Archive for May, 2012

Friday: 05.11.2012

Trolling the Wire – Weekend Edition

Here are the weekend selections:

SATURDAY

none

SUNDAY

Jeff Samardzija (CHC) – He’s been excellent this year without question.  I was skeptical when he debuted with a gem, felt justified for that skepticism when he followed it up with a pair of 5 ER outings, but now can’t help but be impressed by his last three outings during which he has yielded just 2 ER in 21 innings.  He also has 23 strikeouts in those three starts with a pair of wins.  (@ MIL)

A.J. Burnett (PIT) – He followed up his disastrous outing against the Cardinals with eight strong (2 ER) striking out 10 and walking just one.  He was left out to dry in that meltdown, but I don’t think it completely ruins his season.  Not only can be useful for your fantasy team the rest of the way, but it isn’t a stretch to suggest he finishes the season with a sub-4.00 ERA.  Let’s say he’ll go about 175 innings this season after missing a pair starts at the outset.  He’d only need to be a 3.64 ERA pitcher in his remaining 151 innings to finish with a 3.96 ERA for the season.  He’ll be fine.  (vs. HOU)

Edwin Jackson (WAS) – If you participated in Trolling last year, then you aren’t surprised to see Jackson here.  He was the most often recommended spot starter here last year.  To read/hear some write/speak about him, I can’t help but find him underrated.  You would think he has had a 4.50 ERA in the last three years as opposed to two sub-3.80 seasons along with a 4.47 one.  And in that latter one, he surged late posting a 3.24 ERA in 11 starts with the White Sox.  This year he has his best peripherals ever with a 7.9 K/9 and a 2.1 BB/9 which is a major improvement over anything he has ever done.  (@ CIN)

Jonathon Niese (NYM) – A pair of 4 BB starts bookend his 6 outings thus far raising his walk rate, but otherwise his peripherals are still sharp while his xFIP continues to suggest his ERA should be lower.  A trip into the cavernous Marlins Stadium seems like a nice remedy to get back on track after an OK start in Philly.

 

Friday: 05.11.2012

BP Work This Week

A quick look at my work available over at Baseball Prospectus this week.

  • First up was the Starting Pitcher Value Picks piece in which I looked at Felipe Paulino, who threw alright on Friday night against the White Sox.  I still like him as at least a stream option in all formats if not a full-time player.  I was surprised to learn that Jeff Samardzija was so available across the three primary outlets.  He is only out there in 18% of CBS leagues, but even that was surprising while his availability in ESPN and Yahoo! leagues ranged from 53-60%.

 

  • Next up was the Weekly Planner piece which takes a look at the all the two-start pitchers for next week and decides who you should go with and who you should probably avoid.  There are several aces going and falling in the Auto-Start category, but there are also a ton of Start options as well.  That should allow you find an adequate arm to fill in for Johnny Cueto who I have as merely a Consider this week with trips into Atlanta and the Bronx on his docket.  I’ve long been a fan of Cueto, but I’m also realistic and he is likely going to start his path to regression this upcoming week.

 

  • And finally, episode 3 came out for the The Towers of Power Fantasy Hour, a BP Fantasy Podcast.  We discussed stars playing like stars and how to handle them, cover a bunch of unexpectedly hot pitchers and whether or not we believe in them as well as read plenty of your emails.  Send your emails to fantasyhour@baseballprospectus.com.  We record on Thursdays.  We also have a Facebook Group that you should definitely join.
Tuesday: 05.8.2012

Trolling the Wire: Week 7

I spent of the first month of the season debating a different distribution method for the Trolling the Wire column that appeared weekly last year.  After deliberation, I’m just going to continue distributing as I did last year, through this site.  Some leagues allow same-day pickups so I’ll cover some guys for tonight along with the rest of the week.

(pitchers are ranked in order of confidence on a given day)

TUESDAY

Joe Blanton (PHI) – Those dismissing his complete game shutout against the Braves because it came after the marathon barn-burner the night before are missing out with Blanton.  He looked great before that start.  His strikeout rate is down to 5.4 which I don’t love, but his walk rate is on a five-year decline down to 0.8 BB/9.  (vs. NYM)

Edwin Jackson (WAS) – Last year’s TTW most used arm, Jackson is least available of the four listed (41% available at ESPN), but he is still underutilized.  Both his strikeouts and groundballs are at career-best marks (8.2 and 52%, respectively) while his walk rate is down to a career-low 2.3 BB/9.  Some people refuse to believe in E-Jax, but I remain steadfastly loyal.  (@ PIT)

Danny Duffy (KC) – I expected to see Duffy’s profile raise after a five-plus strong innings against the Yankees, but he remains widely available.  He needs to exhibit more control (4.8 BB/9), but he has built himself a solid margin for error with a 10.3 K/9 in his 23 innings.  (vs. BOS)

