Archive for ‘Stats’

Monday: 01.7.2013

Yu Darvish’s 221 Strikeouts

Jason Cole over at Lone Star Dugout shared a fantastic YouTube video today on Facebook that shows the third strike of all of Yu Darvish’s 221 strikeouts (embedded at bottom, too, if you want to wait). It’s the perfect antidote to the winter malaise that baseball fans suffer, especially at this point when the Hot Stove has chilled as most of the biggest names have signed and trade rumors are in a lull. As an addendum to this brilliant video, here are some Yu-related strikeout stats:

  • Yu’s 10.4 K/9 was 2nd in MLB (Max Scherzer 11.1) among qualified starters.

  • Yu’s 10.4 K/9 was 4th in MLB history for qualified rookies (Kerry Wood 12.6, Doc Gooden 11.4, Hideo Nomo 11.1).

  • Yu’s 27 percent strikeout rate was 2nd in MLB behind Scherzer’s 29 percent mark.

  • Yu’s 27 percent strikeout rate is 4th best among qualified (162+ IP) rookies behind the same three from the second entry. All three of those guys fanned 30 percent or more including Wood’s filthy 33.3 percent mark.

  • Yu’s 221 strikeouts were 7th in MLB despite the fact that both he and Scherzer didn’t even eclipse 200 innings, let alone the 227 that the other five (Justin Verlander, R.A. Dickey, Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, and James Shields) all reached or exceeded.

  • Yu’s 221 strikeouts rank 6th among rookies behind Gooden (276), Herb Score (245), Nomo (236), Wood (233 in 167 IP!), and Pete Alexander (227). Alexander needed exactly 200 more innings to finish six strikeouts behind Wood.

  • Yu’s 221 strikeouts mark just 9th time a pitcher has achieved more than 220 strikeouts in fewer than 200 innings. Both he and Scherzer achieved the feat this year (231 in 187.7 IP) and they join Oliver Perez (239 in 196), Nomo (236 in 191.3), Wood (233 in 166.7), Sam McDowell (225 in 194.3), David Cone (222 in 195), Erik Bedard (221 in 182), and Nomo again (220 in 198). All but McDowell occurred in the last 18 years. McDowell pulled it off in 1966 when he and Dave Boswell blew the field away at 10.4 and 9.2 K/9, respectively, while Mickey Lolich finished a very distant third at 7.6 K/9.

  • Yu’s 192 strikeouts on a swinging strike were 1st in MLB just ahead of Scherzer at 189. Dickey (187) and Verlander (181) joined them as the only four to top 175. It is the 6th best mark in the last four years (as far as the data goes) behind Clayton Kershaw’s 200 in 2011 and four guys in 2009: Tim Lincecum (205), Verlander (202), Javier Vazquez (202), and Zack Grienke (194).

  • Yu’s 59 three-pitch strikeouts were 1st in the American League and 3rd overall behind Cliff Lee’s 70 and Dickey’s 62.

  • Yu’s 50 percent strikeout rate in two-strike plate appearances was 1st in the American League and tied for 2nd in MLB behind teammates Stephen Strasburg (52%) and Gio Gonzalez (50%).

  • Yu’s 29 percent whiff rate is the 2nd best in baseball behind Rich Harden’s 30 percent mark since 2007 according to this Brooks Baseball/BP chart. Harden’s figure is made more impressive when you realize that it is a composite mark for 2007-2011.

  • Yu’s 28 percent whiff rate on fourseam fastballs is the best during that span with a minimum of 500 heaters thrown. The chart can be viewed in detail here.

  • Yu wiggled out of 36 three-ball counts for strikeouts which was good for 2nd best in the American League behind Verlander (43) and 9th overall behind Yovani Gallardo (49), Greinke (44), Cole Hamels (43), Gonzalez (42), Matt Cain (38), Madison Bumgarner (38), and Kershaw (37).

  • Yu’s 21 percent wiggle-out rate (strikeouts in three-ball PAs) was tied for the 7th-highest in MLB with Hamels dominating the field at 31 percent. There are 14 pitchers Yu and Hamels with several ties include two at 25 percent, three at 24, and seven at 22 along with solo entries at 28 and 23.

  • Yu’s 122 strikeouts out of the strike zone were 5th best in baseball behind Hernandez (142), Greinke (136), Shields (132), and CC Sabathia (124).

  • Yu got 116 of those 122 strikeouts on swing-and-misses, good for 2nd best in baseball behind Hernandez at 128.

  • Yu is awesome.

It figures that my first post of 2013 would be about a badass strikeout pitcher. For those curious, I have finished my work on the Baseball Prospectus 2013 Annual so I’ve turned my full attention to the 2013 Starting Pitcher Guide. I’ll have news on that soon. In the meantime, my fall/winter slumber here is officially done with this post so expect regular content to return even as I work on the guide.

Here is the Yu video if you don’t want to click the link at the beginning of the post:

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Monday: 06.4.2012

Did You Realize…? NL Edition

It’s June 4th, did you realize…

AL Edition

…that R.A. Dickey not only has a killer 2.69 ERA on the heels of a shutout of the St. Louis Cardinals, but he also has 70 Ks in his 74 innings putting him on pace for 210 this year?

Charlie Hough was the last knuckleballer to punch out 200+ batters when he fanned 223 in 1987 for the Texas Rangers.  He did so in 285 innings (7.0 K/9), though, while Dickey is pacing 220 innings (8.5 K/9).

…that Gio Gonzalez, and not Stephen Strasburg, has been the Nationals best pitcher thus far?

It’s a matter of degree with just 0.04 points of ERA, 0.02 points of WHIP and a whopping 0.46 K/9 separating the pair.  And if you look below the surface numbers, Gonzalez has had more luck on his side with miniscule BABIP and HR/FB rates while Strasburg is nearly at league average in both yielding a significant edge for Strasburg in xFIP: 2.51 to Gio’s 2.82.  Fact is: both are awesome.

…that Tim Lincecum’s 5.1 BB/9 is the worst in the National League?

His struggles have been well-documented, but I was surprised to see that he has the worst walk rate in his league.  His inability to work with runners on (62% LOB%) has killed him this year.  Some of it might be bad luck, but watching him shows obvious struggles from the stretch that need to be fixed if he expects to come anywhere near that 3.88 xFIP that has many believing in a rebound.

…that Trevor Cahill is generating a career-high 64% groundball rate?

His strikeout and walk rates have gone the wrong way, especially with the transition to the National League, but he is still posting a strong 3.45 ERA and pairing it with a career-best 3.76 xFIP.  Even his 2.97 ERA of 2010 only yielded a 3.99 xFIP.  This 24-year old just keeps getting better as a pitcher and I think there is still another level for him to reach skills-wise, too.  Once he can command his sinker in the bottom of the zone a bit more and cut that walk rate, batters are in big trouble.

…that Matt Cain is posting the best skills of his career with an 8.3 K/9, 1.7 BB/9 and 4.9 K/BB?

Yes, his ERA continues to out-perform his xFIP, but his xFIP also continues to come down.  He has dropped it yearly dipping below 4.00 for the first time last year (3.78) and sitting at 3.57 so far this year.

…that Brandon Beachy is toting baseball’s best ERA at 1.87 despite cutting over three and a half strikeouts off of his 2011 rate?

He fanned 10.7 per game last year, but this year is down to 7.2 in his 72 innings.  In turn, he has shaved 5% off of his flyball rate, added 8% to his groundball rate and cut a whopping 10% off of his BABIP from .307 down to .207 (no, 100 points isn’t 10% of .307, but his hit rate on balls in play dropped from 31% to 21%, that’s the 10% I’m talking about).  There is some regression coming to that ERA, but the dip in strikeout rate doesn’t mean the success is a complete fluke, either.

