Auto-Steal Versus Lester (and other notes from 8/13/15)

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Jon Lester‘s career as a Chicago Cub got off to a bumpy and inconsistent beginning, but since July 1, the big lefty has been exceptional and he displayed it once again on Thursday in a victory over the Brewers. Since July 1, Lester has gone 4-2 with a 1.60 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, and 63 K/9 BB in 56.1 IP over 8 starts — and his overall season line is 8-8 with a 3.21 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, and 149 K/36 BB in 146.2 IP, which is right in line with what was expected of him this season.

Something very interesting to note though is the lack of effectiveness that Lester brings against the running game. Maybe you’ve heard it already, maybe you haven’t, but in the 2014 season, Lester did not attempt a single pickoff all season long. For comparison, Justin Verlander led the league in the category with 199 pickoff attemps in 2014. How a starting pitcher who didn’t miss a start doesn’t attempt at least one pickoff over the course of a whole season is just downright outrageous and it is rather telling of a great weakness that can be exposed by the opposition.

Entering his start on Thursday, Lester had attempted just 2 pickoffs this season, but he hadn’t attempted one since April. However, in his Thursday start against the Brewers, he finally attempted another pickoff only to end up throwing it away for his 3rd error of the season. So when it comes to controlling the running game, Lester really doesn’t seem to care at all, but when he finally does, he can’t even execute it correctly because his lack of repetition in doing so gave him the yips and probably also shocked the heck out of Anthony Rizzo over at first base.

After he didn’t attempt pickoff last season, it became pretty well recognized in baseball circles and teams have most certainly picked up on that portion of the scouting report. If Lester never throws over to first base for a pickoff attempt, then base runners who are given the green light to steal can just go on Lester’s first movement of his front (right) leg, which is a big advantage for the base runner, especially when the pitcher is left-handed (because lefties generally have the better ability to hold base runners at first base since they are facing that direction before delivering the ball to the plate).

So even though the Brewers couldn’t muster up much run production against Lester on Thursday, they did end up stealing a whopping 5 bases against the Lester/David Ross tandem. Last season when Lester didn’t attempt a pickoff, he surprisingly only allowed just 16 stolen bases, and his single season career high in stolen bases allowed is 22 from 2010. But after allowing the 5 swipes to the Brew Crew, Lester has now permitted 35 stolen bases against him this season, which is the most in the league by a good margin over Tyson Ross (29 SB allowed).

With so many stolen bases allowed, it is a little surprising to see Lester possess an ERA as good as he has at 3.21. If runners are always stealing against Lester, then Lester should be pitching with runners in scoring position a lot of the time to leave him more susceptible to giving up runs. However, Lester has done pretty well to limit the damage and his strand rate is nearly right in line with the league average of 73.2%. But for future purposes, he may not be as fortunate if the opposition continues to run wild all over him. It should go without saying that if you are in need of stolen bases in your fantasy league, then using players with good speed who are set to go against Lester is a pretty wise route.

Now let’s see what else happened during Thursday baseball!

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Mining for Cole in Texas (and other notes from 7/29/15)

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The next big name on the move as the trade deadline nears is set to be Cole Hamels who will be heading to the Texas Rangers along with reliever Jake Diekman in exchange for starting pitcher Matt Harrison and a barrage of prospects that includes Jorge AlfaroAlec AsherJerad EickhoffNick Williams, and Jake Thompson.

The Philadelphia Phillies were in a good position to land a package that they wanted because Hamels is not just a 2-3 month rental for the remainder of this season. Instead, he is under contract through 2018 with a vesting option for 2019, so that meant that even non-contending teams could make a run for the 31-year old lefty and that’s exactly what happened with the 3rd place Rangers landing him. However, the Rangers are just 4 games back of the second AL Wildcard spot, so perhaps they even think that they could potentially contend for a post-season berth.

Hamels moves from the hitter friendly Citizens Bank Park to another hitter friendly stadium at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas. So there’s no real win or loss with the home park switch, but switching leagues from the National League to the American League should be perceived as a negative impact for Hamels’ fantasy value. His ERA, WHIP, and strikeout rate should all be expected to move in wrong directions, but that doesn’t mean that he still won’t be valuable. And there are some occasions where the NL pitcher moving to the AL doesn’t really see his stats suffer all that much, if at all.

The Rangers have had to endure a lot of injuries to their pitching staff this season, which kind of had them doomed from the get go once it was determined that their ace Yu Darvish needed to undergo Tommy John surgery before the season even began. So they likely have their sights set more on next season when Darvish hopefully returns before the All-Star break sometime. They hope that Hamels and Darvish can form a great 1-2 punch, though serious doubts should be had regarding Darvish and his control once he returns. All in all, it was a bold move for the Rangers who are starved for pitching, and Hamels will try to take the Rangers to the next level just like he did with the Phillies during the mid 2000’s when they had a great run.

