10 Bold Predictions & the End of Season Predictions

The 2016 MLB season is underway and here are some BOLD predictions. But just because I am predicting these things, doesn’t mean that I think they will actually happen. However, I do think that there’s a fair chance for any of them to happen and I’ll support each prediction with an explanation. Then down towards the bottom are some End of Season Predictions with division champions, pennant champions World Series Champions, and awards.

10 BOLD PREDICTIONS FOR THE 2016 MLB SEASON

1.) Brandon Belt will hit .300 with 25 HR and 10 SB to be a top 5 first baseman in standard 5×5 roto leagues. I went over Belt in the 2016 Fantasy Baseball First Basemen Rankings, but basically I think that this is the year that he puts everything together. He’s already a very good hitter that hits a lot of line drives, gets hard contact, and doesn’t pop the ball up. In order to hit .300, he has to trim his strikeouts A LOT, but he showed signs of improvement there as he finished Spring Training with 10 K/10 BB in 60 PA, which translates to a 16.7% in each category. Belt has ranged from 21.9% to 27.2% in K% throughout his career, so if he falls anywhere under the low end of that range then a .300 AVG could be within reach. Belt has reached double digits in SB before, but his career high in HR is only 18. His home park in San Francisco certainly does him no favors for the long ball, but he can just hit the ball at such a hard rate with a good average distance that his power can really begin to show at age 28. Continue reading

2016 Fantasy Baseball Third Basemen Rankings

The third basemen rankings are front loaded with some pretty excellent talent that includes an MVP, a slew of rising stars under the age of 25, and a couple of consistent veterans. Once you get passed all of that fantasy goodness though, the depth of the position really begins to lack as several of the players are also eligible at what are generally considered to be shallower positions like second base and shortstop — with second base lacking star talent depth and shortstop just lacking reliable depth. I certainly would want to come away with one of the first 8 or 9 third basemen listed in the rankings because after they’re off the board, the hot corner won’t be looking so hot anymore.

Below are THE BACKWARDS K 2016 FANTASY BASEBALL THIRD BASEMEN RANKINGS. Included for each player is “The Backwards K Quick Take” and a self-produced player projection for 2016.

***Please note the following:

  • The player’s names are color coded to signal different tiers at the position.
  • The rankings reflect standard 5×5 roto scoring settings (AVG/HR/RBI/R/SB) with position eligibility requirements as 10 total games played at a position in 2015, or 5 total games started at a position in 2015 (i.e. Yahoo! settings).
  • The numerical order is not necessarily a suggested order to draft them in, but it is the order that is calculated based on each player’s listed projections, unless noted otherwise.
  • Noted in some players’ “Quick Takes” is if they gain or lose notable value in points leagues that factor penalize hitter strikeouts and reward hitter walks.

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The Not So Lean Jean as a Save Machi-ne? (and other notes from 8/10/15)

Over the weekend, Boston Red Sox closer Koji Uehara suffered a non-displaced fracture in his right wrist and he will miss the rest of the season. Usually in these types of situations where a team makes a voluntary switch at closer or if their closer suffers an injury that is severe enough to land him on the DL, the team will hand closing duties over to their primary 8th inning guy.

For the Red Sox, it’s been Junichi Tazawa who has been working that 8th inning, and he’s done his best Uehara impression this season as a fly ball pitcher that induces a lot of weak infield flies and maintains a strikeout per inning with exceptional control. Overall this season, Tazawa has a 3.19 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 48 K/7 BB in 48 IP, and the Japanese import has been very functional for the Red Sox in a relief role since 2012.

However, Red Sox manager Jon Farrell is reportedly content with keeping Tazawa in a setup role and will not (at least for now) be the man to close out the majority of games for the team. Tazawa doesn’t have egregious lefty/righty splits in his career, but lefties are hitting .276/.295/.421 against him this season while righties are hitting .227/.267/.364. So perhaps Farrell is hesitant that he wouldn’t succeed when big bopping lefties are to scheduled face him in a save opportunity. Keeping him in a setup role, Farrell would have more control over utilizing him against the types of batters that he wants to. Last year when Uehara hit the DL, Tazawa was also passed up for save opportunities in favor of Edward Mujica.

