Happy 4th of July! (and other notes from 7/3/15)

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Happy 4th of July!  Eat a lot of BBQ, enjoy a lot of fireworks, but most importantly… watch a lot of baseball!  Here are the notes from Friday’s games!

Jason Hammel – 7 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 5 K with the L.  Hammel has pitched well enough to be an All-Star, but he’s not even the best pitcher on his own team (Jake Arreita) and it could be tough to send both, if any, Cubs pitchers to the All-Star Game.  But Hammel got stuck with a loss on Friday despite pitching pretty well.  He should be able to keep up a nice performance in the second half, but he will see a bit of regression in his .256 BABIP.  He is 5-4 with a 2.89 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, and 104 K/18 BB in 102.2 IP. Continue reading

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Giancarlo Needs a Hand (and other notes from 6/27/15)

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Previously reported was how Giancarlo Stanton hurt his hand at some point during Friday’s game against the Dodgers, and he was visibly bothered by it as he was seen wincing after striking out in the 9th inning of the game (see picture above). It was learned on Saturday morning that Stanton has a broken hamate bone in his hand and will need to undergo surgery to repair it.  Stanton really can’t catch a break in these last couple of seasons when it comes to injuries.  Last year, his season was cut short when Mike Fiers let a fastball get away from him that ended up hitting Stanton in the face to break some bones, and now this mysterious and all of a sudden broken bone in his hand.

Stanton is currently batting .267/.346/.606 with 27 HR, 67 RBI, 47 R, and 4 SB in 74 games, leading the Majors in HR and RBI.  So for the Marlins and fantasy teams alike, Stanton’s production is virtually impossible to replace.  The Marlins offense had already been struggling to score runs as of late, and they have had a very difficult time winning ball games in a season where they have already endured a managerial change.  The Marlins will most likely try and replace Stanton with Mike Morse soon, who has been on the DL but reportedly doing well in a rehab assignment.  Morse is surely no Stanton though, so the Marlins should find runs hard to come by and they make a great team to use starting pitchers against in DFS.  For season long fantasy players who own Stanton, hopefully you have someone on your bench that can at least tide you over for the next 4-6 weeks.  However, when Stanton does return, he may not the be the same beastly hitter that he has been as hand injuries like this tend to sap a hitter’s power and/or overall hitting ability.

Now let’s see what else happened on a Saturday slate of baseball that saw three games washed out and one suspended by the rain.

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J.D. (Just Dongs) Martinez Goes Yard Thrice (and other notes from 6/21/15)

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J.D. Martinez spent parts of three seasons on the Major League squad for the Astros and he never was able to compile a full season of success.  The Astros then released him before the start of the 2014 season and the Tigers picked him up and he ended up breaking out for a real surprise season with a .315 AVG, 23 HR, 76 RBI, 57 R, and 6 SB in 123 games. Martinez was able to complete this transformation and breakout by completely retooling the mechanics of his whole swing, and it’s always nice to know that there are actual tangible reasons as to why a player finally has a breakout season.  The high batting average of .300 wasn’t necessarily going to be there this season given that his .315 AVG from last year was driven by a likely unsustainable .389 BABIP, but it was reasonable to expect that this season he would be able to put up similar power production with the maintaining of his new swing mechanics.

After a month of the 2015 season, Martinez was hitting just .216 on May 8 but the 6 HR that he had at that point were respectable.  The culprit of the low batting average was the fact that his BABIP was much lower than last season (which was expected) and he was also striking out at a much higher rate.  However, over the last couple weeks, Martinez has really trimmed down his strikeout rate to a nearly identical mark that he was at last season.  With the decrease in strikeouts, Martinez’ batting average has gone up a lot and now sits at .275 after his big day on Sunday, and his .325 BABIP is a much more realistic mark to suggest that this could be the area in AVG that he finishes the season with.

His game on Sunday consisted of a 3 HR and 6 RBI performance to give him 16 HR and 41 RBI for the season so far to put him on pace to do even better than last year in those areas.  Also, his ISO is now up to .240, which is right in line with his last year’s mark of .238 to further prove that his power is legitimate and for real.  The triple dong outburst from Sunday has me believing that the J.D. stands for Just Dongs.  Expect to see him continue his power stroke as the season goes on, and he makes for a good play as a part of a Tigers offense that can do very dangerous things.

