Bloomberg Sports Anchor Rob Shaw breaks down four of the major stories in baseball right now that could impact your fantasy team.
Ichiro Suzuki Traded to the Yankees for Two Minor Leaguers
The Yankees added another legend to the fold in the form of right-fielder Ichiro Suzuki. The future Hall of Famer is in the midst of his second disappointing season, as his average dipped from .272 a year ago to .261 entering last night. He also isn’t drawing many walks, which explains the .288 on-base percentage.
The Yankees are hoping a move out of Safeco will do some good for Ichiro, who is hitting .297 on the road this season. Ichiro has also been great in his career at Yankee Stadium, with a .333 batting average and a.492 slugging percentage. The move is an absolute boon for fantasy managers.
Colby Lewis Out for the Season
The Rangers are in first place this season, which has as much to say about their pitching as their hitting. One of their top hurlers is Colby Lewis, who owns nearly a 7-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. However, that ratio will not change as Lewis has been placed on the DL with an elbow injury and is lost for the season.
The loss of Lewis is a big blow, as he has been a star in the postseason with a 4-1 record and 2.34 ERA. The only good news is that Rangers fans will get a chance to see their top prospect Martin Perez again, but really, this is an injury that could force the Rangers hand to make a big deal.
Anibal Sanchez Going to Detroit
And just like that the Marlins are sellers again. Anibal Sanchez is just 28 years old, ranks among the top strikeout leaders and has really improved his control over the years. Regardless, the Marlins are not in the mood to pay him big this offseason, even though it did not stop them from acquiring Heath Bell last season.
A move to the American League is typically bad news for pitchers, but with the Tigers, Sanchez will have a lot of run support and play for a contender. Also dealt was Omar Infante, who offers some pop and speed from second base. Jacob Turner was moved to Miami but he is very much unproven, similar to a pitcher by the name of Andrew Miller, who never quite lived up to his hype despite being acquired for Miguel Cabrera from the Tigers several years ago.
Ryan Dempster Rumors
With a 2.11 ERA, Ryan Dempster is considered by many to be the best hired arm on the trading block. However, Dempster seems to enjoy Chicago and as a 10-5 player, he has the option of rejecting any trade. The Braves, meanwhile, see an opportunity to win an NL Wild Card spot and hope to acquire the veteran hurler. In the deal, Randall Delgado, who has mixed results, would be sent to Chicago. If Dempster does move to Atlanta, he is bound to do better than his current 5-4 record, while Delgado will see his value decrease even more.
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By Tommy Rancel //
Biggest Surprise(s): C.J. Wilson & Colby Lewis
In one of the first articles at Bloomberg Sports, we wondered if Wilson could physically handle the transition from reliever to starter, and more importantly, if his stellar stats would follow. Wilson answered those questions by tossing 203 innings and going 15-8 with a 3.35 ERA in 33 starts. Wilson did lead the league in walks allowed. Still, he allowed just 10 homers all year and showed great durability. The move was certainly a success for the straight edge racer and the Rangers.
After spending 2008 and 2009 away from the major leagues, Lewis returned in a big way in 2010. Although he finished with a 12-13 record, his 3.72 ERA in 201 innings amounted to one of baseball’s biggest surprises. With nearly a strikeout per inning and less than three walks per nine, Lewis’ success was no fluke. He won’t surprise anyone next year, so plan accordingly.
Biggest Bust: Scott Feldman
Feldman enjoyed a breakout season in 2009, going 17-8 with a 4.08 ERA in 31 starts. He came crashing down to earth in 2010 as he went 7-11 with a 5.48 ERA in 22 starts. Feldman’s strikeout rate was poor in 2009 (5.36 K/9), but was even worse in 2010 (4.78). Although he might see some positive regression in 2011, it shouldn’t be much.
2011 Keeper Alert: Neftali Feliz
Feliz completed the opposite transition of C.J. Wilson, as the one-time starting pitching prospect became one of the AL’s best closers. The 22-year-old saved 40 games in 43 opportunities. His strikeout rate dropped from double digits in 2009, but was still better than league average (9.22 K/9). He did a stellar job of limiting walks (2.34 BB/9) and kept the ball in the yard (0.65 HR/9) despite his home stadium. There are talks of him one day resuming his starting role, but regardless of role, his live arm is worth keeping around.
