The Wood That Makes It Good

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The Wood That Makes It Good

Posted on 30 May 2013 by Will Emerson

If you have Travis Wood on your fantasy team, you are a lucky duck.  For real! Travis Wood has been the bargain of bargains at the fantasy starting pitcher slot this season. Even I, a man with a certain fondness for Wood and fantasy crush on the entire Cubs rotation, could not, would not, have predicted the start that Travis Wood is having. The thing now, from the fantasy baseball view, is can we hope to get out of Wood for the remainder of the season? A valid question that will be asked of any player who puts up good numbers, virtually out of nowhere. If you are currently a proud Travis Wood owner you are probably, even as you read this, wondering what the future holds for the Cubs’ wily southpaw. If you’re not, you probably should be. Okay, now that all Travis Wood owners have this thought rattlin’ around their noggins, time to drop some knowledge on them.

TravisWood

Personally, I have liked Travis Wood for a couple of seasons now. “Why,” you may ask. Well, I don’t really know. Travis Wood is just one of those pitchers I like, but cannot quite pinpoint the reason for this “liking”. Other members of this club include such big names as Chris Volstad and Brett Cecil. I guess Cecil sort of has K potential, but really none of them offer anything in the way of star, or even above-average, potential in real or fantasy baseball. They are not guys I peg as sleepers at the beginning of a season, but rather, guys who I might spot start here and there, at best. I am a K/9 guy, so liking Wood is very strange for me. Wood’s career K/9 is 6.78, so he should not even be on mike likability radar. But he is. Now, K-rate aside, there are pitchers who can make do whilst allowing more contact. We call those guys crafty. Picture a Mark Buehrle type. A solid innings eater, who won’t be especially flashy, but will get the job done for your team, more often than not. The key for those types of pitchers is to keep the ball on the ground and not give up hard hit balls.  So, does Wood fall into this Buehlre-esque (not to be confused with burlesque) mold? Maybe?

Here are Wood’s career numbers- 21-25, 3.94 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 6.78 K/9, 2.94 BB/9, 33.5 GB% and a 71.9 LOB%. Seems sort of like a Buehrle like guy, right? I mean, personally I might be a bit concerned about the ground ball rate, but Wood seems to be working with it, for the most part. Wood’s career line drive rate is right around 20%, which seems about average. Now let’s look at Wood’s 2013 numbers at this point in the season.

In 2013, Wood is 4-2, with a 2.24 ERA, .93 WHIP, 5.82 K/9 and a 2.83 BB/9. So compared to his career and, pretty much projected, numbers the K-rate, just like the ERA and WHIP, are down significantly. So what’s changed? Well, his ground ball rate, while still lower than I’d like, is actually up over five percent from 2012. More ground balls, in theory, will generally help a pitcher’s cause, that is for darned sure! Wood is also walking slightly fewer hitters, down a little (about .11 per nine innings) from his career number. So those numbers will help a bit, but the biggest improvement right now for ol’ Travis is his pitching with men on base.

To this point in 2013, Wood has a LOB% of 82. Eighty-frickin’-two, folks! For those that may not know, that is quite a good strand rate. Not only as that more than 10% higher than Wood’s normal numbers, but it is almost 10 higher than the league average! Now, it does not take a rocket surgeon to realize that preventing baserunners from scoring is a good idea, but the question is, can Wood sustain this rate? It’s really hard to say yes to that question. I don’t think there are many, if any, people who believe in that rate continuing. Obviously, if you start letting more baserunners score, your ERA will rise. The thing is, even if the strand rate goes down to the league average or in that vicinity, remember Wood has not been allowing a ton of runners to reach base.  So even if Wood’s strand rate was right around league average his ERA would still be right around three. Now before you get all crazy and start telling people I said his ERA would be around three the rest of the way, just wait a tick.

