The Not So Lean Jean as a Save Machi-ne? (and other notes from 8/10/15)

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Over the weekend, Boston Red Sox closer Koji Uehara suffered a non-displaced fracture in his right wrist and he will miss the rest of the season. Usually in these types of situations where a team makes a voluntary switch at closer or if their closer suffers an injury that is severe enough to land him on the DL, the team will hand closing duties over to their primary 8th inning guy.

For the Red Sox, it’s been Junichi Tazawa who has been working that 8th inning, and he’s done his best Uehara impression this season as a fly ball pitcher that induces a lot of weak infield flies and maintains a strikeout per inning with exceptional control. Overall this season, Tazawa has a 3.19 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 48 K/7 BB in 48 IP, and the Japanese import has been very functional for the Red Sox in a relief role since 2012.

However, Red Sox manager Jon Farrell is reportedly content with keeping Tazawa in a setup role and will not (at least for now) be the man to close out the majority of games for the team. Tazawa doesn’t have egregious lefty/righty splits in his career, but lefties are hitting .276/.295/.421 against him this season while righties are hitting .227/.267/.364. So perhaps Farrell is hesitant that he wouldn’t succeed when big bopping lefties are to scheduled face him in a save opportunity. Keeping him in a setup role, Farrell would have more control over utilizing him against the types of batters that he wants to. Last year when Uehara hit the DL, Tazawa was also passed up for save opportunities in favor of Edward Mujica.

The Red Sox plan to use Jean Machi as their primary closer for the time being. Machi recently joined the Red Sox after they claimed him off waivers from the Giants in late July. Machi debuted in the Majors in 2012 and has been a mainstay as a Major Leaguer since 2013 where he was a solid middle reliever for the Giants. However, for the Giants this season, Machi had a 5.14 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, and 22 K/14 BB in 35 IP.

Machi has past closing experience in the Minors, but he’s never had the look of a prototypical closer with his lack of strikeout potential. So it is surprising that the Red Sox are so willing to install one team’s sloppy seconds as their new closer when they seemingly have a more viable option that has been with them for years in Tazawa. Considering that there are more right-handed bats than left-handed in the league, and that righties have hurt Machi a lot more this year (.343/.400/.606 vs. righties, .105/.219/.143 vs. lefties) and throughout his career (.244/.303/.396 vs. righties, .196/.259/.308 vs. lefties), it makes the move to turn to Machi even more curious.

Given Machi’s current form and the profile that we have on him from past performance in both the Majors and Minors, Machi could end up struggling in the role as closer and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him not last in the 9th inning for the remainder of the season. He is the guy to own for now, but a close eye should be kept on Tazawa as he probably would have more likelihood of getting the job done.

Let’s take a look at what else happened on Monday now.

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Hamels’ Potential Parting Gift to Philly (and other notes from 7/25/15)

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Philadelphia Phillies ace Cole Hamels had been in the midst of a mostly bad run over his last 7 starts before Saturday, as he had 6.10 ERA and 1.57 WHIP since June 8. There were rumblings that the trade rumors surrounding him were adversely affecting his performance, but in what could be his final start as a member of the Phillies team that drafted him back in 2002, the lanky lefty put that notion to rest by firing a no-hitter with 13 strikeouts against the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Saturday.

With the no-hitter, Hamels improved to 6-7 with a 3.64 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, and 137 K/39 BB in 128.2 IP. While the ERA and WHIP are a bit on the high side in comparison to the rest of his career, his strikeout rate of 9.58 K/9 ranks as the best since his rookie season in 2006, and his current 3.14 xFIP would be the second best mark of his career (3.02 xFIP in 2011). Also, Hamels average fastball velocity is as high as it has ever been. So the 31-year old Hamels is surely showing that he’s still got the stuff to be considered an ace in this league and he should be treated like one for fantasy purposes as well.