The Red Sox plan to use Jean Machi as their primary closer for the time being. Machi recently joined the Red Sox after they claimed him off waivers from the Giants in late July. Machi debuted in the Majors in 2012 and has been a mainstay as a Major Leaguer since 2013 where he was a solid middle reliever for the Giants. However, for the Giants this season, Machi had a 5.14 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, and 22 K/14 BB in 35 IP.

Machi has past closing experience in the Minors, but he’s never had the look of a prototypical closer with his lack of strikeout potential. So it is surprising that the Red Sox are so willing to install one team’s sloppy seconds as their new closer when they seemingly have a more viable option that has been with them for years in Tazawa. Considering that there are more right-handed bats than left-handed in the league, and that righties have hurt Machi a lot more this year (.343/.400/.606 vs. righties, .105/.219/.143 vs. lefties) and throughout his career (.244/.303/.396 vs. righties, .196/.259/.308 vs. lefties), it makes the move to turn to Machi even more curious.

Given Machi’s current form and the profile that we have on him from past performance in both the Majors and Minors, Machi could end up struggling in the role as closer and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him not last in the 9th inning for the remainder of the season. He is the guy to own for now, but a close eye should be kept on Tazawa as he probably would have more likelihood of getting the job done.

Let’s take a look at what else happened on Monday now.

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Cueto Ditches the Reds, Now Bleeds Royal Blue (and other notes from 7/26/15)

Johnny Cueto was the next big name to be traded on Sunday as the Cincinnati Reds decided to get something in return for the impending free agent. Their trade partner was the Kansas City Royals who sent three prospects over to Cincinnati: Brandon FinneganJohn Lamb, and Cody Reed — all of whom are left-handed pitchers. Let’s first take a look at what this trade does for the Royals and the fantasy impact it makes.

The reigning American League champion Royals have not slowed down at all this year as they have a 7.5 game lead in the AL Central and own the best record in the American League. They have been so successful behind a relentless offense, tremendous defense, and a dominant bullpen. The Royals offense is surely not a powerful one as they rank just 24th in the Majors in home runs, but they are very pesky and strikeout the least in all of baseball, which means they are constantly putting the ball in play and making things happen on the base paths. By any defensive rating system, the Royals defense ranks as the top defense in the league by a large margin. And their bullpen, also ranks the best in the league with a 2.12 ERA with the “HDH” formula of Kelvin HerreraWade Davis, and Greg Holland to work the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings.

What the Royals have severely lacked though this season with the loss of James Shields to the Padres is an ace type pitcher to step up and be the leader of the pitching staff. The young fireballer, Yordano Ventura, was expected to kind of take over the reigns, but he has struggled to put together a consistent performance. Jason Vargas, Danny Duffy, and Jeremy Guthrie are unspectacular options that are back end of the rotation type of starters who have not contributed much at all, and Vargas got hit with a season-ending injury this past week. Their most reliable starting pitcher so far has been the free agent signing of Edinson Volquez, but seldom does he display the ability to blow anyone away with ace type of stuff anymore and is not someone to anchor a staff. Out of starting pitchers this season, the Royals have received a 4.27 ERA, which ranks 22nd in the Majors, and they also have received the 2nd lowest amount of innings pitched from their starting pitchers.

So the need in Kansas City was apparent. Enter Mr. Cueto. Since 2011, Cueto has had the 2nd best ERA (2.51) next to Clayton Kershaw out of all pitchers with a minimum of 500 innings pitched. What’s most impressive about that is he has done so despite pitching his home games in one of the most hitter friendly parks in the league at Great American Ballpark.

