2016 Fantasy Baseball Outfielder Rankings (#1-30)

Outfield is a fun position because just from the sheer quantity of outfielders that there are, there are so many that can unexpectedly (or maybe it is expected if you’re a fantasy shark) ascend to the top 30 outfielders in any given year. For instance, last season we saw the likes of A.J. Pollock, Lorenzo Cain, Mookie Betts, and David Peralta emerge to be some of the best return on investments in the fantasy outfield landscape. Who will be this year’s risers? Keep on reading to find out who The Backwards K thinks it will be! 

Below are THE BACKWARDS K 2016 FANTASY BASEBALL OUTFIELDER RANKINGS (#1-30). 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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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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Get the Heck Troutta Here (and other notes from 7/17/15)

What can’t Mike Trout do?  He debuted in the Majors at just 20 years old in 2011 and his official rookie season was 2012, and since then he has won the AL Rookie of the Year Award, been an All-Star in all four seasons, has won two All-Star Game MVP Awards in a row, has won a Silver Slugger Award in each season with another one on the way in 2015, finished 2nd in the AL MVP voting twice, took home the AL MVP Award last season, and is likely looking at being the AL MVP yet again this year.  I suppose he hasn’t won a Gold Glove Award yet, but he’s been robbed of that and he still is simply stellar in center field.

On Friday, he launched the third walk off home run of his career when he took Koji Uehara deep into the night.  He is now hitting .311 with 27 HR, 56 RBI, 69 R, and 9 SB, and he leads the AL in HR.  If we want to nitpick at his flaws, we can look at his gradually declining SB totals over his young career or his less than stellar strikeout rate.  But the fact is that he is the best all-around player in the game and he has been ever since he walked onto the field in his rookie season.  There are no more words that need to be said to describe him, so just sit back and enjoy the show in Anaheim.

Let’s check out what else happened on Friday as we are now back from the All-Star break!
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What Is Hector’s Achilles Heel? (and other notes from 7/10/15)

Hector Santiago was a pitcher that was acquired by the Angels via trade before the 2014 season and the Angels primarily used him as a starting pitcher for the 2014 season, but he more or less proved to be the same type of pitcher that he had been in his couple seasons prior with the White Sox.  He showed that he had a decent left-handed arm that had some strikeout potential but walked a lot of batters and was inefficient with his pitch counts, and he finished the season with a 3.75 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, and 108 K/53 BB in 127.1 IP.

So entering the 2015 season, much of the same was to be expected from Santiago as he opened the season with a spot in the back end of the Angels rotation, but he has surpassed anyone’s expectations.  The Angels starting rotation looked to be in some big trouble this season with Garrett Richards starting the season on the DL, Jered Weaver having extremely diminished velocity, C.J. Wilson coming off a career worst season as a starter, and the 2014 surprise Matt Shoemaker surely unable to repeat his rookie season numbers.  But even with all those question marks with the starting pitching, it would have been hard to predict that Santiago would be the Angels’ best, most consistent and reliable pitcher through the first half of the season.  So we have to acknowledge the fine job that he has done to this point, and with another strong start on Friday at Seattle, Santiago will enter the All-Star break with a 6-4 record, 2.33 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 98 K/34 BB in 108.1 IP.  Unfortunately, there are some red flags for Santiago that call for some regression as we enter the second half of the season, and he may not be quite as fortunate from here on out.

Santiago currently sports the 3rd lowest BABIP among all Major League pitchers at .244.  Santiago’s low BABIP can possibly be substantiated by the fact that he has been the most extreme fly ball pitcher in the entire league this season with a 50.8% fly ball rate.  Fly ball pitchers are more capable of maintaining low BABIP marks due to the fact that fly balls that stay in play are generally easier to record for an out than ground balls, which can go for hits in a number of ways unless it is hit directly at an infielder.  So at first glance, his low BABIP isn’t a terrible issue, but then upon examining his hard hit and soft hit rates, it becomes much more of a question if the low BABIP is something that he can maintain.  Currently, his soft hit rate is the 11th lowest in the league at 15.3% and his hard hit rate is the 8th highest at 33.4%.  What this reflects is that when hitters are making contact against Santiago, they are generally able to avoid hitting it softly and instead they hit it at a medium impact or a hard impact — and of course logic will say that hard hit balls will go for base hits much more often than soft hit balls. So the fact that Santiago has been able to rank so well in BABIP despite being on pace for career worst soft and hard hit rates, it would suggest that he has been rather fortunate.