Hamels is still under contract through the 2018 season, scheduled to make $22.5 million in each remaining season with a $19 million vesting option for 2019. So if the Phillies do end up dealing him, this is not just a 2-3 month rental like David Price or Johnny Cueto would be. So any team that does trade for him is likely going to have to still give up a nice haul of prospects to the Phillies as they enter a rebuild mode. And any destination that he goes to, he is likely to get a boost in value because he will finally get away from the poor run support of the Phillies offense, and he also will be leaving the hitter friendly confines of Citizens Bank Park.

If I had to speculate on Hamels’ destination, I would look for the Los Angeles Dodgers to become heavily involved as the deadline approaches. With a starting rotation that has been marred by season-ending injuries to Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-Jin Ryu, a current injury that Brett Anderson is dealing with, and getting very little production from a combination of Carlos Frias and Brandon Beachy in the 5th spot in their rotation, the Dodgers are surely in the market for a starting pitcher in a season where they have an excellent chance to go all the way. Also, acquiring Hamels, who is under team control through 2018, will give the team some insurance in the likely event that Zack Greinke exercises his opt out clause at the end of the year.

The Dodgers and Phillies are familiar trade partners as they completed a deal in the off-season that sent long-time Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins to Los Angeles. And the Dodgers surely have a strong enough farm system to put together a package that the Phillies would accept, but the question is if the Andrew Friedman led regime would be willing to part with their top prospects such as shortstop Kyle Seager or pitching phenom Julio Urias. The Phillies would likely want any deal to start with Urias as a future replacement to Hamels for their rotation. But the Dodgers could also try to attract the Phillies with a Major League talent like third baseman/outfielder Alex Guerrero who has a bat that’s great enough to be a Major League regular. Of course, more players would have to added on along with Guerrero to get a deal done, but something definitely could be worked out.

Now let’s take a look at Saturday’s slate.

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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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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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Happy 4th of July! (and other notes from 7/3/15)

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Happy 4th of July!  Eat a lot of BBQ, enjoy a lot of fireworks, but most importantly… watch a lot of baseball!  Here are the notes from Friday’s games!

Jason Hammel – 7 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 5 K with the L.  Hammel has pitched well enough to be an All-Star, but he’s not even the best pitcher on his own team (Jake Arreita) and it could be tough to send both, if any, Cubs pitchers to the All-Star Game.  But Hammel got stuck with a loss on Friday despite pitching pretty well.  He should be able to keep up a nice performance in the second half, but he will see a bit of regression in his .256 BABIP.  He is 5-4 with a 2.89 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, and 104 K/18 BB in 102.2 IP. Continue reading

When the Hard Hit Rates Don’t Match the BABIP (and other notes from 6/29/15)

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Clay Buchholz of the Red Sox kept the bats of a powerful Blue Jays offense in check all evening on Monday and he defeated them by posting a line of 8 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 5 K.  He improved to 6-6 with a 3.48 ERA and 1.24 WHIP with both healthy strikeout and walk rates (8.55 K/9, 2.05 BB/9).  Buchholz’ issue this season is that he has the occasional blow up game to cancel out some of the great work that he does.  And as I said after his last start, if he can receive some better fortune then he could have better looking stats.  It’s probably too late now, but he would have been in a position to be the Red Sox All-Star representative if he had some better luck up to this point.  To see how Buchholz is sitting on the wrong side of things, we look at league stats for pitchers hard hit rate and BABIP.

Hard hit rate is a statistic that is becoming more prevalent in the conversation in the performance of players, similar to the way that BABIP (batting average on balls in play) did several years ago.  Hard hit rate is just what it sounds like — it is the rate at which a ball is hit at a “hard” impact and it can be used for evaluating both hitters and pitchers alike.  For hitters, the harder a ball is hit, the more that it shows that they are squaring up the ball with good contact and the greater likelihood of a hit and positive offensive production.  For pitchers, the harder the ball is hit against them would suggest that they are more likely to have poor results, giving up more hits and runs.  BABIP for hitters is the rate at which balls that are put in play (i.e. any official at-bat that does not result in a home run or strikeout) go for hits.  For pitchers, BABIP is the rate at which they allow hits on balls that are playable by a defense.

