Nationals Arm Race

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Ask Collier: first mailbag of the 2018-19 off-season!

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The off season all revolves around Harper.  Photo via GQ Magazine

The off season all revolves around Harper. Photo via GQ Magazine

Hey there!  If its the Nat’s off-season, it must mean mail bag time.  We havn’t seen one from MLB.com beat reporter Jamal Collier in a while (what, was he busy or something? :-) but now we get one with some good discussion-generating questions.

Here’s how i’d answer the questions he took.


 

Q: As a fan of the great outfield we had at the end of the year. Are the Nationals considering trading Adam Eaton if they resign Bryce Harper?

A: Indeed, an outfield of Soto, Eaton, and Harper is pretty awesome, if (biiiiig if) all are healthy and producing at optimal levels.  And the on top of that we have a top-5 prospect in all of baseball Victor Robles who no longer can be kept in the minors.  So that’s four solid players who all would start for any team in this league on one team.  So what do we do?

Well … only one of these four guys is a Free Agent: Harper

And, only one of these guys is projected to make a ridiculous, franchise altering amount of money in free agency: Harper.

Harper has played for 7 nearly full-seasons: he has a total bWAR figure for his career is 27.4.   That’s an average of 3.9 bWAR per season.  Yes he had a monster 10 win season in his MVP season of 2015, but he’s also lost huge portions of several seasons to injury.  And that has to be part of the conversation when you consider whether you commit $200M to him for the next 7 years.

For me the answer is easy.  Juan Soto will make the MLB minimum (or near to it) next year; call it $600k.  He generated 3.0 bWAR in 116 games, which projects to a 4.1 Win season with 162 games.  I’d rather pay Soto $600k to give the team the same expected level of production as Harper would for 30-TIMES more money.   You let Harper walk, you go to war in 2019 with Soto in left, Robles in center, Eaton in right, finally have three outfields all in the “right” positions defensively, and then deal with a 4th outfielder from internal candidates.

NOW.  Letting a tranformative player like Harper go is … well its an “above the GM” decision.  Not only because of the impact on payroll, but because of his role with the team.  He’s a massively marketable star, transformative not just for the team but for the sport of professional baseball.  His $30M/year salary (or whatever he wants) is not just about payroll; you can’t put a price tag on the marketability of a player of his stature and what it means for the team.  He puts “butts in the seats.”  He is in national commercial ad campaigns.  He’s a foil (for better or for worse) across the sport.  Do you just let a guy like this walk?  They’re getting basically *nothing* back for him (a compensation pick between the 4th and 5th rounds, thanks to the criminally poor job the team did in managing the luxury cap over the last two years), so that barely factors into the discussion.

Now, lets say, for the sake of argument, that the team does re-sign Harper.  Yeah for me, if you re-sign Harper, you’re going to have to move either Eaton or Robles.  So … which do you move?   Eaton, like Harper, has been just crushed by injury the last two years, producing a fraction of his value the 3 years prior.  So even though he’s still quite affordable, trading him this off-season would be trading pretty low.  Robles is still the unknown; yeah he’s an amazing prospect, but is he going to have a Juan Soto-like 2019?  Robles can be the centerpiece of a trade that could return a significant player in an area of need for this team (mid-level Starter or quality starting Catcher).  Would you prefer to go that route?

For me; i’m on record.  I want to part ways with Harper, field a starting OF that costs less than half of a one-year Harper salary figure and allocate his projected payroll towards other areas of need.

Collier echos my concerns about trading Eaton low, but also notes that … well this is THE decision that the team faces, probably the biggest one in a decade.  We can’t know until the Harper decision is made.


Q: What’s Michael A. Taylor’s future with this team?

A: For me, despite Michael Taylorawesome 2017 season, he’s reverted back to form.  He’s a 4th outfielder.  Great defensively, poor offensively.  Can play all three OF positions, plays CF excellently.  But he still strikes out 33% of the time and cannot be trusted.  After his 2018, its not like he has real trade value, and he’s now also arbitration eligible so he’s not exactly cheap.  Is he a non-tender candidate?  Probably not, but assuming the team goes with my plan of letting Harper walk and going with a starting OF of Soto-Robles-Eaton, then for me Taylor is an ideal 4th and competes in the spring with Andrew Stevenson for that role.  He should win it, then be coupled with a corner-OF bench bat type who can play LF in a pinch.

Honestly, you learned everything you needed to know by looking at the amount of playing time Taylor got this past September once Robles came up.  Almost none.

Now, if the team reasigns Harper?  I don’t think much changes; the team moves either Eaton or Robles, still leaving Taylor as the 4th.

Collier thinks they’ll explore moving him “before his trade value falls anymore.” Uh … too late dude!


 

Q: Who are the free agent starting pitchers that Nationals will attempt to sign?

A: Taking a quick gander at the list of available starters …  there’s all kinds of interesting names.  Who knows who they may end up with.

Lets start with, what do they need?  They’re keeping Scherzer, Strasburg, Roark, and Ross.  They can either go to war with a 5th starter like Fedde or McGowin or Voth or Jefry Rodriguez, or look at free agency to improve the back end.  I’d love to get a 3rd starter-quality guy to slot in behind the big two, then hope for a better season from Roark (something closer to 2016 than 2018), and hope for Ross to come back to what we know he’s capable of.  That’s a potentially solid rotation for me.

We also might be focusing on a lefty, since Gio Gonzalez was our only lefty starter.  But I don’t think that should be a huge factor honestly.  The team needs to find the best value and availability.

I don’t see them pursuing a $20M/year guy.  Not with the amount of money already going to their two #1 starters and certainly not given the possibilty of their re-signing Harper.

So, lets think about middle-of-the road lefty veteran starters.  How about someone like a Jaime Garcia, or Hyung-Jin Ryu?

If they can’t land a lefty, there’s a slew of interesting names out there that are righties.  I like Nathan EovaldiWade Miley, Garrett Richards.

Collier hedges and says the obvious; we won’t know until they decide what they’re doing with Harper.  Yeah i get it.  He mentions that Patrick Corbin is probably out of the conversation (duh; he’ll be like the 4th most expensive player this off-season) and mentions re-upping with Jeremy Hellicksonwhich I don’t think happens b/c he pitched himself into a decent sized contract..  Its also worth mentioning; maybe the team goes the trade route, which opens up the realm of possibles to half the league’s starters if they’re willing to give up Robles or Carter Kieboom in trade.


 

Q: At what point will the Nats start looking for a more durable first baseman? Zim has averaged only 100 games a season over the last five years.

A:  Uh, the second Ryan Zimmerman isn’t guaranteed 8 figures a year?  And, by the way, what is this guy missing with the current roster construction?  We were nearly to the point of an 1980s Orioles John Lowenstein/Gary Roenecke type platoon this year between Zimmerman and the lefty hitting Matt Adams.  The team is already mitigating Zimmerna’s annual health issues with a backup.

And guess what?  They’ll do it again this off-season.  Look for the team to sign another Adams clone, someone like Lucas Duda or Steve Pearce or Pedro Alvarez.  Heck, maybe they’ll re-sign Adams.

