Archive for December, 2014

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: 12.1.2014

2015 Starting Pitching Guide Pre-Order Sale

We are back again! The 2015 Starting Pitching Guide is already in the works and is now available for pre-order. You can order below via PayPal and pay just $30 for the most comprehensive pitching guide available. If you had the 2014 guide, you got over 123,000 words covering 384 pitches across the league in great detail. The following was included in the 2014 guide:

  • A glowing look at Corey Kluber that pointed to a big breakout: “Kluber is one of my favorite breakout picks for 2014 with a low-3.00s ERA over 190-plus innings as an upside.” He won the AL Cy Young. He is the greatest human alive. 
  • A continually bearish outlook (dating back about 27 years) on Clay Buchholz: “The health piece remains uncertain. Actually at this point it seems certain… certain that he won’t make it through a full season.” He pitched 170 IP … and bad ones at that.
  • An endorsement of Alex Cobb’s 2013 (2.76 ERA/1.15 WHIP) to buy-in again for 2014: “Cobb is one of the best young arms in the game and yet one of the most underrated ones at the same time.” He had a 2.87 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in a career-high 166.3 IP.
  • A very eager outlook on Marcus Stroman: “At the risk of being over-influenced by a handful of live performances, I’m really excited about Stroman’s future. [The profile also included the recommendation to take him in deep leagues and in minor league drafts].” He had a 130.7 IP of 3.65 ERA and 1.17 WHIP.
  • A full recommendation of Jose Quintana after his 2013: “There is no reason not to buy in on the improvements. They are built on a skill change (fastball command) and none of his metrics were obscenely out of line in 2013. A .283 BABIP, 76.6 percent LOB rate, and 10.2 percent HR/FB rate are all within reason compared to league average and the marks he showed in 2012. He could lose command of the fastball, but there are no indicators suggesting that would happen.” He dropped another 200 IP and improved his ERA (3.51 to 3.32) with only slight WHIP deterioration (1.22 to 1.24).
  • A cautious outlook on Danny Salazar: “I’m willing to allow a scenario where he improves his fastball command significantly, his 13.7 percent HR/FB rate dips, and he cuts into the homer rate, but his early mock draft price (10th round in NFBC) requires that he do that to earn his keep. He’s going ahead of guys like Andrew Cashner, Doug Fister, and Jon Lester among others and I simply can’t put that kind of faith in 50-odd innings.” He logged just 110 IP with a 4.25 ERA and 1.38 WHIP with a 1.8 HR/9 in the eight starts before his demotion.

 

