The trade deadline has come and gone and it was actually very exciting with lots of action leading up to the deadline and coming in right at the deadline itself. I’ve already examined the Scott Kazmir trade to the Astros, Johnny Cueto heading to the Royals, Cole Hamels to the Rangers, Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Reyes trading places, the 3-team/13-player mega deal between the Dodgers/Braves/Marlins, and a slew of other trades, so follow the links for analysis on those. Now I will take a look at all the other impact trade deadline deals and what they mean for the teams involved and for fantasy purposes. Continue reading
My pre-season love for Indians pitcher Carlos Carrasco was no secret as I tabbed him to be “This Year’s Corey Kluber,” but it just has not been happening for the 28-year old. Despite elite strikeout (9.85 K/9) and walk (1.93 BB/9) rates that were the big factors toward his great SIERA (2.89) and xFIP (2.85) entering Wednesday’s action, Carrasco was the owner of a mediocre 4.16 ERA and 1.22 WHIP. So he was hardly Kluber-izing the baseball nation and there is one key reason with a couple of causal secondary reasons that was preventing him from the big breakout.
The main reason that he’s been underwhelming and not meeting expectations this year lies in his BABIP (batting average on balls in play — measures the rate at which balls in the field of play go for hits), which sat at .336 coming into Wednesday. Then there are two reasons why his BABIP has been so high. The first reason being that his 32.8% hard hit rate entering the day was the 12th highest in baseball and much higher than his mark of 24.6% last season, which would suggest that he has been struggling with hitting his location a lot and the batters just mash it hard somewhere. The second reason why his BABIP has been so high is that the defense behind him rates very poorly as the 27th ranked team in both DEF and UZR. With a poor defense behind him, a pitcher is more likely to have a higher BABIP as balls get by defenders with lack of range, hits get by defenders because of the failure/misuse of a shift, or some combination of both. And this can be seen in more detail in “Sometimes A Pitcher Is Only As Good As His Defense.”
On Wednesday though, Carrasco finally had his big breakout game of the season where he came within one strike of completing a no-hitter before Joey Butler roped a single over the second baseman’s head that drove in a run for the Rays. Carrasco ended up being removed from the game after the hit since his pitch count was pretty high, but he finished the game with a spectacular line of 8.2 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 13 K with the W.
I think that Carrasco learned in order to avoid all the hits and high BABIP, he had to take things into his own hands and that the best way to combat having a bad defense is to just record a strikeout for half the outs to limit the defense’s opportunity to mess things up. And that’s what he did with exactly half of the 26 outs he got being of the strikeout variety. The 1-hit performance brought Carrasco’s BABIP down from .336 to .323. Carrasco figures to continue to improve his overall numbers over the second half of the season and be a fantasy asset, but it may not be to the extent that we hope for if he keeps on getting some bad defense behind him. Carrasco is now 10-6 with a 3.88 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 110 K/21 BB in 97.1 IP.
Let’s take a look at the rest of Wednesday’s notables:
About six weeks ago is when I first began suggesting that Fernando Rodney be removed from the closer’s role to make way for the young and more talented Carson Smith, and then I gave it a full rundown in the “BLOW-PEN Report” on May 23. Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon ended up giving Rodney a lot of leash because he likely didn’t want to have to remove Rodney as his closer, but McClendon finally saw enough. On June 6, Smith recorded his first career save in perfect fashion.
Since Smith took over as the team’s closer, entering Friday’s game, he had converted 5 straight save opportunities by pitching 5.2 innings allowing 2 runs on 2 hits and no walks while striking out 8. So he has been having little issue in finishing games stress free.
Since Rodney lost the closer’s role, entering Friday’s game, he has done much better, only being scored upon once in 5 outings for 1 run in 5.2 IP with 4 K/3 BB. In that small sample, it hadn’t been the best of performances, but clearly it was much better than what he had been doing in the 9th inning trying to close out games previously.
Friday night presented an interesting situation for the Mariners though as Smith was brought on in the middle of the 8th inning where he let Mike Trout and Albert Pujols reach base before getting a double play to end the inning for a total of 10 pitches thrown. And then Rodney was brought in for the 9th inning to try and close the game against the bottom part of the Angels order, and he successfully did so after allowing one hit.
