Sometimes A Pitcher Is Only As Good As His Defense, Part 2 (and other notes from 8/17/15)

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A couple months ago on June 23 in part 1 of “Sometimes A Pitcher Is Only As Good As His Defense,” I took a look into the high BABIP’s (and subsequently inflated ERA and WHIP numbers) that several of the Cleveland Indians starting pitcher possessed and made the correlation that it was largely in part due to a poor defense that was playing behind those pitchers. At the time, the Indians had a very porous defense that was ranked 27th in DEF rating (a measurement system to reflect how many runs a team’s defense saves). But since then, the Indians have crawled all the way up to be right around a league average defense at 16th in DEF rating and out of the red and into the green with 0.5 runs saved on the season.

Surely there has to be some sort of underlying reason for the Indians improvement in defense, and one of the apparent factors was a player promotion. On June 14, the Indians promoted their top position prospect, Francisco Lindor, to the Majors to become their everyday starting shortstop in place of Jose Ramirez. Lindor had widely been known for his defensive wizardry coming up through the Indians Minor League system and he has most definitely brought that with him to the bigs as a 21-year old rookie. Out of all shortstops in the Majors (minimum 450 innings played), Lindor has the 8th highest DEF rating with 7.4 runs saved — and what makes this even more impressive is that he wasn’t even in the Majors for the first 2+ months of the season. For comparison, fellow top shortstop prospect, Carlos Correa of the Astros, was called up a week before Lindor and he ranks just 19th on the list with 2.7 runs saved despite making the highlight reel on a regular basis.

Another reason for the improved defense of the Indians on a more recent note has to be with the slew of trades that they made. At the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31, the Indians dealt away both Brandon Moss and David Murphy, and then they also traded Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher. Swisher was mostly used as a DH for the Indians so he’s not very relevant in this conversation, but Moss, Murphy, and Bourn are all players who played a good amount of games in the outfield for the Tribe and they all had negative scores in UZR/150. UZR/150 measures the runs above average per 150 defensive games. So surely, none of these players were doing anything of significance to earn a steak dinner from any of the Indians starting pitchers, and just removing them from the picture altogether has had to have been a nice change of pace on the defensive side of things for this ball club.

So with Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Danny Salazar having pitched another very solid game on Monday (7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 K with the W), the three Indians pitchers (Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco being the other two) who were battling inflated BABIP’s and poor overall statistics early on in the season have all been on a roll lately and have seen big improvements in their ERA, WHIP, and BABIP. Let’s take a look at each pitcher’s numbers in those categories since through June 23 (when I first wrote about this situation) and since June 23.

Danny Salazar — Through June 23: 4.06 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, .323 BABIP / Since June 23: 2.03 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, .176 BABIP

Corey Kluber — Through June 23: 3.65 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, .335 BABIP / Since June 23: 2.92 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, .259 BABIP

Carlos Carrasco — Through June 23: 4.35 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, .347 BABIP / Since June 23: 2.80 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, .238 BABIP

So as you can see, each of the three pitchers performed pretty similarly through June 23 and have also been in sync since June 23. That’s rather remarkable and is likely not all a coincidence. A good portion of the credit for their improvement since June 23 has to be given to the pitchers themselves for persevering through some rough times and for their skills as pitchers with great K/BB ratios, but this type of a turnaround likely would not have occurred without the improvement in their team defense. With the Indians’ new defensive arrangement going forward, these pitchers should be receiving a lot of help for the remainder of the season and make for elite fantasy plays.

Now let’s take a look at the rest of Monday’s action.

Brad Ziegler – 1 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K with the SV. Ziegler has been pretty great this season after stepping in as the closer for the D-Backs once Addison Reed proved incapable. For the season, the submarining righty has a 1.61 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, and has saved 20 of 22 games. His strikeout rate has been pitiful at just 5.08 K/9 and he relies on his sinker to generate at lot of ground balls (71.3%) for soft contact easy outs. This season he’s been incredibly fortunate though with just a .179 BABIP, so he’s certainly not as dominant as his ERA and WHIP suggest. He may be able to keep it up for the remainder of the season, but it’ll be tough for him to repeat this type of performance next season.

Pedro Alvarez – 2 for 4, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R, 1 K. Over the last 8 games, Alvarez is 13 for 27 with 4 HR. It’s a pretty nice run to bring his season AVG up to .252 to go with 19 HR. Alvarez has basically become a platoon player this season, but he’s proving that he can still show some decent production against right-handed pitching.

Gerrit Cole – 6.2 IP, 9 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 5 K with the L. Cole continued his recent string of mediocre starts with a bit of a dud against the Diamondbacks on Monday. Since June 24, the Pirates ace has a 3.77 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, and 57 K in 64.1 IP. Those aren’t terrible numbers, but those aren’t fantasy ace numbers and they are far off from what he produced in his first 13 starts of the season. He’ll look to do better against the Giants in his next start.

Brian McCann – 3 for 5, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 1 R, 1 K. McCann is now up to 21 HR and 74 RBI on the season and appears to be on his way to his most productive season in the power categories since 2009. It definitely helps that the other veteran Yankees around him are having healthy and productive years as well.

Aaron Hicks – 1 for 6, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R, 3 K. I recommended Hicks in the “Fantasy Baseball Waiver Wire” article a couple weeks ago and while he has tailed off a bit, he is still coming through and he hit his 8th HR of the season on Monday. He’s been hitting at the top of the order for the Twins, so he’s still a recommended option as a Gregory Polanco type of performer on offense.

Miguel Sano – 3 for 5, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 R, 2 K. Sano belted his 8th HR in his 38th game played and he keeps on doing some mashing as a rookie for the Twins. It bears repeating that he does strike out a ton and his batting average should come down to the .250-.260 range, but he also does walk a bunch to make all those strikeouts a bit more bearable.

