By Eno Sarris //
A seemingly innocuous and mostly playoff-irrelevant September matchup between the Mets and the Nationals produced an historic moment last week. That night was the first time both starting pitchers made their MLB debuts in the same game in Mets history.
Teams that are out of the playoff hunt produce these kinds of opportunities late in the season. Both Yunesky Maya and Dillon Gee would probably be seeing bullpen duty on a contender bearing down on the postseason, but here they are, giving owners in keeper leagues a small window in which to make a decision about their fantasy futures.
First, the things that these two guys have in common. Both are older starting pitchers making their debuts. Gee is 24, mostly because he spent almost the maximum amount of time in the minor leagues and his debut was almost forced by Rule V draft rules – he needed to be added to the 40-man roster . Maya didn’t arrive until age 28 after pitching in Cuba and only recently defecting.
Both are also considered borderline prospects. Maya saw more success in the Cuban leagues than his compatriot Aroldis Chapman, and also doesn’t own the booming fastball (or control problems) that the flashy left-hander has. Cuban statistics are hard to come by, but Maya posted an excellent win-loss record (48-29) and career ERA (2.51), won the Cuban leagues’ version of the Cy Young last year, and spawned reports of a four-pitch repertoire and a 92-mph sinking fastball. Here was a quote before the game from a Mets outfielder who had seen him in the minor leagues a week before:
“He was tough,” ex-Bison Lucas Duda said. “He mixed it
up well. We had a tough day. He would flip some [breaking balls] up
there. He would take something off. He was savvy out there. That’s what
made him tough to hit. His curveball was like 70 mph, to I think 65 mph
was his lowest radar speed. Different arm angles. Different speeds.
Then he was running it up there 90, 92 mph. We saw the radar gun and
were like, ‘What was that?’ You step in the box and he’s not throwing
slow. He’s throwing pretty firm. It was kind of a surprise when you
first got up there.”
Going from a two-game sample is a terrible idea, but much of what we’ve seen in his first two starts lined up with the scouting report. For example, the Mets broadcast team doubted the 91s and 92s on the gun in Washington and called Maya a ‘dart thrower’ with little deception in his delivery. The curve was considered a ‘Rambo curve,’ but then Keith Reynolds and Gary Cohen wondered if the fastball had enough giddyap to set up his off-speed offerings.
One key detail that came from Adam Rubin in the original article about Maya’s debut: “He throws a 92 mph power sinker that is challenging, although he actually was missing with that pitch against the Bisons.” The home run to Ike Davis was on that power sinker, as were a couple other extra-base hits. Overall, Maya had two whiffs on 35 fastballs in his first start, which doesn’t bode well (5.7% swinging strikes, and fastballs average around 6.7% across the league). Baseball usually works away from the fastball – it is the most-thrown pitch in the game – and if his fastball is missing spots and getting hammered, his upside is severely mitigated. In Maya’s second start, against the Braves, he lasted a solid six innings, but again showed a somewhat mediocre performance: four runs, five hits, three walks, a hit batsman, and just two strikeouts.
Gee had the better first game, and also the larger sample of American baseball statistics to fall back on. The one thing that we know about Gee is that he has excellent control – he walked fewer than two batters per nine innings over his entire minor league career. The other thing we know is that he is a flyball pitcher – he never once got 50% of his balls on the ground, and his career 42.5% number in that category makes him a risk to yield lots of home runs.
When he’s been on in the minor leagues, he’s struck out enough batters to overcome the home runs he’s allowed. This year, however, he showed some interesting but conflicting pieces of information in Triple-A. He had the worst home run rate of his career, which isn’t surprising because of his flyball rate. But he also put up the best strikeout rate of his career, an 8.92 K/9 that would make him a great pitcher in the major leagues when paired with his excellent control. His minor league career strikeout rate of 7.83 K/9, so we’ll have to see how that translates to the big leagues.
Gee has a mediocre fastball like Maya, but he can command his changeup and curve and use them to get outs. They just might be decent out-pitches: Gee got 6 whiffs on 24 curves and sliders in his debut, and those pitches usually get 10% to 15% swinging strikes across baseball. For example, Gee’s numbers on those pitches are much better than the two whiffs he got on his fastball (a 4.8% swinging strike rate, 6.9% is average).