…that despite his frightening 6.98 ERA, Mike Minor is actually posting skills good enough for a 4.33 xFIP?

His insane 17% HR/FB rate has led to a 2.0 HR/FB rate, but his 7.9 K/9 and 2.4 K/BB are quite good.  Part of the gopheritis is bad luck, but part of it is his own doing as he fails to locate properly in the zone.  He doesn’t have overpowering stuff so command and control are necessary for sustained success or else he is subject to getting batted around as evidenced by his 27% line drive rate a season ago.

…that the three NL leaders in K/BB rate are all Phillies yet Roy Halladay isn’t among them?

He’s right there at 10 with a 4.0 K/BB, but teammates Cliff Lee (5.4), Cole Hamels (5.0) and Joe Blanton (4.9) are leading the way.  Blanton isn’t the only surprise as Bronson Arroyo is right there with a 4.9 himself.

…that three NL relievers have fanned at least 40% of the batters they have faced, but that Jason Grilli (40%) is one them??

The other two, unsurprisingly, are Craig Kimbrel (41%) and Aroldis Chapman (49%!!!!!!!).  Grilli has actually raised his strikeout percentage yearly since 2005 starting at 8% before entering the 20s in 2008.  Though 35, Grilli seems to be throwing his best baseball.

…that Tony Campana is on pace for 54 stolen bases?

This is despite also being on pace for just 309 at-bats.  At this rate, if he could just get 400 at-bats, he would steal 70 bases.  It can be annoying to have a one-trick pony in your lineup, but Campana can win you stolen bases.  He should be rostered in any league, especially since he’s actually been a two-trick pony with a .291 average, too.

…that Dexter Fowler is on pace for 18 doubles, triples and stolen bases?

As well as 24 home runs, 99 runs scored and 84 driven in.  He is also hitting .297 with a .400 on-base percentage.  In other words, he has been amazing this year.  It is absolutely ridiculous that he is 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues and 91% in ESPN.  I can’t envision a format (save AL-only obviously) where he isn’t a viable option.

Friday: 06.1.2012

Did You Realize…? AL Edition

It’s June 1st, did you realize…

…that Felix Hernandez is toting a 3.42 ERA, good for 40th among qualified starters in the majors?

He posted a 4.45 ERA in May, but still had 33 strikeouts in his 32 innings with a 3.3 K/BB so I wouldn’t rush to the panic meter.  He had a BABIP of .378 for the month including three outings in which he allowed 10 or more hits.  Oddly enough one of his two good starts in May came against the Texas Rangers as he went eight strong allowing a run with seven strikeouts and a pair of walks.

…that Chris Sale leads the American League in ERA at 2.34 in 58 innings?

The month of May saw him get removed from the rotation (on May 4th) and thrust into the closer’s role where it was reported he would stay for “at least the rest of 2012”.  About a week later, he was having an MRI on his elbow and there was even some concern that he could be shutdown altogether.  He stayed in the closer’s role for all of 10 minutes blowing one save in his only relief appearance on May 8th before returning the rotation on May 12th.  He closed the month out with 25 innings of 1.82 ERA and 0.97 WHIP with 31 strikeouts including a 15-strikeout outing on Memorial Day.

…that Sale’s White Sox are 30-22 with a +40 run differential despite Gavin Floyd (5.02), Philip Humber (5.37) and John Danks (5.70) all toting >5.00 ERAs?

It helps that Sale leads the AL and Jake Peavy isn’t far behind with a 3.05 ERA of his own.  Of those three, I am still buying Floyd.  He has a 3.2 K/BB built on a career-high 8.0 K/9 in 61 innings.  Home runs have killed him, especially in his last three outings as the Angels, Twins and Indians trounced him for 21 runs in 15 innings with five bombs.  The velocity is fine and the control only fell off in the Minnesota game (3 BB) so I don’t think there is an issue that plague him in the long term.  It appears to be a rough patch with better times ahead.

…that Felix Doubront has a 9.5 K/9 and has arguably been Boston’s best start thus far?

If you’ll afford me a small back pat, I would point out that I touted Doubront in this year’s pitching guide advising that if the Red Sox gave him the shot he deserved then he should be targeting.  He is even out-doing my expectations pairing the strikeouts with a 3.86 ERA and five wins in 56 innings.  His 1.36 WHIP is a bit high, but at his cost you can easily accept that flaw.  Furthermore, he is running hot of late with a 2.28 ERA and 1.08 WHIP over his last four with 27 Ks in 24 IP.

…that MLB’s strikeout leader, Max Scherzer (11.7 K/9), labored to a 4.04 ERA in May despite a 12.8 K/9 and 6.4 K/BB?

It was actually a marked improvement from his 7.77 ERA in April.  The big issue in May was a severe case of gopheritis as he allowed at least one home run in every start (yielding a 2.0 HR/9).  While some these struggles definitely fall on Scherzer’s shoulders, a good bit is bad luck, too, as his skills have been far more elite than his 5.55 ERA would suggest.  He has a 3.19 xFIP as his .387 BABIP and 17% HR/FB rate have to regress some in his favor.  He fanned 9 or more in four of his six May outings, I’d buy in if you can as his best outings are still ahead.

…that Henderson Alvarez and Derek Lowe both have K/9 rates lower than their ERAs?

Their ERAs are both on the right side of 4.00 which is what makes that such a weird phenomenon.  In the last 10 years, only three pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title have managed to post a K/9 lower than (or equal to) their ERA while maintaining a sub-4.00 ERA:

  • 2006 Chien-Ming Wang: 3.63 ERA, 3.1 K/9 in 218 IP
  • 2005 Carlos Silva: 3.44 ERA, 3.4 K/9 in 188 IP
  • 2009 John Lannan: 3.88 ERA, 3.88 K/9 in 206

…that Phil Hughes has allowed at least one home run in every start of the year?

His 14% HR/FB rate is high, but not as egregious as I thought it might be when I saw his 2.1 HR/FB.  His generally heavy flyball rate (career 46%) is at its heaviest of 49% so while I am intrigued by his 8.4 K/9 and 3.8 K/BB, that intrigue is tempered by home run issues that are unlikely to evaporate barring a change in his approach.  While it is easy to envision his 5.64 ERA coming down some, the xFIP of 4.34 says it isn’t exactly set to plummet in the vein of Scherzer.

…that Ervin Santana actually did make a change to curb his gopheritis with a 64% groundball rate in May?

After allowing 10 home runs (2.9 HR/9) in April en route to a 6.16 ERA, he figured that keeping the ball down going forward would be helpful.  His 41% groundball rate in April skyrocketed to an AL-best 64% and yielding a far more palatable 1.2 HR/9 in May.  That is right in line with his career mark of 1.1 HR/9 coming into this season.  He was actually in the midst of a great May with a 2.17 ERA through his first four starts before stumbling a bit against Seattle and New York and settling for a still solid 3.69 ERA in 39 innings.  I’m still buying where available.

…that Mike Trout is on pace for 96 Rs, 22 HR, 83 RBIs and 35 SBs?

In the last three years only two players have hit those thresholds: both Matt Kemp and Jacoby Ellsbury last year.  Even if you chop 20% off of those paces to 77-17-66-28, there are only 12 such seasons in the last three years across 10 players as Kemp and Ian Kinsler each did it twice.  Early on it looks like Trout is exactly the stud he was predicted to be when he was checking in as a top 3 prospect on lists all across the industry this preseason.

Here’s the kicker: take the 80% figures and tack on a .309 batting average threshold and we get just four instances in the last three years (it drops to three instances at the 100% paces).  Let’s say he hits the 80% paces and hits “only” .290, where does he go in 2013 drafts?  Is he a first rounder already?  What if he hits 95% or better of the current pace?

