2016 Fantasy Baseball Starting Pitcher Rankings (#1-30)

Below are THE BACKWARDS K 2016 FANTASY BASEBALL STARTING PITCHER 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 (W/SV/ERA/WHIP/K) 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 Not So Lean Jean as a Save Machi-ne? (and other notes from 8/10/15)

Over the weekend, Boston Red Sox closer Koji Uehara suffered a non-displaced fracture in his right wrist and he will miss the rest of the season. Usually in these types of situations where a team makes a voluntary switch at closer or if their closer suffers an injury that is severe enough to land him on the DL, the team will hand closing duties over to their primary 8th inning guy.

For the Red Sox, it’s been Junichi Tazawa who has been working that 8th inning, and he’s done his best Uehara impression this season as a fly ball pitcher that induces a lot of weak infield flies and maintains a strikeout per inning with exceptional control. Overall this season, Tazawa has a 3.19 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 48 K/7 BB in 48 IP, and the Japanese import has been very functional for the Red Sox in a relief role since 2012.

However, Red Sox manager Jon Farrell is reportedly content with keeping Tazawa in a setup role and will not (at least for now) be the man to close out the majority of games for the team. Tazawa doesn’t have egregious lefty/righty splits in his career, but lefties are hitting .276/.295/.421 against him this season while righties are hitting .227/.267/.364. So perhaps Farrell is hesitant that he wouldn’t succeed when big bopping lefties are to scheduled face him in a save opportunity. Keeping him in a setup role, Farrell would have more control over utilizing him against the types of batters that he wants to. Last year when Uehara hit the DL, Tazawa was also passed up for save opportunities in favor of Edward Mujica.

The Red Sox plan to use Jean Machi as their primary closer for the time being. Machi recently joined the Red Sox after they claimed him off waivers from the Giants in late July. Machi debuted in the Majors in 2012 and has been a mainstay as a Major Leaguer since 2013 where he was a solid middle reliever for the Giants. However, for the Giants this season, Machi had a 5.14 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, and 22 K/14 BB in 35 IP.

Machi has past closing experience in the Minors, but he’s never had the look of a prototypical closer with his lack of strikeout potential. So it is surprising that the Red Sox are so willing to install one team’s sloppy seconds as their new closer when they seemingly have a more viable option that has been with them for years in Tazawa. Considering that there are more right-handed bats than left-handed in the league, and that righties have hurt Machi a lot more this year (.343/.400/.606 vs. righties, .105/.219/.143 vs. lefties) and throughout his career (.244/.303/.396 vs. righties, .196/.259/.308 vs. lefties), it makes the move to turn to Machi even more curious.

Given Machi’s current form and the profile that we have on him from past performance in both the Majors and Minors, Machi could end up struggling in the role as closer and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him not last in the 9th inning for the remainder of the season. He is the guy to own for now, but a close eye should be kept on Tazawa as he probably would have more likelihood of getting the job done.

Let’s take a look at what else happened on Monday now.

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

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.

Now let’s look at Monday’s slate of action! Continue reading

Montgomery’s Monumental Mound Montage (and other notes from 6/30/15)

Before we get into what Mariners left-handed rookie starting pitcher Mike Montgomery has done this season, let’s look at what his background has been like.  Montgomery was originally drafted by the Royals in the 1st round of the 2008 draft, but he had performance issues in 2011 and 2012 when he was in the upper levels of the Minors.  In 2011, he had a 5.32 ERA and 1.50 WHIP in 150.2 IP at AA.  In 2012, he had 6.07 ERA and 1.62 WHIP in 149.2 IP splitting time between AA and AAA. The extremely poor seasons undoubtedly had the Royals souring on Montgomery, which is likely one of the reasons that they felt it was okay to include him in a trade that sent him along with Jake OdorizziWil Myers, and Jake Leonard to the Rays in exchange for James Shields and Wade Davis.

In the Rays organization, he showed small improvements, but for the most part he was still appearing as a disappointment. In 2013 at rookie-ball, high-A, and mostly AAA, Montgomery had a 4.59 ERA and 1.42 WHIP.  In 2014 still with the Rays, he had a 4.29 ERA and 1.31 WHIP in 126 IP at AAA.  So now it was the Rays who had seen enough of the lefty and they shipped him off to the Mariners for Erasmo Ramirez one week before the 2015 season began.

