Bloomberg Sports Anchor Rob Shaw discusses the top stories about pitchers at the trade deadline.
Zack Greinke is an Angel
There were many teams vying for Zack Greinke this week. The former Brewers ace was considered the best available arm, assuming some of the other elites won’t get moved. The Angels made the most sense since they can re-sign him and had the prospects to force the Brewers’ hand. The Angels did give away a young shortstop and two top pitching prospects, but in Greinke, they now have the deepest starting rotation with Jered Weaver backed up by Greinke, Dan Haren, C.J. Wilson and Ervin Santana.
In his debut, Greinke went seven strong while fanning eight and allowing just two runs to score. The Angels offense, however, did not show up with just four hits and no runs in a 2-0 loss to the Rays.
The big question is what this trade does for Greinke’s fantasy value. The answer is nothing at all. He already pitched for a decent offense with the Brewers and had the advantage of opposing fellow pitchers in the National League. Now he faces a designated hitter, has to deal with the big AL offenses such as the Rangers and has to adjust to a new team and a new city mid-season. Yes, the added adrenaline of a playoff run is exciting for him, but I think he was pumped up plenty on every fifth day in Milwaukee.
Francisco Liriano Joins the White Sox
The White Sox have been eager to keep up with the Tigers and the rest of the American League this season, and since they lack the prospects needed to get someone like Zack Greinke, they will have to roll the dice on Francisco Liriano.
The 28-year-old southpaw is as talented as anyone but he has had control issues that have plagued him the last few seasons. It’s interesting that he joined the White Sox, since he actually helped them in his final Twins start, surrendering seven hits and seven runs with three home runs on July 23 at Chicago.
This is an interesting trade for the entire White Sox starting rotation since they will now go to a six-man staff. This alleviates concerns for the innings for Chris Sale but could have a negative impact on the veterans. As for Liriano, the added run support will certainly be a positive though US Cellular is very much a hitter’s park. His career ERA at US Cellular is 5.77 in 48.1 innings.
Still On the Trading Block
Rays SP James Shields will come at a very heavy price since the Rays still control him for a few years at a reasonable rate. He is 8-7 with a 4.52 ERA and 1.46 WHIP.
Marlins starter Josh Johnson is injury prone and inconsistent, and his velocity is down. However, the Marlins will only trade him if they can get a major talent back in return. Johnson is 6-7 with a 4.04 ERA and 1.35 WHIP this season.
The Royals would be happy to trade reliever Jonathan Broxton while his value is soaring. The Rangers seem interested, but he will no longer close if dealt. The Royals would likely turn to Greg Holland or Tim Collins. Broxton will lose his fantasy value since he will turn into a middle reliever with a contender.
The Mariners would love to get some value back from former closer Brandon League. He got hit hard on Sunday but had been pitching well. With Tom Wilhelmsen dominating as the team’s closer, however, League is clearly expendable. It is unlikely that he will close for whichever team acquires him unless it’s a surprise team like the Mets.
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By Tommy Rancel //
On the surface, James Shields had a poor season in 2010. The Rays’ opening day starter got off to a hot start with a 5-2 record, 2.99 ERA, and 71 strikeouts in his first 10 starts. Unfortunately, he would go 8-13 the rest of the way with an ERA of 6.31 in his final 24 appearances. Many in the Tampa Bay area soured on Shields; however, the organization, manager Joe Maddon, and progressive analysts think Shields’ traditional stats will rebound in 2011.
Shields earned a dubious triple crown in 2010 by leading the league in hits, earned runs, and home runs allowed. He watched 34 bombs leave the yard on the strength of a home run-to-flyball rate of 13.8%. This number is two percent higher than his career average and the highest among major league starters with at least 200 innings pitched. Shields has always given up his fair share of longballs, but is unlikely to get shelled like this going forward.
In addition to the home run issues, Shields was labeled as hittable with 246 hits allowed. His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .341 was nearly 40 points above the league average, more than 20 points higher than the next closest starter with at least 200 innings, and around 70 points higher than any of the other Rays’ starters. In fact, the next highest BABIP in the Rays’ rotation came from Wade Davis and Matt Garza at .272 apiece. This means Shields was extremely unlucky or was somewhat unlucky with other factors involved since he pitched with the same defense and in the same environment.
While luck was definitely involved, Shields also didn’t do himself any favors with pitch selection and location. He went to his fastball and cut-fastball far too often and in some cases left them in the nitro zone. Since it is the same fastball he has had success with in the past, a change in selection could go a long way; especially considering his change-up remains one of the premier pitches in the league.
The struggles with home runs and hits allowed have been documented. Meanwhile, Shields did quite well last season in other areas. He posted a career high in strikeouts (187 in 203.1 innings) and gave up just 2.3 walks per nine innings. According to his 3.72 xFIP (expected fielding independent pitching) – a metric that measures walks, strikeouts, and uses the leave average home run rate to further strip luck out of the equation- Shields actually had a very good season.
Shields is similar to Ricky Nolasco in a few ways. Both starters posted good strikeout rates, solid walk totals, but were bitten by the long ball. Not surprisingly, both had better showings in defensive independent metrics than their ERA. This may scare away prospective owners on draft day, leaving them as quality choices on the scrap heap.