Initially when I first called for the switch of closers in Seattle, I had said that Smith was the better pitcher but that McClendon would probably eventually give Rodney another opportunity to close if he proved that he was able to work out his issues in lower leverage situations. But then when Smith began to have so much success and displayed that he could potentially handle 9th inning duties with ease, I thought that Rodney would never be getting his job back. So the way things played out on Friday is a bit peculiar to me since Smith did nothing in the way of performance to give back the job.
However, in this game, the higher leverage situation was actually in the 8th inning with the Angels best hitters (and two of the best in the AL so far this season), Trout and Pujols due up. So the thought process for McClendon could have been that they really needed to get by Trout and Pujols before even thinking about seeing a save opportunity for the game, which meant that they needed to go to their best option. So then McClendon might have thought that once Smith got by the heart of the order, then Rodney could come in to a more ideal situation to face the weaker hitters and possibly instill some confidence in him should he finish the game cleanly.
So I am still going to have to believe that Smith is the closer until he blows some saves (fingers crossed that he doesn’t). Maybe Rodney will snipe some opportunities away like he did on Friday, but I see little reason why Smith shouldn’t remain the man for the job and I would be shocked and lose any faith I had in McClendon as a manager if he were to switch things back with no probable cause. But we will have to wait and see just what happens next.
Let’s check out the rest of Friday baseball.
When the Nationals handed out a 7-year/$210 million contract to Max Scherzer, it definitely raised some eyebrows. Scherzer’s contract was only $5 million less than 2-time reigning NL Cy Young, Clayton Kershaw, but though Scherzer was obviously a great pitcher in his own right, he did not have the same dominant track record as Kershaw. Also, Kershaw was 26 years old when he signed his mega deal, while Scherzer was 30. So the Dodgers figure to get all of Kershaw’s best years in this contract (and already have received one of his best), but the Nationals will have Scherzer, barring a trade, through his age 36 season and he could very well begin to digress in a couple seasons.
But for the time being, Scherzer has been worth every penny and it is best exemplified in his near perfect start on Sunday at Milwaukee. Scherzer had a perfect game through 6 innings until Carlos Gomez hit a bloop single that barely got over the glove of a leaping Anthony Rendon at second base. Scherzer did not let that phase him though, as he went on to finish the rest of the game for a complete game 1-hit shutout with an amazing 16 strikeouts. If you’re into the game score stat, Scherzer finished with a game score of 100, which is the best pitching game of the season (Corey Kluber and Chris Heston both had 98) and it is the highest score since Kershaw’s score of 102 nearly one year ago when he pitched a no-hitter with 15 strikeouts. For the season, Scherzer is now 7-5 with a 1.93 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, and 113 K/14 BB in 93.1 IP.
We all knew that Scherzer was one of the best pitchers in the game coming into the year, but let’s take a look at what is making him even more amazing this season. First, and probably most important, is his huge improvement in his walk rate. Coming up through the Diamondbacks Minor League system, Scherzer was the typical hard throwing prospect with some control issues and he compiled a walk rate of 4.13 BB/9. When he first entered the Majors, he had a little bit below average control, but steadily improved over the years to be above average in the area, and his career best came in his 2013 AL Cy Young season with 2.35 BB/9. But this season, he has taken it to the next level with a current 1.35 BB/9. He is doing so by throwing a first pitch strike a whopping 70.3% of the time, which is the third highest in the league and is shattering his previous career best of 64.5%.
Another reason for his continued dominance is that he is working with a lowered BABIP of .268, but even though that mark is much lower than his career rate of .303, there is some belief to it given that he is inducing more fly balls than ever this season being in the top 5 in the Majors in fly ball rate and fly ball/ground ball ratio. Fly ball pitchers are able to maintain a lower BABIP than ground ball pitchers because fly balls are more easily caught for sure outs. And even though he is allowing more fly balls, not many of them are leaving the stadium for home runs as he has allowed only 6 in 13 starts.
With these improvements this year, Scherzer is going to be able to continue to baffle hitters in his first season in the National League and is looking like as “Scher” of a thing as any pitcher out there. It is going to be a great race for the NL Cy Young.
Let’s check in on the rest of the Sunday card of games!