Iwakuma Tosses No-No (and other notes from 8/12/15)

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Since returning from the DL with a lat strain on July 6, Seattle Mariners right-handed pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma had seen a mixed bag of results with a couple of really good starts mixed in with a couple of bad ones and a few mediocre ones to compile a 3.64 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in 47 IP. However, in front of the home crowd on Wednesday, Iwakuma laid to rest any concerns by tossing a no-hitter with 7 strikeouts and 3 walks against the Baltimore Orioles.

Over the last few seasons, Iwakuma has been one of the more underrated pitchers in the game, which is probably due to his lack of strikeout appeal. Since Iwakuma came over to the Majors from Japan in 2012, the average strikeout rate for starting pitchers has been 7.24 K/9 and Iwakuma has posted a 7.52 K/9 in his career. So while he has been a bit above average in strikeouts, he’s surely not the master artist of the strikeout. But where Iwakuma comes up big in his game is in his precision control.

During that same time frame since 2012, the average walk rate among starting pitchers has been 2.76 BB/9, yet, for his career, Iwakuma sits nearly a full walk lower at 1.78 BB/9. Iwakuma also has a knack for limiting hits thanks to a strong 50.5% ground ball rate that induces a lot of soft/medium hit ground balls that go for easy outs. So Iwakuma’s exceptional walk rate combined with his ability to get a lot of ground ball outs has allowed him to post a 1.08 WHIP, which is the 5th lowest WHIP out of all pitchers in the Majors since 2012 (minimum 400 innings pitched). There probably aren’t many baseball fans who would have guessed that.

Now that Iwakuma has proven himself to be healthy and productive with this no-hitter, he should go on to perform just as he has over the last few seasons as long as he doesn’t incur another injury, and that is some incredibly useful fantasy material.

Now let’s check out the rest of Wednesday’s action.

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Fister Bumped From Rotation, Declines Fist Bump From Ross (and other notes from 8/6/15)

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On Thursday, it was announced by Nationals manager Matt Williams that Doug Fister would be sent to the bullpen to make room for Stephen Strasburg who is set to return from the DL this weekend. It’s a bit of a surprising move, but it is the correct and smart move to make because Fister has been a bit of a hot mess this season.

Fister has compiled a 4.60 ERA and 1.42 WHIP in 15 starts this season and he also had a lengthy DL stint that likely didn’t help matters. And just when you thought his strikeout rate of 5.38 K/9 from last season couldn’t get any lower, he’s stooped down to 5.02 K/9 this season, which is pretty outrageous for a starting pitcher in the National League. If he qualified with enough innings pitched, Fister’s strikeout rate would rank as the 2nd worst in the NL behind Kyle Kendrick (4.69 K/9). As a relief pitcher, Fister obviously would be fantasy irrelevant, and he probably won’t have much success there either. As a free agent at the end of the season, it’s very possible that Fister has made his last start for the Nationals (that is unless/until Strasburg hits the DL again).

With Fister being ousted from the starting rotation, that means that 22-year old rookie Joe Ross will remain in the rotation and he has the true skills to never relinquish his rotation spot again. Ross was featured on The Backwards K a month and a half ago in “I’m the Biggest Ross That You’ve Seen Thus Far,” so check that out for a bit of a review, and he is definitely a favorite here and considered to be one of “my boys.”

Ross, younger brother of Padres pitcher Tyson Ross, came over from the Padres in a 3-team trade this past off-season, and he initially stepped into the Nationals rotation to make spot starts when Strasburg first landed on the DL. But when Strasburg landed on the DL a second time, that gave Ross the opportunity to further impress the organization. After another excellent start on Thursday against the Diamondbacks (6 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 7 K with the W), Ross is now 3-3 with a 2.80 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, and 47 K/4 BB in 45 IP over 7 starts.

Ross has excelled with a sinking fastball that has generated a lot of ground balls (52.5% groundball rate on the season) and a good slider that has been his strikeout pitch — he likely has received tips on his slider from his big brother who has one of the nastiest sliders in the game. He will also mix in a changeup to help keep hitters off balance. Ross’ combination of heavy groundball tendencies (which also translates to good home run prevention), strikeout per inning ability, and excellent control is a very lethal set of skills that makes him an extremely attractive fantasy pitcher. Ross undoubtedly needs to be owned in all fantasy leagues, yet somehow he is currently owned in less than 50% across all major platforms.

Looking ahead to next season, with Fister and Jordan Zimmermann hitting free agency, Ross should firmly be entrenched in the Nationals rotation and future plans. Also Lucas Giolito, widely considered to be one of the top two pitching prospects currently in the Minors, could be ready to break into the Nationals rotation by the beginning of the 2016 season as well. Max Scherzer, Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Ross, and Giolito would make for a nice rotation that has a great blend of veteran power, tremndous upside, and young appeal.