Danny Valencia – 1 for 4, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R. I recommended Valencia in this past week’s “Fantasy Baseball Waiver Wire” article, and on Monday he slugged his 4th HR in 10 games since joining the A’s. He continues to start everyday for the A’s, which is something that he didn’t get the luxury of doing when he was with the Blue Jays. In the end, his batting average may suffer since he has been primarily a platoon player against left-handed pitching in his career, but he’s been hitting righties well this season and playing everyday will surely help his counting stats.

Sonny Gray – 5.2 IP, 7 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 K with the L. Gray had his start pushed back to this game on Monday due to a back injury, so perhaps he wasn’t at his best. However, he was done in by some poor defense as well with 3 of his runs allowed being unearned. He should be able to do much better against the Rays in his next start.

Travis Shaw – 2 for 4, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 R, 2 K. Shaw has been given the chance to play on a regular basis at first base for the Red Sox since they traded away Mike Napoli to the Rangers. He’s surely been making most of the opportunity as he is now 8 for 20 with 3 HR in the last 4 games. He was never highly rated as a prospect, but prospect reports don’t always tell the whole story. Perhaps Shaw can carve out a decent role for the Sox going forward, and he can surely be given an opportunity in deep fantasy leagues while he is hot. Judging by his Minor League performance, he could have the makings of a .280 hitter with 15-20 HR over the course of a full season.

Carlos Santana – 2 for 5, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 R, 2 K. Santana went yard on Monday for his 13th HR of the season, but his power has just not been there this season and he is in jeopardy of not reaching the 20 HR mark. He’s not likely to have catcher eligibility in any fantasy leagues next season, so he may fade off into fantasy purgatory if he can’t come up with some more power or figure out ways to beat the shift to hit for a higher batting average than .230.

Lonnie Chisenhall – 2 for 4, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 2 R, 2 K. Chisenhall has stepped back into a near everyday role with the Indians after the team traded away several players. He hasn’t been able to build off his 2014 season and isn’t likely to have much fantasy value for the remainder of the season, but maybe he can get hot.

Fernando Rodney – 0.1 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K with the L. And this is just further proof that Rodney has turned into garbage and that Carson Smith should be rather secure in collecting save opportunities for the Mariners.

Cole Hamels – 7 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 4 BB, 8 K. Hamels start on Monday was his best out of three since joining the Rangers and the American League ranks, but it still wasn’t a terrific start. It appears that Hamels is just struggling to adjust to his new digs and new league and it shouldn’t get any easier with a start at Detroit next on his schedule. His numbers should have been expected to suffer as he moved out of the National League, but he’s definitely capable of more than he has shown so far.

Michael Wacha – 7 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K. There was doubt with Wacha heading into the season as he dealt with an abnormal scapular stress injury last year, and he did nothing to squash those concerns when he was hardly striking anyone out early on in the season. But it has become more and more clear as this season has gone on that Wacha is back to his normal self. He didn’t get the win on Monday, but he pitched well against the Giants and now has a 2.85 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and 125 K in 145.1 IP with a 14-4 record. He should be started with confidence by fantasy owners.

Dee Gordon – 2 for 5, 2 RBI, 1 R, 1 SB, 1 K. Gordon still doing some hot hitting. There’s no slowing him down — literally, because he also stole his 37th base.

Derek Dietrich – 1 for 4, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 R. I recommended Dietrich in this past week’s “Fantasy Baseball Waiver Wire” article and he went yard on Monday. He’s going to continue to get playing time with Giancarlo Stanton still out, and he could even get regular starts when Stanton does return. With eligibility at 2B, 3B, and OF in fantasy leagues, Dietrich makes for an intriguing option as he has some nice pop and is hitting in a good spot in the Marlins batting order.

Scott Kazmir – 5.1 IP, 9 H, 6 ER, 3 BB, 6 K with the L. Kazmir’s first two starts after he was traded from the A’s to Astros were nearly spotless with 14.2 scoreless innings. However, his most recent three starts have been unexciting and his start on Monday was a big ouch. He’ll make his next start against the Dodgers, which means he could have another mediocre/poor start on deck.

Albert Pujols – 1 for 3, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R. Pujols had gone on a 14 game homerless streak, but he now has 2 HR in the last 3 games and could be catching fire once again. He’s up to 32 HR for the season and he still remains on track to reach 40 HR for the first time since 2010.

Carlos Rodon – 8 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 5 K with the L. Rodon dominated the angels for 7 shutout innings with 11 strikeouts last week and this time he turned in a quality outing with a complete game loss. It still figured to be a rocky wide with the young lefty, but he’s showing flashes of brilliance in his rookie season.

Cameron Maybin – 2 for 4, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 R. Maybin homered on Monday for his 10th HR of the season to set a new career high. Maybin has been enjoying his best all around season of his career much in part due to a lowered strikeout rate. At 28 years old, he still has some more room for improvement and perhaps he takes bigger steps forward next year.

Matt Kemp – 2 for 3, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K. This month, Kemp is doing his best to turn around what has been a largely disappointing season. He’s currently now on a 10-game hitting streak where he has hit 3 HR and the cycle in a game at Coors Field last week. He’s hitting .265 with 14 HR, 69 RBI, 58 R, and 9 SB.


2 thoughts on “Sometimes A Pitcher Is Only As Good As His Defense, Part 2 (and other notes from 8/17/15)

  1. Pingback: MLB DFS Strategy for Wednesday 8/19/15 | The Backwards K

  2. Pingback: No Coast Bias MLB DFS Strategy for Wednesday 8/19/15 | No Coast Bias

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