Carpenter has posted an atrocious mid-fours ERA and near 1.40 WHIP in a season where the "average" starting pitcher has an ERA in the high threes, and a WHIP near 1.30.
Even by "traditional" pitching standards, a 4.47 ERA and 1.39 WHIP would be sub-par. Carpenter has basically done what Daniel Cabrera did back in 2005, only he's doing it with fewer strikeouts and without the upside of age (or health) on his side. Further distressing has been Carpenter's groundball rate, which has dipped to 45.3 percent this year, the lowest mark Carpenter has put up since 2002. In fact, from 2004-2010, Carpenter's groundball rate never fell below 51 percent. Unlike fly balls and line drives, I can guarantee you that that drop in grounders is not the result of scorers' bias.
Even more distressing might be Carpenter's misleadingly high strikeout total. Though he is posting his best strikeout per nine rate since 2006 (7.11), his strikeout rate (K%) has actually declined. While Carpenter struck out 18.8 percent of all of the batters he faced between 2009 and 2010, he has punched out 18.1 percent this season. This drop is not nearly as dramatic as, say, Ted Lilly's (from 21.3 over 2009-2010 to 16.5 percent in 2011), but it shows that one of Carpenter's more "positive" peripheral notes is not as glistening as it might appear upon first glance at his Fangraphs player page.
Carpenter's decline in strikeout rate, despite an uptick in K/9, can likely be explained by both an increase in free passes relative to 2008, and an increase in batters faced per inning due to Carpenter's 2011 struggles to work efficient frames. If a pitcher strikes out fewer batters per inning, but struggles so that he is facing more batters per inning, the latter can offset the former and create a misleading strikeouts profile.
I say this despite Carpenter's 9.3 percent swinging strike rate, an above league-average mark that is in line with his career (note here his career 6.86 K/9), because not all swinging strikes are alike. Higher swinging strike rates on certain pitches tend to produce higher strikeout totals than others, and though I do not have his swinging strike rate by pitch splits, I would bet that Carpenter's slider whiff rate is not, if at all, above the league average mark, and that most of his "whiffy" pitches are coming off less strikeout-inducing pitches.
Still, despite all these knocks on Carpenter's 2011 performance, there are a few lights at the end of the tunnel. Despite a groundball rate that would represent a near-decade low and a decreased strikeout rate (in Carpenter's prime for the Cardinals between 2004 and 2006, he struck out 21.2 percent of the batters he faced), Carpenter's fastball velocity on the season (92.3 mph) is greater than last year's mark (91.4) and his career average (91.6). A 92.3 mph fastball, in fact, would represent his second-best mark since 2002 (93.0 mph in 2009). In addition, despite a walk rate that is lower than what Carpenter did from 2004-2009, on average, his 2.19 mark on the season is still well below the major league average of 3.21 this year. In addition, a 2.19 walks per nine rate this season is a slight improvement over last year, when Carpenter walked 2.41 batters per nine.
All said, Carpenter's strikeout to walk ratio this year, at 3.25, is elite. Even in the "era of the pitcher," the average major league pitcher's K/BB ratio is below 2.20, and Carpenter's career K/BB is 2.65. In fact, last year, Carpenters K/BB was 2.84, and we all know what he did then (3.22 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 16 wins). I mean, how picky do you have to be to knock a 3.34 xFIP (89 xFIP-)?
Plugging Carpenter's numbers into a 2011-calibrated version of the xWHIP Calculator...
...we find that Carpenter's eFIP (3.53, 4.00 league average) and xWHIP (1.27, 1.33 league average) also check in as robust.
So what do you do with Chris Carpenter? If you own him, you have to stay pat. Even though, once park is considered, Carpenter's peripherals say he has been only 11 above average, and even though his strikeout rate is likely to come down some in the future, what do you think you can get for him? Ubaldo Jimenez? Maybe Mat Latos? Each of the "elite" type players that you can get have enough flaws that the move is likely not worth the risk, or a move for making a move at best. In 2011, who is going to trade you a better than 3.34 xFIP player for an aging injury-risk like Carpenter? I suspect any move that you could make with Carpenter would only make your team worse and trade off the upside you are looking for via trade.
