Archive for ‘2014 Fantasy Guide’

Wednesday: 02.19.2014

2014 SP Guide Sample: Doug Fister

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 budding star Doug Fister, joining the National League for the first time in his career after an off-season trade from Detroit. 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. 

Doug Fister (30 years old) – Fister was already someone climbing up my draft board as the Tigers completely revamped their infield defense which stood to benefit him greatly. Instead, he gets traded to the NL where he will face pitchers and play behind a solid infield defense with his elite groundball rate.

The 2013 Tigers had baseball’s third-worst team runs saved on the infield at -34 with only the shortstops turning in a positive score, thanks no doubt in large part to the trade acquisition of Jose Iglesias. The Nats weren’t exactly four Orecks out there, but their -6 is a vast improvement and right around the middle of the pack at 17th. In 2012, they delivered an 8, good for 11th, while the Tigers had a -19 that left them fifth-worst.

Fister was hurt more by the 2013 iteration, posting a career-high .332 BABIP en route to a 9.9 H/9 and 1.31 WHIP. His .287 BABIP on groundballs was well above the .240 league average and accounted for 17 extra hits on his ledger. He entered 2013 with a .215 BABIP on groundballs, so 2013 definitely stood out like a sore thumb and a lot of it can be attributed to the shoddy defense surrounding him.

His strikeout rate was a useful 18.1 percent, just off the 18.9 percent league average, but when paired with the 54.3 percent groundball rate it becomes more than palatable. Facing pitchers alone should push him back above average. Hell, he had a 20.4 percent rate in 2011 without the benefit of flailing starting pitchers so we could realistically see him push into the low-20s in his new environs. The biggest gains are to be had with that WHIP.

A 1.31 was not fitting of his skillset, nor was the 3.67 ERA to be honest, but the former was far more egregious. If you put him at league average on that groundball BABIP and remove those 17 hits, his WHIP drops to 1.23. Get really frisky and put him at his .215 career groundball BABIP that he brought into 2013 and you’re slicing 26 hits off and all of a sudden he has a 1.18 WHIP. With 1.06 and 1.19 marks in 2011 and 2012, the upside is evident.

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!

reportcard-fister

Fister made tremendous improvements to his balance last season, skyrocketing from a 40 grade in the 2013 SP Guide. He maintained a stronger vertical position and completely corrected the pronounced back-side lean during his stride phase, which had positive ripple effects on his posture by minimizing his glove-side tilt. The tall right-hander sets up on the third-base side of the rubber before initiating an extremely closed stride that directs his motion toward the on-deck circle.

Fister is throwing from an extreme angle when he reaches release point, such that he has to throw across his body in order to hit targets behind the strike zone, especially when his catcher sets up on the inner-half to left-handed hitters. Some pitchers have a naturally-closed stride, but the fact that Fister’s drag foot finishes miles away from the centerline indicates that he is going against signature.

It will be interesting to see if the Nationals address the issue, given that they made similar adjustments with Gio Gonzalez when he came aboard, with excellent results. But Fister arrives in Washington with a far superior walk rate, and the Nats may decide that if it ain’t broke, they won’t fix it.

 fister-dt

The guide is emailed to your PayPal address after purchase. I send them out in batches, usually with a pretty quick turnaround. At most, it’ll be a few hours, but I’m usually all over it!!

As always, you can email me or reach out on Twitter with questions or comments.

There are a couple different options available to you this year:

Check out Paint The Black!!

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Monday: 02.17.2014

2014 SP Guide Sample: Marco Estrada

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 Marco Estrada. 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. 

Marco Estrada (30 years old) – Another trip to the DL, this time for two months, cost Estrada a chance at his first full season in 2013. After something of a breakout season in 2012, he was given a rotation spot with the chance to put up 30+ starts, but a strained left hamstring cost him essentially all of June and July limiting him to 21 starts and 128 innings. A strained right quad cost him a month in 2012 plus he spent most of April in the bullpen so he ended with just 138.3 innings that season. He has done some fine work in his two 70 percent chunks of seasons, though, fostering excitement for the late-bloomer assuming he can finally stay on the field all season.

The ballpark is a poor fit for the heavy flyballer and the downside of that was seen within his first half when he posted a 5.32 ERA in 69.3 innings thanks in large part to a 1.8 HR/9 including 10 homers allowed in six April starts. Home runs accounted for 14 of the 18 earned runs he allowed that month. Oddly enough, his most damaging outing was his first of May when St. Louis smashed him for eight earned, needing only one home run to do so. Over the final two months of the season, he posted a 0.77 HR/9 en route to a 2.15 ERA in 58.7 innings along with 56 strikeouts and just 11 walks, showing the upside locked in that right arm.

