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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Yahoo! Joins the DFS Party (and other notes from 7/8/15)

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In a fantasy world where daily fantasy sports (DFS) games are becoming more and more popular due to the instant gratification and large cash prizes that they can provide, it was only a matter of time before one of the big names of the season long fantasy sports world began to offer the daily games that sites such as FanDuel and DraftKings have popularized over the last few years.  On Wednesday, Yahoo! launched their version of daily fantasy sports offerings beginning with MLB contests.

Yahoo! provided an update to their fantasy sports application that now provides dual access to both the season long leagues and the daily fantasy contests.  With one click on the screen, it’s easy to switch on over from one to the other. Overall, the app could use some work in comparison to DraftKings great piece of work, but I’m sure that it will evolve in time.

It would appear that Yahoo! has made their DFS platform for MLB a bit of a hybrid between FanDuel and DraftKings.  The scoring system overall is much more similar to that of FanDuel in the sense that the wins for pitchers are a big thing.  For an example, a win on Yahoo! is worth four times the amount of a pitcher strikeout.  On DraftKings, a pitcher win is only worth two times the amount of a pitcher strikeout.  However, the scoring system on Yahoo! takes a page out of DraftKings’ book by not having any point penalties to hitters for strikeouts.  And as far as lineup configuration goes on Yahoo!, you must select two pitchers just like on DraftKings, as opposed to only one pitcher like on FanDuel.

Right now, it should pay off in the short term to play DFS guaranteed prize pool tournaments on Yahoo!  There’s going to be some extreme overlay in the early going due to things just starting out.  Overlay is created in GPP’s when the total numbers of entrants multiplied by the entry fee does not equal or exceed the amount that is listed as the “guaranteed” dollar amount to be paid out.

For instance, on Wednesday there was a tournament on Yahoo! that offered a guaranteed $10,000 in prizes and it was a $2 entry.  So there had to be at least 5,000 entrants ($10,000 divided by $2) to ensure that Yahoo! did not have to add money of its own to the guaranteed prize pool of $10,000.  But in this particular tournament there were only 3,163 entries at $2 a piece for a total of $6,326, which meant that Yahoo! had to contribute $3,674 of their own money to equal $10,000. And before the tournament, it was already established that the top 20% of the maximum amount of 5,682 entries would be paid out.  20% of 5,682 is 1,420.  But with only 3,163 total entries, that meant that the top 45% (1,420 divided by 3,163) of the entries would cash in the tournament, and with the chance to win the top prize of $2,000.  So a situation like this provides a lot of value and should be taken advantage of by submitting multiple entries — it gives the ability to win more money with less competition.

So I would recommend giving the Yahoo! DFS games a look, especially in the early going to try and grab some value with the overlay situation.  Also, the competition might be softer since the Yahoo! DFS games should attract a lot of the season long players that Yahoo! has — players who may not have ever played DFS before.  Now let’s take a look at Wednesday’s slate of baseball action.

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Rodney’s Reprise? (and other notes from 6/26/15)

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About six weeks ago is when I first began suggesting that Fernando Rodney be removed from the closer’s role to make way for the young and more talented Carson Smith, and then I gave it a full rundown in the “BLOW-PEN Report” on May 23.  Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon ended up giving Rodney a lot of leash because he likely didn’t want to have to remove Rodney as his closer, but McClendon finally saw enough.  On June 6, Smith recorded his first career save in perfect fashion.

Since Smith took over as the team’s closer, entering Friday’s game, he had converted 5 straight save opportunities by pitching 5.2 innings allowing 2 runs on 2 hits and no walks while striking out 8.  So he has been having little issue in finishing games stress free.

Since Rodney lost the closer’s role, entering Friday’s game, he has done much better, only being scored upon once in 5 outings for 1 run in 5.2 IP with 4 K/3 BB.  In that small sample, it hadn’t been the best of performances, but clearly it was much better than what he had been doing in the 9th inning trying to close out games previously.

