2016 Fantasy Baseball Outfielder Rankings (#1-30)

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Outfield is a fun position because just from the sheer quantity of outfielders that there are, there are so many that can unexpectedly (or maybe it is expected if you’re a fantasy shark) ascend to the top 30 outfielders in any given year. For instance, last season we saw the likes of A.J. Pollock, Lorenzo Cain, Mookie Betts, and David Peralta emerge to be some of the best return on investments in the fantasy outfield landscape. Who will be this year’s risers? Keep on reading to find out who The Backwards K thinks it will be! 

Below are THE BACKWARDS K 2016 FANTASY BASEBALL OUTFIELDER RANKINGS (#1-30). Included for each player is “The Backwards K Quick Take” and a self-produced player projection for 2016.

***Please note the following:

  • The player’s names are color coded to signal different tiers at the position.
  • The rankings reflect standard 5×5 roto scoring settings (AVG/HR/RBI/R/SB) with position eligibility requirements as 10 total games played at a position in 2015, or 5 total games started at a position in 2015 (i.e. Yahoo! settings).
  • The numerical order is not necessarily a suggested order to draft them in, but it is the order that is calculated based on each player’s listed projections, unless noted otherwise.
  • Noted in some players’ “Quick Takes” is if they gain or lose notable value in points leagues that factor penalize hitter strikeouts and reward hitter walks.

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The Progression of Brandon Belt (and other notes from 8/11/15)

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In the pre-season, I suggested that Brandon Belt, first baseman of the San Francisco Giants, would be “This Year’s Todd Frazier.” I didn’t truly believe that he would be able to step into the ring be the Ali to this Frazier and go toe to toe with him to match all of Frazier’s 2014 stats, especially in the stolen base category, but Belt did appear to be in a great position to post the best season of his career with something along the lines of a .270 AVG with 25 HR and 10 SB (my actual pre-season projection for Belt was: 266 AVG, 27 HR, 88 RBI, 82 R, 11 SB, 149 K, 58 BB in 580 AB).

Belt started the season off really poorly as he struggled to hit for a .200 AVG for most of April, and he didn’t hit his first HR of the season until May 15 (his 31st game played). But Belt worked through his issues and has put together some hot streaks that have left him with a rather productive stat line. Belt’s most recent hot streak has seen him hit 7 HR in 10 games in August, which includes a 2 HR performance on Tuesday night where he did a couple things that he has failed to do well all season: hit for power at home and produce against left-handed pitching. Both of Belt’s Tuesday night long balls were off Scott Kazmir fastballs that he crushed — one deep to center field and one to the opposite field at AT&T Park.

The big day brought Belt’s season stat line up to a .272 AVG with 17 HR, 52 RBI, 54 R, and 5 SB. Previously, just 2 of 15 of Belt’s home runs this season came against left-handed pitching (with a .205 AVG), and also just 2 of 15 of Belt’s home runs this season had come at his home park. With that incredibly deep corner in the right-center field gap at AT&T Park, left-handed power production is suppressed a lot — that is of course unless you take a little somethin’ somethin’ like one former Giants player with the same initials as Belt used to do, and I’m not talking about taking Wheaties and I’m not taking about Bud Black.

So with the big day of countering some of his weaknesses, it’s worth taking a closer look at Belt to see how he has progressed this season. The first thing that jumps out when digging deeper into Belt’s season is that he has a relatively high .344 BABIP. With the league average BABIP this season sitting at .297, the initial thought may be that Belt has been getting pretty fortunate with the balls that he has been putting into play. However, he’s got a laundry list of things to back up his high BABIP.

Belt has always shown the ability to hit a lot of line drives with a rate as high as 25.6% in 2012 and 24.3% in 2013, but this season he’s taken it up a notch to 29.2%, which is the tops in the Majors. Hitting a lot of line drives usually means a lot of hits from those line drives, and it also can translate to a high hard hit rate. In Belt’s case, it indeed does translate that way as his 42.1% hard hit rate is 2nd best in the Majors. Belt is just one of 3 players that appears in the top 10 in both line drive rate and hard hit rate (Chris Davis and Ryan Howard), but he’s the only player who is ranking at or near the top in each, which truly shows how dangerous of a hitter that he has been and can continue to be.

