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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Bloomberg Sports Anchor Rob Shaw breaks down the fantasy implications of two players’ MLB debuts and the potential trades of five players who are most likely to be moved.
The Big Debuts
Matt Harvey, SP, Mets
Finally some good news for Mets fans as 2010 first-round pick Matt Harvey made his debut Thursday night and it was a memorable one to say the least. Harvey set a Mets record for a debut with 11 strikeouts and did not allow a run to score in 5.1 innings.
Harvey touched 98 MPH on the radar gun and got some K’s with high fastballs while also getting some weak swings by putting sliders in the dirt. Don’t expect all of his starts to go this smoothly, but Harvey is a strikeout artist who should continue to rack up the K’s, though it could come with some walks as well.
Starling Marte, OF, Pirates
On the first Major League pitch he saw, Starling Marte made his mark, blasting a home run. The 23-year-old outfielder is an instant upgrade for the contending Pirates. Marte has some power, as he blasted 12 home runs with 13 triples and 21 doubles at Triple-A. He lacks plate discipline, but also has some speed. I do not see Marte having too much fantasy value this year aside from what could be a hot start since the Major Leaguers lack an in-depth scouting report on him. Regardless, the future is now for the Pirates and Marte only makes the team more interesting.
Five Players Most Likely to be Moved
1) Zack Greinke, SP, Brewers
The Brewers have come out and acknowledged that they are going to trade their ace, which makes it clear that no long-term commitment could be reached with Zack Greinke. Ultimately, a trade to a contender will do fantasy managers some good, but at varied levels.
If he goes to the Rangers: The hitter’s ballpark is bound to lead to some extra runs so Greinke’s ERA may spike, but he will also enjoy the best run support possible. This is the trading partner that makes the most sense for everyone. Greinke owns a sensational 2.38 lifetime ERA at Rangers Ballpark.
If he goes to the Angels: Greinke should continue to post similar numbers but with a few extra wins thanks to the offensive star power of Albert Pujols, Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo. You can expect a big second half from the ace who is 44-45 in the first half of seasons and 41-31 following the All-Star break.
If he goes to the Braves: This is the best ballpark for Grienke, plus in the NL he faces opposing pitchers, which will keep his ERA lower. Greinke is 25-9 in 49 starts with a National League club.
2) Jonathan Broxton, RP, Royals
The interest in Jonathan Broxton has been limited on the trade market and it may be for a couple of reasons. First, few contenders are desperate for a closer or late reliever right now. Also, Broxton’s numbers are not as good as they appear. He is not getting many strikeouts, which is a reversal of his career trend. He is also allowing 1.40 runners on base each inning, which is a recipe for destruction in late innings. The Royals are wise to put him on the block.
3) Jason Vargas, SP, Mariners
With the demands so high for front-of-the-rotation hurlers such as Greinke and James Shields, alternatives such as Jason Vargas are becoming attractive for teams. Vargas has won four straight starts and now owns a career high 11 wins this season. So when he does get traded, what does this mean to his fantasy value? The run support will increase, but his ERA will also soar. He has a 4.67 ERA on the road this season compared to 2.63 at home, which explains everything you need to know about the 29-year-old southpaw.
4) Francisco Liriano, SP, Twins
When the Twins dealt their ace Johan Santana to the Mets a few years back, they not only assumed that some of the prospects from the trade would turn into stars, but the hope was that Francisco Liriano would step up as an able replacement at the top of the rotation. Though he did enjoy some success in 2010 with 14 wins, a 3.62 ERA and a career high 202 strikeouts, the following two seasons have been disastrous.
Liriano has found himself in the bullpen and even in the minors over the last two seasons while sustaining an ERA north of 5.00 in the Majors. The positive signs this season are that the opposition is hitting just .239 against Liriano and he is fanning more than a batter per inning. On the other hand, his control is lacking, which makes him a major gamble for whoever brings him in via trade.
5) Yunel Escobar, SS, Blue Jays
After a strong 2011 season that included 11 home runs, a .290 average and .369 on-base percentage, Escobar has struggled this season. His average is down to .255, his OBP is .299 and his 19 extra-base hits have resulted in a .342 slugging percentage.
Escobar has shown some life recently with a five-game hitting streak, but there is growing concern about his character according to ESPN’s Buster Olney, which may scare off some suitors. Keep in mind that Toronto is a favorable hitter’s park and the Blue Jays lineup has posted a lot of runs. The 29-year-old Cuban does not make for a very good fantasy investment.
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By Tommy Rancel //
Similar to the recently profiled Josh Johnson, Francisco Liriano captivated the major leagues as a rookie in 2006. As the understudy to staff ace Johan Santana on the Minnesota Twins’ staff, Liriano went 12-3 with a 2.15 ERA in 28 appearances.
In an unfortunate similarity to Johnson, Liriano blew out his arm, and would miss all of 2007. He tossed just 76 innings in 2008 and struggled in his full-time return in 2009. That said, he continues to parallel Johnson. This time, in a good way.
Through 14 turns in the rotation, Liriano is just 6-5. His 3.11 ERA ranks among the league leaders, but still doesn’t fully convey how well he has pitched in 2010. For that, we look to fielding independent metrics like FIP and xFIP. By now you know FIP and xFIP measure events a pitcher can control: strikeouts, walks and home runs. xFIP drills still further down by normalizing the pitcher’s home run rate to league average.
According to FIP, Liriano has been the major league’s best pitcher not named Cliff Lee. His 2.16 FIP in 2010 is even better than the 2.55 he posted as a rookie in ’06. Looking at his 2.99 xFIP compared to Lee’s 3.11, one could argue that Liriano has been the American League’s best pitcher.
So how does arguably the best pitcher in the league have just six wins? Run support and bad luck are to blame.
Of qualified starters in the AL, Liriano owns the 10th-lowest run support, according to ESPN.com. For comparison, the Yankees have scored nearly twice as many runs when Phil Hughes toes the rubber as the Twins have Liriano pitches.
In addition to the lack of run support, Liriano has been one of the league’s unluckiest pitchers in terms of batting average on balls in play. The .348 BABIP carried by Liriano in 2010 is the third-highest in the AL; league average BABIP is .302. And while his personal BABIP has always been a bit above the norm (.316 career), his current total is by far the highest of his career.
The large BABIP number is a bit odd given the fact that the Twins employ an above-average defense, especially in the infield. I note the infield defense because 49.8% of the balls hit against Liriano this year have been groundballs, another excellent skill. Even in the absences of J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson, Minnesota’s backup infielders posted positive UZR (ultimate zone rating) marks*.
*Defensive statistics such as UZR usually take years of data to show true talent levels.
As noted, when looking at factors Liriano can control, he has done a wonderful job. His strikeouts per nine innings rate (K/9) of 9.71 ranks among the game’s elite. His walks per nine innings rate (BB/9) of just 2.43 suggests that his control is back to where it was pre-injury. The one category that may regress in a negative manner is home runs allowed (just two home runs allowed in 92.2 innings). But xFIP suggests that even with regression he is still among the game’s best.
Because his win total and ERA aren’t as fantasy friendly as some other starters, Liriano might be available in trade at a slight discount compared to his true worth – that of an elite starter. He’s been about as good as Ubaldo Jimenez, for instance, but with much less hype. If you own Jimenez and can land a deal that nets you Liriano and, say, a solid bat or half-decent closer, jump on it.
For more on Francisco Liriano and other underrated aces, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits