Jonesing for More (and other notes from 7/12/15)

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Consistency from year to year can often be overlooked in fantasy baseball because often times we want the flair for the dramatic, the opportunity to own a player for his big breakout season.  So sometimes we will forego the opportunity of making the “safe” pick of drafting a player that is easier to predict and we “know” what to expect from him because we want the upside for more instead.  Over the last four seasons, one of the most consistent and reliable fantasy outfielders has been Adam Jones of the Orioles.  There’s been some fluctuation in his RBI and runs scored due to his spot changing in the batting order, but for the most part he has been much the same player from year to year from 2011-14.  Take a look:

  • 2011 – .280/.319/.466 with 25 HR, 83 RBI, 68 R, 12 SB, 4.7 BB%, 18.3 K%
  • 2012 – .287/.334/.505 with 32 HR, 82 RBI, 103 R, 16 SB, 4.9 BB%, 18.1 K%
  • 2013 – .285/.318/.493 with 33 HR, 108 RBI, 100 R, 14 SB, 3.6 BB%, 19.7 K%
  • 2014 – .281/.311/.469 with 29 HR, 96 RBI, 88 R, 7 SB, 2.8 BB%, 19.5 K%

Jones has missed 11 games this season due to various minor injuries to his ankle, shoulder, and toe, but with 2 HR off Max Scherzer on the day right before the All-Star break, Jones is now hitting .281/.326/.490 with 14 HR, 43 RBI, 43 R, and 3 SB, which puts him near pace to have another season that is pretty consistent with the past four seasons.  However, there is one big difference in his performance so far that in the end could allow him to break the some of this consistent production in a positive way.  That difference is that this season he is striking out at a career low rate of 14.5%.

Jones has always been a free swinger who doesn’t really enjoy taking walks, and this season he is sporting a career high swing rate by offering at a whopping 60.2% of pitches, which is much higher than his 55.9% career rate.  However, he has been able to make contact on more of those swings with a career best 11.4% swinging strike rate.  His career swinging strike rate is 13.5%, which isn’t too much higher than his current 2015 rate, but it’s still a noticeable enough difference and appears to be the primary factor to the decline in his strikeout rate.

The drop in his strikeouts is significant because in theory he should see an uptick in his batting average if all other things in his batted ball profile are mostly constant.  Jones’ BABIP over the last several seasons is something that has also been consistent with marks of .304, .313, .314, and .311, but this season it is down to a very uncharacteristic .292.  His hard hit rate is the only thing that would really suggest a decline in his BABIP as it is at 30.4%, which is the lowest it’s been since 2011, but that’s not too far off from his career mark of 31.9%.

So if Jones can get his BABIP back up to a level that he is used to giving, paired with the decrease in strikeouts, that could lead to his first .300 AVG season of his career.  If he is unable to achieve so, then at the very least he should end the season once again in very familiar territory that is consistent with what he’s been known to do.  That wouldn’t be a terrible thing, but definitely not overly exciting and it would leave the fantasy baseball community jonesing for more.

Let’s take a look at the rest of Sunday’s action as we enter the All-Star break.

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Car-Car Finally Goes Vroom-Vroom With a Near No-No (and other notes from 7/1/15)

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My pre-season love for Indians pitcher Carlos Carrasco was no secret as I tabbed him to be “This Year’s Corey Kluber,” but it just has not been happening for the 28-year old.  Despite elite strikeout (9.85 K/9) and walk (1.93 BB/9) rates that were the big factors toward his great SIERA (2.89) and xFIP (2.85) entering Wednesday’s action, Carrasco was the owner of a mediocre 4.16 ERA and 1.22 WHIP.  So he was hardly Kluber-izing the baseball nation and there is one key reason with a couple of causal secondary reasons that was preventing him from the big breakout.