Also factoring into Belt’s performance at the plate is the way that he is spraying the ball to all fields. Let’s take a look at his spray charts by percentages over the last few seasons.

  • 2013: Pull 43.3%, Center 33.2%, Opposite 23.5%
  • 2014: Pull 48.3%, Center 30.5%, Opposite 21.2%
  • 2015: Pull 36.4%, Center 34.5%, Opposite 29.1%

So as you can see, this season he has become much less pull happy and taking the ball the other way as defenses began to employ defensive shifts on him in the recent years, which had an adverse effect on his BABIP and batting average. By going to the opposite field more, he is keeping opposing teams on their toes and giving them second thoughts on when and how much to shift against him.

Also worth noting is that Belt has yet to hit an infield fly ball this season. Fellow National League first baseman and a player that Belt received some comparisons to when he came up, Joey Votto, has always shown the great ability to avoid hitting infield fly balls as his career infield fly ball rate is a minuscule 1.4%. Infield fly balls are a very bad thing to hit because they will not end up going for a hit in the box score 99% of the time and they also do not generate any type of run production or simply just moving a base runner over. It’s something that Votto has mastered over his career and now Belt seemingly has matured in that same fashion this season, which is just another positive effect on his BABIP and batting average.

As for Belt’s power, he is definitely taking steps forward in that department as well. His total of 17 HR already this season matches a career high that he set in 2013 in 46 more games played and his average distance on home runs and fly balls has shot up from 279 feet last season to 296 feet this season (38th in the Majors).

So Belt has all these great things working in his favor, things that he has likely put a lot of effort into changing, but he does have a few flaws that are preventing him from taking one more further step forward. As mentioned previously, he has not hit lefties well this season nor has he hit for much power at home. The missing power at home can’t really be faulted towards Belt himself, as the park dimensions and outfield fence configuration in San Francisco are just hell for lefties. If Belt were to ever leave the Giants and hit in a hitters park, he could surely threaten to be a 30 HR type of hitter in his prime years. But hitting lefties better is definitely something that he has control over, and over the course of his career so far he actually hasn’t hit lefties much worse than righties. So the ability is there, it’s just not working out for him so far this season. But he has been showing improvements with the 2 HR off Kazmir on Tuesday, and he also had a 2 HR game in Texas this month where he took lefties Cole Hamels and Sam Freeman deep. So perhaps he’s coming around in that regard.

But the one thing that is probably hindering him the most in his offensive performance is his relatively high strikeout rate. His strikeout rate this season sits at 27.1%, but he’s finished a season with a rate as low as 21.9% in 2013. And Belt’s career rate in the Minor Leagues before coming a fixture on the Major League roster was 18.5%. So the potential to cut down on his strikeouts appears to be there, but he’s going to have to do some work to tap into it — and it is against lefties where he does struggle the most as he has a 32.3% strikeout rate against them this season. It’s this high strikeout rate that is preventing him from being a .300 type of hitter. He’s got all the tools (high line drive rate, high hard hit rate, utilizing all directions of the field, low infield fly ball rate) to gets hits, but you can’t get hits when you don’t put the ball in play.

So while maybe Belt doesn’t fulfill the pre-season prediction of being “This Year’s Todd Frazier” (statistically, that would probably be Manny Machado this season), he’s still enjoying a season that will likely turn out to be the best of his career so far and he’s made some very great strides while doing it. A strong finish to this season will give him some nice momentum for his age 28 season in 2016. And one thing’s certain: his stock is definitely higher now than it was at the beginning of May.

Now let’s check out the rest of Tuesday’s action.

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Soft Hit Rate Leaders (and other notes from 7/19/15)

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Sunday’s matinee slate of games included a slew of ace pitchers taking the hill, but by the end of the day there were two performances that stood tall from all the others, and they were Zack Greinke shutting down the Nationals and Dallas Keuchel reigning supreme in Texas.  Greinke was masterful in 8 shutout innings of work and a season high 11 strikeouts, as he extended his scoreless innings streak to an outstanding 43.2 innings over the last 6 starts.  Keuchel was just as untouchable as he worked 7 shutout innings with a career high 13 strikeouts.  These two pitchers have been getting the job done all season long and each of them leads their respective league in ERA.  They also have another thing in common, and that is they both appear among the league leaders in soft hit rate.