So using the stats provided by FanGraphs, looking at the top 15 in lowest hard hit rate for pitchers entering June 30, 2015, we find Buchholz come in at the 11th lowest with 23.9%.  So with a pretty low hard hit rate, we would expect that Buchholz would have a pretty low BABIP or at least around the league average in BABIP, which is generally somewhere around .300. But it is the exact opposite that we are seeing from the Red Sox righty.  Buchholz actually has the 12th highest BABIP at .332.  So the fact that he has been one of the better pitchers in limiting hard contact but has one of the higher BABIP marks in the league would suggest one of two things (or both): 1.) Poor defense behind him  2.) Lots of bad luck

So now we turn to defensive statistics, yet again on FanGraphs, to see what the Red Sox defense has been doing this season.  They come in below the league midpoint in DEF (defense rating) and UZR (ultimate zone rating), but they are not ranked too low in either — 17th in DEF at 0.3 and 19th in UZR at -6.4 — so they can more or less be classified as a league average defensive team as opposed to a poor defensive team.  Because of this, we would have to lean towards attributing Buchholz’ contradictory hard hit rate and BABIP to bad luck, and it can further be shown in the fact that his xFIP of 3.19 and SIERA of 3.22 sit a bit lower than his 3.48 ERA.  As we approach the season’s official 81-games played halfway point (the All-Star break is commonly given the misnomer as the halfway point), Buchholz could be in for some better times if he keeps pitching at the level that he is (or better) and receives some added luck on his side.

Using this same method, there are a few other pitchers whose hard hit rates don’t match up with their BABIP.  Let’s take a look at the following:

  • Gio Gonzalez – .354 BABIP (2nd highest), 25.6% hard hit (21st lowest) / Nationals: -8.7 DEF (22nd), -10.7 UZR (22nd)
  • Tyson Ross – .346 BABIP (5th highest), 24.1% hard hit (13th lowest) / Padres -31.6 DEF (29th), -34.6 UZR (29th)
  • Jose Quintana – .335 BABIP (10th highest), 24.7% hard hit (15th lowest) / White Sox: -37.6 DEF (30th), -34.6 UZR (30th)
  • Jeff Samardzija – .329 BABIP (16th highest), 26.1% hard hit (24th lowest) / White Sox: -37.6 DEF (30th), -34.6 UZR (30th)
  • Mike Pelfrey – .315 BABIP (29th highest), 20.5% hard hit (1st lowest) / Twins: -6.2 DEF (19th), -4.2 UZR (18th)

Gonzalez comes up ten thousandths of a point shy of having the highest BABIP in all of the Majors (Nate Eovaldi currently has the highest), but he isn’t getting hit all that hard.  However, his Nationals defense has been pretty bad.  I would expect some regression here just given how high his BABIP is, but with the poor defense and career high line drive and ground ball rates, it’s not necessarily all bad luck that he is receiving.

Moving on to Ross, I talked about bad defenses and how they can affect pitchers in “Sometimes A Pitcher Is Only As Good As His Defense,” and his defense has been the second worst in all of baseball.  So while he should improve some, his 62.8% ground ball rate is not conducive for the poor infield defense that he has behind him and things may not get too much better.

Then both Quintana and Samardzija pitch in front of the league’s absolute worst defense (also mentioned in “Sometimes A Pitcher Is Only As Good As His Defense”), so it is no surprise that we see them appear in this statistical review.  Like with Ross, some improvement should be seen, but if the White Sox keep deploying the same defensive players and strategy then it might be tough sledding for them to show drastic improvements in their overall stats.

Then there is Pelfrey who got obliterated for the second time in four starts on Monday to give him a much uglier stat line and to push him up the BABIP charts a lot.  He’s more in the same boat as Buchholz with a mediocre defense rather than a poor one.  So he could see some better days, but because of his minimal strikeout appeal, he is not a great fantasy target to begin with.  But with some better luck, he can provide decently in ERA.