In Santiago’s favor though is that he has one of the better outfield defenses in the league, much in part to the reigning American League MVP Mike Trout who seems to track down a myriad of fly balls that seemingly few center fielders would be able to get to.  So as I mentioned about the Indians pitchers and how their poor defense grossly affects them in “Sometimes A Pitcher Is Only As Good As His Defense,” it also works in the opposite way with pitchers who have good defenses backing them.  So because Santiago has Trout and others roaming the outfield behind him, he’s going to get a lot of should-be gappers hit off him that will be caught, which helps keep his BABIP down as a fly ball pitcher.  But even so, he should see some sort of regression in the area if he continues to allow hard contact at such a high rate because even Trout can’t catch them all.

Another thing of note with Santiago is that his 88.9% strand rate is the 2nd highest in the league next to Zack Greinke. That type of strand rate is astronomically high as the league average tends to hover around 72.0% and last year’s highest was Doug Fister at 83.1%.  So Santiago is bound for some regression in this area, especially as a fly ball pitcher.  Fly ball pitchers generally allow more home runs, and home runs obviously clear the bases of all runners so that none of those base runners allowed would count as stranded/left on base.  And indeed, Santiago does allow his fair share of home runs at 1.08 HR/9 this season, which matches his career mark as well.  His career strand rate has been relatively high at 79.8%, so perhaps it is somewhat of a skill, but nonetheless it should begin to regress.  Looking at the other pitchers with a strand rate of 80.0% or higher this season, most of them are ground ball pitchers because pitchers with higher ground ball tendencies are able to induce ground ball double plays to strand runners.

One final caution regarding Santiago is his innings count.  He came up through the White Sox farm system as primarily a relief pitcher, and that is what the White Sox used him as initially when he reached the Majors as well.  So his career high in innings pitched is only 149 set in 2013, but he is currently on pace to finish the season with 203.1 innings pitched.  While it is not as great of concern as his hard hit rate, BABIP, and strand rate, it definitely is something to watch once he surpasses his previous career high.

Something very positive in Santiago’s breakout season thus far is his big improvement in his control, which has led to greater efficiency with his pitches and being able to work deeper into games.  His walk rates from 2012-14 have been 5.12 BB/9, 4.35 BB/9, and 3.75 BB/9.  However, this year he is all the way down to 2.82 BB/9 and is averaging 6.16 IP/start. And the improved walk rate is backed up by a career high first pitch strike rate of 59.3%.  So as long as he can keep getting ahead of hitters in the count, then he should be well on his way to a career best walk rate — it’s just the other things that we need to monitor as Hector’s possible Achilles heel.

Let’s take a look at the rest of Friday’s slate.

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Yahoo! Joins the DFS Party (and other notes from 7/8/15)

In a fantasy world where daily fantasy sports (DFS) games are becoming more and more popular due to the instant gratification and large cash prizes that they can provide, it was only a matter of time before one of the big names of the season long fantasy sports world began to offer the daily games that sites such as FanDuel and DraftKings have popularized over the last few years.  On Wednesday, Yahoo! launched their version of daily fantasy sports offerings beginning with MLB contests.

Yahoo! provided an update to their fantasy sports application that now provides dual access to both the season long leagues and the daily fantasy contests.  With one click on the screen, it’s easy to switch on over from one to the other. Overall, the app could use some work in comparison to DraftKings great piece of work, but I’m sure that it will evolve in time.

It would appear that Yahoo! has made their DFS platform for MLB a bit of a hybrid between FanDuel and DraftKings.  The scoring system overall is much more similar to that of FanDuel in the sense that the wins for pitchers are a big thing.  For an example, a win on Yahoo! is worth four times the amount of a pitcher strikeout.  On DraftKings, a pitcher win is only worth two times the amount of a pitcher strikeout.  However, the scoring system on Yahoo! takes a page out of DraftKings’ book by not having any point penalties to hitters for strikeouts.  And as far as lineup configuration goes on Yahoo!, you must select two pitchers just like on DraftKings, as opposed to only one pitcher like on FanDuel.

Right now, it should pay off in the short term to play DFS guaranteed prize pool tournaments on Yahoo!  There’s going to be some extreme overlay in the early going due to things just starting out.  Overlay is created in GPP’s when the total numbers of entrants multiplied by the entry fee does not equal or exceed the amount that is listed as the “guaranteed” dollar amount to be paid out.