As for Gee’s results in his first two games? At first glance they look great: 12 IP, 1
R, 7 H, 1-0 record, 0.69 ERA. But seven walks against seven strikeouts, combined with facing the lowly Nats and Pirates, exacerbate the problem of focusing too much on such a small sample size.
Both of these pitchers have their upside mitigated by lack of dominant fastballs, and sussing out Maya’s future is complicated further by a lack of historical data on which to rely. Considering that Gee plays in a park that suppresses home runs, his flyball-oriented approach might just play well enough to help you down the stretch in a deeper league, and could make him a sleeper keeper candidate in deeper mixed or NL-only leagues.
Takahashi is being picked up in many leagues with tight saves races. Can he keep the job?
By Tommy Rancel //
The New York Mets are headed toward the end of another disappointing season. With that in mind, the next month and a half should be more about the future than the present. One player who could benefit from this shift is catcher Josh Thole.
With a successful call-up in 2009 (.321/.356/.396 in 59 plate appearances) under his belt, and Rod Barajas’ injury, the young catcher has been receiving more playing time at the major league level – mostly as R.A. Dickey‘s personal catcher. As a fantasy player, he can help your team in batting average, and if your league counts the category, on-base percentage – two boosts you don’t normally expect from the catcher position.
Although he lacks power, Thole has shown the ability to get on base at every level. In six minor league seasons, he owns an on-base percentage of .378. In 48 major league games, he’s been on base more than 39% of the time.
After hitting .321 in his first 17 games last season, he is hitting .324 in 31 games this year. True to his contact-hitting label, the 23-year-old is making contact on 94.3% of the swings he takes. To put that in perspective, only two major leaguers who qualify for the batting title have a contact rate higher than Thole (Marco Scutaro and Juan Pierre).
Of course, when any player hits for a high average in such a small sample size, there is a chance it could be due to luck or random fluctuation. To help us look into that, we can check Thole’s batting average on balls in play, or BABIP. Currently, his BABIP of .362 is well above the MLB average of .298. On the other hand, Thole has always had an above-average BABIP. In his minor league career, his BABIP is .326 – including a .359 mark last season.
Despite the high BABIP, the percentage of line drives hit by Thole is relatively normal. Since line drives are the type of batted ball most likely to fall for a hit, a high LD% would contribute to a flukishly high BABIP. In Thole’s case a 20.7% LD rate could be sustainable. In a bit of a surprise, the catcher has seen a decent number of hits come via the ground ball. Without great speed, this is one area where we might see some regression.
In addition to the average, Thole is walking 13.9% of the time – while striking out just 13.2% of the time. He is swinging at less than one-fifth of pitches out of the strike zone, and has whiffed on just 2% of his swings.
With good plate discipline, and the ability to slap the ball around the yard, Thole is a nice backup plan for any fantasy owner. Although he is only playing two or three times a week now, his playing time could increase as the Mets fall further out of contention. Despite the lack of power, his high OBP and AVG would be a welcomed addition to NL-only or deep mixed league squads.
For more on Josh Thole and other potential rookie pickups check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits
by Eno Sarris //
Fantasy baseball can be a fickle beast. Take the case of Hisanori Takahashi on the Mets.
First, he was a 35-year-old veteran of the Japanese leagues that had never pitched more than 150 innings in a season, never struck out as many as one batter per inning (a feat Colby Lewis and numerous other dominant Japanese league pitchers have managed), and didn’t come with a ton of buzz. It seemed that the Mets were happy to use him as a LOOGY, as they stuck him in the bullpen despite Rod Barajas‘ claim that he was a “Number 3 starter” after catching him in spring training.
Fast forward to the first month of the season, and Takahashi was doing fine, but wasn’t interesting to most fantasy players as a middle reliever. Then John Maine went down with an injury and Oliver Perez went down with a case of Oliver-Perez-ness, and suddenly Takahashi was thrust into a starting role. It was what Takahashi was used to, and he blossomed at first.
Two starts in, Takahashi hadn’t given up a run in 11 innings, and had even bested the mighty New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies. Fantasy owners went to the wire and picked him up. Many people had him in against the San Diego Padres – and then he was shelled for six runs in four innings. He followed that up with five runs allowed in five innings against the Marlins on Sunday. Now Takahashi is owned in only 12% of fantasy leagues and is probably on most waiver wires in mixed leagues. Will the real Takahashi stand up? The pitcher represented by the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools spider graphs on the right is just barely fantasy relevant in shallow mixed leagues.
Going back to Patrick Newman and his NPB Tracker to figure out more about Takahashi’s history, we delve into more mysteries. Take a look at the velocity tracker grab on the left. He’s got five legitimate pitches, most of which are usual in American baseball: fastball, curve, change, sinker and slider. The last, though? The shuuto.
The shuuto is a legendary pitch in Japan and is hard to translate. Mike Fast, pitch f/x analyst extraordinaire, took a look at the pitch and recent literature on the subject and couldn’t definitely label the pitch. By all accounts, though, it’s a two-seam “cut” fastball – a tiny bit slower than a regular four-seam fastball, but with movement that bores to the left. It could just be another name for the cut fastball, in the end.
Does that jive with what we can see in pitch f/x for Takahashi? Fangraphs doesn’t have a pitch that seems to fit the description of a pitch with a similar velocity but different movement, but Texas Leaguers says that Takahashi throws a two-seamer 7.5% of the time. The two-seamer that Texas Leaguers describes crosses the plate at 81.5 MPH compared to his four-seam 88.6 MPH velocity, though, so it’s already a little different than most two-seamers. We know from Harry Pavlidis’ work with benchmarks for pitch types that the average four-seamer goes 92 MPH and the average two-seamer goes 91 MPH.
If we move forward with the idea that the shuuto is what most would call a two-seamer, we realize that the pitch is probably not the key to Takahashi’s success. After all, the primary benefit from the two-seamer is the ground balls it entices. With a 52% groundball rate, the pitch is the most grounder-heavy pitch type according to Pavlidis’ work. Takahashi’s shuuto yields a poor 33.3% groundball rate. And he throws the pitch, at most, 7.5% of the time.
From NPBTracker.com, here is Takahashi’s pitching mix in Japan:
Here’s Texas Leaguers description of his pitching mix this year:
Obviously, the classification systems are different. Newman stated that he thought Takahashi threw the shuuto very rarely in Japan, as his numbers show. Looking at his pitch f/x spin angle with gravity chart, we can see the four-seam fastball, the changeup, the slider and the curve pretty distinctly. The ‘shuuto’ or two-seamer might be those straggler dots in between the fastball and the changeup. Tightening pitch classifications will be a big step forward for pitch f/x, and will help us answer questions like these more definitively in the future.
What we can tell now is that Takahashi throws a lot of pitches, and that his three main pitches – the fastball, changeup and sinker – all pound the strike zone at above-average rates (all above 65.7%, and average is ~60%). The changeup and sinker also get above-average whiffs (11.0% for the changeup, 25.7% for the sinker, 9% is about average.
Conventional wisdom might lump him in with some countrymen, point out the hitch in his delivery, his large arsenal including the shuuto, the bad groundball rate, and the below-average whiff rate on his fastball (7.3%), and call Takahashi a novelty that will suffer once teams start scouting him better and seeing him more often.
But as a lefty in a division with some nice parks for a flyball pitcher (0.499 park factor for home runs in Citi Field this year, for one), Takahashi has some things going for him. Shuuto or not, he can find the strike zone with multiple pitches and gets whiffs on his secondary stuff. At the very least, he is a good matchups play and a strong bench pitcher in any format deeper than a 10-team mixed league.
By Bloomberg Sports //
Here are the facts: John Maine threw five pitches to Nyjer Morgan in his last start for the Mets and was pulled. Maine was then placed on the disabled list with chronic shoulder fatigue.
Which leads to the question: is it possible that Maine’s shoulder fatigue showed up in the pitching data? With the Bloomberg Sports’ Pro tool we decided to try and find out, focusing specifically on his release point.
The following graphic shows John Maine’s release points for the Morgan at-bat, along with the corresponding strike zone.
Quadrant A is of particular note – that’s the spot from which two of his pitches originated. The left side of the graphic shows the release points, while the right side is the strike zone. Highlighting a particular zone results in those specific pitches being highlighted in the strike zone.
Both pitches were balls, and neither reached 84 miles per hour. Or to put it another way, Maine released 40% of his pitches from Quadrant A, and 100% were balls. The three other pitches Maine threw were right on the edge of Quadrant A.
Five pitches is an insignificant sample size, so let’s look at all the pitches Maine has thrown this season and how many originated from Quadrant A.