Now let’s check out what else happened on Sunday!

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Do You Smell What The Brock Is Cooking? (and other notes from 6/16/15)

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Brock Holt came on for the Red Sox last year in a super utility role and finished the season hitting .281 with 4 HR, 29 RBI, 68 R, and 12 SB in 106 games.  From a season long viewpoint, those stats aren’t anything special, but his worth to the team was invaluable and he made for a decent spot starter for fantasy squads with his extreme multi-position eligibility.

This season Holt has been doing much of the same, playing all over the field — he has started at least 1 game at every position except pitcher and catcher — and coming up with some big hits.  Holt has been collecting more starts as of late, starting 13 of the Red Sox 15 games in June so far, filling in all over the diamond as the Red Sox have been dealing with some slumping players and minor injuries.  On Tuesday, Holt showcased his talents by hitting for the cycle to bring his season line up to a .309 AVG with 2 HR, 15 RBI, 20 R, and 3 SB in 49 games.

Just like last season, those numbers are not that great overall in the grand scheme of things when viewing it from a fantasy perspective.  But for season long fantasy leagues, his ability to be slotted into a variety of positions can be extremely helpful, especially in leagues that allow daily changes — check out “Fantasy Baseball Strategy: Player Multi-Functionality” for an in depth look at how someone like Holt can help fantasy teams win championships.  And in daily fantasy sports (DFS), Holt can make for an excellent plug in as a cheap option at different positions whenever he is in the starting lineup, especially when he is slotted into a prime spot in the lineup like he was on Tuesday in the leadoff spot.  The sample size is small, but he has hit for a .391 AVG in 64 AB this season when he has hit 1st or 2nd in the order.

We can’t expect Holt to continue to start in games at the rate that he has lately, but he’s still going to get his fair share of starts and deserves fantasy consideration for his multi-position eligibility and perhaps he does eventually ascend to full-time starter status if there is a long term injury for one of his teammates.  However, because he doesn’t start everyday, his value is maximized in leagues that allow daily lineup changes.

Let’s see what else happened on Tuesday!

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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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Last Call on Carson Smith (and other notes from 6/6/15)

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After being scored upon in 9 of his last 13 appearances and collecting 2 blown saves and 2 losses in the process,  Fernando Rodney was not the arm called upon on Saturday evening to protect a lead in the 9th inning for the Mariners.  Instead, manager Lloyd McClendon turned to the youngster Carson Smith who had no issues with a clean inning of work with one strikeout to earn the first save of his career.

I have been singing this tune for weeks now as reported in detail on May 23 in “BLOW-PEN Report:  Fernando Rodney and His Broken Arrow,” and even before that I issued some tidbits on the situation.  Rodney just has been horrible this season and it was only a matter of time before Smith was given a chance to close out a game.  However, unlike the situations in Miami and Texas that I also reported on in the BLOW-PEN Report before those closer situations changed, I think that Rodney will get a chance to try and prove himself again.  The fact that McClendon stuck with Rodney for so long in his time of struggle suggests to me that he really prefers Rodney as his closer and/or does not think that Smith is prepared to be thrusted into that role full-time in just his first full season in the Majors.  And as I suggested in the BLOW-PEN Report, it could be a case of Rodney tipping his pitches, which is something that would be fixable if that’s what the ultimate issue is.  But whether or not Rodney does work out the kinks to earn his manager’s trust back is certainly far from likelihood.

For now, I think that Rodney will see one of the next save opportunities and if he does well then he will continue to see more until he blows another.  But obviously Smith needs to be picked up in all league formats as he has very dominant stuff to be very successful as a Major League closer.  If not right now, then Smith should assume the role as closer for the Mariners later this summer when Rodney could possibly get traded if the Mariners are not in contention, or the beginning of next year.  So for keeper and dynasty leagues, he should have been grabbed a while ago.

Smith currently has a 1.08 ERA, 0.68 WHIP, and 29 K/5 BB in 25 IP.

