Archive for ‘Baseball’

Thursday: 12.11.2014

Astros Pickups Boost Value of Keuchel, McHugh

The Houston Astros have been aggressive in the relief market this winter. Andrew Miller actually took $4 million fewer dollars to sign with the Yankees, eschewing a 4-year/$40 million dollar offer from the Astros. Meanwhile, this piece suggests that David Robertson turned down a 5-year/$65 million dollar from Houston, opting instead for a 4-year/$46 million dollar deal from the White Sox.

With the two headliners off the board, the Astros doubled up on Wednesday and announced the signings of Luke Gregerson (3/$18.5) and Pat Neshek (2/$12.5) to bolster their pen. The Astros have had the worst bullpen ERA in each of the last two seasons with a 4.92 in 2013 and 4.80 last year. They were fifth-worst in 2012 with a 4.46 mark. Add it all up and their 4.73 bullpen ERA over the last three seasons is easily baseball’s worst (Rockies 4.51 is 29th).

Gregerson has been one of the most consistent relievers in the game since making the majors in 2009. His 2.75 ERA in 419.3 innings is ninth-best in baseball among relievers with at least 300 innings over that period and he hasn’t been above a 2.75 ERA in any single season since 2010 (3.22). He isn’t a huge strikeout guy like many dominant relievers these days, instead succeeding via the groundball. Interestingly, he used to be a strikeout stud back in 2009-10 (30% K rate), but has just a 21 percent strikeout rate in the last four years.

Neshek has had some big strikeout rates throughout his career, but he hasn’t consistently been a bat-misser, but he isn’t a huge groundball guy, either. He wins with deception and is essentially ROOGY, though he did just finish his best season ever against lefties, holding them to a .541 OPS. He also had a 26.7 percent strikeout rate last year. Are either of those changes to his game for real? It’s hard to know for sure, especially with a 34-year old reliever, but he’s enjoyed success in the past even when struggling against lefties and/or missing a modest number of bats. Both are net positives for the Astros, but Gregerson is definitely a couple ticks better than Neshek.

Pairing the additions with Chad Qualls, Josh Fields, and Tony Sipp (and maybe Mike Foltynewicz, though he may continue to start for the time being) doesn’t necessarily emulate the 2014 Kansas City Royals, but it is far more formidable than anything they’ve had during this down period. By the way, going off on a tangent for a second, let’s address the notion of “emulating the Royals”.

They did *not* create the idea of winning via the bullpen. Nor did they perfect it. I understand they did it remarkably well, getting three historic seasons from the 7th, 8th, and 9th inning guys en route to a World Series appearance, but the bullpen has long been the key to turning a team around and spurring postseason success, assuming you have a modicum of talent in the lineup and rotation, too. The Mariners had the 29th-best bullpen ERA (worsted only by the Astros, of course) in 2013 at 4.58.

They went out and acquired a solid closer who was just a year removed from one of the best relief seasons in baseball history in the form of Fernando Rodney and then pulled a 37-year old Joe Beimel off of the scrap heap to be a lefty-killer. Beimel missed 2012 to Tommy John surgery and then spent all of 2013 in Triple-A (at age 36, mind you). The two additions were paired with sharp improvements from several in-house arms and all of a sudden they wound up with the best bullpen ERA in 2014 at 2.60:

Pitcher 2013 IP 2013 ERA 2014 IP 2014 ERA
Wilhelmsen 59 4.12 79.3 2.27
Farquhar 55.7 4.20 71 2.66
Medina 68 2.91 57 2.68
Furbush 65 3.74 42.3 3.61
Maurer* 20.3 6.64 37.3 2.17
Leone minor leaguer 66.3 2.17
Beimel minor leaguer 45 2.20
*numbers as RP-only

Add it all up and they were 16 wins better with an 87-win season that left them just one game shy of the playoffs. Of course, it wasn’t just the bullpen turnaround. They also dropped $240 mil on some second baseman, who was worth about 5-6 of those wins, but the point stands: a revamped bullpen can turn a team around quickly. Staying in the AL West, we saw the Angels do something similar en route to a 20-win turnaround. And they did a teardown with Kevin Jepsen and Michael Kohn being the only two relievers to throw 20+ IP for them in both 2013 and 2014.

