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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Devin the Red Devil (and other notes from 6/20/15)

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It would be remiss of me to not highlight what a marvelous performance Max Scherzer put on for the Nationals faithful on Saturday as the big time ace was nearly perfect, but ended up settling for the first no-hitter of his career.  Scherzer came within one pitch of getting the incredibly rare perfect game, but he plunked Jose Tabata on the elbow to spoil the perfect game and subsequently led to a rather anti-climactic completion of a no-hitter.  There will be much debate about whether or not Tabata leaned into the pitch to draw the bean ball, but from watching it I believe that he did try to move his arm away from the pitch instead of into the pitch.  The elbow was being brought down and in toward his body and just so happened to get clipped by the pitch.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it, but it was still a brilliant effort by Max who continues to be a “Scher thing,” but I will refrain from using him as the headline material here since he was the headliner after his previous amazing start.

Instead, the headline here refers to Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco.  Mesoraco truly busted out last season to fulfill his post-hype sleeper status by hitting .273 with 25 HR, 80 RBI, 54 R, and 1 SB.  Much of the same was to be expected this season from the Mesoraco who just celebrated his 27th birthday.  But a week into the season, he began to have an injury issue that was labeled as a hip impingement.  Initially, he was labeled as “day-to-day” and was given some time to recover from the injury.  Though he was unable to get into his crouch behind the plate to catch a full game, the Reds kept him around on the active roster and sporadically used him as a pinch hitter.

The next thing we know, for weeks pass by and Mesoraco made all but 8 pinch-hit appearances with no starts.  That doesn’t exactly seem to be the most optimal usage of a roster spot on the 25-man roster and it was a wonder why the Reds didn’t just put him on the DL to begin with.  For season long fantasy owners of Mesoraco, it was just false hope that was being fed and also a waste of a fantasy roster spot as much as it was a real life roster spot.  At least if Mesoraco was put on the DL then fantasy owners who have DL eligible spots in their leagues could have slotted him there and picked up a replacement.

More time went on and Mesoraco DH’d when the Reds visited American League parks, but then finally on May 22, nearly six weeks after Mesoraco was first diagnosed with the injury, the Reds placed him on the DL and then put him through a rehab and hoped that his injury would subside with more time.  Then the Reds had the idea of trying him out in the outfield since he was still unable to play catcher, so this provided fantasy owners yet again with some hope to squeeze any sort of value out of him this season.  Unfortunately, this also turned out to be false hope.

Mesoraco was pulled off his rehab stint after looking pretty awful in the field and visibly still hobbled.  And on Saturday it was announced that Mesoraco would finally undergo season-ending surgery to repair the ailing hip.  So the whole ordeal ended up being almost a ten week process where he gave fantasy owners a whole 28 plate appearances for a .250 AVG, 0 HR, and 2 RBI.  Congratulations, Reds management — you have successfully jerked around the fantasy baseball community to ruin fantasy teams’ seasons all cross the globe.

Let’s see what else happened on Saturday…

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Pat Venditte Gives A’s Bullpen a Hand (or Two) (and other notes from 6/5/15)

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Switch hitting has been a prevalent part of the game for decades because generally speaking, hitters do better against opposite-handed pitching than they do against same-handed pitching as I have outlined in “Fantasy Baseball Strategy: Using Platoons to Your Advantage.”  The idea behind it all is that hitters just tend to see the ball better out of opposite-handed pitching and have an easier time dealing with breaking balls that break toward them instead of away from them.

Many ball players will practice and develop the ability to hit from both sides of the plate when they are young as a way to gain this slight advantage, but it certainly is tough to master.  When I was in Little League, I would head to the batting cages before all my games to warm up and I would practice switch hitting just for fun.  As a natural righty, I would flip over and hit lefty in the cages sometimes and while I could consistently make contact with the ball, the same type of power was just not there.  So I think it is an impressive feat for any player that is a switch hitter and can hit equally for average and power from both sides of the plate.

But what about pitching with both hands?  If having the ability to hit both right-handed and left-handed gives an advantage for hitters, then wouldn’t the same be true for a pitcher who can throw with both hands?  A pitcher with this ability could pitch right-handed to all right-handed batters and pitch left-handed to all left-handed batters to obtain an advantage much in the same way that switch hitting does.  For me, trying to switch hit is hard enough, so I can’t imagine trying to switch pitch.  Heck, I can’t even brush my teeth left-handed let alone throw a baseball with the same type of accuracy and force that I do with my right hand.  But there is a pitcher in the Oakland A’s organization named Pat Venditte who was just called up to the Majors for the first time in his career, and you guessed it, he is a switch pitcher — the first of his kind to appear in the Majors since 1995.

