What Is Hector’s Achilles Heel? (and other notes from 7/10/15)

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Hector Santiago was a pitcher that was acquired by the Angels via trade before the 2014 season and the Angels primarily used him as a starting pitcher for the 2014 season, but he more or less proved to be the same type of pitcher that he had been in his couple seasons prior with the White Sox.  He showed that he had a decent left-handed arm that had some strikeout potential but walked a lot of batters and was inefficient with his pitch counts, and he finished the season with a 3.75 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, and 108 K/53 BB in 127.1 IP.

So entering the 2015 season, much of the same was to be expected from Santiago as he opened the season with a spot in the back end of the Angels rotation, but he has surpassed anyone’s expectations.  The Angels starting rotation looked to be in some big trouble this season with Garrett Richards starting the season on the DL, Jered Weaver having extremely diminished velocity, C.J. Wilson coming off a career worst season as a starter, and the 2014 surprise Matt Shoemaker surely unable to repeat his rookie season numbers.  But even with all those question marks with the starting pitching, it would have been hard to predict that Santiago would be the Angels’ best, most consistent and reliable pitcher through the first half of the season.  So we have to acknowledge the fine job that he has done to this point, and with another strong start on Friday at Seattle, Santiago will enter the All-Star break with a 6-4 record, 2.33 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 98 K/34 BB in 108.1 IP.  Unfortunately, there are some red flags for Santiago that call for some regression as we enter the second half of the season, and he may not be quite as fortunate from here on out.

Santiago currently sports the 3rd lowest BABIP among all Major League pitchers at .244.  Santiago’s low BABIP can possibly be substantiated by the fact that he has been the most extreme fly ball pitcher in the entire league this season with a 50.8% fly ball rate.  Fly ball pitchers are more capable of maintaining low BABIP marks due to the fact that fly balls that stay in play are generally easier to record for an out than ground balls, which can go for hits in a number of ways unless it is hit directly at an infielder.  So at first glance, his low BABIP isn’t a terrible issue, but then upon examining his hard hit and soft hit rates, it becomes much more of a question if the low BABIP is something that he can maintain.  Currently, his soft hit rate is the 11th lowest in the league at 15.3% and his hard hit rate is the 8th highest at 33.4%.  What this reflects is that when hitters are making contact against Santiago, they are generally able to avoid hitting it softly and instead they hit it at a medium impact or a hard impact — and of course logic will say that hard hit balls will go for base hits much more often than soft hit balls. So the fact that Santiago has been able to rank so well in BABIP despite being on pace for career worst soft and hard hit rates, it would suggest that he has been rather fortunate.

In Santiago’s favor though is that he has one of the better outfield defenses in the league, much in part to the reigning American League MVP Mike Trout who seems to track down a myriad of fly balls that seemingly few center fielders would be able to get to.  So as I mentioned about the Indians pitchers and how their poor defense grossly affects them in “Sometimes A Pitcher Is Only As Good As His Defense,” it also works in the opposite way with pitchers who have good defenses backing them.  So because Santiago has Trout and others roaming the outfield behind him, he’s going to get a lot of should-be gappers hit off him that will be caught, which helps keep his BABIP down as a fly ball pitcher.  But even so, he should see some sort of regression in the area if he continues to allow hard contact at such a high rate because even Trout can’t catch them all.

Another thing of note with Santiago is that his 88.9% strand rate is the 2nd highest in the league next to Zack Greinke. That type of strand rate is astronomically high as the league average tends to hover around 72.0% and last year’s highest was Doug Fister at 83.1%.  So Santiago is bound for some regression in this area, especially as a fly ball pitcher.  Fly ball pitchers generally allow more home runs, and home runs obviously clear the bases of all runners so that none of those base runners allowed would count as stranded/left on base.  And indeed, Santiago does allow his fair share of home runs at 1.08 HR/9 this season, which matches his career mark as well.  His career strand rate has been relatively high at 79.8%, so perhaps it is somewhat of a skill, but nonetheless it should begin to regress.  Looking at the other pitchers with a strand rate of 80.0% or higher this season, most of them are ground ball pitchers because pitchers with higher ground ball tendencies are able to induce ground ball double plays to strand runners.

