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.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Cueto Ditches the Reds, Now Bleeds Royal Blue (and other notes from 7/26/15)

Johnny Cueto was the next big name to be traded on Sunday as the Cincinnati Reds decided to get something in return for the impending free agent. Their trade partner was the Kansas City Royals who sent three prospects over to Cincinnati: Brandon FinneganJohn Lamb, and Cody Reed — all of whom are left-handed pitchers. Let’s first take a look at what this trade does for the Royals and the fantasy impact it makes.

The reigning American League champion Royals have not slowed down at all this year as they have a 7.5 game lead in the AL Central and own the best record in the American League. They have been so successful behind a relentless offense, tremendous defense, and a dominant bullpen. The Royals offense is surely not a powerful one as they rank just 24th in the Majors in home runs, but they are very pesky and strikeout the least in all of baseball, which means they are constantly putting the ball in play and making things happen on the base paths. By any defensive rating system, the Royals defense ranks as the top defense in the league by a large margin. And their bullpen, also ranks the best in the league with a 2.12 ERA with the “HDH” formula of Kelvin HerreraWade Davis, and Greg Holland to work the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings.

What the Royals have severely lacked though this season with the loss of James Shields to the Padres is an ace type pitcher to step up and be the leader of the pitching staff. The young fireballer, Yordano Ventura, was expected to kind of take over the reigns, but he has struggled to put together a consistent performance. Jason Vargas, Danny Duffy, and Jeremy Guthrie are unspectacular options that are back end of the rotation type of starters who have not contributed much at all, and Vargas got hit with a season-ending injury this past week. Their most reliable starting pitcher so far has been the free agent signing of Edinson Volquez, but seldom does he display the ability to blow anyone away with ace type of stuff anymore and is not someone to anchor a staff. Out of starting pitchers this season, the Royals have received a 4.27 ERA, which ranks 22nd in the Majors, and they also have received the 2nd lowest amount of innings pitched from their starting pitchers.

So the need in Kansas City was apparent. Enter Mr. Cueto. Since 2011, Cueto has had the 2nd best ERA (2.51) next to Clayton Kershaw out of all pitchers with a minimum of 500 innings pitched. What’s most impressive about that is he has done so despite pitching his home games in one of the most hitter friendly parks in the league at Great American Ballpark.

During those years, Cueto has posted BABIP marks of .249, .296, .238, and .234 this season. Now the .296 mark is around league average, but all the other marks are very low and the question of whether or not it is sustainable comes into play. Over the last two seasons, Cueto has been giving up more fly balls and has had a knack for inducing soft contact. So while the BABIP marks are low and he shouldn’t be expected to maintain his current season mark, he still should have the ability to keep his BABIP lower than average over the course of the rest of the season with Kansas City. Throw in the fact that his new team has incredible range and defense all around the diamond and that speaks even more to the notion that Cueto can be a low BABIP machine as his defense will track down a lot of batted balls for him.

The switch from the NL to the AL should hurt his strikeout rate in theory since he will have to deal with pitching to the designated hitter instead of opposing pitchers. His current strikeout rate is at 8.27 K/9, so I would imagine that he might fall to a rate near 7.50 K/9 or lower over the remainder of the season. However, the home park switch from Great American Ballpark to Kaufmann Stadium is a nice move for him with Kauffman Stadium being much more friendly to pitchers. Also helping to offset any regression that he may incur in strikeout rate is the fact that he will be pitching for a winning team that has a shutdown bullpen. Despite an excellent 2.62 ERA, Cueto’s win-loss record sits barely over .500 at 7-6. The Reds bullpen blew three wins for Cueto, so he could easily be in double digits in the win column already. So his new buddies down in the bullpen should be able to provide him a boost in win potential.

Overall, I definitely don’t think that the trade for Cueto has any negative impact on his fantasy value. If anything, it should help him a bit as long as he doesn’t falter under the greater spotlight of pitching for a 1st place team. And for the Royals, this is obviously a huge get for them as they look to make a return to the World Series. The Royals certainly needed to make a move to acquire an ace because it was going to be a rough go if they entered the post-season with Volquez as their number one guy, and Cueto’s presence will also ease the workload of one of the most used bullpens in the league. Now let’s take a look at the Reds side of it.