The 2013 Red Sox didn’t have a single qualifying starter (162+ IP) south of a 3.50 ERA and while both Jon Lester and John Lackey turned it up (2.08 combined ERA in 60.7 IP) in the postseason, it was a devastating foursome of Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, Brandon Workman, and Craig Breslow that stifled the opposition to the tune of a 0.97 ERA in 37 innings en route to the World Series win.

These are just very recent examples. There are many more. I understand the greatness of the Herrera-Davis-Holland trio that fueled KC’s World Series run, but they didn’t create this model so Houston isn’t copycatting them with their intense bullpen focus this winter. Anyway, back to the Astros and more specifically, what these bullpen additions could do for their two best starters: Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh.

There is an adage in the fantasy game that implores you not to chase wins. The unpredictability of them is far too high and you will drive yourself mad trying to “plan” for a set number of wins from someone. That said, we do know we should expect fewer wins from starters stuck on poor teams, especially if the bullpen is the primary source of their poorness.

Keuchel had a fantastic breakout season, posting a 2.93 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 200 innings en route to just a 12-9 record. He had just one bad no-decision out of eight (5 IP/5 ER at LAA) and otherwise had at least a quality in the other seven, oftentimes pitching much better. All told he had a 3.46 ERA in 52 innings in the eight NDs, but it drops to 2.87 in 47 innings if you lift the dud against the Angels.

McHugh also enjoyed a huge season (2.73 ERA in 154.7 IP) which was more out-of-nowhere than Keuchel’s. McHugh had a 2.85 ERA in five no-decisions and had three quality starts within his nine losses, though he left with the Astros in losing in all nine so the pen can’t be blamed there.

In fact, I’m not making the case that the 2014 bullpen cost either a ton of wins, but rather that an improved bullpen should yield more wins even if they don’t repeat their sub-3.00 ERAs in 2015 which increases their fantasy value. This probably would be more obvious to everyone had they landed a Miller or Robertson, but don’t sleep on the guys they did get. And yes, the bullpen improvements should help their entire rotation, but I focused on Keuchel and McHugh because they are the only arms in their rotation who are guaranteed to be picked at the draft table in 2015.

The 2015 Starting Pitching Guide is now available for pre-order. Click here to reserve yours now!

Wednesday: 12.10.2014

Robertson to White Sox Changes 2015 Fantasy Closer Outlook

When David Robertson turned down his $15.3 million dollar qualifying offer, it was a bit of a surprise. He was the favorite to be the first to accept the QO, but instead opted to test the market for length instead of taking the gaudy one-year deal. Rumors suggested the Yankees were still very much in on their incumbent closer even after they signed Andrew Miller away from Baltimore, but we learned after he signed his deal with the White Sox (4 years, $46 mil.) that they never even made an offer to him after the declination of the QO.

His move to the White Sox creates a substantial shakeup in the 2015 closer pool, though. Not only does it shore up one of the shakier situations from 2014, but it also thrusts a new guy into the upper tier and possibly the top spot. The White Sox never found a reliable closer in 2014 with a league-high four guys logging at least five saves and none of the four doing all that well with their chance. Sure, Jake Petricka (2.96) and Zach Putnam (1.98) had strong ERAs, but the supporting skills ranged from uninspiring to terrible for the pair.

Robertson enters just his second season as a closer, but he has always been a strikeout stud and recently curbed his walk rate enough to give him three straight seasons of at least a 4.2 K:BB ratio. He allowed just 22 earned runs in 2014, yet nearly half (10 of ‘em) came in three outings including a pair against Baltimore in September, the second of which might be the greatest blown save in baseball history (I’m not even a Jeter superfan, but that was an amazing finish all around) because it led to this.

Look, the runs count the same against Robertson whenever they come, but I point out the cluster of poor outings to prevent anyone from looking at his Baseball-Reference page, seeing the 1.04 jump in ERA from 2013 and believing he was a markedly different pitcher. His FIP the last three seasons is 2.49, 2.61, and 2.68. Homers were a bit of an issue with a career-worst 1.0 HR/9 rate last year, but five of the seven were allowed at home and his new home is actually quite a bit more favorable to pitchers despite still being a hitter’s park.

