Auto-Steal Versus Lester (and other notes from 8/13/15)

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Jon Lester‘s career as a Chicago Cub got off to a bumpy and inconsistent beginning, but since July 1, the big lefty has been exceptional and he displayed it once again on Thursday in a victory over the Brewers. Since July 1, Lester has gone 4-2 with a 1.60 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, and 63 K/9 BB in 56.1 IP over 8 starts — and his overall season line is 8-8 with a 3.21 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, and 149 K/36 BB in 146.2 IP, which is right in line with what was expected of him this season.

Something very interesting to note though is the lack of effectiveness that Lester brings against the running game. Maybe you’ve heard it already, maybe you haven’t, but in the 2014 season, Lester did not attempt a single pickoff all season long. For comparison, Justin Verlander led the league in the category with 199 pickoff attemps in 2014. How a starting pitcher who didn’t miss a start doesn’t attempt at least one pickoff over the course of a whole season is just downright outrageous and it is rather telling of a great weakness that can be exposed by the opposition.

Entering his start on Thursday, Lester had attempted just 2 pickoffs this season, but he hadn’t attempted one since April. However, in his Thursday start against the Brewers, he finally attempted another pickoff only to end up throwing it away for his 3rd error of the season. So when it comes to controlling the running game, Lester really doesn’t seem to care at all, but when he finally does, he can’t even execute it correctly because his lack of repetition in doing so gave him the yips and probably also shocked the heck out of Anthony Rizzo over at first base.

After he didn’t attempt pickoff last season, it became pretty well recognized in baseball circles and teams have most certainly picked up on that portion of the scouting report. If Lester never throws over to first base for a pickoff attempt, then base runners who are given the green light to steal can just go on Lester’s first movement of his front (right) leg, which is a big advantage for the base runner, especially when the pitcher is left-handed (because lefties generally have the better ability to hold base runners at first base since they are facing that direction before delivering the ball to the plate).

So even though the Brewers couldn’t muster up much run production against Lester on Thursday, they did end up stealing a whopping 5 bases against the Lester/David Ross tandem. Last season when Lester didn’t attempt a pickoff, he surprisingly only allowed just 16 stolen bases, and his single season career high in stolen bases allowed is 22 from 2010. But after allowing the 5 swipes to the Brew Crew, Lester has now permitted 35 stolen bases against him this season, which is the most in the league by a good margin over Tyson Ross (29 SB allowed).

With so many stolen bases allowed, it is a little surprising to see Lester possess an ERA as good as he has at 3.21. If runners are always stealing against Lester, then Lester should be pitching with runners in scoring position a lot of the time to leave him more susceptible to giving up runs. However, Lester has done pretty well to limit the damage and his strand rate is nearly right in line with the league average of 73.2%. But for future purposes, he may not be as fortunate if the opposition continues to run wild all over him. It should go without saying that if you are in need of stolen bases in your fantasy league, then using players with good speed who are set to go against Lester is a pretty wise route.

Now let’s see what else happened during Thursday baseball!

D.J. LeMahieu – 1 for 3, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R, 1 BB. I mentioned LeMahieu in yesterday’s notes and he just keeps on doing good things with his 5th HR of the season. It’s been a nice breakout for the Rockies second baseman and he should remain a solid option for as long as he is a Rockies player and getting to spend half his games at Coors Field.

Nolan Arenado – 1 for 3, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R, 1 K. Arenado has slowed off the torrid pace that he was on through June, but he still remains one of the best third base options there is. With a home run on Thursday, Arenado is now hitting .274 with 28 HR, 82 RBI, and 65 R.

Curtis Granderson – 1 for 3, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 2 R, 1 BB. I’ve never been a huge Granderson fan, but he’s been kind of an unheralded fantasy option this season. He’s not going to give a great batting average (just .255 this season), but he hit his 20th HR of the season on Thursday and is one SB shy of double digits. He was an annual 20 HR/10 SB player from 2007-12, so when he gets his 10th SB it will be a pleasant surprise at the age of 34.