Out of the three prospects that the Reds received, Finnegan is by far the most attractive so he will be the main focus on the Reds side of the deal. Finnegan was drafted by the Royals in the 1st round just over a year ago and he made a rapid ascension to the Majors as the Royals brought him up late in the season as a bullpen arm. Finnegan then went on to shine in some high leverage situations in the post-season. The left-handed Finnegan is relatively small in stature for a Major League pitcher at 5’11” 185 lbs. and because of that, he often draws comparison to former closer great Billy Wagner. Finnegan doesn’t throw as hard as Wagner did though, but he still comes in with some good velocity as he averages around 93 MPH on his heater. He complements his fastball with a slider and changeup, with the slider functioning as his primary out pitch.

He has compiled a 2.59 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 21 K/13 BB in 24.1 IP as a relief pitcher in the Majors, but the Reds will send him to AAA to get stretched out as a starting pitcher where he could possibly debut for them before the season ends. Finnegan’s most immediate area of work appears to be in his control. In college at Texas Christian University before he was drafted, Finnegan did show some control issues and those same issues seem to be present in his short Major League work thus far. If he can figure out how to issue less walks then he can have a pretty good future in the league, but with just 85.1 IP as a professional since he was drafted last June, it’s a little difficult to gauge where he is at and how he may or may not progress.

For redraft leagues, Finnegan is not really someone to pay attention to because he will be getting stretched out in the Minors, and if he does make it to the Reds Major League rotation this season, I wouldn’t necessarily expect immediate success. For keeper and dynasty leagues though, Finnegan is well worth a look, though in any competitive dynasty league he shouldn’t be available as a free agent.

Now let’s take a look at the rest of Sunday’s slate of action.

Continue reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Continue reading

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

Metz to Promote Matz (and other notes from 6/25/15)

A couple of weeks ago with the Mets hanging on to a surprising 1st place lead in the National League East, it had been reported that top pitching prospect lefty Steven Matz would join fellow top prospect righty Noah Syndergaard in the Major League rotation around July 1.  After losing 7 straight games to fall out of 1st place, the Mets are still a .500 baseball team and still can’t be counted out to win the division.  So it is being reported that the Mets will call up Matz from AAA on Friday June 26 to be a part of a 6-man rotation for the time being.  However, if Matz performs well enough, then Jon Niese could officially get the boot from the rotation or perhaps the Mets would look to trade Niese or Bartolo Colon for some help on offense, because they are really struggling to score (only 11 runs in their last 8 games).

I advised picking up Matz in re-draft fantasy leagues a couple weeks ago and here is some more information about him. Matz was a 2nd round pick by the Mets back in 2009 as a local boy out of a New York high school.  He reported to instructional league in the 2010 season, but he felt discomfort in his arm and it was learned that he would need to undergo Tommy John surgery to repair the damage.  So all of the 2010 season was gone for Matz and in his recovery during the 2011 season, he felt additional discomfort and had to be shut down for another wasted year.  Finally in June of 2012, Matz made his professional debut and he ended up making 6 starts at the Rookie level of the Minors where he had a 1.55 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 10.55 K/9, and 5.28 BB/9.  The walk rate was really high, but that could largely be attributed to some rust after the two-year layoff.  There was little doubt within the Mets organization that Matz had a special arm if he could remain healthy.

Fast forward to 2013 where he spent the whole season at the single-A level, making 21 starts with a 2.62 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 10.24 K/9, and 3.22 BB/9.  With the lowered walk rate, it gives further proof to the notion that high walk rate in the previous season was just him working out the kinks coming back from the injury.  In 2014, he split the season at high-A and AA to display more of the same by compiling a 2.24 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 8.38 K/9, and 2.24 BB/9 over 24 starts.

Matz then began 2015, his age 24 season, at AAA and has continued to show dominance with a 2.19 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 9.37 K/9, and 3.07 BB/9 in 15 games (14 starts).  What is really impressive about Matz’ Minor League career is that he has not struggled at any stop at any level and has provided consistent production upon each promotion.  So will his next promotion yield the same results?

With comparisons being made to the likes of current southpaw greats Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner, the bar is being set pretty high for Matz.  I am no baseball scout, but judging by the surface statistics, looking into his metric statistics, and the reports that I have read on him, I feel that Matz could eventually be mentioned in the same conversation with Kershaw and Bumgarner.  Matz brings a mid-90’s fastball that he complements with an excellent changeup and an improving curveball that has been developing nicely.  Matz has shown great ground ball tendencies in the Minors (54.8% this year and 49.7% for his career), and that helps him to prevent home runs as he has an incredibly low home runs allowed rate of 0.34 HR/9 in his Minor League career.  A pitcher with excellent strikeout capabilities that profiles as a ground ball pitcher with the ability to keep the ball in the stadium is golden stuff.

