2016 Fantasy Baseball Starting Pitcher Rankings (#1-30)

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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.

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Sometimes A Pitcher Is Only As Good As His Defense, Part 2 (and other notes from 8/17/15)

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A couple months ago on June 23 in part 1 of “Sometimes A Pitcher Is Only As Good As His Defense,” I took a look into the high BABIP’s (and subsequently inflated ERA and WHIP numbers) that several of the Cleveland Indians starting pitcher possessed and made the correlation that it was largely in part due to a poor defense that was playing behind those pitchers. At the time, the Indians had a very porous defense that was ranked 27th in DEF rating (a measurement system to reflect how many runs a team’s defense saves). But since then, the Indians have crawled all the way up to be right around a league average defense at 16th in DEF rating and out of the red and into the green with 0.5 runs saved on the season.

Surely there has to be some sort of underlying reason for the Indians improvement in defense, and one of the apparent factors was a player promotion. On June 14, the Indians promoted their top position prospect, Francisco Lindor, to the Majors to become their everyday starting shortstop in place of Jose Ramirez. Lindor had widely been known for his defensive wizardry coming up through the Indians Minor League system and he has most definitely brought that with him to the bigs as a 21-year old rookie. Out of all shortstops in the Majors (minimum 450 innings played), Lindor has the 8th highest DEF rating with 7.4 runs saved — and what makes this even more impressive is that he wasn’t even in the Majors for the first 2+ months of the season. For comparison, fellow top shortstop prospect, Carlos Correa of the Astros, was called up a week before Lindor and he ranks just 19th on the list with 2.7 runs saved despite making the highlight reel on a regular basis.

Another reason for the improved defense of the Indians on a more recent note has to be with the slew of trades that they made. At the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31, the Indians dealt away both Brandon Moss and David Murphy, and then they also traded Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher. Swisher was mostly used as a DH for the Indians so he’s not very relevant in this conversation, but Moss, Murphy, and Bourn are all players who played a good amount of games in the outfield for the Tribe and they all had negative scores in UZR/150. UZR/150 measures the runs above average per 150 defensive games. So surely, none of these players were doing anything of significance to earn a steak dinner from any of the Indians starting pitchers, and just removing them from the picture altogether has had to have been a nice change of pace on the defensive side of things for this ball club.

So with Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Danny Salazar having pitched another very solid game on Monday (7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 K with the W), the three Indians pitchers (Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco being the other two) who were battling inflated BABIP’s and poor overall statistics early on in the season have all been on a roll lately and have seen big improvements in their ERA, WHIP, and BABIP. Let’s take a look at each pitcher’s numbers in those categories since through June 23 (when I first wrote about this situation) and since June 23.

Danny Salazar — Through June 23: 4.06 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, .323 BABIP / Since June 23: 2.03 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, .176 BABIP

Corey Kluber — Through June 23: 3.65 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, .335 BABIP / Since June 23: 2.92 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, .259 BABIP

Carlos Carrasco — Through June 23: 4.35 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, .347 BABIP / Since June 23: 2.80 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, .238 BABIP

So as you can see, each of the three pitchers performed pretty similarly through June 23 and have also been in sync since June 23. That’s rather remarkable and is likely not all a coincidence. A good portion of the credit for their improvement since June 23 has to be given to the pitchers themselves for persevering through some rough times and for their skills as pitchers with great K/BB ratios, but this type of a turnaround likely would not have occurred without the improvement in their team defense. With the Indians’ new defensive arrangement going forward, these pitchers should be receiving a lot of help for the remainder of the season and make for elite fantasy plays.

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

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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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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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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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What Is Hector’s Achilles Heel? (and other notes from 7/10/15)

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Hector Santiago was a pitcher that was acquired by the Angels via trade before the 2014 season and the Angels primarily used him as a starting pitcher for the 2014 season, but he more or less proved to be the same type of pitcher that he had been in his couple seasons prior with the White Sox.  He showed that he had a decent left-handed arm that had some strikeout potential but walked a lot of batters and was inefficient with his pitch counts, and he finished the season with a 3.75 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, and 108 K/53 BB in 127.1 IP.

So entering the 2015 season, much of the same was to be expected from Santiago as he opened the season with a spot in the back end of the Angels rotation, but he has surpassed anyone’s expectations.  The Angels starting rotation looked to be in some big trouble this season with Garrett Richards starting the season on the DL, Jered Weaver having extremely diminished velocity, C.J. Wilson coming off a career worst season as a starter, and the 2014 surprise Matt Shoemaker surely unable to repeat his rookie season numbers.  But even with all those question marks with the starting pitching, it would have been hard to predict that Santiago would be the Angels’ best, most consistent and reliable pitcher through the first half of the season.  So we have to acknowledge the fine job that he has done to this point, and with another strong start on Friday at Seattle, Santiago will enter the All-Star break with a 6-4 record, 2.33 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 98 K/34 BB in 108.1 IP.  Unfortunately, there are some red flags for Santiago that call for some regression as we enter the second half of the season, and he may not be quite as fortunate from here on out.