AJ Burnett (PIT) – Yes, St. Louis absolutely obliterated him and your fantasy team’s ERA, but you already sustained the worst of him so why jump off the train now?  He was excellent in his two starts prior to that massacre (btw, why the hell did Clint Hurdle leave him out there for that long?) and he has the stuff to get back on track again.  (vs. WAS)

Jarrod Parker (OAK) – The heralded rookie who was acquired in the Trevor Cahill deal has looked sharp in his first two outings in the American League including great work last week in Fenway.  He has a passable 6.2 K/9 rate in his first two starts, but I think we can expect to see that number rise as the season progresses.  Pitching in Oakland always helps, especially with mega-talented arms like Parker.  (vs. TOR)  — Parker was originally scheduled for Tuesday, then flipped with McCarthy for Wednesday and then flipped BACK again to Tuesday.  Thanks for the heads up from commenter Brad.

WEDNESDAY

Erik Bedard (PIT) – I’m going right back to the Pitt-Wash series well for Wednesday.  I guess the history of these two teams makes it difficult for fantasy managers to buy in on their starters and the early season success they are enjoying.  As I’ve said repeatedly, it’s never been about talent with Bedard, just health, so get everything you can out of him while he is whole.  He’s been great this year, though I’d like to see some more pitch efficiency.  Even in his last two starts where he only walked a pair in each, he has been able to go just five innings both times.  (vs. WAS)

Drew Smyly (DET) – What more does Smyly need to do for fantasy folks to buy in?  He has deftly handled Tamp Bay, Texas and the Yankees in New York yet his ownership rate is 45% at ESPN and somehow 32% at Yahoo!.  The added bonus is that he has shown some great strikeout potential, too, with 7 Ks in each of his last three outings (TEX, @ NYY, CHW).  He will have some ups and downs, but I’m buying in on the big picture.  (@ SEA)

Anthony Bass (SD) – Bass is an even more unheralded version of Smyly.  He started 2012 in the bullpen and after a pair of appearances in relief, he has moved into the rotation and looked fantastic.  Of course pitching in San Diego always enhances a pitcher’s value, but his two starts out of PETCO Park have been just fine, too.  He is missing bats (10.6 K/9 in his 5 starts) and getting tons of groundballs (55%).  His BABIP is a bit low (.247), but his 3.19 xFIP says he should be even better than his 3.51 ERA.  (vs. COL)

Ross Detwiler (WAS) – I have been a fan of Detwiler for a while and I’m glad that he is starting to display his talents at the major league level.  In limited time the last three years, he showed incremental improvements, but this year at age 26 he has taken a major step forward.  His secondary pitches are yielding both more strikeouts (career-high 6.7 K/9) and groundballs (career-high 58%) which has driven his success.  His .215 BABIP will certainly regress at some point, but there is enough to believe in with Detwiler and he shouldn’t be available in 52% of ESPN leagues.  (@ PIT)

THURSDAY

Henderson Alvarez (TOR) – Limited options with six games on Thursday and a handful of aces going, but Alvarez is coming off of a complete game shutout yet remains on the wire in many, many leagues.  The problem is that he couldn’t strike me out.  His 2.6 K/9 is frighteningly bad.  His game is to induce weak contact and let his fielders do the work (57% groundball rate), but you have to strikeout SOME batters.  He is going to have a game where several balls find the holes and he gets BABIP’d to death, but I think he will best Minnesota here.  (@ MIN)

FRIDAY

James McDonald (PIT) – Yes, another Pirates starter.  Unlike last year when their starters were drastically outperforming their peripherals, this year’s rotation actually has some strikeout arms doing pretty well yet not getting the love for it.  McDonald wasn’t missing bats early on (6 Ks through his first 3 starts) and I was concerned, but he has 25 Ks in 21 IP across three starts since without giving back the walk rate gains we saw at the start of the season.  A longtime favorite of mine, don’t be surprised if McDonald appears repeatedly on TTW as long as he remains available in many leagues.

Felipe Paulino (KC) – He’s back!  Unfortunately, Paulino started the season on the DL, but he returned last week with six shutout innings against the Yankees as he picked up where 2011 left off.  I really liked Paulino last year and I like him even more this year.  As with the Pirates starter, he is unlikely to get much love even with sustained success so jump in now.  (@ CHW)

Chris Capuano (LAD) – Fantasy managers are catching on with each passing start, but Capuano is still out there in 30% of ESPN leagues and 44% of Y! leagues so I thought he was worth mentioning.  That 2.21 ERA is going to regress a bit as home run issues have always been there with Capuano, but the strikeouts and mid-3.00s ERA by season’s end are well worth it.

