Max Is A Scher Thing (and other notes from 6/14/15)

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When the Nationals handed out a 7-year/$210 million contract to Max Scherzer, it definitely raised some eyebrows.  Scherzer’s contract was only $5 million less than 2-time reigning NL Cy Young, Clayton Kershaw, but though Scherzer was obviously a great pitcher in his own right, he did not have the same dominant track record as Kershaw.  Also, Kershaw was 26 years old when he signed his mega deal, while Scherzer was 30.  So the Dodgers figure to get all of Kershaw’s best years in this contract (and already have received one of his best), but the Nationals will have Scherzer, barring a trade, through his age 36 season and he could very well begin to digress in a couple seasons.

But for the time being, Scherzer has been worth every penny and it is best exemplified in his near perfect start on Sunday at Milwaukee.  Scherzer had a perfect game through 6 innings until Carlos Gomez hit a bloop single that barely got over the glove of a leaping Anthony Rendon at second base.  Scherzer did not let that phase him though, as he went on to finish the rest of the game for a complete game 1-hit shutout with an amazing 16 strikeouts.  If you’re into the game score stat, Scherzer finished with a game score of 100, which is the best pitching game of the season (Corey Kluber and Chris Heston both had 98) and it is the highest score since Kershaw’s score of 102 nearly one year ago when he pitched a no-hitter with 15 strikeouts.  For the season, Scherzer is now 7-5 with a 1.93 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, and 113 K/14 BB in 93.1 IP.

We all knew that Scherzer was one of the best pitchers in the game coming into the year, but let’s take a look at what is making him even more amazing this season.  First, and probably most important, is his huge improvement in his walk rate.  Coming up through the Diamondbacks Minor League system, Scherzer was the typical hard throwing prospect with some control issues and he compiled a walk rate of 4.13 BB/9.  When he first entered the Majors, he had a little bit below average control, but steadily improved over the years to be above average in the area, and his career best came in his 2013 AL Cy Young season with 2.35 BB/9.  But this season, he has taken it to the next level with a current 1.35 BB/9.  He is doing so by throwing a first pitch strike a whopping 70.3% of the time, which is the third highest in the league and is shattering his previous career best of 64.5%.

Another reason for his continued dominance is that he is working with a lowered BABIP of .268, but even though that mark is much lower than his career rate of .303, there is some belief to it given that he is inducing more fly balls than ever this season being in the top 5 in the Majors in fly ball rate and fly ball/ground ball ratio.  Fly ball pitchers are able to maintain a lower BABIP than ground ball pitchers because fly balls are more easily caught for sure outs.  And even though he is allowing more fly balls, not many of them are leaving the stadium for home runs as he has allowed only 6 in 13 starts.

With these improvements this year, Scherzer is going to be able to continue to baffle hitters in his first season in the National League and is looking like as “Scher” of a thing as any pitcher out there.  It is going to be a great race for the NL Cy Young.

Let’s check in on the rest of the Sunday card of games!

Brandon Moss – 2 for 4, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R, 1 K.  Moss is producing decently for the Indians this season with a .255 AVG, 11 HR, and 35 RBI.  He came over from the A’s in a trade for Minor Leaguer Joey Wendle, and even though Moss had a worrisome hip, this was still a weird trade for the A’s and another one they might wish they could take back (trading away Josh Donaldson being the other one).  Essentially the A’s replaced Moss by signing Billy Butler who is hitting .244 with 4 HR and 29 RBI and is on a 3-year/$30 million contract, whereas Moss could’ve been had for just $6.5 million this year.  Butler’s power isn’t good enough to be an asset in that Oakland park, but Moss has power that can play anywhere.  Billy Beane, whoops.

Francisco Lindor – 1 for 2, 1 K.  Lindor made his Major League debut in a pinch-hitting capacity and logged his first hit of his career.  However, as I said on Saturday, he’s much more revered for his glove and is not the big impact shortstop bat like Carlos Correa will be.

Corey Kluber – 5 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 2 K with the L.  After resurrecting his season with that ridiculous 4-game stretch where he went 3-0 with a 1.41 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, and 50 K/2 BB in 32 IP, Kluber has now lost 3 straight games while posting unimpressive stats.  However, it’s probably nothing to sweat and he gets an incredibly nice matchup when the Rays come to town for his next start.  Look for him to end this streak of mediocre starts then.

Miguel Cabrera – 3 for 4, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 3 R.  If there’s one player that just absolutely owns Corey Kluber it is Miguel Cabrera.  After homering off him on Sunday, M-Cab’s career line versus Kluber is now a .543 AVG (19 for 35) with 5 HR and 10 RBI.