A few weeks ago in “When the Hard Hit Rate Doesn’t Match the BABIP,” I examined some pitchers who had very high BABIP (batting average on balls in play) marks but who also held lower than average hard hit rates.  That particular scenario would suggest that those pitchers were either the victims of poor luck or poor defenses, or both.  So now we will take a look at the league’s best in allowing soft contact on batted balls and see what we can find in the results.

According to FanGraphs, entering Sunday, the top 15 in soft hit rate are as follows along with their BABIP:

  1. Francisco Liriano – 28.8% soft hit rate, .248 BABIP
  2. Dallas Keuchel – 24.8% soft hit rate, .255 BABIP
  3. Brett Anderson – 24.6% soft hit rate, .318 BABIP
  4. Cole Hamels – 24.0% soft hit rate, .297 BABIP
  5. Jeff Locke – 23.8% soft hit rate, .315 BABIP
  6. Max Scherzer – 22.9% soft hit rate, .242 BABIP
  7. Chris Sale – 22.8% soft hit rate, .292 BABIP
  8. Drew Hutchison – 22.8% soft hit rate, .350 BABIP
  9. Carlos Martinez – 22.3% soft hit rate, .287 BABIP
  10. Zack Greinke – 22.3% soft hit rate, .233 BABIP
  11. Trevor Bauer – 22.0% soft hit rate, .268 BABIP
  12. Wei-Yin Chen – 21.7% soft hit rate, .255 BABIP
  13. Chris Archer – 21.5% soft hit rate, .287 BABIP
  14. Gerrit Cole – 21.4% soft hit rate, .305 BABIP
  15. Shelby Miller – 21.4% soft hit rate, .276 BABIP

Balls that have softer impact off a hitter’s bat are more likely to go for easy outs, whether it is a lazy fly ball or a slow rolling ground ball, which will prevent base hits and also prevent runs from scoring.  So it should come as no surprise that on this list we find several pitchers who have been among the league’s best this season, and it includes 7 pitchers who appear in the current top 15 in ERA and 6 pitchers who appear in the current top 15 in WHIP in the Majors.  So clearly there is at least some correlation with higher soft hit rates translating to better overall stats.

Because balls that are softly hit generally go for easier outs more often, that should also translate to pitchers with higher soft hit rates to also have lower BABIP marks.  This is reflected in the list above where 11 of the 15 pitchers all have BABIP marks that are under .300, and 5 of the pitchers appear in the top 15 of lowest BABIP’s in the league.  So this provides some validation to the low BABIP’s of many of these pitchers and suggests that we shouldn’t necessarily expect a whole lot of regression for these players.

On the flip side, there are a few player on this list that have higher than average BABIP marks.  So let’s look at those players and see if maybe we can expect some overall improvement from them as we are progress into the second half of the season.

First up is Brett Anderson of the Dodgers.  Anderson’s high soft hit rate is backed up by the fact that he also has the lowest line drive rate in the league at 13.5%.  Line drives are usually categorized as hard hit balls, so the less line drives a pitcher allows, the higher his soft hit rate should be.  But despite having the knack of preventing line drives and inducing soft contact a lot, Anderson’s BABIP is a bit inflated at .318, which is higher than his career mark at .309.  The Dodgers defense ranks 13th in the league in DEF rating, so they aren’t a bad defensive team by any means, which gives even more curiosity as to why Anderson would be stuck with the higher BABIP.  So it would be reasonable to expect that Anderson can improve over the rest of the season if he can continue pitching the way that he has so far.  He currently has a 3.17 ERA and 1.30 WHIP, but he may be more deserving of an ERA under 3.00 and a WHIP closer to 1.20.  He’s not a huge strikeout pitcher (6.42 K/9) and he has a long history of injuries, but he could make for a nice trade target in season long fantasy leagues due to this discovery.

Next up is Jeff Locke of the Pirates.  Locke has a decent 3.68 ERA, but his 1.42 WHIP is a bit brutal and it is odd to see him currently posting a career high BABIP at .315 despite also currently having a career best soft hit rate.  His line drive rate at 22.9% is one of the highest out of the pitchers on the above list and is the 20th highest in the league, so that could be a stumbling block for him and a reason why he has the higher BABIP despite the good soft hit rate.  While Locke could be in for some better fortune in hit prevention, it probably should not be expected.