Santiago currently sports the 3rd lowest BABIP among all Major League pitchers at .244.  Santiago’s low BABIP can possibly be substantiated by the fact that he has been the most extreme fly ball pitcher in the entire league this season with a 50.8% fly ball rate.  Fly ball pitchers are more capable of maintaining low BABIP marks due to the fact that fly balls that stay in play are generally easier to record for an out than ground balls, which can go for hits in a number of ways unless it is hit directly at an infielder.  So at first glance, his low BABIP isn’t a terrible issue, but then upon examining his hard hit and soft hit rates, it becomes much more of a question if the low BABIP is something that he can maintain.  Currently, his soft hit rate is the 11th lowest in the league at 15.3% and his hard hit rate is the 8th highest at 33.4%.  What this reflects is that when hitters are making contact against Santiago, they are generally able to avoid hitting it softly and instead they hit it at a medium impact or a hard impact — and of course logic will say that hard hit balls will go for base hits much more often than soft hit balls. So the fact that Santiago has been able to rank so well in BABIP despite being on pace for career worst soft and hard hit rates, it would suggest that he has been rather fortunate.

In Santiago’s favor though is that he has one of the better outfield defenses in the league, much in part to the reigning American League MVP Mike Trout who seems to track down a myriad of fly balls that seemingly few center fielders would be able to get to.  So as I mentioned about the Indians pitchers and how their poor defense grossly affects them in “Sometimes A Pitcher Is Only As Good As His Defense,” it also works in the opposite way with pitchers who have good defenses backing them.  So because Santiago has Trout and others roaming the outfield behind him, he’s going to get a lot of should-be gappers hit off him that will be caught, which helps keep his BABIP down as a fly ball pitcher.  But even so, he should see some sort of regression in the area if he continues to allow hard contact at such a high rate because even Trout can’t catch them all.

Another thing of note with Santiago is that his 88.9% strand rate is the 2nd highest in the league next to Zack Greinke. That type of strand rate is astronomically high as the league average tends to hover around 72.0% and last year’s highest was Doug Fister at 83.1%.  So Santiago is bound for some regression in this area, especially as a fly ball pitcher.  Fly ball pitchers generally allow more home runs, and home runs obviously clear the bases of all runners so that none of those base runners allowed would count as stranded/left on base.  And indeed, Santiago does allow his fair share of home runs at 1.08 HR/9 this season, which matches his career mark as well.  His career strand rate has been relatively high at 79.8%, so perhaps it is somewhat of a skill, but nonetheless it should begin to regress.  Looking at the other pitchers with a strand rate of 80.0% or higher this season, most of them are ground ball pitchers because pitchers with higher ground ball tendencies are able to induce ground ball double plays to strand runners.

One final caution regarding Santiago is his innings count.  He came up through the White Sox farm system as primarily a relief pitcher, and that is what the White Sox used him as initially when he reached the Majors as well.  So his career high in innings pitched is only 149 set in 2013, but he is currently on pace to finish the season with 203.1 innings pitched.  While it is not as great of concern as his hard hit rate, BABIP, and strand rate, it definitely is something to watch once he surpasses his previous career high.

Something very positive in Santiago’s breakout season thus far is his big improvement in his control, which has led to greater efficiency with his pitches and being able to work deeper into games.  His walk rates from 2012-14 have been 5.12 BB/9, 4.35 BB/9, and 3.75 BB/9.  However, this year he is all the way down to 2.82 BB/9 and is averaging 6.16 IP/start. And the improved walk rate is backed up by a career high first pitch strike rate of 59.3%.  So as long as he can keep getting ahead of hitters in the count, then he should be well on his way to a career best walk rate — it’s just the other things that we need to monitor as Hector’s possible Achilles heel.

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

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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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All-Star Game Roster Predictions: National League

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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 National League fan voting isn’t as odd as the American League, as the fans are getting most of the situations right. 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

We Are All Marco (and other notes from 6/24/15)

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“Which one of you is Marco?”

“We are all Marco.”

Name that movie!

