Fister Bumped From Rotation, Declines Fist Bump From Ross (and other notes from 8/6/15)

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On Thursday, it was announced by Nationals manager Matt Williams that Doug Fister would be sent to the bullpen to make room for Stephen Strasburg who is set to return from the DL this weekend. It’s a bit of a surprising move, but it is the correct and smart move to make because Fister has been a bit of a hot mess this season.

Fister has compiled a 4.60 ERA and 1.42 WHIP in 15 starts this season and he also had a lengthy DL stint that likely didn’t help matters. And just when you thought his strikeout rate of 5.38 K/9 from last season couldn’t get any lower, he’s stooped down to 5.02 K/9 this season, which is pretty outrageous for a starting pitcher in the National League. If he qualified with enough innings pitched, Fister’s strikeout rate would rank as the 2nd worst in the NL behind Kyle Kendrick (4.69 K/9). As a relief pitcher, Fister obviously would be fantasy irrelevant, and he probably won’t have much success there either. As a free agent at the end of the season, it’s very possible that Fister has made his last start for the Nationals (that is unless/until Strasburg hits the DL again).

With Fister being ousted from the starting rotation, that means that 22-year old rookie Joe Ross will remain in the rotation and he has the true skills to never relinquish his rotation spot again. Ross was featured on The Backwards K a month and a half ago in “I’m the Biggest Ross That You’ve Seen Thus Far,” so check that out for a bit of a review, and he is definitely a favorite here and considered to be one of “my boys.”

Ross, younger brother of Padres pitcher Tyson Ross, came over from the Padres in a 3-team trade this past off-season, and he initially stepped into the Nationals rotation to make spot starts when Strasburg first landed on the DL. But when Strasburg landed on the DL a second time, that gave Ross the opportunity to further impress the organization. After another excellent start on Thursday against the Diamondbacks (6 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 7 K with the W), Ross is now 3-3 with a 2.80 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, and 47 K/4 BB in 45 IP over 7 starts.

Ross has excelled with a sinking fastball that has generated a lot of ground balls (52.5% groundball rate on the season) and a good slider that has been his strikeout pitch — he likely has received tips on his slider from his big brother who has one of the nastiest sliders in the game. He will also mix in a changeup to help keep hitters off balance. Ross’ combination of heavy groundball tendencies (which also translates to good home run prevention), strikeout per inning ability, and excellent control is a very lethal set of skills that makes him an extremely attractive fantasy pitcher. Ross undoubtedly needs to be owned in all fantasy leagues, yet somehow he is currently owned in less than 50% across all major platforms.

Looking ahead to next season, with Fister and Jordan Zimmermann hitting free agency, Ross should firmly be entrenched in the Nationals rotation and future plans. Also Lucas Giolito, widely considered to be one of the top two pitching prospects currently in the Minors, could be ready to break into the Nationals rotation by the beginning of the 2016 season as well. Max Scherzer, Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Ross, and Giolito would make for a nice rotation that has a great blend of veteran power, tremndous upside, and young appeal.

Now let’s take a look at the rest of Thursday’s short slate of baseball!

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J.D. (Just Dongs) Martinez Goes Yard Thrice (and other notes from 6/21/15)

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J.D. Martinez spent parts of three seasons on the Major League squad for the Astros and he never was able to compile a full season of success.  The Astros then released him before the start of the 2014 season and the Tigers picked him up and he ended up breaking out for a real surprise season with a .315 AVG, 23 HR, 76 RBI, 57 R, and 6 SB in 123 games. Martinez was able to complete this transformation and breakout by completely retooling the mechanics of his whole swing, and it’s always nice to know that there are actual tangible reasons as to why a player finally has a breakout season.  The high batting average of .300 wasn’t necessarily going to be there this season given that his .315 AVG from last year was driven by a likely unsustainable .389 BABIP, but it was reasonable to expect that this season he would be able to put up similar power production with the maintaining of his new swing mechanics.