Collier basically says the same thing I did.


Q: Will Riz let Difo and Kieboom fight it out for 2b in spring training or will he look for a veteran 2b, using Kendrick in a super utility role?

A: The question probably should have read: “Wil Rizzo let Difo and Howie Kendrick fight it out…”  Because Kieboom aint’ making this team in 2019.  For one, he’s never played 2B professionally.  Not that its a heavy lift going from SS to 2B (it isn’t) .. but he’s also just 60-some games removed from A-Ball.  Kieboom needs to go from the AFL back to AA and return his OPS figures back to the .880 level before even being considered for AAA.

Honestly, I think the team goes with Kendrick (assuming he’s recovered from his bad achilles injury) as the starter, with Difo as the utility guy.  Thanks to Kendrick’s injury and Daniel Murphy‘s prolonged recovery, Difo was essentially a starter this year.  And he did not impress, his average dropping 40 points from where it was last year.  I think that cements his status as a backup utility infielder who can cover middle infield positions in a pinch.  I’m glad we have someone on the bench who can at least hit at a 75 OPS+ figure; lets not push it.

That being said, for me Kieboom is the future here.  I think he might be ready after a half a season, and at that point you bring him up and slot him in at 2B.  He could eventually move to 3B if the team cannot retain Anthony Rendon, or can stay at 2B and be a Jeff Kent-style slugger.  I’d love to see that come together and have him join Soto and Robles as the core of the next generation of this team.

Collier thinks the team might look elsewhere for a starting 2B.  I think they can make-do from within and not waste money chasing another  Murphy replacement.

 

Fantasy Baseball 2016 Post-Mortem

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Altuve was a huge driving factor for me in Fantasy this year ... but it wasn't enough to win the championship. Photo via mlblogs.com

Altuve was a huge driving factor for me in Fantasy this year … but it wasn’t enough to win the championship. Photo via mlblogs.com

Usual caveats apply; if you don’t care about Fantasy Baseball, you probably won’t care about this post.  I’ll return to Nats next week and am hoping to return to my detailed per-level pitching reviews this year….

Fantasy Baseball has wrapped up for the year; most leagues are doing their playoff finals this week.  This is my post-mortem for the year.  Here was my 2016 team preview article at the beginning of the year to show my drafted team.

My strategy for this year (pulled from the preview article):

  • focus on hitting; don’t load up on OF early.
  • wait on pitching.  With the conversion to QS, I felt like there was a ton of value later on with starters instead of burning early spots.
  • I wanted four closers (and got them … though the last one is really iffy).
  • I only wanted the minimum hitters, figuring I could start churning and burning based on the lower-end starters that weren’t working out.
  • I wanted a good mix of solid dependable players with a couple of high-end rookies (advice I liked after hearing it on a podcast)
  • Lastly I didn’t want to spend early on either C or 1B; catcher since there’s just so much turnover, 1B since there’s so much value later in the draft.

Results: My strategy worked out pretty well.  I had very good hitters, I got quality starters late and off waivers, I kept 3-4 closers all year, and I finished the regular season in 1st place by 3 games.  I was able (as always) to find quality OF and 1B on the waiver wire (in my case, Will Myers who exploded).  My one strategy miss may have been waiting on a Catcher; my catcher was awful all year and there was no  help on the waiver wire until later (see below for who I picked up).

Even despite finishing in 1st place regular season, my pitchers badly declined later in the year, I had an off-week offensively in the playoffs and I got bounced by the 5th place team in the semis.  And when I say bounced, I mean I lost 2-8 on the week.  So, a disappointing finish.  But i think the strategy was sound and I’ll do it again next year.

Here’s how I ended up in team stats for the season:

  • Runs; 3rd
  • HRs: 1st
  • RBIs: 4th
  • SBs: 9th
  • OBP: 2nd
  • Saves: 1st
  • Ks: 3rd
  • ERA: 5th
  • Whip: 3rd
  • QS: 3rd

Yeah; too bad we’re not playing Rotisserie.  The only category i was guaranteed to lose nearly every week was Steals.  Overall I had a pretty good year.


Here’s my initial draft and the player disposition on the year.

I drafted 9th out of 10 spots.  Here is my team (the two numbers are Round and # overall).

  1. 9    Nolan Arenado, Col 3B: Kept all year and finished #6 in Yahoo.
  2. 12    Jose Altuve, Hou 2B: Kept all year and finished #11 in Yahoo; he was much higher but has really struggled this last month, hurting his September value.
  3. 29    George Springer, Hou OF; Kept all year and finished #29 in Yahoo, almost exactly in line with his ADP and his rank.  Also struggled badly in september.
  4. 32    J.D. Martinez, Det OF: Missed 6 weeks mid-season so I dropped him, but picked him back up and he was not awesome but certainly not contributing as a 4th round pick.
  5. 49    Miguel Sano, Min DH; was decent early, then fell off a cliff and eventually missed time.  He ended up on the Waiver wire.
  6. 52    Carlos Carrasco, Cle SP: kept him all year even though he hit the D/L at some point and was awful in September.  I lost K’s by 9 in the playoffs … and got nothing from him thanks to the ill-timed line drive through the box.
  7. 69    Corey Seager, LAD SS: Kept all year; finished #67 in Yahoo.  A very shrewd pickup here.
  8. 72    Jeurys Familia, NYM RP: Kept all year, finished #71 in Yahoo.  Very solid Closer.
  9. 89    Cody Allen, Cle RP: I dropped him when the Indians acquired Andrew Miller … then missed out when Allen turned out to be mostly the closer again.  So
  10. 92    Danny Salazar, Cle SP: Another cleveland SP who spent time on the D/L but who was good when active; I dropped him during the playoffs when he strained his forearm.
  11. 109    David Peralta, Ari OF: My first real draft miss; he was ok for the first 6 weeks, then hit the D/L for a bit, then kept getting injured and didn’t play after early August.
  12. 112    Carlos Martinez, StL SP: My biggest “impatient drop” of the year; he struggled all the way through May and I dumped him; he got picked up by (ironically) the guy who beat me in the playoffs and he was stellar the rest of the way.
  13. 129    Adam Eaton, CWS OF: I dumped him at some point and he was basically on waivers the whole year; never good enough to pick up versus whoever had the hot hand.
  14. 132    Salvador Perez, KC C: Ugh; depth at Fantasy C is so thin, I stuck with him for almost the entire year.  Luckily I got to Gary Sanchez before anyone else, and rode him through the playoffs.
  15. 149    Jeff Samardzija, SF SP: Had him for a bit, thinking he’d be good in SF.  He was so streaky up and down that I dumped him.  He eventually got picked up by a competitor but was never really *that* good.
  16. 152    Justin Verlander, Det SP: My other big “impatient drop.”  I had Verlander two years ago and thought i’d get a find; he had a 6.49 ERA through his first 6 games.  I dumped him … and he finished the year Yahoo ranked #20.  Ugh.
  17. 169    Fernando Rodney, SD RP: A huge closer steal for yours truly; he was lights out right up until he got traded to be a setup guy.  That was a bummer.
  18. 172    Lucas Duda, NYM 1B: My perennail late-round 1B pickup, only this year he got hurt and was never really a fantasy player.
  19. 189    Lance McCullers, Hou SP: this late-round flier was on my D/L for weeks until it became apparent he wasn’t going to shwo up any time soon; he made just 2 starts all year.
  20. 192    Yordano Ventura, KC SP: awful all year; yahoo ranked #732.
  21. 209    J.J. Hoover, Cin RP: a flier on a closer-by-committee was the first player I dropped.  Luckily I caught on with some lower-end closers and did very well.  I got Luke Gregerson in Houston, who did well for a time.

