Posts tagged ‘Chris Sale’

Friday: 01.31.2014

2014 SP Guide Sample: Chris Sale

Doug and I will be sharing a handful of samples over the next couple of weeks to give you an idea of what you can expect in the 2014 SP Guide. We have selected a diverse group across both leagues for the samples ranging from established aces to promising on-the-rise arms. Next up is superstar Chris Sale. There is a case that he’s actually underrated among aces after two brilliant seasons (no, all the samples won’t be AL Central guys!). The mechanics report card denotes the split between mine and Doug’s writing. Everything above the card was written by me, the card and text are Doug’s. If you have questions, comments, or funny jokes you can either comment here or reach us on Twitter @sporer and @doug_thorburn. Details on how to order the guide are included at the end of the piece. 

Chris Sale (25 years old) – While a certain sect of the baseball world waits for what they believe is an inevitable breakdown for him, Sale just continues to produce at a superstar level. His sixth and fifth place finishes in the last two Cy Young races are almost criminal. After an amazing 2012, Sale went out and did better across the board and ended up as an unquestioned fantasy ace even with just 11 wins. He added strikeouts and innings while dropping walks, ERA, and WHIP.

Sale’s three-pitch mix is positively devastating. His swing-and-miss (misses out of all swings, not of all pitches) rate sixth in baseball among qualified pitchers at 26 percent, up from last year’s 24.4 percent. Additionally, his called strike rate was at an insane 39.5 percent, fourth in baseball. He was the only one in baseball to finish in top 10 of both categories. A.J. Burnett and Max Scherzer join him as the only three in the top 20.

Sale gets his misses pretty evenly with 36.6 percent from the slider, 32.7 percent from the fastball, and 30.7 percent from the changeup while looking strikes were widely split with 49.4 percent coming from the fastball, 35 percent coming from the slider, and 15.6 percent coming from the changeup. He got 127 looking strikes in pitcher counts, second-most in baseball to Cliff Lee’s 175 and up from just 79 in 2012. He also got 73 looking strikeouts (backwards Ks) which was also second to Lee, who logged 93. Sale got 42 (57.5%) of those called strikeouts on the slider, 26 (35.6%) on the heater, and five (6.8%) on the changeup. Look at the improvement of where the looking strikeouts came from in 2013:

sale-look-K12

sale-look-K13

This is improved command. He was doing a lot more of my site’s name in 2013. Tied to the injury concerns, some are worried about the strong workload he has shouldered the last two seasons including a career-high 214.3 innings in 2013, but too much is made of innings counts as opposed to pitch counts. The number of pitches matters much more and particularly the pitches made under duress. It’s hard to figure out the latter, but the former is well-tracked in the internet age.

Sale threw 3,248 pitches and his 15.2 pitches per innings was the 15th-best rate in the game among pitchers with 150+ innings. For context, Hisashi Iwakuma led baseball at 14.1. Among the pitchers with at least 200 innings, his rate was 8th-best (C.J. Wilson’s 17.2 P/IP rate was last). I’ve taken the long way to outline just how great Sale is at pitching. You probably already knew that, but I think it’s worthwhile to point out some of the drastic improvements he made and why some of the concerns regarding his workload and potential breakdown are overblown.

Doug gave him a strong grade of B- last year (I’m sure another report is forthcoming from him, I’m writing this ahead of receiving his work) with only the balance getting a subpar grade (30). He has some injury indicators with the inverted W, elbow drag, and high slider volume, but he’s not markedly more risky than other guys with similar indicators (Strasburg shares the former pair, for example). Invest confidently.

reportcard-sale

Sale brings the funk, the whole funk, and nothing but the funk. His imbalance is pronounced for the first 90% of his delivery, as the lefty hunches over and leans back until foot strike, at which point he miraculously rights the ship to finish with near-perfect posture. With sharp arm angles and a lanky wingspan, he looks like a vulture stalking its prey before unleashing deadly sliders upon unsuspecting hitters. His delivery carries precursors to potential elbow injury, in which the angled wings and pronounced scapular load lead to recurrent elbow drag, so some of his funk might be destructive in the long run.