…that no one is on pace top 40 stolen bases in the American League?

Both Alejandro De Aza and Jason Kipnis are pacing the league with 12 apiece pacing them for 37 and 38, respectively, based on their team’s games played.  Paces can still be out of whack even two months into the season and with a category like steals, things can change rapidly.  Rajai Davis has 10 in his 38 games played, but has recently fallen into more playing time.  If he maintain anywhere near his current .819 OPS, he should stick in the lineup and I don’t think he would have any trouble reaching and topping 40 stolen bases.  If he gets a full set of at-bats in 90 of the remaining 110 games, he paces to steal about 50 steals based on his 10 in 68 at-bats thus far.  He is on a roster in just 3% of ESPN leagues.  That number should be much, much higher.

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.

 

Monday: 03.19.2012

The 2012 Starting Pitcher Tiers & Projections – Now Available

When I released the 2012 Starting Pitcher Guide last week, I made mention into the introductory piece that there the tiered rankings you are likely used to seeing in the guide would be part of a supplement to come out later.  Later is now as I have completed the file.  It is a lot different from previous years in that this year’s version includes projections for 124 starters across the AL & NL.  I’ve never tackled projections before, but decided that it would be a healthy addition to the tiered rankings and give you a better handle on how well (or poorly in some cases) I think these guys will do in 2012.  For the aforementioned 124 arms, there will also be an additional comment within the spreadsheet so if the 73,000 words of the guide weren’t enough, I’ve got more reading for you!

Here is a sample of the AL rankings (click for full-size)

As you can see, they are split into colored tiers with the projections and comments included.  That sample shows a couple from each grouping in the AL.  There are 64 names in AL who got a projection.  I cut it off there because I’m not sure how useful projections are for the lower grade guys like Nick Blackburn, the uncertain playing time guys like Jacob Turner and the who-really-cares-if-they-pitch-200 IP-anyway-guys like Bruce Chen.  Of the 21 names in that bottom grouping that you will see on the spreadsheet, I’m sure some of them will emerge into useful arms whether in AL-only formats or all formats, but things aren’t adding up that way right now so I focused on the most useful names (in my estimation).

Here is a sample of the NL rankings (click for full-size)

Right now, the Tiers & Projections will be available to donors only. 

I’m insanely appreciative of those who donate for the work I do and I wanted to reward that generosity so once you donate through the PayPal link (also found in the upper right of the page), you will be sent the Excel file containing the information.  If you’ve already donated, it should already be in your inbox.  If it’s not and you believe you should have it, please let me know via email or on Twitter.  If your PayPal email address isn’t where you want it sent, just let me know and I’ll make sure you get it at the proper address.

Friday: 07.29.2011

Junk Wins

With the Cy Young victories of Felix Hernandez last year and Zack Greinke and Tim Lincecum in 2009, the emphasis formerly placed on wins when deciding the award has clearly been downgraded and with good reason.  Hernandez beat out beat out C.C. Sabathia (21 wins), Jon Lester and David Price (19 wins apiece) last year.  Mind you all three of them had much more than just gaudy win totals, but the only place they really thwarted Hernandez was with those wins, a stat that a pitcher has very little control of when you really consider everything.

It is almost as bad as assigning a win-loss record to a quarterback, who is one of 22 players (plus special teams).  No doubt that a quality quarterback is essential to long-term success, but crediting or knocking a down a quarterback for successes or shortcomings of those around him on his offense, but also in the other two facets of the game is just plain ridiculous.  It has become more commonplace to look at the aspects of the game a starting pitcher actually controls and judge him accordingly instead of hammering him for an inept offense that doesn’t support his quality outings or an inept defense that fails to turn poor contact into the outs it should become more times than not.

Of course one place that wins remain very important is the fantasy baseball landscape where the majority of leagues still use a standard 5×5 format that judges pitcher wins, strikeouts, ERA, WHIP and saves.  Everyone remembers an instance or three where their guy gets knocked around for five earned runs in just over five innings yet pulls out a W because his offense came to play against a pitcher or pitchers more inferior than their own.  That was the case with St. Louis Cardinals starter Kyle McClellan on April 28th of this year in Houston.

He gave up five on eight hits and two walks in five and two-thirds, but a nine run outburst in the sixth inning led by a 3-run home run from Lance Berkman not only took him off the hook for a loss, but put him in line for the win which he eventually “earned” as four relievers combined to yield just two more unearned runs the rest of the way.  How often does that really happen, though?

Are starting pitchers scooping up wins left and right during bad performances because they have the good fortune to be going up against weaker teams while playing behind superior lineups?  Or do we just remember a handful of incidences that either helped our team or worse, went against us and subsequently we make it out to be a bigger deal that is truly the case?

To the Play Index!

Looking at starting pitcher wins with 4+ earned runs so far this year (through July 27th) returns 97 results.  Unsurprisingly the top two pitchers in this category are Sabathia and John Lackey with three apiece.  Not unsurprising because of anything inherent about them as individuals, it could have just as easily been A.J. Burnett and Josh Beckett, it’s unsurprising because of the beastly lineups that support both of them.  The Yankees have 529 runs scored good for 3rd in baseball while the Red Sox are pacing all of baseball with 567.

The two arrived at these three wins in different ways.  It would be hard to label any of Sabathia’s three wins as ill-begotten in that he went seven or more innings in all three including a complete game in one of them.  No one is raving about a 5.14 ERA (4 ER in 7 IP), but you have to consider the context of all three.  First of all, he had a 12-to-2 strikeout to walk ratio in the three games with just a single home run allowed.  The eight hits allowed in each game could easily be BABIP noise when you come right down to it.  The things in his control were dynamite by and large.  Let’s look game-by-game for Sabathia:

  • In the first game, the complete game, he was down 4-1 after four innings, but was pitching brilliantly by all accounts otherwise.  He allowed just one extra-base hit of the eight and took just 103 pitches to go the distance.  He battled Ricky Romero pitch for pitch and then his offense took care of the Blue Jays bullpen for four runs in the final two innings earning Sabathia a well-deserved win despite his 4.00 ERA in the game (which at that point in the season was well below league average, even in the AL).
  • The second outing, on June 14th against Texas, saw Sabathia with a 6-0 lead after the second inning, 7-0 after three and 9-2 through four.  Again he allowed just one double as the lone extra-base hit and while he ended the game with a 5.14 ERA, he pitched quite well including six strikeouts and zero walks.  I don’t think many would find the win he received undeserving despite what is no doubt a ghastly ERA in a one game sample.
  • The last of his games, June 19th against the Cubs, was by far the worst outing and the one where you could no doubt tab him as lucky to escape with a win because his offense gave him a slim one run lead that he held through seven before they exploded for three more in the eighth and ninth innings.  Sabathia again went seven, but of his eight hits, this time there were three doubles and a home run while he struck out just three walking one other.  His least deserving win of the bunch for sure, but he pitched well enough and still went seven innings in an era when some are praised for going five.

The point is here that all junk wins (junk in that the end game ERA is pretty ugly and their offense had more to do with the win than the pitcher in many cases) are not created equally and you shouldn’t immediately scoff at the notion of someone giving up 4+ earned runs and still garnering a victory.

Lackey had one ugly junk win in which he went the minimum five innings allowing six runs on seven hits and two walks striking out two others.  A pretty terrible performance for his season debut, but lucky for him that Phil Hughes bested “worsted” him by also giving up six runs on seven hits but lasting just two innings.  In the his other two outings, he combined for a 13-to-2 strikeout to walk ratio in 14 innings allowing four in each outing.  Had he allowed just three in the outings, they wouldn’t be looked upon so negatively, but that one extra earned run changes the perspective so much.