  • A sleeper designation for Carlos Carrasco: “He has real stuff, but he’s never quite put it together despite showing flashes. If this velocity uptick is real and he can command it while also getting his secondary pitches back on track (OPS-against from 2009-2010 CH: .692, CU: .634, and SL: .443), then we could see something noteworthy. I’m keeping an eye on him, he is still just 27 years old.” He had an insane season, posting a 2.55 ERA and 0.99 WHIP in 134 IP between the bullpen and rotation including a 1.30 ERA and 0.81 WHIP in his final 10 starts.
  • A complete buy-in of Max Scherzer: “His transformation into one of the game’s most dominant strikeout forces can pad the fall if his ERA ticks back up over 3.00, but there is no reason to be shy about trusting him as a bona fide ace.” His ERA was still very good at 3.15 and he did it with 252 strikeouts (third in baseball).
  • A strong projection for Rick Porcello: “I’ve been talking about Porcello’s star potential for years and we should start to see it push through in 2014 with his first 190-inning, sub-4.00 ERA season.” He had a 3.43 ERA in 204.7 IP.
  • A rosy profile on Phil Hughes: “Hughes is a great bargain bin investment for 2014. He is unlikely to cost you anything substantial in any format and yet I think he will pay handsome dividends. You can probably stream him in your 10-12 team mixed league since the rosters won’t run deep enough to make him viable (and then if he really takes off, roster him permanently), but deep mixed and AL-only leagues should be targeting the 28 year old righty as a late-round, low-dollar steal.” He had a career year with a 3.52 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and 11.6 K:BB ratio in 209.7 IP.
  • A modest and conditional endorsement of Dallas Keuchel: “A 4.25 FIP points to some upside. Home runs have been a factor in both seasons. His HR/FB rates have been exceedingly high at 15.9 and 17.4 percent and it’s not unreasonable to expect regression, but with his heavy groundball tendencies, the egregious rates suggest that when he misses, he does so horribly. He can be safely ignored at the draft table in all formats, but a decent strikeout rate and elite groundball rate are enough to monitor him to see if he can improve the gopheritis.” He not only curbed the gopheritis, he made home runs remarkably scarce en route to a huge season – 2.93 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 200 IP.
  • A suggestion to buy back in on Jered Weaver after two sub-200 IP seasons: “He isn’t a fantasy ace because of the low strikeouts, but he is actually going for a good price in many winter mocks so don’t hesitate to jump in if he’s your second, or better yet, your third arm. The great ratios are still very helpful especially if he gets back to the 200-inning level, which is likely since his injuries shouldn’t be long-term problems.” He had a perfectly useful 3.59 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 213.3 IP.
  • A call to finally give up on Brett Anderson’s health even though he has major talent: “By now we are all aware of what he can do at his best, but there are serious questions about whether or not he will be at his best and even if he is, how long will it last? Let some else deal with the headache.” He had a 2.91 ERA, but in just 43.3 IP.
  • A push to take Clayton Kershaw in the mid-first round (feels like a no-brainer now, but it wasn’t last winter): “Once you get past the first five picks this season, don’t be afraid to do something daring… like taking the best, most consistent pitcher in the game.” He won the Cy Young and MVP, finishing second on ESPN’s Player Rater.
  • A firm late-round recommendation for Tyson Ross: “I’m on board with Ross. He costs nothing and makes a great late pick in any NL-only format and even most mixed formats (probably need a deep reserve roster to start looking at him in a 10-team mixer and any kind of reserve roster before 12-team mixer consideration). If you do play in those more common mixed formats, just keep him on your watch list as either a stream option or someone who can play his way into all-leagues viability.” He had a 2.81 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 195.7 IP.
  • A tempered outlook on Ian Kennedy: “Petco alone can’t fix everything for Kennedy. He must improve on the road or it looks like he will just end up as an average commodity (and perhaps worse if he isn’t near-perfect at home). I’m certainly happier about a full season in his new home, but I wouldn’t get too crazy with expectations. He’s going late enough to earn a profit, but I still prefer guys like the aforementioned Porcello as well as Kluber and Jon Niese, all of whom are going after him.” He had a 3.63 ERA in 201 IP, but oddly he was worse at home (3.93 to 3.32).
  • A pass on Tim Lincecum: “I’m left torn. It is obvious that Lincecum still has gobs of talent left, so another Cy Young-caliber season wouldn’t really surprise anyone, but continuing to invest – even at a markedly depressed price from Vintage Lincecum – is tough because there will almost certainly be a handful of more or at least equally intriguing arms in that range or available quite a bit later. It’s a pass for me, but I understand those who still want to take a shot.” He put up a 4.74 ERA in 155.7 IP while his strikeout rate continued to plummet.