I am not saying Wood will still be tossing up these ace like numbers. throughout the rest of this season. Wood’s ERA should finish in the mid threes though, which is a bit of alright! Wood’s been throwing a cutter more frequently, and with more consistency, which has definitely contributed to his success thus far. So while he will not keep up his current pace, I feel like he will definitely pitch better than some of the current projections that have his ERA the season being up over four. I need a few more strikeouts for my liking, but he definitely has some fantasy upside the rest of the way.

If you have Travis Wood on your roster, his price may not get much higher than it is now and it would definitely behoove you to test trade market waters. That being said, it is still tough to say who believes in Wood enough to give you a premium return in a deal. Wood has been pitching very well dating back to the end of last season, but there is just no track record or even any sort of expectations that have popped up, pointing to this sort of performance. It is definitely worth testing the waters. Wood should be good (I’m a poet and I don’t even know it!) going forward, just not quite this good. Hey, put it out there and see what happens, I mean there’s always one in every league, right? Let’s just hope you are not that one. I mean in the words of Mike McDermott, “If you can’t spot the sucker in the first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Do You Trust Your Closer?

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Do You Trust Your Closer?

Posted on 30 May 2013 by Jennifer Gosline

Every position in baseball is important. Every pitch. Every catch. Every play. Once the starting pitcher has exhausted, he counts on his relievers to carry some weight for the rest of the game, and then the final touch must be executed with extreme precision by the closer.

pitchers-mound

The closers role is glamourous yes, but the amount of pressure that lays upon them is intense. They are there for that final inning. They are responsible for finishing a game that the rest of the team has worked long and hard for. They face the final three batters. Well, hopefully just three. The opposing team’s batters have an extra exuberance for one last chance at taking the lead in a game. They have more adrenaline for the last shot at being the hero. Even though every out in every inning matters, the closers seem to have a heavier job to do.

Not every reliever can handle the pressure and stress of this responsibility. A lot of closers get demoted to the set-up guy if they struggle too often. Some even get sent down to the minors to work on their pitches, or even get released.

Detroit Tigers, Jose Valverde, was mercifully given another opportunity with the team this year. After initially releasing him to free agency, no other team wanted the veteran on the back-end of their bullpen. He then agreed to sign a minor league contract with the Tigers organization, and was eventually called back up and given another chance to prove he deserves his former closing role.

Last season, Tiger’s fans would cringe when Valverde was given the ball in the 9th. They never knew what would happen. But one thing for sure was that he would make it interesting. At times he would pitch a flawless inning. Three up. Three down. But more often, the 9th inning would seem just as long as the first 8 innings combined. As Tiger’s fans would shake their heads in disgust, Valverde would still be trusted by his skipper and continue to pitch the painful, what should have been, final inning.

But he was not always unreliable. In 2011, he amazed baseball fans everywhere for completing 49 saves out of 49 tries, being one of the best closers in the majors. So, how can someone with such a solid record do so much damage in 2012, and lose the faith of most of the fans?

Closing a game is not easy.

The Tigers see something in Valverde that the fans right now, are not. And they decided to give him another chance at becoming the phenomenal pitcher that he has been before. Tiger’s fans, and maybe some of the players themselves, are now on the edge of their seats, waiting to see which type of pitcher Valverde will be this season. He has 4 saves, and has blown one so far in 2013.

There is a weakened bond between the fans and Valverde, but then there are other closers such as Phillies, Jonathan Papelbon, who has the trust of most of the entire crowd to be able to finish games. His career numbers prove his worth with a career ERA of 2.30 and WHIP of 1.01. He has 8 saves so far this season and none blown, but last season he had 4 blown saves which was only one less than Valverde in 2012. But for the fans to have faith in their closer, they want that 1-2-3 final inning. Valverde is not that type of closer. But the difference between a much loved Papelbon and a oh-no-here-he-comes Valverde, is consistency.