Drew Hutchison of the Blue Jays is an interesting case here.  He has the 8th best soft hit rate in the league, yet he has the 2nd highest BABIP.  Immediately it might be assumed that Hutchison has just been a victim of bad luck to have a BABIP at .350, but looking further into it, Hutchison also has the 4th highest line drive rate in the league at 25.0% and his hard hit rate of 31.1% is on the higher side as well at 24th highest in the league.  So despite being among the leaders in soft hit rate, he does appear to be giving up his fair share of well struck balls as well.  He should improve on his 5.19 ERA and 1.47 WHIP, but he’s no slam dunk to have a complete turnaround in the second half.

Finally, there is Pirates ace Gerrit Cole who has a .305 BABIP despite ranking 14th in soft hit rate.  Both Cole’s line drive rate at 21.1% and his hard hit rate at 25.8% are not very high marks, so the thought would be that he should be able to post a lower BABIP having one of the better soft hit rates in the league.  But his defense ranks 25th in DEF rating, so that could be the primary reason why his BABIP is a tad higher than average.  However, Cole has been able to pitch very effectively as one of the better pitchers in the league up to this point in the season, and he should continue to.  But there is room for more upside if he can get some better defense behind him.

So all in all, it appears that Anderson is the lone pitcher on this list that we could reasonably say has been on the unlucky side of things and could see some overall improvements as the season goes on.  And all the other pitchers on the list should all be considered candidates to maintain their current performance level, though some regression will come for some of these pitchers.

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

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Jonesing for More (and other notes from 7/12/15)

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Consistency from year to year can often be overlooked in fantasy baseball because often times we want the flair for the dramatic, the opportunity to own a player for his big breakout season.  So sometimes we will forego the opportunity of making the “safe” pick of drafting a player that is easier to predict and we “know” what to expect from him because we want the upside for more instead.  Over the last four seasons, one of the most consistent and reliable fantasy outfielders has been Adam Jones of the Orioles.  There’s been some fluctuation in his RBI and runs scored due to his spot changing in the batting order, but for the most part he has been much the same player from year to year from 2011-14.  Take a look:

  • 2011 – .280/.319/.466 with 25 HR, 83 RBI, 68 R, 12 SB, 4.7 BB%, 18.3 K%
  • 2012 – .287/.334/.505 with 32 HR, 82 RBI, 103 R, 16 SB, 4.9 BB%, 18.1 K%
  • 2013 – .285/.318/.493 with 33 HR, 108 RBI, 100 R, 14 SB, 3.6 BB%, 19.7 K%
  • 2014 – .281/.311/.469 with 29 HR, 96 RBI, 88 R, 7 SB, 2.8 BB%, 19.5 K%

Jones has missed 11 games this season due to various minor injuries to his ankle, shoulder, and toe, but with 2 HR off Max Scherzer on the day right before the All-Star break, Jones is now hitting .281/.326/.490 with 14 HR, 43 RBI, 43 R, and 3 SB, which puts him near pace to have another season that is pretty consistent with the past four seasons.  However, there is one big difference in his performance so far that in the end could allow him to break the some of this consistent production in a positive way.  That difference is that this season he is striking out at a career low rate of 14.5%.

Jones has always been a free swinger who doesn’t really enjoy taking walks, and this season he is sporting a career high swing rate by offering at a whopping 60.2% of pitches, which is much higher than his 55.9% career rate.  However, he has been able to make contact on more of those swings with a career best 11.4% swinging strike rate.  His career swinging strike rate is 13.5%, which isn’t too much higher than his current 2015 rate, but it’s still a noticeable enough difference and appears to be the primary factor to the decline in his strikeout rate.

The drop in his strikeouts is significant because in theory he should see an uptick in his batting average if all other things in his batted ball profile are mostly constant.  Jones’ BABIP over the last several seasons is something that has also been consistent with marks of .304, .313, .314, and .311, but this season it is down to a very uncharacteristic .292.  His hard hit rate is the only thing that would really suggest a decline in his BABIP as it is at 30.4%, which is the lowest it’s been since 2011, but that’s not too far off from his career mark of 31.9%.