Of course that is none other than everyone’s favorite sex trafficking classic Taken, starring Liam Neeson who brings some serious badass-ery as ex-government agent Bryan Mills.  But on a day that Blue Jays pitcher Marco Estrada flirted with perfection, we all weren’t Marco, but rather we all wanted Marco who is just 13% owned in Yahoo fantasy leagues at the time of writing this post.

If you recall, Estrada also took a no-hitter into the 8th inning of his previous start against the Orioles before giving up a hit and a run in that 8th inning.  In his start on Wednesday at Tampa Bay, he was perfect through 22 batters after Josh Donaldson made one of the top plays that we will see this season, full on diving into the stands along the third base line to catch a foul ball.  The very next batter then hit a soft dribbler to Donaldson at third base and he charged in on it, barehand grabbed it, and then fired it over to first base, but the runner beat the throw by the slimmest of margins to break up the perfect game and the no-hitter.  Estrada went on to pitch 8.2 shutout innings, allowing 2 hits and no walks while striking out 10.  However, he was unfortunate to not come away with the victory as his offense could not muster any runs while he was still in the game.

With the amazing effort of near perfection, Estrada now has a 3.45 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 63 K/23 BB in 73 IP.  His ownership level in season long fantasy leagues is sure to skyrocket, but is it worth it to pick him up?  The quick answer is yes it is worth it as long as you’re not dropping anyone of value, because there is little harm in picking up players who are hot.  But you have to know what kind of player that he is so that your expectations are kept in check.

Estrada has been around the league for several years now and he’s always been a pitcher to post ERA’s that are higher than his SIERA because of the fact that he is one of the more extreme fly ball pitchers in the league and gives up a lot of home runs.  In fact, he led the league last year in HR allowed with 29 despite having only pitched 150.2 innings.  However, he has always had the knack for posting above average strikeout rates and walk rates with career marks now at 8.37 K/9 and 2.46 BB/9.  Estrada is at his best when he is locating his changeup well, because that is his bread and butter pitch.  It is also a pitch that he is throwing at a career high rate this season, upwards of 32.0% of the time, so he seems to be having a good feel for it.

It was expected that with Estrada joining the AL East after spending his whole career in the NL that he would become even more homer prone and would see a downtick in his strikeout rate.  Well so far, his strikeout rate is down from his career rate, but he is actually managing a career best HR allowed rate at the moment, which is the primary reason for his success this season.  If he can keep preventing the long ball then he is going to have a good chance to put up a career best season.  However, it is tough to say if he will be able to do so or not.  I would lean towards him not doing so because of the division that he pitches in, so he could see an inflation in his numbers soon.  But even so, he should be a positive contributor in WHIP without hurting the ERA too much, and also chipping in a decent amount of strikeouts.  If you need the pitching help then I think that it is okay to grab Estrada, but just know that he will have starts where he just gets pounded by the long ball.

Let’s see what else happened on Wednesday!

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Spend a Ton o’ Bux on Buxton? (and other notes from 6/13/15)

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With the Twins on a 5-game losing streak to fall out of 1st place in the AL Central, they are still in a good position to contend for a playoff spot being just 2 games back of the Royals and currently possessing one of the two AL Wildcard spots, though there is lots of baseball to be played.  They have been one of the most surprising teams of the season as they were predicted to finish last place in the division by most baseball outlets.  But they want to make a statement and show the league that they mean business and they plan on competing all the way through the end of September, and that big statement that they are making is promoting top outfield prospect Byron Buxton to the Majors for his debut on Sunday.

The Twins have been running out a combination of Jordan Schafer, Shane Robinson, and Aaron Hicks out in center field this season, none of which have been very impressive nor expected to be a big part of the Twins future.  So it’s been a bit of a void in their lineup and with both Schafer and Hicks on the DL now, the time has come for Buxton to make his long awaited debut.

Buxton was the #2 overall pick in the 2012 draft (behind Carlos Correa) and he displays tremendous all-around tools.  In 2013 between A and high-A ball, Buxton hit .334 with 12 HR, 77 RBI, 109 R, and 55 SB.  Much of his 2014 season was lost due to a wrist injury and then a concussion, so he was limited to just 31 games.  The 21-year old began this season at AA and had been doing pretty well with a triple slash line of .283/.351/.489 to go with 6 HR, 37 RBI, 44 R, and 20 SB.  He obviously has some great talent, but what can we expect from him as a rookie and should we be spending a ton o’ bux on Buxton when bidding on him off the waiver wire?