2011 Regression Alert: Tommy Hunter
With a record of 13-4 and an ERA of 3.73, Hunter definitely caught some people’s attention. But really, Hunter is another Scott Feldman waiting to happen given the two pitchers’ very similar peripherals. In fact, Hunter posted an identical strikeout rate of 4.78 Ks per nine innings. He did post a nice walk rate, but gave up nearly 1.5 home runs per nine. In addition to BABIP regression, Hunter also stranded 80.7% of batters. The league average is 72.2%. Let someone else in your league deal with all that regression in 2011.
For more on C.J. Wilson and the Texas Rangers’ rotation checkout Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits.
By R.J. Anderson //
Many looked on with apathy when the Texas Rangers signed Colby Lewis to a two-year deal with a club option this past off-season. This very same Lewis had pitched for the Rangers from 2002-2004 with a not-so-good 5.48 ERA in nearly 300 innings. Lewis didn’t find success in short stints as a Tiger or Athletic either and he bolted to the Hiroshima Carp for the 2008 and 2009 seasons.
Then it happened. The same pitcher that Baseball America ranked as the 32nd-best prospect in baseball entering the 2003 season emerged. In those two seasons in Japan, Lewis started 54 games, pitched more than 350 innings, held a strikeout-to-walk ratio of better than 8-to-1(!) and an ERA of 2.82. He struck out more batters than he allowed baserunners. Entering this season, it was hard to peg just how good Lewis could be. After all, Daisuke Matsuzaka had similar success in Japan, and he’s been a pretty average pitcher (ignoring the price tag) during his stint in Boston. Meanwhile, other decent Japanese league hurlers, like Kei Igawa and Kenshin Kawamaki, won’t be in the running for any Cy Young awards in the foreseeable future.
Yet Lewis has persevered and sustained that level of success stateside. In 19 starts for the Rangers, he’s recorded nearly a strikeout per inning. He’s walked only 41 batters too. Why is that impressive? Because in 2003 (the only other season he recorded more than five starts in the majors) Lewis walked 70 batters in about the same number of innings, while striking out 29 fewer batters. He looks nothing like the old Colby Lewis, which makes you wonder: Can he continue to have a 3.52 ERA? Will he continue to pitch this well?
Odds are, his ERA will escalate a bit. Lewis’ home run per flyball ratio is well below league average, despite pitching in a ballpark that makes home runs commonplace. Despite the Rangers’ defense, it’s hard to foresee any Ranger pitcher lasting too long without a bump in the ERA road. That’s not to say Lewis is valueless or should be sold high, just that expecting this exact level of domination heading forward isn’t a good idea.
There is no magic innings mark within a season that determines when it’s OK to assume the ERA will last. Still, unless your fellow league owners value Lewis as an elite or near-elite starting pitcher, he’s a solid hold for the rest of the season.
For more information on Colby Lewis and hundreds of other
players, and for dozens of tools to help you dominate your fantasy
league, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.
by Eno Sarris //
We’ve talked in this space about different ways that a pitcher can improve his game. He can refine a pitch and increase his whiff rate on a specific pitch like Johnny Cueto, or alter his pitching mix like Mike Pelfrey. Usually that change happens right in front of our eyes in American baseball. In the case of Colby Lewis, we actually have a pitcher that seems to have done both by undergoing a sea change abroad.
Lewis left MLB for Japan after the 2007 season, following an ERA north of six with the Rangers and Athletics. He struggled to strike out batters at an above-average rate, couldn’t keep walks down (career 4.8 BB/9 before this year), and didn’t have a proclivity for worm-burning, as his career groundball percentage is below average (39.9%). There wasn’t much that suggested he was going to succeed in the major leagues other than his good minor league statistics (3.39 ERA, 1.185 WHIP, 8.7 K/9, 2.5 BB/9).