During those years, Cueto has posted BABIP marks of .249, .296, .238, and .234 this season. Now the .296 mark is around league average, but all the other marks are very low and the question of whether or not it is sustainable comes into play. Over the last two seasons, Cueto has been giving up more fly balls and has had a knack for inducing soft contact. So while the BABIP marks are low and he shouldn’t be expected to maintain his current season mark, he still should have the ability to keep his BABIP lower than average over the course of the rest of the season with Kansas City. Throw in the fact that his new team has incredible range and defense all around the diamond and that speaks even more to the notion that Cueto can be a low BABIP machine as his defense will track down a lot of batted balls for him.

The switch from the NL to the AL should hurt his strikeout rate in theory since he will have to deal with pitching to the designated hitter instead of opposing pitchers. His current strikeout rate is at 8.27 K/9, so I would imagine that he might fall to a rate near 7.50 K/9 or lower over the remainder of the season. However, the home park switch from Great American Ballpark to Kaufmann Stadium is a nice move for him with Kauffman Stadium being much more friendly to pitchers. Also helping to offset any regression that he may incur in strikeout rate is the fact that he will be pitching for a winning team that has a shutdown bullpen. Despite an excellent 2.62 ERA, Cueto’s win-loss record sits barely over .500 at 7-6. The Reds bullpen blew three wins for Cueto, so he could easily be in double digits in the win column already. So his new buddies down in the bullpen should be able to provide him a boost in win potential.

Overall, I definitely don’t think that the trade for Cueto has any negative impact on his fantasy value. If anything, it should help him a bit as long as he doesn’t falter under the greater spotlight of pitching for a 1st place team. And for the Royals, this is obviously a huge get for them as they look to make a return to the World Series. The Royals certainly needed to make a move to acquire an ace because it was going to be a rough go if they entered the post-season with Volquez as their number one guy, and Cueto’s presence will also ease the workload of one of the most used bullpens in the league. Now let’s take a look at the Reds side of it.

Out of the three prospects that the Reds received, Finnegan is by far the most attractive so he will be the main focus on the Reds side of the deal. Finnegan was drafted by the Royals in the 1st round just over a year ago and he made a rapid ascension to the Majors as the Royals brought him up late in the season as a bullpen arm. Finnegan then went on to shine in some high leverage situations in the post-season. The left-handed Finnegan is relatively small in stature for a Major League pitcher at 5’11” 185 lbs. and because of that, he often draws comparison to former closer great Billy Wagner. Finnegan doesn’t throw as hard as Wagner did though, but he still comes in with some good velocity as he averages around 93 MPH on his heater. He complements his fastball with a slider and changeup, with the slider functioning as his primary out pitch.

He has compiled a 2.59 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 21 K/13 BB in 24.1 IP as a relief pitcher in the Majors, but the Reds will send him to AAA to get stretched out as a starting pitcher where he could possibly debut for them before the season ends. Finnegan’s most immediate area of work appears to be in his control. In college at Texas Christian University before he was drafted, Finnegan did show some control issues and those same issues seem to be present in his short Major League work thus far. If he can figure out how to issue less walks then he can have a pretty good future in the league, but with just 85.1 IP as a professional since he was drafted last June, it’s a little difficult to gauge where he is at and how he may or may not progress.

For redraft leagues, Finnegan is not really someone to pay attention to because he will be getting stretched out in the Minors, and if he does make it to the Reds Major League rotation this season, I wouldn’t necessarily expect immediate success. For keeper and dynasty leagues though, Finnegan is well worth a look, though in any competitive dynasty league he shouldn’t be available as a free agent.

Now let’s take a look at the rest of Sunday’s slate of action.

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

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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Sometimes A Pitcher Is Only As Good As His Defense (and other notes from 6/23/15)

After Danny Salazar suffered a meltdown in the 5th inning against the Tigers on Tuesday and I was simultaneously being asked by my brother what is wrong with Carlos Carrasco this season, I thought about both of those Indians pitchers, as well as rotation mates Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer, and did a little digging and and discovered some interesting things.

