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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Kazmir Lands in Houston (and other notes from 7/23/15)

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With the trade deadline approaching at the end of the month, contending teams are looking to do some wheeling and some dealing with the sellers who are out of playoff contention. On Thursday, there were a couple of trades, and right now we’ll examine one of them and how it might impact the fantasy world.

The Houston Astros acquired left-handed starting pitcher Scott Kazmir from the Oakland A’s in exchange for two low level prospects, catcher Jacob Nottingham and pitcher Daniel Mengden. Kazmir grew up in Houston, so this is a nice homecoming for him and should give the Astros a nice opportunity to re-sign him once he becomes a free agent at season’s end. Kazmir has done very well this season for the A’s going 5-5 with a 2.38 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and 101 K/35 BB in 109.2 IP.

Kazmir has done exceptionally well at home in Oakland this season with a 1.36 ERA, so it is possible that there may be some regression in his numbers upon joining the Astros to pitch in a more hitter friendly home park. But whatever possible regression he might see pitching his home games in Minute Maid Park could be negated by pitching for a winning team where he should have a much better opportunity to post better than a .500 win-loss record.

The result of the trade for the A’s starting rotation could mean that left-hander Drew Pomeranz, who started in place of Kazmir on Thursday, could be rejoining the starting rotation on a permanent basis. Pomeranz did pretty well in 10 starts for the A’s in 2014, so with a strong showing in Spring Training he earned a spot in the A’s rotation to begin the season. He made 8 starts to post a 4.40 ERA and 1.65 WHIP before being removed from the rotation and sent to the bullpen.

With primarily being a fastball/curveball pitcher with no second offspeed offering, Pomeranz might not be destined for success as a starting pitcher because starting pitchers generally need more than just two types of pitches to be effective for more than just one or two innings. And it shows with Pomeranz in the fact that in his career as a starting pitcher, he has a 4.60 ERA and 1.43 WHIP, but as a relief pitcher he had a 1.38 ERA and 1.03 WHIP. Furthermore, as a starting pitcher when he faces a batter for the first time in a game he has allowed a triple slash of .256/.323/.365, but in the 2nd and 3rd times that he has faced batters in a game he has allowed a triple slash of .252/.348/.432. So after the first time through the lineup, he lets a lot more guys on base and gives up many more extra base hits.

I had some decent hopes for Pomeranz coming into the season if he was able to develop a changeup, but he just hasn’t done so and I will have my reservations about Pomeranz as a starter going forward. But the A’s should give him a look as a starter again and encourage him to develop another offspeed pitch.

From the Astros standpoint, Kazmir will slot into their rotation alongside Dallas KeuchelCollin McHugh, and Lance McCullers, and it should result in either veteran Scott Feldman being moved to the bullpen to be used as a long reliever, or rookie Vincent Velasquez being sent down to the Minors. From a fantasy perspective, Feldman offers zero appeal so it would be much more attractive if Velasquez remains in the rotation and it would probably give the Astros their best chance of winning games. Velasquez currently has a 4.03 ERA and 1.29 WHIP with 38 K/14 BB in 38 IP over 7 starts since being promoted to the Majors. He’s got some very nice upside as a high strikeout pitcher and has done well enough so far to keep his spot, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens.

Let’s check out the rest of Thursday’s action.

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

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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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Yes Way Jose (and other notes from 7/2/15)

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As a 20-year old phenom, Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez took the baseball world by storm by earning the 2013 NL Rookie of the Year Award with a 12-6 record, 2.19 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and 187 K/58 BB in 172.2 IP.  Big things were expected of him in 2014 and he showed much of the same in 8 starts to begin the season with a 4-2 record, 2.44 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, and 70 K/13 BB in 51.2 IP.  But after that 8th start, it was learned that he would have to undergo Tommy John surgery, breaking the hearts of fantasy owners around the nation and Marlins fans…errr, nowhere.

A few weeks ago, the Marlins tabbed July 2 as the date that the now 22-year old Fernandez would take the mound in a Major League game for the first time in nearly 14 months.  And for the most part, his rehab went pretty well so it was expected that Fernandez would step right in and make an immediate impact for the Fish.

So the day finally came on Thursday in front of the home crowd and it didn’t get off to such a hot start as Fernandez gave up 3 hits and a sacrifice fly in the 1st inning to fall behind 2-0.  However, he settled down after that to allow a total of 3 runs on 7 hits and 0 walks in 6 innings while striking out 6.  He also helped his own cause by smashing his 2nd career HR off Matt Cain, and he admired it for a few seconds before beginning to round the bases, giving Cain a good glare as he rounded first base.  Fernandez hit the upper 90’s on the radar gun multiple times, getting as high as 99 MPH, and his average fastball velocity was right in line with what it was before the Tommy John surgery, which is obviously a great indication that he’s feeling great.

What we need to watch for though is how his command and control are in the next few starts.  Pitchers in their first year back from Tommy John surgery tend to struggle in that area, especially when it’s just around 12-14 months after their last Major League game (as opposed to the 19-20 months that Matt Harvey had).  However, Fernandez had good control to begin with, so any possible struggle wouldn’t take away too much from his game.

For the rest of the season, I’ll give Fernandez a line of 6 W-3 L, 3.04 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 88 K/25 BB in 80 IP.

Now let’s look at the rest of Thursday’s action!

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All-Star Game Roster Predictions: American League

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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

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

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

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Switch hitting has been a prevalent part of the game for decades because generally speaking, hitters do better against opposite-handed pitching than they do against same-handed pitching as I have outlined in “Fantasy Baseball Strategy: Using Platoons to Your Advantage.”  The idea behind it all is that hitters just tend to see the ball better out of opposite-handed pitching and have an easier time dealing with breaking balls that break toward them instead of away from them.

