By R.J. Anderson //
Every year a handful of young pitchers will ascend the ranks, have a hot start, and cause a scramble to the fantasy waiver wire. Two of these early-season stories couldn’t be more contrasting in background and how they get the job done.
Doug Fister is a large human being. He stands six-foot-eight and most of that height is made up by lengthy stubs he uses as legs. Fister spent most of 2009 in Triple-A and showed impeccable command while getting outs via groundballs. Seattle placed him in their rotation late in the season and he continued those ways while giving up a few too many longballs. He still held a 4.13 ERA though.
Mike Leake has never thrown a pitch in the minor leagues. The Cincinnati Reds drafted the six-foot-nothing righty out of Arizona State University last June. The only pitches he threw for them thereafter came in the Arizona Fall League and during spring training. That didn’t prevent Leake from winning a job with the big league team this season, and so far the results have looked pretty good. Thanks to a Cliff Lee injury, Fister began the season in the Mariners’ rotation. Not only has he made three starts while lasting an average of six innings per, he’s allowed only three runs and 12 hits. He’s still not striking anyone out, but he doesn’t have to right now because he’s not handing out free passes or home runs. Even when his ERA regresses upwards – and it will – he could still fit the mold of a Nick Blackburn or – Seattle fans hide your eyes – what the Mariners thought they would be getting when they signed Carlos Silva a few fateful winters ago. With the Mariners’ terrific outfield defense, it could work.
In two starts and 13.2 innings, Leake racked up groundballs and avoided home runs, which made him a lot like Fister. Leake had a tougher time in his third start. He still managed to last seven innings, but gave up five earned runs on two home runs. Five strikeouts, a walk, and 16 of 23 balls in play going for groundballs provide some hope that this is an outlier rather than the real package heading forward.
Unlike Fister, though, Leake only has a 77% contact rate against, whereas his taller counterpart has a 92% contact rate against. That suggests that while they may take similar steps to getting the same result – groundball outs – Leake has the secondary stuff to also record strikeouts. Particularly his change-up and slider; according to pitch data from pitchfx, Leake’s change-up is being swung at and missed 18% of the time and his slider is being missed 19% of the time. Those are fantastic rates for any pitcher, especially for a rookie without a minor league track record.
In a vacuum, that potential along with his pedigree make Leake a more attractive fantasy option moving forward. At this point, either are worth adds in deep American- or National League-only environments. Leake might be worth adding in deeper mixed leagues too.
For more on promising young players like Mike Leake, check out Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools.
By Tommy Rancel //
The Boston Red Sox’ attempt at improved run prevention has been put on hold temporarily – at least in the outfield. On Tuesday, the team placed outfielders Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury on the disabled list. Cameron suffered an abdominal tear, while Ellsbury has been slow to recover from bruised ribs. The Ellsbury move is retroactive to April 12, meaning he will be eligible to come back next Tuesday.
In the interim, Josh Reddick and Darnell McDonald were called up from Triple-A Pawtucket. McDonald is a 31-year-old journeyman who got off to a hot start in the minors, and has continued that in his first two games with Boston. However, he holds little fantasy value unless you’re in an extremely deep AL-only league.
Meanwhile, Reddick might be worth a look in slightly shallower leagues. He spent 27 games with the big club in 2009 after hitting .277/.352/.520 at Double-A.
The 23-year-old outfielder is rated above average defensively by Total Zone, a metric similar to Ultimate Zone Rating. He has shown good pop – posting an ISO (Isolated Power, which is slugging percentage minus batting average) of .242 at the Double-A level in 2009. With Bill Hall‘s recent struggles at the plate and in the field, Reddick is likely to see the bulk of playing time in center.
The other player to pick up in this outfield shuffle is Jeremy Hermida.
A quiet off-season acquisition of Theo Epstein, Hermida’s potential became too expensive for the thrifty Florida Marlins. This made him a prime target for Epstein, who paid pennies on the dollar for his talent. For now, Hermida will in the Sox lineup on most days until Cameron and Ellsbury are both healed.
Even after that, Hermida could steal some at-bats from the struggling David Ortiz. Hermida, 26, had his best season in 2007 while playing for the Marlins. In that ’07 season, he hit .296/.369/.502 with 18 home runs and 63 RBI in 123 games.