One final caution regarding Santiago is his innings count.  He came up through the White Sox farm system as primarily a relief pitcher, and that is what the White Sox used him as initially when he reached the Majors as well.  So his career high in innings pitched is only 149 set in 2013, but he is currently on pace to finish the season with 203.1 innings pitched.  While it is not as great of concern as his hard hit rate, BABIP, and strand rate, it definitely is something to watch once he surpasses his previous career high.

Something very positive in Santiago’s breakout season thus far is his big improvement in his control, which has led to greater efficiency with his pitches and being able to work deeper into games.  His walk rates from 2012-14 have been 5.12 BB/9, 4.35 BB/9, and 3.75 BB/9.  However, this year he is all the way down to 2.82 BB/9 and is averaging 6.16 IP/start. And the improved walk rate is backed up by a career high first pitch strike rate of 59.3%.  So as long as he can keep getting ahead of hitters in the count, then he should be well on his way to a career best walk rate — it’s just the other things that we need to monitor as Hector’s possible Achilles heel.

Let’s take a look at the rest of Friday’s slate.

Kyle Hendricks – 7 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K.  Hendricks last start versus the Marlins and his start on Friday versus the White Sox have gone exactly as planned as I said that he would have very nice matchups before the All-Star break.  He now has pitched three straight scoreless starts for a 20.1 shutout innings.  That’s not quite Zack Greinke status but it’s sure a wonderful thing to see from an underrated pitcher.  Hendricks is only owned in 20% of Yahoo! leagues, which is lower than it should be despite his moderate strikeout rate.  For now, consider him a poor man’s Jordan Zimmermann.  Hendricks will enter the break at 4-4 with a 3.55 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and 79 K/17 BB in 99 IP.

Carlos Rodon – 6 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 6 BB, 6 K.  Rodon issued 6 free passes for the second time this season, but fortunately, he was able to work around all of them to not let any runs cross.  He’s got a talented arm, but once again, his control gets lost a lot of the time and he fits the bill of the typical big prospect arm with high strikeout potential that comes with erratic control.  That sort of thing does not tickle my fancy, but it is more tolerable for keeper and dynasty leagues.  He will enter the break with a 3-2 record, 3.80 ERA, 1.61 WHIP, 68 K/41 BB in 66.1 IP.

Matt Carpenter – 1 for 3, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 R, 1 BB.  Carpenter got off to a hot start to the season, which made me believe that he was going to be in for a repeat of his magical 2013 season, but he has cooled considerably.  The biggest reason for the cool down is his strikeout rate is at 19.5%, which is up from his 2013 rate of 13.7% and 2014 rate of 15.7%, and his swinging strike rate has increased in the same way to provide validity.  However, he hit a home run on Friday and there is some hope for improvement in the second half of the season if he can cut down a bit on those strikeouts because when he does put the ball in play, he is drilling it at the same hard hit rates that he’s posted in his career and his line drive rate at 30.0% is off the charts (2nd in MLB).  Carpenter has a .270 AVG with 9 HR, 43 RBI, 48 R, and 2 SB.

Lance Lynn – 4 IP, 9 H, 5 ER, 1 BB, 5 K with the L.  Lynn got knocked around by the Pirates on Friday, but he has been solid all season long and has shown to be healthy since coming off the DL with a forearm injury, so it’s nothing to worry about at the moment.

Neil Walker – 3 for 4, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 R, 1 K.  Walker has seen a dip in his power this year, but it wasn’t all that likely that he would hit more than 20 HR again this season anyway.  However, he has been hot as of late and he could approach his RBI and runs totals from last year (76 RBI, 74 R) while providing decent power and average.  He isn’t flashy, but he also isn’t that much different than Matt Carpenter just judging by the surface numbers.  He has a .279 AVG with 7 HR, 34 RBI, 40 R, and 3 SB.

Gerrit Cole – 7 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 3 K with the W.  Cole logged his league leading 13th win of the season on Friday, but he hasn’t been as dominant in his last 5 starts now with a 3.78 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 23 K/9 BB in 33.1 IP during that time. And now for the first time all season, his strikeout rate has dipped below 9.00 K/9.  There has not been a dip in his velocity, so the recent lack of strikeouts is probably a bit of an aberration, but if he doesn’t rebound with more K’s after the All-Star break then there may be some other issue.  His ERA though should keep regressing toward 3.00 probably, but because of his good ability to keep the ball in the park and generate a lot of ground balls (for double plays especially), he will have the chance to outpitch his xFIP and SIERA and keep his ERA a shade under 3.00.  Cole is 13-3 with a 2.30 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and 116 K/28 BB in 117.1 IP.

Gio Gonzalez – 6 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 5 K.  With his decently pitched game on Friday, Nat-Gio has his ERA under 4.00 for the first time since April 21.  He’s had one of the higher BABIP marks in the league for a while now, but I’ve been saying he should improve since there wasn’t much in his batted ball profile to suggest that he should be such on the wrong side of things.  However, he does have a more porous than not defense behind him, and he is generating ground balls at a rate that is 10.2% higher than his career rate.  So a complete 180 degree turnaround should not be expected, especially since he is getting fewer swinging strikes and strikeouts than before.  Overall, I think he still should improve over the second half, but it’s not all gold.  Gonzalez is 6-4 with a 3.99 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 83 K/36 BB in 94.2 IP.

Lucas Duda – 1 for 4, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 R, 2 K.  Duda hit a big HR on Friday, but he has been entranced in some kind of a slump with just a .161 AVG since June 1, and it’s been even more pronounced since July 1 with a .091 AVG and 17 K’s in 33 AB.  I professed earlier this season that Duda was showing signs of a breakthrough by adjustments that he had made against left-handed pitching, and overall he still has hit them well this season with a .308 AVG and 4 HR.  However, he’s failing big time to hit right-handed pitching all of a sudden and it’s putting a real damper on his season.  He should break out of this slump at some point, but it’s been very discouraging and he doesn’t look to be in for a career year like I thought back in May.  He’s hitting .242 with 11 HR, 37 RBI, 40 R, and 0 SB.

Noah Syndergaard – 8 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 13 K with the W.  If Carlos Rodon is the quintessence of the type of pitching prospect that I don’t like, then Syndergaard is that of the type that I love.  He’s got the big strikeout upside with excellent control and he’s showing his stuff off nicely up to this point.  He is the real deal and I would recommend him anywhere and everywhere, and he absolutely dominated the Diamondbacks after allowing a first inning run on Friday.  He is 4-4 with a 3.11 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and 74 K/14 BB in 64.2 IP.  #playersiwishiowned

Mike Leake – 8 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 10 K with the W.  Apparently, the Marlins don’t know what to do with Mike Leake as he has shut them out for 15 innings this season while allowing only 9 base runners and striking out 17.  Leake can have big games against poor offenses, but he’s a hard one to trust in fantasy leagues.

Erasmo Ramirez – 6 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 K with the W.  Erasmo keeps on doing it.  He will regress some, but as I’ve noted for a while now, he has been a completely different pitcher since rejoining the Rays rotation after altering his pitch arsenal.  He now has a 2.10 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and 50 K/19 BB in 60 IP during that time.  He should be owned in most places.

Alex Rodriguez – 2 for 4, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K.  Another HR for A-Rod and he’s batting .279 with 17 HR, 49 RBI, 46 R, and 1 SB.  He refuses to fade away and he should be able to keep up this type of pace if he doesn’t get injured.

Michael Pineda – 6.2 IP, 7 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 6 K with the W.  Pineda got the win on Friday and he will enter the break with a 9-5 record, 3.64 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and 111 K/13 BB in 106.1 IP.  The ERA and WHIP are solid but not great, but he’s capable of a lot more and makes for a nice trade target if the Pineda owner in your league isn’t in love with him.  Pineda’s .345 BABIP is one of the highest in the league, but there’s nothing in his batted ball profile that suggests he should have such a high BABIP.  The Yankees defense does rank just 23rd in DEF rating, but he still should be better than that, and he just got Jacoby Ellsbury back to roam center field.

Clay Buchholz – 3.1 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 3 K with the L.  Buchholz was forced from the game due to tightness in his right elbow.  Of course any injury to a pitcher’s arm is ominous, so this sounds like it will at least require a DL stint and it could end up being a lengthy one.  This is terrible news for Buchholz as he was in the midst of his most well rounded season in his up and down career.  If this is a lengthy DL stint for Buchholz, then the Red Sox could look to top prospect Brian Johnson.

