Sometimes A Pitcher Is Only As Good As His Defense, Part 2 (and other notes from 8/17/15)

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A couple months ago on June 23 in part 1 of “Sometimes A Pitcher Is Only As Good As His Defense,” I took a look into the high BABIP’s (and subsequently inflated ERA and WHIP numbers) that several of the Cleveland Indians starting pitcher possessed and made the correlation that it was largely in part due to a poor defense that was playing behind those pitchers. At the time, the Indians had a very porous defense that was ranked 27th in DEF rating (a measurement system to reflect how many runs a team’s defense saves). But since then, the Indians have crawled all the way up to be right around a league average defense at 16th in DEF rating and out of the red and into the green with 0.5 runs saved on the season.

Surely there has to be some sort of underlying reason for the Indians improvement in defense, and one of the apparent factors was a player promotion. On June 14, the Indians promoted their top position prospect, Francisco Lindor, to the Majors to become their everyday starting shortstop in place of Jose Ramirez. Lindor had widely been known for his defensive wizardry coming up through the Indians Minor League system and he has most definitely brought that with him to the bigs as a 21-year old rookie. Out of all shortstops in the Majors (minimum 450 innings played), Lindor has the 8th highest DEF rating with 7.4 runs saved — and what makes this even more impressive is that he wasn’t even in the Majors for the first 2+ months of the season. For comparison, fellow top shortstop prospect, Carlos Correa of the Astros, was called up a week before Lindor and he ranks just 19th on the list with 2.7 runs saved despite making the highlight reel on a regular basis.

Another reason for the improved defense of the Indians on a more recent note has to be with the slew of trades that they made. At the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31, the Indians dealt away both Brandon Moss and David Murphy, and then they also traded Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher. Swisher was mostly used as a DH for the Indians so he’s not very relevant in this conversation, but Moss, Murphy, and Bourn are all players who played a good amount of games in the outfield for the Tribe and they all had negative scores in UZR/150. UZR/150 measures the runs above average per 150 defensive games. So surely, none of these players were doing anything of significance to earn a steak dinner from any of the Indians starting pitchers, and just removing them from the picture altogether has had to have been a nice change of pace on the defensive side of things for this ball club.

So with Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Danny Salazar having pitched another very solid game on Monday (7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 K with the W), the three Indians pitchers (Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco being the other two) who were battling inflated BABIP’s and poor overall statistics early on in the season have all been on a roll lately and have seen big improvements in their ERA, WHIP, and BABIP. Let’s take a look at each pitcher’s numbers in those categories since through June 23 (when I first wrote about this situation) and since June 23.

Danny Salazar — Through June 23: 4.06 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, .323 BABIP / Since June 23: 2.03 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, .176 BABIP

Corey Kluber — Through June 23: 3.65 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, .335 BABIP / Since June 23: 2.92 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, .259 BABIP

Carlos Carrasco — Through June 23: 4.35 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, .347 BABIP / Since June 23: 2.80 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, .238 BABIP

So as you can see, each of the three pitchers performed pretty similarly through June 23 and have also been in sync since June 23. That’s rather remarkable and is likely not all a coincidence. A good portion of the credit for their improvement since June 23 has to be given to the pitchers themselves for persevering through some rough times and for their skills as pitchers with great K/BB ratios, but this type of a turnaround likely would not have occurred without the improvement in their team defense. With the Indians’ new defensive arrangement going forward, these pitchers should be receiving a lot of help for the remainder of the season and make for elite fantasy plays.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top 25 Third Basemen for 2015 Fantasy Baseball

*The order of these rankings are based on a valuation system for a 5×5 roto scoring league with 5 games played minimum for position eligibility.  This is not necessarily the order I would draft these players in, as different factors should impact which player to choose.

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