Familia-rize Yourself With Jeurys (and other notes from 5/25/15)

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Jeurys Familia took on the role of closer for the Mets early on in the season when Jenrry Mejia went down with an elbow injury and then was suspended for 80 games for PED use.  Mejia being injured and subsequently suspended has turned out to be a real blessing in disguise for the Mets because Familia has stepped right in to exceed most likely anyone’s expectations.  With another perfect inning with 2 strikeouts on Monday to close out the Phillies, Familia now owns a 1.60 ERA, 0.70 WHIP, and 26 K/4 BB in 21.1 IP while converting 14 of 15 save opportunities.  But just who is Jeurys Familia?  Let’s take this time to “Familia”-rize ourselves with the 25-year old hard-throwing righty.

Familia has been in the Mets organization since 2008 and through the 2012 season he was brought up as a starting pitcher, but he posted modest numbers in that role (3.85 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 8.62 K/9, 3.95 BB/9).  Familia received his first taste of the Majors as a September call up in the 2012 season, but he was very ineffective in 8 relief appearances and one spot start.

Familia was able to break camp on the opening day roster as a reliever for the Mets in 2013, but once again he failed to impress because of extremely poor control, something that he also struggled with as a starting pitcher in the Minors.  And also in 2013, he underwent elbow surgery to remove bone spurs and that sidelined him for 4 months before he worked his way back to make one final appearance before the season ended.

For the 2014 season, Familia once again found himself working in the Mets bullpen as that apparently was where they saw him best suited long term.  Familia went on to post some quality numbers with a 2.21 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 8.50 K/9, and 3.75 BB/9 in 77.1 IP while also chipping in 5 saves filling in at closer when needed.  His SIERA at 3.21 was a full run higher than his ERA, but the improvements that he showed all across the board were encouraging.

So that brings us to 2015, where despite a relatively spotty track record, Familia has by no means “lucked” his way into the brilliant performance he has given.  His walk rate of 1.72 BB/9 is considerably lower than any rate he has posted in the past, but he is achieving that by getting ahead in the count a lot more often than he has in the past.  From 2012-14, Familia’s first pitch strike percentages were 42.3%, 51.9%, and 52.8%, but this year he is all the way up to 58.2% and obviously it is a lot easier to prevent free passes if a pitcher is getting ahead in the count early and often.

And how about that strikeout rate of 10.97 K/9?  That is also a much higher number than he’s accustomed to, but the improvement is for real.  Familia uses a four-seam fastball, a sinking fastball, and a slider.  It is his slider that has really taken his game to the next level this year as he is getting a little bit different movement and greater velocity on the pitch this year.  In the past it has been a pitch that averaged 86.1 MPH and has fallen out of the strike zone a lot, often times not getting close to the zone which made it easier for hitters to lay off of it.  But this year, he is averaging 88.6 MPH on the pitch and it’s staying higher with a little less horizontal movement, and he is able to effectively throw it in or much closer to the zone to get hitters to swing and miss on it.  With a 31.0% swinging strike rate on his slider this year (compared to 26.4% last year), Familia’s slider has become one of the better ones in the game.  Overall, Familia has an 18.2% swinging strike rate on all his pitches, which is 5th highest among qualified relievers.

His .191 BABIP is a low mark and he will likely see some regression there, but his overall performance is right in line with what the metric systems suggest it would be, as his 1.71 SIERA is not far off from his 1.60 ERA.  So if you were worried about Familia not being able to keep up his amazing performance, this all should ease your worries a bit.

Now let’s take a look at the rest of Memorial Day’s action!

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Billy Burns the Base Paths (and other notes from 5/24/15)

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Billy Burns was originally drafted by the Nationals but made his way over to the A’s in an off-season trade after he just had completed an amazing season in the Minors in 2013.  In that season, he split time between high-A and AA and compiled a .315 AVG with 0 HR, 37 RBI, 96 R, and 74 SB.  Obviously the stolen base total was terrific, but maybe the more impressive thing was his feel for the strike zone as he walked 13.3% of the time while only striking out 10.0% of the time.  So ever since then he has been someone that has been firmly on my radar as I tend to get enamored with players who have the capability to walk more than they strikeout.