Danny Salazar – 8.2 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 K with the W.  The ups and downs of Salazar’s season go on as he came within an out of finishing a complete game against the A’s on Friday.  Salazar remains a pitcher with nice upside that I recommend anywhere, but we do have to keep in mind that he does come with some flaws:  he can be prone to the HR, he has a poor defense behind him, and he can be inconsistent because of those first two things.  He could be a real breakout in 2016 though if the Indians can field a better defense.  Salazar is 8-4 with a 3.74 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 116 K/26 BB in 98.2 IP.

Derek Norris – 0 for 5, 3 K.  Norris has really taken a dive as he’s now hitting .171 with 40 K in 129 AB since June 1.  He looked to be on his way to a breakout season for a while, but both his walk and strikeout rates have trended grossly in the wrong directions.  He needs to be rostered in all but the shallowest of leagues because of his power potential as a catcher, but he’s fallen on some bad times and could really end up doing some damage to a fantasy team’s batting average.  Just another example of Padres GM A.J. Preller’s master plan going awry.

Prince Fielder – 1 for 3, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 R.  Prince hit his 14th bomb and still is living the good life with a .345 AVG.  The batting average will come down because he probably can’t maintain a .356 BABIP all season long, but he should have no problem finishing with above a .300 AVG for just the second time in his career like I mentioned a while back in “Prince’s Return to Royalty.”

Adrian Beltre – 1 for 4, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R.  In his 16th game back from the DL, Beltre finally hit a HR.  Beltre’s age is definitely catching up to him, but he should get warmer with the weather in Texas.

Rougned Odor – 2 for 3, 1 R.  Odor keeps on hitting as he now has a .370 AVG in 21 games since his recall, yet for some reason he is finding himself toward the bottom of the order more often than not.  Meanwhile, Shin-Soo Choo and his .227 AVG and .310 OBP keeps hitting out of the 2-hole for the Rangers.  Manager Jeff Bannister needs to wake up and flip flop the two if he would like to win more games.  And if Odor is still on the waiver wire in your league, then that needs to change. Read “Rougned Bringing a Nice Odor to the Texas Air” for more information on the young second baseman.

Kelly Johnson – 2 for 4, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 R, 1 K.  Like I said a few days ago, Johnson is hitting cleanup for the Braves against right-handed pitching with Freddie Freeman still on the DL, and he has now homered in 3 of the last 5 games.  He deserves some consideration and is a nice cheaper option for DFS.

Charlie Blackmon – 2 for 4, 1 R, 2 SB, 1 BB, 1 K.  Blackmon is now up to 23 SB on the season and could be one of a select few to end the season with 20 HR and 30 SB.  No one year wonder here.

Carlos Gonzalez – 1 for 4, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R, 2 K.  Since June 1, CarGo is batting .299 with 8 HR and he surely appears to be out of the funk that weighted him down early in the season.  He’s always going to be an injury liability and his 20 SB speed is no longer there (just 2 SB this season), but he can still produce if healthy.

Shelby Miller – 5 IP, 11 H, 5 ER, 1 BB, 7 K with the L.  Miller hit some more regression on Friday, though the start also took place in Coors Field so it was expected.  But once again, as mentioned after his last start, Miller showed higher velocity than earlier in the season and a causal effect of that quite possibly could be more strikeouts.  This is now the 3rd start in a row where he has logged more strikeouts than innings pitched and the 7th start in a row where his velocity has been a bit higher.  Over those 7 starts, he’s logged 44 K’s in 42.1 IP.  So while he should continue to get hit with more regression to his BABIP and strand rate to hurt his numbers somewhat, this increase in velocity and strikeouts can help to offset some of that regression.

Yoenis Cespedes – 3 for 5, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 2 R, 1 K.  Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, but ever since moving into the 2-hole after Miguel Cabrera got injured, Cespedes has been hot with a .382 AVG and 7 HR in 6 games.  Cespedes had primarily been hitting 5th all season long, sandwiched in between the Martinez men, but if he keeps up this success then this could become a fixture for him even when Cabrera returns.  And if Cespedes hits in front of Cabrera, he’s probably going to see a lot of pitches to hit.  Cespedes’ stock is trending up.

Victor Martinez – 2 for 5, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 R.  I’ve been saying for a while now how V-Mart is a big part of the Tigers offense because as a switch-hitter he provides the lineup with a strong left-handed presence against right-handed pitching, which is something that the Tigers sorely missed while he was on the DL.  Since returning from the DL, he has hit .341 with 3 HR and 14 RBI in 19 games.  It’s safe to say that knee of his is feeling a lot better.  He’s still not likely to show the same type of power that he did last season, but he is a very dangerous hitter and makes for a good trade target while his overall numbers still look rather mediocre.