But should you trade for Carpenter? That's the real question. Even in light of all of the above, I think that if you can trade for Carpenter, you really need to. Carpenter's "regression" as a player this season only brings him from elite to superior. Carpenter may not be a border-line top 10 rest-of-season player, but he is most certainly top 25, perhaps even top 20 (his 3.34 xFIP is 20th overall among qualified starting pitchers).
Many owners have told me that they are almost done with Carpenter. I was recently offered Carpenter for Bartolo Colon and Brandon Morrow, a deal I am seriously considering taking. Provided you are not paying top dollar to acquire him, Carpenter is a potential difference maker for teams in need of starting pitching. He won't help your team's strikeouts per inning rate (particularly important in leagues with innings-pitched caps), but Carpenter can provide some of the best ERA, wins and WHIP relief for teams who have been burned by the likes of Morrow, Jimenez, and Carlos Zambrano this year. I would put those trade feelers out there sooner than later, as Carpente's last two starts have been particularly offensive (a combined nine earned runs, 18 baserunners allowed over 14.0 innings) and his value should not get much lower than it currently is.
Recommendation: Chris Carpenter is a must-own player in all formats.
Posted by Jeffrey Gross at 2:15am (11) Comments
Alexi Casilla| Minnesota| 2B/SS| 26 percent Yahoo! ownership
Oliver ROS: .261/.322/.340
The full season line for Alexi Casilla may seem rather unappealing, but something has clicked since the start of May, a month in which he hit .288/.351/.424 and has bested in June hitting .329/.386/.474. His June slash doesn't tell the whole story either, as he's hit two home runs and stolen six bases as well. I don't anticipate the power sticking around, as it's not really a part of his game, but he does offer solid speed and should continue to steal bases as long as he is able to get on. Surprisingly, in spite of his hot stretch and dual eligibility at weak positions, he's still largely unowned.
While he's likely owned in most competitive deep mixed-leagues and American League-only formats, it's about time those in medium sized mixed-leagues give him a look. His eligibility makes him a solid bench bat to use in daily roster change leagues, and his speed is useful enough to stick in at the end of the week in head-to-head formats where a stolen base or two can win the category. His record of poor performance at the dish makes it tough to believe he'll continue to perform at a high level, but there is nothing wrong with riding a hot hand when it presents itself.
Recommendation: Should be owned in some medium sized mixed-leagues, and all deep mixed-leagues or AL-only formats using a middle infield position.
Alcides Escobar| Kansas City| SS| 29 percent Yahoo! ownership
Oliver ROS: .263/.296/.349
Alcides Escobar continues the theme of the article thus far, and that's middle infielders scalding the ball in June. He's hit .333/.368/.472 this month, but even more importantly has stolen seven bases while getting caught just once. It's easy to forget that Escobar, a player noted for his slick fielding, stole 42 bases at the Triple-A level in 2009. The keys to him unlocking that stolen base potential are continued opportunities awarded through reaching base, and continued success. Those keys are far from a lock to be met, but his June at least provides hope. If given the choice between Casilla and Escobar, I'd choose Casilla, but if you're an owner in need of help at the shortstop or middle infield position in deeper formats, it wouldn't hurt to plug Escobar in while he's hitting well.
Recommendation: Should be owned in some medium sized mixed-leagues, and all deep mixed-leagues or AL-only formats using a middle infield position.