Montgomery began the 2015 season at the Mariners AAA affiliate and was showing his best stuff since 2008-09 when he was in the low minors in the Royals organization.  To begin the year, Montgomery had a 3.74 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 53 IP over 9 starts, and was also displaying some of the best that he’s ever shown in strikeout rate (7.98 K/9) and walk rate (2.55 BB/9).  So when James Paxton went down with an injury just four short weeks ago, Montgomery was called up from AAA to make his Major League debut for the Mariners.

Over his first four starts, Montgomery had decent performances, but was nowhere near dominating.  His 2.73 ERA and 1.14 WHIP were nice, but the 12 K/8 BB in 26.1 IP were far from impressive and suggested that he was getting a bit lucky in the ERA and WHIP departments in his first tour through the league.  However, the now 26-year old rookie (it’s his birthday today, July 1), took things to a new level in his 5th start of the season against the team that drafted him, the Kansas City Royals.  Despite the fact that the Royals have been the hardest team to strikeout all season long, Montgomery not only struck them out 10 times, but he also pitched a complete game shutout scattering just 5 singles without issuing a walk. Maybe it was the revenge factor against his former organization that traded him away that drove him to the surprise game, but whatver it was, it was certainly something for the baseball community to take notice of.

His very next start came on Tuesday evening at Petco Park versus the Padres, and he ended up tossing a 1-hitter with 7 K/4 BB for his second complete game shutout in a row.  So with back to back CGSO, Montgomery has delivered a monumental mound performance, becoming the first Mariners pitcher to complete such a feat since Freddy Garcia in 2001.  The first shutout against the Royals could have been passed off as a bit of luck as a once in a lifetime type of game, but to repeat with another shutout has to give him some merit.

What gives Montgomery’s shutout performances some validity is that he had the strong strikeout numbers to go with it, which was a drastic change from his paltry strikeout rate of 4.10 K/9 from his first four starts.  And as a former 1st round pick, there was obviously something to like about Montgomery at some point.  So even if it took 6-7 years, perhaps this is a situation where a pitcher is finally figuring things out.

Montgomery gets another nice matchup in his next start against an A’s team that performs better against righties and ranks in the bottom half of the league in wOBA and ISO versus lefties.  So if he is on the waiver wire, it wouldn’t be a terrible spot to pick him up and start him for.  But after that start, it’s going to get tricky for Montgomery because Hisashi Iwakuma is on track to return sometime before the All-Star break, and that could mean that Montgomery will be booted from the rotation. It is also possible that Roenis Elias could be the pitcher to be removed, so Montgomery owners will want to hold onto him until everything is settled.

I am still not entirely sold on Montgomery, but for now he should be picked up in deeper leagues in the event that he does continue to blossom and show that these two shutout games aren’t just flashes in the pan.

Let’s check out the rest of Tuesday’s games.

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All-Star Game Roster Predictions: American League

Predicting the All-Star teams can sometimes be a hopeless exercise due to the unpredictability, but it is all fun and games. The first pieces that come into play for the All-Star rosters are the fan submitted votes where the leading vote getters at each position (three in the outfield) are automatically named to the All-Star team as a starter.  Next, the players vote for 8 pitchers (5 starting pitchers and 3 relief pitchers) and for a backup at each position (if the leading vote getter amongst the players was already voted in by the fans then the second leading vote getter amongst the players is named as an All-Star reserve).  Then the managers of the All-Star teams select the remainder of the roster until the roster has 33 players.  Finally, there are then 5 players from each league that are put on the “final man ballot” to be voted on by the fans for the 34th and final spot on each league’s respective roster.

The fans can do some pretty weird things in the voting like currently having five Royals players currently slated to be All-Star starters despite being undeserving of it.  Also, the players/manager selections can be strange and biased to include even more drama.  But I am going to do my best to predict each league’s All-Star roster.  What you’re about to read isn’t who I think should be All-Stars, but rather it is what I think will happen with both the fans and the players/manager votes. Continue reading

We Are All Marco (and other notes from 6/24/15)

“Which one of you is Marco?”

“We are all Marco.”

Name that movie!