Something interesting though that all six of the aforementioned pitchers have in common is that they all appear in the top 21 highest medium hit rates.  So while they may not be allowing a lot of hard hit balls, they all give up a lot of medium hit ones.  So perhaps it is these medium hit balls that these average or below average defenses are struggling to defend due to either poor range or misguided defensive alignments.  Nonetheless, I would still expect Buchholz to have some better days ahead of him if he continues to pitch at the level he has been.

Let’s now look at the remainder of Monday’s action!

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J.D. (Just Dongs) Martinez Goes Yard Thrice (and other notes from 6/21/15)

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J.D. Martinez spent parts of three seasons on the Major League squad for the Astros and he never was able to compile a full season of success.  The Astros then released him before the start of the 2014 season and the Tigers picked him up and he ended up breaking out for a real surprise season with a .315 AVG, 23 HR, 76 RBI, 57 R, and 6 SB in 123 games. Martinez was able to complete this transformation and breakout by completely retooling the mechanics of his whole swing, and it’s always nice to know that there are actual tangible reasons as to why a player finally has a breakout season.  The high batting average of .300 wasn’t necessarily going to be there this season given that his .315 AVG from last year was driven by a likely unsustainable .389 BABIP, but it was reasonable to expect that this season he would be able to put up similar power production with the maintaining of his new swing mechanics.

After a month of the 2015 season, Martinez was hitting just .216 on May 8 but the 6 HR that he had at that point were respectable.  The culprit of the low batting average was the fact that his BABIP was much lower than last season (which was expected) and he was also striking out at a much higher rate.  However, over the last couple weeks, Martinez has really trimmed down his strikeout rate to a nearly identical mark that he was at last season.  With the decrease in strikeouts, Martinez’ batting average has gone up a lot and now sits at .275 after his big day on Sunday, and his .325 BABIP is a much more realistic mark to suggest that this could be the area in AVG that he finishes the season with.

His game on Sunday consisted of a 3 HR and 6 RBI performance to give him 16 HR and 41 RBI for the season so far to put him on pace to do even better than last year in those areas.  Also, his ISO is now up to .240, which is right in line with his last year’s mark of .238 to further prove that his power is legitimate and for real.  The triple dong outburst from Sunday has me believing that the J.D. stands for Just Dongs.  Expect to see him continue his power stroke as the season goes on, and he makes for a good play as a part of a Tigers offense that can do very dangerous things.

Now let’s check out what else happened on Sunday!

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Rougned Bringing a Nice Odor to the Texas Air (and other notes from 6/15/15)

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With Delino DeShields landing on the DL with a hamstring injury, the Rangers had to recall someone to take his roster spot and the guy they called upon was 21-year old Rougned Odor.  If the name sounds familiar, then you may be confusing him with the 17-year old Rougned Odor that the Rangers signed to a contract this past off-season.  It sounds completely whacky only because it is.  These two individuals both of the same name, Rougned Odor, are actually brothers.  It is an extremely odd situation and even crazier that they are both within the same organization.  I really hope that some day they form a double play combination up the middle for the Rangers — that would be amusement at its finest (it doesn’t take much to amuse me).

Anyway, for real this time.  If the name Rougned Odor sounds familiar, it is because he came onto the scene last year and made a little noise as a 20-year old middle infielder with a .259 AVG, 9 HR, 48 RBI, 39 R, and 4 SB in 114 games with the Rangers.  And then he was expected to build on that performance this season in what was supposed to be his first full year in the Majors.  Odor began the season as the team’s starting second baseman, but with a triple slash of .144/.252/.233 after 29 games played, the Rangers got a huge whiff of Odor and it was not very pleasant on the olfactory senses.  So they sent him back to AAA to figure things out.

At AAA, Odor was a whole new hitter as he compiled a line of .352/.426/.639 with 5 HR, 19 RBI, 26 R, and 3 SB in 30 games.  And in addition, he even bumped up his walk rate to 9.7% and his strikeout rate was exceptional at 8.1%.  Though a small sample size, that type of strikeout rate was much better than his career 15.0% rate in the Minors, and light years ahead of the 24.3% rate that he had in his 29 game stint with the Rangers earlier this year.  So he clearly took being demoted seriously and really worked on improving upon some things that needed attention, which is now needing our attention.

Odor presumably will take over as the Rangers starting second baseman from this point forward, and it will be his job to lose once again, but with the adjustments he seemingly has made, I don’t think that he will be losing the job this time around.  Odor was slotted 6th in the order on Monday and he responded by going 3 for 3 with 2 RBI to keep his hot hitting going.  Odor is definitely a talented hitter with the capability to post a 15 HR/30 SB type of year over the course of a full season in the future.  And given that he is slotted at a shallow second base position, the type of production that he is capable of is a valuable commodity.  I definitely recommend him as a pickup in all formats.

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Billy Burns the Base Paths (and other notes from 5/24/15)

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Billy Burns was originally drafted by the Nationals but made his way over to the A’s in an off-season trade after he just had completed an amazing season in the Minors in 2013.  In that season, he split time between high-A and AA and compiled a .315 AVG with 0 HR, 37 RBI, 96 R, and 74 SB.  Obviously the stolen base total was terrific, but maybe the more impressive thing was his feel for the strike zone as he walked 13.3% of the time while only striking out 10.0% of the time.  So ever since then he has been someone that has been firmly on my radar as I tend to get enamored with players who have the capability to walk more than they strikeout.

However, 2014 season was a little bit of a different story.  He split time between AA and AAA in his first year in the A’s organization but didn’t show the same hitting and on base skills as he had just a .237 AVG, 9.8% BB%, and 15.5% K%, but the speed was still there with 54 SB and all reports suggested that his speed would definitely be a factor once he reached the Majors.

As an outfielder, Burns did not have a clear path to everyday playing time for the A’s to begin the 2015 season as Josh ReddickCoco CrispSam FuldCraig Gentry. and Rule 5 Draft pick Mark Canha all were ahead of Burns on the depth chart.  So while Burns did crack the opening day roster, he was sent down to AAA after a couple of games where he could get everyday playing time.  However, Burns was recalled on May 2 and ever since then I have been touting him and recommending him as a pick up in fantasy leagues.  Crisp returned from the DL on May 6, which didn’t look good for Burns’ playing time outlook, but Crisp went back on the DL on May 20 to relieve any concerns for Burns on the playing time front.

So for the most part, Burns has been an everyday player since his recall, starting in 19 of his team’s 22 games during that stretch and he is making a very nice impact for the A’s and fantasy owners alike.  On Sunday’s first pitch of the game, Burns crushed the Erasmo Ramirez offering into the right field bleachers for the first home run of his Major League career and only the 3rd home run of his career as a professional.  Burns later on added a stolen base to his box score line.  The home runs will be few and far between for Burns, but it is his tremendous speed that is going to be his best asset and make him valuable for fantasy purposes.  For the season, he has swiped 7 bags already in just 20 games played to go along with a .309 AVG.  His walk rate currently stands at 5.7% and strikeout rate at 16.1%, so there is some to be desired in those areas considering what we have seen from him in the Minors, but as he gains more experience he may see improvements.  Having a starting job and hitting atop the lineup for the A’s is good enough for now, and being a switch hitter is certainly a quality that should help to keep him in the lineup on most days.

Heading into the season, Burns and the recently demoted Micah Johnson of the White Sox were my two strongest candidates to be this year’s Dee Gordon to establish themselves as 50+ SB threats in the Majors.  That’s clearly not going to be happening for Johnson being back at AAA, but Burns could be on his way there (but he may have some competition in Delino DeShields).  I do not think that Burns is going to go away, and he is definitely a player that needs to be owned in all 12-team leagues.  There are only 3 players in the Majors who have more SB than Burns since he got called up, and those players are Gordon (9), Deshields (9), and Justin Upton (8).  Barring injury, Burns will be near the top of the stolen base leader chart by the end of the season, and at just 6% ownership in Yahoo, fantasy owners need to wake up before they get “burned” by not picking up Billy.