The soon to be 30-year old Venditte was originally drafted by the Yankees and spent 7 years in their Minor League system before catching on with the Oakland organization for the 2015 season.  Venditte has been a relief pitcher for basically the entirety of his Minor League career (250 relief appearances in 259 total games pitched) and he has done pretty well with a career 2.37 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and 9.99 K/9.  With numbers like that and the ability to switch pitch, it is a bit of a wonder why it has taken so long for him to receive a promotion to the bigs.  Not only does he switch pitch, but he also does it with a sidearm motion from both sides, giving him even more novelty.

Venditte made his Major League debut right upon his call up on Friday against the Red Sox and he pitched two scoreless innings allowing just one hit while also striking out one batter.  He’s going to work in middle relief for the A’s, but one has to wonder if he could ever work his way into the closer’s role.  He gained experience as a closer in his first two seasons in the Minors, but he has only recorded one save in the last 4+ seasons.  And because of his soft tossing ways (sitting around 85 MPH on his fastball), he does not profile as a typical closer.  However, Billy Beane and the A’s are known to be revolutionary in utilizing uncommon approaches to maximize the most out of the players on their roster.  And with last year’s closer Sean Doolittle back on the DL with his shoulder injury and severely diminished velocity, and fill-in closer Tyler Clippard likely to be shopped around since he is in the last year of his contract on a last place team, it wouldn’t be too crazy to think that Venditte could be closing out games for the A’s this season at some point if he shows success in a middle relief role first.

This is mostly just speculation on my part as I think it would be amazing to see a switch pitcher succeed and ascend to a more prolific role, so I wouldn’t put too much value into it.  It will be entertaining to watch and interesting to see what he can do.  If he ever does become a Major League closer, I will give him a hand, but it’s not like he needs one.

Let’s check out what else happened on Friday!

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Familia-rize Yourself With Jeurys (and other notes from 5/25/15)

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Jeurys Familia took on the role of closer for the Mets early on in the season when Jenrry Mejia went down with an elbow injury and then was suspended for 80 games for PED use.  Mejia being injured and subsequently suspended has turned out to be a real blessing in disguise for the Mets because Familia has stepped right in to exceed most likely anyone’s expectations.  With another perfect inning with 2 strikeouts on Monday to close out the Phillies, Familia now owns a 1.60 ERA, 0.70 WHIP, and 26 K/4 BB in 21.1 IP while converting 14 of 15 save opportunities.  But just who is Jeurys Familia?  Let’s take this time to “Familia”-rize ourselves with the 25-year old hard-throwing righty.

Familia has been in the Mets organization since 2008 and through the 2012 season he was brought up as a starting pitcher, but he posted modest numbers in that role (3.85 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 8.62 K/9, 3.95 BB/9).  Familia received his first taste of the Majors as a September call up in the 2012 season, but he was very ineffective in 8 relief appearances and one spot start.

Familia was able to break camp on the opening day roster as a reliever for the Mets in 2013, but once again he failed to impress because of extremely poor control, something that he also struggled with as a starting pitcher in the Minors.  And also in 2013, he underwent elbow surgery to remove bone spurs and that sidelined him for 4 months before he worked his way back to make one final appearance before the season ended.

For the 2014 season, Familia once again found himself working in the Mets bullpen as that apparently was where they saw him best suited long term.  Familia went on to post some quality numbers with a 2.21 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 8.50 K/9, and 3.75 BB/9 in 77.1 IP while also chipping in 5 saves filling in at closer when needed.  His SIERA at 3.21 was a full run higher than his ERA, but the improvements that he showed all across the board were encouraging.

So that brings us to 2015, where despite a relatively spotty track record, Familia has by no means “lucked” his way into the brilliant performance he has given.  His walk rate of 1.72 BB/9 is considerably lower than any rate he has posted in the past, but he is achieving that by getting ahead in the count a lot more often than he has in the past.  From 2012-14, Familia’s first pitch strike percentages were 42.3%, 51.9%, and 52.8%, but this year he is all the way up to 58.2% and obviously it is a lot easier to prevent free passes if a pitcher is getting ahead in the count early and often.