Of course there is always the caution of top prospect pitchers struggling upon reaching the Majors — see Carlos RodonArchie Bradley, and Taijuan Walker.  It is no doubt that some struggles should be expected of any rookie pitcher, but I think that the ones that that have the best chance to have early success with less struggles are the ones that have not displayed issues with their control/walk rates in the Minors — see Noah Syndergaard and Eduardo Rodriguez.  Matz surely falls into the latter of the two groups to instill optimism for his immediate impact.

For upstart dynasty leagues, Matz should have been drafted, and for returning dynasty leagues he should have been scooped up last year if not sooner.  For smaller number keeper leagues, Matz should have been picked up weeks ago.  For any type of re-draft league, Matz requires an immediate pickup because he can be better than a good portion of the pitchers for the rest of the season.  For DFS, his price should be relatively cheap for his first couple starts, which is going to make him a great bargain play (but beware because there will be many others who know the same, which will drive up his ownership rate).

For the remainder of the season, I will give Matz the line of:  5 W-3 L, 3.49 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 76 K, 28 BB in 80 IP.

Now let’s check out the rest of the action from Thursday’s slightly abbreviated slate!

Continue reading

Seattle Hoping for a Platter of Trumbo Jacks (and other notes from 6/4/15)

On Wednesday, the Diamondbacks and Mariners agreed on a trade that sent first baseman/outfielder Mark Trumbo and pitcher Vidal Nuno to the Pacific Northwest, and catcher Welington Castillo, pitcher Dominic Leone, and two prospects (one of which is the nephew of former Major League star Vladimir Guerrero) were sent packing to the desert.  What kind of impact does this have for the fantasy community?

We’ll start with the Mariners side of this.  Trumbo has been one of the better home run hitters in the game since he became a full-time player in 2011 with the Angels.  Since 2011, Trumbo has hit 118 HR (or as I like to call them, “Trumbo jacks” or “Trumbombs”), which is the 12th most in the Majors — and that is with only playing half the season last year due to injury.  Playing his home games at Chase Field in Arizona was a great spot for Trumbo and his right-handed power, so the move to the pitcher friendly confines of Safeco Field in Seattle will curb his appeal a bit.  Just look at Nelson Cruz and how playing at Safeco Field has suppressed his power numbers.  Only 4 of Cruz’ 18 HR this season have come at home.  Also, Trumbo moves from an offense that was the top run scoring team in the National League to an offense that is the 3rd lowest scoring in the Majors.  So maybe his presence will help the players surrounding him like Cruz, Robinson Cano, and Kyle Seager, but Trumbo’s value also takes a little bit of a hit in this regard.  Another fantasy loser from the Mariners side of the deal is Logan Morrison.  Trumbo is slated to be the team’s first baseman and will also see time at DH, which will shift Morrison into a bench role, but Morrison was likely not on many fantasy rosters to begin with.

For the Diamondbacks, this trade cleared up a big logjam that they were about to have with the impending return of third baseman Jake Lamb from the DL.  Lamb started the season very hot and the Diamondbacks are high on him and need a left-handed power bat like his in the middle of their lineup.  While he has been on the DL, Yasmany Tomas has been seeing most of the time at third base and has been very impressive with his hitting skills to all fields, so the Diamondbacks didn’t want to lose his bat from the lineup.  So once Lamb returns, Tomas will move from third base to the outfield (but should also see some time at third base) and be a part of an outfield rotation that also includes A.J. PollockEnder Inciarte, and David Peralta.  Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale will continue to give all of these guys playing time as he mixes and matches based on matchups, so the good news here is that none of these Diamondbacks stand to lose any value.

From a non-fantasy baseball perspective, I like the trade for both sides as the Mariners look to infuse their lowly offense with some life.  Trumbo is set to become a free agent after this season, but the Mariners are in a year where they were supposed to be legitimate AL West contenders after adding Cruz in the off-season, so it makes sense to make some sort of move like this one.  And the Diamondbacks traded from a position of strength and surplus to clear up their third base and outfield situations, and they got a decent backup catcher and some prospects in the process — in exchange for a player that they probably weren’t going to be able to keep after this season anyway.