Here is a look at each of these four Indians starting pitchers numbers in line drive rate (LD%), ground ball rate (GB%), fly ball rate (FB%), hard hit rate (Hard%), BABIP, ERA, and xFIP this season (I’m not including a 5th Indians SP because that 5th spot for them has been in flux all season long):

Salazar: 18.8 LD%, 45.2 GB%, 36.0 FB%, 30.7 Hard%, .323 BABIP, 4.06 ERA, 2.81 xFIP

Carrasco: 20.8 LD%, 46.6 GB%, 32.6 FB%, 33.5 Hard%, .347 BABIP, 4.35 ERA, 2.87 xFIP

Kluber: 22.2 LD%, 46.2 GB%, 31.6 FB%, 27.7 Hard%, .335 BABIP, 3.65 ERA, 2.80 xFIP

Bauer: 18.1 LD%, 37.2 GB%, 44.7 FB%, 29.4 Hard%, .283 BABIP, 3.86 ERA, 4.27 xFIP

So what we see here is that Salazar, Carrasco, and Kluber are all more on the ground ball side of things while Bauer is a flyball pitcher.  So we would expect the first three guys to to have higher batting average on balls in play (BABIP) marks because ground ball pitchers tend to almost always have higher marks than fly ball pitchers, because balls that are hit in the air for fly balls have a greater chance of being recorded for an out as long as it doesn’t leave the park.  But what is odd is how high those marks are for those first three pitchers listed and it poses the question if there is something outside of their control that is affecting them since it is odd to see three pitchers from the same team with such inflated BABIP marks.

The league average BABIP is usually around .300 and the league average hard hit rate is around 30%.  Salazar, Carrasco, and Kluber all rank in the top 20 in highest BABIP, but it is only Carrasco that appears in the top 20 highest hard hit rates and none of them appear in the top 20 highest line drive rates.  Line drives account for a good portion of hard hit balls, and hard hit balls have a greater chance to fall in for hits, which would increase a pitcher’s BABIP.  But if none of these three guys are really giving up a ton of line drives and it’s only really Carrasco who is getting hit harder than the average pitcher, why are their BABIP’s so much higher than the league average?

The answer here is the Indians team defense as a whole is just not very good and is costing these pitchers in ERA and WHIP.  According to ratings, the Indians rank 27th in the Majors in defensive efficiency as their defense has cost them 13.8 runs so far this season, and their defense is likely the reason why the Indians have the 3rd highest team BABIP in baseball. It’s not that the Indians defense makes a lot of errors, but it’s more the fact that they lack range, defensive prowess, and the ability to prevent hits from getting in and runs from scoring.  It could be attributed to poor defensive players, but it also could be attributed to poor defensive alignments set by the coaching staff and/or inefficient use of defensive shifts. Whatever it may be, the Indians had the same bad defense last year, but this year it seems to be affecting their starting pitchers more negatively.

What this means for the Indians pitchers (not named Bauer) going forward is that even though they have excellent xFIP marks (expected fielding independent ERA — measures what a pitcher’s ERA should be if defense was not a factor), huge improvements in ERA and WHIP in the near future are not necessarily a given.  Yes, they all should receive some better fortune and see their numbers regress at least somewhat toward the mean, but a complete 180 turnaround may not be in the cards and it cannot be expected that their ERA’s get as low as their xFIP’s.  However, something that may help is the recent promotion of defensive wizard Francisco Lindor to play shortstop for the Indians.  One player isn’t likely to turn around the whole defense, but Lindor has always been praised for his glove work and can at least provide some positive value in helping to prevent hits and runs.

Two other teams that have high team BABIP marks that also rank very poorly defensively are the White Sox and Padres. The White Sox have the highest BABIP in all of baseball and have the lowest defensive rating to coincide with it.  So this hurts guys like Jose QuintanaJeff Samardzija, John Danks, and Carlos Rodon who all are more on the ground ball side of things.  However, ace Chris Sale and his .283 BABIP appears to be skating by just fine (and should continue to) because he has been getting a lot of fly balls.  As for the Padres, we knew going into the season that their defense would be questionable all around with a completely revamped outfield that consisted of some poorly rated defensive players, and an infield that also looked like it was going to have some issues.  The Padres currently have the 6th highest team BABIP and rank 29th in defensive rating, so it should come as no surprise that heavy ground ball pitchers Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner are having such abysmal seasons so far.