Kelly Johnson – 3 for 4, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 R, 1 K. Johnson has struggled since coming over to the Mets, but he had a big day on Thursday with his 11th HR of the season. He’s strictly a platoon player against right-handed pitching, so it’s safe to dismiss him for season long leagues, but he’s got value as a DFS option.

Noah Syndergaard – 7 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 5 K with the W. Syndergaard struggled out of the gate on Thursday against the Rockies, but he settled down to finish 7 innings for a rather easy victory and it’s been a fantastic rookie season for Thor with a 7-6 record, 3.07 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 111 K/24 BB in 105.2 IP. He’s got a big future in store with the Mets.

Mitch Moreland – 4 for 4, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 1 R. With the Rangers reacquiring Mike Napoli via trade from the Red Sox, Moreland figures to lose some playing time against left-handed pitching. But Moreland figures to remain rather productive when he is in the lineup and he had a perfect day on Thursday while hitting his 17th HR of the season. For DFS purposes on DraftKings, both Moreland and Prince Fielder are only eligible at first base, which often times makes Moreland the better play as contrarian usage as most people would choose Fielder over Moreland if they were to pick a Tigers first baseman. And it seems that Moreland comes up with these huge games just as often as Fielder does.

Chi Chi Gonzalez – 5.2 IP, 5 H, 5 ER, 5 BB, 4 K. Gonzalez made his return to the Rangers rotation on Thursday only to get knocked around again. He might have a future as a back end starter, but his lack of strikeout appeal could be the death of him.

Shawn Tolleson – 1 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K with the SV. Tolleson has been brilliant this season since taking over as the closer for the Rangers. He has converted 20 of 21 save opportunities after closing out the Twins on Thursday, and has a 2.45 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, and 32 K/9 BB in 33 IP since assuming the role. And then there’s Neftali Feliz, the man who Tolleson took the job from, who is toiling away deep down the line in the Tigers bullpen.

Ervin Santana – 6 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 2 BB, 1 K. Santana now has a 5.66 ERA and 1.47 WHIP in 8 starts since returning from his suspension for use of PED’s. For a player that swore that he didn’t know how he tested positive for a banned substance, his performance sure is awfully bad compared to last year.

Dexter Fowler – 2 for 3, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 3 R, 2 BB. Fowler had a big day on offense and he is now hitting .240 with 12 HR, 32 RBI, 74 R, and 17 SB. It’s a bit surprising that his RBI total is so low because despite being a leadoff hitter for a National League team, the Cubs utilize their pitcher in the 8-spot in the lineup, so you would figure that Fowler would be able to drive in the number 9 hitter a lot. But evidently, that’s not the case. It probably doesn’t help that he both walks and strikes out a lot though.

Kyle Schwarber – 3 for 4, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 2 R, 1 BB, 1 K. The legend of Schwarber continues to grow as he had another double dong day and is hitting .330/.420/.621 with 8 HR, 25 RBI, 26 R, and 2 SB through his first 31 Major League games. Wowie. I can see it now how he’s going to be super overrated for next season, but he still should be pretty good and one of the better fantasy catchers in the game.

Jon Lester – 6 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 10 K with the W. Lester allowed 5 stolen bases on Thursday, but that didn’t stop him from coming up with a nice game and evening out his record at 8-8. He’s been very good recently after a not so hot start to his Cubs career.

Brian McCann – 1 for 5, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 R. McCann has now homered in back-to-back games to push his season total to 20, which means that he has now hit 20 HR in 8 consecutive seasons and in 9 of the last 10 seasons. That’s some consistency there.

Stephen Drew – 2 for 3, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 4 R, 1 BB. Drew homered on Thursday and 15 of his 59 hits this season have left the yard. That is pretty ridiculous considering that Drew is not really considered a power hitter. With the 2-hit day, Drew improved his batting average to .195, which sadly is the highest that it’s been all season long. What the what?