So, just 8 of 21 players on my team all year from the draft.  And not one player drafted after the 10th round made it all the way though.  I’m not sure if that’s an indictment of my drafting, or just the nature of fantasy baseball.

Here was my team (save for playoff transactions) at the end of the year:

  • C: Gary Sanchez: What a monster; #11 for the month of September.
  • 1B: Wil Myers: another waiver-wire monster: He ended up yahoo ranked #30 on the year and I had  him for most of it.
  • 2B, SS, 3B: Altuve, Seager, Arenado: never once varied all year.
  • OF: Martinez, Springer and I had Keon Broxton at the end, trying to get Steals.  I played the waiver wire heavily for OFers, cycling through the likes of Justin Upton, Joc Peterson, Rajai Davis, Kendrys Morales, and for a long time Marcelle Ozuna.  In fact, for weeks I rolled out Martinez, Springer and Ozuna and had an extra random 1B (like Duda, or Napoli, or Travis Shaw) type filling in at utility.
  • Starting Pitchers: Anchors were Salazar and Carrasco.  All my other SPs were waiver pickups.  Teheran, Sanchez and Fulmer did the best for me, also had Smyly, Odorizzi at the end.  I cycled through a few SPs that in retrospect I wish I had kept versus what I ran out during the playoffs: Maeda, Gray, Bauer, Straily, etc.
  • Closers: Familia was the leader, also had Thornberg, Watson and Johnson at the end.  Really worked waivers to get closer replacements when my original guys were traded/got layered/lost out.  Allen and Rodney were really strong for me the first half, and then I just was quick on the trigger to grab Thornberg and Watson when their closers were traded.

So, how do we improve for next year?  My downfall was depending on waiver wire starters who faltered late.  I definitely had too many rookies (Sanchez and Fulmer in particular) leading the line.

I need to be patient with starters of course, but that’s the same thing every year.

I need to focus on getting a SB threat in the draft.

I need better luck.  Or to go rotisserie.  Or to get some transactions during the playoffs (which became a huge issue in our league, especially as I lost 3 different guys to injury during the playoffs).

 

Fantasy Baseball 2016: My Team

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Arenado was my #1 fantasy pick this year. Photo via legitsports.com

Arenado was my #1 fantasy pick this year. Photo via legitsports.com

Last year’s version of this post.

Standard disclaimer; I do this post every year.  If you don’t play fantasy, you probably won’t care about the 3,000 words contained herein.  You won’t  hurt my feelings by not reading.  I’ll include a  jump so it doesn’t blow out your mobile reader

Read the rest of this entry »

2015 World Series matchup and Prediction

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Can Batman bring a championship to New  York? Photo: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Can Batman bring a championship to New York? Photo: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Post season predictions so far:

So, neither LCS went as I thought it would and we have the #1 media market in the post-season for the first time since 2009.

Likely Pitching Matchups for Mets-Royals:

Mets-Royals:

  • Game 1: Harvey vs Volquez
  • Game 2: deGrom vs Ventura
  • Game 3: Cueto vs Snydergaard
  • Game 4: Young vs Matz
  • Game 5: likely Volquez vs Harvey again
  • Game 6: likely deGrom vs Ventura again
  • Game 7: likely Snydergaard vs Cueto again

Discussion

The Mets, by virtue of their quite unexpected sweep, get to reset their rotation and opt (somewhat surprisingly) to lead with Matt Harvey instead of Jacob deGrom.  So be it; both guys likely throw twice in the series anyway, so perhaps its a case of getting Harvey a home start in game 5 where he’s likely to be unbeatable.  The Royals had to burn Yordano Ventura in the LCS game 6; he won’t be available until WS game 2, so they seem set to lead off with their 2nd most effective guy Edinson Volquez in the opener.

Man for man, the Mets seem to have an overwhelming pitching advantage here.  Their 1-2-3 starters each are significant throwers, Volquez doesn’t normally scare anyone, and Johnny Cueto had a 36.00 ERA in the LCS.  But the Royals are formidable at the plate: 2nd in the league in BA (by just a point behind the leader), Fewest in the league, by a fairly significant margin, in percentage of strikeouts.  Lastly, as a team they’re the 3rd best squad in the game at hitting fastballs.  So strength meets strength here.

I can see the Royals working the Mets pitchers, who are all young and may be at the tail end of their effectiveness after a season where almost all of them are pitching far longer than they thought.  If the Royals get into the Mets bullpen … are they in trouble?  Meanwhile, the Royals’ starters don’t exactly inspire confidence necessarily, but the Royals bullpen is 2nd to none and with so many off-days there’s no reason to think that their main bullpen arms can’t throw in practically every game.   With the possible exception of one game in NY, I can see the likes of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Luke Hochevar throwing each night and shutting down the late innings.  This could make the difference if this team can get a lead and hold on to it in a close game.

Side note: how funny is baseball; Wade Davis was an awful starter … 5.32 ERA for KC in 24 starts in 2013.  and in 2 years out of the pen he’s 17-3 with a 0.97 ERA across 139 IP!!  Read that statline again; it wasn’t a typo.  187/43 K/BB in 139 IP over the last two years as a 7th/8th inning guy.  Hochevar was the same thing: 5.73 ERA as a starter in 2012, then a 1.92 ERA when he got moved to the pen in 2013.  They also have the effective Ryan Madsen (former Phillie) out there, and all of this bullpen success is in spite of losing perhaps their *best* arm in closer Greg Holland to injury earlier this year.  Maybe there’s a lesson to be learned for our Nats in terms of bullpen construction and what it can do for you.

Can the Mets keep up their momentum after such a long layoff?  Will the rest help or hurt their young arms? (probably help frankly).

I have a feeling this is the Royal’s year.  I’m not sure how they do it, but I think the home field advantage and the fact that they’ve “been there before” gives them a bit of an advantage.  The Mets’ arms are not infallible; they’ll give up runs.  Is Daniel Murphy still the second coming of Babe Ruth?  Can Lucas Duda get hot again (when he’s on fire, he’s the best hitter in the league, as my fantasy team this year could attest).

Prediction; I like Kansas City in 7.  This goes against my better judgement, because I always favor the arms, but when the bats can neutralize the arms … go with the team that seems like its destined to win.

