Archer Hits the Bullseye (and other notes from 6/2/15)

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Chris Archer of the Rays flashed nice potential since becoming a mainstay in the rotation in 2013, but he has really taken things to a whole new level this season and this Archer keeps on hitting that bullseye each time he toes the rubber every fifth day.  His latest gem was a 15 strikeout performance on the road at Angel Stadium on Tuesday evening to bring his record to 6-4 with a 2.01 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, and 92 K/20 BB in 76 IP.

I have been expecting some regression to happen for Archer, but it just isn’t happening and he is looking stronger with each successive start.  A little regression should still be on its way, but Archer is pitching like a true ace and it’s time to examine what has changed from the previous seasons to spark this transformation.

First, we will look at his control.  In 8 seasons of Minor League work, Archer posted a hideous walk rate of 5.00 BB/9, so the natural thought was that this was going to be a large obstacle for him to overcome once he reached the Majors.  Archer got a taste of the Majors at the end of 2012 and then became a mainstay in the Rays rotation in the middle of the 2013 season.  Since he broke into the Majors from 2012 through 2014, his walk rate was not spectacular but it was respectable at 3.13 BB/9, which was a large improvement from his Minor League performance.  This season he has taken his control to a whole new level with at a very good mark of 2.37 BB/9, which can be largely attributed to his new found ability to throw first pitch strikes.  In 2013, Archer threw first pitch strikes 58.1% of the time, and it was very similar in 2014 at 57.5%.  Now this season, he has bumped that all the way up to 64.0% to back up his solid walk rate.

The next thing that has changed for Archer appears in his pitch data.  According to PITCHf/x, the past two seasons he has utilized both a four-seam and a two-seam fastball, but this year he has nearly ditched the two-seamer and is pitching the four-seamer 48.6% of the time.  Also, he is using his slider nearly 10% more than last season at a 37.7% clip so far, and that slider pitch is also 1.5 MPH greater in velocity than last year.  It would also appear that this year Archer’s release point on all of his pitches has been a bit higher.  And with the slider in particular, his release point has been higher and it has also shifted to the right a little (from the catcher’s point a view) so it resembles the release point of his fastball more, which is probably making it very difficult for hitters to pick up what the pitch is when it is coming out of his hand.  Combine this with the greater velocity and the higher usage of the pitch, and it is no surprise that he is generating swinging strikes on the slider 21.9% of the time (compared to 17.3% last year).

One last thing just for kicks, Archer has also been able to induce more ground balls on all his pitches this season.  Overall, his ground ball rate is at 50.3% as opposed to 46.5% last year.  Great control, lots of swinging strikes, and inducing ground balls in bunches — sounds like a recipe for success to me.  You have to expect his ERA to rise some, but it is becoming more and more apparent that Archer’s improvements surely have validity to them and he should go on to finish the 2015 season pitching at a high level.

Now let’s take a look at the rest of Tuesday’s MLB slate…

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Robinson Cano? More like Robinson Can-blow! (and other notes from 5/30/15)

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On Saturday, Robinson Cano went 2 for 4 and hit his 2nd HR of what has been a extremely painful season for the Mariners second baseman and his fantasy owners.  But could the longball on Saturday be a sign of things to come?  I definitely would not count on it.

I was very down on Cano entering the year and this is what I said about him in the pre-season: “It seems to me as if Cano is just in the decline phase of his career and I personally would not have him on any of my teams as his name value exceeds what I perceive to be his actual value.”

If you thought the 1990’s had a lot of bad trends with nu-metal music, frosted tips, and playing pogs at recess, then wait till you see Cano’s laundry list of horrible trends this season that give him little hope of returning to fantasy stardom.

  • With 4 straight seasons from 2010-13 of ISO marks above .200, Cano’s power suffered a severe decline last season to a .139 ISO, and this season it is even worse at .094.
  • Cano entered the 2014 season with a career ground ball/fly ball ratio of 1.54.  Last season, he ended up with a ratio of 2.13 and also has the same 2.13 ratio so far this season.  Hitting the ball on the ground more is an indicator of his loss in power.
  • The average distance on his HR + fly balls has declined from 292 feet in 2013, to 279 feet in 2014, to 272 feet this season.  The loss in average distance here is also indicative of his loss in power.
  • After having walk rates of 8.8%, 9.5%, and 9.2% from 2012-14, Cano is walking only 5.9% of the time this year.
  • Even though last season Cano saw a big dip in his power, he still showed great contact skills with a 10.2% strikeout rate (2nd best of his career).  However, along with a further dip in power this year, he is now striking out at a career high rate of 15.6%.
  • With a .323 career BABIP, Cano has long been able to be well above the average player in this regard.  But he currently has a .297 mark this year, which would be the 2nd lowest of his career.
  • The low BABIP this year can be attributed to only going to the opposite field 18.8% of the time this year, which would be the lowest mark of his career and well below his career rate of 26.8%.
  • Not using the opposite field as much along with the career high ground ball/fly ball ratio and lower BABIP suggests that he is pulling the ball on the ground a lot into shifted defenses for easy outs.