However, 2014 season was a little bit of a different story.  He split time between AA and AAA in his first year in the A’s organization but didn’t show the same hitting and on base skills as he had just a .237 AVG, 9.8% BB%, and 15.5% K%, but the speed was still there with 54 SB and all reports suggested that his speed would definitely be a factor once he reached the Majors.

As an outfielder, Burns did not have a clear path to everyday playing time for the A’s to begin the 2015 season as Josh ReddickCoco CrispSam FuldCraig Gentry. and Rule 5 Draft pick Mark Canha all were ahead of Burns on the depth chart.  So while Burns did crack the opening day roster, he was sent down to AAA after a couple of games where he could get everyday playing time.  However, Burns was recalled on May 2 and ever since then I have been touting him and recommending him as a pick up in fantasy leagues.  Crisp returned from the DL on May 6, which didn’t look good for Burns’ playing time outlook, but Crisp went back on the DL on May 20 to relieve any concerns for Burns on the playing time front.

So for the most part, Burns has been an everyday player since his recall, starting in 19 of his team’s 22 games during that stretch and he is making a very nice impact for the A’s and fantasy owners alike.  On Sunday’s first pitch of the game, Burns crushed the Erasmo Ramirez offering into the right field bleachers for the first home run of his Major League career and only the 3rd home run of his career as a professional.  Burns later on added a stolen base to his box score line.  The home runs will be few and far between for Burns, but it is his tremendous speed that is going to be his best asset and make him valuable for fantasy purposes.  For the season, he has swiped 7 bags already in just 20 games played to go along with a .309 AVG.  His walk rate currently stands at 5.7% and strikeout rate at 16.1%, so there is some to be desired in those areas considering what we have seen from him in the Minors, but as he gains more experience he may see improvements.  Having a starting job and hitting atop the lineup for the A’s is good enough for now, and being a switch hitter is certainly a quality that should help to keep him in the lineup on most days.

Heading into the season, Burns and the recently demoted Micah Johnson of the White Sox were my two strongest candidates to be this year’s Dee Gordon to establish themselves as 50+ SB threats in the Majors.  That’s clearly not going to be happening for Johnson being back at AAA, but Burns could be on his way there (but he may have some competition in Delino DeShields).  I do not think that Burns is going to go away, and he is definitely a player that needs to be owned in all 12-team leagues.  There are only 3 players in the Majors who have more SB than Burns since he got called up, and those players are Gordon (9), Deshields (9), and Justin Upton (8).  Barring injury, Burns will be near the top of the stolen base leader chart by the end of the season, and at just 6% ownership in Yahoo, fantasy owners need to wake up before they get “burned” by not picking up Billy.

Let’s take a look at the rest of Sunday’s action heading into the Memorial Day holiday…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pollock Painting a New Picture in Arizona (and other notes from 5/20/15)

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In the pre-season, I highlighted Arizona Diamondbacks center fielder A.J. Pollock to be “This Year’s Michael Brantley.”  So follow the link for a more in-depth analysis on Pollock as not much has changed my views on him since then.  But let’s talk about what he has done so far this season to paint a new picture in the lineup for the Diamondbacks.

There were a lot of fantasy baseball people who liked Pollock for 2015, but I think that I liked him a bit more than most so I drafted him (or paid) a bit earlier (or more $) than I would have liked because I did not want to miss out on his predicted breakout season.  So far he has not let me down and I am not minding the the earlier picks (extra $) that I spent on him as I am enjoying the season that he is having.  Pollock hit a game-winning pinch-hit HR this past Tuesday and then on Wednesday he made the baseball diamond his canvas and turned in quite the masterpiece as he went 3 for 4 with a walk, leading to 4 runs scored and 3 stolen bases.  The strong game brought his season line up to a .298 AVG, 4 HR, 15 RBI, 27 R, and 9 SB — he is doing a little bit of everything.