After a month of the 2015 season, Martinez was hitting just .216 on May 8 but the 6 HR that he had at that point were respectable.  The culprit of the low batting average was the fact that his BABIP was much lower than last season (which was expected) and he was also striking out at a much higher rate.  However, over the last couple weeks, Martinez has really trimmed down his strikeout rate to a nearly identical mark that he was at last season.  With the decrease in strikeouts, Martinez’ batting average has gone up a lot and now sits at .275 after his big day on Sunday, and his .325 BABIP is a much more realistic mark to suggest that this could be the area in AVG that he finishes the season with.

His game on Sunday consisted of a 3 HR and 6 RBI performance to give him 16 HR and 41 RBI for the season so far to put him on pace to do even better than last year in those areas.  Also, his ISO is now up to .240, which is right in line with his last year’s mark of .238 to further prove that his power is legitimate and for real.  The triple dong outburst from Sunday has me believing that the J.D. stands for Just Dongs.  Expect to see him continue his power stroke as the season goes on, and he makes for a good play as a part of a Tigers offense that can do very dangerous things.

Now let’s check out what else happened on Sunday!

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Last Call on Carson Smith (and other notes from 6/6/15)

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After being scored upon in 9 of his last 13 appearances and collecting 2 blown saves and 2 losses in the process,  Fernando Rodney was not the arm called upon on Saturday evening to protect a lead in the 9th inning for the Mariners.  Instead, manager Lloyd McClendon turned to the youngster Carson Smith who had no issues with a clean inning of work with one strikeout to earn the first save of his career.

I have been singing this tune for weeks now as reported in detail on May 23 in “BLOW-PEN Report:  Fernando Rodney and His Broken Arrow,” and even before that I issued some tidbits on the situation.  Rodney just has been horrible this season and it was only a matter of time before Smith was given a chance to close out a game.  However, unlike the situations in Miami and Texas that I also reported on in the BLOW-PEN Report before those closer situations changed, I think that Rodney will get a chance to try and prove himself again.  The fact that McClendon stuck with Rodney for so long in his time of struggle suggests to me that he really prefers Rodney as his closer and/or does not think that Smith is prepared to be thrusted into that role full-time in just his first full season in the Majors.  And as I suggested in the BLOW-PEN Report, it could be a case of Rodney tipping his pitches, which is something that would be fixable if that’s what the ultimate issue is.  But whether or not Rodney does work out the kinks to earn his manager’s trust back is certainly far from likelihood.

For now, I think that Rodney will see one of the next save opportunities and if he does well then he will continue to see more until he blows another.  But obviously Smith needs to be picked up in all league formats as he has very dominant stuff to be very successful as a Major League closer.  If not right now, then Smith should assume the role as closer for the Mariners later this summer when Rodney could possibly get traded if the Mariners are not in contention, or the beginning of next year.  So for keeper and dynasty leagues, he should have been grabbed a while ago.

Smith currently has a 1.08 ERA, 0.68 WHIP, and 29 K/5 BB in 25 IP.

Let’s check out the rest of Saturday’s slate.
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Prepare For Total deGromination (and other notes from 5/21/15)

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deGromination:  Definition – when a pitcher with favorable splits to pitching at home shows pure domination in a home start

Jacob deGrom of the New York Mets burst onto the scene in 2014 for a breakout rookie season despite a rather unimpressive Minor League track record, but there was little to suggest that he was in for any severe regression this season.  With a matchup versus the Cardinals on Thursday, deGrom was utterly masterful as he struck out 11 in 8 scoreless innings, allowing only one base runner to reach on a Matt Carpenter single in the 1st inning.

Over deGrom’s last couple starts where he had a very rough go at Wrigley Field in Chicago but then turned in a good outing at home versus Milwaukee, I have alluded to the fact that deGrom seems to be very uncomfortable in road starts, but is extremely dominant in home starts at Citi Field.  It isn’t uncommon for some pitchers to struggle on the road, whether it is the home team crowd getting on the pitcher’s nerves, the discomfort pitching on a mound that they are not as familiar with, or just foreign surroundings in general.  Some pitchers can handle it, but some cannot.  It’s just the nature of the beast.  But for deGrom, the home/road splits are very pronounced and are definitely something that needs to be of knowledge to anyone who owns the soon to be 27-year old righty, or anyone who plays DFS (daily fantasy sports).  Let’s take a look at the splits including Thursday’s excellent outing.