With all this being said, if you’re a sad Cano owner then it would be perfectly fine to bench him, or even better if you can find an owner hopeful of a Cano rebound to take him off your hands.  For the rest of the season from May 31 onward, I will give Cano a very unexciting line of:  .271 AVG, 8 HR, 47 RBI, 55 R, 3 SB, 68 K, and 30 BB.

So in homage to Cano’s agent, hip-hop mogul Jay-Z, I leave Cano and his owners with this:

If you’re having baseball problems, I feel bad for you son, you got 99 problems, and a pitch is one

Now let’s see what else happened on Saturday’s slate…

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Cash In With Cashner (and other notes from 5/22/15)

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Let me first start by congratulating Andrew Cashner on a ridiculously awesome mullet.  It suits him well.  I’ve been known to grow out my hair pretty long in a mullet type fashion in the back, but I could never in my wildest dreams make it look as stylishly good as his.

Ever since Cashner came over to the Padres and became a full-time starting pitcher, he has to be one of the unluckiest pitchers when it comes to wins and losses, if not the unluckiest.  In 2013 Cashner squeaked over the .500 mark with a 10-9 record off of a 3.09 ERA in 31 games (26 starts), and last year he went just 5-7 in 19 starts despite having a superb 2.55 ERA.  Those seasons of mediocre win/loss records despite the sparkling ERA’s were surely attributed to pitching for a Padres team that had the 24th worst run scoring offense in the Majors in 2013 and the absolute worst in 2014.

On Friday night against the Dodgers, Cashner pitched 6 innings of quality baseball where he gave up one unearned run on 5 hits and 1 walk while striking out 3.  However, he was once again unable to come away with one for the W column and was handed a no-decision.  Cashner’s ERA improved to 2.89 and his WHIP to 1.27, but his record of 1-7 definitely does not reflect anything resembling what it should for a pitcher with his stats.

But what happened?  The Padres offense was supposed to be vastly improved by adding guys in the off-season like Justin UptonMatt KempWil MyersDerek Norris, and Will Middlebrooks, so they must all be flaming out as disappointments, right?  Well, not exactly actually.  Upton, Myers, and Norris have all been enjoying good seasons, and the Padres are actually 11th in the Majors in run scored and have been the beneficiaries of their home field Petco Park turning into a launching pad of sorts.

When Cashner has taken the hill, his offense has only averaged 2.00 runs per game, and in 6 of his 9 starts, the offense has scored 2 runs or less.  For comparison, his teammate James Shields has received at least 3 runs of support in all of his starts for 5.33 runs on average, and other teammate Tyson Ross has received 4.33 runs of support in his starts.  So it’s not that he has been pitching for a team with a horrendous offense like in years past, he has just had the misfortune of his offense being powerless specifically in the games that he has started.  He has been matched up versus the likes of Max ScherzerDallas Keuchel, Jon Lester, and Zack Greinke (twice), but he’s also opposed Brandon McCarthyRyan VogelsongRubby De La Rosa, and Daniel Hudson.  So the 2.00 runs of support per game are hardly excusable.

With an increase in slider usage from 15.9% last year to 19.9% this year, Cashner is striking out a lot more batters this season with nearly a +2.00 K/9 bump up to 8.68 K/9.  The swinging strike rate that Cashner is inducing supports the increase in strikeouts as well, as it is up from 8.0% last year to 9.9% this year, and a large portion of that is from the slider.  However, he has been a victim of the weird, inexplicable transformation of Petco Park into a more hitter friendly park that I alluded to earlier.  He is allowing 1.29 HR/9 on a 14.3% HR/fly ball rate.  That’s not something that is likely to continue as he has been very good at limiting the long ball regardless of where he has pitched (0.75 HR/9 on the road in 2013-14).

I think that Cashner is a good candidate that you may want to try and buy and cash in with him.  By all metric systems, Cashner is pitching the best that he ever has since becoming a full-time starting pitcher and the win/loss record is a fluke that the Cashner owner in your league may not realize or just something they are getting tired of dealing with.  It’s a very optimistic sign that he is striking out more batters, and with a legitimate reason that he is doing so (the slider).  Things will turn around for him soon.

Let’s dive into Friday’s other games in action.

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