Of course that is none other than everyone’s favorite sex trafficking classic Taken, starring Liam Neeson who brings some serious badass-ery as ex-government agent Bryan Mills.  But on a day that Blue Jays pitcher Marco Estrada flirted with perfection, we all weren’t Marco, but rather we all wanted Marco who is just 13% owned in Yahoo fantasy leagues at the time of writing this post.

If you recall, Estrada also took a no-hitter into the 8th inning of his previous start against the Orioles before giving up a hit and a run in that 8th inning.  In his start on Wednesday at Tampa Bay, he was perfect through 22 batters after Josh Donaldson made one of the top plays that we will see this season, full on diving into the stands along the third base line to catch a foul ball.  The very next batter then hit a soft dribbler to Donaldson at third base and he charged in on it, barehand grabbed it, and then fired it over to first base, but the runner beat the throw by the slimmest of margins to break up the perfect game and the no-hitter.  Estrada went on to pitch 8.2 shutout innings, allowing 2 hits and no walks while striking out 10.  However, he was unfortunate to not come away with the victory as his offense could not muster any runs while he was still in the game.

With the amazing effort of near perfection, Estrada now has a 3.45 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 63 K/23 BB in 73 IP.  His ownership level in season long fantasy leagues is sure to skyrocket, but is it worth it to pick him up?  The quick answer is yes it is worth it as long as you’re not dropping anyone of value, because there is little harm in picking up players who are hot.  But you have to know what kind of player that he is so that your expectations are kept in check.

Estrada has been around the league for several years now and he’s always been a pitcher to post ERA’s that are higher than his SIERA because of the fact that he is one of the more extreme fly ball pitchers in the league and gives up a lot of home runs.  In fact, he led the league last year in HR allowed with 29 despite having only pitched 150.2 innings.  However, he has always had the knack for posting above average strikeout rates and walk rates with career marks now at 8.37 K/9 and 2.46 BB/9.  Estrada is at his best when he is locating his changeup well, because that is his bread and butter pitch.  It is also a pitch that he is throwing at a career high rate this season, upwards of 32.0% of the time, so he seems to be having a good feel for it.

It was expected that with Estrada joining the AL East after spending his whole career in the NL that he would become even more homer prone and would see a downtick in his strikeout rate.  Well so far, his strikeout rate is down from his career rate, but he is actually managing a career best HR allowed rate at the moment, which is the primary reason for his success this season.  If he can keep preventing the long ball then he is going to have a good chance to put up a career best season.  However, it is tough to say if he will be able to do so or not.  I would lean towards him not doing so because of the division that he pitches in, so he could see an inflation in his numbers soon.  But even so, he should be a positive contributor in WHIP without hurting the ERA too much, and also chipping in a decent amount of strikeouts.  If you need the pitching help then I think that it is okay to grab Estrada, but just know that he will have starts where he just gets pounded by the long ball.

Let’s see what else happened on Wednesday!

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I’m the Biggest Ross That You’ve Seen Thus Far (and other notes from 6/19/15)

I have talked about Nationals pitcher prospect Joe Ross in each of his last two starts since he got the call up to the Majors a couple weeks ago.  He is the younger brother of Padres pitcher Tyson Ross and I described him as a very intriguing prospect that had good control, great strikeout potential, and heavy ground ball tendencies.  This all sounds like a formula for success!  Ross debuted against the Cubs and likely had the debut jitters in that one as he gave up 3 runs in 5 innings.  But his next start was against the Brewers and he appeared to be much more comfortable, giving up just 2 runs in 8 innings while striking out 8.  And in each game he got a lot of ground ball outs.

In his third start of the season on Friday, Ross was truly brilliant as he tossed 7.1 innings allowing 1 run on 7 base runners while whiffing 11 Pirates (and he came highly recommended in the DFS strategy post for Friday).  The excellent game improved his record to 2-1 with a 2.66 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and 23 K/2 BB in 20.2 IP, and he has the very pretty ground ball rate of 56.6%.