Let’s take a look at Thursday’s action now.

Continue reading

Robinson Cano? More like Robinson Can-blow! (and other notes from 5/30/15)

On Saturday, Robinson Cano went 2 for 4 and hit his 2nd HR of what has been a extremely painful season for the Mariners second baseman and his fantasy owners.  But could the longball on Saturday be a sign of things to come?  I definitely would not count on it.

I was very down on Cano entering the year and this is what I said about him in the pre-season: “It seems to me as if Cano is just in the decline phase of his career and I personally would not have him on any of my teams as his name value exceeds what I perceive to be his actual value.”

If you thought the 1990’s had a lot of bad trends with nu-metal music, frosted tips, and playing pogs at recess, then wait till you see Cano’s laundry list of horrible trends this season that give him little hope of returning to fantasy stardom.

  • With 4 straight seasons from 2010-13 of ISO marks above .200, Cano’s power suffered a severe decline last season to a .139 ISO, and this season it is even worse at .094.
  • Cano entered the 2014 season with a career ground ball/fly ball ratio of 1.54.  Last season, he ended up with a ratio of 2.13 and also has the same 2.13 ratio so far this season.  Hitting the ball on the ground more is an indicator of his loss in power.
  • The average distance on his HR + fly balls has declined from 292 feet in 2013, to 279 feet in 2014, to 272 feet this season.  The loss in average distance here is also indicative of his loss in power.
  • After having walk rates of 8.8%, 9.5%, and 9.2% from 2012-14, Cano is walking only 5.9% of the time this year.
  • Even though last season Cano saw a big dip in his power, he still showed great contact skills with a 10.2% strikeout rate (2nd best of his career).  However, along with a further dip in power this year, he is now striking out at a career high rate of 15.6%.
  • With a .323 career BABIP, Cano has long been able to be well above the average player in this regard.  But he currently has a .297 mark this year, which would be the 2nd lowest of his career.
  • The low BABIP this year can be attributed to only going to the opposite field 18.8% of the time this year, which would be the lowest mark of his career and well below his career rate of 26.8%.
  • Not using the opposite field as much along with the career high ground ball/fly ball ratio and lower BABIP suggests that he is pulling the ball on the ground a lot into shifted defenses for easy outs.

With all this being said, if you’re a sad Cano owner then it would be perfectly fine to bench him, or even better if you can find an owner hopeful of a Cano rebound to take him off your hands.  For the rest of the season from May 31 onward, I will give Cano a very unexciting line of:  .271 AVG, 8 HR, 47 RBI, 55 R, 3 SB, 68 K, and 30 BB.

So in homage to Cano’s agent, hip-hop mogul Jay-Z, I leave Cano and his owners with this:

If you’re having baseball problems, I feel bad for you son, you got 99 problems, and a pitch is one

Now let’s see what else happened on Saturday’s slate…

Continue reading

Familia-rize Yourself With Jeurys (and other notes from 5/25/15)

Jeurys Familia took on the role of closer for the Mets early on in the season when Jenrry Mejia went down with an elbow injury and then was suspended for 80 games for PED use.  Mejia being injured and subsequently suspended has turned out to be a real blessing in disguise for the Mets because Familia has stepped right in to exceed most likely anyone’s expectations.  With another perfect inning with 2 strikeouts on Monday to close out the Phillies, Familia now owns a 1.60 ERA, 0.70 WHIP, and 26 K/4 BB in 21.1 IP while converting 14 of 15 save opportunities.  But just who is Jeurys Familia?  Let’s take this time to “Familia”-rize ourselves with the 25-year old hard-throwing righty.

Familia has been in the Mets organization since 2008 and through the 2012 season he was brought up as a starting pitcher, but he posted modest numbers in that role (3.85 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 8.62 K/9, 3.95 BB/9).  Familia received his first taste of the Majors as a September call up in the 2012 season, but he was very ineffective in 8 relief appearances and one spot start.

Familia was able to break camp on the opening day roster as a reliever for the Mets in 2013, but once again he failed to impress because of extremely poor control, something that he also struggled with as a starting pitcher in the Minors.  And also in 2013, he underwent elbow surgery to remove bone spurs and that sidelined him for 4 months before he worked his way back to make one final appearance before the season ended.

