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I have talked about Nationals pitcher prospect Joe Ross in each of his last two starts since he got the call up to the Majors a couple weeks ago. He is the younger brother of Padres pitcher Tyson Ross and I described him as a very intriguing prospect that had good control, great strikeout potential, and heavy ground ball tendencies. This all sounds like a formula for success! Ross debuted against the Cubs and likely had the debut jitters in that one as he gave up 3 runs in 5 innings. But his next start was against the Brewers and he appeared to be much more comfortable, giving up just 2 runs in 8 innings while striking out 8. And in each game he got a lot of ground ball outs.
In his third start of the season on Friday, Ross was truly brilliant as he tossed 7.1 innings allowing 1 run on 7 base runners while whiffing 11 Pirates (and he came highly recommended in the DFS strategy post for Friday). The excellent game improved his record to 2-1 with a 2.66 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and 23 K/2 BB in 20.2 IP, and he has the very pretty ground ball rate of 56.6%.
Tanner Roark and Ross have been in the rotation for the Nationals due to the injuries to Doug Fister and Stephen Strasburg. However, Fister is set to return so that is going to send Roark to the bullpen with the Nationals opting to keep Ross in the rotation for the time being. But once Strasburg is ready to come back, Ross will either be sent back to the Minors or perhaps be kept on as a reliever. Either way, it’s not great for his fantasy outlook for this season, but we may want to hold on to him to see just how well Strasburg fares in his return from the DL. In keeper and dynasty leagues though, Ross is a must grab as he is definitely looking like he might be the biggest Ross that we’ve seen thus far, better than his older brother.
Let’s check out the rest of Friday’s action.
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Joey Butler of the Tampa Bay Rays has been the team’s primary DH since being called up and he has been scorching as of late and with a 3 for 5 game on Friday night, Butler is now hitting .342 with 4 HR, 16 RBI, 14 R, and 3 SB in 34 games. Now I am all for riding hitters while they’re hot, so by all means let the Butler service your team for now, but before picking him up you need to know that the Butler might start hitting like an old maid in short time.
Up to this point, Butler has been a career Minor Leaguer who is now with his third organization. Butler had received just 21 Major League appearances before this season, and at 29 years old he is not some emerging hot shot prospect who is taking the baseball world by storm. He has had some nice success as a Minor League hitter with a career .294 AVG, 15-20 HR power, and some sneaky double digit SB speed. So I am not meaning to say that Butler is a terrible player who doesn’t deserve any consideration, but we need to see the reality in this fantasy situation.
The reality is that Butler should soon begin a swift downfall. His excellent batting average is being driven by an astronomical .456 BABIP, which would rank as the highest in the Majors if he had enough plate appearances to qualify. It is true that his 27.7% line drive rate would rank favorably as the 9th highest and his 10.8% soft hit rate would rank as the 11th lowest, but those rates are likely to trend in the wrong directions soon. But even if he does happen to keep up those rates, no player can sustain a BABIP like that and he has his strikeout rate working against him as another factor that should bring his AVG down. Butler has struck out 27.9% of the time, which is a pretty high rate. It’s not quite in the territory of his teammate Steven Souza, but it’s still up there and it is very realistic since his swinging strike rate of 16.3% would rank as the 5th highest in the league. To make things worse in the plate discipline area, his high strikeout and swinging strike rates are paired with a horrific 1.6% walk rate. Butler had a 11.1% career walk rate in the Minors, so he does have some upside to do better there, but it’s not likely something that is going to change over night to make a drastic turn.
The fact of the matter is that Butler has been an extremely free swinger and while free swingers can succeed in the league, like Adam Jones or the retired Vladimir Guerrero, free swingers with high strikeout rates will have much more limited success in the long term, if any success at all. But like I said, using hitters in fantasy while they are hot is a fine strategy, but it’s knowing when to cut them loose that is equally as important.
Let’s take a look at the rest of Friday’s action.
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Coming up through the Minors, Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford seemed to be a relatively light hitting, low batting average shortstop with some great glove work, and in his first 3.5 seasons in the Majors since coming up in 2011 he had shown exactly that. He has slowly progressed though in his time in the Majors, as his ISO climbed from .092 to .101 to .114 to .143 last year.
But whether it’s due to a change in his swing mechanics, maturing as a hitter in his age 28 season, or some combination of both, Crawford has legitimately taken big strides this season as he now has a .207 ISO after hitting his 8th HR of the season on Sunday. What can deem this power surge as legitimate? Well, did you know that Crawford’s average distance on his HR and fly balls is 4th in the league at 314 feet? That’s a huge improvement over the 278 feet he averaged last year and the fact that he sits amongst the league leaders in that category provides validity to the power stats.
I originally had said a bit ago that I didn’t think Crawford would get to 20 HR, but I now have to change my stance on that with the revelation of this stat. He’s now hitting .299 with 7 HR, 34 RBI, 26 R, and 3 SB on his way to a career year.
Let’s review the rest of Sunday baseball action.