So these are examples of how a poor defense can affect a pitching staff, or more specifically individual pitchers with ground ball tendencies, and it should give some pause to whether or not these aforementioned pitchers can truly turn things around and post numbers to what their “expected” stats say that they should.  I like Salazar, Carrasco, and Kluber, but this revelation does shine some poor light on their outlooks for the remainder of the season.

Now let’s take a look at the rest of Tuesday’s action. 

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Jays to Have New Closer Osuna or Later (and other notes from 6/22/15)

Brett Cecil began the year as the closer for the Blue Jays, but then was replaced by 20-year old righty Miguel Castro very early into the season because Cecil was struggling with velocity issues.  Castro held down the gig for two weeks converting 4 of 6 save opportunities, but then he began to struggle and eventually was sent to the Minors to allow Cecil to reclaim the job in late April as his velocity began to climb back up.  However, though he was the closer, Cecil amazingly saw only one save opportunity in the month of May.  But over the last couple of weeks, the Jays have been finding themselves in more situations where they have had a 3 run lead or less in the 9th inning and Cecil has managed to collect 3 saves since June 12.

But in Cecil’s last three outings, he has given up 8 runs on 6 hits and 3 walks in only 2.1 IP, and he got charged with one blown save and two losses in those games.  Cecil just isn’t pitching well right now and he definitely is not an ideal closer as a left-handed pitcher who has allowed a .273 AVG and .352 wOBA to right-handed hitters in his career.

I said in Sunday’s notes that Cecil would probably not be given the next save opportunity, and on Monday with the Jays up 3 runs, Cecil was nowhere to be found.  Perhaps he was just being given the night off after having thrown a total of 65 pitches in the last 3 days, but I think at the very least Cecil is being downgraded to a closer by committee situation.  I suggested that 20-year old fireballer Roberto Osuna would be the guy to see the next save opportunity for the Jays and indeed it was Osuna on Monday who came in to put out a fire, and he got the 6-out save with an amazing 5 strikeouts.

Osuna now owns a 2.12 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, and 40 K/10 BB in 34 IP.  He certainly has the stuff to succeed as a 9th inning man and he is worthy of a pickup in all formats for now and he can run away with the job.  Watching him get the 6-out save on Monday was pretty amazing, as the Rays hitters didn’t know what to do with the heat that he throws, continually swinging through the fastball.  But as I’ve mentioned previously, beware of the Jays trading for a proven closer, which would push Osuna back to a setup role and render Cecil useless.

Let’s take a look at the rest of Monday! Continue reading

Do You Smell What The Brock Is Cooking? (and other notes from 6/16/15)

Brock Holt came on for the Red Sox last year in a super utility role and finished the season hitting .281 with 4 HR, 29 RBI, 68 R, and 12 SB in 106 games.  From a season long viewpoint, those stats aren’t anything special, but his worth to the team was invaluable and he made for a decent spot starter for fantasy squads with his extreme multi-position eligibility.

This season Holt has been doing much of the same, playing all over the field — he has started at least 1 game at every position except pitcher and catcher — and coming up with some big hits.  Holt has been collecting more starts as of late, starting 13 of the Red Sox 15 games in June so far, filling in all over the diamond as the Red Sox have been dealing with some slumping players and minor injuries.  On Tuesday, Holt showcased his talents by hitting for the cycle to bring his season line up to a .309 AVG with 2 HR, 15 RBI, 20 R, and 3 SB in 49 games.

Just like last season, those numbers are not that great overall in the grand scheme of things when viewing it from a fantasy perspective.  But for season long fantasy leagues, his ability to be slotted into a variety of positions can be extremely helpful, especially in leagues that allow daily changes — check out “Fantasy Baseball Strategy: Player Multi-Functionality” for an in depth look at how someone like Holt can help fantasy teams win championships.  And in daily fantasy sports (DFS), Holt can make for an excellent plug in as a cheap option at different positions whenever he is in the starting lineup, especially when he is slotted into a prime spot in the lineup like he was on Tuesday in the leadoff spot.  The sample size is small, but he has hit for a .391 AVG in 64 AB this season when he has hit 1st or 2nd in the order.