Weekend picks on Friday

Friday: 05.4.2012

BP Work This Week

A quick look at my work available over at Baseball Prospectus this week.

  • First up was the Starting Pitcher Value Picks piece in which I looked at Jason Hammel, who you might still have a chance to get after his domination against the Yankees.  I also looked at the start of Chris Capuano and Joe Blanton (who proceeded to pitch a complete game shutout against Atlanta later that day… yes that was me back-patting).

 

  • Next up, going live this morning, was the Weekly Planner piece which takes a look at the all the two-start pitchers for next week and decides who you should go with and who you should probably avoid.  A couple of corrections are that Doug Fister will be in for Duane Below after his 4 shutout innings in a rehab start at AAA-Toledo.  He slots above Jarrod Parker as the top AL Start for me.  Meanwhile, Alex White appears to be the unnamed starter for Colorado, but I still don’t like him.  As I mentioned in the comments, I’d rather wait and see with him.

 

  • And finally, episode 2 came out for the The Towers of Power Fantasy Hour, a BP Fantasy Podcast.  We discussed the utter decimation of third base over the last week, a similar implosion of closers around the league as well as the call-ups of Mike Trout and Bryce Harper.  Send your emails to fantasyhour@baseballprospectus.com.  We record on Thursdays.  We also have a Facebook Group that you should definitely join.
Wednesday: 05.2.2012

The Best Pitches of April

We are a month into another great season of baseball and we have seen plenty of great pitching already both unexpected and expected starting most notably with Phil Humber’s perfect game continuing on with Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel’s out-of-nowhere emergence and Joe Saunders’ MLB-best 0.90 ERA on the unexpected side ranging over to the expected of Roy Halladay, Justin Verlander and Stephen Strasburg mowing through their opponents with little to no resistance.

With all of that great pitching in mind, I wanted to look at the best pitches of the month.  This idea was at least partially influenced by BP colleague Sam Miller’s ridiculously excellent series highlighting the best pitches of the week.  I was wanting to do something like this last year, but lacked the means to acquire GIFs such as those you’ll see below and reading Sam’s work on the week’s best pitches jogged my memory and ended up as the impetus to make my computer GIF-ready and introduce the series.

To determine the “best” pitches of the month, I will be using FanGraphs Pitch Values and then supplying GIF-based examples of those of pitches.  FanGraphs offers pitch values on fastball, slider, cutter, curveball, changeup, split-finger and knuckleball pitches, but for this exercise, we will be looking at the first five as so few actually throw a split-finger and only R.A. Dickey throws a knuckleball among qualified starting pitchers.

I’ll list the top overall value for each pitch, the top value in the other league (so if 1st place is from an NL guy, I’ll list the top AL guy even if he’s further down the list) and also the top surprise listing which is of course arbitrary to my own tastes.  GIFs will be included for the Top Overall in each pitch only.

FASTBALL

  • Top Overall – Lance Lynn (Value 8.5, Usage 64%, Velocity 92.3 MPH)
  • Top Other League – Jon Lester (6.0 [7th-best], 56%, 92.3 MPH)
  • Top Surprise – Joe Saunders (7.1 [3rd-best], 69%, 89.2 MPH)

Lynn is using his fastball almost 10% less than he did last year when he was coming out of the bullpen shifting that pitch mix over to his slider and changeup as he has made a seamless transition and almost made Cardinals fans forget Chris Carpenter, who is shelved with an injury.

Perhaps most impressive of all is that Lynn’s heater lost just 0.9 MPH in the shift.  Oftentimes since relievers are max effort hurlers used an inning at a time, their velocity will be higher than it would as a starter, but Lynn has maintained his heat almost entirely.  Lynn is 4-0 with a 1.33 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 8.0 K/9 and 4.0 K/BB in 27 IP.

Here is a look at some Lynn fastballs from his April 14th home start against the Chicago Cubs.  He is facing off against Marlon Byrd in the top of the 5th inning.  Byrd is befuddled.  (Please excuse the very amateur GIF’ing as these are literally my first GIFs ever on a program that is brand new to me.  Hopefully you see improvement as the list progresses as I started to get the hang of it by the time I was working on the changeup leader.)

SLIDER

  • Top Overall – Madison Bumgarner (Value 5.9, Usage 40%, Velocity 87.4 MPH)
  • Top Other League – Brandon Morrow (3.5 [7th-best], 22%, 86.8 MPH)
  • Top Surprise – Barry Zito (4.4 [3rd-best], 37%, 78.7 MPH)

If sliders do eat up a starter’s arm then Bumgarner could be in trouble in the future.  He is throwing his fastball 14% less than last year (down to 39%) and 8% of that workload has gone to his devastating slider which is serving him quite well to start the season as he has a 2.53 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in his 32 IP of work.  His groundball rate is up to a career-best 55% (not counting the 58% in 10 IP from 2009), but his strikeout rate is way down thanks to just 7 K in his first three starts spanning 17.3 IP.