Let’s take a look at the rest of Sunday’s action heading into the Memorial Day holiday…

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U Can’t Touch This, Hammel Time! (and other notes from 5/19/15)

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Well, when you got three different Jason Hammel‘s coming at you like a Denny’s Grand Slam hologram card like in the picture above, I imagine it would be hard to touch him!  Do you remember those hologram collector’s cards from Denny’s?  When I was a kid, Friday nights were always “out to eat dinner” nights with my parents and brother.  The places that we would frequent the most included Coco’s, Bob’s Big Boy, Flakey Jake’s, and of course Denny’s.  Denny’s had the promotion if you ordered one of their signature “Grand Slam Meals” then you would receive a collector’s Grand Slam hologram card by Upper Deck.  So being the collectors that we were, we would venture out to Denny’s restaurants to try and collect all the different players cards that they had to offer.  We wouldn’t just go to the local Denny’s, because each restaurant location had different cards.  So we would go to Denny’s a couple towns over in each direction to try and get them all.  But I just remember ending up with one too many Danny Tartabull cards.

But anyway, onward to talk about MC Hammel.  Hammel pitched on Tuesday at Petco Park versus the Padres and had an excellent game giving up one unearned run on 3 hits and 0 walks while striking out 8 Padres in 7 IP in a no-decision.  The brilliant effort leaves him with a 3-1 record, 2.70 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, and 49 K/6 BB in 53.1 IP.  Now we have seen Hammel go on some pretty good runs over the last few years, but what stands out about this 8 start stretch to begin the season is the low amount of walks.  His 6 walks in 53.1 IP translates to a walk rate of 1.01 BB/9, which would easily be a career best and he would be quite the force if he can maintain it.

Over the course of his career, Hammel has had a slightly better than average walk rate with 2.99 BB/9 heading into the 2015 season.  However, he did showoff one of his best seasons in the category last year with a 2.25 BB/9, so maybe he was on to something.  But is Hammel going all 2014 Phil Hughes on us this year when Hughes had a miniscule 0.69 BB/9 and an all-time best strikeout to walk ratio of 11.63?

Hammel’s great first pitch strike rate of 63.0% backs up the low walk rate, but his PITCHf/x rate of pitching within the strike zone 50.9% of the time, although higher than the recent years and 28th best in the Majors this year, is not indicative of a walk rate as low as he has.  For comparison, out of the top 7 pitchers in BB/9 in 2014 (all 1.41 BB/9 or lower), 6 of the 7 pitchers were in the top 10 in zone% ranging from 52.6%-61.1%.  Hammel could end up being that one who does sneak in to the top of the rankings in BB/9 despite not being one of the elite in zone%, but the odds are against him.

So what can we expect from Hammel the rest of the season?  Even if his walk rate does not remain as low as it currently is, which I don’t believe it will, he definitely seems to have turned a corner with his command and control dating back to last season.  So he can surely end up maintaining a walk rate under 2.00 BB/9.  His slider is his out pitch and it is good enough to allow him to keep a strikeout rate at or above 8.00 K/9.  Some areas that he may see some regression in are in his HR allowed and BABIP.  Currently, he is allowing HR at a rate of 0.84 HR/9, which is well below his marks the last couple of seasons.  And his BABIP of .262 is likely not sustainable, and although it may not get as high as his career mark of .304, it is surely to increase at least somewhat.  One more thing with Hammel is that he has never gone very deep into games and he has had some injuries that he has dealt with over the last few seasons, so he is not exactly the perfect model of health.

But with all this being said, Hammel still should be a fairly productive pitcher for the rest of the season.  For the remainder of the season I’ll give him:  9 W-6 L, 3.48 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and 122 K/31 BB in 137 IP.

Now let’s see what else happened on Tuesday…

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