Since then Hermida has been on a downward spiral. His ISO has dropped in each of the past few seasons – down from .205 in 2007 to .133 in 2009. Small sample size rules apply, but Hermida’s left-handed swing has enjoyed life so far in the American League.
On the young season, he has six extra-base hits including three home runs. Defensively, Hermida has made Jason Bay look like Carl Crawford, but has had less than 80 innings to learn the nuances of playing the outfield in Fenway Park.
Hermida should be available in most leagues and is worth a look in deeper mixed, as well as AL-only, formats. Once more, he is the stronger play over Reddick (or McDonald), who could be back in Pawtucket in a week’s time. If Hermida swings a hot stick as a fill-in, the locals will be calling for him to get more at-bats over Big Papi in no time.
For more on the hottest fantasy baseball topics and trends, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.
By Bloomberg Sports //
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Behind the Numbers
Hosts: Wayne Parillo and Rob Shaw
Guest: Jason Fry of Faith and Fear in Flushing
Total Running Time: 10:08
High Level Look
- His love of the Mets
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More ways to get Behind the Numbers, talk to us, or just have a good time
By R.J. Anderson //
Ike Davis made his Major League debut on Monday night and he’s already a fan favorite. The new Mets first baseman has the luxurious job of replacing Mike Jacobs, who represented the lowest common denominator amongst big league first basemen before the Mets sent him packing. The Mets could put Charlie Brown there and the fans would respond by cheering the comic strip covering first base until the wind inevitably swept him deep into the Gotham night.
Davis has the lineage to be a successful baseball player. The 23-year-old – born Isaac – is the son of former big league pitcher Ron Davis. After a stellar career at Arizona State, the Mets nabbed Davis with the 18th selection in the 2008 draft – a few slots after teammate Brett Wallace was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals. Davis has since flown through the Mets’ minor league system, with an abrupt stop in Triple-A for all of 10 games. His 2009 Double-A statistics through 233 plate appearances were pretty solid: .309/.386/.565, but Davis’ overall minor league statistics were .288/.371/.467.
The obvious question is now whether Davis holds fantasy value in non-keeper leagues. Well, he’s the best fantasy option the Mets have at first base, which should give those in National League-only leagues reason to add him. For the rest, it’s worth waiting and seeing.
Along with the New York prospect hype, Davis hit two home runs in that short Triple-A stint. Do not buy into a sudden power surge though, since he previously hit 20 homers, with seven of those coming below Double-A. Remember, he was a college pick and a college first baseman at that. The expectation levels are higher than normal. Baseball America ranked Davis as the Mets’ fourth-best prospect. Noting that his swing has the tendency to become pull-happy and that his swing was rather long, leaving him likely to strike out quite a bit.
Those skills translate to fantasy leagues as:
- OK average
- Decent power
- No threat to steal bases
- Some chances for runs (both batted in and scored)
- Lots of strikeouts
That’s not to say Davis won’t eventually become a decent major leaguer. He might even be decent out of the gate. But the hype can mostly be explained by post-Jacobs depression alleviation. If the Mets fan in your local league is buying into it, then by all means, allow him to claim Davis first. He’s just not a great fantasy option right now for standard 10- and 12-team mixed leagues.
For more on upcoming young players like Ike Davis, check out Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools.
By Tommy Rancel //
We continue to put the emphasis on understanding small sample sizes
in the early stages for the season. This is especially true for a
veteran player who has a career worth of data suggesting otherwise. On
the other hand, for a younger player the small sample could be a
prequel of things to come, most notably in situations in which the
young player is exhibiting skills carried over from the minor leagues.
One young pitcher hoping to continue his small sample size success is Jaime Garcia of the St. Louis Cardinals.
The 22nd-round draft pick of the Cardinals in the 2005 draft, Garcia
cracked the team’s rotation this spring. After missing most of 2008 and
2009 with Tommy John surgery, the 23-year-old lefty is 1-0 with an 0.69
ERA after two turns through the rotation. Garcia’s performance will
surely normalize. Still, there is a lot about Garcia’s game and the
situation he is in with the Cardinals.