Once your remove the starters with RP-qualification, Robertson was a top 10 closer in 2014 according to ESPN’s Player Rater despite the jump in ERA. The White Sox as a team only notched 36 saves, three fewer than Robertson did by himself (and the Yankees had 48 as a club), but the Sox are set to improve in 2015 after a busy offseason already that might not even be done yet.

They can be in that mid-80s win range that the Yankees were in last year and that would be enough to put Robertson in the mid-30s again. Of course, Steve Cishek notched 39 on a 77-win Marlins club, so the White Sox don’t have to improve for Robertson to post another strong save total. Their bullpen as a whole should be markedly better which will yield more opportunities than the 57 they had as a team last year (21st in the league and below the league average of 61).

Robertson was going to remain a top closer target almost regardless of where he went so his landing on the White Sox isn’t really the biggest part of the story from a fantasy standpoint. Instead it is Dellin Betances, his likely replacement in the Bronx, who draws the real attention here. Notice on that Player Rater link from earlier that Betances slotted 11th among non-SP relievers last year with all of one save. He did so with 90 dominant innings that included a 1.40 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, and 135 strikeouts. Oh, and of course that one sweet save.

The 27-year old former top prospect finally harnessed his elite stuff and turned into one of the most-feared relievers in baseball. He almost certainly won’t repeat his 2014 performance because there is almost no way he gets another 90-inning workload. The Yankees impressively deployed Betances for more than an inning in exactly half of his 70 outings last year, but he would be extremely lucky to get even a quarter of that total (which would be nine after rounding up) in 2015.

Closers simply aren’t used that way in today’s game. Looking at the top 10 closers from 2014, we see that just two had more than five 1+ IP appearances and only two logged even 70 innings, well below Betances’ totals in both categories.

Player TM IP >1 IP App.
Greg Holland KC 62.3 0
Craig Kimbrel ATL 61.7 3
Zach Britton BAL 76.3 10
Francisco Rodriguez MIL 68 1
Huston Street SD/LAA 59.3 0
Jonathan Papelbon PHI 66.3 1
Mark Melancon PIT 71 2
Kenley Jansen LAD 65.3 3
Aroldis Chapman CIN 54 5
David Robertson NYY 64.3 8
Average 65 3.3

Of course, we are trading those 20 or so innings for no worse than 35 saves with the potential for upwards of 15 more. That tradeoff plus the upside potential is enough to move Betances into the top spot for me. Yes, even ahead of Kimbrel. This is more pro-Betances than it is anti-Kimbrel. Kimbrel was still all-world excellent last year, but the groundball and walk rates are both headed the wrong way after that monstrously elite 2012.

No one expected him to maintain that level (50% K rate, 6% BB rate, 8.3 K:BB ratio, AND a 49% GB rate), but there is enough fallback to move him out of that spot as the undisputed best fantasy closer. Some might campaign for Greg Holland to take the spot if it is in fact open, but I’ll take Betances. Maybe I’m being a “size-ist” by opting for the 6’8 Betances over the 5’11 Kimbrel and 5’10 Holland.

Honestly, I think there is a strong case for any of the three or even the 6’5 Kenley Jansen to be the top rated closer coming into 2015, so I’m reticent to argue that Betances is the definitive choice. Either way, the Robertson move to Chicago has added another elite closer to the pool. Only four closers (totaling five instances) have logged 100+ strikeouts and 40+ saves in the last 10 years with Kimbrel notching a pair, Holland getting one, and Jansen being the only guy to do it in 2014 (Brad Lidge in 2005 was the other). Betances has a great shot at being the fifth closer and sixth instance. A quick top 10 for me at this point looks like this:

  1. Betances, NYY
  2. Kimbrel, ATL
  3. Jansen, LAD
  4. Doolittle, OAK
  5. Holland, KC
  6. Chapman, CIN
  7. Robertson, CHW
  8. Allen, CLE
  9. Melancon, PIT
  10. McGee, TB*

*not guaranteed the job over Brad Boxberger, but I love him if he does hold it.

The 2015 Starting Pitching Guide is now available for pre-order. Click here to reserve yours now!