Tanner Roark and Ross have been in the rotation for the Nationals due to the injuries to Doug Fister and Stephen Strasburg.  However, Fister is set to return so that is going to send Roark to the bullpen with the Nationals opting to keep Ross in the rotation for the time being.  But once Strasburg is ready to come back, Ross will either be sent back to the Minors or perhaps be kept on as a reliever.  Either way, it’s not great for his fantasy outlook for this season, but we may want to hold on to him to see just how well Strasburg fares in his return from the DL.  In keeper and dynasty leagues though, Ross is a must grab as he is definitely looking like he might be the biggest Ross that we’ve seen thus far, better than his older brother.

Let’s check out the rest of Friday’s action.

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Max Is A Scher Thing (and other notes from 6/14/15)

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!

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D.J. LeMahieu Spins the Hits (and other notes from 6/8/15)

Move over Afrojack, Skrillex, Calvin Harris, and Deadmau5.  There’s a hot new French D.J. in town based out of Denver, Colorado by the name of LeMahieu, and he’s here to drop some sick beats and the illest remixes that will bring all the ladies to the club.

Actually, not really.  D.J. LeMahieu is not really a music D.J.  Instead, he is the second baseman for the Colorado Rockies who is most well known for his glove work on the defensive side of the ball, but this season he has been laying down the beat by spinning the hits game after game.  His latest “mash-up,” if you will, came on Monday when he went 3 for 5 with an RBI and 2 runs scored, and he is now slashing .342/.394/.439 with 3 HR, 28 RBI, 27 R, and 5 SB.

LeMahieu began the season hitting 8th for the Rockies, but has since worked his way up to be the regular 2-hole hitter.  The move up in the order likely has something to do with the fact that the Rockies have had to deal with injuries to Corey Dickerson and Justin Morneau, and slumping performances from Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, but LeMahieu has surely earned it.

LeMahieu’s .342 AVG is being supported by a high .403 BABIP, but he did come into the season with a career BABIP over .330 and he does call Coors Field his home.  So while the BABIP over .400 is not sustainable, he still should be able to post a higher than average clip, especially given the way that he is hitting line drives at 29.2% of the time for 4th highest mark in the league, and how he is avoiding soft contact with the ball at 10.4% for the 10th lowest in the league.  He is one of four players to appear in the top 10 in each of those categories (Brandon BeltJason Kipnis, and Freddie Freeman are the others).

What is also encouraging about LeMahieu is that even though his home stadium is Coors Field in the thin air of Denver, he has been hitting well on the road as well despite being a much better home hitter in his previous Major League seasons.  So far he has posted a home triple slash line of .358/.414/.472 and a very respectable road line of .322/.371/.400.  Also in his favor is that he has traditionally been better against same-handed pitching, which is right-handed for him, and since the majority of the pitchers in the league are right-handed, he has a bit of an edge there.  He is hitting .356/.396/.483 versus righties this season.  Furthermore, LeMahieu is spraying the ball to all parts of the field, which displays his maturation as a hitter and gives even more reason to believe that he can remain a .300 hitter for the first time in his career.  His pull % has dipped from 28.1% last year to 19.6% this year.

However, something that has been a bit disappointing from LeMahieu in his time in the Majors is his lack of power.  Whenever I watch him play, he looks like a pretty monstrous sized player, especially for a second baseman, and I wonder how he does not have better power at the plate.  He stands at 6’4″ and 205 lbs. so he’s surely got a big frame that I would imagine can have more power.  LeMahieu will soon be 27 and with that size I think that he should have some double digit HR seasons in him as he enters his prime.  Maybe it won’t be this year, maybe it will, but it’s quite the wonder how his previous season high at any professional level has only been 5 HR.

In the speed department, LeMahieu has the upside to reach 20 SB.  In 2013, he stole 8 bases at AAA in 33 games and he stole 18 bases at the Major League level in 109 games, so the speed is there.  However, last year in a full season playing 149 games for the Rockies, he only swiped 10 bags.  But getting more hits like he has been this year to be on base more should open up more opportunities for him to steal bases.  Maybe he doesn’t get to 20, but 15 is well within reach.

So with all this being said, I feel that LeMahieu is an underrated fantasy option, which feels a bit weird to say for any Rockies hitter because usually the Rockies hitters get more than enough love for the favorable home park advantage.  But since LeMahieu has not done much in his previous three seasons with the Rockies, not a whole lot was expected of him in 2015.  But with these improvements that he is showing, he needs to be given much better fantasy consideration, especially if he continues to hit second in the Rockies lineup.  Hitting second for the Rockies makes his run potential very high without limiting his RBI and SB chances a whole lot.  It really is the ideal spot for him.  Oh, and of course the Coors Field factor doesn’t hurt his cause.