Let’s check out the rest of Saturday’s slate.
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Tex Marks the Spot (and other notes from 6/1/15)

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Landing on the DL in each of the last 3 seasons, which includes missing all but 15 games in the 2013 season, Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira was all but an afterthought in fantasy drafts this season and overlooked by many, including myself.  But he is showing an immense amount in his on-field performance to earn the $22.5 million that he’s due this season.  So after hitting a grand slam off Felix Hernandez on Monday, Tex is now hitting .241 with 15 HR, 39 RBI, 26 R, and 1 SB, but should he be expected to keep up this type of performance?

From 2003-09, Tex hit for over a .300 AVG in three seasons and compiled a .290 AVG over the whole time frame.  With that type of ability to hit for AVG combined with the 35 HR per season on average that he posted in that same period, he had firmly established himself as one of the best hitters of the decade.  But once 2010 came around, his ability to hit for a good AVG took a turn for the worse as teams began to collect and use different types of data more to their advantage.  Tex became just one of many sluggers who became greatly impacted by the increased implementation of defensive shifts by teams all around the league.  So gone were the days of hitting .290-.300.  From 2010-14, Tex hit for a rather paltry .242 AVG as he also began to pull the ball into the shift and fly out a lot more.

However, something that never really evaporated was his ability to go yard.  Over the last three seasons, his power has been sapped a bit as he only homered once every 19.27 AB, opposed to once every 16.60 AB from 2003-11.  Also, his ISO fell below .200 for the first time in his career in 2012 and 2013.  But this slight loss in power can largely be chalked up to the injuries that he dealt with.  The main injury that plagued his performance was a wrist injury that began as inflammation during the 2012 season and it carried over to 2013 before worsening to the point where he needed to have season-ending surgery to repair it.  While the wrist injury wasn’t what sidelined him in 2014, it surely had to have been something that affected his swing.

This season he is showing himself as healthy as ever, appearing in 49 of the Yankees 52 games so far.  And other than the low AVG, which should be a continuous occurrence because of his inability to hit around the defensive shifts, Tex is a better hitter than ever.  The power is incredibly off the charts with a current .325 ISO, which is well beyond his career high of .279 from his 2004 sophomore season.  But what might be even more impressive is the locked in and refined approach at the plate he appears to have.  Tex is 1 of 8 players in the Majors who currently has more walks than strikeouts, and at a 14.9 BB% and 13.4 K%, he is on pace for career bests in both categories.

One could point to his average distance on his HR + fly balls is only 279 feet compared to 294 feet last season (according to Baseball Heat Maps) and believe that perhaps this rebound in his HR total is a bit of a mirage.  But the ESPN Home Run Tracker shows that only 2 of his 15 HR this year are categorized as “just enough,” as in having just enough distance to clear the fence.  So I wouldn’t worry a whole lot about the average distance since most of his HR are clearing the fence by more than enough — it’s just the fly balls that have stayed in the park that are bringing his average distance down.

There can always be some sort of injury that comes up, but with the wrist appearing to be fully healed and his excellent plate approach and discipline, I remain optimistic for Teixeira to remain productive and a fantasy asset the rest of the season.  I will give him the rest of the season line of (from June 2 onward):   .242 AVG, 21 HR, 68 RBI, 52 R, 1 SB, 54 BB, 70 K

Let’s see what else Monday baseball brought to us…

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What Would Doo Do? (and other notes from 5/27/15)

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For anyone who owns Sean Doolittle in fantasy leagues, the question was going to be “What Would Doo Do (in his first game back from the DL)?”  @whatwouldDOOdo also happens to be the Twitter handle of the Oakland lefty, and he does tweet some funny stuff and is worth the follow on Twitter if you’re into that sort of thing.

Doolittle had been recovering and rehabbing from a shoulder injury that has had him on the DL all season, but he was finally activated on Tuesday and got into game action on Wednesday.  Doolittle entered the 6th inning of Wednesday’s game against the Tigers in a very low leverage situation with the team down 3 runs and the bottom of the Tigers order coming up.  Doolittle caught Nick Castellanos looking on strike 3, got Bryan Holaday to hit a flyout, gave up a single to Dixon Machado, and then struck out Anthony Gose swinging through a fastball.  So in box score terms that was 1 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K.