Then he went to Japan. In those two years, Lewis had a strikeout rate over one per inning, and walked a minuscule 1.16 batters per nine. His ERA was sparkling and under three both years, he led the Japanese leagues in WHIP one year, and he took the strikeout crown both years. You could say that he made good use of his time there.
Now that he’s back, he’s striking people out, not walking people as often as he did before, and has even become the subject of fawning love letters in the media. Okay, it’s not quite a love letter, but you get the picture. Despite his poor start on Sunday, Lewis is still striking out more than a batter per inning, and walking fewer than four batters per nine innings. The Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools spider chart shows us that his current walk and strikeout rates make him a more than capable fantasy as an SP2 in a deep league, or SP3 in a shallower league. The dot closest to him is Justin Verlander.
First off, he’s been a little lucky, but not incredibly so. His BABIP will rise (.261 currently, around .300 MLB-wide), and he’ll strand fewer runners (78.1% this year, 70% across baseball). As more dinks and dunks fall into play, more runners will cross the plate instead of ending the inning on the basepaths. Lewis is also a flyball pitcher that is only giving up 0.88 HR/9 because of a slightly-generous 8.3% HR/FB rate. That number usually approaches 9-11% across baseball, so a couple more long flies could turn into homers soon, especially in the favorable hitting environment at Arlington.
All that said, Lewis’ xFIP (a number that focuses on strikeouts and walks and strips out batted-ball luck, and produces a number on the ERA scale) is still 3.99; that seems to be a good estimate of his true talent level. He’s obviously striking people out and has made real progress finding the strike zone.
Most of his progression came from altering his pitching mix to feature his slider. In 2003, Lewis used his fastball 74.6% of the time and his slider 2.4% of the time. FanGraphs tracks a stat called linear weights, which uses game states before and after a pitch to measure the effectiveness of each type of pitch. In 2003, Lewis’ fastball was ‘worth’ -25.8 runs. That number is legendarily bad, as Carl Pavano owned last year’s worst fastball with -23.6 runs and Zach Duke‘s -19.4 runs fastball was second-worst. Surprisingly for such a bad season, Lewis’ slider was still worth +1.2 runs that year.
After five years of featuring that below-average fastball and hiding his slider, which was the only pitch that was consistently positive by linear weights, it took two years in Japan for the light to go on permanently. Now that Lewis is back, he’s using the slider 30.3% of the time, and it’s his best pitch by linear weights (+7.8 runs). Altering his pitching mix has made all of his pitches more effective, as his fastball is finally a positive (+2.1 runs).
Lewis’ slider is his most effective pitch at getting whiffs this year (15%, 8.5% is average), and in particular it’s great low and away as Dave Allen showed on FanGraphs.com. Using Patrick Newman’s pitch f/x tracker for the Japanese leagues, we can see that he refined the pitch while in Japan. Take a look at the image below, which shows how often he threw the slider in a typical start (5/22/09 in this case, and the sliders are yellow).
The biggest remaining question is which way Lewis’ walk rate will go. Obviously, he was having trouble in that category before he left for Japan, as his career rate suggests (4.86 BB/9). And then he dominated in that category in Japan, where the strike zone is called a little bit larger and walks are not as prominent in the baseball culture. For example, Patrick Newman had this to say about the Japanese strike zone:
“My (unofficial) translation of the official rule is “the strike zone’s
upper limit is the point mid-way between the batter’s shoulders and the
top of his pants, the lower limit is the bottom of the batter’s knees,
and covers the area over homeplate”. So that’s not too far off the MLB
strike zone. In practice, I have noticed that the umpires can get a
little generous at times.”
Of course we can expect his walks to come in closer to the major league average (3.59 BB/9) than his elite Japanese rates, but if he does only walk batters at an average rate, his strikeout ability will play well enough to make that work as a package. On the other hand, if the walk rate starts creeping significantly over 4 (and after his bad start Sunday, it’s at 3.68 BB/9), Lewis may have some trouble.
In the meantime, Lewis is a hold in shallow leagues – you wouldn’t get much for such an unestablished non-prospect pitcher anyway – and a testament to the ability of pitchers to change. With that new focus on the slider, he’s practically a new pitcher.
For more on Colby Lewis and other surging pitchers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.