So if Jones can get his BABIP back up to a level that he is used to giving, paired with the decrease in strikeouts, that could lead to his first .300 AVG season of his career.  If he is unable to achieve so, then at the very least he should end the season once again in very familiar territory that is consistent with what he’s been known to do.  That wouldn’t be a terrible thing, but definitely not overly exciting and it would leave the fantasy baseball community jonesing for more.

Let’s take a look at the rest of Sunday’s action as we enter the All-Star break.

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All-Star Snubbery (and other notes from 7/6/15)

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For fantasy baseball purposes, the All-Star Game player voting and selection has zero bearing on anything, but the game and festivities themselves are a nice break in the action where we can have a short hiatus from constantly checking on box scores, live updates, MLB.tv, and the like.  It’s a period where our significant others will be glad to have us paying more attention to them and less attention to a bunch of dudes in tight pants (*in most cases, wink wink).

So on Sunday the All-Star starters were announced, as voted on by the fans, and on Monday the rest of each league’s roster was released.  As always, there were some interesting and undeserving selections that people are going to have some beef with.  These were my AL All-Star predictions and these were my NL All-Star predictions.  Overall, out of the 68 players that have been announced as All-Stars so far, I selected 50 correct for a 73.5% success rate.  That’s lower than I would have expected, but these managers made some unexpected choices.  Here are the rosters as reported by CBS Sports:

AL Starters (fan vote)

C Salvador Perez, 1B Miguel Cabrera, (injured, will not play), 2B Jose Altuve, SS Alcides Escobar, 3B Josh Donaldson,(leading vote-getter overall), OF Mike Trout, OF Lorenzo Cain, OF Alex Gordon, DH Nelson Cruz

The AL starters didn’t pan out as I exepcted, as I felt that the fans would get it right by electing Jose Bautista over Alex Gordon and I predicted that the Royals faithful would be able to get Kendrys Morales in over Nelson Cruz.  So the Royals will have four starters, which I suppose is better than the eight that they were projected to have at one point. Cain is a borderline All-Star, but Gordon definitely has no business being here.

AL Reserves

C Russell Martin, C Stephen Vogt, 1B Albert Pujols, (will start in place of the injured Cabrera), 1B Prince Fielder, 1B Mark Teixeira, (replaces injured Cabrera on roster), 2B Jason Kipnis, SS Jose Iglesias, 3B Manny Machado, OF J.D. Martinez, OF Jose Bautista, OF Adam Jones, UTIL Brock Holt

Brian McCann got left off the team, which is probably the correct call, but another Yankee Mark Teixeira made it onto the squad because of the injury to Miguel Cabrera.  Despite Alex Rodriguez’ strong performance to this point, he was omitted from the roster, which may speak volumes as to how the players and coaches feel about him.  Jason Kipnis made it on as a reserve second baseman, but Brian Dozier definitely should have been included somehow.  Jose Iglesias and his superior defense made it over Jose Reyes, which I do not have an issue with.  But one big issue that I do have is Adam Jones making it onto the roster when there are outfielders like Brett Gardner and George Springer who are having much more impressive seasons.  Brock Holt doesn’t really have the stats that scream “All-Star,” but I have no issue with him making it as the Red Sox representative because he really has been that team’s MVP with his ability to play all over the field.

AL Pitchers

RHP Sonny Gray, RHP Felix Hernandez, RHP Chris Archer, LHP David Price, LHP Dallas Keuchel, LHP Chris Sale, RHP Dellin Betances, RHP Brad Boxberger, RHP Kelvin Herrera, RHP Wade Davis, RHP Darren O’Day, LHP Glen Perkins, LHP Zach Britton

All the starting pitchers selected were no-brainers, but it got a little tricky with the relievers.  Dellin Betances, Glen Perkins, and Zach Britton have undoubtedly been the the American League’s best closers, but Huston Street could have easily been selected over Brad Boxberger.  Then there’s no issue with manager Ned Yost selecting his own setup man Wade Davis and the Orioles setup man Darren O’Day, but it is a bit of a homer pick by Yost to choose Kelvin Herrera.  Herrera is having a nice season, but nothing too dominant, and this spot could easily have gone to Street or he could have chosen one of the outfield snubs.