Casey Kotchman| Tampa Bay| 1B| 4 percent Yahoo! ownership
Oliver ROS: .268/.330/.400
The award for player I'm most reluctant to write about this week goes to Casey Kotchman, but thanks to his hot stick, and lack of competition for playing time he gets the nod. By now, Kotchman is an established commodity and at his best can provide help in average and chip in with runs and RBI. He's a non-threat in the home run department due to his inability, or perhaps refusal, to loft the ball (career 28.9 percent fly ball rate), but he is a decent plug-and-play for those in need of average help while he's spraying line drives at a strong clip. Kotchman's first base eligibility limits his value significantly, but those in deep leagues are sometimes required to leave no stone unturned when looking for contributions.
Recommendation: Should be owned in some deep mixed-leagues and some AL-only formats while he's hot.
Andrew Miller| Boston| SP| 5 percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD: 4.76 ERA, 1.76 WHIP, 9.53 K/9, 4.76 BB/9, 58.8 percent GB
Oliver ROS: 6.01 ERA, 1.80 WHIP, 6.6 K/9, 6.3 BB/9
Because he was featured here last week, I'll keep the write-up short on Andrew Miller. A glance at his stat line against San Diego Monday without watching the game would leave most thinking that much is the same with him, especially considering his soft opponent. I was lucky enough to have the evening off, which let me do some amateur-hour scouting.
I came away fairly impressed with his performance, as he mixed pitches well, induced ground balls at a strong rate and threw quality strikes. His overall line is hurt by not getting a fastball in enough to Orlando Hudson, who punished him by hammering a home run. He showed enough to warrant another look in his next turn, which should come over the weekend against the Pirates. At the least, he's a stream-worthy addition; at the best he may display enough to stick on rosters.
Recommendation: Should be owned by some in deep mixed-leagues and AL-only formats, and monitored by pitching-starved owners in all but the shallowest of leagues.
Koji Uehara| Baltimore| RP| 21 percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD: 2.45 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 11.45 K/9, 1.64 BB/9, 32.4 percent GB
Oliver ROS: 3.28 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 8.2 K/9, 1.6 BB/9
Exhibit "A" that the best arm in a bullpen doesn't always get the opportunity to close games is Koji Uehara in Baltimore. In this case it is a bit more perplexing than in others, as he has that all-important prerequisite closer experience in place (13 saves last year), has a crappy, struggling journeyman closer in his way (Kevin Gregg) and is performing lights out.
A top-flight setup man with the potential to usurp the closer role, Uehara should be owned in a higher percentage of leagues. His ratios and strikeout rate are elite, but are unlikely to come in a high volume because of his fragile-as-fine china body. Regardless of his occasional bouts of missed games, he is an undervalued fantasy asset capable of propping up the strikeout shortcomings of otherwise useful starting pitchers. Those wondering if his strikeout rate is sustainable should take comfort in knowing it is fully supported by an o-swing, contact percentage, first pitch strike rate and swinging strike percentage that all dwarf the league averages.
Recommendation: Should be owned in some medium mixed-leagues and all deep mixed leagues or AL-only formats.
Phil Hughes| New York (American League)| SP| 33 percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD: 13.94 ERA, 2.23 WHIP, 2.61 K/9, 3.48 BB/9, 22.2 percent GB
Oliver ROS: 4.17 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 7.7 K/9, 3.1 BB/9
Prior to the season you'd have been hard pressed to find someone less likely to pay the Yankees markup price required to own Phil Hughes than me. That said, I've never questioned his upside, which is plentiful and on the cheap now judging by his ownership level. Sidelined since April 15, Hughes was fantastic in a June 19 rehab start for Short Season Class-A Staten Island and reportedly throwing his fastball consistently in the 91-93 mph range, topping out at 95 mph. His next rehab start is scheduled for tonight (June 24) at the Double-A level for the Trenton Thunder.
If he maintains his velocity and suffers no setbacks, he should be recalled from his rehab assignment shortly thereafter. As surprisingly effective as the Yankees rotation has been, it's hard to envision them doing anything with Hughes other than re-inserting him into their rotation. With that in mind, he offers a low-risk, high-reward gamble to fantasy owners.
