Fantasy Impact of MLB Trades (Part 2)

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The trade deadline has come and gone and it was actually very exciting with lots of action leading up to the deadline and coming in right at the deadline itself. I’ve already examined the Scott Kazmir trade to the AstrosJohnny Cueto heading to the Royals, Cole Hamels to the Rangers, Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Reyes trading places, the 3-team/13-player mega deal between the Dodgers/Braves/Marlins, and a slew of other trades, so follow the links for analysis on those. Now I will take a look at all the other impact trade deadline deals and what they mean for the teams involved and for fantasy purposes. Continue reading

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

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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.

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Jonesing for More (and other notes from 7/12/15)

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Consistency from year to year can often be overlooked in fantasy baseball because often times we want the flair for the dramatic, the opportunity to own a player for his big breakout season.  So sometimes we will forego the opportunity of making the “safe” pick of drafting a player that is easier to predict and we “know” what to expect from him because we want the upside for more instead.  Over the last four seasons, one of the most consistent and reliable fantasy outfielders has been Adam Jones of the Orioles.  There’s been some fluctuation in his RBI and runs scored due to his spot changing in the batting order, but for the most part he has been much the same player from year to year from 2011-14.  Take a look:

  • 2011 – .280/.319/.466 with 25 HR, 83 RBI, 68 R, 12 SB, 4.7 BB%, 18.3 K%
  • 2012 – .287/.334/.505 with 32 HR, 82 RBI, 103 R, 16 SB, 4.9 BB%, 18.1 K%
  • 2013 – .285/.318/.493 with 33 HR, 108 RBI, 100 R, 14 SB, 3.6 BB%, 19.7 K%
  • 2014 – .281/.311/.469 with 29 HR, 96 RBI, 88 R, 7 SB, 2.8 BB%, 19.5 K%

Jones has missed 11 games this season due to various minor injuries to his ankle, shoulder, and toe, but with 2 HR off Max Scherzer on the day right before the All-Star break, Jones is now hitting .281/.326/.490 with 14 HR, 43 RBI, 43 R, and 3 SB, which puts him near pace to have another season that is pretty consistent with the past four seasons.  However, there is one big difference in his performance so far that in the end could allow him to break the some of this consistent production in a positive way.  That difference is that this season he is striking out at a career low rate of 14.5%.

Jones has always been a free swinger who doesn’t really enjoy taking walks, and this season he is sporting a career high swing rate by offering at a whopping 60.2% of pitches, which is much higher than his 55.9% career rate.  However, he has been able to make contact on more of those swings with a career best 11.4% swinging strike rate.  His career swinging strike rate is 13.5%, which isn’t too much higher than his current 2015 rate, but it’s still a noticeable enough difference and appears to be the primary factor to the decline in his strikeout rate.

The drop in his strikeouts is significant because in theory he should see an uptick in his batting average if all other things in his batted ball profile are mostly constant.  Jones’ BABIP over the last several seasons is something that has also been consistent with marks of .304, .313, .314, and .311, but this season it is down to a very uncharacteristic .292.  His hard hit rate is the only thing that would really suggest a decline in his BABIP as it is at 30.4%, which is the lowest it’s been since 2011, but that’s not too far off from his career mark of 31.9%.

So if Jones can get his BABIP back up to a level that he is used to giving, paired with the decrease in strikeouts, that could lead to his first .300 AVG season of his career.  If he is unable to achieve so, then at the very least he should end the season once again in very familiar territory that is consistent with what he’s been known to do.  That wouldn’t be a terrible thing, but definitely not overly exciting and it would leave the fantasy baseball community jonesing for more.

Let’s take a look at the rest of Sunday’s action as we enter the All-Star break.

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

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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)

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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

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