AL Final Vote Candidates

SS Xander Bogaerts, OF Yoenis Cespedes, OF Brett Gardner, 2B Brian Dozier, 3B Mike Moustakas

Out of the final vote candidates, Brett Gardner and Brian Dozier are clearly the most deserving of being All-Stars, but given the strong backing for the Royals players this season, I expect Mike Moustakas to win the vote.  Moustakas is having a breakthrough season at the plate being able to hit left-handed pitching now, but there are better players that deserve it more.

NL Starters (fan vote)

C Buster Posey, 1B Paul Goldschmidt, 2B Dee Gordon, SS Jhonny Peralta, 3B Todd Frazier, OF Bryce Harper, (leading vote-getter in NL), OF Matt Holliday, (injured, participation questionable), OF Giancarlo Stanton, (injured, will not play)

All the NL starters went as I predicted and everyone is deserving of the starting nod besides Matt Holliday.

NL Reserves

C Yadier Molina, C Yasmani Grandal, 1B Anthony Rizzo, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, 2B DJ LeMahieu, 2B Joe Panik, SS Brandon Crawford, 3B Nolan Arenado, 3B Kris Bryant, (replaces injured Stanton on roster), OF Andrew McCutchen, (will start in place of the injured Stanton), OF Joc Pederson, OF Justin Upton, OF A.J. Pollock

Right away there’s a snub that with Yadier Molina making it over Derek Norris.  Having Molina as an All-Star is purely just a reputation pick because Norris has been the better offensive catcher all season long and though his defense hasn’t been as good as Molina’s, he still ranks pretty high up there for NL catchers.  With Joey Votto’s recent slump, it’s no surprise to see Adrian Gonzalez selected by Bruce Bochy.  Also no surprise to see is that Bochy went with the homer picks and selected his middle infielders, Joe Panik and Brandon Crawford to the team.  One of them should have been left off the roster in favor of Troy Tulowitzki who has been ripping the ball as of late.  Kris Bryant is a questionable pick to take Giancarlo Stanton’s place on the team, but the fans will surely like to see Bryant partake in the Home Run Derby if they can’t see Stanton.  And it is a bit odd that Andrew McCutchen was selected over his teammate Starling Marte despite the fact that Marte has been having the superior season.  Perhaps Marte’s recent oblique injury had something to do with it, but he is still on the active roster and not on the DL.

NL Pitchers

RHP Max Scherzer, RHP Zack Greinke, RHP Gerrit Cole, RHP Michael Wacha, RHP Jacob deGrom, RHP Shelby Miller, RHP A.J. Burnett, LHP Madison Bumgarner, RHP Trevor Rosenthal, RHP Mark Melancon, RHP Jonathan Papelbon, RHP Francisco Rodriguez, LHP Aroldis Chapman

I am a bit surprised that Clayton Kershaw is not on the All-Star roster, but I do not have a problem with A.J. Burnett appearing to be the one to have beaten Kershaw for it.  Kershaw just hasn’t been as dominant this season, despite leading the league in strikeouts, and it’s a nice honor for Burnett to go to the game in what is going to be his final season in the Majors.  It is a bit of an upset for Mark Melancon to make the squad over both Jeurys Familia and Drew Storen.  Yes, Melancon has leads the league in saves, but Storen and Familia have been much more dominant.  If Ryan Braun had been selected as the Brewers representative, then that would have left Francisco Rodriguez off, which also would have opened up a spot for either Storen or Familia.

NL Final Vote Candidates

RHP Johnny Cueto, RHP Jeurys Familia, LHP Clayton Kershaw, RHP Carlos Martinez, SS Troy Tulowitzki

Despite the Reds playing host to the All-Star festivities, I expect Clayton Kershaw to beat out Johnny Cueto for the final vote.  MLB fans around the nation just love Kershaw too much for him to not win this 5-man popularity contest.

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Pujols’ Blast From the Past (and other notes from 6/11/15)

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It is no secret that Albert Pujols has been a shell of his former self since signing on with the Angels before the 2012 season.  Ever since he started wearing his halo, all facets of his once legendary game have mostly deteriorated and begun trending in the wrong direction.  It can be seen in his decreased walk rate, increased strikeout rate, inability to hit for over a .300 AVG, slowing down on the base paths, a decrease in power, and nagging injuries that affect his aging body.