The most notable skill
Garcia possesses in the ability to get groundballs. In nearly 400
cumulative innings in the minor leagues, Garcia’s ground ball rate was
a fantastic 58.7%. In fact, 60% of the balls hit by right-hander
hitters off Garcia in the minors stayed on the ground. Groundballs are
great – especially for a starting pitcher – because at worst they
surrender a single, and never go for a home run.
In his brief
major league career, Garcia has carried over this ability. On the young
season, he has a 69.7% groundball rate. Working with Dave Duncan, one
of the game’s best pitching coaches and noted groundball enthusiast,
should only help Garcia maintain an above-average ground ball rate. To
date, the Duncan-led staff has the highest GB% (50.9) of any team in
the majors. We recently profiled Duncan’s effect on Brad Penny.
Thanks to his groundball ways, Garcia has been able to keep the ball
in the park. In 394.1 innings in the minor leagues, he allowed just 29
balls to leave the park. That translates into a wonderful home run per
nine (HR/9) rate of 0.63. He has not allowed a home run in 13 innings
so far this year, and his groundball tendency should limit the amount
of home runs given up over the course of the year.
addition to the stellar groundball and home run rates, Garcia has
exhibited good control throughout his professional career. In the minor
leagues his strikeouts per nine (K/9) was a healthy 8.3, while
maintaining a manageable 3.0 walks per nine (BB/9). Those numbers have
regressed slightly at the highest level, but nothing considered drastic.
to sound like a broken record, but understanding small sample sizes
can’t be stressed enough. However, in certain cases, and even more so
for younger players, they shouldn’t be ignored completely. For example,
Garcia is a much better choice than Livan Hernandez.
Despite the small sample on both, Hernandez has proven below average
for the past few years and likely will regress towards the same level
Currently, Garcia is an unknown commodity. But if he adds another
win in his next start he will start to gain notoriety. That said, feel
free to add Garcia right now in deeper mixed league or NL-only formats.
For more on Jaime Garcia and young players off to hot starts check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.
by Eno Sarris //
We’ve talked a little in this space about approaching early stats with some skepticism. Eriq Gardner had a great piece reminding us about the Emilio Bonifacios of the world – not all fast-starters turn out great. Tommy Rancel also pointed out some slow starters who would make great waiver wire or trade targets. So, we know not to take too much stock in the first 50 plate appearances of a season.
But there must be something we can figure out from smaller sample sizes. Thankfully, Steve Slowinski from DRaysBay provides an answer. Here are the following levels at which these stats become significant:
- 50 PA: Swing%
- 100 PA: Contact Rate
- 150 PA: Strikeout Rate, Line Drive Rate, Pitches/PA
- 200 PA: Walk Rate, Ground Ball Rate, GB/FB
- 250 PA: Fly Ball Rate
- 300 PA: Home Run Rate, HR/FB
- 500 PA: OBP, SLG, OPS, 1B Rate, Popup Rate
- 550 PA: ISO
It follows that statistics based on pitches would become significant earlier: a batter sees anywhere from three to four pitches per plate appearance, so you’re really looking at a sample of 200+ pitches early in the year. Swing percentages and, to a lesser extent, contact rates, don’t leave us with too many tools in the early going. Let’s take a look at Travis Snider with these statistics in mind.
Snider is striking out in almost a third of his at-bats (32.4%), and sports a terrible .118/.286/.265 batting line (through Sunday) that is being held down by his strikeouts as well as his microscopic .136 BABIP. If a few more balls fell into play, his numbers would look a lot better. But these stats are misleading two weeks into the season. Let’s focus on the other tools in our bag right now.
The swing rates favor improvement for Snider. One of Snider’s major weaknesses is his tendency to strike out. And the only statistic that is currently significant, swing percentage, suggests that he may be making progress in that part of his game. Snider’s swing percentage this year is 42.3%, which is down from 48.2% last year. The even better news is that he’s swinging less at pitches outside the zone (21.7% this year, 27.1% last year). So Snider is making progress at discerning bad pitches, which might bode well for his strikeouts.
He’s swinging less, and making about the same contact (69.7% this year, 71.3% last year), but he has another 50 or so plate appearances before that trend starts to become significant. If he can boost the contact rate while keeping the newfound swing rate, his sense of the strike zone will benefit greatly – and so should his batting average.