Diekman, a left-handed reliever, has a poor 5.15 ERA and 1.75 WHIP this season, but he’s a power lefty that has some big time strikeout abilities and is under club control for a couple more years. He has the chance to develop into a nice bullpen piece for the Rangers if he can improve his walk rate.

Harrison should step right into the Phillies rotation, but his outlook shouldn’t really change a whole lot since he’s just rather mediocre and has been a walking injury the last two seasons. Three of the five prospects that the Phillies are receiving from the Rangers were ranked in the pre-season top 10 Rangers prospect list by Baseball America, so it appears that the Phillies did well and received a decent haul in return. But we’ll have to wait and see how they pan out. Continue reading

Kazmir Lands in Houston (and other notes from 7/23/15)

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With the trade deadline approaching at the end of the month, contending teams are looking to do some wheeling and some dealing with the sellers who are out of playoff contention. On Thursday, there were a couple of trades, and right now we’ll examine one of them and how it might impact the fantasy world.

The Houston Astros acquired left-handed starting pitcher Scott Kazmir from the Oakland A’s in exchange for two low level prospects, catcher Jacob Nottingham and pitcher Daniel Mengden. Kazmir grew up in Houston, so this is a nice homecoming for him and should give the Astros a nice opportunity to re-sign him once he becomes a free agent at season’s end. Kazmir has done very well this season for the A’s going 5-5 with a 2.38 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and 101 K/35 BB in 109.2 IP.

Kazmir has done exceptionally well at home in Oakland this season with a 1.36 ERA, so it is possible that there may be some regression in his numbers upon joining the Astros to pitch in a more hitter friendly home park. But whatever possible regression he might see pitching his home games in Minute Maid Park could be negated by pitching for a winning team where he should have a much better opportunity to post better than a .500 win-loss record.

The result of the trade for the A’s starting rotation could mean that left-hander Drew Pomeranz, who started in place of Kazmir on Thursday, could be rejoining the starting rotation on a permanent basis. Pomeranz did pretty well in 10 starts for the A’s in 2014, so with a strong showing in Spring Training he earned a spot in the A’s rotation to begin the season. He made 8 starts to post a 4.40 ERA and 1.65 WHIP before being removed from the rotation and sent to the bullpen.

With primarily being a fastball/curveball pitcher with no second offspeed offering, Pomeranz might not be destined for success as a starting pitcher because starting pitchers generally need more than just two types of pitches to be effective for more than just one or two innings. And it shows with Pomeranz in the fact that in his career as a starting pitcher, he has a 4.60 ERA and 1.43 WHIP, but as a relief pitcher he had a 1.38 ERA and 1.03 WHIP. Furthermore, as a starting pitcher when he faces a batter for the first time in a game he has allowed a triple slash of .256/.323/.365, but in the 2nd and 3rd times that he has faced batters in a game he has allowed a triple slash of .252/.348/.432. So after the first time through the lineup, he lets a lot more guys on base and gives up many more extra base hits.

I had some decent hopes for Pomeranz coming into the season if he was able to develop a changeup, but he just hasn’t done so and I will have my reservations about Pomeranz as a starter going forward. But the A’s should give him a look as a starter again and encourage him to develop another offspeed pitch.

From the Astros standpoint, Kazmir will slot into their rotation alongside Dallas KeuchelCollin McHugh, and Lance McCullers, and it should result in either veteran Scott Feldman being moved to the bullpen to be used as a long reliever, or rookie Vincent Velasquez being sent down to the Minors. From a fantasy perspective, Feldman offers zero appeal so it would be much more attractive if Velasquez remains in the rotation and it would probably give the Astros their best chance of winning games. Velasquez currently has a 4.03 ERA and 1.29 WHIP with 38 K/14 BB in 38 IP over 7 starts since being promoted to the Majors. He’s got some very nice upside as a high strikeout pitcher and has done well enough so far to keep his spot, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens.

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

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Get the Heck Troutta Here (and other notes from 7/17/15)

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What can’t Mike Trout do?  He debuted in the Majors at just 20 years old in 2011 and his official rookie season was 2012, and since then he has won the AL Rookie of the Year Award, been an All-Star in all four seasons, has won two All-Star Game MVP Awards in a row, has won a Silver Slugger Award in each season with another one on the way in 2015, finished 2nd in the AL MVP voting twice, took home the AL MVP Award last season, and is likely looking at being the AL MVP yet again this year.  I suppose he hasn’t won a Gold Glove Award yet, but he’s been robbed of that and he still is simply stellar in center field.

On Friday, he launched the third walk off home run of his career when he took Koji Uehara deep into the night.  He is now hitting .311 with 27 HR, 56 RBI, 69 R, and 9 SB, and he leads the AL in HR.  If we want to nitpick at his flaws, we can look at his gradually declining SB totals over his young career or his less than stellar strikeout rate.  But the fact is that he is the best all-around player in the game and he has been ever since he walked onto the field in his rookie season.  There are no more words that need to be said to describe him, so just sit back and enjoy the show in Anaheim.

Let’s check out what else happened on Friday as we are now back from the All-Star break!
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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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