J.D. Martinez – 2 for 4, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 R.  Martinez has now homered in two straight games, but maybe more importantly he has only struck out once in his last 25 plate appearances to trim his strikeout rate from 29.4% to 27.0%.  He’s now hitting .266 with 12 HR and 32 RBI and if he can keep cutting down on the strikeouts then he has some hope to be a .280 hitter this season.

Alfredo Simon – 5 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 5 K with the W.  Somehow Simon keeps on holding down opposing offenses and he now is 7-3 with a 2.58 ERA and 1.16 WHIP.  However, there is not much in his batted ball profile that would suggest that he is this good.  He is giving up more fly balls this season, which could be guiding his BABIP to the low .265 mark that it’s currently at, but a mark that low is reserved more for pitchers who are heavy fly ball pitchers — Simon is neutral to fly balls and ground balls.  I still have to expect that Simon has to regress more toward a 4.00 ERA and 1.30 WHIP at some point.

Juan Lagares – 3 for 5, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 R.  Lagares had a nice game on Sunday and is now hitting .278 with 3 HR, 19 RBI, 28 R and 4 SB.  He is much more regarded for his defense in center field, but at just 26 years old right now, he might have a 10 HR/20 SB season in him in the future.  For this year, he’s only for the deepest of fantasy leagues.

Travis d’Arnaud – 1 for 4, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 R, 1 BB, 1 K.  D’Arnaud homered for the first time since coming off the DL and he has been hitting in some prime spots in the lineup since coming back (2nd and 4th the last two games).  I already liked him a lot coming into the season as I pegged him to be “This Year’s Yan Gomes,” so any bump up in the batting order is only going to help him reach new heights.

Dillon Gee – 3.2 IP, 11 H, 8 ER, 1 BB, 4 K.  Gee got drilled by the Braves on Sunday and this probably seals the fate of the Mets experiment on a 6-man rotation and will leave Gee on the outside looking in.

Jace Peterson – 3 for 5, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 3 R, 1 SB.  Peterson does not possess a lot of power, but he was able to knock his 2nd HR of the season on Sunday and he has actually been a solid option at second base and at the top of the order for the Braves.  He’s probably better in real life than he is for fantasy, but he can hit for a decent batting average (currently .285 AVG) and with 6 SB so far he does have some speed.  In the Minors though he stole as many as 51 bases in a season, so he’s got some untapped speed potential.

Nate Karns – 6 IP, 7 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 8 K with the W.  Karns bounced back from two poor outings versus the Angels to nearly silence the White Sox.  This was a nice matchup for Karns, but he should regress as the season goes on.  The .257 BABIP is low for a ground ball/fly ball neutral pitcher and the high walk rate of 3.67 BB/9 will catch up to him soon.

Kevin Jepsen – 1 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K with the SV.  With Jake McGee having pitched the last two days and Brad Boxberger battling through some things, Jepsen locked down his 5th save of the season.  I still would expect save opportunities for Jepsen to be scarce as long as McGee and Boxberger are healthy and available.

Chris Sale – 6.2 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 12 K with the L.  It was another big strikeout performance for Sale, making it his 5th double digit K game in a row and 6th in his last 7 — you’re welcome for the analysis I wrote about earlier this season, Chris!  In this game, Sale threw 125 pitches and he has now averaged 114.6 pitches per game over his last 9 starts (107.3 for the season).  It’s a bit surprising that manager Robin Ventura is allowing his prized arm to throw so much, but also refreshing at the same time to not see such a great young arm not be babied so much.

John Axford – 1 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K with the SV.  Incredibly, Axford now has a 0.48 ERA and 1.00 WHIP while converting 11 of 11 save opportunities, and his latest save came by striking out the side.  This surely can’t last much longer, but he’s getting the job done for the Rockies and he is building up some trade value since he makes for a likely trade candidate this summer.  However, the Rockies management is really that savvy considering they stuck with LaTroy Hawkins at closer last year and went with him to begin this year.  So maybe Axford does stick with the team for the duration of the season as the closer.

A.J. Burnett – 9 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K.  Burnett pitched 9 innings of shutout baseball but left without a victory.  He is 6-2 with a 1.89 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and 74 K/24 BB in 84.2 IP and this revival appears for real and he must really love pitching for the Pirates.  The ERA will go up to 3.00 eventually as his 83.3% strand rate regresses to a normal level, but everything else checks out.  His ground ball heavy tendencies with the intelligently used defensive shifts employed by the Pirates coaching staff is a great match.

Cole Hamels – 7 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 12 K.  Hamels was on the opposite end of the matchup versus Burnett and he too was much deserving of a win but came away empty handed.  Hamels is killing it with a 2.96 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and 103 K/31 BB in 94.1 IP and he should make some team really happy this summer when he gets traded.  I could definitely imagine his hometown Padres, who have been extra aggressive in making moves for this season, looking into acquiring Hamels’ services.