Now let’s take a look at the rest of Thursday’s short slate of baseball!

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

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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.

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Cingrani’s Return to the Rotation (and other notes from 7/20/15)

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The Cincinnati Reds announced that left-handed pitcher Tony Cingrani would be returning from the DL with a shoulder injury on Wednesday against the Cubs and he will be inserted into the starting rotation after working in relief for the whole 2015 season so far.

For a refresher, or if you are unfamiliar with Cingrani, he is a former top pitching prospect in the Reds organization and he zoomed his way through the Minor Leagues, showing complete dominance with 1.45 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and 11.85 K/9 vs. 2.70 BB/9 in the course of his Minor League career in 223.1 IP.  He became a fixture on the Reds Major League roster in the 2013 season when he posted a 2.92 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 120 K/43 BB in 104.2 IP in 23 appearances (18 starts). With that strong rookie season, Cingrani was a popular pick to breakout even further in the 2014 season.  However, Cingrani was a big bust in 2014 with injuries playing a role, and he finished the season making just 13 appearances (11 starts) to compile an ugly 4.55 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, and 61 K/35 BB in 63.1 IP.

It wasn’t necessarily just injuries though that prevented Cingrani from repeating his rookie season success.  Also potentially playing a factor was his pitch usage.  Cingrani has always been a pitcher to rely very heavily on his fastball as it is a pitch that he has now thrown a whopping 79.7% of the time in his short Major League career up to this point.  There are just not any starting pitchers in the league who throw fastballs at that type of rate because it’s just not a good formula for success — for a point of reference, the highest fastball percentage of any starting pitcher this season is Gerrit Cole at 69.5%.  With fastballs being thrown at the rate Cingrani has thrown them at, opposing hitters only have to worry about looking for a fastball most of the time and if that’s what they are guessing, then 4 out of 5 times they would be right.  What Cingrani does have going for him with his fastball though is that he gets a lot of vertical movement on the pitch, or in other words, his fastball has rising action that can make it difficult for hitters to catch up to when it is up in the zone.

To go with the fastball, he will mix in an occasional slider and changeup, but his changeup just isn’t that great of a pitch as it has induced swinging strikes just a mere 4.2% of the time.  So the lack of a quality third pitch offering also adds to the poor formula for success for a starting pitcher.  Starting pitchers generally want to have at least three quality pitches and be able to use them all with confidence.  Having at least three pitch options helps to keep opposing hitters guessing more to get them off balance.

So with such a heavy reliance on the fastball and a lack of a quality third pitch (and significant use of it), Cingrani would appear to profile more as a relief pitcher, despite what his Minor League success would suggest.  In the Minor Leagues, he was likely able to get away with these things better because the talent level obviously is much lower than the Majors and his deceptive delivery probably aided him as well.  So in his 2013 rookie season, it should have come as no surprise that he was able to carry over that same type of Minor League success over to the Majors initially.  With Major League teams being so unfamiliar with him since they never had seen him before, that deception likely created a lot of confusion for hitters.  But after more and more game film on him was made available with each additional start he made in the Majors, better scouting reports were probably generated and given to the hitters, which caused some regression for Cingrani as the 2013 season went on, and it must have also given hitters in 2014 better preparation when facing him.

So for the 2015 season, the Reds shifted Cingrani to the relief role where many scouts believed his mostly fastballs approach could be better utilized.  It was believed that he could possibly be the heir apparent to Aroldis Chapman at closer since Chapman will be a free agent at the end of the 2016 season.  As a reliever this season, Cingrani has shown occasional dominance, but poor control has gotten the best of him at times and he had a 3.47 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, and 26 K/17 BB in 23.1 IP before landing on the DL with a shoulder injury.

With the flawed pitch usage, poor control, and returning from a shoulder injury, it is hard to envision Cingrani’s return to the rotation going over very well.  But with the Reds being sellers nearing the trade deadline, they could be shipping off Johnny Cueto and/or Mike Leake, which is going to leave them pretty starved for starting pitching.  So it probably wouldn’t hurt to give Cingrani another shot at starting, but his best chance at a quality career may be in the bullpen ala Zach Britton.

For deeper season long fantasy leagues, he should be scooped up just knowing what his upside is as seen from his 2013 rookie season.  In dynasty leagues, it would be a more fine addition if by some chance he is able to turn some type of corner.  But overall, I wouldn’t be expecting anything extraordinary for him — but taking a chance on him isn’t the worst of ideas either.  If you pick him up, then you just kind of have to cross your fingers that he makes adjustments because he’s not likely to succeed if he sticks with the same approach.

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

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Miguel Cabrera to the DL for First Time (and other notes from 7/5/15)

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For the first time ever in his 13-year career, on the 4th of July, Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera has landed on the DL with a calf strain that he suffered as a base runner taking off from first to second base.  The injury is expected to sideline Cabrera for 6 weeks.  It’s nothing short of amazing how Cabrera has gone so long without ever incurring an injury that he was unable to play through, but he is now 32 years old and with this calf injury and the ankle injury that he played through for a good portion of the 2014 season, there appear to be some chinks in his armor at a time where we should be expecting him to exit his offensive prime anyway.

With his ankle injury last year, he still was able to hit .313 with 25 HR, 109 RBI, and 101 R, but remarkably, that was his lowest batting average since 2009 and his lowest HR total since 2006.  This season he is batting what would be a career best of .350, but with just 15 HR before the injury, he was once again on pace for one of his lowest HR totals and with the injury, it’s all but guaranteed that it will be one of his worst HR outputs of his career.

Cabrera is still obviously a great hitter and he will have several more years left in the league where he will produce much better than the average player.  But here is what I said about him in the pre-season rankings:

“You know how we saw the beginning of the decline of Albert Pujols in his age 31 season in 2011 when he “only” hit .299/.366/.541 with 37 HR, 99 RBI, and 105 R?  Well, we saw something similar from M-Cab last year in his age 31 season.  Perhaps it can be contributed to the bum foot that he was playing on, which has since been surgically repaired.  Even so, there is a decent chance that he continues to experience an assortment of injuries as he is now on the wrong side of 30.   So I’m pretty sure his best days are behind him, but of course he still is a better hitter than most of the league.”

So let’s go ahead and categorize this into the “assortment of injuries” column.

The Tigers will surely miss his bat, and it will be interesting to see how the offense responds to Cabrera’s absence.  With J.D. Martinez so hot right now, it’s possible that he can shoulder the load to carry the team.  But at some point, the Tigers offense should experience some rough times without Cabrera.

For fantasy squads, it’s nothing short of heartbreaking to lose a 1st round pick to the DL for a significant amount of time. First it was Giancarlo Stanton a couple weeks ago and now it’s Cabrera.  Their production simply can’t be replicated, so you just have to make due with what you can.

Let’s check out Sunday’s action now.

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

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

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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!

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

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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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C. Heston From the NRA to the NHA? (and other notes from 6/9/15)

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So we know that Hollywood legend Charleton Heston was the president of the NRA (National Rifle Association), but there’s a new Heston in town by the name of Chris Heston who became the 238th member of the NHA (No-Hitter Association) on Tuesday.  Heston of the Giants managed to no-hit the Mets while recording 11 strikeouts in the process.  What spoiled the perfect game wasn’t a walk or an error, but rather Heston beaned three separate batters.  This sounds like a job for the Elias Sports Bureau, but this might be the most hit batsmen recorded by a pitcher who completed a no-hitter.  Whoever had Heston in the “first no-hitter of the season” pool has to be a rich person, but one sick individual to make such an adventurous pick.

Heston is a 27-year old rookie and he has been one extremely tough pitcher to figure out this season.  It seems as though he is either really good or really bad.  He has 5 starts this season where he has given up at least 5 earned runs, but then the other 7 starts he has made he has gone at least 6 innings allowing either 0 or 1 earned run.

Initially, I thought that maybe he was just a pitcher who did some really good home cookin’ while struggling on the road, but with his clunker last week at home versus the Pirates and this no hitter on the road versus the Mets, that theory can be safely laid to rest.  The fact of the matter is that Heston has just had a couple really bad starts at Coors Field that have negatively skewed his overall stat line.  I hate to cherry pick certain games out of a player’s stat line, but taking those Coors Field games out does make a big difference as he would have a 2.71 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 60 K/15 BB in 63 IP (compared to a 3.77 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 66 K/18 BB in 74 IP including the Coors Field starts).

Heston doesn’t come as heralded as some of the other rookie pitchers because of his age and the fact that he’s not a hard thrower topping out around 90 MPH.  But with a sinker, curveball, and changeup arsenal, he is able to generate a ton of ground balls at 56.2%, which is the 6th highest in the league, and he also has above average control with sneaky strikeout potential (career rate of 7.96 K/9 in the Minors).

Earlier in the season when I was still trying to figure out what to make of Heston, I suggested the possibility of him being this year’s Matt Shoemaker as the old, non-glamorous rookie pitcher who falls into a rotation spot and outperforms expectations with great control and the sneaky strikeout potential.  The more I see of him, the more I think that Heston will be that pitcher and he is worthy of a fantasy play as long as he’s not playing at Coors Field.