For instance, on Wednesday there was a tournament on Yahoo! that offered a guaranteed $10,000 in prizes and it was a $2 entry.  So there had to be at least 5,000 entrants ($10,000 divided by $2) to ensure that Yahoo! did not have to add money of its own to the guaranteed prize pool of $10,000.  But in this particular tournament there were only 3,163 entries at $2 a piece for a total of $6,326, which meant that Yahoo! had to contribute $3,674 of their own money to equal $10,000. And before the tournament, it was already established that the top 20% of the maximum amount of 5,682 entries would be paid out.  20% of 5,682 is 1,420.  But with only 3,163 total entries, that meant that the top 45% (1,420 divided by 3,163) of the entries would cash in the tournament, and with the chance to win the top prize of $2,000.  So a situation like this provides a lot of value and should be taken advantage of by submitting multiple entries — it gives the ability to win more money with less competition.

So I would recommend giving the Yahoo! DFS games a look, especially in the early going to try and grab some value with the overlay situation.  Also, the competition might be softer since the Yahoo! DFS games should attract a lot of the season long players that Yahoo! has — players who may not have ever played DFS before.  Now let’s take a look at Wednesday’s slate of baseball action.

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A Ray of Light for the Diamondbacks (and other notes from 7/7/15)

Just who is Robbie Ray?  You may remember has as part of a 3-player deal that occurred a couple months after the 2013 season ended where the Washington Nationals received Doug Fister from the Tigers in exchange for two pitching prospects, Ray and Ian Krol.  At the time, it looked like a pretty nice fleece job done by the Nationals to acquire Fister’s final two arbitration seasons for a couple of pitching prospects that were pretty decent but didn’t have overly impressive numbers in the Minors up to that point.

Ray spent most of the 2014 season for the Tigers at AAA, but did log 9 appearances and 6 starts for the Major League squad.  However, the 8.16 ERA and 1.88 WHIP in 28.2 IP along with an unimpressive AAA performance must have been enough for the Tigers to have seen from the lefty, as they then shipped him over to the Diamondbacks in a 3-team deal that netted them Shane Greene upon the conclusion of the 2014 season.

Ray arrived with the Diamondbacks and was assigned to AAA out of Spring Training where after 9 starts, he had a 3.67 ERA, 1.70 WHIP, and 57 K/27 BB in 41.2 IP.  Ray struck out a lot of batters, but he also issued a ton of free passes and got hit pretty hard as well.  So when the Diamondbacks called him up when the need arose, not much was to be expected of the 23-year old lefty, especially after his huge disappointment in Detroit.

With the strong 7 inning performance where he did not allow an earned run against the Rangers on Tuesday, Ray improved to 3-4 with a 2.16 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and 38 K/12 BB in 50 IP.  Those are some quality numbers and at first glance at his career numbers both in the Minors and Majors, it would be easy to dismiss this performance as a fluke.  However, three things that we need to look at are his pitch velocity, arm slot, and pitch arsenal.

Last season, Ray’s average fastball velocity according to PITCHf/x data was 91.3 MPH, and that was with a few relief appearances worked in there (pitchers generally throw harder in relief because they don’t have to “save” their arm for the whole game).  But this season in his time with the D-Backs, he’s averaged 93.3 MPH — a full two ticks higher on the radar gun.  We see it so often how pitchers with increased velocity from one year to the next go on to have more success for the simple reason that harder thrown pitches are generally harder for batters to hit.  Then looking at FanGraphs, we can see his release point from last year was higher and closer to his head than this year.  In other words, he is pitching the ball from a lower arm slot that is more of a 3/4 motion than overhand.  So perhaps Ray is finding much more comfort from a lower arm slot, and maybe it is even the reason why he is generating more velocity.  But whatever it is, it seems to be working for him and is likely more than just a coincidence.  Lastly, his pitch arsenal from last season had him throwing his slider just 3.5% of the time and his changeup 27.1%.  But this season, he’s using his slider much more often at 17.1% while his changeup is down to 9.2%.  Also, his slider appears to be much harder with a 4.2% velocity increase from last season.

