Max Is A Scher Thing (and other notes from 6/14/15)

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When the Nationals handed out a 7-year/$210 million contract to Max Scherzer, it definitely raised some eyebrows.  Scherzer’s contract was only $5 million less than 2-time reigning NL Cy Young, Clayton Kershaw, but though Scherzer was obviously a great pitcher in his own right, he did not have the same dominant track record as Kershaw.  Also, Kershaw was 26 years old when he signed his mega deal, while Scherzer was 30.  So the Dodgers figure to get all of Kershaw’s best years in this contract (and already have received one of his best), but the Nationals will have Scherzer, barring a trade, through his age 36 season and he could very well begin to digress in a couple seasons.

But for the time being, Scherzer has been worth every penny and it is best exemplified in his near perfect start on Sunday at Milwaukee.  Scherzer had a perfect game through 6 innings until Carlos Gomez hit a bloop single that barely got over the glove of a leaping Anthony Rendon at second base.  Scherzer did not let that phase him though, as he went on to finish the rest of the game for a complete game 1-hit shutout with an amazing 16 strikeouts.  If you’re into the game score stat, Scherzer finished with a game score of 100, which is the best pitching game of the season (Corey Kluber and Chris Heston both had 98) and it is the highest score since Kershaw’s score of 102 nearly one year ago when he pitched a no-hitter with 15 strikeouts.  For the season, Scherzer is now 7-5 with a 1.93 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, and 113 K/14 BB in 93.1 IP.

We all knew that Scherzer was one of the best pitchers in the game coming into the year, but let’s take a look at what is making him even more amazing this season.  First, and probably most important, is his huge improvement in his walk rate.  Coming up through the Diamondbacks Minor League system, Scherzer was the typical hard throwing prospect with some control issues and he compiled a walk rate of 4.13 BB/9.  When he first entered the Majors, he had a little bit below average control, but steadily improved over the years to be above average in the area, and his career best came in his 2013 AL Cy Young season with 2.35 BB/9.  But this season, he has taken it to the next level with a current 1.35 BB/9.  He is doing so by throwing a first pitch strike a whopping 70.3% of the time, which is the third highest in the league and is shattering his previous career best of 64.5%.

Another reason for his continued dominance is that he is working with a lowered BABIP of .268, but even though that mark is much lower than his career rate of .303, there is some belief to it given that he is inducing more fly balls than ever this season being in the top 5 in the Majors in fly ball rate and fly ball/ground ball ratio.  Fly ball pitchers are able to maintain a lower BABIP than ground ball pitchers because fly balls are more easily caught for sure outs.  And even though he is allowing more fly balls, not many of them are leaving the stadium for home runs as he has allowed only 6 in 13 starts.

With these improvements this year, Scherzer is going to be able to continue to baffle hitters in his first season in the National League and is looking like as “Scher” of a thing as any pitcher out there.  It is going to be a great race for the NL Cy Young.

Let’s check in on the rest of the Sunday card of games!

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What Would Doo Do? (and other notes from 5/27/15)

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For anyone who owns Sean Doolittle in fantasy leagues, the question was going to be “What Would Doo Do (in his first game back from the DL)?”  @whatwouldDOOdo also happens to be the Twitter handle of the Oakland lefty, and he does tweet some funny stuff and is worth the follow on Twitter if you’re into that sort of thing.

Doolittle had been recovering and rehabbing from a shoulder injury that has had him on the DL all season, but he was finally activated on Tuesday and got into game action on Wednesday.  Doolittle entered the 6th inning of Wednesday’s game against the Tigers in a very low leverage situation with the team down 3 runs and the bottom of the Tigers order coming up.  Doolittle caught Nick Castellanos looking on strike 3, got Bryan Holaday to hit a flyout, gave up a single to Dixon Machado, and then struck out Anthony Gose swinging through a fastball.  So in box score terms that was 1 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K.

Looks pretty good, right?  He should be back to closing games in no time?  Well, it is possible but hold that thought.  While he did finish his first outing back with a clean inning and even struck out 2 batters, let’s not forget that 2 of the batters he faced are normally bench players and one of the other batters cannot hit lefties worth a lick.  Then throw in the fact that Doolittle’s fastball was sitting at just 89 MPH, which corroborates reports of his velocity being way down in his rehab appearances, and we could possibly have a tease situation on our hands if we were to just look at the box score.