Let’s see what else occurred on a full Tuesday slate of action…

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Bad Beat Baby (and other notes from 6/3/15)

Being a former semi-professional online poker player back in the good ol’ Party Poker days, I surely have had my fair share of bad beats, and I have given bad beats as well.  But I don’t think any of those bad beats I received will match up to the one I suffered on Wednesday on DraftKings.

In the $80K Guaranteed Moonshot tournament ($3 entry fee), I entered 6 lineups with all of them containing at least 1 player from the Coors Field game between the Dodgers and Rockies.  Games at Coors Field obviously have increased total offense due to thin air, so hitters playing games there are going to be good guys to target.  Three of my lineups were full 5-6 player stacks of either the Dodgers or Rockies offense, and in the other 3 lineups I had sprinkled in some of those players.

However, about 15 minutes before the first game was about to start, I got a notification of some inclement weather in Denver so there was a decent chance of the game getting postponed.  After some deliberation, I told myself and a couple friends that I would chance it and keep all my lineups as they were.  But then at the very last minute, I ended up switching just one of the 6 lineups where I substituted in Jason Kipnis and Mike Aviles for Martin Prado and Troy Tulowitzki.

As the evening progressed, I was in 1st place out of the 30,651 entrants around the 8:00 PM hour, but with Kipnis and Aviles not having done much, I knew that I was in for a sad night with Tulowitzki still on the slate as the Dodgers and Rockies game battled a couple of rain delays but the game would go on as scheduled.  Tulowitzki ended up having a monster game and it turns out that if I did not edit that one lineup at the very last minute, then I would have ended up getting 1st place and taken down the $5,000 prize.

What is the most disappointing about it all is that it wasn’t a bad beat suffered at the hands of another DFS player, it was a bad beat that I gave to myself.  If I had just trusted myself then I would have been that much richer.  But so it goes.  Lesson learned to trust my instincts, and I’ll take a tourney down one of these days.

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Eduardo Rodriguez Earning His Sox (and other notes from 5/28/15)

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With the Red Sox far out of playoff contention last season as the trade deadline approached, they shipped Andrew Miller, who was set to become a free agent, to their division rivals, the Baltimore Orioles, for left-handed pitching prospect Eduardo Rodriguez.  In order for the Red Sox to deal Miller to the Orioles, they would only accept Rodriguez in any deal and on Thursday we got a glimpse of why the Red Sox were so adamant in getting him.  Making his Major League debut, Rodriguez went 7.2 scoreless innings, allowing just 3 hits and 2 walks while striking out 7 Rangers batters.

Rodriguez spent all of 2014 in AA where he had a 4.05 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 8.10 K/9, and 2.77 BB/9 in 120 IP.  Those weren’t the greatest of numbers, but for a 21-year old at AA, he surely held his own.  But what’s not seen in those numbers is how he began to really thrive once he did get traded over to the Red Sox organization, as he had a 0.96 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 9.40 K/9 and 1.93 BB/9 after the trade.

Before being called up for this start on Thursday, Rodriguez had been pitching at AAA where he had a 2.98 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 48.1 IP while displaying that same nice blend of strikeout potential (8.19 K/9) and excellent control (1.30 BB/9) that he had at AA for the Red Sox last year.

A lot of the pitching prospects that get hyped up seem to be high strikeout guys who have battled control issues such as Taijuan Walker, Archie Bradley, and Carlos Rodon, and the problem with those types of pitching prospects is that they do not usually have immediate success in the Majors.  Sure they will have an occasional dazzling game, but overall they just often have a mixed bag of results.  But then you get someone who comes along like Noah Syndergaard who never has dealt with control issues who can come along and be successful on a much more consistent basis right away in the Majors.

Rodriguez would seem to be more in the vein of Syndergaard than those other young arms thanks to his great control, and he could have a shot at some early success as a Major Leaguer.  He’s not as strikeout dominant as Syndergaard, but there is a lot to like about him.  Watching his start on Thursday, he was very efficient with his pitch count, throwing a lot of strikes and working in and right around the zone, and he seemed especially tough on the Rangers left-handed bats.  He’s still a very young pitcher though, so he’s most likely going to run into some struggles, but out of rookie pitchers I do value the type of control that he can bring.

But what remains to be seen is whether or not he sticks in the Red Sox rotation.  His start on Thursday was supposed to be nothing more than a spot start, but the Red Sox have dealt with some big time issues on the pitching front.  There’s not really one of their starting pitchers who has had a good season, but the name that comes to mind when talking about Rodriguez potentially replacing someone is Joe Kelly.  If the Red Sox are serious about contending this year, then they have to give some long thought to putting Rodriguez in the rotation for good.

For fantasy purposes, Rodriguez would have immediate value if he is inserted into the rotation for a longer look and I definitely would recommend him as someone to pick up.

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

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