If you want a really ugly junk win, look at Jo-Jo Reyes‘ from July 14th against the Yankees when he went 5.3 innings and allowed seven runs on 10 hits and a walk while striking out just two and allowing two home runs yet still coming away with a win as the Jays bum-rushed Bartolo Colon for eight runs in the first inning.  See what I mean about them not all being created equally?  I used four runs as the cutoff because six innings and three earned runs is the baseline for a quality start.  Of the 97 junk wins so far this year, 34 saw the pitcher allow 5+ earned runs while the other 63 were the baseline four.  And of those 63, 51 of them saw the starter go 6+ innings.

Looking at the trend of 4+ earned runs allowed wins shows no significant trend one way or another.  Last year was tabbed the Year of the Pitcher and thus it is hardly a surprise that it registered the lowest amount of such wins since 2007 including when you pace out this year’s total.

Of course, this year is supposed to be Year of the Pitcher, Part 2 so perhaps the pace will drop.  Either way, it still well below the average of the previous four years.  The win is so far from perfect, it’s not even funny and while its use in judging Cy Young candidates bothers me to no end, I’m far less worried about its usage in fantasy baseball.  I think it has to do with the fact that this is a game and the parameters of this game determine the various paths to success that you can take and you have a lot of control over how you will try and succeed.

If your league counts wins, then you should value the better starting pitchers on the best offensive teams a bit more even if you like Seattle’s ace more.  If you want to go the other route and draft skilled pitchers with lesser offenses backing them in hopes that the wins break their way more often than not when they “deserve” them, then that is another strategy and it will likely be cheaper, but also with higher risk.  The fantasy game is a different universe than real baseball and while wins aren’t a great measure of a pitcher’s true skill, ERA isn’t necessarily one either, but you don’t see as many people clamoring to remove it from the game as you do with wins.

Meanwhile, a player’s career can be seriously impacted with season awards for better or worse and doling out those awards based on things that are out of their control is crazy.  It could cost them a chance at the Hall of Fame or compensation bonuses.  No matter how times proponents of removing wins from fantasy baseball spout some iteration of the phrase “this game is emulating or at least is meant to emulate the one on the field”, it doesn’t get any less untrue.

This game does little to mirror the game on the field.  In a standard 12-team 5×5 league, you don’t set a 1-9 lineup, you don’t create a rotation and a bullpen and defense has zero value.  So wins can be a part of the fantasy game without negatively affecting the integrity of said game.  Everyone knows the rules ahead of time and they have all of or at least most of the season to strategize on how to best succeed within those rules.  Hernandez couldn’t really pitch any better than he did last year and yet his supporting offense was historically awful and thus he was credited with just 13 wins.  Put him on a mediocre offense and he probably pushes 20, let alone on a top offense where he may have been gunning for 25 late in September.

To abandon pitcher wins would be a major change to the game and we all know how scared people are of change.  We are all used to playing the game this way so the overwhelming majority isn’t all of sudden going to go from standard 5×5 to a league with wOBA, wRC+, xFIP and SIERA overnight.  Are there better options than wins?  Quite possibly and I will examine one very soon.

Until then, I will happily accept some more Max Scherzer  junk wins like the two he has gotten me this year despite allowing six and five earned runs in a pair of five inning outings because I need any win I can get in my very tight pennant race.  Plus it means my Tigers won another game and they, too, are locked in a furious pennant battle.

By the way, 21 players have two or more junk wins this year:

Friday: 07.15.2011

Sunday Twidbits: July 10th

Here are this week’s MLB Sunday Twidbits which is something I’ll be doing every Sunday throughout the baseball season.  It’s an exercise whereby I tour the league giving a statistical tidbit per team on Twitter feed (@sporer).  Sometimes a team or two will get more than one if I have more than one nugget I really want to share, but every team will be represented at least once.  Check the sidebar on the right for previous editions of Twidbits.

Ed. note: I didn’t end up doing any STs during the fourth of July weekend so that was a missed week, but here are the ones from last Sunday. 

Det – Since returning from DL on June 13th, Magglio Ordonez is hitting .284/.377/.403 w/2 HR, 9 RBI, 9 R & 9 BB. Now healthy, worth a look.

Det2 – Joaquin Benoit has thrown 19 IP w/1.42 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 20 K & 5 BB since 5/16 meltdown when he gave up 3 ER pushing ERA to 7.98. Now 4.24.

KC – After a nice first half, Melky Cabrera‘s on pace for .293, 20-20 w/90+ R & RBI; sample is large enough for others to believe so trade ASAP.

KC2 – Melky (cont.) Doesn’t mean he can’t stay good, just that I’d rather trade the risk away in case the career yr doesn’t continue.

Oak – I mentioned Scott Sizemore about a month ago, but still widely available. In OAK: .300/.364/.489 w/4 HR, 14 RBI, 11 R in 90 ABs.

Tex – On the heels of his 7.7 IP of shutout ball w/7 K & 1 BB, it’s time to move the 7-win Matt Harrison ASAP.  Skills don’t support 3.04 ERA.

Tex2 – Not everyone will fall for him based on his ERA, but if you’re diligent you should be able to move him & improve your team.

Col – Speaking of guys to move, Todd Helton has been excellent this yr (.321/.400/.494) w/10 HR, 41 RBI, but at 37 you don’t need the risk.

Col2 – w/guys like Melky, Harrison & Helton, you’re not going to fleece someone, but it’s about shifting the risk & getting out from under it.

Was – Danny Espinosa growing or just a hot month? Thru 6/9: .219/.316/.433 w/10 HR, 5 SB; since: .288/.352(!)/.514 w/6 HR, 7 SB in 111 AB

Tor – Two additions to the Toronto OF are must pickups in most formats. Both Eric Thames & Travis Snider can be 2nd half power sources.

Tor2 – Tor. (cont.) Thames since 6/24 recall: .305/.328/.597 w/4 HR & 7 RBI in 62 AB; Snider .367/.387/.667 w/1 HR, 8 RBI in 30 AB

Cle – Jason Kipnis shouldn’t be stuck in AAA much longer. His .297/.380/.506 line w/11 HR, 51 RBI & 11 SB can help the Indians right away. Speculate.

Hou – Need a cheap MR? Try Astros’ Aneury Rodriguez. Since rejoining pen on 6/15: 12 IP, 2.31 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, 10 K, 1 BB & 3 multi-IP apps.

Flo – Since reaching a season high of 4.48 ERA w/his ERA, Ricky Nolasco has a 1.41 ERA and 0.91 WHIP in his last 4 starts spanning 32 IP.

Flo2 – Nolasco (cont.) Oddly his skills have dipped during the stretch w/5.3 K/9 & 2.7 K/BB rates. He is maddening, but I still buy his track record.

Flo3 – Would you be interested in someone who has posted a 1.19 ERA, 1.19 WHIP & 6.3 K/BB in his last 30 IP? It’s Javier Vazquez. More on him this wk.

SD – Aaron Harang returned from the DL w/6 shutout, no-hit IP along w/6 K & 3 BB. He has 1.59 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 6.5 K/9 & 2.2 K/BB in last 40 IP.

SD2 – Harang (cont.) Despite his numbers, he’s on teams in just 57% of CBS lgs, 29% of Y! lgs & 15% of ESPN lgs. Pick him up.

LAD – Get on the Rubby de la Rosa train before it’s too late. Too late in NLs, but he’s most-mixed lg useful: 1.80 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 17 K last 20 IP

TB – If you can live w/his batting avg, BJ Upton should be a trade target as he paces toward 27 HR, 38 SB, 90 RBI & 83 R. Some will tire .239 AVG

NYY – In the last month, Eduardo Nunez is hitting .328/.369/.519 w/2 HR, 4 SB, 7 RBI & 7 R in 22 G. He will be A-Rod’s primary fill-in for next 4-6 wks.