So looking at these things, we are seeing a different Robbie Ray than before, which could arguably be the reasons why Ray is having much better luck this season.  And while Ray is bound to regress from his excellent ERA and WHIP numbers that he is posting right now, he may not completely implode.  His BABIP currently sits at .255, which is lower than the league average around .300, but as a fly ball heavy pitcher he should be able to post a lower BABIP as long as he’s not giving up a ton of line drives (which he’s not).  Then his strand rate of 73.2% is slightly above the league average, but it’s certainly not crazy high.  But where his regression should come primarily is in the form of more home runs allowed.  As a fly ball pitcher, he can post below a below average BABIP, but that also should mean that he should allow home runs at a higher rate than his current 0.36 HR/9 mark — especially pitching his home games in a hitter friendly park at Chase Field.  If he maintains his current strikeout and walk rates, then I could see Ray finishing the season around a 3.50 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, which would be much more than anyone expected from him.

Let’s take a look at the rest of Tuesday’s 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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When the Hard Hit Rates Don’t Match the BABIP (and other notes from 6/29/15)

Clay Buchholz of the Red Sox kept the bats of a powerful Blue Jays offense in check all evening on Monday and he defeated them by posting a line of 8 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 5 K.  He improved to 6-6 with a 3.48 ERA and 1.24 WHIP with both healthy strikeout and walk rates (8.55 K/9, 2.05 BB/9).  Buchholz’ issue this season is that he has the occasional blow up game to cancel out some of the great work that he does.  And as I said after his last start, if he can receive some better fortune then he could have better looking stats.  It’s probably too late now, but he would have been in a position to be the Red Sox All-Star representative if he had some better luck up to this point.  To see how Buchholz is sitting on the wrong side of things, we look at league stats for pitchers hard hit rate and BABIP.

Hard hit rate is a statistic that is becoming more prevalent in the conversation in the performance of players, similar to the way that BABIP (batting average on balls in play) did several years ago.  Hard hit rate is just what it sounds like — it is the rate at which a ball is hit at a “hard” impact and it can be used for evaluating both hitters and pitchers alike.  For hitters, the harder a ball is hit, the more that it shows that they are squaring up the ball with good contact and the greater likelihood of a hit and positive offensive production.  For pitchers, the harder the ball is hit against them would suggest that they are more likely to have poor results, giving up more hits and runs.  BABIP for hitters is the rate at which balls that are put in play (i.e. any official at-bat that does not result in a home run or strikeout) go for hits.  For pitchers, BABIP is the rate at which they allow hits on balls that are playable by a defense.

So using the stats provided by FanGraphs, looking at the top 15 in lowest hard hit rate for pitchers entering June 30, 2015, we find Buchholz come in at the 11th lowest with 23.9%.  So with a pretty low hard hit rate, we would expect that Buchholz would have a pretty low BABIP or at least around the league average in BABIP, which is generally somewhere around .300. But it is the exact opposite that we are seeing from the Red Sox righty.  Buchholz actually has the 12th highest BABIP at .332.  So the fact that he has been one of the better pitchers in limiting hard contact but has one of the higher BABIP marks in the league would suggest one of two things (or both): 1.) Poor defense behind him  2.) Lots of bad luck

So now we turn to defensive statistics, yet again on FanGraphs, to see what the Red Sox defense has been doing this season.  They come in below the league midpoint in DEF (defense rating) and UZR (ultimate zone rating), but they are not ranked too low in either — 17th in DEF at 0.3 and 19th in UZR at -6.4 — so they can more or less be classified as a league average defensive team as opposed to a poor defensive team.  Because of this, we would have to lean towards attributing Buchholz’ contradictory hard hit rate and BABIP to bad luck, and it can further be shown in the fact that his xFIP of 3.19 and SIERA of 3.22 sit a bit lower than his 3.48 ERA.  As we approach the season’s official 81-games played halfway point (the All-Star break is commonly given the misnomer as the halfway point), Buchholz could be in for some better times if he keeps pitching at the level that he is (or better) and receives some added luck on his side.