Chris Colabello – 2 for 5, 1 RBI, 3 R.  Colabello’s hitting streak came to an end a few games ago, but he’s still been getting the job done.  His .343 AVG is still bound to come down below .300 because the .437 BABIP is much too high.  But with a 29.4% line drive rate, perhaps Colabello has made some adjustments to his swing in the same vein as J.D. Martinez last year.  I have not seen any such evidence, but if so, then this could be a real transformation.

Ryan Goins – 2 for 5, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 2 R.  This was a once in a lifetime game for Goins to homer and drive in 5 runs.  Nothing to see here, just a super weak hitting middle infielder with a career game.

David Ortiz – 1 for 2, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 R, 2 BB.  Ortiz homered again.  Make that 3 HR in the last 4 games.  We can officially say that he’s heating up and over his power drought.

Eduardo Rodriguez – 4.2 IP, 8 H, 9 ER, 3 BB, 1 K with the L.  The rookie southpaw E-Rod finally ran into some trouble and it comes as no surprise that it came against the Blue Jays who lead the Majors in AVG, OPS, and wOBA against left-handed pitchers.  So let’s keep this in mind for any lefty pitcher facing the Jays.  Rodriguez will carry a 3.55 ERA and 1.03 WHIP into his next start at Kansas City where he should see better results.

Luis Valbuena – 2 for 4, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 R, 1 BB.  14 of Valbuena’s 39 hits this season have been HR, but with just a .109 AVG versus lefties this season, he makes for a perfect platoon candidate at third base once Jed Lowrie comes back from the DL.  With Carlos Correa taking over as the Astros shortstop of the present and the future, Lowrie will have to find playing time elsewhere when he is healthy and he has always hit righties better than lefties.

Lance McCullers – 5 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 4 BB, 4 K with the W.  McCullers didn’t allow a hit to the Mariners offense in 5 innings of work, but being staked to an 11-0 lead and at 90 pitches after 5 innings, the Astros pulled the plug on the no-hit bid.  McCullers had been very good in limiting the walks, but I had mentioned that he should run into some control issues at times and this was a prime example.  Fortunately, the Mariners offense was not able to capitalize on it.

Taylor Jungmann – 5 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 K with the L.  Jungmann did not have as much succees in his second start as he did in his debut, and it probably will continue to get worse for the rookie.  He’s got some strikeout potential, but control issues are likely to limit him in his first season.

Byron Buxton – 0 for 4, 1 R, 2 K.  Top prospect Buxton made his debut on Sunday and while he did end up scoring the winning run in the 9th inning, the 0-fer with 2 strikeouts was unimpressive.  I think there will be a lot of strikeouts for the youngster, and you can check out “Spend a Ton o’ Bux on Buxton?” for my projections on him.

Delino DeShields – 1 for 3, 1 K.  DeShields left the game early with a hamstring injury.  For someone whose best tool is his speed, this is far from good news.  DeShields, a long time recommended pick up by The Backwards K, has been a real spark plug to a Rangers offense that had slumped for a long time.  So if he requires a DL stint then the team will really miss him, but it would probably give either Leonys Martin or Elvis Andrus a bump in value moving up in the order in his absence.

Joey Gallo – 1 for 4, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R, 1 K.  Another HR and another K for Gallo.  Regardless of the strikeouts though, he’s making a nice impression and is going to merit consideration for a starting job even when Adrian Beltre and Josh Hamilton return from the DL.  Though that may require some sort of trade on the Rangers part if everyone is healthy.

Leonys Martin – 2 for 4, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R.  Martin entered the season as a big breakout candidate since he began the year as the leadoff hitter for the Rangers.  After slumping to start the season, he got bumped down in the order and has been unable to claw his way back due to the emergence of Delino DeShields.  But as mentioned above, a DeShields injury could open the door for Martin to return to the top of the order, especially with him hitting so hot as of late.  In June, Martin is hitting .375 with 1 HR and 4 SB.  This may be a nice time to try and buy on Martin.  He’s got potential for 15 HR and 40 SB.

Shawn Tolleson – 1 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 0 K with the L.  This was Tolleson’s first real misstep since becoming the closer for the Rangers.  He took the loss, but it wasn’t a save situation.  He should still be all systems go as the team’s closer.

Billy Burns – 2 for 5, 1 RBI, 1 R, 1 SB, 1 K.  Burns doing what Burns does.  Get on, steal, and score.  He has a .313 AVG with 12 SB and 22 R in 39 games.

Sonny Gray – 7 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 9 K with the W.  Another fine performance from Gray.  You might look to his .249 BABIP and his 54.1% ground ball rate and think that his BABIP should be much higher than it actually is, but the fact of the matter is that Gray has been extremely good at limiting hard contact against him.  He has the lowest hard contact rate in the Majors at 19.8% and it looks like the main reason for that is the 10% increased usage of his slider, because the slider is a pitch that he is getting a lot of fly balls on and infield fly balls more specifically.  His 1.60 ERA and 0.93 WHIP will be going up, but it definitely appears that he has made some real improvements that shouldn’t be discounted.