PS: in case you were not aware of the local connection … Kansas City’s GM Dayton Moore was involved with the baseball program at George Mason University, serving as an assistant coach from 1990-1994, right around the same time as some of my baseball colleagues were there (my former teammates who played at Mason would have graduated in the 92-94 range).  Now as GM in KC, he’s hired former local player Lonnie Goldberg as his scouting director; we mentioned Goldberg in this space back in Jan 2013 when talking about notable local pro players in my big “All-Virginia team” post, and Goldberg was on those Mason teams in the early 1990s with my former HS teammate Billy Emerson (now the AD at Paul VI in Fairfax).  Small world.

Fantasy Baseball 2015: my team

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If Kershaw goes down, my fantasy season is in trouble.  Photo via wiki.

If Kershaw goes down, my fantasy season is in trouble. Photo via wiki.

Standard disclaimer; I do this post every year.  If you don’t play fantasy, you probably won’t care about the 3,000 words contained herein.

Because of the sheer number of players discussed, i’ll eschew my normal bolding of all names except those picked for my team so this post is more readable.


My annual Fantasy Baseball draft was held this week.  Here’s a re-cap of my team and my drafting strategy.

I had the 4th pick in a 12-team snake draft.  6×6 head-to-head league (the extra categories are OPS on the hitting side and Losses on the pitching side).  I obtained the 4th pick through a new draft order selection wrinkle introduced this year; instead of our typical double blind method of picking the order, we each submitted our choice of which pick we wanted.  I selected the 4th pick, thinking that Kershaw would be available here (or if he wasn’t, then i’d get one of the top 3 hitters who had slipped).  I won a coin-toss and kept the 4th pick.

Strategy: I wanted to be strong in Starting Pitching.  I wanted at least two top-notch closers.  I did not want to over-book OF positions early.  I would wait for 1B and the middle infield positions.

At the end of the day, here was my team, in order of round selected:

  1. Clayton Kershaw, LAD
  2. Stephen Strasburg, Wsh
  3. Michael Brantley, Cle
  4. Corey Dickerson, Col
  5. Aroldis Chapman, Cin
  6. Matt Harvey, NYM
  7. Christian Yelich, Mia
  8. Brian Dozier, Min
  9. Chris Carter, Hou
  10. Joaquin Benoit, SD
  11. Evan Gattis, Hou
  12. Michael Wacha, StL
  13. Santiago Casilla, SF
  14. Phil Hughes, Min
  15. Lucas Duda, NYM
  16. Shelby Miller, Atl * (see below)
  17. Taijuan Walker, Sea
  18. Jhonny Peralta, StL
  19. Adam LaRoche, CWS
  20. Nick Castellanos, Det
  21. Brandon McCarthy, LAD

Round by Round thinking

(the notation will be Xth overall pick in our draft, and then the Yahoo o-rank and 2014 rank, and then blended average ADP of the guy selected.  the Yahoo “o-rank” is Yahoo’s 2015 projected ranking).