He still has many of the same questions he did coming into the season as well as the burden of proving he can stay healthy, but those concerns are mitigated by his reduced cost. May of last season best illustrates the type of performance Hughes is capable of when he's clicking on all cylinders (2.98 xFIP, 9.08 K/9, 1.86 BB/9), but the remainder of 2010 shows he's still a work in progress. Check your waiver wire to see if he's available, as there is some added value in nabbing him now and stashing him on the disabled list as opposed to waiting until he's activated.
Recommendation: Should be stashed on fantasy disabled lists in all but the shallowest of leagues.
Posted by Josh Shepardson at 6:07am (5) Comments
Monday, June 27, 2011
The following article was written before Sunday's great performance by Bumgarner. All numbers are from before that start.
Madison Bumgarner's numbers this year are kind of....weird, in a way. On one hand, you have an ERA (4.06 prior to Sunday's start) that is almost certainly the result of some bad luck (a high strand rate and probably high BABIP). Certainly his FIP (2.89 before Sunday) and xFIP (3.47 before Sunday) would indicate that he is due to have that number improve by the end of the year.
On the other hand, Bumgarner's FIP and xFIP are misleading. Taken at face value, they'd indicate that Bumgarner has improved from last year by a decent bit, to the point where he's a really good pitcher.
Of course, you might also notice something fishy about those numbers: While Bumgarner's strikeout rate was a tiny bit better than last year's rate, his walk rate was definitely worse (by a greater amount than his K rate), and Bumgarner's groundball rate is also essentially identical to last year's.
So why does he have improved FIP and xFIP numbers? Well, for one, he's not giving up home runs at all, which is probably the result of luck or random vvariance. (No, it's not due to home/road issues, as most of his innings have come on the road, rather than in his pitcher-friendly home park.). That explains his lower FIP. However, what about his xFIP? Shouldn't that account for this?
Well, his xFIP is also misleading as a result of odd batted ball classifications. See, Bumgarner's GB rate hasn't increased at all, which would explain a drop in xFIP, as it would expect fewer homers.
But what has dropped is the number of balls being called "fly balls." What's happened is that the loss in fly balls has been entirely taken up by an increase in "line drives." Thus, xFIP thinks, "Hey he's reduced his fly balls, so he'll give up fewer HR!" But really, this is unsustainable, and probably just a result of a combination of random variance/luck and the uneven way that batted balls are classified.
But despite the fact that Bumgarner's FIP and xFIP improvements are misleading, I think he's a strong candidate to improve his numbers, including his peripherals, and someone you might think of picking up for your fantasy team.
Bumgarner has five pitches:
A four-seam fastball which seems to be sort of straight in terms of horizontal break with okay rise, but decent velocity for a lefty;
A two-seam fastball with decent but not a lot of tail, and really not much sinking action, either;
A cutter or slider (Bumgarner calls it a cutter, but the pitch is in-between) with cutter-like velocity but movement that is really good for a cutter and more similar to a slider (good cut, lot of sink relative to the fastball);
A change-up with similar movement to the two-seam fastball, but more sink and around 83-84 MPH;
A curveball with average velocity and not much drop or great horizontal action (a slurvy pitch except in speed).
Bumgarner, a lefty, throws all of these pitches from seemingly the first base-side of the rubber on seemingly the very edge of the rubber, using a delivery that isn't really sidearm, but is slightly low and more horizontal than most pitcher's release.
The end result is that his four-seam fastball (and two-seamer and change-up), despite not having a lot of horizontal break, crosses the plate on a very sharp angle. In other words, to the batter the pitch appears to be far from straight, which should add to the pitch's effectiveness. (Oddly enough, this effect causes his slider/cutter to be the pitch that approaches the plate the most head-on/straight of any of his pitches, which is the reverse of what normally happens with a cutter.)