Bal – Since June 1st, Mark Reynolds has hit .275/.400/.670 w/13 HR, 25 RBI & 22 R. He’s the AL’s Carlos Pena. You have to sit through the cold spells.

Bos – He doesn’t play anywhere near daily, but Josh Reddick is making most of his PT: .422/.471/.778 w/4 2B, 3 3B, 2 HR, 10 RBI & 10 R.

Bos2 – Reddick (cont.) Should be owned in AL-Only & he’s worth a look in deeper mixed as he might be better than a scrub regular.

Atl – You know your season hasn’t been great when a .215 AVG over a month is a massive improvement, but that’s Dan Uggla.

Atl2 – Uggla (cont.) More importantly, he has 8 HR, 18 RBI in that last month & I would buy if the price were discounted & fair.

Phi – Antonio Bastardo is owned in just 51% of CBS lgs, 55% of Y! lgs & 87% of ESPN lgs. He’s been excellent this yr: 10.4 K/9, 2.7 K/BB; buy!

Min – I practically begged yall not to buy into Nick Blackburn. Last 3 starts: 12.15 ERA, 2.54 WHIP, 7 K & 4 BB in 13 IP. ERA up from 3.15 to 4.24

CWS – Gordon Beckham has shown himself as a 2H player so far. Since gm 81 of ’11: .371/.421/.543 in 35 AB; widely available.

CHC – Marlon Byrd is back off of the DL & widely available. He isn’t great, but he can be a batting avg asset in Chicago’s final 72 games.

Pit – Paul Maholm has a 1.79 ERA & 1.11 WHIP in last 45 IP (7 GS), but just 5.0 K/9 & 1.7 K/BB. Fortunate .239 BABIP… sell! Sell now!

Pit2 – Maholm (cont.) Selling him won’t return gold, but you are selling off his inevitable regression. You should be able to get SOMETHING!

Sea – Sea. SPs are 44, 45, 46 & 51 out of 51 in run support among qual’d AL SPs; Doug Fister‘s 3.09 is the worst in AL by 0.8 (Dan Haren).

LAA – In the last calendar month, Torii Hunter is hitting .338/.377/.523 w/3 HR, 11 RBI & 9 R in 19 G. Could be primed for a solid 2nd half.

Cin – Jay Bruce is known for Tulowitzkian hot (& cold) streaks & he just might be starting one: .444/.583/1.056 w/3 HR, 6 RBI in his last 5 G.

Cin2 – Bruce (cont.) He had hit .182/.257/.273 w/1 HR & 5 RBI in 99 AB spanning the month before his latest mini-streak.

Mil – Only one Milwaukee SP has an ERA below 5.00 so far in July (Zack Greinke, 4.50) which makes their 5-6 schedule something of a surprise.

Mil2 – Yovani Gallardo has a very appealing stat line yielding an xFIP (3.47) more than 1/2 a run lower than his 4.08 ERA. Buying opportunity?

Ari – Barring changes to the rotation, Josh Collmenter‘s next 5 starts will come against tms he’s already faced (MIL,COL,LAD,SF & HOU).  (cont.)…

Ari2 – Collmenter has a 2.97 ERA, 1.06 WHIP & 5.3 K/9 in 27 IP v. the 5; this will be a big test to see how “real” his early success has been.

StL – Chris Carpenter has a 2.89 ERA & 1.15 WHIP in his last 53 IP. The 5.9 K/9 isn’t great and he’s still allowing lots of hits; tread carefully.

NYM – Why isn’t Jonathon Niese on more tms? E-13%, Y!-34%, C-67% despite great overall #s & a 3.00 ERA, 1.27 WHIP & 8.6 K/9 the last 2 mo (63 IP)

SF – Ryan Vogelsong has a 3.38 ERA in last 3 starts, but an ugly 1 K/BB w/13 ea. (6.2 per 9) & 1.9 HR/9; overall #s might still appeal, but hurry.

Wednesday: 07.13.2011

The Last 365

While preparing for an upcoming season, analysts will often point to a player’s second half of the previous year as an indicator of future performance, for better or worse.  Depending on if and how far that player’s team goes into the playoffs, there will be a five to six month layoff between games for all players which cuts into the reliability of second half performances as a lot can happen in that kind of timeframe.

You also have to consider the fact that a second half itself is a small sample so any three month sample shouldn’t be used as a perfect guide.  Someone might simply wear down in the dog days of summer (Brennan Boesch) making them look worse than their true talent level.  Conversely, a player may fall into some unexpected playing time not seen in the first half and take the league by storm because they don’t have “a book” on him (Jed Lowrie).

As we wrap up the 2011 All-Star Break (the mercilessly long ASB… Must. Watch. Baseball!), we can now look back on the last calendar year taking the 2010 second half and matching it up against the 2011 first half to see if using the former as a guide would have better prepared us for the latter on any level.  Remember that a lot of people point to Jose Bautista’s 2009 September (10 HR in 30 G) as a sign toward his 2010 breakout into superstardom.  Of course, he still went undrafted in just about every mixed league so it is more of retro-fitting the September narrative to match up with the ’10 breakout, but you get the point.  Today, we will look at the home run charts.

2010 2H HR

J.Bautista 30, A.Pujols 21, P.Konerko 19, T.Tulowitzki 18,

C.Granderson, D.Uggla, C.Gonzalez, M.Stanton 17,

A.Rodriguez, A.Dunn, M.Teixeira, M.Cabrera 16,

J.Thome, A.Ramirez, A.Beltre, D.Wright, L.Scott 15

The bulk of this list contains no-brainer power hitters.  You aren’t looking at this list and making major adjustments on most of these guys up as you already expected them to be amongst the power leaders.  However, there are some standouts that might have caught your eye in some winter preparation to make you question whether it was a sign of things to come or merely a hot stretch to close out the season.

Namely that would be Curtis Granderson.  A lot of was expected of Granderson once he was traded to the Yankees.  He was leaving Comerica Park for the short porch in Yankee Stadium that favored lefties.  He was coming off of a career-high 30 home run season and while his batting average issues would temper his value, he was at least expected to pop another 30 home runs if not more.

He labored through an uninspiring April (2 HR, .687 OPS) and then played just five games in May because of injury.  He was pushed to the outer edges of the radar for some because of the slow start so perhaps his 22 home runs from June on went a bit unnoticed even as he hit nine with a .958 OPS in 29 September games.  He had an equal number of at-bats home and away (233) clubbing a home run every 16.6 at-bats at home while hitting one every 23.3 on the road.  In other words, Yankee Stadium had its desired effect on Granderson but his slow start masked it a bit.

Fast forward to today and Granderson has been a fantasy superstar as he has hit 25 home runs in just 87 games thanks to some excellent production against southpaws (9 HR, .596 SLG), something he had struggled to do in the past.  While he has continued to take advantage of his home ballpark (a home run every 14.4 AB), it is his road production that has really driven the unexpected surge (a home run every 11.9 AB).

Granderson is someone who proved the analysts right in 2010 by increasing his power production when he was playing, but since his whole numbers were down, it wasn’t fully recognized.  He had the kind of second half that analysts look for as an indicator for success the following season, yet again it wasn’t latched onto as his average draft position (ADP) dropped from 48 in 2010 to 74 in 2011.

Here is a look at the home run leaders in the last calendar year:

LAST 365 DAYS

J.Bautista 62; C.Granderson 42; M.Teixeira, P.Konerko 41; A.Pujols 39;

M.Stanton, J.Bruce 36; T.Tulowitzki, M.Cabrera, P.Fielder 35;

A.Beltre, D.Ortiz, M.Kemp 34; M.Reynolds 33; D.Uggla, R.Howard 32;

R.Weeks, C.Gonzalez, N.Cruz, A.Ramirez 30; R.Braun, A.Gonzalez 30

Of the 22 players listed on the year-long leaderboard, 13 are repeats from the second half leaderboard.  What does that mean exactly?  I am not sure it means anything.  Like I said earlier, a lot of the names on that second half list are consistent power producers that we would expect to show up on any leaderboard of home runs that took a legitimate sample of at-bats into account.