Thursday: 02.14.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 8 Days – SP Contracts

Only 8 days until live game action…

Just a quickie here. To make any sort of sweeping judgment one way or another about what to do in leagues is always dangerous, it’s never black and white and circumstances change. That’s why you often the first part of any answer in a chat of fantasy baseball questions be: “it depends”. One such area is extending pitchers. It, too, lives in the gray, but I’d say it is closer to the definitive are than other rules. Extending pitcher contracts is rarely a great idea, though it can still be a good one, just one rife with risk. Now before you email me citing your offensive player extension that went awry because of injury, let me be clear that I’m aware of the fact that every player carries risk of getting hurt. That’s just the nature of sports.

However, you cannot deny that there is heightened risk with starting pitchers and knowingly assuming that risk isn’t always a good idea. Even the most rock solid guys can turn at the drop of a hat. Consider these three recent cases. Let’s start at the low-end where the breakdown wasn’t an overwhelming shock if only because of his age. Roy Halladay was coming off six straight amazingly strong seasons during which he went at least 220 innings and averaged 236. There was no way he was on anyone’s roster at a cheap price this time last year, but he might’ve been at a fair price once you factor inflation leading some to hang onto him thinking it was as safe as can be for a pitcher. He was kept in one of my NL-Only leagues for a mid-$30s cost when he’d have easily gone north of $40. We know how it turned out. He looked human for the first time since 2004 pitching just 156.3 innings and posting a 4.49 ERA. Now at 36, he’s going at a discounted rate as if 2012 is the new norm and his previously insane track record of awesomeness is but a memory.

Next up is Dan Haren heading into the 10th year of his career, he too wasn’t on anyone’s roster for $15 dollars or anything, but coming off of his 2010 where he had a 3.91 ERA, he came at a discount in 2011 drafts making him someone who was likely below market in many leagues and could be another guy who you keep just to avoid any inflation in the auction. He’d made 33 starts a year or more for seven straight seasons including 34 four times and even 35 once. He averaged 226 innings during the stretch with an excellent set of base skills. His workhorse reputation led me to say this in 2012’s pitching guide:

He remains one of the most rock solid pitchers in all of baseball with no fewer than 216 innings since 2005 and increasing workloads yearly since 2008 topping out at last year’s 238.

Whoops. A balky back proved too difficult to pitch through and he went just 176.7 innings with stretches of ugliness that led to a 4.33 ERA. We saw runs of the brilliant Haren, too, but not enough to cancel the bad. No one is immune.

And the most disastrous of them all whose retirement actually prompted the idea to discuss this a while back: Brandon Webb. If there was one thing you could rely on Webb for it was innings and good ones at that. He struggled with walks in his second season leading to an ugly 1.51 WHIP, but his 3.59 ERA was still pretty solid and proved to be the worst of his career (not counting the 13.50 in his 4-inning swan song “season” of 2009). Starting in 2004 he went 208, 229, 235, 236.3, and 226.7. All before 30 years old.

Then poof!

Done.

He tried to work his way back, but it wasn’t to be and at 33, he is done.

Just keep these three cases (and many, many more) in mind this winter when you are deciding on your keeper lists. The more pitchers you have, the more risk you’re assuming. Again, this doesn’t mean that you should cut your $3 R.A. Dickey loose or not give Chris Sale a contract for 2013. But start thinking long and hard about extensions to pitchers. How many years do you want to commit to Sale beyond this one? Say you had him at $1 because he used to be a reliever, but now he’s due up for a contract at $5 per year.

Sure, $16 sounds plenty reasonable because he’d sure as hell go for more than that this year in the auction, but now you’re betting on 2013, 2014, and 2015. Just go $6 and enjoy the crazy value this year (assuming he’s stay upright of course) and work on finding the next Sale. How many of your are in the midst of Brandon Beachy or Cory Luebke contracts? This goes double for leagues where they let you out of contracts if they go sour, but charge penalties to do so. Those of you enjoying a David Price contract should be very thankful. It has worked out brilliantly. It’s the exception.