Another loved closer is Rangers, Joe Nathan. He has 13 saves already this season and not one blown save yet. He has pitched 17 innings and has 16 strikeouts. Nathan has been highly reliable, finishing last season with 37 saves, an ERA of 2.80 and 78 strikeouts. Much like Papelbon, Nathan is dependable. When he is handed the ball in the 9th, the fans are a little more relaxed. And if he fails, they are more likely to be forgiving. But if a closer gets that reputation for being unpredictable like Valverde, he is likely going to have everyone clenching their jaws until the final out.

Valverde has a chance at gaining back the confidence of the fans. His charismatic off-the-wall personality will help soften hearts, but ultimately it is what he does on the mound that will determine the patience and belief of the crowd.

The fans want their closer to succeed. Not only because they want their team to win, but they want that connection between pitcher and fan. That feeling where they know the team is in good hands, so they can sit back and enjoy the rest of the game. But fans do expect pitchers to mess up sometimes. Every now and again, closers are going to give up hits, runs, or blow a save. That is understandable.

Fans are forgiving as long as they do not have to forgive every single game.

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The National League Shortstop Revolution

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The National League Shortstop Revolution

Posted on 20 May 2013 by Will Emerson

Recently there has been a rush of hot new shortstops, primarily in the National League. Jean Segura, Andrelton Simmons and Didi Gregorious are the three hottest new shortstops in the majors. They have all had a bit of prospect hype surrounding them and thus far they have actually been exceeding expectations. The thing is, it is always tough to gauge skill level or future performance based on an initial small sample size. Truth be told, they are all currently hitting the ball quite well. But is this just a hot start to their respective major league careers or are the offensive numbers legit and a nice indication of things yet to come?

JeanSegura

For Segura, the primary piece the Brew Crew received in return for Zack Greinke, there were some mixed reviews at the time of the trade in regards to whether or not the Brewers got enough in return for Greinke. Here is a quick evaluation of Segura from Baseball Prospect Nation, right around the time of the Grienke trade:

“At the plate, Segura is a plus to plus-plus hitter for average with definitively good gap power. There are scouts that believe he can have fringe-average home-run power down the line, making him a high average guy with plenty of extra-base hits.”

From this evaluation and plenty of others I have seen, Segura would make a very solid top of the order hitter. There is that “fringe home-run power” suggested above, but should we have expected it this soon? Segura’s current isolated power sits at .229 thanks in part to six home-runs, while many preseason projections projected a home run range of five to ten over around four-hundred at bats. Segura had yet to post an ISO over .110 anywhere above A-ball. I would say the current .229 ISO is bound to drop, or is it? Well, yeah, it probably is, but maybe not as much as many may think. I mean, it is possible that the power, generally the last skill to develop, has arrived for Mean Jean, right? Sure, it is. I am not sold on the power just yet, but the kid can make contact, that’s for darned sure! Now Andrelton Simmons is a bit of a different story, altogether.

Simmons is a slick fielding shortstop who will flash some nice leather in the field, but as far as hitting is concerned, he is not expected to be overly spectacular. The preseason projections had a slash lines somewhere in the neighborhood of .270/.320/.377. Nothing flashy, but nothing atrocious either, especially with his glove. I, for one, felt like those slash numbers were a tad bit high. Thus far Andrelton’s slash line is .250/.294/.386. However, Simmons is heating up a bit at the plate, lately, showing some power at the plate. In May, small sample size though it is, the slash line for Simmons is .267/.283/.489 . Everything is a bit better, but hold the phone a sec, here! A .489 slugging percentage? Wow! Talk about out of character and exceeding expectations, right?! Through the end of April, Simmons had four extra base hits. Two doubles and two home runs. That was over the span of 87 at bats. In May, over 45 at bats, Simmons already has two home runs and four doubles. According to this wonderful piece by Eno Sarris over at FanGraphs Andrelton (I really do love that first name!) has been receiving hitting tips from Justin Upton, which is not a bad place to receive tips from and may also have helped launch that recent Simmons mini power surge. Now before everyone tries to go out and swindle some unsuspecting fantasy owner in a trade for Simmons, it is interesting to note that all six extra-base hits came in a four game span. In the next four games after that he was 1-16 and the one hit was a single. So, it seems a bit premature to start jumping on any Andrelton bandwagons juuuuusssst yet, unless you are expecting a child and looking for a cool baby name. What I find to be a somewhat less cooler name? Didi.