We can’t expect Holt to continue to start in games at the rate that he has lately, but he’s still going to get his fair share of starts and deserves fantasy consideration for his multi-position eligibility and perhaps he does eventually ascend to full-time starter status if there is a long term injury for one of his teammates.  However, because he doesn’t start everyday, his value is maximized in leagues that allow daily lineup changes.

Let’s see what else happened on Tuesday!

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Houston’s Astronomical Promotion: Carlos Correa (and other notes from 6/7/15)

With the Astros having gotten swept by the Blue Jays over the weekend, they still hold a 3.5 game lead in the AL West over the Rangers.  But being in contention for a playoff spot for the first time in years, they are not settling for anything less than putting the best team that they can on the field and they are calling up top prospect Carlos Correa to be their everyday shortstop.  The move to call him up is earlier than I would have anticipated, but it was something that I said should happen with Jed Lowrie and Luis Valbuena forming a strong platoon at third base once Lowrie returns from the DL to make room for Correa and allow him to showcase his elite talent on an everyday basis.

The number one overall pick in the 2012 draft, Correa missed a good chunk of the 2014 season due to an injury, but he has been tearing it up this season.  He began the year at AA and received a recent promotion to AAA and he has a combined line of .332/.402/.602 with 10 HR, 43 RBI, and 18 SB in 52 games between the two levels.  His production began to tail off once he reached AAA, but there’s no denying his talent and how he can help this Astros ball club.  With Lowrie being on the DL, the Astros have been using a combination of Marwin Gonzalez and Jonathan Villar at shortstop who have not been getting the job done.

Expectations for Correa, who will be 21 years old in September, need to be kept in check, but the fantasy baseball community cannot help but to be extremely excited over this promotion.  Correa definitely needs to be picked up in any league format because the shortstop position is so thing that he could realistically be a top 8 option at the position the rest of the way.

For the rest of the season I am going to project him for:  .267/.338/.384 with 7 HR, 44 RBI, 48 R, 15 SB, 77 K, 33 BB in 352 AB

Let’s take a look at what else happened on Sunday!

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

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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Built Crawford Tough (and other notes from 5/31/15)

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.

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Prince’s Return to Royalty (and other notes from 5/23/15)

After suffering a season-ending neck injury last season that limited him to just 42 games in his first season as a Texas Ranger, first baseman Prince Fielder has not missed a game this season and has already surpassed last year’s games played total this year by playing in his 43rd consecutive game on Saturday.  Fielder actually has been sort of a modern day iron man, not like the Tony Stark version of Iron Man, but like Cal Ripken Jr. and his incredible games played streak.  Nobody will ever come close to Ripken’s amazing streak in this day and age where players are babied a lot more, but Fielder has played in all 162 games in 4 of his 9 full seasons and never having played less than 157 games in a season until the unfortunate neck injury from last year.

Given his nearly immaculate health history, it should come as no surprise that Fielder has roared back with a vengeance, but many (myself included) had doubts about his ability to.  Here is what I said about him in the pre-season:  “Players of his body type do not have a history of aging well as they reach 30 years old (see Cecil Fielder, Mo Vaughn, Ryan Howard), and Prince was already beginning a decline before he got traded to Texas before the 2014 season. Of course his 2014 season was a lost cause as he struggled out of the gate and then had a season-ending neck injury.  A bounce back effort could be in store for the big guy, especially with a full season calling the Ballpark in Arlington his home, but I would also not be surprised if he never hits 30 HR in a season ever again.”