While he is not likely to have a huge breakout in the same statistical way that Michael Brantley had in 2014, Pollock is on pace for a great season.  One thing that is different than I anticipated is that Pollock has gotten the majority of his at-bats in the 2-hole with the emergence of Ender Inciarte as a viable leadoff option.  I like the 2-hole more for Pollock as it gives him a little bit more RBI opportunity without changing his upside in any other aspect.  He is still getting some time in as the leadoff hitter, and actually is also occasionally in the lineup as the cleanup hitter versus lefties because he has great splits against them southpaws.  Pollock is getting rested more than I would like to see due to the Diamondbacks having a crowded outfield situation, but he usually does find his way into the game as a pinch-hitter if he wasn’t in the starting lineup and this perhaps can actually aid him in staying more fresh and healthy.  What prevented Pollock from a true breakout season last year was his health, but with good health on his side and being protected by Paul Goldschmidt in the lineup, the outlook for him can be amazing.  For the rest of the season, I’ll give him:  .290 AVG, 10 HR, 48 RBI, 63 R, 23 SB

Now on to the rest of the Wednesday daily report.

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BLOW-PEN REPORT: Neftali No Es Feliz

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TEXAS RANGERS

After being mostly a starting pitcher in the Minors, Feliz was converted to a relief pitcher upon his Major League arrival in 2009, but the transition appeared smooth for him as he developed into one of the better closers in the game in 2010 and 2011.  But for the 2012 season, the Rangers went out and signed Joe Nathan to be their closer as they shifted Feliz back into a starting pitching role.  This transition back to a starting pitcher didn’t end well as not only were the results not spectacular but Feliz also suffered a serious arm injury that required Tommy John surgery.  When Feliz rejoined the Rangers in late 2013, they changed his role yet again and put him back in the bullpen.  But ever since coming back from the procedure, Feliz’ velocity has been down significantly from where it was pre-Tommy John when he worked as a relief pitcher.  In his hey day, Feliz averaged 96.3 MPH with his fastball.  But since his return up through this season, he has been clocking in around 93.5 MPH with his heater and just not seeing the same results that he had back in 2010-11.

This past Saturday, Neftali Feliz blew the save and took the loss for the Rangers against the Indians and I had this to say about him:

“Rough go for Feliz who is not pitching very well this season and now has a 5.51 ERA, 1.71 WHIP, and is 6 for 9 in save opportunities.  It’s probably not quite time for a change in the Rangers bullpen yet, but one more game like this could do the trick.”

The following day, the Rangers had another late inning lead hosting the Indians as they were up 4-1 in the bottom of the 8th inning.  With a save situation still standing, Feliz got up in the Rangers bullpen to warm up.  But then oddly, while the game was still a 3-run differential with the save opportunity still on its way, Feliz sat down in the bullpen and Shawn Tolleson began to get loose.  The Rangers went on to tack on an insurance run in the inning to take away any potential save opportunity to begin the 9th inning and Tolleson came on to work a clean frame, allowing one hit and striking out two.  Though Tolleson technically didn’t take a save away from Feliz, it was certainly an interesting sequence of events and has to have some meaning behind it.

Here is what else I said this past Saturday after Feliz blew the save and took the loss:

“The candidates to take over would be Shawn Tolleson and Keone Kela.  Tolleson has been working the 8th inning in front of Feliz, and although his 3.86 ERA isn’t great, his 22 K/3 BB in 16.1 IP is dazzling.  The 22-year old rookie Kela owns a 2.55 ERA and has been working the 7th inning and is considered the closer of the future, but he had a fart of a game himself.  I would put Tolleson ahead of Kela for next in line due to Tolleson’s superb K/BB ratio and because of Kela’s lack of experience in the Majors.  I give permission to stash Tolleson right meow.”

At the very least, Feliz could be looking at some sort of possible injury that he dealt with while getting loose on Sunday.  Or in the most extreme of situations, one that would impact the fantasy baseball community immensely, Feliz could be out as the team’s closer due to his poor performance up to this point.  And Rangers manager Jeff Bannister went on to say there are no defined roles in the bullpen at the moment to possibly shut down any suspicion of a Feliz injury, but to confirm that there could be an imminent changing of the guard.

Well, hopefully on Saturday evening you were able to get that waiver claim in for Tolleson like I suggested, especially if you are a Feliz owner.  You really should listen to me!  Although it is entirely possible that Kela gets a chance, so he would not be a terrible grab either for those speculating on saves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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