Using this same method, there are a few other pitchers whose hard hit rates don’t match up with their BABIP.  Let’s take a look at the following:

  • Gio Gonzalez – .354 BABIP (2nd highest), 25.6% hard hit (21st lowest) / Nationals: -8.7 DEF (22nd), -10.7 UZR (22nd)
  • Tyson Ross – .346 BABIP (5th highest), 24.1% hard hit (13th lowest) / Padres -31.6 DEF (29th), -34.6 UZR (29th)
  • Jose Quintana – .335 BABIP (10th highest), 24.7% hard hit (15th lowest) / White Sox: -37.6 DEF (30th), -34.6 UZR (30th)
  • Jeff Samardzija – .329 BABIP (16th highest), 26.1% hard hit (24th lowest) / White Sox: -37.6 DEF (30th), -34.6 UZR (30th)
  • Mike Pelfrey – .315 BABIP (29th highest), 20.5% hard hit (1st lowest) / Twins: -6.2 DEF (19th), -4.2 UZR (18th)

Gonzalez comes up ten thousandths of a point shy of having the highest BABIP in all of the Majors (Nate Eovaldi currently has the highest), but he isn’t getting hit all that hard.  However, his Nationals defense has been pretty bad.  I would expect some regression here just given how high his BABIP is, but with the poor defense and career high line drive and ground ball rates, it’s not necessarily all bad luck that he is receiving.

Moving on to Ross, I talked about bad defenses and how they can affect pitchers in “Sometimes A Pitcher Is Only As Good As His Defense,” and his defense has been the second worst in all of baseball.  So while he should improve some, his 62.8% ground ball rate is not conducive for the poor infield defense that he has behind him and things may not get too much better.

Then both Quintana and Samardzija pitch in front of the league’s absolute worst defense (also mentioned in “Sometimes A Pitcher Is Only As Good As His Defense”), so it is no surprise that we see them appear in this statistical review.  Like with Ross, some improvement should be seen, but if the White Sox keep deploying the same defensive players and strategy then it might be tough sledding for them to show drastic improvements in their overall stats.

Then there is Pelfrey who got obliterated for the second time in four starts on Monday to give him a much uglier stat line and to push him up the BABIP charts a lot.  He’s more in the same boat as Buchholz with a mediocre defense rather than a poor one.  So he could see some better days, but because of his minimal strikeout appeal, he is not a great fantasy target to begin with.  But with some better luck, he can provide decently in ERA.

Something interesting though that all six of the aforementioned pitchers have in common is that they all appear in the top 21 highest medium hit rates.  So while they may not be allowing a lot of hard hit balls, they all give up a lot of medium hit ones.  So perhaps it is these medium hit balls that these average or below average defenses are struggling to defend due to either poor range or misguided defensive alignments.  Nonetheless, I would still expect Buchholz to have some better days ahead of him if he continues to pitch at the level he has been.

Let’s now look at the remainder of Monday’s action!

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All-Star Game Roster Predictions: American League

Predicting the All-Star teams can sometimes be a hopeless exercise due to the unpredictability, but it is all fun and games. The first pieces that come into play for the All-Star rosters are the fan submitted votes where the leading vote getters at each position (three in the outfield) are automatically named to the All-Star team as a starter.  Next, the players vote for 8 pitchers (5 starting pitchers and 3 relief pitchers) and for a backup at each position (if the leading vote getter amongst the players was already voted in by the fans then the second leading vote getter amongst the players is named as an All-Star reserve).  Then the managers of the All-Star teams select the remainder of the roster until the roster has 33 players.  Finally, there are then 5 players from each league that are put on the “final man ballot” to be voted on by the fans for the 34th and final spot on each league’s respective roster.

The fans can do some pretty weird things in the voting like currently having five Royals players currently slated to be All-Star starters despite being undeserving of it.  Also, the players/manager selections can be strange and biased to include even more drama.  But I am going to do my best to predict each league’s All-Star roster.  What you’re about to read isn’t who I think should be All-Stars, but rather it is what I think will happen with both the fans and the players/manager votes. Continue reading

Rodney’s Reprise? (and other notes from 6/26/15)

About six weeks ago is when I first began suggesting that Fernando Rodney be removed from the closer’s role to make way for the young and more talented Carson Smith, and then I gave it a full rundown in the “BLOW-PEN Report” on May 23.  Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon ended up giving Rodney a lot of leash because he likely didn’t want to have to remove Rodney as his closer, but McClendon finally saw enough.  On June 6, Smith recorded his first career save in perfect fashion.

Since Smith took over as the team’s closer, entering Friday’s game, he had converted 5 straight save opportunities by pitching 5.2 innings allowing 2 runs on 2 hits and no walks while striking out 8.  So he has been having little issue in finishing games stress free.

Since Rodney lost the closer’s role, entering Friday’s game, he has done much better, only being scored upon once in 5 outings for 1 run in 5.2 IP with 4 K/3 BB.  In that small sample, it hadn’t been the best of performances, but clearly it was much better than what he had been doing in the 9th inning trying to close out games previously.