Since, he has 10 K in 14.7 IP across two starts for a much more palatable 6.1 K/9 compared to his season mark of 4.8 K/9.  The surface results are there, but the peripherals are lagging behind a bit save the groundball rate and I’m at least a tick concerned about the escalating slider workload (from 20% in 2010 to this year’s 40%).  Of course, then I watch him throw it and understand why he wants to rely on it so much.

Here he is throwing the beautiful breaker in his April 17th start against the Philadelphia Phillies in the top of the 3rd inning against both Placido Polanco and Jimmy Rollins.

CUTTER

  • Top Overall – Tommy Hunter (Value 5.1, Usage 28%, Velocity 85.2 MPH)
  • Top Other League – Roy Halladay (4.2 [2nd-best], 23%, 76.5 MPH)
  • Top Surprise – Carlos Zambrano (3.0 [3rd-best], 26%, 88.5 MPH)

Hunter atop any of these lists might be a bit of a surprise to some as he is a league average pitcher at best who hasn’t reached 130 IP in any of his three major league seasons, but last year his cutter netted a 6.6 value which was good for 8th in all of baseball among pitchers with 80+ IP.

Hunter hasn’t parlayed his big cutter into any real success thus far toting a 4.26 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in 32 innings across five starts.  His control is at a career-worst 3.1 BB/9 pairing with his 5.1 K/9 to yield a meager 1.6 K/BB.

Here is Hunter taking care of Brent Morel in the bottom of the 1st inning of his April 18th start against the Chicago White Sox.

CURVEBALL

  • Top Overall – Jonathan Niese/Erik Bedard-tie (Value 4.1, Usage 22%/27%, Velocity 74.3 MPH/75.0 MPH)
  • Top Other League – Jake Arrieta (2.3 [6th-best], 17%, 78.9 MPH)
  • Top Surprise – Bronson Arroyo (2.4 [5th-best], 16%, 72.4 MPH)

Niese continues his quest to get his ERA below 4.00 and down to the level of his xFIP (ranging from 3.28 to 3.80 since 2010) and currently sits on the precipice with a 4.08 ERA.  He is dogged by a 15% HR/FB thus far as his 3.45 xFIP is much more palatable.  Meanwhile his curveball has heavily aided his 7.5 K/9 thus far with 47% of plate appearances that end on curveballs resulting in a strikeout.

It has never been about talent with Bedard, rather health as he hasn’t reached 130 IP since 2007 so it isn’t too surprising that his first five starts with the Pirates have gone pretty well.  He has a 2.48 ERA, but a 1.41 WHIP thanks to his .337 BABIP.  He has an 8.1 K/9 and 2.2 K/BB in 29 IP.  His curveball has been his calling card throughout his injury-addled career along with a strong fastball, but this year’s fastball value is being eaten up by a .396 BABIP resulting in a -1.6 value thus far.

Here is Niese’s curve from his April 26th start against the Miami Marlins with a splicing of pitches from a faceoff with Austin Kearns in the top of the 4th and Brett Hayes in the top of the 6th.  Also you will see Bedard’s curveball from a pair of at-bats against Dan Uggla on April 28th in the bottom of the 3rd and 5th innings.

CHANGEUP

  • Top Overall – Tommy Milone (Value 5.1, Usage 28%, Velocity 79.5 MPH)
  • Top Other League – Anibal Sanchez (4.2 [2nd-best], 19%, 83.3 MPH)
  • Top Surprise – Jake Peavy (4.1 [3rd-best], 9%, 83.6 MPH)

Milone entered his Monday night start against the Boston Red Sox with a 2.00 ERA and 0.87 WHIP impressing along the way despite a modest opponent list of Kansas City, Seattle, Los Angeles and Chicago (the bookends both at home).  The Red Sox would be his first real challenge, especially in Fenway.

They greeted him and his 87 MPH fastball rather rudely as he allowed 7 ER in 4.7 IP pushing his ERA to 3.69 in the process. Milone is a command and control lefty who doesn’t generate many strikeouts due to a lack of overpowering stuff and needs to effectively change speeds to have success so it isn’t entirely surprising to see him atop the changeup list.

Here he is during his April 24th start, a much more successful outing against the Chicago White Sox during which he threw eight scoreless innings of ball.  Take a look at four changeups across two at-bats, first against Paul Konerko in the top of the 1st and then against Tyler Flowers in the top of the 2nd.