For those not on the second half board, here are their 2010 second half home run totals:

D.Ortiz, R.Howard, R.Weeks 14; A.Gonzalez 13;

P.Fielder, M.Kemp, M.Reynolds, R.Braun 12; N.Cruz 11

None of the nine listed above struggled in the second half of last year, they just weren’t superlatives across the league.  Thus it isn’t terribly surprising to see them amongst the best over the last calendar year as they have remained consistent in their production from last year’s second half to this year’s first.

While the second half home run leaderboard may have helped you notice that Granderson did in fact perform as many expected (at least in terms of home run rate as well as the Yankee Stadium boost), it could have also led you astray had you gone a bit further and used it as a handy guide for 2011 breakouts.  To wit, here are some of the second half home run leaders that just missed my cutoff of 15 (2011 HR totals):

A.Hill (4) 14; P.Burrell (7), R.Raburn (8), P.Alvarez (2) 13; J.Drew (4), C.Lee (7) 12

This list contains some names that some fantasy managers had pegged for a big 2011 season and they have subsequently been wildly disappointed.  Pedro Alvarez is the latest shining example of the volatility of prospects.  Meanwhile Ryan Raburn had a big second half for the second straight season only to once again flop in the first half of the follow season.  Both were tabbed at 2011 sleepers at many outlets.  They have been asleep alright… (I’ll be here all week, try the veal).

If there was one thing you could expect from Aaron Hill, it was supposed to be power.  Actually it has turned out to be some speed (11 stolen bases), but the rest of the stat line is so remarkably underwhelming that he is barely worth it and frankly, I am surprised to see that he is still on 66% of the teams at ESPN.  J.D. Drew is another guy who has his flaws (mainly staying healthy), but you at least expect him to produce when he is playing.  Alas at 35, the injuries may finally be catching up (.646 OPS in 218 AB) rendering him virtually useless (3% owned in ESPN leagues).

The takeaway from all of this, if there is one, is that there still aren’t any shortcuts when it comes to analysis.  You need to dig into the second or third level to see if a sample of play had predictive value one way or another.  An elite second half can either be an indicator of big things to come or an isolated three month sample of quality play with no predictive.  Be careful not to make more or less of a second half sample just because it fits the narrative you are trying to tell.  The other takeaway would be that Bautista is amazing (duh!).  His 62 home runs over the last calendar year is something else.  That early-to-mid 2000s production right there in a pitching-heavy environment.

Later this week, I will show some other leaderboards over the last 365 days in some other categories.  Most will be just for fun to look at while others may be against the second half in 2010 backdrop we looked at today to see if there were any pending breakouts poking their heads out at us last August & September.

Hope you made it through the All-Star break… time for some more baseball!

Monday: 07.4.2011

Hail Mary Team, Part 4

Now we take to the mound with the Hail Mary Team.  As I mentioned in the introduction piece, fixing rate stats (ERA & WHIP most commonly) is harder than piling up counting stats.  The more the innings pile up, the harder it is to make a significant move in ERA or WHIP without Justin Verlander-in-June-type numbers from a pitcher or three (0.92 ERA, 0.71 WHIP in 49 IP).  OK maybe you don’t need guys to throw that well, but you need some heavy innings of quality work to move the needle.

Of course that also depends on how stratified your league’s ERA & WHIP standings are to begin with and given how plentiful pitching has been this year, they might be pretty tight top to the bottom.  All that said, the guys on this list have the kind of skills to lower their ERA and WHIP totals by a decent margin over the second half, but the results haven’t been up to expectations so they can likely be had at a discount.  This group will contain a lot of strikeout upside and hopefully their continued display of strong skills will start to net the results they deserve leading in turn to wins along with several innings of quality ERA and WHIP.

Catchers, First Basemen & Second Basemen

Shortstops & Third Basemen

Outfield

STARTING PITCHER:

Zach Greinke (MIL) – The ultimate Hail Mary Teamer, Greinke should be your first target for pitching to see if that ugly 5.66 ERA can bring in a heavy discount.  For a lot of owners it won’t (as they realize he has been better than a 5.66), but even if he comes with a small discount he is worth it.  His skills have been amazing (11.7 K/9, 1.8 BB/9 and 6.4 K/BB), but he has been brutalized by absurd LOB% (55%) and HR/FB (15%) rates that just can’t continue or at least I certainly wouldn’t bet on them continuing.  His .341 BABIP is a career high, too.  That could be equal parts his 24% line drive rate (highest since 2006) and a poor infield defense.  Adding it all together, there just seems to be no way that he can continue to post the base skills he is and yet carry an ERA that high.  Perhaps you can turn your best hitter or pitcher into Greinke plus something else to start your Hail Mary Team.

Matt Garza (CHC) – I was worried about Garza heading into Wrigley especially with an escalating flyball rate the last few years.  Without a skills change, I thought he would get knocked around for plenty of home runs, especially on afternoons when the wind was blowing out.  Alas, he made a major skills change.  His flyball rate has gone from 45% down to 28%(!) with his groundball rate rising in concert from 36% to 50%.

However his work with men on base has ailed him this year thus what should have been the makings of a career year (2.87 xFIP, 2.98 FIP) has resulted in modest improvements from a 3.91 ERA last year to 3.77 this year.  There is room for more and Garza is one to target.  His current ERA won’t earn you a clearance price via trade, but a 3.77 doesn’t quite get his current manager what it used to either so don’t buckle into your trade partner’s demands without some push & pull.

Chris Carpenter (STL) – Too bad I didn’t think of this strategy a few weeks ago because Carpenter would have been a perfect selection back in mid-June.  However he has started to turn a corner with back-to-back one run outings in seven and nine innings, respectively, lowering his ERA from 4.47 to an even 4.00.  Of course that is still a decent bit below average as he has just a 90 ERA+ for the season.

His hit rate has leapt from 8.2 to 9.8 H/9 this year.  He allowed 8+ hits nine times all of last year and has already matched that total in 2011.  He has doubled his outings of 10+ hits allowed from two to four.  While part of it may be the downgrade from Brendan Ryan to Ryan Theriot at shortstop, a bigger part is a massive surge in line drive rate to 24%, a three year high.  His groundball rate has dipped 5% as a result, too.  His skills suggest an ERA of about three and a quarter so there’s still room to go even in the midst of his current mini-hot streak.

Ricky Nolasco (FLO) – Is there a more maddening pitcher in fantasy baseball?  After slightly outperforming his skills in 2008 (3.52 ERA/3.69 xFIP), he has massively underperformed against his skills the last two and a half years.  ERAs of 5.06, 4.51 and this year’s 4.08 have left us scratching our heads standing next to xFIP totals of 3.23, 3.37 and 3.50.  Like Carpenter, Nolasco has seen a dramatic rise in his line drive percentage up to a career high of 25% after sitting 19-22% for his career.

The dip in strikeouts from 8.4 to 6.5 is a bit alarming, too, but his strikeout-to-walk ratio remains very strong at 3.1 so he should still be better than a 4.08 ERA.  I am still willing to bet on a guy who had three straight years of 4.4 K/BB spanning 555 innings coming into this year, especially if I’m going all-in on a season that hasn’t panned out as initially planned.  The Hail Mary Team is obviously about embracing risk, it is really the only way for the strategy to succeed.  Well the risk panning out is the only for it to succeed, but the first step is not being afraid of risk.