Now, Bumgarner's pitches have changed over the last year: Each of Bumgarner's pitches has gotten 1-2 MPH FASTER over the last year. The movement on said pitches has basically remained unchanged, but the velocity change would appear to be real. (It's not simply an effect of a hot gun at AT&T park, as the increase remains on the road).
As a lefty, Bumgarner faces righties roughly 75 percent of the time, so getting these batters out is most crucial for him. And in reality, only two pitches are used significantly by Bumgarner to do so, his four-seamer and his slider/cutter (from here on in, I'm just going to refer to this pitch as a "slider"). The other pitches are there, for sure, but those two pitches make up the bulk of his work, and contain the reason why a breakout may be coming for Bumgarner.
The usage of Bumgarner's pitches
In 2010, Bumgarner relied heavily upon his four-seamer to do his work,with the other three off-speed/breaking pitches being used near equally the rest of the time. But when the count grew worse for him, Bumgarner would really begin to rely upon the fastball.
In 2011, Bumgarner's usage of pitches has changed. Now, Bumgarner's slider has taken a much greater importance, clearly being his second option after his four-seamer. In addition, Bumgarner is relying upon his slider even in worse counts; in fact, on 2-1 counts, Bumgarner uses the slider MORE OFTEN than the fastball! The pitch is used over 20 percent of the time on every count except for 3-0.
This increased usage of the slider has come at a decrease in Bumgarner's usage of the change-up mostly, but also at the expense of his fastball.
Really, this is an odd development if we consider the pitch as a slider. Sliders are generally used as weapons against same-handed batters, with the change-up being the pitch used against opposite-handed batters. But Bumgarner's change-up usage to righties (opposite-handed batters) has decreased in favor of the slider, which is quite odd from that perspective.
This is not the only respect in which Bumgarner's usage of his slider has become more cutter-like. In 2010, the pitch was located like a breaking pitch—mostly at the inside and low corner to right-handed batters—and more often than not, the pitch was located out of the strike zone entirely.
In 2011, Bumgarner is hitting the strike zone over 10 percent more often (52.2 percent compared to 41.4 percent) and is locating his pitches more in the middle-low part of the strike zone, though still with an inside bias. This is more like what we'd expect from a cutter, which is used by many pitches similarly to a fastball.
Bumgarner's results this year on his slider/cutter have, oddly enough, actually seemed to get less impressive. His swinging strike rate is down from 12 percent to 10.5 percent, while his GB rate on the pitch is also down four percent.
However, these numbers obscure one key improvement in Bumgarner's slider: the pitch is being called for a ball much less often, down from 33.0 percent last year to 27.1 percent this year. The end result is a more effective pitch overall.
By contrast, the opposite result has occurred in Bumgarner's fastball this year: The pitch is being called for a ball roughly three percent more often (a significant amount given the pitch is used over half of the time) and has had a worse GB rate, but has had the pitch's swinging strike rate essentially DOUBLE.
By expected run values, this is, in fact, resulting in the pitch being less effective than last year, though not as much as the slider's run value has improved.
Bumgarner's overall usage of this pitch has really not changed—he's locating the pitch in the same area of the zone as in 2010, hitting the strike zone equally as often, but has gotten this change in results. I suspect the cause of these results has been the increased velocity on the pitch and part of the impact of Bumgarner's increased slider usage.
These results are what give me great hope for Bumgarner. The increased usage of his slider and change-up in its location has resulted in Bumgarner overall having his swinging strike rate increase from 7.8 percent in 2010 to 8.9 percent in 2011, while Bumgarner's rate of hitting the strike zone has essentially stayed the same (actually, it's increased slightly).
This is a significant change, and it's one we'd expect to result in Bumgarner having a greatly improved K rate alongside a similar BB rate to 2010. Thus, an improvement in his peripherals would seem a likely possibility for Bumgarner.