Matt Shoemaker – 5.2 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 0 BB, 5 K with the L.

Chris Heston – 5 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 6 K with the L.  Heston’s follow up to his no-hitter was not so great, but he still figures to be more of a quality pitcher than first thought.  Check out “C. Heston From the NRA to NHA?” for more information on the Giants righty.

Paul Goldschmidt – 2 for 3, 1 R, 1 SB, 2 BB.  Goldschmidt recorded his 10th stolen base of the season on Sunday and looks on his way to beating his career high of 18 SB.  Also, he is on the cusp of having more walks than strikeouts at 52 K/51 BB.  Goldschmidt is a big time beast and I mentioned a couple weeks ago how I would definitely make a case for him being the #1 draft pick in 2016 fantasy drafts.

Rubby De La Rosa – 8 IP, 8 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 6 K with the W.  This was a refreshing sight to see from Rubby who got absolutely pummeled in his last two starts versus the Dodgers and Braves.  He gets the Padres next which will present another opportunity for a nice game.  Despite the 5.27 ERA, he still is a recommended fantasy option with his xFIP sitting nearly two runs lower at 3.33.

Daniel Hudson – 1 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K with the SV.  With Brad Ziegler having closed out the previous two games and being unavailable for Sunday, it was Hudson who shut the door on the Giants.  In a previous “BLOW-PEN Report” I mentioned Hudson as a sleeper for saves in the Diamondbacks bullpen, so this is interesting to note.  Ziegler has not done much to be removed from the role with converting 8 of 9 save opportunities, but Hudson has more “typical” closer stuff.  Stow this one away in the save bank.

Mike Bolsinger – 4.2 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 7 K.  The last time Bolsinger faced the Padres he struck out 9 over 8 innings of 1-hit baseball.  He was going pretty well in this game util he ran into some trouble in the 5th inning that forced him from the game.  It’s been a nice run for Bolsinger who now has a 2.25 ERA and 1.10 WHIP, but he’ll continue to see more regression as teams get multiple looks at him and his two-pitch cutter/curveball arsenal.  As mentioned in previous posts, Bolsinger is probably not longed for the Dodgers rotation with his two-pitch arsenal being more suited for relief work.

Billy Hamilton – 2 for 3, 1 R, 5 SB, 1 BB.  Jon Lester attempted 0 pickoffs last year.  Yes, that’s correct, zero.  So far this season, he had only attempted 2 pickoffs entering play on Sunday, so of course speedster Billy Hamilton is well aware of that and took advantage of Lester’s unwillingness to throw over.  Hamilton ripped 3 bags off Lester on Sunday and now has 5 SB versus him this season.  Stash that away for the future when making DFS lineups.  Hamilton stole another 2 bases off Edwin Jackson and he now has 31 SB on the season despite still toiling away at the bottom of the order.  Oddly enough, the Major League record for most SB in a single game is 7 set by George Gore (1881) and Billy Hamilton (1894).  But unless he cryogenically froze himself, these Hamiltons are just two players of the same name.

Anthony DeSclafani – 6.1 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 K.  After a surprise start, DeSclafani hit a rough patch at the beginning of May as he began to walk a bunch of batters, walking 15 batters in 19 innings over a 4 start stretch.  This was extremely uncharacteristic of a pitcher who had an extremely good walk rate of 1.91 BB/9 in all of his professional innings entering the 2015 season.  So when he was walking all these batters, I suggested that he be dumped unless he could turn things around in that area.  Well, it would appear that he has made that turnaround with just 9 walks in his last 32.1 IP over 5 starts.  He is once again a viable fantasy option and is the owner of a 3.36 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 53 K/30 BB in 77.2 IP.  If hurting for some pitching, I would feel okay rolling him out against the Marlins in his next start.

Devin Mesoraco – Mesoraco was removed from his rehab stint at AAA and will continue to try and get healthy otherwise.  Darn.  The Reds really need to stop messing around here and just have him undergo season-ending surgery to his bad hip at this point.  At this point, he’s not likely to contribute much at all, so why not just let him fix the problem and start getting ready for next year?

Jason Motte – 1 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K.  Motte was once again called on in the top of the 9th of a tie ballgame while Hector Rondon pitched a clean 8th inning.  These Cubs/Reds games are sure going down to the wire a lot.  Motte worked around a bases loaded jam and there still is little clarity in this closing situation for the Cubs and I wouldn’t expect there to be with Joe Maddon at the helm as he will probably continue to mix and match for the time being.

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