Career at home:  10 W-4 L, 1.50 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 9.30 K/9, 1.83 BB/9 in 108.1 IP (16 games)

Career on road:  4 W-6 L, 4.21 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 8.83 K/9, 3.49 BB/9 in 87.2 IP (15 games)

Given that deGrom didn’t debut in the Majors till May 15 of last season, these numbers span over 31 starts in just over a year’s time.  This may be a small sample size in the grand scheme of things, and he wasn’t nearly as bad on the road last year as he has been this year so far, as it’s been two really bad games against the Cubs and Yankees that have hurt his road numbers.  But regardless, it is very difficult to ignore what is going on here.

DeGrom’s next scheduled start comes at home versus the Phillies before he will likely get two road starts at San Diego and Arizona.  Obviously he is a must start at home against a rather weak Phillies offense, but those road starts may be difficult for him as Petco Park doesn’t seem to be the pitcher friendly park that it once was, and Chase Field in Arizona is definitely a hitter’s haven.  I wouldn’t necessarily bench him for those road starts, but strong consideration has to be given to doing so, and with any road starts versus good offenses in general.

Let’s see what else happened on Thursday’s split morning/afternoon slate.

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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.

Keep on reading to see what else happened for Saturday’s baseball action. Continue reading

Orioles Can’t Make Pineda Their Piñata (and other notes from 5/10/15)

Michael Pineda painted an absolute masterpiece on Sunday as Orioles hitters could not figure out his breakaway slider.  Pineda ended up lasting 7 innings while allowing 1 run on 6 hits while striking out 16 (!) and walking none.  If I am Buck Showalter, I am reviewing the footage of the game to make sure Pineda didn’t have any pine tar hidden somewhere on his body!  More like Michael Pinetarda, am I right?!  But the truth is Pineda was just flat out dominant and while he’s not going to have many more games like this one, he is still a heck of a pitcher with a bright future if he can avoid the arm/shoulder issues that he has dealt with early in his Major League career.  Pineda now owns a 5-0 record with a 2.72 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 54 K/3 BB in 46.1 IP and he is absolutely the real deal, but unfortunately if you do not own him in fantasy then it will be very difficult to trade for him as outings like this one drive up the asking price three fold.  Remember last year when it was impossible to take a walk against Phil Hughes and he went on to post the best single season K/BB ratio of all time?  If anyone this year has a shot at surpassing that mark it is Pineda.  Since last year when he returned to the Majors for the first time since the end of the 2011 season due to injuries, Pineda has 113 K/10 BB in 122.2 IP to go along with a shiny 2.20 ERA and 0.90 WHIP.

Not to be outdone, except he was, Danny Salazar spun a gem of his own on Sunday that might go under the radar (to anyone who doesn’t own Salazar) due to Pineda’s 16 K effort.  Salazar began his start by giving up a leadoff home run to Brian Dozier, but then went on to retire the next 21 batters in order while whiffing 11.  Salazar was supposed to have his breakout last year but instead was cast off to AAA after a showing a gross lack of command.  Salazar even began this season in AAA, but was recalled when the Indians needed another starting pitcher.  The Indians broadcast team said how Salazar dedicated himself in the off-season to doing whatever it took to get himself ready to be a full-time Major Leaguer as he did not want to ever go back to Columbus, the Indians AAA affiliate.  If you were lucky enough to spend a late round draft pick on Salazar (and subsequently hold on to him despite being sent down to AAA to begin the year) or pick him up off waivers early in the year, then you have gold on your hands and should not let him go.  Salazar has insane strikeout upside that can be paired with well above average control when he is on point.  On the year, Salazar is 4-1 with a 3.27 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, and 48 K/5 BB in 33 IP.  So for the mathematically handicapped out there, that is a strikeout rate of 13.09 K/9.  O to the M to the G.  Going into the 2014 season, I tagged Salazar as “This Year’s Jose Fernandez.”  Well, I was a year premature on that.  Like Pineda though, Salazar does come with an injury history as he is a Tommy John surgery survivor, but he has shown good health since returning from the procedure in 2011.  A couple weeks ago I spent 1/4 of my FAAB budget on Salazar in one league and he’s going to be worth every penny.

Let’s see what else of importance happened on Sunday’s full baseball slate… Continue reading