Maine has thrown 768 total pitches, of which 31 came from Quadrant A. You can also see that Maine throws the majority of his pitches from the quadrant directly below A.
The following table provides a pitch results breakdown, including how many of the pitches were greater than or equal to 85 miles per hour.
What we see is that 4% of his pitches came from Quadrant A, more than 50% were balls, and just about half were greater than or equal to 85 miles per hour.
To get a clearer picture, here are John Maine’s pitches from 2008-2010 in an aggregate form.
The number in Quadrant A is a little difficult to read – it says 103.
The following table shows how many of Maine’s pitches over the years were thrown from Quadrant A, along with the results.
The data provide a clearer picture of what happened, including:
1) This season, Maine has already thrown nearly 1/3 of the total pitches he has ever
thrown from Quadrant A (103 for his career, with 31 this season)
2) Percentage wise, Maine has nearly doubled the number of pitches released from
Quadrant A (4% versus 2.21)
3) In this particular game, the velocity from the release point in Quadrant A was lower
than usual (41.74% for his career versus 0 for the game)
What exactly is wrong with Maine is best left up to the medical experts, and the data do not point directly to shoulder fatigue. What is evident is that this season, statistically speaking, he was releasing the ball from a higher point with more frequency, and was pitching differently.
by Eno Sarris //
There’s a riddle taking the mound for the New York Mets every fifth game, and he could easily take the Shaq-like nickname of the Big Conundrum.
Though he has a mid-90s fastball, Mike Pelfrey has struggled through the beginning of his career – partially because he has used the fastball too often. Take a look at this Bloomberg Sports spider chart for Pelfrey last year – not pretty. The secondary stats were just as ugly, as Pelfrey also sported a below-average strikeout rate (5.22) and walk rate (3.22). He was rescued from irrelevance by a decent groundball rate (49.9% career).
So far this season, though, Pelfrey is riding high. The theories for the newfound success have been multitude. Jerry Manuel said it was because Pelfrey kept his secondary pitches down. Bob Klapisch said it was because he maintained his fastball velocity. In this case, Mike Pelfrey actually knows best about Mike Pelfrey. After his last game, he said the following:
“I feel like I am different, being able to throw the secondary stuff
for strikes… I think it got the point where, in the seventh inning, I
didn’t throw any fastballs, I threw all off-speed pitches, and that’s
something I would never have done.”
As my creative writing teacher said, always show something rather than tell it. So let’s show Pelfrey’s new approach in some pictures, shall we? Since different systems classify cutters as different pitches, we’ll count them both as fastballs for the purposes of this analysis. Let’s take a look at his starts from late last year. All those red triangles? Fastballs – he threw them 77.1% of the time last year. He also added a sprinkling of sliders (14.4%), changeups (5.1%) and curveballs (2.5%). But the diet was mostly fastballs.
Fast forward to this year. You might notice immediately that Pelfrey has not been getting more sink on his secondary pitches this year (see the dispersed green and blue dots?), so Manuel’s idea is out. And Pelfrey’s averaged 91.5 MPH on his fastball this year compared to 92.7 MPH last year, so Klapisch doesn’t have it right. No, the biggest difference is merely in the color mix. Even adding those yellow triangles (cutters) to the red triangles (to get our combined ‘fastballs’), you get 67.7% fastballs – lower than last year. Look at all the non-red in there – he’s upped the changeup to 14.1% and the curveball to 6.0% while using the slider just about as much (12.2% this year).
An added look at the groupings of each of the non-red pitches seems to suggest that Pelfrey is still working the kinks out when it comes to his feel for the secondary pitches. The plots are a little scattered when it comes to non-fastballs. But obviously the new mix is working for him, and the most important thing is that he’s actually throwing these non-fastballs. He has a 6.86 K/9 this year, which is finally close to average (7.06 so far this year), and is much better than his career rate. He’s still getting lucky – his .231 BABIP will rise (.294 across baseball this year), and his 90.5% strand rate will fall (71.5% across baseball). But his xFIP (expected fielding-independent pitching, a number that strips out luck. park effects, and aberrant home run-to-flyball rates) is 3.88, which would be a career-best.
In the end, the best news is that Pelfrey is throwing his secondary pitches. Period. Once the luck evens out a little, his ERA will probably regress closer to his xFIP. Fantasy owners are right to pick up Pelfrey off the waiver wire now.