Friday night presented an interesting situation for the Mariners though as Smith was brought on in the middle of the 8th inning where he let Mike Trout and Albert Pujols reach base before getting a double play to end the inning for a total of 10 pitches thrown.  And then Rodney was brought in for the 9th inning to try and close the game against the bottom part of the Angels order, and he successfully did so after allowing one hit.

Initially when I first called for the switch of closers in Seattle, I had said that Smith was the better pitcher but that McClendon would probably eventually give Rodney another opportunity to close if he proved that he was able to work out his issues in lower leverage situations.  But then when Smith began to have so much success and displayed that he could potentially handle 9th inning duties with ease, I thought that Rodney would never be getting his job back.  So the way things played out on Friday is a bit peculiar to me since Smith did nothing in the way of performance to give back the job.

However, in this game, the higher leverage situation was actually in the 8th inning with the Angels best hitters (and two of the best in the AL so far this season), Trout and Pujols due up.  So the thought process for McClendon could have been that they really needed to get by Trout and Pujols before even thinking about seeing a save opportunity for the game, which meant that they needed to go to their best option.  So then McClendon might have thought that once Smith got by the heart of the order, then Rodney could come in to a more ideal situation to face the weaker hitters and possibly instill some confidence in him should he finish the game cleanly.

So I am still going to have to believe that Smith is the closer until he blows some saves (fingers crossed that he doesn’t). Maybe Rodney will snipe some opportunities away like he did on Friday, but I see little reason why Smith shouldn’t remain the man for the job and I would be shocked and lose any faith I had in McClendon as a manager if he were to switch things back with no probable cause.  But we will have to wait and see just what happens next.

Let’s check out the rest of Friday baseball.
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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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Fantasy Baseball Strategy: Using Platoons to Your Advantage

Platoon is a 1986 Oliver Stone film about the horror of wars and duality of man for a young soldier in the Vietnam War, starring the always amazing Tom Berenger (or since this is a baseball site, you may know him better as Jake Taylor of the Cleveland Indians).  Sadly, I cannot say that I have seen the movie, but perhaps I should.  I did enjoy another Tom Berenger soldier movie called Sniper where ***SPOILER ALERT*** his character was a sniper.  But I just like sniper movies in general.  Don’t worry though, I am not some guy who is gung ho about firearms.  Instead, they actually frighten me quite much.  I am just a camping sniper when I play Call of Duty so these sniper movies fascinate me.  But back to the topic that I am here to talk about.

The platoon that we need to be talking about here is a situation in baseball where two players share the same position on the same team and split time in the lineup at that position.  The most common usage for a platoon by baseball managers is to use a right-handed hitter at a position when there is a left-handed opposing starting pitcher on the mound, and to use a left-handed hitter at that same position when there is a right-handed opposing starting pitcher on the mound.  The reasoning for this is that the majority of hitters have more success versus pitchers of the opposite handedness.  There are various reasons that would seem to back up this fact, some of which include that versus pitchers of the same handedness, breaking pitches break away from the batter which a lot of players have difficulties with, and hitters tend to have an easier time seeing the ball come out of the hand of a pitcher of opposite handedness.  The extreme to which a player is better versus one-handedness than the other varies from player to player, and some may even have “reverse splits” where they are actually better against same handed pitching.  But generally speaking, hitters are more successful versus opposite handed pitching and this is something that is exploitable in fantasy baseball.

Players that are part of a platoon situation obviously are not going to play every day, which often leads to season long fantasy owners to turn their heads in another direction when drafting or perusing the waiver wire looking for that extra bench bat or to replace an injured player.  However, I am here to tell you that utilizing these types of platoon players in fantasy baseball can be very savvy, if used correctly, and can provide a ton of positive value.  However, it does depend on your league type to fully implement this strategy at its optimum.

We’ll take a look at a couple of real life scenarios to show the benefit of creating a fantasy platoon by examining players that are relegated to a platoon situation in real life, whether it be by using two players who are in a real life platoon on their Major League team, or by using two players from different teams that have favorable splits versus one handedness.  For the first scenario, let’s look at the center field situation in Detroit. Continue reading