However, Prince Albert is bucking one of those trends this season as he hit his 9th HR in the last 13 games to give him a total of 17 HR through 57 games played on the season.  This surge of power is an extremely great sight to see as he continues to climb up the all-time HR leaders list, and it in fact ties his best 13 game stretch of HR in his whole career.  Back in 2006, Pujols also had a 13 game stretch where he hit 9 HR, and in fact he made it 10 HR in the 14th game.  And in that 2006 season he ended up hitting 49 HR, which is the most that he has ever hit in a single season.  So the fact that Pujols is going head-to-head with his career best HR season is an incredible feat for him to do 9 years later as a 35-year old.

It is unlikely that he continues this pace and finishes the season nearing his single season best in HR, but at this point we aren’t looking for Pujols to perform like the Pujols that was so amazing in the first decade of the new millennium.  Instead, we as baseball enthusiasts just want to see him be better than he has been since donning the Angel uniform, so that he can continue to set his name in stone as one of the greatest players ever in an era that has been so widely publicized and tainted as a PED era.

Pujols is also unlikely to hit for a .300 AVG even though he still remains one of the better hitters in the game at putting the ball in play.  The reason for that is as he has gotten older, he has become much less adept at using the opposite field.  From 2002-2008, Pujols finished each season hitting the ball to the opposite field anywhere from 20.7% of the time to 26.1%.  But from 2009-2014, his single season rates ranged from 14.5% to 19.3%, and his opposite field this season currently sits at 16.7%.  Not hitting the ball to the opposite field as much as he did in his prime years means that the opposing defenses are able to use defensive shifts on him a lot more, which takes away both the left side of the infield and up the middle.  Couple that with his serious decline in foot speed, and we have a player that is going to continue to post below average BABIP’s to give his batting average a low ceiling.

But the good thing about Pujols is that even if he’s not performing up to his previous levels, his “below average” stats are still better than a lot of players around the league.  So while we would love to see him still be the beast that he once was, this version isn’t so terrible.  Is he worth the salary that the Angels are paying him and will be paying him for the next six seasons?  Most certainly not.  But in fantasy baseball, that is not really much of our concern.  If he can stay in good health, then he will continue to find ways to be a productive player.

Now let’s check out the rest of Thursday’s action.
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Pat Venditte Gives A’s Bullpen a Hand (or Two) (and other notes from 6/5/15)

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Switch hitting has been a prevalent part of the game for decades because generally speaking, hitters do better against opposite-handed pitching than they do against same-handed pitching as I have outlined in “Fantasy Baseball Strategy: Using Platoons to Your Advantage.”  The idea behind it all is that hitters just tend to see the ball better out of opposite-handed pitching and have an easier time dealing with breaking balls that break toward them instead of away from them.

Many ball players will practice and develop the ability to hit from both sides of the plate when they are young as a way to gain this slight advantage, but it certainly is tough to master.  When I was in Little League, I would head to the batting cages before all my games to warm up and I would practice switch hitting just for fun.  As a natural righty, I would flip over and hit lefty in the cages sometimes and while I could consistently make contact with the ball, the same type of power was just not there.  So I think it is an impressive feat for any player that is a switch hitter and can hit equally for average and power from both sides of the plate.

But what about pitching with both hands?  If having the ability to hit both right-handed and left-handed gives an advantage for hitters, then wouldn’t the same be true for a pitcher who can throw with both hands?  A pitcher with this ability could pitch right-handed to all right-handed batters and pitch left-handed to all left-handed batters to obtain an advantage much in the same way that switch hitting does.  For me, trying to switch hit is hard enough, so I can’t imagine trying to switch pitch.  Heck, I can’t even brush my teeth left-handed let alone throw a baseball with the same type of accuracy and force that I do with my right hand.  But there is a pitcher in the Oakland A’s organization named Pat Venditte who was just called up to the Majors for the first time in his career, and you guessed it, he is a switch pitcher — the first of his kind to appear in the Majors since 1995.