Edwin Jackson (CWS) – I have put him in my spot starter picks several times this year.  His talent is starting to shine through more often than in years past, but the results haven’t yet caught up as his ERA (4.24) is nearly a run higher than his xFIP (3.28).  He is yet another guy suffering from an outlier line drive rate as his is also at a career high of 25% after just once topping 19% since he became a full-time starter back in 2007 (21%, 2008).  So if that evens out this year, his hit rate will come down from 10.1 and with it the WHIP will drop and his results will start to resemble his true skill level.  I find that a lot of fantasy managers don’t really like Jackson so if you present them with an opportunity to remove him from their team, they may happily oblige at less than full value.

Mat Latos (SD) – We saw the kind of heights that Latos can reach last year and there aren’t any glaring issues in his profile that suggest he can’t get back there again this year.  The flyball rate has ticked up from 40% to 46% while the groundball rate is down from 45% to 40%, but that hurts a lot less in his home ballpark and a few others within his division where it is reasonable to assume he will find himself pitching throughout the second half.  He isn’t pitching like the sub-3.00 ERA guy from 2010, but you don’t need him to in order for him to be worth your while in a trade.  Test the waters on him in your league and if the Latos manager in your league is in a tight ERA battle, maybe you have someone with a shiny ERA he would be more interested in.

Chad Billingsley (LAD) – Billingsley appears to be coming out of his funk a bit having lowered his ERA from 4.65 on June 15th to 4.15 after Sunday night’s start.  Of course that is still below average with an 87 ERA+ and a buying opportunity is there even if the price hasn’t dropped significantly.  His skills remain rock solid with very little movement in his strikeout and walk rates since 2007. If he can just avoid those full-on implosion starts (6+ ER), he should be able to chisel his ERA down to 3.50ish by season’s end if not better.

Max Scherzer (DET) – Even if he isn’t on your team this year, you probably have an idea of how maddening his season has been.  And now 18 starts in, I can’t imagine a fantasy manager sticking to his guns and making someone pay full price for a 4.90 ERA and 1.47 WHIP.  Now he might just say “I have come this far and I’m going to stick it out,” and if so you just move on.  But more likely you can find something even on your down-trodden team that will entice his manager to make a move at something well under preseason costs.

For your end, you are getting a guy who is still posting very strong skills (8.1 K/9, 2.5 K/BB), but one who has been bitten hard by gopheritis (1.4 HR/9, 12% HR/FB).  Not only have his home run and home run per flyball rates hit career highs, but he is also allowing a career high 44% flyballs making it that much worse.  The Tigers fired their pitching coach on Sunday and perhaps newly promoted bullpen coach Jeff Jones can figure out what Rick Knapp couldn’t and get Scherzer back on his 2010 second half track.

Brandon Morrow (TOR) – In what was supposed to be another step forward if not a full on breakout season, Morrow has actually regressed in 2011 despite maintaining his 11.0 K/9 and lowering his walk rate from 4.1 to 3.6 BB/9.  Alas his efforts with men on base have continued to plague him as his LOB% has dropped from 69% in 2010 to 65% this year.  The talent is in there and we saw last August what it can deliver as he went 30 innings with a 2.97 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 14.7 K/9 en route to a 3-0 record in five starts.  Roll the dice on that potential without question, especially in a redraft league where you are taking a shot.

Edinson Volquez (CIN) – Another live arm (9.3 K/9) with an ERA that seems to belie his true skill (5.65 ERA, 3.97 xFIP).  A lot of his problems have been tied to home runs.  His insane 18% HR/FB has done a number on his ERA and even if that just evens out to his career mark of 12% (as opposed to league average around 9-10%), his ERA will feel it in a big way.  His ownership rates are way down so he is guy you might be able to get without a trade.  Hell, he may be a big reason you are in this place to begin with in which case just hold on.  The talent is there.  Let’s see if it comes to fore in the second half.

Brett Anderson (OAK) – Originally we were worried he would need Tommy John Surgery, but that appears to be out of the question now.  His return this year is still a question, but we’re throwing a Hail Mary here, so if a contender in your league has him, he might opt to get out from under that risk and get someone into his rotation who is actually pitching every fifth day.

Tuesday: 06.28.2011

The Top 15 for 2012 Right Now, Part II

Last time out, I covered 11 names I legitimately considered for the top 15 for 2012 and I am sure there were a few names that you were surprised to see on the outside.  Let’s see who actually makes the top 15 as it stands right now:

15. Jacoby Ellsbury (BOS, OF) – On a Carl Crawfordian pace this year of 51 SB, 19 HR, 83 RBI, 118 R and .304 AVG.  So they added a Crawford-like line to the lineup, just not from the guy they paid all the money to in the offseason.  Ellsbury is more of a .285 hitter, but that’s a difference of 13 hits for his at-bat total which isn’t too much to a fantasy team’s bottom line.  He is just one home run from a new high watermark in home runs, but I’m not sure he can be counted on for high-teens power just yet.  Even still, he can almost singlehandedly win you the stolen base category while getting you a nice head start in runs at the same time.  The power production is an added bonus.

14. Prince Fielder (MIL, 1B) – Fielder is a tremendous power source who has just entered his prime.  I might be alarmed by the on-off pattern of his OPS totals (sub-.880 in even years, 1.010 or better in odd years) if those kind of staggered patterns had any predictive value whatsoever.  The fact is that even in his “down” years, he is a still 30-home run hitter.  I put a lot of stock in his 157+ games played record from 2006-2010.  My goal in the early rounds is bankable production as nothing kills a team more than missed time.  You can’t predict injuries, but Prince sure hasn’t shown any propensity for getting hurt so with him you are playing the favorable odds.

13. Alex Rodriguez (NYY, 3B) – Are you ready to write him off?  I’m not.  He is on pace for another 30-100 season, marks he hasn’t been below since 1997.  And he would have a streak of 30-100-100 just as long if it hadn’t been for some injuries the past two seasons.  Third base is painfully thin which boosts his value even though his numbers don’t really “overwhelm” anymore.  That he was able to reach 30-100 the last three years despite games played totals of 138, 124 and 137, respectively, only tells you the kind of transcendent talent he is even in his mid-30s.

12. Robinson Cano (NYY, 2B) – “Oh hey guys, don’t mind me, I’m just Robinson Cano and I’m on pace for .290-30-100-100-13.  Yeah, I have added some speed to my game this year already setting a career high in June (6), no bigs.  Yes, I started the first half of May on a .186 slump and I was even hitting just .273 as of June 9th, but that didn’t suit me so well so I have been hitting .420 since putting to rest any fears about me.”  Thanks, Robbie.  The counting stats are pretty much locked in because of his teammates and nothing in his profile suggests you can’t count on mid-20s to low-30s home runs totals with a .300-.320 average.  Oh and he’s played 160-159-161-160 games the last four years and he’s on pace for 160 this year.  Consistency, embrace it!

11. Troy Tulowitzki (COL, SS) – He is currently on pace for .276-30-107-85-13 with just one of his patented “cannot-get-him-out-for-two-weeks” streaks which he started the season with back in April.  I would be willing to bet that he has at least one more of those which will surely boost his season pace.  He is an across the board star at shortstop and posting three 24-32 HR/92-99 RBI seasons in the last four has earned him first round credibility.  Though the one chink in his armor is the streakiness.  This applies to head-to-head leaguers, but while he can win two weeks going away during one his streaks, he will disappear for weeks at time shortly thereafter.  In roto you set it and forget it, but in H2H I would push his ranking down a bit.