For the 2014 season, Familia once again found himself working in the Mets bullpen as that apparently was where they saw him best suited long term.  Familia went on to post some quality numbers with a 2.21 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 8.50 K/9, and 3.75 BB/9 in 77.1 IP while also chipping in 5 saves filling in at closer when needed.  His SIERA at 3.21 was a full run higher than his ERA, but the improvements that he showed all across the board were encouraging.

So that brings us to 2015, where despite a relatively spotty track record, Familia has by no means “lucked” his way into the brilliant performance he has given.  His walk rate of 1.72 BB/9 is considerably lower than any rate he has posted in the past, but he is achieving that by getting ahead in the count a lot more often than he has in the past.  From 2012-14, Familia’s first pitch strike percentages were 42.3%, 51.9%, and 52.8%, but this year he is all the way up to 58.2% and obviously it is a lot easier to prevent free passes if a pitcher is getting ahead in the count early and often.

And how about that strikeout rate of 10.97 K/9?  That is also a much higher number than he’s accustomed to, but the improvement is for real.  Familia uses a four-seam fastball, a sinking fastball, and a slider.  It is his slider that has really taken his game to the next level this year as he is getting a little bit different movement and greater velocity on the pitch this year.  In the past it has been a pitch that averaged 86.1 MPH and has fallen out of the strike zone a lot, often times not getting close to the zone which made it easier for hitters to lay off of it.  But this year, he is averaging 88.6 MPH on the pitch and it’s staying higher with a little less horizontal movement, and he is able to effectively throw it in or much closer to the zone to get hitters to swing and miss on it.  With a 31.0% swinging strike rate on his slider this year (compared to 26.4% last year), Familia’s slider has become one of the better ones in the game.  Overall, Familia has an 18.2% swinging strike rate on all his pitches, which is 5th highest among qualified relievers.

His .191 BABIP is a low mark and he will likely see some regression there, but his overall performance is right in line with what the metric systems suggest it would be, as his 1.71 SIERA is not far off from his 1.60 ERA.  So if you were worried about Familia not being able to keep up his amazing performance, this all should ease your worries a bit.

Now let’s take a look at the rest of Memorial Day’s action!

Continue reading

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

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.

Continue reading

Pollock Painting a New Picture in Arizona (and other notes from 5/20/15)

In the pre-season, I highlighted Arizona Diamondbacks center fielder A.J. Pollock to be “This Year’s Michael Brantley.”  So follow the link for a more in-depth analysis on Pollock as not much has changed my views on him since then.  But let’s talk about what he has done so far this season to paint a new picture in the lineup for the Diamondbacks.

There were a lot of fantasy baseball people who liked Pollock for 2015, but I think that I liked him a bit more than most so I drafted him (or paid) a bit earlier (or more $) than I would have liked because I did not want to miss out on his predicted breakout season.  So far he has not let me down and I am not minding the the earlier picks (extra $) that I spent on him as I am enjoying the season that he is having.  Pollock hit a game-winning pinch-hit HR this past Tuesday and then on Wednesday he made the baseball diamond his canvas and turned in quite the masterpiece as he went 3 for 4 with a walk, leading to 4 runs scored and 3 stolen bases.  The strong game brought his season line up to a .298 AVG, 4 HR, 15 RBI, 27 R, and 9 SB — he is doing a little bit of everything.

While he is not likely to have a huge breakout in the same statistical way that Michael Brantley had in 2014, Pollock is on pace for a great season.  One thing that is different than I anticipated is that Pollock has gotten the majority of his at-bats in the 2-hole with the emergence of Ender Inciarte as a viable leadoff option.  I like the 2-hole more for Pollock as it gives him a little bit more RBI opportunity without changing his upside in any other aspect.  He is still getting some time in as the leadoff hitter, and actually is also occasionally in the lineup as the cleanup hitter versus lefties because he has great splits against them southpaws.  Pollock is getting rested more than I would like to see due to the Diamondbacks having a crowded outfield situation, but he usually does find his way into the game as a pinch-hitter if he wasn’t in the starting lineup and this perhaps can actually aid him in staying more fresh and healthy.  What prevented Pollock from a true breakout season last year was his health, but with good health on his side and being protected by Paul Goldschmidt in the lineup, the outlook for him can be amazing.  For the rest of the season, I’ll give him:  .290 AVG, 10 HR, 48 RBI, 63 R, 23 SB

Now on to the rest of the Wednesday daily report.