  • Round 1 (4th overall pick, O-rank of #5, 2014 rank of #1, Blended ADP of #3) I had the 4th pick; the first three picks were Trout, Stanton, McCutchen.  So my choice was either  Kershaw or Goldschmidt?  I had targeted Kershaw by asking for the 4th pick, there’s lots of 1b depth, so going going with my SP.  I targeted Kershaw simply because, despite his ADP and o-ranks, he was the #1 fantasy player last year despite missing a month of starts, and I see no reason why he shouldn’t pick right back up.  I feel like i’m getting great value at #4 by grabbing the #1 overall player.  The pick: Clayton Kershaw.  I’ll say this: I fully believe that Max Scherzer will have a massive year and may very well be a better fantasy player than Kershaw in 2015 … but at the #4 pick, the odds of getting Scherzer to return to me were beyond nil.  I could have gambled on a lower pick in the draft and taken Scherzer later (his blended ADP rank is #16), but there are a couple of “unique” teams in the league who draft home-town heavy.  Sure enough, Scherzer went like 3 picks later, a pretty big overdraft.
  • Round 2 (21st, 22nd, 48th in 2014, 23rd ADP): I really wanted Josh Donaldson here, and he went the pick before me.  Which left me with a problem.  Beltre, Freeman, Brantley all avail… don’t like any of them at this spot.  Rendon was best ADP but as we all know he’s looking more and more like he’s missing half the season.  After Rendon in ADP was Bumgarner and Sale; don’t really like either of those guys at this spot.  To heck with it: I picked Stephen Strasburg.  I really, really didn’t want to have two SPs at this point, and I promise I was not emulating some sort of pitcher heavy strategy.  If it hadn’t been for Rendon’s injury, I would have taken him there and been very happy.  From a value perspective, outside of Straburg’s somewhat disappointing 2014 rank this pick was right in line with Yahoo and ADP.
  • Round 3 (28th, 20th, 6th in 2014, 26th ADP) I wanted Harper here, badly.  Literally, as I was thinking “Harper” he got picked, 2 spots before me.  My choices then were the likes of Freeman, Posey, Price, Brantley.   I don’t like Freddie Freeman this year; who would bother to pitch to him?  Posey is always hurt, and I just couldn’t take a 3rd pitcher in a row.  So I took Michael Brantley.  Ironically, Brantley was under consideration for my 2nd round pick and was still available 7 picks later.  This is always a good sign.  Why did he drop to 26th in ADP despite being #6 in Yahoo last year?  Maybe it was a career, unrepeatable year, but he’s not going to bottom out.  20/20 guy, great average, great OPS and plays in a hitter’s park.  I think this could be a great pick.
  • Round 4: (45th, 40th, 39th in 2014, 42nd in ADP) Needing more hitters, I was looking basically at Dickerson and Marte here.  ADP has Lester, Reyes; I don’t trust Lester going to the bandbox in Wrigley, and I can’t stand Reyes in fantasy (always, always hurt).  So I grabbed Corey Dickerson.  Dickerson had great power numbers in the minors, and had 24 homers in just 436 ABs last year.  Plays in Colorado, his slash line is great.  I feel like he’s going to be a top 25 fantasy producer in 2015.
  • Round 5 (52nd overall pick, 55th ranked, 93rd in 2014, 46th in ADP): a strategy play; last year I got my two main closers in the 5th and 6th rounds and rode them all year.  Knowing that i’d not be picking again for 17 picks … and after my hopeful “sleeper” pick Pujols got nabbed right after my 4th round pick, I looked at the board, didn’t like what I saw (Longoria, v-Mart, Hamels, Car-Go; injury, injury, Phillies and injury concern) and grabbed the best closer out there.  Aroldis Chapman.  Yes Kimbrel might be “better,” but Kimbrel is pitching for a team that will struggle to 65 wins.  He’s just not going to get the save opportunities that Chapman will.  Chapman’s 2014 rank took a tumble with his injury; he should continue his ridiculous K/9 rate and get plenty of saves for Cincinnati.
  • Round 6: (69th overall pick, 44th ranked, did not play in 2014, 57th ADP).  For the entirety of the 6th round, I was hoping for Harvey.  He lasted, he lasted … and I got him at 69th overall pick.  Matt HarveyPerhaps an overdraft based on who he is and what he’s coming back from.  However, at the time of this pick he was top available player on my ADP list.  Debate in the room ensued; is he on an innings limit?  Is he ready to come back?  My answers are this: Harvey, when healthy, was a ridiculous combination of awesome.  Here’s some 2013 stats: in just 26 starts he racked up 6.5 wins on Fangraphs.  His FIP and xFIP numbers showed that he was due for *improvement*.  And perhaps the most amazing stat to me: he was 3rd in the league in K/BB ratio despite leading the league in fastball velocity (for starters).  In other words, he threw the hardest *and* had nearly the best control in the league.  Sign me up.  I think I may have just gotten a top-5 starting pitcher at the end of the 6th round.
  • Round 7 (76th overall pick, 77th ranked, 33rd in 2014, 60th ADP).  Ok, at this point I’m in somewhat of a roster pickle.  I have four pitchers and just two batters and face a big gap before picking again.  I targeted best hitters available: I wanted someone like Fielder, Davis (gone, gone).  I targeted Kyle Seager: he went 2 before me.  So I looked at the 2B available (there were a ton at this stage on the board) and Brian Dozier was the pick.  20/20 guy, average not great, but 33rd ranked in 2014 so undervalued here.  I got him basically a round later than he should have gone by ADP.  Good value, and I have a decent 2B (which I struggled with last year).
  • Round 8: (93rd pick, 72nd ranked, 76th in 2014, 80 ADP).  Another big gap in the drafting; lots of guys off the board.  Is it too early for Kris Bryant?  I really, really want Bryant.  But … he went 3 picks before me.  d*mn.  I was left with very little to choose from; ended up taking Christian Yelich.  Not the sexiest pick; he was good for me last year.  Lots of steals, not a ton of power.
  • Round 9: (100th pick, 108th ranked, 94th in 2014, 118th ADP).  Now what?  another reliever?  Too early for a reliever.  There were good starters on the board (like Arrieta and Teheran).  But I need bats now.  This is the problem with drafting too many starters early; there’s a ton of value these days later on (as we’ll see with some of my later picks).  So I grabbed best hitter on ESPN’s board and the best position player that didn’t duplicate what I already had (OFs): went with Chris Carter.   Huge bat; 37 homers last year.  Awful average.  How does he only score 68 runs when 37 of them were his own homers?  You have to think some of these numbers will improve as Houston improves.  He should have more RBIs with better hitters getting on base ahead of him.
  • Round 10: (117th overall, 145 o-rank, 141st in 2014, 164 ADP).  In the 17 picks after I thought about doing a closer … there was a huge run on them.  Literally 8 of the 17 picks between my 9th and 10th round were closers.  I was hoping that some one like Cishek held out but was disappointed?  I took Joaquin Benoit.  I figure that any pitcher in San Diego is 15% better just because of the stadium, and figure that SD will be better this year and Benoit will get saves.
  • Round 11: (124th overall, 110 o-rank, 289 2014 rank, 84th ADP).  As with Bryant, I was starting to look at uber-rookie Pederson as a sleeper … and he went way, way early.  I also really liked Pablo Sandoval here .. and he got picked just before me.  Damn.  Evan Gattis is C eligible … best hitter available at this point and he fills my troublesome C slot.  Got him.  Gattis hit 22 homers in just 369 ABs last year, and he’ll be a DH/corner OF in a better hitter’s park.  So he should stay healthy.  Healthier that is.  He should immediately get OF eligibility too.
  • Round 12: (141 overall, 138 o-rank, 232 in 2014, 132 ADP) Was looking at Garrett Richards … but he’s hurt and won’t be back til end of april.  No more decent RPs right now.  Can wait for later on.  I went with best starter avail; Michael Wacha.  This isn’t without concern here; a “stress fracture” in his throwing shoulder cost him half of last year.  I don’t forget though just how dominant he was in the 2nd half of 2013; we’ll hope he returns to that form.
  • Round 13: (148 overall, 171 o-rank, 149 in 2014, 193 ADP).  I need a hitter; there are still 1Bs available, and plenty of them.  But I  don’t like what’s here at this point for this pick; I can wait.  So I got the best remaining closer on the market: Santiago Casilla.  And by “best” i mean, closer for the best remaining team.  You don’t want to invest in a closer of a last place team, or a team with a bullpen by committee approach.  Casilla might get supplanted by Romo (and in fact someone picked up my closer “handcuff” later on).  We’ll keep an eye out.
  • Round 14/15: (From here out, instead of going round by round, I’ll talk about the pairs of picks since they’re so close together). I still need SS and 3B.  I still don’t like what’s out there for either and  and think they can hold on.  So the goal was to get another good hitter plus a good SP.  I ended up with Phil Hughes (165th overall, 122nd o-rank, 102 in 2014, 133rd in ADP) and Lucas Duda (172nd overall, 143 o-rank, 72nd in 2014, 155th ADP).  I like both of these picks for value: Hughes was great in 2014, came out of nowhere pitching in a big park.  By his 2014 numbers he went at least 5 rounds later than value.  Meanwhile I had been looking at Duda for a while; had him last year, he’s a masher.  30 homers in 2014 while being platooned a little bit.  He always scares me when he bats against the Nats.
  • Round 16/17: At this point, I *still* don’t have a SS or 3B.  Except that, once again, looking at the board and who is available, I know I could wait on both and still get someone as decent in two rounds from now as if I drafted them now.  So instead, I’m looking at pitchers.  There’s no reason to take an experimental closer at this point, so I’m getting the two best SPs on the market.  I got Shelby Miller (189th overall, 228th o-rank, 323 2014 rank, 243 ADP) and Taijuan Walker (196th overall, 202 o-rank, 417 ranked last year, 223 ADP).  Both are overdrafts by nearly all measures, but both are interesting plays.  All i’ve been reading about Walker this spring is how awesome he’s looked, how un-hittable he’s been.  And he pitches in the pitcher-friendly confines of Seattle.  Miller is more of a riskier pick; he’s moved teams, is now pitching for the woeful Braves … but i’ve always liked him and have had him every year he’s been a pro.  There is a caveat to the Miller pick; apparently the guy who picked right before me asked me about Miller’s availability, and I either neglected to answer or misled him … so he picked Jose Quintana.  When I picked Miller immediately after him, he cried foul.  I promise I wasn’t trying to mis-lead him, and will immediately offer Miller in trade for Quintana as soon as the rosters are available.  So instead of Miller, I may have Quintana.
  • Round 18-21: by this point it was past 11:30pm and we were pretty beat.  I had been targeting two specific SS/3B players for several rounds, knowing they probably wouldn’t get picked.  So I grabbed them, the best hitter remaining, plus one last SP to finish off the draft.  My last four picks were:
    • Jhonny Peralta (213 overall pick, 193 o-rank, 150th last  year, 198th ADP): 20 homers last  year, serviceable BA and OPS.  Best SS left.
    • Adam LaRoche (220th pick, 126 o-rank, 79th last year, 153 ADP): I love grabbing guys like LaRoche; because he plays a busy position, and despite his production last year (79th best fantasy player should have put him in the 7th round), he drops to almost waiver-wire levels.  I’ll take that for the 19th round; 79th best player last  year with the 220nd pick.
    • Nick Castellanos (237th pick, 267 o-rank, 303rd last year, 300+ in ADP).  Might be a wasted pick; of the 3B left, he sounded the most intriguing.  But 300+ in ADP, he wasn’t even on my draft list.  I’m pretty sure that the likes of Prado, Headley and even *gasp* Alex Rodriguez are 3B eligible and on waivers; we may make an early waiver wire move.
    • Brandon McCarthy (244th pick, 170 o-rank, 332 last  year, 236 ADP): last pick, and I got what I think will be a pretty serviceable starter.  McCarthy’s numbers were awesome for the Yankees last  year once he escaped the sh*tty situation in Arizona.  Now he goes to LA, where he’s probably the 3rd starter for the 2nd best team in the NL.  This could be a seriously good pick.