The main reason that he’s been underwhelming and not meeting expectations this year lies in his BABIP (batting average on balls in play — measures the rate at which balls in the field of play go for hits), which sat at .336 coming into Wednesday. Then there are two reasons why his BABIP has been so high.  The first reason being that his 32.8% hard hit rate entering the day was the 12th highest in baseball and much higher than his mark of 24.6% last season, which would suggest that he has been struggling with hitting his location a lot and the batters just mash it hard somewhere.  The second reason why his BABIP has been so high is that the defense behind him rates very poorly as the 27th ranked team in both DEF and UZR. With a poor defense behind him, a pitcher is more likely to have a higher BABIP as balls get by defenders with lack of range, hits get by defenders because of the failure/misuse of a shift, or some combination of both.  And this can be seen in more detail in “Sometimes A Pitcher Is Only As Good As His Defense.”

On Wednesday though, Carrasco finally had his big breakout game of the season where he came within one strike of completing a no-hitter before Joey Butler roped a single over the second baseman’s head that drove in a run for the Rays. Carrasco ended up being removed from the game after the hit since his pitch count was pretty high, but he finished the game with a spectacular line of 8.2 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 13 K with the W.

I think that Carrasco learned in order to avoid all the hits and high BABIP, he had to take things into his own hands and that the best way to combat having a bad defense is to just record a strikeout for half the outs to limit the defense’s opportunity to mess things up.  And that’s what he did with exactly half of the 26 outs he got being of the strikeout variety.  The 1-hit performance brought Carrasco’s BABIP down from .336 to .323.  Carrasco figures to continue to improve his overall numbers over the second half of the season and be a fantasy asset, but it may not be to the extent that we hope for if he keeps on getting some bad defense behind him.  Carrasco is now 10-6 with a 3.88 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 110 K/21 BB in 97.1 IP.

Let’s take a look at the rest of Wednesday’s notables:

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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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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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A Lesson in Klubotics (and other notes from 5/13/15)

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The reigning AL Cy Young, Corey “the Klubot” Kluber had been on the wrong end of some hit parades over the course of his first 7 starts of the 2015 season, which led him to an 0-5 record with a 5.04 ERA and 1.39 WHIP.  Given that his breakout 2014 performance kind of came out of nowhere (though there were signs that he had breakout potential), fantasy owners of Kluber were chomping at the bit to get rid of him.  Yes, it is unfortunate for anyone who owns/owned Kluber that they had to endure such an ugly stretch, but a closer examination of what was really going on showed that there really was never any real reason to worry.

Heading into Wednesday’s action, Kluber had a .364 BABIP and 62.3% strand rate, both of which were way worse than the league average and they were numbers to expect to regress towards the mean.  Though his ERA was bloated at 5.04, his xFIP was 3.16 and his SIERA was 3.21.  xFIP and SIERA are far more accurate measures of what a pitcher’s “true” performance is, and for Kluber’s marks to have been nearly two whole runs beneath his ERA, it was an obvious sign of things to come.  Then add in the fact that his normal catcher, Yan Gomes who is known to be a great game caller with excellent framing metrics, got injured within the first week of the season, and his impending return in a couple weeks was more reason to believe in Kluber.

With that being said, the Klubot emerged on Wednesday to hurl one of the most dazzling games of this millennium.  Outside of a bean ball on Matt Holliday early in the game and a 7th inning single given up to Jhonny “don’t spell it Johnny” Peralta, Kluber was perfect.  At the end of 8 innings, Kluber had tallied 18 strikeouts on 113 pitches.  I really think that Kluber should have came out for the 9th inning to be given the opportunity to get to 20 strikeouts, or even 21 to set a new record, especially with the ugly way that Indians closer Cody Allen has been pitching.  However, possibly playing a part in the decision of Kluber coming out of the game was the fact that manager Terry Francona was ejected earlier in the game and the acting manager for the Indians wanted to be cautious and not get in trouble with anyone for leaving Kluber out there too long.  Whatever the case, the Klubot mystified Cardinals hitters all game long and effectively reversed any doubts that any fantasy owners may have had.

Kluber improved to 1-5 with a 4.27 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and 64 K/11 BB in 52.2 IP.  From here on out, those numbers should keep on improving.  The window to buy low on Kluber has officially closed, and this has been your lesson in Klubotics.

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