While I am not a huge fan of Didi has a guy’s name, I think Gregorious is kinda nice! Working on his nickname, I am thinking maybe the Gregorious B.I.G? Well, we can work on that later. Gregorious has come outta the gate smokin’ hot. Didi was 6-13 with 2 dingers in his first three games and he was quickly swooped up in fantasy baseball leagues all across the land. Here is Marc Hulet’s read  on Didi:

‘“a gifted fielder, [with] outstanding range, a plus arm and excellent actions.” On his hitting, Hulet added that “he gets pull happy but has some surprising pop from the left side”.    

There was nothing pointing even to a remote amount of pop from any side of the plate from Didi during is minor league stay. So has the pop arrived? It is possible, sure. I don’t think the power Didi is showing right now is gonna keep up, but he should be a solid hitter. Gregorious has three home runs thus far, but really over a full season you should only expect 10-12 home runs, at this point in his career.

So at this point, I would say, power aside, Gregorious and Segura are the real deal as far as hitting is concerned. They should both post some good XBH numbers without a ton of longballs. As far as Simmons is concerned, he is a great glove man, but not quite there at the plate. Offensively, I would say, Simmons’ has an Omar Vizquel-esque hitting numbers. So drink it in! Welcome the shortstop revolution!

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Field of Streams: Fantasy Pitching Options

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Field of Streams: Fantasy Pitching Options

Posted on 20 May 2013 by Will Emerson

Yes, yes, yes, it is that time again! Time to take a look at some fantasy pitching options for the upcoming week. The following pitchers have a great chance of being available in your league and may just be the key to fantasy victory.

edwin

Edwin Jackson, CHC- E-Jax has had a bumpy 2013 with the Cubbies so far, but I have always been a fan of his work. Jackson is not an ace, by any means, but should certainly be a solid fantasy option at the SP slot. Well, E-JAx is 1-6 with an ERA over five on the season, but he really has not pitched that poorly. Really, I’m serious! The K/9 is over eight and the xFIP and SIERA are both under four. The struggle has been with men on base, as Jackson’s LOB% is under 60 right now. Jackson will pitch at Pittsburgh this week, which is no gimme match up for him, but I like the odds of him righting his ship so to speak in this one.

Brandon McCarthy, ARI- After a slow start with the D-Backs, McCarthy is really starting to settle in. In McCarthy’s last two starts he has thrown 17 scoreless innings, 17?! Now those innings were against the Phillies and the lowly Marlins, so let’s not go too overboard with these outings. McCarthy should be much better than his early season numbers, and a solid three or maybe four, fantasy starter. But this week McCarthy has the Padres, so you can expect another ace like outing from him this week.

Tom Koehler, MIA- Do I know a ton about Koehler? No. What I do know is he has rattled off back-to-back decent starts for the Fish. On Saturday, against the D-backs, he hurled six strong innings allowing one earned run on three hits, while walking only two and striking out seven. Do I think Koehler is as good as those numbers indicate? Eh, not really. However, TK has had back-to-back solid starts and he draws the White Sox this week. The ChiSox have struggled producing runs this season and while they have cut down on the Ks, they are still striking out with great aplomb. Now the one drawback is the Marlins are not known for providing run support, so this may not be a great chance at a “W”, but you should get some help with your peripherals.

Travis Wood, CHC- Travis Wood, much like life (according to Madonna), is a mystery. I like Travis Wood, always have, but I am still a bit on the fence believing in his early season numbers. Wood is 4-2 with a 2.38 ERA and a WHIP of .92. I can’t imagine Wood can keep these numbers up, and judging by the percent he is owned in most fantasy leagues, I am not alone. Wood is more likely to have an ERA in the high threes. Wood has a LOB% of 80% and a ground ball rate below 40% and is not a strike out pitcher. Some sort of regression should be on its way and I feel like a start against Wood’s former mates in Cincy this week, may be where it begins.