For the rest of the season from June 9 onward, I will give him the line of:  .295 AVG, 5 HR, 38 RBI, 54 R, 10 SB, 67 K, 27 BB in 380 AB

Let’s check out the rest of Monday’s action!

Continue reading

Re-Sale Value of Chris’ Slider

On May 6 after Chris Sale got a bit roughed up by the Tigers, the White Sox ace had an ugly 5.93 ERA, 1.61 WHIP, and 26 K/10 BB in 27.1 IP over his first five starts of the season.  So after that start, I did a little digging to see if there was any reasonable explanation for the rough beginning to the season, and my findings are detailed here in my post titled “Chris’ Slider Sale-ing Away.”  Go ahead and check out what I found, but in a brief summation, my research showed that Sale had been using his slider a lot less and basically replaced it with extra usage of his fastball, while his changeup usage remained similar to last year.

This led me to believe that if Sale reverted back to a higher use of his slider while not going to his fastball so often, then he would begin to have more success and generate a greater rate of strikeouts much closer to the career high rate of 10.76 K/9 that he had in the 2014 season.  He didn’t need to go back to using his slider close to 30% of the time like he did in his first four Major League seasons because of the development of an excellent changeup, but I felt if he upped the usage of the slider to around 20% rather than near 10% then that would yield better results.

Sale’s start on May 12 against the Brewers was very nice and the strikeouts were there for him as he whiffed 11 batters in 8 innings of work, but I had suggested before that start that it was a very good spot for him to try and rebound because the Brewers had been an offense that was really struggling against lefties up to that point.  So he went on to have a great start despite still utilizing the same rates of pitch distribution that he had been in his previous starts.

Sale’s next turn came on May 18 versus the Indians and it was another 8 inning effort as he allowed just 1 run on 6 base runners while striking out 7.  Another nice start, but still the same type of pitch distribution and it was also a less than one strikeout per inning effort.

However, for his next start on May 23 against the Twins, he ramped up his slider usage to upwards of 16% while his fastball usage was much closer to 50% (he entered the day with his slider usage near 10% and fastball usage near 60%).  While he wasn’t able to keep the Twins off the scoreboard as he allowed 4 runs (3 earned) to score, he did strikeout 10 batters which was impressive against a team that had been crushing left-handed pitching and ranked in the top half of the league in lowest strikeout rate against lefties.

Now we get to Sale’s most recent start from May 28 at Baltimore against the Orioles, and it was his most dominant effort of the season as he went 7.2 shutout innings allowing only 4 hits and 0 walks while striking out 12.  In this game, Sale went to his slider even more than the previous start against the Twins.  Here’s what Sale’s fastball, slider, and changeup pitch distribution looked like before this start and what he did in this start:

Before May 28:  Fastball 60.2%, slider 11.5%, changeup 28.3%

On May 28:  Fastball 45.8%, slider 23.3%, changeup 30.8%

And what makes his performance in this start even more impressive is that the Orioles came in to the day with the 4th lowest strikeout rate in the Majors versus lefties at 17.2%.  So not only did he get a lot of strikeouts, but he did it against an offense that he may not have been expected to.  Is it a coincidence that Sale is showing better performances against a couple of teams that handle left-handed pitchers well over these last two starts?  I don’t think so.  I have to go with the belief that it is the increased use of the slider that has guided him.

Sale is now 4-2 with a 3.66 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and 66 K/14 BB in 59 IP as he has gotten both his strikeout and walk rates much closer to where he was at last year.  His ERA and WHIP should continue to drop as well, and I believe it can be greatly attributed to Chris buying into the “Re-Sale” value of his slider.