Monday: 08.5.2013

Jim Johnson’s “Regression” Is 5 Bad Innings

When Jim Johnson had his dream season in 2012 – complete with an MLB-best 51 saves – many in the fantasy community screamed “REGRESSION!!” at the top of their lungs. The biggest hurdle for most (I believe) was getting their heads around a low-strikeout reliever being a dominant closer. Johnson’s next 20 percent strikeout rate will be his first and that’s not even special for a reliever let alone a primetime closer. Relievers have averaged a 22 percent rate in each of the last two seasons with the best sitting in the 30s (well the absolute best like Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman post absurd 45-50% rates).

What didn’t make sense about the cries for regression was the seemingly forgotten or overlooked fact that Johnson threw 91 innings at his 2012 levels the year before with all of his key indicators being nearly equal:

jjohnson1112

Now his ERA indicators were calling for a jump with FIPs of 3.22 and 3.25, but that is hardly egregious. In short, this GB-heavy approach wasn’t a fluke.

Essentially two-thirds through the 2013 season has yielded some interesting results for Johnson as those thinking it couldn’t last might feel justified by his 3.26 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. But are the Johnson naysayers really “right” if the entire “regression” came in about a two-week, five-inning stretch from mid-to-late May? While Johnson’s ERA is more than three-quarters of a run higher than in 2012, you can make a case that he’s actually been better save a 10 percent portion of his season. To wit:

 jjohnsongoodbad

I realize this is some gaming with selective endpoints, but when four of the nine outings during which he allowed earned runs are clustered in about a two-week sample, I don’t think it’s egregious to show the before and after on each side. At its core, this is less about Johnson and more about just how skewed reliever numbers can be given their relatively small innings totals.

If you just lifted those five innings from Johnson’s totals, his numbers are through-the-roof brilliant. We can’t do that, but look at those numbers since he emerged out of his funk; they are quite excellent, too. In that particular sample, his groundball rate is at 66 percent – even better than the astronomical 62 percent rates from the last two years. By the way, he is once again leading baseball in saves with 38 and he’s actually outpacing his 2012 total. His pace of 55 would tie him for the third-most in baseball ever and the most since Eric Gagne hit the mark in 2003.

Always dig into a reliever’s numbers as the front page of their Baseball-Reference profile will often mislead you.

Thursday: 05.9.2013

Something Something Danger Zone

The Tampa Rays are two days from the Danger Zone!!!

I desperately hope that Chris Archer pitches on Saturday.

dangerzone

Thursday: 05.9.2013

TINSTAAPP Now in iTunes!

Finally got the approval notice from iTunes that TINSTAAPP is good to go! It should be searchable in no more than a couple of days. Here is the link.

 

itunes

Tuesday: 05.7.2013

TINSTAAPP: Episode 2

Welcome to the second episode of TINSTAAPP: There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Podcast! Hey we have a name! Everything is neatly cataloged so you can decide what segment best fits the time you have available. We should be in iTunes soon, too. Just awaiting their approval.

In the meantime you can add the RSS feed into your podcatcher: http://tinstaapp.libsyn.com/rss

Listen Here

  • 0:00 – 19:23 Intro (19’ intros is how you have a four-hour podcast, folks!)
  • 19:24 – 36:50 Hyun-Jin Ryu
  • 36:51 – 45:45 Kris Medlen
  • 45:46 – 57:13 Derek Holland
  • 57:14 – 1:06:09 Fernando Rodney
  • 1:06:10 – 1:13:11 David Price
  • 1:13:12 – 1:21:27 Roy Halladay
  • 1:21:28 – 1:38:16 Marco Estrada
  • 1:38:17 – 1:48:37 Tony Cingrani
  • 1:48:38 – 2:00:44 Ricky Romero
  • 2:00:45 – 3:23:32 Our Game of the Week: Homer Bailey at Lance Lynn
  • 3:23:33 – 3:47:15 Picking Next Week’s GotW
  • 3:47:16 – 3:50:24 Close

Show Notes:

Saturday: 05.4.2013

Jeremy Guthrie’s New “Success”

Jeremy Guthrie has a 3.06 ERA through five starts which looks like a continuation of his post-trade work with the Royals from last season when he had a 3.16 ERA in 91 innings over 14 starts. All told, he had a 3.14 ERA in 123 2/3 innings with 1.10 WHIP. He is blasting the zone resulting in a minuscule 5.8 percent walk rate – a marked improvement over his 6.9 percent career rate. His strikeout rate is at 16 percent as a Royal, up from a 14.3 career mark. Everything seems to suggest he has found a new level of production in his early-30s with his new club.