  • A breakout call for Jeff Samardzija: “Perhaps because he’s already 29, it’s hard to remember sometimes that this was just his second season in the starting rotation, but there is a ton of talent in this profile and he has a breakout season coming sooner rather than later. Continue targeting him, especially after a season that will depress his cost at the draft table.” He posted a 2.99 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in a career-high 219.7 IP with Chicago and Oakland.
  • A positive outlook on Jason Hammel as a Cub: “This is a solid low-risk move by the Cubs that could really pay off. If he finds that 2012 level again, he could be flipped later in the season for more prospect reinforcements or he is realistically young enough that if he really got going, they could look to extend him as someone to tide them over as they wait for their wave of young talent. Keep an eye on him.” He had a career year with Chicago and Oakland, putting up a 3.47 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in 176.3 IP.
  • An endorsement for Francisco Liriano: “His injury last year was a freak accident broken forearm, but he’s stayed healthy in-season for each of the last two seasons. There is enough alluring potential here with the strikeouts and excellent rate stats that you can afford to take the risk. If 2011-2012 Liriano resurfaces, you can cut bait sooner than you normally would with a pitcher and sustain minimal damage. I’m buying.” It took him a while to come around, but he had a 3.38 ERA in 162.3 IP which almost constitutes a healthy season for the oft-injured Liriano.
  • A reality check on Shelby Miller’s ERA: “Looking forward I think his ERA indicators point to the level we should be looking at for a 2014 expectation. He had a 3.67 FIP, 3.68 SIERA, and 3.73 xFIP.” He had a 3.74 ERA in 2014 and he was lucky to get that. Additionally, his strikeout rate disintegrated from 23.4 to 16.6 percent.
  • A bullish outlook for Julio Teheran: “Lots to like here, I’m definitely investing – especially long-term. (I also made him my preseason NL Cy Young pick).” He didn’t win the Cy, but he had a 2.89 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 221 IP.
  • A close projection for Zack Wheeler: “We could also actually see a rise in ERA, but overall better season with the WHIP dropping significantly – think something like a 3.72 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 185 innings with 160 strikeouts. That would be a perfectly useful sophomore campaign and when you factor in the upside for so much more, he becomes a very desirable asset.” He didn’t lower the WHIP much (1.33), but he had a 3.54 ERA and 187 Ks in 185.3 IP so his overall line was very similar to the value of the projected numbers.
  • A call to put Jacob deGrom on your radar: “He’s someone you should be familiar with if (and probably when) he gets called up. There won’t be a rush to roster him upon arrival, so you can afford to wait and see a bit.” He won the NL Rookie of the Year which I never saw coming, but if you read the guide, he was on your radar so you were ready to pounce quicker than your leaguemates.
  • An unconditional endorsement of Cole Hamels even after his down-ish 2013: “He’s also maintained remarkably stable strikeout, walk, and swinging strike rates, too. Unfortunately, he has dealt with the vagaries of win totals. He won 10 games on a World Series runner-up in 2009 and then 17 on an 81-81 club in 2012. He had 1161.3 innings of 3.39 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in six seasons from 2006-2011 and hadn’t broken the 15-win plateau. High ceiling, high floor, awesome pitcher. Buy so hard.” He only logged a 9-9 record, but did so with a 46 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 204.7 IP.
  • A lot of love for Doug Fister: “I think Fister is due for a huge season and it’s going to make the returns that Detroit got back look even worse than they did at the consummation of the trade. In a lot of drafts, he’s falling outside of the top 40 starters, offering tremendous value. Buy in bulk!” He only lasted 164 IP because of injury, but he put up a 2.41 ERA and 1.08 WHIP during his time.

And much, much more! Of course they weren’t all hits as those of you who joined me on the Nathan Eovaldi train know. Doug Thorburn’s excellent mechanics report cards will be back yet again and he is planning to once again up the volume after doing over 200 players last year.

Whether you are a hardcore fantasy gamer (season-long or DFS), a baseball handicapper, or just a fan of the game, this guide is for you. The breadth and width of knowledge about pitchers in this guide will enhance your baseball experience regardless of how you choose to enjoy the great game.

The guide will be released in early-February again this year.

Order now for just $20 and save $10 off of the regular price. This Cyber Monday pre-order deal won’t last long so jump on it now!!

12/6 Update: The Cyber Monday deal has expired and the SPG will be at regular price of $30 on the link below. 

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Also, if you pre-order the 2015 and you didn’t get the 2014 guide, but want to peruse it then just email me at thespguide@gmail.com and I’ll send you a copy.