Presto for Preston (and other notes from 7/22/15)

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Preston Tucker is an outfielder that was drafted by the Houston Astros in the 7th round of the 2012 draft as a four-year standout at the University of Florida, and he’s been a player in the Minors that has shown a nice power stroke and a bit of an advanced plate approach. After beginning the year at AAA and hitting .320 with 10 HR in just 25 games, the Astros promoted Tucker to the Majors in early May after George Springer landed on the 7-day DL with a concussion. At the time, it was unclear whether or not the Astros intended to keep Tucker on the roster once Springer was ready to return, but Tucker began to hit and the Astros kept him on as a left-handed bat since they were in 1st place in the division and in “win now” mode.

Tucker eventually hit a prolonged slump once the calendar flipped over to June as he had a .189 AVG for the month, but the Astros stuck with him, which shows the confidence that they have in him to be the type of player that they feel he can be (side note: The Astros also drafted Preston’s younger brother Kyle Tucker with the 5th overall pick in this year’s draft). And to even further show the Astros’ faith in Tucker, he has been hitting out of the 2-hole since July 3 after Springer suffered yet another injury that landed him on the DL, and Tucker has responded very well in that role.

On Wednesday, Tucker belted 2 home runs and is now hitting .264 with 8 HR, 26 RBI, and 26 R for the season, and .321 with 4 HR, 9 RBI and 9 R since being inserted into the 2-hole. Springer isn’t expected back for about another three weeks barring any setbacks, so Tucker seems likely to continue to be placed in a very favorable spot in the Astros lineup on a regular basis and he’s got the skills to keep on improving his overall triple slash of .264/.324/.466. And in the Minors, he has a 25 HR and a 24 HR season to his name, so he definitely has the type of pop that can make him a useful fantasy commodity.

Along with the power potential, Tucker has shown an advanced plate approach in the Minors that I alluded to previously. Currently, Tucker has a walk rate of 7.6% and a strikeout rate of 20.0%. Neither number is terrible as they are actually right on par with the league averages of a 7.5% walk rate and a 20.1% strikeout rate, and his 20.0% strikeout rate is actually lower than average for a player with his type of 25+ HR power. But in his Minor League career, he had a 9.3% walk rate and a 16.4% strikeout rate. However, his strikeout rate in 420 plate appearances in AAA is 21.9%, so perhaps he won’t get too much better than his current rate there, but he’s still just 25 years old and can develop those skills with more experience in the Majors. Just know that the potential is there for improvement in this area and this is something that makes him someone to monitor for now and for the future.

Another aspect of Tucker’s Minor League game that hasn’t yet translated over to his Major League career so far is his ability to left-handed pitching. For the season against southpaws, he is hitting just .218/.259/.255 with no home runs in 55 AB, and this poor hitting performance for a lefty vs. left-handed pitching is not atypical for many players. However, according to Minor League Central, Tucker actually hit left-handers very well throughout his time in the Minors at .321/.377/.512. That line is actually better than his line against right-handed Minor League pitching. So while he may not be hitting Major League lefties all that well at the moment, there is some definite capability of improving, and is probably the reason why manager A.J. Hinch is not being afraid of putting him high up in the batting order against lefties.

Once Springer is ready to return to the lineup Tucker will probably get bumped down in the order and also lose some playing time, but he appears to be showing enough to be given a good amount of consideration for both season long fantasy leagues and in DFS. At the very least, it’s looking like Tucker can at least be on the strong side of a platoon, and Adam Lind is a good example of the type of player that we might see Tucker develop into in the future. Provided that he doesn’t make too much noise from now till the end of the season, Tucker could enter the 2016 season as quite a sleeper.

Let’s take a look at the rest of Wednesday’s action.
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What’s the Haps With Matz and His Lat? (and other notes from 7/9/15)

Top prospect Steven Matz burst onto the MLB pitching scene for the Mets a couple weeks ago and has already drawn comparisons to two of the top left-handed pitchers in the game today, Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner.  I wrote about him in detail in “Metz to Promote Matz,” and he has been as advertised in two starts to compile a 1.32 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, and 14 K/5 BB in 13.2 IP.

However, on Thursday he was diagnosed with a partial tear of his lat muscle and he will not be throwing for three weeks. Once those three weeks are up, he’s then going to be looking at some sort of rehab period as well, which could push his absence to a month or even longer.

For the Mets, this presents as a brutal situation as they have been playing some better baseball as of late, after going through a big slump.  They sit only 3 games behind the Nationals in the NL East and having Matz as a part of their rotation was a big boost.  With the promotion of Matz, the Mets were using a 6-man rotation, but now can go back to the traditional 5-man rotation, which means that Jon Niese, who is the subject of trade rumors, may not be going anywhere as the trade deadline approaches.

For fantasy owners who picked up Matz for redraft leagues, if you can afford to use a roster spot on him while he’s on the DL, then that would be ideal because we have seen his talent and he should be quite a force if he returns fully healthy. For Matz owners in keeper or dynasty leagues, obviously he remains a must hold due to his tremendous future value.

Let’s take a look at the rest of Thursday’s action.

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When the Hard Hit Rates Don’t Match the BABIP (and other notes from 6/29/15)

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Clay Buchholz of the Red Sox kept the bats of a powerful Blue Jays offense in check all evening on Monday and he defeated them by posting a line of 8 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 5 K.  He improved to 6-6 with a 3.48 ERA and 1.24 WHIP with both healthy strikeout and walk rates (8.55 K/9, 2.05 BB/9).  Buchholz’ issue this season is that he has the occasional blow up game to cancel out some of the great work that he does.  And as I said after his last start, if he can receive some better fortune then he could have better looking stats.  It’s probably too late now, but he would have been in a position to be the Red Sox All-Star representative if he had some better luck up to this point.  To see how Buchholz is sitting on the wrong side of things, we look at league stats for pitchers hard hit rate and BABIP.