And how about that strikeout rate of 10.97 K/9?  That is also a much higher number than he’s accustomed to, but the improvement is for real.  Familia uses a four-seam fastball, a sinking fastball, and a slider.  It is his slider that has really taken his game to the next level this year as he is getting a little bit different movement and greater velocity on the pitch this year.  In the past it has been a pitch that averaged 86.1 MPH and has fallen out of the strike zone a lot, often times not getting close to the zone which made it easier for hitters to lay off of it.  But this year, he is averaging 88.6 MPH on the pitch and it’s staying higher with a little less horizontal movement, and he is able to effectively throw it in or much closer to the zone to get hitters to swing and miss on it.  With a 31.0% swinging strike rate on his slider this year (compared to 26.4% last year), Familia’s slider has become one of the better ones in the game.  Overall, Familia has an 18.2% swinging strike rate on all his pitches, which is 5th highest among qualified relievers.

His .191 BABIP is a low mark and he will likely see some regression there, but his overall performance is right in line with what the metric systems suggest it would be, as his 1.71 SIERA is not far off from his 1.60 ERA.  So if you were worried about Familia not being able to keep up his amazing performance, this all should ease your worries a bit.

Now let’s take a look at the rest of Memorial Day’s action!

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Can Zach McAllister Be the New Tribe Chief?

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At times, veteran left handed pitcher Bruce Chen, the “Panamaniac” (I just made that up because he’s from Panama, nobody really calls him that I don’t think — but maybe) shockingly mystified lineups with his soft-tossing ways.  When there was a need for a starting pitcher a couple weeks ago in the Cleveland rotation, the Indians summoned Chen from their AAA affiliate in hopes that he could string together something pretty by lullabying hitters to sleep with his 84-85 MPH fastballs (don’t be jealous Jered Weaver).  After two disaster starts versus the Twins and Rangers that left him with a 12.79 ERA and 3.94 WHIP, the Indians gave Chen the good ol’ DFA (designated for assignment) boot on Saturday.  With the vacancy in the rotation, who will the Tribe turn to next?  It’s hard to say at the moment, but let me introduce you to Zach McAllister.

McAllister is a big righty listed at 6’6″ 240 lbs. and he began his professional career with the Yankees before being the player to be named later that the Indians received as compensation for trading Austin Kearns to New York in 2010.  McAllister was never a glamorous prospect, but the Indians gave him extended looks in their starting rotation in each year from 2012-14.  In all his starts from those seasons, McAllister compiled a 4.36 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 7.33 K/9, and 3.06 BB/9 over 332.2 IP, which by most regards made him a below average starting pitcher.  At the end of July of 2014, the Indians decided they had seen enough of him as a starting pitcher and sent him down to the Minors before recalling him in September to be a bullpen arm.

Upon being used out of the bullpen, McAllister proved to be pretty useful as he had a 2.57 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, and 14 K/2 BB in 14 relief innings in September.  As it usually tends to happen when starting pitchers get moved to the bullpen since they don’t have to “save” their arm to go more than a couple innings usually, McAllister experienced a bump in his velocity.  And during that bullpen stint, he actually did make one good spot start where he maintained the velocity gain throughout that game too, which was a pleasant surprise. Continue reading

DFS Fun! (and other notes from 5/15/15)

DFS is an abbreviation for “daily fantasy sports” and sites that offer DFS have daily tournaments or head-to-head games with the chance to win a pretty penny (or lots of pretty pennies actually).  I’m sure you’ve seen the commercials for the two leaders of the industry, FanDuel and DraftKings.  I signed up for FanDuel years ago when it first became a thing, but I didn’t have much success as it was a different kind of monster to tackle than the season long leagues I was accustomed to.  And it was not until recently that I tried my hand at it again, as I got into it in the second half of this past NFL season.  After doing some research reading various literature about DFS, I’ve gone on to win a NHL freeroll on DraftKings, beating out a few thousand other people to win tickets to the NHL All-Star Weekend, and I have come close to a couple of big scores where I would’ve gotten 1st or 2nd in large tournaments.  In those tournaments, I was choosing between two players to fill one position, but the ones I chose ended up doing nothing and the ones I did not choose did really well and would have won me a lot of money.  DRAT!

Last night on a site called FantasyAces, which is definitely not as big as FanDuel or DraftKings but is still one of the top 5 sites in the industry, I constructed a lineup that did very well and I had the top or second best score in each game I entered (see below).  So the point of me sharing this is not to brag, but to explain what DFS is all about and introduce it to those who are unfamiliar, and to show that winning at DFS is very much possible.  I would highly recommend playing DFS for fantasy gamers out there, as it is a lot of fun (especially when you win!).

But let’s take a look at Friday’s diamond action now.

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