 


So, here’s the team by positions:

  • C: Gattis
  • 1B: Carter, Duda, LaRoche
  • 2B: Dozier
  • SS: Peralta
  • 3B: Castellanos
  • OF: Brantley, Dickerson, Yelich
  • SP: Kershaw, Strasburg, Harvey, Wacha, Hughes, Miller/Quintana, McCarthy
  • RP: Chapman, Benoit, Casilla

Initial glance: I can’t remember the last time I had starting pitching anywhere near this good.  Incredibly weak at 2B/SS/3B.  Not the greatest set of hitters in general.  Relievers have one great, one good, one crap-shoot; i’ll have to play the waiver wire game to try to grab an extra.

Here’s a breakdown of the 2014 stats for my hitters:

H/AB R HR RBI SB AVG OPS
Gattis 97/369 41 22 52 0 0.263 0.81
Carter 115/507 68 37 88 5 0.227 0.799
Duda 130/514 74 30 92 3 0.253 0.83
LaRoche 128/494 73 26 92 3 0.259 0.817
Dozier 145/598 112 23 71 21 0.242 0.761
Peralta 147/560 61 21 75 3 0.263 0.779
Castellanos 138/533 50 11 66 2 0.259 0.7
Brantley 200/611 94 20 97 23 0.327 0.891
Dickerson 136/436 74 24 76 8 0.312 0.931
Yelich 165/582 94 9 54 21 0.284 0.764

So, nearly every guy was a 20+ homer guy; lots of power on this team.  Three 20+ SB guys; that’s a good sign.  The averages aren’t great; that’s just a blended average of about .270.  My blended OPS is about .808.  By way of comparison, the MLB average last year was .253 for BA and .714 in OPS.  I can’t remember what the fantasy averages were, but i’m guessing these are going to be low.  A surprising number of decent RBI guys here; three that were near 100 RBIs last  year.  Another three guys who were near or over 100 runs.  So maybe this team won’t be that bad on the offensive side.

Let the games begin!

2014 Fantasy Baseball post-mortem

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Stanton blasting another 450-foot homer.  Photo unk via rantsports.com

Stanton blasting another 450-foot homer. Photo unk via rantsports.com

(Standard disclaimer; this is ranting about my fake baseball team.  If you don’t play fantasy, might as well skip this).

I’m really beginning to question my abilities in fantasy sports.  Despite being deep into baseball and knowing random things off the top of my head that should be of use in fantasy (which managers are more inclined to do closer by committee, which ball parks are skewed offensively and thus players who play there may be at an advantage), I struggle year after year.

This year, thanks to an unfortunately timed meltdown (I lost a week 0-10-2 after having been ahead early in the week), I dropped just out of the playoff spots in my league (top 6 make the playoffs out of a 12 team league).  But the ills of my team were seen early.  Once again, I was plagued by under performing players and a poor draft that left me churning the waiver wire.  By the end of the season I had made 58 of the 65 allotted moves in a failed attempt to improve enough to sneak into the playoffs (where honestly, I would have been a tough out; I can grind out 6-5-1 wins with the best of them).

So, what happened?  Here’s a link to the post talking about my initially drafted team.  And here’s a matrix of my 21 initially drafted players, their performance on the year and a note indicating whether or not they over- or under-achieved (bold means on the team at  year’s end, red = badly under performed, green = greatly over-performed).

Player round Drafted/# Drafted overall Yahoo o-rank 2013 Yahoo O-rank 2014 ADP at time of draft 2014 Perf Rank
Adam Jones-OF 1st round (#10 overall) 7 13 10th/11.4 21
Adrian Beltre-3B 2nd round (#15) 15 12 13th/13.2 46
Alex Rios-OF 3rd round (#34) 25 44 34th/35 179
Giancarlo Stanton-OF 4th round (#39) 222 26 24th/27.8 5
Kenly Janssen-RP 5th round (#58) 52 48 49th/53.2 102
Greg Holland-RP 6th round (#63) 36 63 62nd/62 60
Mark Trumbo-1B/OF 7th round (#82) 66 78 53rd/56.0 944
Carlos Santana-C/1B 8th round (#87) 134 87 69th/74.0 159
Shelby Miller-SP 9th round (#106) 76 88 110th/113.0 485
Hyung-Jin Ryu-SP 10th round (#111) 85 101 124th/127.2 95
Aaron Hill-2B 11th round (#130) 402 111 124th/115.8 364
Danny Salazar-SP 12th round (#135) 336 96 154th/150.4 355
Tony Cingrani-SP 13th round (#154) 152 133 156th/156.8 941
Jim Henderson-RP 14th round (#159) 130 155 170th/175.0 750
Shane Victorino-OF 15th round (#178) 67 113 125th/129.0 1144
Chris Archer-SP 16th round (#183) 175 171 208th/209.0 314
Asdrubal Cabrera-SS 17th round (#202) 267 151 171st/177.4 177
J.J. Hoover-RP 18th round (#207) 237 629 344th 922
Tim Hudson-SP 19th round (#226) 299 300 311th 171
Brandon Belt-1B 20th round (#231) 106 104 142th 988
Jake Odorizzi-SP 21st round (#250) 548 358 445th 197

So, what happened?

My first two picks didn’t underperform “badly,” but were not the super stars you need to take hold of a league.  I didn’t really like Adam Jones or Adrian Beltre at the draft, and despite some hot streaks they’ve been disappointments.  Beltre got hurt in camp and missed games at the beginning of the season.  My #3 pick Alex Rios I finally gave up on and waived; his seasonal rank of 179 belies what he’s done the last two months (closer to the 900 ranked range).  It’s never a good sign when your #3 pick gets waived thanks to performance (and not injury) reasons.

Giancarlo Stanton is my one major “win” out of the draft; a 4th round pick who likely will finish in the top 5 of stats on the season.  At the time of this writing, he was trailing only Mike Trout in terms of fantasy rankings for offensive players.  He single-handedly carried my team offensively for weeks on end and is a large reason that my team offense was 1st in homers and 3rd in RBI.   I feel vindicated here: I suffered through at least two injury-riddled Stanton seasons in the past after having drafted him highly, and he’ll have the same issue next year; he’ll likely be a top-5 pick with a huge injury risk on his head.