Prince’s Return to Royalty (and other notes from 5/23/15)

After suffering a season-ending neck injury last season that limited him to just 42 games in his first season as a Texas Ranger, first baseman Prince Fielder has not missed a game this season and has already surpassed last year’s games played total this year by playing in his 43rd consecutive game on Saturday.  Fielder actually has been sort of a modern day iron man, not like the Tony Stark version of Iron Man, but like Cal Ripken Jr. and his incredible games played streak.  Nobody will ever come close to Ripken’s amazing streak in this day and age where players are babied a lot more, but Fielder has played in all 162 games in 4 of his 9 full seasons and never having played less than 157 games in a season until the unfortunate neck injury from last year.

Given his nearly immaculate health history, it should come as no surprise that Fielder has roared back with a vengeance, but many (myself included) had doubts about his ability to.  Here is what I said about him in the pre-season:  “Players of his body type do not have a history of aging well as they reach 30 years old (see Cecil Fielder, Mo Vaughn, Ryan Howard), and Prince was already beginning a decline before he got traded to Texas before the 2014 season. Of course his 2014 season was a lost cause as he struggled out of the gate and then had a season-ending neck injury.  A bounce back effort could be in store for the big guy, especially with a full season calling the Ballpark in Arlington his home, but I would also not be surprised if he never hits 30 HR in a season ever again.”

Fielder is making me eat my words as much as he eats tofu burgers (which is likely a lot since he is reportedly a vegetarian), as he is on an incredible terror hitting .368 with 6 HR and 17 RBI in the month of May.  The outburst has brought his season line to .351 AVG, 8 HR, 30 RBI, 20 R, and 0 SB, putting him amongst the top first baseman in fantasy baseball. His batting average is inflated due to a .364 BABIP, and his batted ball profile shows us that there is no significant differences to his career rates to tell us that he can maintain an batting average this far over .300.  However, he is putting the ball in play at a career high rate as he has only struck out 11.1% of the time.  Fielder has shown improvement in this area over the recent years, and in 2012 his very good strikeout rate of 12.2% allowed him to hit for a career high .313 AVG.

While there’s no doubt that his BABIP will come down, with the excellent rate he is putting the ball in play, Fielder may have little issue hitting .300 for the second time in his career.  His walk rate is also significantly down to 6.3% (compared to his career rate of 12.8%), but that’s not too much of a concern when his strikeout rate is low as well. As for his power, Fielder’s HR/fly ball rate has been on the decline since 2011, but his rate this season is right around 14.0%, which is very comparable to his 13.5% rate in 2013 with the Tigers and it is around that mark that I expect him to settle in at by season’s end.  It’s not the 35-40 HR that was expected from him in his prime, but 25-30 HR for the season is still going to be quality and he is on pace for defeating most people’s expectations of him for the 2015 season.

For the remainder of the season, I will give Fielder the line of:  .294 AVG, 19 HR, 73 RBI, 60 R, 1 SB

Now let’s check out the rest of the action from Saturday.  Continue reading

Out of a Thousand Fish in the Sea, Marlins Oddly Choose Jennings (and other notes from 5/18/15)

After the Marlins increased their payroll by about 50% over the off-season with the acquistion of players such as Martin PradoDee GordonDan Haren, and Mat Latos and the free agent signings of Mike MorseIchiro Suzuki, the Marlins front office was expecting the team to be competitive in the NL East as they surrounded their young rising starts Giancarlo StantonChristian Yelich, and Jose Fernandez (rehabbing from Tommy John surgery) with some strong veteran presences.  But after being nearly no-hit on Sunday, the Marlins fell to a 16-22 record and manager Mike Redmond was relieved of his duties after taking over as the club’s manager to begin the 2013 season.

Reports circulated the internet hours after the firing of Redmond with former Marlins player Jeff Conine being brought up as the next manager of the team.  However, those reports were later debunked and the Marlins were just letting everyone know that Monday morning they would make an announcement on who the next manager would be.  Well, when the time came, they made a shocking if not absolutely crazy declaration of Dan Jennings as their new manager.