10. Hanley Ramirez (FLO, SS) – Barring an insane second half, he is in line for the worst year of his career, but it still somewhat salvageable.  Despite the busted year, it would be foolish to overreact and downgrade him too much.  This is still a guy with five elite years under his belt at the thinnest position on the diamond.  You want to pass him over?  Good, more for me.  It will depend how his final line looks, but there is a good chance it will look pretty lame for Ramirez’s standards and that will drive his value down too much in a lot of leagues.

Those owners who benefit from his drop will be like the owners who have Jose Reyes this year, in other words, they will have a great value on their hands.  I still bumped him down a bit from where I had him this preseason, but that is based more on guys who emerged than a pure downgrade of Ramirez.  I could still envision a scenario where I take him in the top 5-7.  There aren’t major gaps in talent between these elite players.  I think it is as close between 1 and 15 as it’s ever been.  Or least as I ever remember.

9. Evan Longoria (TB, 3B) – Injuries have derailed the huge year I thought we would see from Longo in 2011 and there is a growing chorus that believes he is overrated as a first round fantasy pick.  I’m steadfastly in the Longoria camp and I don’t plan on leaving for 2012.  He is one of six players to start his career with three straight seasons with a .500+ SLG in 500+ PAs*.  The others are Albert Pujols, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Earl Averill and Paul Waner.  For those of you scoring at home, that’s five Hall of Famers (yep, I’m putting Pujols in as an active player).  He will need to do some work to notch a fourth (which all the Hall of Famers achieved), but either way this is a superstar in the making.  Like Ramirez, there is still time to salvage his season this year.  His skills profile is worth betting on, especially at 26 years old playing a thin position.

(*the one flaw in this is that Baseball-Reference’s Play Index doesn’t delineate between first season and rookie season so any player who may have had a cup of coffee one year and then went on to three straight 500 PA/.500 SLG seasons won’t be captured in this study.)

8. Carlos Gonzalez (COL, OF) – CarGo’s 2010 has a good chance to end up as his career year, yet many believed it was a sign of things to come and elevated him as the top outfielder in the game.  Gaudy BABIP and HR/FB rates propped up his batting average and home run totals meaning it would take a unique streak of luck to see 34/.336 again in 2011.  That doesn’t mean I thought he would stink, but I preferred him a little later in the first round than most and third amongst outfielders.  Let’s not forget that he will be just 26 years old next year.  Not only is the elite talent bunched together as we head into 2012, but a lot of the key pieces are still very young.

7. Jose Reyes (NYM, SS) – This is about where he would have ranked this preseason had his health been guaranteed and he wasn’t coming off of his two worst seasons including one in which he played just 36 games.  He has more triples in 73 games this year (13) than he had in his 169 games the last two years (12).  His pace for 57 stolen bases would eclipse the two year total by 16.  In other words, he is back to being superstar Reyes.  He isn’t on pace for the double-digit home run total we saw in four out of five years from 2006-2010, but he is still raking the ball as evidenced by the triples count and the pace for a career-high of 42 doubles.  This season is well in line with the track record he established from 2005-2008 and if you favor positional scarcity, Reyes is worth a pick anywhere between here and the top of the draft.

6. Matt Kemp (LAD, OF) – Back in November of 2010, I ranked Kemp 23rd in my top 24 and by the time draft season rolled around, I was taking him anywhere in the second round even if it was the 13th pick overall (1st pick in the 2nd round of a standard 12-teamer).  In that piece I said he could rebound for a big 30-30 season in 2011.  Jeez, I may have severely undersold him.  He is on pace for a 44-44 with 125 RBIs, 104 Rs and a .324 batting average.  Even as bullish as I was on Kemp, I didn’t necessarily see this.  There is still more than half the season so nothing is set in stone, but one thing we do know is that Kemp is a fantasy star.  Sure his .249 batting average hurt those who took him in the first round in 2010 (*raises hand*), but he still played EVERY game and delivered pretty big numbers in the other four categories.  The Bison is a beast… and he turns all of 27 next year.

5. Adrian Gonzalez (BOS, 1B) – Remember how many times you thought, “what would Gonzalez do if he wasn’t stuck in Petco?”.  The answer is: this!  Gonzalez has been downright elite and he is on pace for a .356-34-151-119 season doing exactly what we all thought he might with the Green Monster (peppering it with a league-high of 25 doubles; on pace for 53).  He would merit some first round consideration from 2006-2010 (a period during which he played fewer than 160 games just once and it was 156), but his home park and weak supporting cast would always hold him back.  Coming in this season, he was a first round pick in a lot of leagues, but not quite a consensus first rounder.  Now everything sets up in his favor and at 30 next year, he is still in his prime.  Even if he falls off of his absurd paces (especially the .356 & 151), he will no doubt be elite and finally be a no doubt first rounder.

4. Jose Bautista (TOR, 3B/OF) – It is a big statement to rate him this high based on 229 games, but does anyone really still see him as anything close to fluke at this point?  He has actually improved on a career year and significantly so taking his game from a power-only to well-rounded with a gaudy .328 batting average, an absurd .473 on-base percentage and a pace for double-digit stolen bases.  Not only that, but a recent move back to third base all but guarantees his eligibility there for 2012 which adds a lot to his value given the dearth of talent at the position beyond the small tier of elite options.  He has given us every reason to believe his surge into stardom, but I still couldn’t rank him above the legend.  His third base/outfield eligibility is definitely a huge plus and I could see someone taking him #1 overall or at least ahead of this next guy, but I had to go with the insanely long track record of excellence.

3. Albert Pujols (STL, 1B) – Even in the midst of what was considered a “down” year, Pujols was on pace for .279-36-95-110-11 before going down with a major injury.  In fact he was adding to his pace almost every day in June and it isn’t unreasonable to believe that he would have continued to stay hot and get back near the paces we are used to from Prince Albert.  Alas, Pete Kozma has no idea how to throw a ball.  Pujols has been knocked from his #1 perch, but I certainly wouldn’t blame someone for keeping him there, even at 32 years old.  He is as reliable as a player gets and even his “bad” year was a very good season (currently ranked 17th amongst hitters on ESPN’s Player Rater, 22nd overall) before it was derailed by a major injury.

2. Ryan Braun (MIL, OF) – I had Braun 5th coming into the season so this isn’t a major leap for the 27-year old outfielder who is kicking off his “prime” with a bang.  He is displaying some newly discovered speed that may or may not be totally legit, but regardless of that he earns this high ranking for his remarkable consistency, the same reason he check in 5th for me in 2010.  Remember the .500 SLG stat about Longoria?  The only reason Braun wasn’t on it is because he missed the threshold of 500 plate appearances by eight in his rookie year.  I think we can let him slide since he posted a .634 SLG that year.  Since then he has three straight years of 663 or more plate appearances with .500+ SLG (including seasons of .553 and .551).  It just doesn’t get much better or more reliable than Braun.  And given his age, there is reason to believe he can do more than the .307-32-105-99-16 average we have seen in his first four full seasons.

1. Miguel Cabrera (DET, 1B) – I don’t care if he plays the deepest position on the diamond, I am building my team around a guy who has seven straight years averaging .317-34-117-100 in 158 games.  And he is well on his way to an eighth season right in line with those averages.  During the stretch, he has been below the batting average mark just twice (.292, .294), the home runs three times (26, 33, 33), the RBIs three times (103, 112, 114) and the runs scored three times (85, 91, 96).  In other words, even when he strays from the average, he remains elite.  None of the deviations would leave fantasy owners disappointed in Cabrera even in the seasons where he combined two “below average” categories together.  He will be just 29 years old next year and with his ridiculously strong skills profile (he’s actually on a four year decline in strikeout rate from 22% in 2007 to 16% so far this year), I have him as the #1 overall pick for 2012.

I would love hear your thoughts on the rankings, if you thought there were snubs and who you’d take #1 if not Cabrera.  Leave your thoughts in the comments below.