The last two "Fluke Watch" posts have involved the idea that sometimes pitcher improvements in their peripherals are unlikely to continue because the pitcher's pitches have remained the same. With Bumgarner, the opposite is true: His pitches seem to have improved, as has his usage of them, and so we might expect to see his peripherals rise throughout the year. As a result, he's certainly a good candidate for a breakout.
*Note: This article was written before Bumgarner dominated the Cleveland Indians with 11 strikeouts to one walk. I wouldn't necessarily expect that result every time out, but it's a good example of what I'm talking about regarding the future of Bumgarner.
Posted by Josh Smolow at 5:10am (2) Comments
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Brandon Beachy cannonballed off the DL six days ago and made quite the splash in his first start back, pitching six innings, allowing six baserunners and just one run, and striking out 11 Blue Jays. The first thought a savvy Beachy owner should think is, "Is this guy's value at its peak right now? Should I try to trade him?"
Granted Beachy was impressive before he got injured, certainly better than Mike "good on paper" Minor, so maybe our hypothetical savvy owner would decide to hold onto him for now. Beyond just his brow-raising season thus far though, there is another reason why it was the wrong time to trade him after his splashy start, and mentioning last night's dominance of Seattle should provide you with a solid hint.
The other reason is his upcoming schedule, of course.
Anyone who checked the schedule, as Woody Paige would say, would have seen that his next start was against the offensively challenged Mariners. Over one start anything can happen but Derek Carty over at Fanduel showed that facing a poor offensive team has a fairly significant effect on a pitcher's performance. Derek's article is somewhat unclear in expressing how much of an impact this has on a player's ERA, since his example uses FanDuel Dollars, however from another chart in his article we know that a pitcher facing an offense of the Mariners' caliber can expect to allow 10 percent fewer earned runs than normal.
Simply put, a hypothetical 3.50 ERA pitcher, facing a bad team, should pitch like a 3.15 ERA pitcher and against a good team like a 3.90 ERA one.
We aren't turning lead into gold here, but the effect is a tough one to simply ignore. If you were trying to shop Beachy, waiting for his Seattle start would be smart because it is much easier for someone to believe in two great starts than one. Or for example, Zach Britton might be a tough player to trade since people feel he is getting lucky, but you still might be able to get a decent player for him at the moment. After taking a quick glance at his likely upcoming opponents, the Cardinals, Rangers, and Red Sox, you might want to trade him for anyone you consider at all useful. He could very well be dropped in a lot of 12- or 14-team mixed leagues come the All-Star Break.
I've found myself checking pitchers' upcoming schedules frequently in my fantasy leagues and often it can make a difficult decision into an easy one. When I am faced with a tough decision of which pitcher to drop and there is no obvious candidate, it can be worth it to give a quick glance to which teams each pitcher will face in his next couple of starts. If one of the pitchers has an unusually unfavorable schedule, my dilemma becomes much more manageable.
I will caution you against using this for pitchers with any difference in talent level since favoring a short-term schedule over actual talent can only be described as short-sighted. Another time when checking the schedule is helpful though, is when evaluating a trade. Let's say you are considering accepting a trade in which you receive a pitcher in return. It never hurts to make sure this pitcher doesn't have a brutal upcoming schedule, since not only will you not want to own this pitcher over that stretch but also after it, if the pitcher does in fact struggle, the asking price could easily drop significantly.
It sounds silly for the other person to change his or her opinion of a player so drastically over a short period, but almost everyone does it and admit it, you do too. I know a few weeks ago I never would have traded Mike Stanton when he was batting .275 and had just hit six homers over a 10-game stretch. I thought this was The Beginning. Now, sure, I'd flip him if the right offer came. I'm sure if Jhoulys Chacin struggles in his next start like he did yesterday, the average asking price from his owners will be much more reasonable.
Past small samples are fluky and that makes basing current decisions off expected future small samples even less appealing sounding. But for pitchers, at least, I think you do yourself more harm than good when you ignore the immediate upcoming schedule.