My two big-time closers did not disappoint: both Janssen and Holland performed as expected and led me to be 5th in team saves and  have a 14-7-1 record in the category on the year.  This is a big lesson learned for me; you can get by with just two big-time closers and be successful in this category.  Of course, I wanted more closers but got unlucky; my #3 closer Jim Henderson suddenly and without warning was yanked from the role on opening day.  Another team vultured his replacement (Francisco “K-rod” Rodriguez); all he’s done is pitch lights out all year and is 6th in the league in saves.  That should have been my 3rd closer.  That was a disappointment.  I tried just one waiver-wire closer grab (Chad Qualls for Houston) and despite picking correctly, Qualls went weeks without save opportunities so I dumped him after two weeks looking for more starter quality.

Lets talk about the god-awful positional player issues I had in the draft: Mark Trumbo started out white-hot, fractured his foot and missed months.  Aaron Hill did not come closer to living up to the hype of fantasy analysts.  Shane Victorino was on and off the D/L all year.  And poor Brandon Belt fractured his thumb, fought his way back and then got hit in the head during BP and still remains on the concussion D/L.

Of the Starting Pitchers I gambled on: Shelby Miller struggled all  year, Danny Salazar got demoted, as did Tony Cingrani.  Chris Archer did not produce at fantasy levels and Jake Odorizzi struggled early and was dropped (I eventually picked him back up).  I only kept two drafted starters on the team all year (Ryu and  Hudson) and frankly Hudson was so bad for so long that I came pretty close to dumping him.  That basically means that my “wait on starters” strategy was a complete failure, if I’m only keeping ONE decent starter the whole  year.

So, for the 2nd straight year I cycled the waiver wires.  Here’s some of the guys I went through:

  • Starters: Scheppers, Kluber, Eovaldi, Skaggs, Kennedy, Strohman, Peralta, Montero, Keuchel, Garcia, Beckett,  Wood, Leake, Despaigne, Bauer, Liriano, Duffy, Hellickson, Cole, Smyly
  • Relievers: Qualls
  • Catchers: Mesoraco, Ruiz
  • 1B: Francisco, Adams, Alonso, Singleton, Napoli, Carter, Duda
  • 2B: Walker, Prado, Gennett, Wong
  • SS: Aybar, Escobar, Baez, Betts
  • 3B: Castellanos, Seager, Arenado
  • OF: Rasmus, Parra, Stubbs, Crawford, Ozuna, Eaton, Reddick, Aoki

Scheppers I took a gamble on b/c his numbers were so good as a reliever; mistake.  He got shelled opening day and soon was on the D/L.   A number of these pitchers were decent moves and pitched well for a while (especially Josh Beckett and Marcus Strohman).  The biggest failure here was dumping Corey Kluber after he got hit hard opening day: He’s turned into the 16th best fantasy performer all year, a 2nd round talent.  That was a huge mistake.  I liked Eovaldi‘s peripherals (lots of Ks) but he struggled with runners and his ERA/WHIP were inflated all year.  Skaggs got hurt, Kennedy was ineffective.  I got great value for a while out of Keuchel, but after a good mid-summer he tailed off badly.  Garcia made like one start before returning to the D/L.  Josh Beckett was a great waiver wire pickup for a while, but he too got hurt and remains on the D/L today.  Alex Wood was a great find.  I snaked Gerrit Cole off the D/L just before he came back on but he contributed little.  Most of my other experiments were far too inconsistent week-to-week to trust (see Trevor Bauer, Despaigne, Mike Leake, etc).

As mentioned before, I only tried to gamble on one closer waiver wire pickup thanks to the solid two starters that I had from draft day.  Most of the available closers on the waiver wire were in committee situations and couldn’t be trusted anyway.

I worked 1B, 2B, and 3B hard.  At one point I was trying to engineer a 3B trade, having Seager while he was hot and Arenado after he came off the D/L.  But my potential trade partners badly low-balled me for Beltre (offering guys who were worth far less than Beltre was) and suddenly Seager dropped off a cliff, making his trade value useless.  Eventually I dumped both.

1B pickups Napoli, Duda and especially Carter turned out to be huge winners.  Once again proving my point that some positions are just so deep they’re not worth drafting.  Same with outfielders to a certain extent; I had Ozuna all  year and he’s turned out to be well worth it.

My season’s end Fantasy team after all this waiver wire churning.  Bold are original, red are waiver wire:

  • C: Santana
  • 1B: Carter, Duda
  • 2B: Baez, Prado
  • SS: Betts
  • 3B: Beltre
  • OF: Stanton, Jones, Ozuna
  • SP: Hudson, Ryu, Odorizzi, Cole, Hellickson, Wood, Duffy, Liriano, Smyly
  • RP: Jansen, Holland

That’s a lot of red.

Lessons Learned for Next Year

  1. You only need two big-time closers to compete.  Spend draft picks in the 5th and 6th rounds, try to get a third closer later on and you’ll do fine.  You must do a better job on the waiver wire though trying to grab closers if you want them.
  2. There’s always 1B talent on waivers.  Do not over-spend on 1B.
  3. My strategy of over-loading on mediocre starters just doesn’t seem to be working.  I was 3rd in wins and 5th in Ks, but 8th in ERA, dead last in losses and 11th in whip.   Meanwhile the #1 team this year went with an uber-pitching strategy (over-drafting starters and ending up with Kershaw, Sale, Felix Hernandez as well as several top closers) and he just dominated pitching.  Despite having a ton of starters, he managed to be 4th in Wins AND be 2nd in Whip.  I think he’s got a good strategy.  And i’m sure people will try to emulate it next year.
  4. Do not sweat churning and burning waiver wire picks early on; you may just end up with a monster surprise player on the year.  This was the 1st place team’s strategy and it netted him Charlie Blackmon and a couple of extra closers.  Two of the top 10 starters on the year were waiver wire guys: Corey Kluber and Garrett Richard.
  5. Do not hesitate grabbing big-name call-ups.  I missed out on more than a couple guys that I would have grabbed but hesitated.  This cost me last year with Yasiel Puig and it cost me this year with Jorge Soler and George Springer.  I waited, and I missed out.

Blech.  Hope you enjoyed the rant.

 

 

First Look: Ian Krol

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Krol fired in some fastballs in his MLB debut. Photo unknown via theviewfromsw.com blog

One of the exciting aspects of the roster shakeup lately is the introduction of two new pitchers to the MLB bullpen that we’ve seen very little of (unless of course you live in Harrisburg, PA and stop by the Senators games all the time).  So lets take first look at newly promoted 22-yr old LHP Ian Krol.

A quick introduction: Krol was the PTBNL in the Michael Morse trade, coming over from the Oakland organization after a relatively tumultuous minor league tenure (he missed the entirety of the 2011 season after an elbow injury and then being suspended for an offensive tweet; ah a sign of the times).  After returning to the fold in 2012 he was relatively awful as a California league starter (not really that surprising; look what happened to A.J. Cole when he went there), then was bumped up to finish the season as a AA reliever with poor numbers in a short sample size in the Texas league.  Even for an organization like Oakland, apparently that was enough; they made him available in trade and he turned into the PTBNL.