Nathan Eovaldi – 5.1 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 4 K with the W. I’ve talked about how Drew Hutchison gets some pretty ridiculous run support to snake his way into a 11-2 record despite 5.26 ERA and 1.48 WHIP, but how about Eovaldi and his 12-2 record with a 4.26 ERA and 1.49 WHIP? Eovaldi has now won 7 straight decisions and his receiving 5.78 runs per game from his offense, and he has gotten 6 or more runs of support in 9 of his 23 starts.

Trevor Bauer – 3.1 IP, 7 H, 6 ER, 2 BB, 1 K with the L. Bauer is unraveling and is having a very difficult time keeping the ball in the park as he has now allowed 23 HR in in 23 starts. He showed some signs of a breakout early in the season, but that notion has surely passed. He is 9-9 with a 4.35 ERA and 1.27 WHIP.

Lance Lynn – 0.2 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 0 BB, 1 K with the L. This is quite an oopsie game for Lynn as he couldn’t even make it out of the 1st inning. It wasn’t all his fault as an error lead to 4 unearned runs, but he just wasn’t sharp and he ended up being charged with 3 earned runs. Because it wasn’t a whole lot of earned runs, his ERA only went up to 2.95. He’ll try for better results against the Giants in his next start.

Eric Hosmer – 2 for 5, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 R, 1 K. The Hoz is really coming through this season as he’s blown by all his stats from last year already in way fewer games played. This is only his age 25 season, so it’ll be interesting to see if he can develop some more power in that bat of his.

Greg Holland – 0 IP, 4 H, 4 ER, 2 BB with the BS and L. Holland imploded on Thursday as he didn’t record a single out facing 6 batters as he was charged with the blown save and the loss. Holland has had a few epic collapses this season, but this is probably the worst of them all. Back in May, I posed the thought that Holland could end up getting bumped from the closer’s role and/or he would suffer a severe downgrade in stats compared to past seasons due to a significant decline in his velocity. His velocity has slowly crept up as the season has gone one, but his pitches are still coming in noticeably slower than the speed that they have been in the past. It might take consecutive poor outings for Royals manager Ned Yost to make a switch, but he definitely has a viable alternative in Wade Davis.

Joc Pederson – 1 for 2, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K. With 20 HR by the end of June, Pederson was taking the world by storm. But his HR on Thursday was just his 2nd since the beginning of July. It would appear that pitchers have made adjustments to him and it’s possible that participating in the Home Run Derby has thrown off his swing. It’s definitely not the first time that we’ve seen that happen, or maybe it’s just a coincidence. No matter the case, Pederson has been a shell of what he was early in the season and he’s going to have to make the proper adjustments to the pitchers just like how the pitchers adjusted to him.

Mat Latos – 4.2 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 7 K with the L. Latos has been very unimpressive since joining the Dodgers at the trade deadline. In three starts with his new club, he has a 6.75 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, and just 8 K in 14.2 IP. I suggested that Latos may not do so well with his new team because his velocity dipped back down right before he got traded.

Eugenio Suarez – 3 for 5, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 1 R. Suarez is still finding ways to produce for the Reds and he had another big night on Thursday. Suarez took over at shortstop in the middle of the season for the Reds and he his now hitting .307 with 7 HR, 29 RBI, 17 R, and 3 SB in 51 games. He’s definitely usable in deeper fantasy leagues at a shallow shortstop position.

Billy Hamilton – 4 for 4, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 4 R, 1 SB. Hamilton contributed in all categories on Thursday with his 4th HR and 53rd SB of the season.

Stephen Strasburg – 6 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 8 K with the L. In his 2nd start back from the DL, it wasn’t as dominant as his previous start, but Strasburg still turned in a quality outing. This bodes well for the talented righty and it would appear that the extended period of rest while he was on the DL has refreshed him for the completion of the 2015 season. Feel confident in starting him for fantasy purposes now.

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