What Buxton doesn’t have going for him that I feel fellow recently called up top prospect Carlos Correa does is playing on a team that actually has a chance to compete.  Yes, the Twins have been doing well and have been playing great baseball, but I don’t think that they have an actual chance to be competing in the pennant race and they will fall out of contention soon.  If the Twins do indeed start to scuffle and Buxton isn’t performing well, then he will be ticketed back to the Minors, whereas I believe Correa is here to stay no matter what.  So there is some risk in spending big on Buxton, but I would imagine that he does adequately enough to stick around.

Another difference between Correa and Buxton that I see is Correa appears to be more advanced in his ability to put the ball in play, which should help him to see more success early on in his career.  Buxton has a career 20.2% strikeout rate in the Minors, which isn’t horrible, but I think that number is going to rise a lot in his first tour of the Majors and it’s going to prevent him from contributing positively with his batting average.

However, what Buxton might lack in batting average, he can make up for with his blend of power and speed.  The power is not as prevalent as the speed, but it’s something that is sure to develop as his carer goes on and he can someday be a 20-25 HR hitter.  His speed though is off the charts and should be something that makes an immediate impact as long as he can get on base enough to attempt stolen bases.

I believe that Correa is a more complete offensive player right now, but Buxton might edge him out in upside.  But given that Correa plays a much shallower position of shortstop while Buxton plays the deepest position of outfield, Correa is definitely the more valuable fantasy commodity for this season.  For the rest of the season, I will give Buxton the line of:  .248 AVG, 5 HR, 37 RBI, 38 R, 16 SB, 88 K, 25 BB in 319 AB.  However, Buxton’s long term potential may be unmatched and he is the most hyped outfield prospect since Mike Trout.

Let’s see what else happened during Saturday’s slate!

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Houston’s Astronomical Promotion: Carlos Correa (and other notes from 6/7/15)

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With the Astros having gotten swept by the Blue Jays over the weekend, they still hold a 3.5 game lead in the AL West over the Rangers.  But being in contention for a playoff spot for the first time in years, they are not settling for anything less than putting the best team that they can on the field and they are calling up top prospect Carlos Correa to be their everyday shortstop.  The move to call him up is earlier than I would have anticipated, but it was something that I said should happen with Jed Lowrie and Luis Valbuena forming a strong platoon at third base once Lowrie returns from the DL to make room for Correa and allow him to showcase his elite talent on an everyday basis.

The number one overall pick in the 2012 draft, Correa missed a good chunk of the 2014 season due to an injury, but he has been tearing it up this season.  He began the year at AA and received a recent promotion to AAA and he has a combined line of .332/.402/.602 with 10 HR, 43 RBI, and 18 SB in 52 games between the two levels.  His production began to tail off once he reached AAA, but there’s no denying his talent and how he can help this Astros ball club.  With Lowrie being on the DL, the Astros have been using a combination of Marwin Gonzalez and Jonathan Villar at shortstop who have not been getting the job done.

Expectations for Correa, who will be 21 years old in September, need to be kept in check, but the fantasy baseball community cannot help but to be extremely excited over this promotion.  Correa definitely needs to be picked up in any league format because the shortstop position is so thing that he could realistically be a top 8 option at the position the rest of the way.

For the rest of the season I am going to project him for:  .267/.338/.384 with 7 HR, 44 RBI, 48 R, 15 SB, 77 K, 33 BB in 352 AB

Let’s take a look at what else happened on Sunday!

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Tex Marks the Spot (and other notes from 6/1/15)

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Landing on the DL in each of the last 3 seasons, which includes missing all but 15 games in the 2013 season, Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira was all but an afterthought in fantasy drafts this season and overlooked by many, including myself.  But he is showing an immense amount in his on-field performance to earn the $22.5 million that he’s due this season.  So after hitting a grand slam off Felix Hernandez on Monday, Tex is now hitting .241 with 15 HR, 39 RBI, 26 R, and 1 SB, but should he be expected to keep up this type of performance?

From 2003-09, Tex hit for over a .300 AVG in three seasons and compiled a .290 AVG over the whole time frame.  With that type of ability to hit for AVG combined with the 35 HR per season on average that he posted in that same period, he had firmly established himself as one of the best hitters of the decade.  But once 2010 came around, his ability to hit for a good AVG took a turn for the worse as teams began to collect and use different types of data more to their advantage.  Tex became just one of many sluggers who became greatly impacted by the increased implementation of defensive shifts by teams all around the league.  So gone were the days of hitting .290-.300.  From 2010-14, Tex hit for a rather paltry .242 AVG as he also began to pull the ball into the shift and fly out a lot more.