Felix Doubront, BOS- It should be widely known that Doubront is a favorite of mine. I was high on Felix in the preseason. With a solid xFIP and K-rate, Doubront was high on my sleeper list. Now the numbers have not been great for Felix this season, although the xFIP, SIERA and K/9 were not terrible, until a clunker against Texas and a bad relief outing. The biggest issue has been the walks. Doubront has been all over the place, walking almost six batters per nine innings. This is a wild card stream for sure, but you can count on the Ks, especially against the White Sox. The White Sox have struggled to score runs, so while I can’t fully support this stream, I do think there is a 50-50 shot Doubront gets a quality start in the Windy City

Wandy Rodriguez and Francisco Liriano, PIT- I am lumping these two Pirate southpaws together. Both are similar this week in streaming. Both pitchers face the Cubs this week, at home. Liriano has looked sharp in his first two starts since returning from the disabled list. Sure they were against the Mets and Brewers who have not been world beaters at the plate, as both are towards the bottom of the league in runs scored in May. Wandy’s last two starts have been just as good, lacking the strikeouts, also against the Mets and Brewers. Now the Cubs have actually started to score a few runs here and there over the last couple of weeks, but nevertheless I would say roll the dice on both Bucs starters this week.

Jason Vargas, LAA- Jason Vargas is far from a flashy fantasy pitching option, to say the least, and the numbers pretty much back this statement up. Vargas is solid however. and I like him this week, because he is matched up against the Royals. The Royals are in the bottom third of the league in most offensively productive categories, so I think you may see one of Vargas’ best starts of 2013.

Scott Kazmir, CLE- There are still plenty of seats available on the Scott Kazmir bandwagon folks. Sure Kaz was roughed up by the Phils in his last outing, but most of his starts have been excellent. Kazmir’s velocity has been good as has K-rate and he has two starts this week. The first one is a no-brainer start for Kazmir as he faces the punchless Mariners, but the second start is against the BoSox and this one is iffy. I would take the first start against the Ms and hold off against the start against Boston.

Andrew Cashner, SD- The K-rate is lower than I would expect from Cash-money thus far, but the ERA has been solid. Cashner’s xFIP, SIERA and strand rate point to bit of an ERA regression, AC heads out to the desert this week to face the D-backs. This match up is tough to gauge for Cashner, but I think, if I had to, I would say roll the dice on this one.

Hector Santiago, CWS- Santiago has been up and down as a starter in 2013. The up? 12.1 innings pitched against the Mets and Twins, allowing one earned run, striking out 14. The down? 3.1 innings pitched against the Angels on Saturday, in which he allowed four earned runs. Ups, downs, what have yous, bottom line is Santiago starts against the Marlins this week and frankly that is really probably all I had to say because the Marlins offense is not even close to good right now.

Justin Grimm, TEX- Seems like “Reaper” has appeared here quite a bit and with good reason, he is not quite worth rostering year round. Plus Grimm is still outpitching his projections, but his ERA and WHIP thus far are about on par with how he is currently pitching. In other words, Grimm’s ERA and WHIP seem accurate thus far. Love him or hate him, Grimm faces the Mariners this week, and while they are not the Marlins, this is more or less a great match up for Grimm.

Bronson Arroyo, CIN- Arroyo has always been a middle of the road, reliable, innings eating pitcher. You will not get a lot of strikeouts, but Bronson also rarely gets completely rocked when he takes the hill. Arroyo has given up more than four earned runs in only one start this season and has only gone less than six innings in one start this season. In the one start Arroyo did not go six innings, he went five. There is never anything spectacular about Arroyo’s numbers, but he does manage a lot of quality starts, Arroyo faces the Cubs this week and for some reason I like this one. Cubs are putting runs on the board, but I like the chance for a QS and a “W”.

Well, that’s all I got this week, good luck, godspeed and happy streaming!