Looks pretty good, right?  He should be back to closing games in no time?  Well, it is possible but hold that thought.  While he did finish his first outing back with a clean inning and even struck out 2 batters, let’s not forget that 2 of the batters he faced are normally bench players and one of the other batters cannot hit lefties worth a lick.  Then throw in the fact that Doolittle’s fastball was sitting at just 89 MPH, which corroborates reports of his velocity being way down in his rehab appearances, and we could possibly have a tease situation on our hands if we were to just look at the box score.

Doolittle’s fastball is a pitch that has regularly averaged 94 MPH on the gun over the last couple of seasons, so to be sitting at 89 MPH and topping out at 90 MPH does raise a decent level of concern.  Coming back from a shoulder injury, it shouldn’t be expected that Doolittle has the same type of velocity, but a 5 MPH difference is very discouraging.  To look on the brighter side of things though, the fastball is a pitch that he throws 85-90% of the time, so he’s not one to rely on changing speeds a whole lot.  Instead, he is more about locating the fastball where he wants it to be.  So he doesn’t necessarily need the really good velocity, but it also is an extreme plus to have it and hitters may start to tee off on him if he’s without good velocity. 

Doolittle of course can regain the velocity as the season goes on and as his shoulder gets stronger.  However, without any guarantee that happens, Doolittle may be in for some tough times.  If I owned him, which I do, I would shop Doolittle around to owners that are looking for saves to see if you can get something that may be of good use to you.  It won’t be a star player, but a quality role player can go a long ways.  There’s a chance that Doolittle ends up being fine, reclaims the closer role after a couple more good innings, and goes on to be a quality closer the rest of the way.  However, I would be fine taking my chances and getting rid of him if I can find the right deal.

Let’s see what else happened on Wednesday! Continue reading

Cash In With Cashner (and other notes from 5/22/15)

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Let me first start by congratulating Andrew Cashner on a ridiculously awesome mullet.  It suits him well.  I’ve been known to grow out my hair pretty long in a mullet type fashion in the back, but I could never in my wildest dreams make it look as stylishly good as his.

Ever since Cashner came over to the Padres and became a full-time starting pitcher, he has to be one of the unluckiest pitchers when it comes to wins and losses, if not the unluckiest.  In 2013 Cashner squeaked over the .500 mark with a 10-9 record off of a 3.09 ERA in 31 games (26 starts), and last year he went just 5-7 in 19 starts despite having a superb 2.55 ERA.  Those seasons of mediocre win/loss records despite the sparkling ERA’s were surely attributed to pitching for a Padres team that had the 24th worst run scoring offense in the Majors in 2013 and the absolute worst in 2014.

On Friday night against the Dodgers, Cashner pitched 6 innings of quality baseball where he gave up one unearned run on 5 hits and 1 walk while striking out 3.  However, he was once again unable to come away with one for the W column and was handed a no-decision.  Cashner’s ERA improved to 2.89 and his WHIP to 1.27, but his record of 1-7 definitely does not reflect anything resembling what it should for a pitcher with his stats.

But what happened?  The Padres offense was supposed to be vastly improved by adding guys in the off-season like Justin UptonMatt KempWil MyersDerek Norris, and Will Middlebrooks, so they must all be flaming out as disappointments, right?  Well, not exactly actually.  Upton, Myers, and Norris have all been enjoying good seasons, and the Padres are actually 11th in the Majors in run scored and have been the beneficiaries of their home field Petco Park turning into a launching pad of sorts.

When Cashner has taken the hill, his offense has only averaged 2.00 runs per game, and in 6 of his 9 starts, the offense has scored 2 runs or less.  For comparison, his teammate James Shields has received at least 3 runs of support in all of his starts for 5.33 runs on average, and other teammate Tyson Ross has received 4.33 runs of support in his starts.  So it’s not that he has been pitching for a team with a horrendous offense like in years past, he has just had the misfortune of his offense being powerless specifically in the games that he has started.  He has been matched up versus the likes of Max ScherzerDallas Keuchel, Jon Lester, and Zack Greinke (twice), but he’s also opposed Brandon McCarthyRyan VogelsongRubby De La Rosa, and Daniel Hudson.  So the 2.00 runs of support per game are hardly excusable.