Go back and look through top prospects lists and see how many guys didn’t work out as panned and try to recall some of the trades you made to earn their rights. Again, there is risk throughout our game, but the point is to minimize how much you can incur. Extending a pitching beyond the upcoming year is the easiest way to get a double serving of risk you thought you were ordering.

OK, that wasn’t as quick as I thought. I tend to get going sometimes and end up much longer winded than anticipated.

Wednesday: 01.30.2013

ESPN Rankings Summit: Top 25 SPs

The ESPN fantasy crew is in the midst of the rankings summit where they get together and hash out the initial run of their positional ranks. It accompanies a chat moderated by one of the parties involved and it’s a pretty interesting watch/read. They are coming down the home stretch with their starting pitchers where I believe they’ll go 50 deep. Here are the top 25.

  1. Justin Verlander
  2. Clayton Kershaw
  3. Felix Hernandez
  4. Stephen Strasburg
  5. David Price
  6. Matt Cain
  7. Cliff Lee
  8. Cole Hamels
  9. Jered Weaver
  10. Zack Greinke
  11. Gio Gonzalez
  12. Adam Wainwright
  13. Madison Bumgarner
  14. Yu Darvish
  15. R.A. Dickey
  16. C.C. Sabathia
  17. Chris Sale
  18. Johnny Cueto
  19. Mat Latos
  20. Jordan Zimmermann
  21. Roy Halladay
  22. Aroldis Chapman
  23. Kris Medlen
  24. Matt Moore
  25. James Shields

I had some minor quibbles early, but my first real contention was Chris Sale at 17. Of course that was immediately blown out of the water by Aroldis Chapman at 22. I just can’t get behind that on any level. It assumes so many things go perfectly for him. Bret Sayre did point out that it’s a tough rank on overall value because if he implodes, he will likely move back to the bullpen. A fair point, but I just don’t see how they came to this ranking because even if Bret’s scenario comes to pass, he will have x amount of horrible innings on his ledger before transitioning back. I think he’d have to be truly awful to go back into the bullpen, not just fantasy bad. A 4.20 ERA/1.35 WHIP would be fantasy bad, especially at his cost, but Cincinnati can definitely live with that out of their fifth starter especially if he’s fanning 25 percent of the batters he faces and going six innings a game.

Chapman basically has to have Sale’s season to fulfill that ranking and while there is at least chance of that, it’s pretty low on the probability spectrum making such a lofty ranking tough to justify for me. I also think Kris Medlen is too high at 23, but at least he has starting experience at the major league level and an actual arsenal of pitches. Chapman has major name value and Medlen has his brilliant end to 2012, factors that will keep both very high on most lists this year. I just think the talent pool is too deep to take the added risk of them in lieu of more consistent performers who also have greatness in their profile (e.g. Matt Moore, Max Scherzer).

The summit is a very cool event that ESPN does every year. I love reading some of the thinking going on in the room and I hope they show some videos again as they’ve done in the past.

What do you think?

Tuesday: 01.22.2013

Top 10 SP – Review

On Friday night, MLB Network unleashed their Top 10 Starting Pitchers Right Now along with input from host Brian Kenny, co-host John Smoltz, and special guest to the series Bill James. The results were interesting and perhaps unsurprisingly, I had more gripes with this list than I have any of the previous ones.

Here are all four lists from MLB Network-related folks and then I’ll address them separately:

top10SPListsThe Shredder

Let’s start with the list that comes from their objective machine they call “The Shredder”. Kenny suggests that it is cold and calculated in its evaluation relying heavily on the most recent season, but also not forgetting track record. I have to call heaping amounts of BS on it. It just doesn’t add up. First off, it you’re focusing on “RIGHT NOW”, then how does Roy Halladay still finish fourth? There has to be a lot of subjectivity used to get him there. But that’s far from the most egregious infraction.