For more about the new Mike Pelfrey, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.
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.
This division will likely a two-team race. The Phillies are the favorites, but Atlanta is better than most people would like to acknowledge. Don’t be surprised if both of these clubs make the playoffs, and be prepared for a possible National League Championship Series match-up.
Jason Heyward is already ahead of schedule, and the season just started. We wrote about him at Bloomberg Sports, calling him a shiny toy, and fretting that he might get sent to the minors. Clearly that last part was a little less than prescient. Heyward made headlines this week by hitting a home run in his first career at-bat, and has become a hot commodity; so much so that he’s probably overpriced as a trade target right now. Brian McCann, Nate McLouth, Yunel Escobar and Martin Prado project as less-hyped but still solid producers who are worth discussion, if you don’t already own them.
The starting rotation offers several interesting storylines. Can Jair Jurrjens repeat his amazing 2009 season? Will Tommy Hanson emerge as a 200-inning ace in his first full big league campaign? The biggest question mark is Tim Hudson. Prior to missing most of 2009 and part of 2008, Hudson had made 25+ starts in every season since 2000. He’s back and looked good in the spring, but he’s no sure bet to stay healthy all year. If his price is reduced due to injury concern, inquire about him; if he’s being priced like the Tim Hudson of old, pass.
Cole Hamels might be the only player on the two-time defending National League pennant winners who qualifies as a sleeper. Though his won-lost record and ERA turned much worse in 2009, his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) shows identical 3.72 marks in both seasons, making him a potential value pick. Everyone else is a known commodity, including newly-acquired ace Roy Halladay, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth.
Ryan Madson is the man in waiting if closer Brad Lidge stumbles once more. Madson has typical closer velocity, checking in last season at 95 MPH, but also uses a cutter and change-up as his secondary pitches, rather than the commonplace slider. Raul Ibanez‘s hot entrance to the National League fraternity is what people will remember from last season, rather than his quick descent back into the real world. A year older, Ibanez has bust potential written all over him. Avoid.
The Marlins are in the running for the most top heavy team in baseball. Hanley Ramirez is one of the best players in baseball. Last year, Josh Johnson appeared to be one of the best pitchers in baseball. Bloomberg Sports also loves number-two starter Ricky Nolasco.
After that, things get murky. Jorge Cantu provides some pop. Chris Coghlan is a decent sleeper. Dan Uggla had his name floated in trade rumors for what seems like the umpteenth year without a move happening; he’s a good bet to 25-30 home runs, but his low-batting average/solid on-base percentage is a lot more valuable in real life than in standard 5×5 fantasy leagues. The Marlins do have some strong outfield prospects on the rise. Cameron Maybin and his blend of power and speed potential are already on the major league roster, and Mike Stanton has Jason Heyward-like power potential.
Well, there’s Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn, Nyjer Morgan and … well … have you heard about Ryan Zimmerman? The good news about teams like the Nationals is that literally everyone besides the superstars qualify as sleepers Ian Desmond can sneak through the cracks. Desmond is the 24-year-old rookie shortstop who had a coming out party last season in Double- and Triple-A, with a .354 batting average in 55 Triple-A games. In National League-only leagues, he’s an intriguing upside play at shortstop – even more so in keeper leagues.
Brian Bruney is someone else we’ve profiled as a potential sleeper, but again, only in deep NL-only leagues, as he’s the closer in waiting for now.
Jose Reyes could be a good target is his asking price has crashed due to injury concerns. David Wright will probably cost full value though: Bloomberg Sports and other projection systems expect a full recovery, despite last year’s career-low 10 home runs. Assuming Citi Field doesn’t become a wasteland for hitters, Jason Bay should put up solid numbers too. Manager Jerry Manuel’s lineup fetishes will ding his RBI totals, though. Manuel had Bay batting fifth on Opening Day, behind an ugly collection of bats that included Alex Cora, Luis Castillo and Mike Jacobs.
On the pitching side, Johan Santana‘s value depends on his valuation: Do your leaguemates still see him as one of the top three starters in the game, or can he now be had at a discount? Santana’s rotation mates are avoidable in shallower leagues. Meanwhile, Francisco Rodriguez isn’t the dominant closer he used to be; don’t overpay.
For more on Hanley Ramirez and the rest of the NL East, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy baseball kits.