Hard hit rate is a statistic that is becoming more prevalent in the conversation in the performance of players, similar to the way that BABIP (batting average on balls in play) did several years ago.  Hard hit rate is just what it sounds like — it is the rate at which a ball is hit at a “hard” impact and it can be used for evaluating both hitters and pitchers alike.  For hitters, the harder a ball is hit, the more that it shows that they are squaring up the ball with good contact and the greater likelihood of a hit and positive offensive production.  For pitchers, the harder the ball is hit against them would suggest that they are more likely to have poor results, giving up more hits and runs.  BABIP for hitters is the rate at which balls that are put in play (i.e. any official at-bat that does not result in a home run or strikeout) go for hits.  For pitchers, BABIP is the rate at which they allow hits on balls that are playable by a defense.

So using the stats provided by FanGraphs, looking at the top 15 in lowest hard hit rate for pitchers entering June 30, 2015, we find Buchholz come in at the 11th lowest with 23.9%.  So with a pretty low hard hit rate, we would expect that Buchholz would have a pretty low BABIP or at least around the league average in BABIP, which is generally somewhere around .300. But it is the exact opposite that we are seeing from the Red Sox righty.  Buchholz actually has the 12th highest BABIP at .332.  So the fact that he has been one of the better pitchers in limiting hard contact but has one of the higher BABIP marks in the league would suggest one of two things (or both): 1.) Poor defense behind him  2.) Lots of bad luck

So now we turn to defensive statistics, yet again on FanGraphs, to see what the Red Sox defense has been doing this season.  They come in below the league midpoint in DEF (defense rating) and UZR (ultimate zone rating), but they are not ranked too low in either — 17th in DEF at 0.3 and 19th in UZR at -6.4 — so they can more or less be classified as a league average defensive team as opposed to a poor defensive team.  Because of this, we would have to lean towards attributing Buchholz’ contradictory hard hit rate and BABIP to bad luck, and it can further be shown in the fact that his xFIP of 3.19 and SIERA of 3.22 sit a bit lower than his 3.48 ERA.  As we approach the season’s official 81-games played halfway point (the All-Star break is commonly given the misnomer as the halfway point), Buchholz could be in for some better times if he keeps pitching at the level that he is (or better) and receives some added luck on his side.

Using this same method, there are a few other pitchers whose hard hit rates don’t match up with their BABIP.  Let’s take a look at the following:

  • Gio Gonzalez – .354 BABIP (2nd highest), 25.6% hard hit (21st lowest) / Nationals: -8.7 DEF (22nd), -10.7 UZR (22nd)
  • Tyson Ross – .346 BABIP (5th highest), 24.1% hard hit (13th lowest) / Padres -31.6 DEF (29th), -34.6 UZR (29th)
  • Jose Quintana – .335 BABIP (10th highest), 24.7% hard hit (15th lowest) / White Sox: -37.6 DEF (30th), -34.6 UZR (30th)
  • Jeff Samardzija – .329 BABIP (16th highest), 26.1% hard hit (24th lowest) / White Sox: -37.6 DEF (30th), -34.6 UZR (30th)
  • Mike Pelfrey – .315 BABIP (29th highest), 20.5% hard hit (1st lowest) / Twins: -6.2 DEF (19th), -4.2 UZR (18th)

Gonzalez comes up ten thousandths of a point shy of having the highest BABIP in all of the Majors (Nate Eovaldi currently has the highest), but he isn’t getting hit all that hard.  However, his Nationals defense has been pretty bad.  I would expect some regression here just given how high his BABIP is, but with the poor defense and career high line drive and ground ball rates, it’s not necessarily all bad luck that he is receiving.

Moving on to Ross, I talked about bad defenses and how they can affect pitchers in “Sometimes A Pitcher Is Only As Good As His Defense,” and his defense has been the second worst in all of baseball.  So while he should improve some, his 62.8% ground ball rate is not conducive for the poor infield defense that he has behind him and things may not get too much better.

Then both Quintana and Samardzija pitch in front of the league’s absolute worst defense (also mentioned in “Sometimes A Pitcher Is Only As Good As His Defense”), so it is no surprise that we see them appear in this statistical review.  Like with Ross, some improvement should be seen, but if the White Sox keep deploying the same defensive players and strategy then it might be tough sledding for them to show drastic improvements in their overall stats.

Then there is Pelfrey who got obliterated for the second time in four starts on Monday to give him a much uglier stat line and to push him up the BABIP charts a lot.  He’s more in the same boat as Buchholz with a mediocre defense rather than a poor one.  So he could see some better days, but because of his minimal strikeout appeal, he is not a great fantasy target to begin with.  But with some better luck, he can provide decently in ERA.

Something interesting though that all six of the aforementioned pitchers have in common is that they all appear in the top 21 highest medium hit rates.  So while they may not be allowing a lot of hard hit balls, they all give up a lot of medium hit ones.  So perhaps it is these medium hit balls that these average or below average defenses are struggling to defend due to either poor range or misguided defensive alignments.  Nonetheless, I would still expect Buchholz to have some better days ahead of him if he continues to pitch at the level he has been.

Let’s now look at the remainder of Monday’s action!

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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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