If this is supposed to be the most objective tool relying on data only for projection analysis, how does Chris Sale not only make the list, but finish ahead of Stephen Strasburg, Cole Hamels, and reigning Cy Young winner David Price? It had to rely heavily on track record (or pure subjectivity) to get Halladay that high, so then track record would send Hamels and Price rocketing past Sale. Meanwhile, Sale wasn’t better than them last year, either.

Strasburg is probably skewed because he threw just 160 innings, but he was so stellar in that allotted time that it is still a surprise to see him so low. Plus, since I think they had to finagle things to get Halladay that high, surely they could’ve just done the same to get Strasburg into a more reasonable slot. Whatever the case is, I’m done believing that The Shredder is purely objective on any level. And if it is coming to these conclusions based on the data it is being fed, it’s broken and Master Splinter does in fact need to take over.

Maybe I got too caught up in Jered Weaver’s peripherals when leaving him out because I didn’t even give him an honorable mention. I recognize the fact that he is a damn fine pitcher, but I am a strikeout whore and looking over the numbers again I think I focused too much on the plummeting strikeout rate and not enough on his incredible ability to keep runners off the bases, specifically by preventing hits. I still think six is a little high, but I can see how he would fit nicely at 10 bumping the NL version of him (Matt Cain) up to nine and Gio Gonzalez getting moved to an honorable mention.

My inclusions they didn’t list: Cain, Gonzalez, and R.A. Dickey

Bill James

Without treading over well-worn ground too much again, I just can’t see how on a “RIGHT NOW” list James saw fit to put teammates Cliff Lee and Hamels so far below Halladay who is 36 and coming off of an injury-marred season. Plus there’s the fact that he and the Phillies were going to start discussing an extension, but worries about his shoulder scared them off a bit. I still love Halladay as an undervalued fantasy commodity, but as the #4 pitcher right now, I’m a bit more skeptical.

James was the only one to list C.C. Sabathia which I think says more about the depth at the top of the pitching heap than anything else. I certainly don’t fault James for including him nor would I have faulted any of the other participants. He was basically tied with Adam Wainwright on my list at that 13/14 spot, but I gave Waino the mention because I honestly thought CC would appear on most of the lists and didn’t need the extra love.

My inclusions he didn’t list: Cain, Gonzalez, and Dickey

John Smoltz

Smoltzie’s list was close to being my favorite list but including Sale at the expense of Lee was just too much to overlook. Frankly, it doesn’t even matter if Lee wasn’t 11th, just the inclusion of Sale over many more deserving (at least in my estimation) candidates is tough for me. I’m not anti-Sale overall, just when it comes to ranking him this high among the best pitchers right now. Another big season in 2013 could elevate him onto my list next winter, but he hasn’t done enough to pass enough all of these guys just yet.

My inclusions he didn’t list: Gonzalez, Dickey, and Lee

Brian Kenny

I guess by sheer virtue of the fact that we had the most matches (eight), Kenny’s list should be my favorite, but it boggles my mind how he could wind up with Price at nine. Apart from that, our lists are pretty close on the matches we had usually off by just a spot, maybe two, and we had three direct matches (JV, Strasburg, and Hamels). He was adamant about getting Dickey on his list and was the only one to do so which obviously I support, but I just kept coming back to the Price thing. If you go off of mostly last year, then Price has to go above Weaver (and obviously Halladay) and even when you factor in track record, it’s not like Price is without one. You’d have to weigh track record pretty heavily to Halladay above Price which I thought went against the conceit of these lists.

My inclusions he didn’t list: Cain and Gonzalez

All in all, I know these lists are still just fun and filled with opinion (yes, even yours Shredder), but I can’t make sense of it sometimes when arguments supporting guys contradict where you rated them or others.

I’ve still got my reliever review upcoming and then the LF and RF lists are due this week before Friday night’s airings.

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