Friday night presented an interesting situation for the Mariners though as Smith was brought on in the middle of the 8th inning where he let Mike Trout and Albert Pujols reach base before getting a double play to end the inning for a total of 10 pitches thrown.  And then Rodney was brought in for the 9th inning to try and close the game against the bottom part of the Angels order, and he successfully did so after allowing one hit.

Initially when I first called for the switch of closers in Seattle, I had said that Smith was the better pitcher but that McClendon would probably eventually give Rodney another opportunity to close if he proved that he was able to work out his issues in lower leverage situations.  But then when Smith began to have so much success and displayed that he could potentially handle 9th inning duties with ease, I thought that Rodney would never be getting his job back.  So the way things played out on Friday is a bit peculiar to me since Smith did nothing in the way of performance to give back the job.

However, in this game, the higher leverage situation was actually in the 8th inning with the Angels best hitters (and two of the best in the AL so far this season), Trout and Pujols due up.  So the thought process for McClendon could have been that they really needed to get by Trout and Pujols before even thinking about seeing a save opportunity for the game, which meant that they needed to go to their best option.  So then McClendon might have thought that once Smith got by the heart of the order, then Rodney could come in to a more ideal situation to face the weaker hitters and possibly instill some confidence in him should he finish the game cleanly.

So I am still going to have to believe that Smith is the closer until he blows some saves (fingers crossed that he doesn’t). Maybe Rodney will snipe some opportunities away like he did on Friday, but I see little reason why Smith shouldn’t remain the man for the job and I would be shocked and lose any faith I had in McClendon as a manager if he were to switch things back with no probable cause.  But we will have to wait and see just what happens next.

Let’s check out the rest of Friday baseball.
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The Butler Did Do It, But Can He Continue To? (and other notes from 6/12/15)

Joey Butler of the Tampa Bay Rays has been the team’s primary DH since being called up and he has been scorching as of late and with a 3 for 5 game on Friday night, Butler is now hitting .342 with 4 HR, 16 RBI, 14 R, and 3 SB in 34 games.  Now I am all for riding hitters while they’re hot, so by all means let the Butler service your team for now, but before picking him up you need to know that the Butler might start hitting like an old maid in short time.

Up to this point, Butler has been a career Minor Leaguer who is now with his third organization.  Butler had received just 21 Major League appearances before this season, and at 29 years old he is not some emerging hot shot prospect who is taking the baseball world by storm.  He has had some nice success as a Minor League hitter with a career .294 AVG, 15-20 HR power, and some sneaky double digit SB speed.  So I am not meaning to say that Butler is a terrible player who doesn’t deserve any consideration, but we need to see the reality in this fantasy situation.

The reality is that Butler should soon begin a swift downfall.  His excellent batting average is being driven by an astronomical .456 BABIP, which would rank as the highest in the Majors if he had enough plate appearances to qualify.  It is true that his 27.7% line drive rate would rank favorably  as the 9th highest and his 10.8% soft hit rate would rank as the 11th lowest, but those rates are likely to trend in the wrong directions soon.  But even if he does happen to keep up those rates, no player can sustain a BABIP like that and he has his strikeout rate working against him as another factor that should bring his AVG down.  Butler has struck out 27.9% of the time, which is a pretty high rate.  It’s not quite in the territory of his teammate Steven Souza, but it’s still up there and it is very realistic since his swinging strike rate of 16.3% would rank as the 5th highest in the league.  To make things worse in the plate discipline area, his high strikeout and swinging strike rates are paired with a horrific 1.6% walk rate.  Butler had a 11.1% career walk rate in the Minors, so he does have some upside to do better there, but it’s not likely something that is going to change over night to make a drastic turn.

The fact of the matter is that Butler has been an extremely free swinger and while free swingers can succeed in the league, like Adam Jones or the retired Vladimir Guerrero, free swingers with high strikeout rates will have much more limited success in the long term, if any success at all.  But like I said, using hitters in fantasy while they are hot is a fine strategy, but it’s knowing when to cut them loose that is equally as important.

Let’s take a look at the rest of Friday’s action.

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Pujols’ Blast From the Past (and other notes from 6/11/15)

It is no secret that Albert Pujols has been a shell of his former self since signing on with the Angels before the 2012 season.  Ever since he started wearing his halo, all facets of his once legendary game have mostly deteriorated and begun trending in the wrong direction.  It can be seen in his decreased walk rate, increased strikeout rate, inability to hit for over a .300 AVG, slowing down on the base paths, a decrease in power, and nagging injuries that affect his aging body.