Many ball players will practice and develop the ability to hit from both sides of the plate when they are young as a way to gain this slight advantage, but it certainly is tough to master.  When I was in Little League, I would head to the batting cages before all my games to warm up and I would practice switch hitting just for fun.  As a natural righty, I would flip over and hit lefty in the cages sometimes and while I could consistently make contact with the ball, the same type of power was just not there.  So I think it is an impressive feat for any player that is a switch hitter and can hit equally for average and power from both sides of the plate.

But what about pitching with both hands?  If having the ability to hit both right-handed and left-handed gives an advantage for hitters, then wouldn’t the same be true for a pitcher who can throw with both hands?  A pitcher with this ability could pitch right-handed to all right-handed batters and pitch left-handed to all left-handed batters to obtain an advantage much in the same way that switch hitting does.  For me, trying to switch hit is hard enough, so I can’t imagine trying to switch pitch.  Heck, I can’t even brush my teeth left-handed let alone throw a baseball with the same type of accuracy and force that I do with my right hand.  But there is a pitcher in the Oakland A’s organization named Pat Venditte who was just called up to the Majors for the first time in his career, and you guessed it, he is a switch pitcher — the first of his kind to appear in the Majors since 1995.

The soon to be 30-year old Venditte was originally drafted by the Yankees and spent 7 years in their Minor League system before catching on with the Oakland organization for the 2015 season.  Venditte has been a relief pitcher for basically the entirety of his Minor League career (250 relief appearances in 259 total games pitched) and he has done pretty well with a career 2.37 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and 9.99 K/9.  With numbers like that and the ability to switch pitch, it is a bit of a wonder why it has taken so long for him to receive a promotion to the bigs.  Not only does he switch pitch, but he also does it with a sidearm motion from both sides, giving him even more novelty.

Venditte made his Major League debut right upon his call up on Friday against the Red Sox and he pitched two scoreless innings allowing just one hit while also striking out one batter.  He’s going to work in middle relief for the A’s, but one has to wonder if he could ever work his way into the closer’s role.  He gained experience as a closer in his first two seasons in the Minors, but he has only recorded one save in the last 4+ seasons.  And because of his soft tossing ways (sitting around 85 MPH on his fastball), he does not profile as a typical closer.  However, Billy Beane and the A’s are known to be revolutionary in utilizing uncommon approaches to maximize the most out of the players on their roster.  And with last year’s closer Sean Doolittle back on the DL with his shoulder injury and severely diminished velocity, and fill-in closer Tyler Clippard likely to be shopped around since he is in the last year of his contract on a last place team, it wouldn’t be too crazy to think that Venditte could be closing out games for the A’s this season at some point if he shows success in a middle relief role first.

This is mostly just speculation on my part as I think it would be amazing to see a switch pitcher succeed and ascend to a more prolific role, so I wouldn’t put too much value into it.  It will be entertaining to watch and interesting to see what he can do.  If he ever does become a Major League closer, I will give him a hand, but it’s not like he needs one.

Let’s check out what else happened on Friday!

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What Would Doo Do? (and other notes from 5/27/15)

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For anyone who owns Sean Doolittle in fantasy leagues, the question was going to be “What Would Doo Do (in his first game back from the DL)?”  @whatwouldDOOdo also happens to be the Twitter handle of the Oakland lefty, and he does tweet some funny stuff and is worth the follow on Twitter if you’re into that sort of thing.

Doolittle had been recovering and rehabbing from a shoulder injury that has had him on the DL all season, but he was finally activated on Tuesday and got into game action on Wednesday.  Doolittle entered the 6th inning of Wednesday’s game against the Tigers in a very low leverage situation with the team down 3 runs and the bottom of the Tigers order coming up.  Doolittle caught Nick Castellanos looking on strike 3, got Bryan Holaday to hit a flyout, gave up a single to Dixon Machado, and then struck out Anthony Gose swinging through a fastball.  So in box score terms that was 1 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K.

Looks pretty good, right?  He should be back to closing games in no time?  Well, it is possible but hold that thought.  While he did finish his first outing back with a clean inning and even struck out 2 batters, let’s not forget that 2 of the batters he faced are normally bench players and one of the other batters cannot hit lefties worth a lick.  Then throw in the fact that Doolittle’s fastball was sitting at just 89 MPH, which corroborates reports of his velocity being way down in his rehab appearances, and we could possibly have a tease situation on our hands if we were to just look at the box score.

Doolittle’s fastball is a pitch that has regularly averaged 94 MPH on the gun over the last couple of seasons, so to be sitting at 89 MPH and topping out at 90 MPH does raise a decent level of concern.  Coming back from a shoulder injury, it shouldn’t be expected that Doolittle has the same type of velocity, but a 5 MPH difference is very discouraging.  To look on the brighter side of things though, the fastball is a pitch that he throws 85-90% of the time, so he’s not one to rely on changing speeds a whole lot.  Instead, he is more about locating the fastball where he wants it to be.  So he doesn’t necessarily need the really good velocity, but it also is an extreme plus to have it and hitters may start to tee off on him if he’s without good velocity. 

Doolittle of course can regain the velocity as the season goes on and as his shoulder gets stronger.  However, without any guarantee that happens, Doolittle may be in for some tough times.  If I owned him, which I do, I would shop Doolittle around to owners that are looking for saves to see if you can get something that may be of good use to you.  It won’t be a star player, but a quality role player can go a long ways.  There’s a chance that Doolittle ends up being fine, reclaims the closer role after a couple more good innings, and goes on to be a quality closer the rest of the way.  However, I would be fine taking my chances and getting rid of him if I can find the right deal.

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