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The Curious Case of Starling Marte

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The Curious Case of Starling Marte

Posted on 14 May 2013 by Patrick Hayes

Sabermetric Spotlight: The Curious Case of Starling Marte, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates

The Reason -

How many times have you taken a look to check Starling Marte’s stats the past few games, waiting for his downfall to start? Shoot, the past two weeks or so I can count at least a dozen for myself. Which is why I decided it’s finally time to return to baseball writing and to dig into Marte’s season thus far.

First of all, before I get to the good stuff, how awesome is his name? I’m automatically including it in my 2013 MLB All-Names team, which I now just decided to create. Be on the look out for that soon, lucky you. Now let’s continue.

Starling Marte

Basic Numbers -

Starling busted into the Majors late last year for the Pittsburgh Pirates and cranked a homer in his first at-bat (Only July 26). In 47 games and 167 ABs, he hit .257 and did his fare share of striking out and not taking many pitches. Because of his less than stellar OBP, he found himself in the later half of the Pirates lineup for the majority of his first go in the bigs.

Heading into the 2013 season, projections seemed to think his first full year would play out much like 2012 did. Frustrating fantasy baseball owners by teasing them of stealing 20+ bases but lacking a high average to make him truly worth an early gamble.

Flash forward to May 13th. Starling is hitting .329 in 36 games with just as many HR (5) RBI (17) and two less steals (10) than he had in 18 more at-bats in all of 2012. The biggest change? His BABIP has skyrocketed from .333 last year to .413 in 2013. Before digging into his stats tonight, I was under the impression that he was/is due for a slump eventually and that this number will recede closer to .350-.375 and his AVG would likely end up around .275. However, looking at it a little more, I believe this isn’t the case. Every year of the his professional baseball career (starting in 2009), Marte has had a BABIP of .389 or higher, except in 2012.

Last year was his first time in both AAA and MLB, was it just part of the expected learning curve? Has he figured it out in 2013? What’s changed?

Sabermetrics -

Looking at Batted Ball data through almost the same amount of at bats in 2012 to 2013, surprisingly, not much has changed. Ground Ball Percent has risen to 57.5 from 57, Line Drive Percent up to 19.8 from 18.4 and Fly Ball Percents down a hair to 22.6 from 24.6. If none of these ratios have changed, his Plate Discipline must be the answer, right?

Bingo. Starling is now swinging is almost half of the pitches he sees (49% from 46.1% in 2012) and is making contact 79.2% of the time, up from 72.3% last year. The biggest jump comes is pitches contacted that are thrown outside of the strike zone as balls. A whooping 63.9% rate from 51.5% last year.

Why are more pitches being connected with you ask? Looking at Pitch Type, Marte is now experiencing an increased dose of Fastballs (56.8% from 52.1%) as well as change-ups (9.4% from 6.8%). The pitch he is seeing less of? Sliders. Now at only 14.2%, down from 18.7%. It seems that batting exclusively in the lead-off spot has led to a more appetizing array of pitches for Starling to hit, and he has taken advantage of the opportunity.

Forward Looking -

It’s only normal to expect his BABIP to take some sort of a dip (especially if pitchers start throwing him more sliders), but not to the depths that experts have predicted. It will stay north of .380 and average will hover just north of .300 to finish the year. Tack on a potential 30 stole base campaign, along with a resurgence of Andrew McCutchen and you have all the makings for one valuable and exciting player.

Fantasy Analysis -

If you are fortunate enough to have Marte on your squad, you most likely picked him up via Free Agency. His ESPN Average Drafted Position saw him being taken around 224. Do you sell high? Well if your team is in trouble, go for it. Starling will easily end up a 20/20 OF and could easily eclipse 100 runs scored. He will go in the top 100 next year.

Did You Know? -

His middle name is Javier and he was born outside of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.

Milwaukee Brewers v Pittsburgh Pirates

Reactions and opinions are always welcomed. Find me on twitter: @pf_hayes

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