Is it just a matter of coincidental sequencing or is there something about his early season command that leaves him particularly susceptible to the longball? In 2012, he had a 1.9 HR/9 in 51 innings during the first half, though he was actually fortunate to escape with just a 4.06 ERA (4.33 FIP). Then in the second half, he was down to 0.72 in 87.3 innings and had a 3.40 ERA (2.77 FIP). His 24.3 percent strikeout rate and 5.4 percent walk rate over the last two seasons definitely fuel the dreams of big upside, especially if he could figure out the home run issues.

He could improve the home run rate, but it isn’t exactly horrible command so much as it is his flyball tendencies and a homer-friendly ballpark. So while the ERA may remain north of 3.50, he will likely also continue to post WHIPs that belie such an ERA. Throw in the excellent strikeout rate and Estrada is still someone to target. We still haven’t seen a full season, so plan for about 160-170 innings until he shows he can make his 30+ turns.

reportcard-estrada

Estrada’s mechanics are horribly inefficient, with D-level grades or worse in every subject of his report card, and his scores put him at the very bottom of the class of pitchers who are penciled in as MLB starters this season. Estrada looks like a marionette whose strings are intertwined, limiting his flexibility as well as his efficiency.

His torque is minimal, as it appears that there is a chord connecting his front hip to his lead shoulder that encourages rotation in close proximity to foot strike, and only an immense upper-body twist allows him to create a semblance of separation. There is also an invisible string that connects his arms to his lift leg at the start of his delivery, and it looks as if his arms are lifting the front leg as he raises the arms over his head. He is imbalanced along all three axes, and his spine-tilt is excessive to the point of approaching the Gallardo-approved floor of a 20 grade.

 estrada-dt

The guide is emailed to your PayPal address after purchase. I send them out in batches, usually with a pretty quick turnaround. At most, it’ll be a few hours, but I’m usually all over it!!

As always, you can email me or reach out on Twitter with questions or comments.

There are a couple different options available to you this year:

Check out Paint The Black!!

Thursday: 02.13.2014

2014 SP Guide Available Now!!

This year’s book runs over 123,000 words covering 384 starting pitchers across MLB’s 30 organizations in 351 glorious pages! Those of you who have purchased before will likely note that the editing on this year’s edition is unquestionably the best ever. The credit there goes to Darren Schienbien, who did a remarkable job editing the chapters. He willingly read every chapter ahead of time and fixed my many errors. He won’t be reading this opening essay before I publish, though, so I’m sure there’ll be 18 mistakes.

Doug Thorburn is back with his amazing pitch mechanics grades and this year he’s added a ton more. I believe he’s at least tripled his workload from last year. For those who might be new to the guide, when you see a mechanics report card, that signifies that start of Doug’s work. All of the writing before that is mine and then the card and capsule (and pictures to outline his points in many instances) belongs to Doug.

We aim to make the guide something that is not only valuable for fantasy baseball folks, but also handicappers and just good ol’ fans who want to be more informed about the game that they’re watching. While there is plenty of talk about a round to draft in or dollar amount to pay, the bulk of the content works on non-fantasy levels, too.

Last thing before I let you get to it: the tiered rankings will be sent out separately because they don’t translate well into Word. Look for an Excel file in your inbox very soon. It will also include bullpen coverage. I have purposely spaced the book itself and the tiered rankings because I want the content to be leveraged more than any list. The “why” of how I feel about these pitchers is way more important than whether they are #24 or #28 on a list.

The guide is emailed to your PayPal address after purchase. I send them out in batches, usually with a pretty quick turnaround. At most, it’ll be a few hours, but I’m usually all over it!!

As always, you can email me or reach out on Twitter with questions or comments.

There are a couple different options available to you this year:

Check out Paint The Black!!

Wednesday: 02.5.2014

2014 SP Guide Delayed Release

This is never a fun announcement, but the 2014 Starting Pitcher Guide will be delayed from the February 5th (today) release date. In order to deliver a product I’m happy with and that is worth the hard-earned money y’all are paying, this is a necessary step.

The turning point was my computer corrupting a pair of chapters when it blue-screened and restarted. My computer has flashed the blue screen before, but then simply restarted and everything that was open was brought back to its last save point. I may have lost a paragraph or two in Word or a set of tabs in Chrome, but for the most part it was just an inconvenience. Well this time it was the nightmare scenario. Anyway, rewriting the chapters plus the work remaining made today too difficult and I didn’t want to rush to the finish line. All that said, even without the chapters lost, it was looking like the date would be tough to make so I won’t pin it all on the lost chapters. I picked the date arbitrarily and I probably shouldn’t have been so aggressive.

“Jeez Paul, don’t you know to under-promise and over-deliver?!”