He arrived in Washington and has immediately been significantly more effective as a reliver here: his AA numbers have been eye opening; 26IP, 14 hits allowed, only 2 earned runs for an ERA of 0.69, and a K/BB ratio of 29/7.  I thought these numbers would earn him a promotion mid-season; I didn’t think we’d be seeing him in the MLB bullpen in June.

Lets look at his performance in the 6/5/13 debacle loss to the Mets.   He pitched the 6th inning and faced the top of the order.  He gave up a fluke single when Daniel Murphy flailed his bat at an outside fastball and dinked the ball into LF, but otherwise he struck out the side, punching out the 3-4 hitters for New York with relative ease.   He threw 23 pitches, 19 of them fastballs.  Per his Pitch F/X data, his fastball averaged 95.28 and peaked at 96.88 on the night, quite a heavy ball from the left-hand side.  He has a relatively deceptive release point which makes that fastball look even faster.  A lot of the swings he got were very, very late.  With this kind of fastball and short-term effectiveness, he can easily serve as the “Loogy” that many pundits have been saying this bullpen needs.  He has clean mechanics, did not lose velocity pitching from the stretch, and didn’t seem like he was throwing with max effort.

Now, on the downside, the 4 pitches Krol threw that were not his fastball left something to be desired.  He attempted three curveballs and all three of them seemed almost to slip out of his hand and flayed way to the left-hand side of the plate.  In fact he nearly hit Lucas Duda with one attempt.  He also attempted one changeup that he managed to bounce about 5 feet from home plate for a wild pitch (I’m sure that’s going to end up on the weekly “wildest pitches” video on one national baseball blog).   So we now see some evidence of why he has been moved to the bullpen; no decent or trustworthy secondary pitches.

On the bright side, a 95mph left-handed fastball with deception is going to be darn hard to hit even if the hitters know its coming.  In this respect, he’ll make a good short-stint reliever even if he can’t trust his secondary stuff.  On the downside, the scouting reports are going to get out and eventually hitters will know to sit on a FB.  Even if a ball comes in at 100, MLB hitters can hit it.  So Krol is going to have to show he can throw a curve or change with effectiveness and control to stick.

That being said, it was pretty exciting to see a youngster like Krol punch out three pretty good hitters.  The one bright note on a crummy night for the Nats.

Written by Todd Boss

June 6th, 2013 at 7:57 am

Whats eating Stephen Strasburg?

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What's eating Gilbert Grape? Photo: howtowatchsports.com

Our Ace, and “Best in the League” by many pundits pitcher Stephen Strasburg is now 1-4 on the season with relatively pedestrian (for him) numbers so far (3.16 ERA, 3.32 FIP, 3.65 xFIP).

So what’s the problem?  Or, more importantly, what is NOT the problem?

First off; I think its safe to say we can ignore his inflated FIP and xFIP numbers for now.  As I pointed out in this April 4th post about my issues with fWAR, FIP focuses entirely on the “Three true outcomes” that a pitcher entirely controls and really does a poor job of measuring pitchers who induce a whole slew of weak ground balls (like Strasburg does).   This is easily seen by looking at the two example cases in the 4/4/13 post to see how FIP measures a guy who strikes out 9 but gives up 5 earned runs higher than a guy who strikes out just a few but gives up zero runs in an outing.

I also do not buy the opinions I’ve heard in various forums and podcasts that hitters are “squaring him up” a lot this year.  You heard this a lot after his 4/19/13 loss to the Mets, when he gave up back-to-back homers to Ike Davis and Lucas Duda in the 6th (two of the three homer’s he’s given up this year, the third being an out-of-this-world chest-high fastball just clubbed out by Evan Gattis).    I don’t buy this because observation has shown that he gives up a TON of bloops, dinks, infield nubbers, etc.  He also has a very low Line-Drive percentage right now; just 14.9% of the balls hit off of him so far this year have been classified as “line drives,” or hard-struck balls.

Dave Cameron of Fangraphs had a piece on ESPN talking about Strasburg and the Nats “pitch to contact” strategy that shows essentially that pitch-to-contact guys don’t really throw that fewer a number of pitches than guys who just try to strike you out.   Is Strasburg’s change in style leading to issues for him?  So far it doesn’t seem so: he’s averaging about 6 1/3 innings per start and has been right around 110 pitches each of his last four despite still going deeper into the game.  But his K/9 is absolutely down (from 11.1 last year to 8.0 this year).

No, I think Strasburg’s issues are these three items.

1. Bad first innings.  Tom Boswell had a great piece on this earlier this week, talking about how a lack of a first pitch strike has really cost Strasburg this year.  And he’s right; pretty much the absolute worst thing you can do as a pitcher is to show a hitter your fastball for a ball at 0-0.   Not only does the hitter get the timing down pretty well on your fastball, but he also gets ahead in the count.  Boswell is probably right in saying that hitters are now trying to jump on the first fastball they get, knowing that getting behind in the count against him is near-certain demise; but Strasburg has to make that adjustment too.  He can’t nibble on first pitch fastballs; he has to be smarter than that.

Strasburg has given up 15 total runs in 5 games this year; fully EIGHT of them have come in the first inning.  That just cannot continue.

2. Bad luck; we’ve watched his games, and he’s not exactly getting pounded when he gives up most of these runs.   Check out the game-logs for his losses:

  • April 7th; 6 runs given up to Cincinnati: in the first he gave up his runs after two infield singles and a walk turned into a 2-rbi double, the only well-hit ball of the inning.  He gave up 3 more in the 6th on some better hit balls and had one runner score after he departed.
  • April 13th: 6 innings pitched, zero earned runs and a loss; Ryan Zimmerman threw away a routine 3rd out and the next guy up clubbed a homer.  Yes, he gave up a homer (it wasn’t as if he made a bad pitch there; Gattis just crushed it) but he never should have been in the position in the first place.
  • April 19th: Two more unearned runs in the first when Desmond booted the first ball of the day; a weak dribbler up the middle.  He gave up two more hits in the 1st but only Buck‘s was really a line-drive.   By the 6th inning he gave up two bombed homers; no bad luck there.
  • April 24th: the lead-off double was earned, but the rest of the hits in the first were opposite field shorter line drives, with the required Nationals infield error thrown in to ensure unearned runs contributing to his day.

Only four of his 15 runs allowed were deemed to be unearned, but we’ve watched the games.  Zimmerman’s error against the Braves decided that game.  Desmond’s error against the Mets set the tone.  The team went down 3-0 in the first against both Cincy and St. Louis at a time when the offense was struggling.  Just can’t do that.  Speaking of the offense…

3. Lack of Run Support.  In his five starts, Strasburg’s offense has scored this many runs for him: 2,3,1,1, and 2.  That’s 1.8 runs per game!  Maybe Bob Gibson in 1968 could have gotten wins with that little run support, but certainly not Strasburg.  The Nats YESTERDAY gave Gio Gonzalez nearly the same total run support that Strasburg has gotten all year.

Written by Todd Boss

April 26th, 2013 at 11:12 am