Jennings had been the general manager of the Marlins, the man responsible for all of the off-season trades and signings, which included handing out the ridiculously insane 13-year/$325 million mega contract to Stanton.  So this is the team that he built, the team that he hand-picked with the belief that they could be winners.  But with no professional coaching or player experience to speak of, this has to be the oddest managerial hiring ever (if you can even call it a hiring, since he was the GM — did he hire himself?).  It reminds me of Major League II when retired third baseman Roger Dorn purchases the Cleveland Indians from the previous owner Rachel Phelps, but in the middle of the season when the team is in a big slump and Dorn is losing lots of money, he sells the team back to Phelps but stays on as the GM and activates himself as a player.  In the movie it worked out for the team since they won the pennant, but I don’t anticipate this going over well for the Marlins.  But at the very least, it should be an interesting experiment to follow and if by chance it is successful, it could actually be groundbreaking and make Jennings the pioneer of a movement of hiring baseball “minds” as coaches and managers as opposed to ex-players or current/former coaches.

For fantasy purposes, I don’t see this having a huge impact on any of the Marlins players.  But it is also hard to say since nobody, not even Jennings himself, knows his managerial style.  We will have to give it a couple weeks to see what Jennings tendencies might be when it comes to things like aggression on the base paths and lineup construction.

Continue reading onward for information about Monday’s slate! Continue reading

RE: Chris’ Slider Sale-ing Away

Last week after Chris Sale’s rough start versus Detroit, I offered up some possible explanation for his poor performance in the article Chris’ Slider Sale-ing Away.  I showed how his slider usage had been replaced with a higher fastball usage, which I believed to be a possible factor in his ugly stat line and decline in strikeouts.  However, I did say that his start at Milwaukee on Tuesday was going to be an easy one on paper since the Brewers have struggled versus left-handed pitching this year.  So even though it was an easy outing on paper, it was still nice to see Sale turn in his best performance of the season as he lasted 8 innings while allowing just 2 ER on 4 base runners and whiffing 11.

I want to examine Sale’s pitch selection from Tuesday night’s starts versus the Brewers to see if he made any changes to his approach that led to the much more Sale-esque outing.  So according to the data presented on MLB.com Gameday, out of the 110 pitches that Sale threw, the breakdown went as follows:  67 fastballs (all two-seamers), 31 changeups, and 12 sliders.  Percentage wise, that translates to 60.9% fastballs, 28.2% changeups, and 10.9% sliders, which is basically right in line with what his pitch usage had been prior to this start.

So it is interesting to note that he was able to have a dominant strikeout performance while still trading in his slider for more fastballs to possibly squash my theory that he needed to utilize his slider more for future success.  We’ll see if this can be a trend that Sale continues or if he was just taking advantage of pitching in a National League park and facing a team who has struggled against lefties this year.  I still think that Sale would offer more strikeout potential, leading to a better overall performance, if he upped his slider usage and relied less on his fastball, but we will have to wait and see what happens.  Sale will toe the rubber on Monday versus the reigning AL Cy Young Corey Kluber.

To be continued…

Hitters Feasting on Some Strasburgers (and other notes from 5/12/15)

Stephen Strasburg pitched at Arizona on Tuesday night and was handed a beat down in one of the worst outings of his career as he only lasted 3.1 IP while allowing 8 runs (7 ER).  On the season, Strasburg is now 2-4 with a 6.06 ERA, 1.71 WHIP, and 35 K/11 BB in 35.2 IP.

I am not sure what exactly is the cause of his putrid performance, but clearly he isn’t doing much right.  Strasburg did leave his previous start with some shoulder irritation, so maybe that played a part in Tuesday’s nightmare, but he hadn’t exactly been sharp in his 6 starts before Tuesday either.  Yeah, he has an incredibly high .398 BABIP and a horrible 60.2% strand rate, but there comes a point where you examine things and just have to say that perhaps he is creating his own bad luck.

There’s not much in his velocity or pitch selection that jumps out in a negative light, besides the fact that his velocity on his fastball has been down 0.4 MPH from last year, but that’s not that great of a difference to think that it is the primary factor in his awful season thus far.  But examining his plate discipline numbers, there are a few stats that stand out (the following stats do not include data from Tuesday night’s game).  First, hitters have been making contact off Strasburg at a rate (84.3%) that is way higher than his career rate (75.9%).  Coincidentally, Strasburg also has been inducing swinging strikes at a rate (7.0%) that is much lower than his career rate (10.9%).  Next, Strasburg is throwing pitches in the strike zone way more than usual (54.2% this year vs. 45.3% career).  And then Strasburg is getting much fewer swings on pitches out of the zone (28.0% this year vs. 32.8% career) and when hitters are swinging on pitches out of the zone, they are making contact on them a lot (73.2% this year vs. 60.0% career).  To me, all this data would suggest that he is creating his own bad luck by just grooving a lot of pitches that batters can easily handle since he is working within the strike zone so much more than he has in the past.  The plummeting swinging strike rate though is a big concern and possibly could be indicative of just losing his stuff so to speak.