Another piece of news that we can take away is that his reduced power this year (.147 ISO this year, .178 ISO last year, .229 ISO in minors) is not significant. It won’t be for another 400 plate appearances. In fact, Snider’s career ISO (.172) was amassed in just 398 plate appearances. That could improve.
Though it, too, comes in a few plate appearances, perhaps Snider’s spring training slugging percentage can provide a pattern for his future growth. Taken from the Bloomberg Fantasy Tools, the grab on the right shows Snider’s slugging percentage in spring training.
Of course the best indicator of Snider’s upside is his terrific minor league performance. He hit a lofty .304/.382/.533 in four minor league seasons, with much of that performance coming in pitcher-friendly leagues and ballparks. He’s also just 22, so there’s plenty of room for improvement.
Snider’s plate discipline is getting better. We’ll have to rely on hope and those minor league statistics when it comes to his power. There’s still a chance he meets his Bloomberg Sports projections (.267, 18 home runs) for the year, or even betters them. Most of the season remains.
For more on struggling young players like Travis Snider, check out Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools.
by Eno Sarris //
Two starts into his 2010 season, Brad Penny sports a 0.79 ERA and a 0.64 WHIP. Sample size caveats obviously apply. But can Penny dip into the Dave Duncan fountain of rejuvenation and enjoy a big year? Let’s take a look at his career both recent and long-term, as well as the effects of the Cardinals’ pitching coach.
To tamp down expectations, one only needs to realize that Penny is likely to strike out batters at a below-average rate. He’s only struck out more than the major league average three times in his 10-year-plus career, and not once since 2006. Since then, his strikeout rate has been on a three-year decline.
In Boston in 2008, the combination of his declining strikeout rate, increasing walk rate, an unlucky .336 BABIP and 64% strand rate (usually around 70% across baseball) led to his career nadir. That low point sent him packing from the American League and seemed to signal the end of his fantasy value. Not so. Back in the National League last year (and a nice pitcher’s park, as the Giants’ home park had a .970 park factor for home runs), Penny again found relevance that he’s continued to provide this year. How did he do it?
Taking a look at the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tool, we get our first clue in the graph for Penny’s WHIP in 2009. He slowly whittled that number down to a more respectable 1.40 level by the end of the year, mostly by returning to his historical levels of control. His full-year walk
rate was 2.65, compared to his already better-than-average 2.88 number. He also got lucky in San Francisco, where his .211 BABIP and 81.8% strand rate evened out his Boston struggles.
It wasn’t just luck that provided some of his boost in San Francisco, however. With the Giants, Penny had a 53.8% groundball rate, which followed his career trend of inducing groundballs. Derek Lowe has already showed us that someone can survive – and even thrive – with a sub-standard strikeout rates if it comes paired with great control and lots of dead worms. Through his first two starts this year, Penny has upped the ante by walking a miniscule 1.29 batters per nine and inducing 60% of his contact on the ground.
Of course, you don’t put up a sub-one ERA and WHIP without some luck, and Penny’s been lucky this year. He won’t continue to put up a .222 BABIP or 81.8% strand rate for sure. But Penny does have something on his side: Duncan. The Cardinals pitching coach has been helping Penny with a mystery pitch, which different classification systems call a split-finger or a cutter. As with Kyle Lohse, Chris Carpenter and Joel Pineiro before him, Duncan seems to have helped Penny work on a sinker and induce more groundballs.
The Duncan Effect has been pointed out before, and even demonstrated statistically by Steve Sommers on Fangraphs.com, but it’s worth looking at Penny’s two starts this year in comparison to his last two starts in of 2009. First up, a graph of his last two starts
in 2009, courtesy of Texas Leaguers. Notice that green bunch of diamonds in the middle, lacking much movement, and also the number of purple squares. Penny was throwing his slider (green diamonds) about 7% of the time, and his changeup (purple squares) 15.2% of the time in late 2009. Mostly, Penny was all fastballs (red squares, 67.3%).