Fielder is making me eat my words as much as he eats tofu burgers (which is likely a lot since he is reportedly a vegetarian), as he is on an incredible terror hitting .368 with 6 HR and 17 RBI in the month of May.  The outburst has brought his season line to .351 AVG, 8 HR, 30 RBI, 20 R, and 0 SB, putting him amongst the top first baseman in fantasy baseball. His batting average is inflated due to a .364 BABIP, and his batted ball profile shows us that there is no significant differences to his career rates to tell us that he can maintain an batting average this far over .300.  However, he is putting the ball in play at a career high rate as he has only struck out 11.1% of the time.  Fielder has shown improvement in this area over the recent years, and in 2012 his very good strikeout rate of 12.2% allowed him to hit for a career high .313 AVG.

While there’s no doubt that his BABIP will come down, with the excellent rate he is putting the ball in play, Fielder may have little issue hitting .300 for the second time in his career.  His walk rate is also significantly down to 6.3% (compared to his career rate of 12.8%), but that’s not too much of a concern when his strikeout rate is low as well. As for his power, Fielder’s HR/fly ball rate has been on the decline since 2011, but his rate this season is right around 14.0%, which is very comparable to his 13.5% rate in 2013 with the Tigers and it is around that mark that I expect him to settle in at by season’s end.  It’s not the 35-40 HR that was expected from him in his prime, but 25-30 HR for the season is still going to be quality and he is on pace for defeating most people’s expectations of him for the 2015 season.

For the remainder of the season, I will give Fielder the line of:  .294 AVG, 19 HR, 73 RBI, 60 R, 1 SB

Now let’s check out the rest of the action from Saturday.  Continue reading

U Can’t Touch This, Hammel Time! (and other notes from 5/19/15)

Well, when you got three different Jason Hammel‘s coming at you like a Denny’s Grand Slam hologram card like in the picture above, I imagine it would be hard to touch him!  Do you remember those hologram collector’s cards from Denny’s?  When I was a kid, Friday nights were always “out to eat dinner” nights with my parents and brother.  The places that we would frequent the most included Coco’s, Bob’s Big Boy, Flakey Jake’s, and of course Denny’s.  Denny’s had the promotion if you ordered one of their signature “Grand Slam Meals” then you would receive a collector’s Grand Slam hologram card by Upper Deck.  So being the collectors that we were, we would venture out to Denny’s restaurants to try and collect all the different players cards that they had to offer.  We wouldn’t just go to the local Denny’s, because each restaurant location had different cards.  So we would go to Denny’s a couple towns over in each direction to try and get them all.  But I just remember ending up with one too many Danny Tartabull cards.

But anyway, onward to talk about MC Hammel.  Hammel pitched on Tuesday at Petco Park versus the Padres and had an excellent game giving up one unearned run on 3 hits and 0 walks while striking out 8 Padres in 7 IP in a no-decision.  The brilliant effort leaves him with a 3-1 record, 2.70 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, and 49 K/6 BB in 53.1 IP.  Now we have seen Hammel go on some pretty good runs over the last few years, but what stands out about this 8 start stretch to begin the season is the low amount of walks.  His 6 walks in 53.1 IP translates to a walk rate of 1.01 BB/9, which would easily be a career best and he would be quite the force if he can maintain it.

Over the course of his career, Hammel has had a slightly better than average walk rate with 2.99 BB/9 heading into the 2015 season.  However, he did showoff one of his best seasons in the category last year with a 2.25 BB/9, so maybe he was on to something.  But is Hammel going all 2014 Phil Hughes on us this year when Hughes had a miniscule 0.69 BB/9 and an all-time best strikeout to walk ratio of 11.63?

Hammel’s great first pitch strike rate of 63.0% backs up the low walk rate, but his PITCHf/x rate of pitching within the strike zone 50.9% of the time, although higher than the recent years and 28th best in the Majors this year, is not indicative of a walk rate as low as he has.  For comparison, out of the top 7 pitchers in BB/9 in 2014 (all 1.41 BB/9 or lower), 6 of the 7 pitchers were in the top 10 in zone% ranging from 52.6%-61.1%.  Hammel could end up being that one who does sneak in to the top of the rankings in BB/9 despite not being one of the elite in zone%, but the odds are against him.