Another possible explanation could be he has been pitching with an injury all along, even before the previous start that he left with shoulder irritation.  A possible injury could cause loss of command of pitches, which leads to the pitch grooving.  Also remember that Strasburg did undergo Tommy John surgery in August of 2010, and somewhere I read that the average threshold for a pitcher to have to undergo Tommy John surgery a second time is around 650 innings pitched.  Now I am not sure where I read that or what statistical analysis was used to back up that claim, but I know that I did read it.  So if we want to believe that, Strasburg has now pitched 637.1 innings since his Tommy John surgery.  Perhaps he is due for another surgery, or perhaps it is something else.  Either way, something is not right for Strasburg and he could be in for a long season.

Let’s see what else happened in Tuesday night action… Continue reading

Chris’ Slider Sale-ing Away

Previously tonight on the Twitter feed @TheBackwardsK, I mentioned that this year Chris Sale is using his slider half as much as he did last year, and I intimated that could be the causal effect to his diminished strikeout rate and also his out of character, underwhelming overall performance.  Let’s take a look at Sale’s pitch usage over the years since 2012 when he became a full-time starting pitcher in the Majors (2015 stats include his May 6 start versus the Tigers).

2012:  Fastball 60.1%, slider 26.2%, changeup 13.7%

2013:  Fastball 51.4%, slider 29.6%, changeup 19.0%

2014:  Fastball 52.9%, slider 18.4%, changeup 28.6%

2015:  Fastball 60.6%, slider 10.0%, changeup 29.4% 

So judging by the numbers, it is apparent that beginning last year, Sale replaced the slider as his primary offspeed offering with a changeup.  The thought process in doing so is probably mostly to limit the injury risk to his arm so that he may have a long and successful career, as throwing sliders and other breaking pitches is more harmful to a pitcher’s arm.  However, Sale is also quoted as saying that using the changeup more helps him to maintain consistent mechanics when he does pitch every fifth day.  Sale would not be the first pitcher to move away from a slider in an effort to preserve the future health of his arm, and with Sale’s violent delivery it is actually probably a wise idea to have begun to use the changeup more instead.  And as an added bonus last year, the reversal in his offspeed arsenal led to amazing results as he produced career bests nearly all across the board, and his strikeout rate jumped up by a lot to 10.76 K/9.

So tonight versus the Tigers, Sale did use his slider just a tad more than he had in his previous 2015 starts, but still it was not much difference at all.  Sale left the game after 5.1 IP, giving up 5 ER on 7 H and 5 BB while striking out 6.  It was a very rough outing, albeit against a good offense, but Sale has hardly looked sharp over his last few starts now.  I believe that the reason for the lackluster performance is the fact that he is using his slider even less this season.  The velocity on his pitches is in line with recent years and I don’t think that there is an issue with flip flopping the changeup with the slider for his primary offspeed pitch, as his changeup is a plus pitch and he excelled in doing so last year.  However, I believe that the problem is that he is now throwing his fastball even more in lieu of his slider.  The changeup usage so far is nearly identical to last year, but it’s the fastball usage that is up while the slider usage is down a lot.  And the result is that he now is the sad owner of a 5.93 ERA and 1.61 WHIP with out of the norm strikeout and walk rates at 8.58 K/9 and 3.29 BB/9.

Up next on the schedule for Sale is a start at Milwaukee next week.  This is going to give him a good opportunity to bounce back as the Brewers against left-handed pitching have the 4th worst strikeout rate, the 3rd worst ISO, and absolute worst wOBA.  However, there is some caution with that as the Brewers are a right-handed dominant lineup and some of those numbers came with 2 weeks of Carlos Gomez being on the shelf.  Nonetheless, on paper, it is a solid spot for Sale and if he does not turn in some better results in that start, then it might be a serious problem.  Although, the easy fix for him could just be to use his slider more and his fastball less.