Fast forward to the beginning of this year, after a spring of tutelage from the new pitching coach. He’s given up the slider, and now throws the changeup 24.6% of the time. Instead of relying too heavily on his fastball (43.3% this year), he’s also throwing a new pitch that Texas Leaguers calls a sinker (11.8%). All in all, the mix looks very different; removing a rather straight group of pitches which he couldn’t command well (55% strike percentage on sliders) is a good
It’s all a little confusing because pitch f/x databases are all getting better at calibrating their classification systems. One system might call a pitch a cutter, another might label that same pitch a two-seam fastball, another might call it a sinker. In the end, though, the fact that Penny is moving away from his four-seam fastball and adding new pitches is important. Even though the fastball velocity has returned to his early career levels, that pitch only garnered a 5.6% whiff rate last year. Compare that to the 10-13% whiff rates he’s getting from his changeup, curveball and sinker this year, and you see that the decision to throw fewer fastballs was a good one (though again sample size caveats apply).
The newfound pitching mix, the added groundballs, and playing in a friendlier stadium and more pitcher-friendly league than he did at this time last year – these facts all make Brad Penny a decent pickup in all formats. While he won’t be an elite pitcher all year, a season like Joel Piniero had last year is not out of the question for Penny.
We’re betting on the latter. If you own him and can sell high, do it.
By Jonah Keri //
In Episode 6 of Fantasy Baseball Intelligence, Bloomberg Sports’ Wayne Parillo and I discuss advanced stats, and how they may help you win your fantasy baseball league.
By Tommy Rancel //
The season’s barely started, yet by last count we’ve had seven teams make a switch from their projected closer. Some are injury related, and some are simple managerial decisions. The decision by the Toronto Blue Jays to remove Jason Frasor from the closer’s role in favor of Kevin Gregg falls under the latter.
Normally, making a switch this early would scream knee-jerk reaction. On the other hand, Gregg and Frasor were locked in a tight battle this spring, and the Jays didn’t give Gregg nearly $3 million this winter without considering the possibility that he might close some games.
Frasor has struggled in his five games so far. Meanwhile, there is concern about his velocity, which is down more than two miles per hour from 2009. That could just be a product of building up arm strength early in the year, but also good reason to lower his usage in high-leverage situations for now.
Gregg came to Toronto after one disappointing season with the Chicago Cubs. Despite the ugly 4.72 ERA in Chicago, his peripheral stats were pretty good. His 9.31 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) were just off his career best and among the highest such rates in the game. His walk per nine innings (BB/9) of 3.92 was his lowest total since 2006.
Gregg struggled with the long ball while in Chicago. After allowing 10 home runs in two seasons with the Marlins, he yielded 13 homers in 2009 with the Cubs. Some of that was bad luck, though: Gregg posted an aberrant 15.3% home run-to-fly ball rate (HR/FB), much higher than his career rate of 8.5%. He is likely due for some regression.
If we normalize his HR/FB from 2009 using expected fielding independent pitching (xFIP), a metric that looks at things pitchers can control like strikeouts and walks with a normalized home run rate, we see Gregg’s xFIP of 4.18 last year was a lot better than the near 5.00 ERA.
In addition to regression, Gregg has made some changes in pitch selection that could go a long way in lowering his home runs allowed. Since 2003, nearly 85% of Gregg’s pitches have been a fastball (65%) or slider (18%). But in early 2010, he’s thrown the pair of pitches less than 60% of the time.
In their place, he’s throwing more split-fingered fastballs (8.4% career, 23.1% in 2010), and has reintroduced a cutter to his arsenal. Gregg has dabbled with a cutter before – throwing it 2% of the time in his career – but is throwing the pitch nearly 20% of the time so far this season. Please note that all these percentages are extremely small sample sizes, but don’t ignore the fact that Gregg has made some adjustments.
It also seems the pitch selection changes have changed the type of pitcher Gregg is. He’s getting nearly 70% groundballs this year after getting less than 40% for his career. Of course a 70% groundball rate is unlikely over the course of a full season (unless you’re Chad Bradford). Nonetheless, if Gregg and his newfound weapons can keep that ground ball rate above 45% (or even better, 50%), that would be a nifty shift for the 31-year-old.
If he’s available in your league, immediately grab Gregg regardless of size and format. Frasor and Scott Downs are still in the mix, but all things considered, Gregg is looking like a strong play, especially in a season that has seen a 23% turnover rate at the closer position in just 10 days. Also remember that Toronto has seen a different saves leader in each of the last five seasons including Frasor in 2009. This trend looks likely to continue in 2010.
For more on Kevin Gregg and the Toronto Blue Jays check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.