With an increase in slider usage from 15.9% last year to 19.9% this year, Cashner is striking out a lot more batters this season with nearly a +2.00 K/9 bump up to 8.68 K/9.  The swinging strike rate that Cashner is inducing supports the increase in strikeouts as well, as it is up from 8.0% last year to 9.9% this year, and a large portion of that is from the slider.  However, he has been a victim of the weird, inexplicable transformation of Petco Park into a more hitter friendly park that I alluded to earlier.  He is allowing 1.29 HR/9 on a 14.3% HR/fly ball rate.  That’s not something that is likely to continue as he has been very good at limiting the long ball regardless of where he has pitched (0.75 HR/9 on the road in 2013-14).

I think that Cashner is a good candidate that you may want to try and buy and cash in with him.  By all metric systems, Cashner is pitching the best that he ever has since becoming a full-time starting pitcher and the win/loss record is a fluke that the Cashner owner in your league may not realize or just something they are getting tired of dealing with.  It’s a very optimistic sign that he is striking out more batters, and with a legitimate reason that he is doing so (the slider).  Things will turn around for him soon.

Let’s dive into Friday’s other games in action.

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Getting Cranky With Greinke (and other notes from 5/16/15)

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Zack Greinke pitched on Saturday night versus the Rockies and he finished the game going 6 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 5 K with the loss.  It is a tough luck loss for Greinke, but he is looking like a nice sell candidate for any Greinke owners out there.  He is 5-1 with a 1.52 ERA and 0.88 WHIP and he pitches in front of an offense that can score with the best of them, so the opportunities to log a lot of wins will be there.  And his strikeout to walk ratio of 44 K/11 BB is very solid.  So what’s not to like?

According to PITCHf/x data, Greinke’s fastball velocity for the most part has progressively gotten worse every season since 2009 from 93.7 MPH to 90.6 MPH this year.  Greinke is dealing with a 1.2 MPH decline in his fastball velocity from last year to this year, which would qualify as the largest drop in a single season during the time frame from 2009-present.  Though he has maintained his excellent control, his strikeout rate is down from 9.21 K/9 last year to a current season mark of 7.42 K/9 with the likely culprit being the aforementioned velocity loss.

From when Greinke first entered the Majors in 2007 all the way through 2012, the slider pitch was his bread and butter and he used it anywhere from 15.1% to 19.2% of the time during those years.  But a strange thing happened in 2013 after he signed a 6-year/$148 million contract with the Dodgers.  His slider usage that year mysteriously dropped to 5.4%.  The reasoning behind it though was that Greinke understood that the slider is known to be the most stressful pitch on the arm/elbow, so he intentionally used it less that year an in effort to preserve his health for the long term and for the duration of his newly minted deal.  However, that slider had been his most effective pitch over the course of his career, so subtracting it from his arsenal (or using it more seldom) had an adverse effect.  Greinke’s strikeout rate was at just 7.50 K/9 in that season, which was one of the lowest marks that he had ever since having a breakthrough season in 2008.  Perhaps it was a coincidence, but I see it more as a causal relationship because in the following 2014 season, Greinke apparently had a change of heart and ramped back up his slider usage to 17.5% and finished the season with a healthy 9.21 K/9.

So with his slider usage back up last year and currently at an all-time high this year, could it be that it has had adverse effects to be the cause to his diminished velocity?  There is no actual way of knowing, but I believe it to be a valid theory.  Furthermore on Greinke and being a sell candidate, his SIERA currently sits about 2 full runs higher than his actual ERA, he is stranding base runners at a high mark over 85%, and his .217 BABIP is super low.  He has only once posted a BABIP under .300, and that was way back in his rookie season.

With the name value, the stunning stats on the surface, and playing for a good team, you should be able to get a good return on the Greinkster.  I envision him to be more of a 3.50 ERA, 1.20 WHIP type of pitcher while maintaining strikeout and walk rates near his current marks. That’s not terrible, and at least the great win potential is still there, but there’s someone out there who will look at his current stats and erroneously think that he is a fantasy ace.

Keep on reading to see what else happened for Saturday’s baseball action. Continue reading