Continue reading

This Year’s Dallas Keuchel Will Be T.J. House

When preparing for a new season, fantasy baseball enthusiasts are always wanting to know who is going to be the next big breakout player.  Drafting or picking up a player on waivers for his breakout season gives fantasy owners a feeling of superiority, a feeling of omniscience in some sense.  Whether that feeling is justified or not is another question.  But even if your team comes in last place, you can take ownership that you “knew” Jose Bautista would bust out for 54 HR, or that your hunch that R.A. Dickey would knuckle his way into a Cy Young Award panned out.  So at The Backwards K, there is a series of posts titled “This Year’s…” where I will tell you who I think this year’s version of a 2014 breakout player will be, providing some background and analysis.

Before the 2014 season, you have to go to back to 2010 to find a Houston Astros starting pitcher that was worth owning in fantasy leagues.  That pitcher was Brett Myers who went 14-8 with a 3.14 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, and 180 K in 223.2 IP.  But even then, did you really want to own a player who uses his wife as a punching bag and who once also ignorantly and insensitively called a reporter the “R-word.”   (Spread the word to end the word HERE!)  Something strange happened in 2014 though, as not only one Astros starting pitcher was beginning to produce positive results, but two of them were!  Those pitchers were Dallas Keuchel and Colin McHugh.  The fantasy world seemed affected by the recency bias toward the Astros as an awful team over the past few seasons, and more specifically the Astros pitchers, so many fantasy owners shied away from touching them when they were producing early on, in fear of them turning back into big ol’ pumpkins.  But there of course were the fantasy owners who were bold enough, and perhaps knowledgeable enough, to pick up Keuchel and/or McHugh off waivers.  For now, let’s focus on the southpaw Keuchel and see how he was able to put together a breakout 2014 season.

Keuchel, a 7th round pick out of the University of Arkansas by the Astros in 2009, did not put up any numbers that “wowed” anyone at the collegiate level, as his personal best season at Arkansas consisted of a 3.92 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, and 5.75 K/9.  Similarly, in his Minor League career, he compiled a 3.74 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and 5.90 K/9.  And then in his 1 and ½ seasons in the Majors prior to 2014, he was a pitcher that looked absolutely lost, as he was literally one of the worst pitchers in the league during that timeframe.   Out of pitchers with a minimum of 200 IP from 2012-13, Keuchel had the third highest ERA at 5.20 and the highest WHIP at 1.54.  Part of the ugly stat line could be attributed to some poor luck as his xFIP (expected fielding independent pitching mark) during that time was 4.17, which was over a full run lower than his actual ERA, suggesting his defense was doing him no favors.  However, there was still no denying that Keuchel had a lot of work to do to become anything more than an eventual mop-up man in the Majors.

A part of Keuchel’s game that was a positive aspect in his time in the Minors but was not prevalent at all during his first 1 and ½ years in the Majors was his great control.  In the Minors his walk rate was well below average at 1.90 BB/9, but in 2012 with the Astros it ballooned to 4.11 BB/9.  Perhaps that 2012 mark can be attributed to the rookie jitters though, as Keuchel was able to trim that to 3.05 BB/9 in his sophomore season in 2013.  Even so, that was still a far cry from his Mark Buehrle-esque type of control that he had in the Minors.  But in 2014 things started clicking for Keuchel, and he was getting ahead in the count much more often, as his first pitch strike % increased from 62.9% in 2013 to 65.4% in 2014.  Working ahead in the count is obviously a lot more comfortable for pitchers, and it should lead to fewer walks issued.  In Keuchel’s case, it led to a lot fewer walks as his 2014 walk rate was very pretty at 2.16 BB/9.  Another factor in Keuchel’s breakout was the fact that he was pounding the bottom of the zone, as evidenced in this great article written by Scott Strandberg at Fangraphs.  Keuchel always was a groundball pitcher, but by pounding the bottom of the zone even harder, he took his groundball inducing ways to a whole new level.  At 63.5%, Keuchel easily led the Majors in groundball rate.  Groundballs often turn into easy outs, and if the ball is being hit on the ground a lot that means the ball is not leaving the park for 3-run dingers.  So as you can see, Keuchel’s formula to success in his age 26 season was improved control and inducing a ton of groundballs, which led him to a season of 12 W-9 L, 2.93 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 6.57 K/9, and 2.16 BB/9 in 200 IP.

Continue reading