Doolittle’s fastball is a pitch that has regularly averaged 94 MPH on the gun over the last couple of seasons, so to be sitting at 89 MPH and topping out at 90 MPH does raise a decent level of concern.  Coming back from a shoulder injury, it shouldn’t be expected that Doolittle has the same type of velocity, but a 5 MPH difference is very discouraging.  To look on the brighter side of things though, the fastball is a pitch that he throws 85-90% of the time, so he’s not one to rely on changing speeds a whole lot.  Instead, he is more about locating the fastball where he wants it to be.  So he doesn’t necessarily need the really good velocity, but it also is an extreme plus to have it and hitters may start to tee off on him if he’s without good velocity. 

Doolittle of course can regain the velocity as the season goes on and as his shoulder gets stronger.  However, without any guarantee that happens, Doolittle may be in for some tough times.  If I owned him, which I do, I would shop Doolittle around to owners that are looking for saves to see if you can get something that may be of good use to you.  It won’t be a star player, but a quality role player can go a long ways.  There’s a chance that Doolittle ends up being fine, reclaims the closer role after a couple more good innings, and goes on to be a quality closer the rest of the way.  However, I would be fine taking my chances and getting rid of him if I can find the right deal.

Let’s see what else happened on Wednesday! Continue reading

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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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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Getting Cranky With Greinke (and other notes from 5/16/15)

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Zack Greinke pitched on Saturday night versus the Rockies and he finished the game going 6 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 5 K with the loss.  It is a tough luck loss for Greinke, but he is looking like a nice sell candidate for any Greinke owners out there.  He is 5-1 with a 1.52 ERA and 0.88 WHIP and he pitches in front of an offense that can score with the best of them, so the opportunities to log a lot of wins will be there.  And his strikeout to walk ratio of 44 K/11 BB is very solid.  So what’s not to like?

According to PITCHf/x data, Greinke’s fastball velocity for the most part has progressively gotten worse every season since 2009 from 93.7 MPH to 90.6 MPH this year.  Greinke is dealing with a 1.2 MPH decline in his fastball velocity from last year to this year, which would qualify as the largest drop in a single season during the time frame from 2009-present.  Though he has maintained his excellent control, his strikeout rate is down from 9.21 K/9 last year to a current season mark of 7.42 K/9 with the likely culprit being the aforementioned velocity loss.

From when Greinke first entered the Majors in 2007 all the way through 2012, the slider pitch was his bread and butter and he used it anywhere from 15.1% to 19.2% of the time during those years.  But a strange thing happened in 2013 after he signed a 6-year/$148 million contract with the Dodgers.  His slider usage that year mysteriously dropped to 5.4%.  The reasoning behind it though was that Greinke understood that the slider is known to be the most stressful pitch on the arm/elbow, so he intentionally used it less that year an in effort to preserve his health for the long term and for the duration of his newly minted deal.  However, that slider had been his most effective pitch over the course of his career, so subtracting it from his arsenal (or using it more seldom) had an adverse effect.  Greinke’s strikeout rate was at just 7.50 K/9 in that season, which was one of the lowest marks that he had ever since having a breakthrough season in 2008.  Perhaps it was a coincidence, but I see it more as a causal relationship because in the following 2014 season, Greinke apparently had a change of heart and ramped back up his slider usage to 17.5% and finished the season with a healthy 9.21 K/9.

So with his slider usage back up last year and currently at an all-time high this year, could it be that it has had adverse effects to be the cause to his diminished velocity?  There is no actual way of knowing, but I believe it to be a valid theory.  Furthermore on Greinke and being a sell candidate, his SIERA currently sits about 2 full runs higher than his actual ERA, he is stranding base runners at a high mark over 85%, and his .217 BABIP is super low.  He has only once posted a BABIP under .300, and that was way back in his rookie season.

With the name value, the stunning stats on the surface, and playing for a good team, you should be able to get a good return on the Greinkster.  I envision him to be more of a 3.50 ERA, 1.20 WHIP type of pitcher while maintaining strikeout and walk rates near his current marks. That’s not terrible, and at least the great win potential is still there, but there’s someone out there who will look at his current stats and erroneously think that he is a fantasy ace.

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Fantasy Baseball Players to Avoid and Target for 2015: Outfield Edition

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When doing fantasy baseball drafts, it is important to know ahead of time the players that you want to avoid and the players that you want to target.  Having this game plan in mind will help you in the flow of the draft to make quicker and easier decisions when you are on the clock.  For players you want to avoid, just simply pay no attention to them and let some other sucker draft the soon to be bust.  For players you want to target, keep an eye on them and know when the latest is that you might be able to draft them.  Take a look at average draft position (ADP) stats and form some sort of plan.  The worst thing that can happen in a draft is to not be prepared and having to end up making a panic pick as the clock winds down.  Don’t let that happen to you!  Below is a list of outfielders who I personally would avoid or target.

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