So what can we expect from Hammel the rest of the season?  Even if his walk rate does not remain as low as it currently is, which I don’t believe it will, he definitely seems to have turned a corner with his command and control dating back to last season.  So he can surely end up maintaining a walk rate under 2.00 BB/9.  His slider is his out pitch and it is good enough to allow him to keep a strikeout rate at or above 8.00 K/9.  Some areas that he may see some regression in are in his HR allowed and BABIP.  Currently, he is allowing HR at a rate of 0.84 HR/9, which is well below his marks the last couple of seasons.  And his BABIP of .262 is likely not sustainable, and although it may not get as high as his career mark of .304, it is surely to increase at least somewhat.  One more thing with Hammel is that he has never gone very deep into games and he has had some injuries that he has dealt with over the last few seasons, so he is not exactly the perfect model of health.

But with all this being said, Hammel still should be a fairly productive pitcher for the rest of the season.  For the remainder of the season I’ll give him:  9 W-6 L, 3.48 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and 122 K/31 BB in 137 IP.

Now let’s see what else happened on Tuesday…

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Thor Drops the Hammer on the Brew Crew (and other notes from 5/17/15)

***I apologize for the delay in these notes from Sunday 5/17/15.  I had jury duty all day Monday!  But I am catching up.

Noah Syndergaard of the New York Mets is commonly known as “Thor” amongst his teammates and soon the whole baseball community will be calling him that and will understand the power he wields.  After watching him pitch on Sunday versus the Brewers, I see why he has that moniker, with his big frame and flowing locks of blond hair.  He even has “Thor” embroidered on his glove so obviously it is something that he embraces, but who wouldn’t?  Whether it’s the Norse mythological god or the Marvel superhero character that he is being likened to (though essentially it is the same thing since the Marvel character is based off Norse mythology), it must be nice to be seen in the same light as someone so mighty.

Syndergaard shut down the Brewers on Sunday, going 6 IP allowing 1 ER on on 3 H and 1 BB while logging 5 K on his way to his first Major League victory.  After his first Major League start last week versus the Cubs at Wrigley Field, I said that his mediocre start went as I would have expected out of him in his debut, as he had some command and control issues but was able to miss some bats to get the strikeouts.  Well, before his second Major League start with the Brewers, I told a friend that this matchup  was much more favorable for Syndergaard and I expected him to come out and show an ace type of line.  The reasons that I told my friend that I believed this were because this was his first start in front of his home crowd that he would be pumped up for and he already got the big league jitters out at Chicago, and that the Brewers are not a patient hitting team as they ranked third to last in walk rate, which would help Syndergaard have better results in the end.  I watched this whole start and I loved what I saw from Syndergaard.  I know that I said after his first start that he’s not a must own in redraft leagues, but I am going to say that he is very close to a must own (if not one) after seeing him with my own eyes.  I don’t think that he will be as dominant as Matt Harvey was in his first full season, as he will likely experience some growing pains and some control issues every now and again, but in the right matchups he is going to be a very good play.

So with Syndergaard, the Mets have Thor who wields a mighty hammer (his devastating curveball) that only he has the strength and power of picking up.  Mets’ incumbent ace who has returned from Tommy John surgery, Matt Harvey, has earned the nickname of “The Dark Knight” for being the hero that the borough of Queens in New York City had been waiting for to come and save them to instill hope within the Mets organization that they could rise again soon.  So what other superheroes do the mets have on their pitching staff? Jacob deGrom is a really skinny guy as in his 6’4″ frame he only weights 180 lbs. and he looks like he is going to break whenever he is up to bat.  He also was a relative unknown before his 2014 breakout rookie campaign.  So for these reasons I will deem him as Steve Rogers, a frail young man who was enhanced to perfection to become Captain America.  Jon Niese can be Hawkeye just for the mere fact that he is a lefty and the Jeremy Renner portrayal of Hawkeye in The Avengers films is also left-handed (though in the Marvel comics he was right-handed).  And Bartolo Colon can be Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy for reasons that may or may not have to do with the attraction (or lack thereof) of each of their faces.

Let’s go ahead now and recap the Sunday fun day action.

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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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