In the case of Shields, regression to the mean will help, but he’ll also have to do a better job of mixing up his pitches and spotting the ball around the zone. He did this from 2007-2009 when he averaged 12 wins, a 3.85 ERA, and over 200 innings per season. His durability alone (four straight seasons of at least 31 starts and 200 innings) makes him a back-end of the rotation target, but the chance for regression could make him a real steal in the later rounds of a mixed-league draft.
By R.J. Anderson //
When it comes to wins, James Shields has always had tough luck. Despite an ERA of 4.01 over his first 118 starts (his career total entering this season), Shields had only won 43 games, and had 36. Part of that was because of blown wins by his bullpen. Baseball-Reference keeps track of the times a pitcher leaves a game in line for the win only to see his bullpen blow it. That happened eight times to Shields entering 2010.
This off-season, the Rays upgraded the bullpen, spending $7 million on new closer Rafael Soriano (2.71 FIP) and finding a hidden gem in new set-up man Joaquin Benoit (2.00 FIP). Shields figured to benefit from those moves. Yet he’s actually in the midst of the worst season of his career if you go solely by ERA (4.90), and still struggling in the win-loss department (8-9). Still, here are the two reasons why you should go out and acquire Shields or at least refuse to sell low.
1) The ERA is skewed.
By nearly every other pitching metric Shields is actually having one of, if not the best season of his career. FIP, which simply weighs walks, strikeouts, and home runs allowed; xFIP – which adjusts for home run rates; and SIERA, which includes groundball rates, all suggest Shields is one of the league’s better pitchers this season. So why is his ERA so off? Well, in part, because of one really horrendous start. On June 11, Shields completed only 3.1 innings against the Florida Marlins, allowing 10 earned runs. Take that one start out of the equation and Shields’ ERA drops from 4.90 to 4.31. Which leads us to reason number two.
2) The home run rate isn’t sustainable.
There’s a point in a pitcher’s career when you can accept that maybe he does give up more home runs than the average starter. That point never occurs over the span of one season. Take the batted ball data from Shields’ pre-2010 career and compare it to this season. His home run per flyball rate is more than 3% higher. There is no reason to believe the same pitcher who has upped his strikeout rate is suddenly more hittable. Further, his home run per outfield flyball rate (as opposed to infield flies) is even higher.
When in doubt, go with the larger sample size. And in this case, that sample size suggests Shields is going to be a worthwhile pickup in the second half.
For more information on James Shields and hundreds of other players, and for dozens of tools to help you dominate your fantasy league, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.
good pitcher will usually strike out a lot of batters, limit the number
of batters put on base via walks, and induce a lot of ground balls.
unlucky pitcher can be unfortunate in a number of ways: The quality of
opposition. The ballpark. A high percentage of balls hit into play
finding the gaps between fielders. A high percentage of fly balls
ending up as home runs. And perhaps the most under-appreciated form of
misfortune — a low strand rate.
is the pitcher’s fault. If a pitcher is pitching to contact, a lot of
balls are going to go for hits. It stands to reason that some of those
hits will be back-to-back-to-back, ending up as earned runs. But some
pitchers are lucky enough to space out those hits as to avoid damage.
And some pitchers play on teams that have relievers who can come into
the game and clean up a mess.
that the major league average for strand rate (also known as LOB%) is
about 72%. Those who are much higher are getting lucky. Those who are
much lower are unlucky.
shows some pitchers who are relevant in most fantasy leagues who to
date who are well above or well below the norm:
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out this grizzled veteran
doesn’t deserve an ERA under 1. He’s a pitch-to-contact guy who has
always been prone to giving up home runs. Much of his great fortune
this year is based on a hit rate under 19%, when the norm is more like
30%. But Hernandez has also been counting his blessings about the
batters he has allowed on base. Less than 3% have scored, the lowest
rate in baseball.
strand rate of 87.2% ranks near among the highest figures in the
National League. But his home runs allowed rate is worse than the
average pitcher (without an excessively high HR/FB rate to suggest
that’s a fluke) and he’s also getting lucky on hit rates. He may be
sporting a 2.48 ERA at the moment — and many might assume he’s back to
dominant form — but Oswalt looks more like a good but not quite great
doing almost everything right this year. He’s striking out a batter per
inning. He’s slashed one full walk per 9 IP off last season’s free pass
rate. He hasn’t allowed a home run yet. But still, Liriano figures to
regress at least somewhat, given his 84.6% strand rate; the Twins
somewhat iffy bullpen raises the risk of regression. Liriano still
figures to have strong numbers. Just not a sub-2 ERA.
Striking out more than a batter per inning solves most problems, such
as a mediocre walk rate. Hanson hasn’t allowed many home runs either,
but he has an 84% strand rate, which means a bit of regression
a poor strikeout-to-walk rate. His low hit rate and high strand rate
will make that 2.79 ERA go up quickly. His xFIP is a scary 4.59 at the
He’s also surrendered seven home runs in his first 40 innings pitched.