The soon to be 30-year old Venditte was originally drafted by the Yankees and spent 7 years in their Minor League system before catching on with the Oakland organization for the 2015 season.  Venditte has been a relief pitcher for basically the entirety of his Minor League career (250 relief appearances in 259 total games pitched) and he has done pretty well with a career 2.37 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and 9.99 K/9.  With numbers like that and the ability to switch pitch, it is a bit of a wonder why it has taken so long for him to receive a promotion to the bigs.  Not only does he switch pitch, but he also does it with a sidearm motion from both sides, giving him even more novelty.

Venditte made his Major League debut right upon his call up on Friday against the Red Sox and he pitched two scoreless innings allowing just one hit while also striking out one batter.  He’s going to work in middle relief for the A’s, but one has to wonder if he could ever work his way into the closer’s role.  He gained experience as a closer in his first two seasons in the Minors, but he has only recorded one save in the last 4+ seasons.  And because of his soft tossing ways (sitting around 85 MPH on his fastball), he does not profile as a typical closer.  However, Billy Beane and the A’s are known to be revolutionary in utilizing uncommon approaches to maximize the most out of the players on their roster.  And with last year’s closer Sean Doolittle back on the DL with his shoulder injury and severely diminished velocity, and fill-in closer Tyler Clippard likely to be shopped around since he is in the last year of his contract on a last place team, it wouldn’t be too crazy to think that Venditte could be closing out games for the A’s this season at some point if he shows success in a middle relief role first.

This is mostly just speculation on my part as I think it would be amazing to see a switch pitcher succeed and ascend to a more prolific role, so I wouldn’t put too much value into it.  It will be entertaining to watch and interesting to see what he can do.  If he ever does become a Major League closer, I will give him a hand, but it’s not like he needs one.

Let’s check out what else happened on Friday!

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Prepare For Total deGromination (and other notes from 5/21/15)

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deGromination:  Definition – when a pitcher with favorable splits to pitching at home shows pure domination in a home start

Jacob deGrom of the New York Mets burst onto the scene in 2014 for a breakout rookie season despite a rather unimpressive Minor League track record, but there was little to suggest that he was in for any severe regression this season.  With a matchup versus the Cardinals on Thursday, deGrom was utterly masterful as he struck out 11 in 8 scoreless innings, allowing only one base runner to reach on a Matt Carpenter single in the 1st inning.

Over deGrom’s last couple starts where he had a very rough go at Wrigley Field in Chicago but then turned in a good outing at home versus Milwaukee, I have alluded to the fact that deGrom seems to be very uncomfortable in road starts, but is extremely dominant in home starts at Citi Field.  It isn’t uncommon for some pitchers to struggle on the road, whether it is the home team crowd getting on the pitcher’s nerves, the discomfort pitching on a mound that they are not as familiar with, or just foreign surroundings in general.  Some pitchers can handle it, but some cannot.  It’s just the nature of the beast.  But for deGrom, the home/road splits are very pronounced and are definitely something that needs to be of knowledge to anyone who owns the soon to be 27-year old righty, or anyone who plays DFS (daily fantasy sports).  Let’s take a look at the splits including Thursday’s excellent outing.

Career at home:  10 W-4 L, 1.50 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 9.30 K/9, 1.83 BB/9 in 108.1 IP (16 games)

Career on road:  4 W-6 L, 4.21 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 8.83 K/9, 3.49 BB/9 in 87.2 IP (15 games)

Given that deGrom didn’t debut in the Majors till May 15 of last season, these numbers span over 31 starts in just over a year’s time.  This may be a small sample size in the grand scheme of things, and he wasn’t nearly as bad on the road last year as he has been this year so far, as it’s been two really bad games against the Cubs and Yankees that have hurt his road numbers.  But regardless, it is very difficult to ignore what is going on here.

DeGrom’s next scheduled start comes at home versus the Phillies before he will likely get two road starts at San Diego and Arizona.  Obviously he is a must start at home against a rather weak Phillies offense, but those road starts may be difficult for him as Petco Park doesn’t seem to be the pitcher friendly park that it once was, and Chase Field in Arizona is definitely a hitter’s haven.  I wouldn’t necessarily bench him for those road starts, but strong consideration has to be given to doing so, and with any road starts versus good offenses in general.

Let’s see what else happened on Thursday’s split morning/afternoon slate.

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