J.D. Martinez – 2 for 5, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R, 1 K.  Just dongs for J.D.  I got worried for a bit there, he hadn’t homered in 3 games.  He’s now up to 25 HR on the season.

Justin Verlander – 7.2 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K.  When I need Verlander to suck the most so that I could win a qualifier to the DraftKings Fantasy Baseball World Championship, naturally he is all of a sudden awesome.  The Twins came back in the 9th inning to pour on 7 runs to lead me to a 21st place finish out of 1500+ entrants, but unfortunately only 1st place earned a ticket to the championship.  This just makes me hate Verlander even more, and I still wouldn’t own him in fantasy.

Joakim Soria – 0.2 IP, 2 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, with the BS and L.  It’s been mostly a pretty good season for Soria, but the wheels just came off on Friday as he had a blowup against the Twins.  But he’s now already given up 8 HR this season and his strikeout rate is at a career low.  If these trends continue, then he may eventually get removed as the team’s closer.

Salvador Perez – 2 for 4, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 R.  Perez showing off his muscle yet again for his 15th HR of the season.  I still don’t think that he’s been the best catcher in the AL, but I don’t have an issue with him starting the All-Star Game.

Danny Duffy – 6 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 0 K with the W.  If a starting pitcher can’t strikeout a single batter in a game, I don’t think that he is deserving of a win.  But somehow, Duffy completed the feat on Friday against a Blue Jays team that usually crushes lefties.  Duffy ended up with a nice ERA and WHIP last season, but he’s not a pitcher that I would look to pickup because of his mediocre strikeout and walk rates.  He’s an extreme fly ball pitcher that should get burned more than he has.

Mike Montgomery – 5 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 0 BB, 3 K with the L.  Montgomery finally ran into some trouble on Friday because unless you’re a true ace like Felix Hernandez, nobody can keep the Angels offense quiet right now.  It just was a very tough matchup for the rookie, but it also could be the beginning of a regression period.

Mike Trout – 3 for 5, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 2 R.  Trout went double dong on Friday to tie teammate Albert Pujols for the AL lead in HR.  It’s been quite a while since we have seen teammates finish 1st and 2nd in the AL home run race, so it would be quite a treat if these two were able to accomplish it.

C.J. Cron – 2 for 4, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 2 R.  After his double dong performance on Friday, Cron is now hitting .385 with 4 HR and 12 RBI in 8 games since his recall.  Cron has some good power and is worthy of a pickup while he’s hot, but he’ll cool off eventually and may only be used against left-handed pitching once he does cool off, especially if the Angels acquire a left-handed bat via trade.  But Cron was also hot in AAA with a .323 AVG and 6 HR in 23 games, so he could be on to something here.

Joe Panik – 4 for 6, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 2 R.  The All-Star Joe Panik had a big day on Friday and is now hitting .313 with 7 HR, 33 RBI, 46 R, and 3 SB.  His HR total has been surprising so far, but he’s got the makeup of a very solid contact hitter.  I’m liking him more and more.

Matt Duffy – 4 for 6, 2 RBI, 1 R.  Duffy keeps on hitting and makes for an intriguing pickup in deeper leagues.  He’s not exceptional at any one league, but can do a little of everything.

Hunter Pence – 1 for 4, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 1 R, 1 K.  Pence hit a grand slam on Friday to aid the Giants in their blowout of the Phillies.  Like I said, he’s a big guy for the Giants lineup and with him back from the DL, the Giants are going to be much more potent and should make for an under the radar stacking option in DFS in the right matchups.

Cole Hamels – 3.1 IP, 12 H, 9 ER, 2 BB, 4 K with the L.  A night to forget for Hamels who did nothing to help his trade value on Friday.  Although, I don’t think there’s really any team out there that would knock him down a peg despite the shellacking.


2 thoughts on “What Is Hector’s Achilles Heel? (and other notes from 7/10/15)

  1. Pingback: Cingrani’s Return to the Rotation (and other notes from 7/20/15) | The Backwards K

  2. Pingback: The Progression of Brandon Belt (and other notes from 8/11/15) | The Backwards K

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