So far, those home runs aren’t killing Shields, because he’s giving
them up when opposing batters aren’t on base. And when opposing batters
do get on base, he’s getting out of the inning without much
damage. On the plus side, though, the Tampa Bay pitcher is whiffing
9.68 batters per 9 IP, tops in
the American League. His 2.25 per 9 IP walk rate also ranks among the
top 10 in baseball.
Shields’ strand rate points to a pitcher who’s had a lucky season. But
the Rays righty has also posted a flukishly high 16.6% HR/FB rate.
Shields’ ERA is an impressive 3.15; his xFIP is also 3.15, suggesting
that his good and bad luck are evening out. He’s the outlier of the
Striking out a lot of batters? Check. Not walking too many batters?
Check. Not allowing an obscene amount of home runs? Check. How’s his
hit rate? Also reasonable. Despite all that, Verlander has a 4.50 ERA,
when his FIP is just 3.34. A low strand rate (61.9%) is owed much of
the blame. If the Tigers can continue to play strong defense and throw
up good relief pitching numbers, that would only help Verlander even
worse this year than Floyd, who currently sports an ugly 6.89 ERA. But
his strikeout rate is actually better than his career average. He’s
also allowing fewer home runs per inning than usual. He’s become a
little more friendly to batters in the walks department, but it doesn’t
explain the wide gap between his ERA and his respectable 4.30 xFIP. We
can at least pin much of the blame on misfortune from a 58.4% strand
rate, seventh-worst in the majors.
The Royals youngster doesn’t have a particularly good strikeout-to-walk
rate, but he’s fantastic in keeping the ball on the ground and in the
ballpark. That’s because he’s been doubly cursed with a high BABIP and
a low strand rate. Once those hit balls go for outs more often, and
runners become stranded on base, his ERA will come down. One caveat,
though: Hochevar owes much of his low home run rate to a microscopic
3.3% HR/FB rate, making his 4.49 xFIP not far from his5.03 ERA.
he’s getting unlucky too. The Red Sox ace is whiffing fewer batters and
allowing more walks than in past years. But his hit rate is high and
strand rate is low as well. There’s a lot of reasons why Beckett has a
6.31 ERA. A 61% strand rate just exacerbates the situation.
A pitcher who allows seven home runs in just over 33 innings is asking
for trouble. But six of those home runs have come with the bases empty.
That’s about the only piece of good luck he’s seen. Harang has been
cursed in a number of ways: A higher-than-normal HR-to-fly-ball rate, a
high BABIP, and of course, a low strand rate. There’s good reason to
expect much better from Harang going forward: His ERA to date is 6.68,
vs. a solid xFIP of 3.83.
cut his home runs allowed and is striking out 7.48 batter per 9 IP –
down from last year but still above league average. His two biggest
downfalls are a terrible 5.86/9 IP walk rate and a 50.4% strand rate,
worst in the majors. That strand rate should improve dramatically. But
Paulino also needs to get his control in check to be
worth rostering in mixed leagues.
By R.J. Anderson
Here’s a fun trivia question: Who has the fourth-most innings pitched over the past three seasons, behind only Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia, and Dan Haren? Nope, not Cliff Lee or Felix Hernandez. Nor Justin Verlander.
It’s James Shields. The Tampa Bay Rays ace has made at least 31 starts in each of his three full major league seasons while completing at least 215 innings, and winning at least 11 games. Shields’ durability would be one thing, but when combined with solid performances — notably by advanced metrics, like Fielding Independent Pitching or even Adjusted Fielding Independent Pitching (both of which attempt to strip the luck aspect out of evaluating pitchers) — Shields becomes one of the better and more underappreciated talents in the league.
Oddly enough, Shields is actually being drafted well ahead of his 133 B-Rank; his ADP is currently 110. His 2010 Bloomberg Sports projection calls for 217 innings, a 3.89 ERA, 13 wins, and a 1.23 WHIP. That line places him smack in the middle of strong three-star pitchers such as A.J. Burnett, Brett Anderson, and Rays teammate Matt Garza.
Shields has the luxury of pitching in front of one of the best defensive teams in baseball, which should help his rate stats. One thing Shields does, perhaps better than anyone else in the division, is mix his pitches. When he came into the league, he was extremely reliant upon a plus change-up. Talk to a handful of scouts during that period and his change-up was right up there with Johan Santana’s for the honor of best in baseball. Since then, though, Shields has continued to add pitches and tweak his arsenal. He throws a cutter now and has a plus curve to go with it. He locates all of those pitches well.
The only real flaws in Shields’ game is the lack of run support (presumably something that should even out over time), and home runs allowed. Shields’ run support was just 4.42 runs per game last season, despite the Rays’ offense setting numerous
franchise records for offensive production; that was the fourth-lowest total among AL starters. Meanwhile, Shields has allowed at least one home run per
nine innings in each of his big league seasons. Last year’s 1.19 HR/9 IP was a
career high in seasons where he threw more than 150 innings, so expect
a little regression there.
Still, the positives far outweigh the negatives. The Rays’ franchise single-season record for wins by a pitcher is 14. With a little help, Shields could break that record this season, and could do so as a strong number-two or number-three option on your pitching staff.
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