That strikes me as odd, though.

You don’t usually see a guy with 1111 innings of a certain level of production become something significantly better in their 30s. At least not without a major change in their pitch mix either by adding a pitch or using what he has differently. There hasn’t been any of that with Guthrie which made his improvement even more suspicious. This split of his innings as a Royal definitely stood out:

Guthrie

IP

ERA

WHIP

K%

BB%

vs. CWS

35.7

0.50

0.81

21%

2%

vs. Rest

87.7

4.21

1.31

14%

7%

Guthrie has owned his Saturday night opponent since becoming a Royal and it is driving his new found success. Against the rest of the league, he’s simply been the solid, if unspectacular Jeremy Guthrie we’ve known for nearly a decade, but he’s a Cy Young frontrunner against the Pale Hose. Let’s see if he continues the dominance tonight in Kauffman Stadium.

For those wondering, two of these five starts have come in Kauffman Stadium and he’s allowed five runs, but only one earned in 13 2/3 innings with nine strikeouts and two walks.

Tuesday: 04.30.2013

A New Pitching Podcast – Pilot Episode

From the gentlemen who brought you the 2013 Starting Pitching Guide comes a brand new podcast dedicated to… wait for it … pitching!!! We started discussing the notion of this podcast all the way back in the winter when we first linked up to discuss the guide. Then after the success of the SP Guide and just how well we got along, it was a no-brainer to follow through with that original idea and thus a pilot episode is born. For those of you who like long-form podcasts, you’re going to be drooling over this one.

That said I think I’ve come up with a way for it to appeal to even those who don’t like long-form. If you want to stretch the podcast out throughout your work week, I have labeled all of our segments by timestamp so you can pick & choose what you want to listen to as it fits your available time. We don’t yet have a name for the show, but I think we’ve decided one and once it’s set in stone, we’ll be in iTunes. We will also be setting up the obligatory email, Facebook page, and Twitter accounts, too. Until then, we would love your emails at thespguide@gmail.com for questions you would like answered on the show.

This is entirely a starting pitcher episode, but it’s a pitching podcast at large so if you have questions about relievers, that works. We do inject a little fantasy baseball talk into the show, but we’re not fielding any “should I trade for pitcher x or cut pitcher z?” questions. My other show, The Towers of Power Fantasy Hours, is fantasy-related and that would be the avenue for those types of questions. We also encourage you to watch our Game of the Week discussed starting at the 2:55:05 mark so you can follow along as we discuss it on next week’s episode.

Without further ado, our pilot episode:

Download the file here. (right click, save as)

  • 0:00 – 19:30 Intro
  • 19:31 – 31:57 Jarrod Parker
  • 31:58 – 38:11 Brett Anderson
  • 38:12 – 47:18 Jeremy Hellickson
  • 47:19 – 54:42 Matt Harvey
  • 54:43 – 1:08:07 Yu Darvish
  • 1:08:08 – 1:16:32 Clay Buchholz
  • 1:16:33 – 1:26:15 Jon Lester
  • 1:26:16 – 1:37:44 Alex Cobb
  • 1:37:45 – 1:49:03 Declining Velo in April (Verlander, Sabathia, Price)
  • 1:49:02 – 1:59:11 Strasburg & the Nats
  • 1:59:12 – 2:17:20 Samardzija v. Latos
  • 2:17:21 – 2:55:04 Our Game of the Week: Lincecum v. Cashner
  • 2:55:05 – 3:07:36 Picking Next Week’s GotW
  • 3:07:37 – 3:14:42 Close

Show Notes:

Wednesday: 04.24.2013

Josh Rutledge Rips the Cover Off the Ball

Or at least some of it…

rutledgecover

Friday: 04.12.2013

Jose Reyes Injured After Awkward Slide

The headline (hopefully) says it all. Reyes’ footwork gets messed up, he slides way late, and ends up in extreme pain. No word yet on the extent of the injury, but I can’t imagine this turns out well for anyone.

reyesinj

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