However, something that never really evaporated was his ability to go yard.  Over the last three seasons, his power has been sapped a bit as he only homered once every 19.27 AB, opposed to once every 16.60 AB from 2003-11.  Also, his ISO fell below .200 for the first time in his career in 2012 and 2013.  But this slight loss in power can largely be chalked up to the injuries that he dealt with.  The main injury that plagued his performance was a wrist injury that began as inflammation during the 2012 season and it carried over to 2013 before worsening to the point where he needed to have season-ending surgery to repair it.  While the wrist injury wasn’t what sidelined him in 2014, it surely had to have been something that affected his swing.

This season he is showing himself as healthy as ever, appearing in 49 of the Yankees 52 games so far.  And other than the low AVG, which should be a continuous occurrence because of his inability to hit around the defensive shifts, Tex is a better hitter than ever.  The power is incredibly off the charts with a current .325 ISO, which is well beyond his career high of .279 from his 2004 sophomore season.  But what might be even more impressive is the locked in and refined approach at the plate he appears to have.  Tex is 1 of 8 players in the Majors who currently has more walks than strikeouts, and at a 14.9 BB% and 13.4 K%, he is on pace for career bests in both categories.

One could point to his average distance on his HR + fly balls is only 279 feet compared to 294 feet last season (according to Baseball Heat Maps) and believe that perhaps this rebound in his HR total is a bit of a mirage.  But the ESPN Home Run Tracker shows that only 2 of his 15 HR this year are categorized as “just enough,” as in having just enough distance to clear the fence.  So I wouldn’t worry a whole lot about the average distance since most of his HR are clearing the fence by more than enough — it’s just the fly balls that have stayed in the park that are bringing his average distance down.

There can always be some sort of injury that comes up, but with the wrist appearing to be fully healed and his excellent plate approach and discipline, I remain optimistic for Teixeira to remain productive and a fantasy asset the rest of the season.  I will give him the rest of the season line of (from June 2 onward):   .242 AVG, 21 HR, 68 RBI, 52 R, 1 SB, 54 BB, 70 K

Let’s see what else Monday baseball brought to us…

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What Would Doo Do? (and other notes from 5/27/15)

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For anyone who owns Sean Doolittle in fantasy leagues, the question was going to be “What Would Doo Do (in his first game back from the DL)?”  @whatwouldDOOdo also happens to be the Twitter handle of the Oakland lefty, and he does tweet some funny stuff and is worth the follow on Twitter if you’re into that sort of thing.

Doolittle had been recovering and rehabbing from a shoulder injury that has had him on the DL all season, but he was finally activated on Tuesday and got into game action on Wednesday.  Doolittle entered the 6th inning of Wednesday’s game against the Tigers in a very low leverage situation with the team down 3 runs and the bottom of the Tigers order coming up.  Doolittle caught Nick Castellanos looking on strike 3, got Bryan Holaday to hit a flyout, gave up a single to Dixon Machado, and then struck out Anthony Gose swinging through a fastball.  So in box score terms that was 1 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K.

Looks pretty good, right?  He should be back to closing games in no time?  Well, it is possible but hold that thought.  While he did finish his first outing back with a clean inning and even struck out 2 batters, let’s not forget that 2 of the batters he faced are normally bench players and one of the other batters cannot hit lefties worth a lick.  Then throw in the fact that Doolittle’s fastball was sitting at just 89 MPH, which corroborates reports of his velocity being way down in his rehab appearances, and we could possibly have a tease situation on our hands if we were to just look at the box score.

Doolittle’s fastball is a pitch that has regularly averaged 94 MPH on the gun over the last couple of seasons, so to be sitting at 89 MPH and topping out at 90 MPH does raise a decent level of concern.  Coming back from a shoulder injury, it shouldn’t be expected that Doolittle has the same type of velocity, but a 5 MPH difference is very discouraging.  To look on the brighter side of things though, the fastball is a pitch that he throws 85-90% of the time, so he’s not one to rely on changing speeds a whole lot.  Instead, he is more about locating the fastball where he wants it to be.  So he doesn’t necessarily need the really good velocity, but it also is an extreme plus to have it and hitters may start to tee off on him if he’s without good velocity. 

Doolittle of course can regain the velocity as the season goes on and as his shoulder gets stronger.  However, without any guarantee that happens, Doolittle may be in for some tough times.  If I owned him, which I do, I would shop Doolittle around to owners that are looking for saves to see if you can get something that may be of good use to you.  It won’t be a star player, but a quality role player can go a long ways.  There’s a chance that Doolittle ends up being fine, reclaims the closer role after a couple more good innings, and goes on to be a quality closer the rest of the way.  However, I would be fine taking my chances and getting rid of him if I can find the right deal.

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

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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.

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