Anyway, I know this will be upsetting to some (all?) of you, but we’re still on track to come out WAY earlier than last year’s early-March release date with the best SP guide yet. Everything will be ready to hit your inbox by February 12th. If any of you have a draft in that time and want your money back for an order, please let me know here and I will facilitate that. In fact, if you want it back for any reason, that’s fine and I can accommodate you, but I promise that you will be happy with the 2014 product if you don’t mind waiting a measly extra week.

It will be the best, most cleanly edited offering yet and I will continue posting samples from now until the release date at both PaulSporer.com and PaintTheBlack.com to hopefully tide you over.

 

The guide’s release date will still be the earliest ever, coming out nearly a month earlier than the 2013 iteration.

The guide will be released on February 12th!

There are a couple different options available to you this year:

Check out Paint The Black!!

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.

Tuesday: 01.28.2014

2014 SP Guide Sample: Drew Smyly

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. We start with one from the latter end in Detroit’s Drew Smyly, a popular sleeper as he prepares for his first full season as a starter. 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. 

I feel like the Drew Smyly v. Rick Porcello battle in Spring Training was more of a media creation that the Tigers didn’t go out of their way to downplay than a true competition. I think the job was Porcello’s almost regardless of what happened in their Spring Training outings, but they went toe-to-toe with six strong starts apiece. If it was a competition, it’s fair to say Porcello won with a 3.00 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 21 strikeouts, and zero walks in 24 innings. Smyly had a perfectly respectable 3.38 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 17 strikeouts, and three walks in his 21.3 innings, but Porcello was sharper.

The end result had the Smyly fans pining for him to get a shot, though it was mostly in vain since they knew it would require an injury to Detroit’s excellent rotation. Smyly was great as a reliever for the Tigers even though they foolishly turned him into a LOOGY for the final two months and the playoffs.

smyly-2013

I’m not suggesting that the change in role is responsible for the plummet in results; I’m just showing how he performed in the two splits. Not only was it silly to cut his workload from a value standpoint, but it also kept him from logging 90-plus innings as he did in 2012 which would’ve left him better equipped for a full season in the rotation. His pace after four months was 91.7 innings which wouldn’t have been too far from his 121 from 2012 (with minors and playoffs included) considering the fact that it all came in the bullpen.

Speaking of his 2012 work, the large majority was spent as a starter, the results of which have no doubt fueled the excitement for a full year of him in the rotation. In 18 starts he had a 3.79 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 22.3 percent strikeout rate, and 3.4 K/BB ratio over 95 innings. The biggest concern with him in the rotation full-time is his underdeveloped changeup. It hasn’t prevented him from stopping righties, but he’s straddling the line of average against them.

In 2012, his 749 OPS against righties bested the 758 league average just barely, while his 699 in 2013 comfortably beat the 724 league average. OK, “comfortably” is overstating it, but his 27 percent strikeout rate and 6.3 percent walk rate against them suggests he clearly didn’t struggle. As a starter, those rates were at 19.2 percent and 7.8 percent, respectively. The changeup usage went from 8.1 percent in 2012 to just 2.4 percent last year while the slider more than picked up the slack.

His slider usage against righties jumped from 12 percent to 24.6 percent with the results improving significantly, too. His OPS-against on the pitch went from 659 to 546 with the strikeout rate jumping from 32.4 to 41.5 percent in 34 and 53 PA, respectively. His primary strategy in 2013 was to work the fastball away and then bury his curveball and slider inside on righties.

 smyly-vRHB

He has the stuff to be one of the best fifth starters in the league and if either the changeup develops or his pair of breaking pitches continues to neutralize righties, he can easily be a strong fourth starter-type, but I think there is an expectation that he will be a fringe three starter out of the gate and I’m far less certain of that outcome. Let’s just say that Smyly is going ahead of Porcello in a lot of leagues and I find that be insane – a comment meant to pump Porcello more than to tear down Smyly, but pump the brakes on expectations for the young lefty.

reportcard-smyly

Smyly’s delivery does not inspire confidence that he can hold up in the starting rotation, both in terms of withstanding the workload and fooling batters multiple times through the order. His balance wavers throughout the motion, starting with a forward lean during the stride phase before he veers in the opposite direction as he approaches. The end result is a very unstable position at release point, tilting to the glove side while the back foot comes off the ground prematurely, often leaving Smyly as a one-legged pitcher with a shallow release who is on the verge of keeling overboard.

smyly-dt

The guide’s release date is the earliest ever, coming out over a month earlier than the 2013 iteration.

The guide will be released on February 5th 12th!

(Guide delayed a week)

There are a couple different options available to you this year:

Check out Paint The Black!!