However, Prince Albert is bucking one of those trends this season as he hit his 9th HR in the last 13 games to give him a total of 17 HR through 57 games played on the season.  This surge of power is an extremely great sight to see as he continues to climb up the all-time HR leaders list, and it in fact ties his best 13 game stretch of HR in his whole career.  Back in 2006, Pujols also had a 13 game stretch where he hit 9 HR, and in fact he made it 10 HR in the 14th game.  And in that 2006 season he ended up hitting 49 HR, which is the most that he has ever hit in a single season.  So the fact that Pujols is going head-to-head with his career best HR season is an incredible feat for him to do 9 years later as a 35-year old.

It is unlikely that he continues this pace and finishes the season nearing his single season best in HR, but at this point we aren’t looking for Pujols to perform like the Pujols that was so amazing in the first decade of the new millennium.  Instead, we as baseball enthusiasts just want to see him be better than he has been since donning the Angel uniform, so that he can continue to set his name in stone as one of the greatest players ever in an era that has been so widely publicized and tainted as a PED era.

Pujols is also unlikely to hit for a .300 AVG even though he still remains one of the better hitters in the game at putting the ball in play.  The reason for that is as he has gotten older, he has become much less adept at using the opposite field.  From 2002-2008, Pujols finished each season hitting the ball to the opposite field anywhere from 20.7% of the time to 26.1%.  But from 2009-2014, his single season rates ranged from 14.5% to 19.3%, and his opposite field this season currently sits at 16.7%.  Not hitting the ball to the opposite field as much as he did in his prime years means that the opposing defenses are able to use defensive shifts on him a lot more, which takes away both the left side of the infield and up the middle.  Couple that with his serious decline in foot speed, and we have a player that is going to continue to post below average BABIP’s to give his batting average a low ceiling.

But the good thing about Pujols is that even if he’s not performing up to his previous levels, his “below average” stats are still better than a lot of players around the league.  So while we would love to see him still be the beast that he once was, this version isn’t so terrible.  Is he worth the salary that the Angels are paying him and will be paying him for the next six seasons?  Most certainly not.  But in fantasy baseball, that is not really much of our concern.  If he can stay in good health, then he will continue to find ways to be a productive player.

Now let’s check out the rest of Thursday’s action.
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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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BLOW-PEN REPORT: Fernando Rodney and His Broken Arrow

SEATTLE MARINERS

For me personally, as an Angels fan, I grew to hate current Mariners closer Fernando Rodney because of his erratic control and inability to close out games cleanly as he converted just 17 of 28 save opportunities with a 4.32 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, and 79 K/63 BB in 100 IP with the Angels from 2010-11.  So naturally, when he went on to have one of the greatest seasons ever by a closer with the Rays the year after leaving the Angels (0.60 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 76 K/15 BB in 74.2 IP, 48 for 50 in save opportunities), I despised him even more.

Rodney also seems to be the type of player that has surely made many enemies throughout the league, whether it is his thug-like appearance by wearing his hat intentionally crooked to the side, or his arrogant signature post-save routine that he does by pretending to grab an arrow and shooting it into the sky.  I know that he has at least ruffled the feathers on the Angel wings of Albert Pujols and Mike Trout as evidenced by each of them performing the same “shoot the arrow” action toward Rodney when getting a big hit and run in the 9th inning off of him in a game last year, after Rodney did a premature arrow celebration at the end of the 8th inning.  What a great moment in sports.

So after Rodney’s historic 2012 season, he went on to still be a quality closer with the Rays again in 2013 and then with the Mariners in 2014.  But one had to wonder just how long this would last given his 2002-11 track record of being a below average relief pitcher and as his age got into the upper 30’s.  Judging by the looks of things so far this season, his time as a quality Major League closer might be up.  Rodney may not be on the hot seat quite yet, but I’m sure he is feeling a little bit of a burning sensation on those glutes of his.

Even though Rodney has converted 12 of 13 save opportunities this year, he has hardly been sharp in doing so, especially as of late as he has been scored upon in 4 out of his last 5 save chances to close out a game, but he luckily escaped without a blown save in any of those games.  Overall, Rodney owns a 6.23 ERA and 1.62 WHIP, and both of his strikeout and walk rates are trending in the opposite directions of the past few years. Continue reading

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

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