Greetings from SCFE’s 2018 Week 22 Hot Topics. We’re only few weeks away from the Fantasy Baseball playoffs, and everyone’s looking for that last-minute edge. Hopefully Fantasy Baseball owners are able to avoid the siren’s song of Fantasy Football draft season. There’s still serious baseball to be played.
Since it’s serious baseball time, I figured I should go with a baseball movie. The title of the column should’ve let you know it’s Bull Durham. If you consider yourself a baseball and you’ve never seen it, you have to at least once.
There is some debate about whether Bull Durham is really a baseball movie or a romantic comedy using baseball a backdrop (Fever Pitch; I’m looking at you). I say Bull Durham is a baseball movie. There’s just too much baseball involved for the movie to work any other way. Not only that; Bull Durham is routinely quoted by baseball players. Have you ever heard a rookie referred to as “meat?” That’s from Bull Durham.
Released in 1988, Bull Durham stars Kevin Costner as Crash Davis, a career minor league catcher who’s secretly approaching the minor league record for career HRs. Crash is actually sent to a lower minor league level to mentor Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh (played by Tim Robbins before he really got famous).
To use a great quote from the movie, Nuke has a “million-dollar arm with a five-cent head.” Various hijinks ensue while Crash teaches Nuke about baseball and life. Although this might seem like nothing spectacular, Bull Durham is actually a very thoughtful movie.
Bull Durham not only waxes philosophical about baseball, playing in the minor leagues, and the role of superstition in baseball, but it also uses baseball as a metaphor for life in general. Heavy stuff. At the same time, however, it’s still hilarious and eminently quotable.
Bull Durham also features some unintentional hilarity you have to see to believe. No offense to Tim Robbins (who is a great actor), but he is one of the most unrealistic-looking movie athletes at all times. Watching Kevin Costner swing the bat as Crash Davis, you say to yourself “OK, a professional baseball player could swing like that.” When you watch Nuke pitch, on the other hand, you say “not a chance.” Only Anthony Perkins in Fear Strikes Out looks less believable.
But I digress; you’re looking for Fantasy Baseball information as you make your run for the playoffs. In last week’s column, I featured two hitters who were on the waiver wire in a significant number of leagues. This week, I’m taking a look at a couple of pitchers who are still out there in a number of places. If you’re looking for pitching help to strengthen your charge for the playoffs, you should be giving these guys serious consideration.
Here are the 2018 Week 22 Hot Topics. If the sprint for the Fantasy Baseball playoffs is causing you anxiety, try relaxing with Bull Durham. And also try breathing through your eyelids. It works for lava lizards.
2018 Week 22 Hot Topics
Hot Topic No. 1: “He walked 18. New league record! Struck out 18. Another new league record! In addition, he hit the sportswriter, the public address announcer, the bull mascot twice . . .”
Michael Kopech, SP, Chicago White Sox
If you’re a prospect follower and you kept tabs on Michael Kopech this season, the above quote regarding Nuke LaLoosh’s first start for the Durham Bulls pretty much sums it up. When Michael Kopech took the hill, you never knew what you were going to see. But you also knew it wouldn’t be boring.
Another quote from Bull Durham applies to Michael Kopech. “When you were a baby, the Gods reached down and turned your right arm into a thunderbolt.” That’s right; he’s got a 100 MPH fastball and he throws high 90’s with ease.
Originally a first-round pick of the Boston Red Sox in 2014 (33rd overall), Michael Kopech was traded to the White Sox on December 6, 2016 as part of the Chris Sale deal. Although Yoan Moncada grabbed the headlines in that trade, there’s an argument that Michael Kopech had bigger upside.
His career minor league stat line: 24-22/3.05 ERA/1.21 WHIP/514 K in 395.2 IPs. That’s an 11.7 BB/9 ratio. For an SP that’s approaching Madden on easy setting video game numbers. So why wasn’t Michael Kopech immediately starting for the White Sox after the trade? Maybe I should mention he had 194 BB in those 395.2 IPs. That’s a 4.4 BB/9 ratio
When evaluating pitchers, I always look at the BB/9 ratio. I view the BB/9 ratio as a significant predictor of counting stats. For me, a 3.0 BB/9 ratio is when things get dangerous. Through most of this season in the minors, on the danger scale Michael Kopech ranged somewhere between Brick Tamland holding the future gun and Rick Sanchez taking on the Citadel of Ricks.
Sure, he might have 10 Ks in one game; but could put up 8 BB in the next. This actually happened. As you might imagine, this led to some ugly stat lines. It also led to elevated pitch counts. Michael Kopech had multiple starts this year where he went only 2.0 or 3.0 IPs. Now you can see why the White Sox didn’t rush to promote him.
Starting in July, however, things started to come together. Over his last 7 starts at AAA, Michael Kopech had 4 BB total in 44.0 IPs. That’s what the White Sox were waiting for. On August 21, he got the call.
For White Sox fans, I’m sure it was cathartic. Right now, the White Sox are like the Cubs circa 2014. Fans have been following minor league scores closer than MLB results, and any number of players on the current roster might as well have “Placeholder” on their jerseys. The last couple of years have required patience while waiting for prospects, and now they’re starting to show up. The Michael Kopech promotion isn’t about service time; sometimes you need to reward the fans and give them hope.
He also looks ready. Keep in mind you have to take emotions out of the equation when comes to Fantasy Baseball. That’s why even as a Cubs fan I wasn’t hesitant to snag Michael Kopech off the waiver wire. In some leagues, I stashed him for several months. There aren’t a lot of arms like this out there.
Although his first MLB start was limited to 2.0 IPs because of a rain delay, you could see the skills. Through his first two MLB starts, Michael Kopech has posted a 1-0/1.13 ERA/1.25 WHIP/8 K line in 8.0 IPs with 0 BB. The White Sox aren’t playing for anything down the stretch this season, so there’s no reason not to send him out every fifth day.
There will likely be a blowup or two along the way, and he might destroy your ERA and WHIP in a given week, but you’re not going to find better K or big game potential out there. Michael Kopech is still just 22 years old; but command can be learned. Just be prepared to take the good with the bad while he learns this season.
Michael Kopech is currently owned in 62% of Yahoo leagues and 60% ESPN leagues. If you’re looking to add an SP to your roster, you should be sprinting to your waiver wire. I’ll wait.
Hot Topic No. 2: “Who the hell are you? I’m the player to be named later.”
Jose Leclerc, RP, Texas Rangers
Although Fantasy Football for me is just something to occupy the time when there’s no baseball, I have to acknowledge its presence. Let’s face it; Fantasy Football is everywhere. Fantasy Football is like the latest Marvel movie. Whether you’re interested or not, you’re going to know about it.
So, for the Fantasy Football-minded out there, here’s a Fantasy Football/Fantasy Baseball crossover. Just like a Marvel movie. Closers in Fantasy Baseball are like kickers in Fantasy Football. They’re fungible goods.
A fungible good is an economics concept. Essentially, it’s something that’s interchangeable and easily replaced. One fungible good is just as good as another. This is why I don’t invest serious draft capital in closers and I don’t draft kickers before the last round.
Like a kicker’s production in Fantasy Football, a closer’s SV total is dependent on things outside that player’s control. To generate SVs, a closer needs to be on a team that wins, but doesn’t win by blowouts. Just like a kicker needs a team with an offense that moves the ball, but doesn’t consistently score touchdowns. Not to mention that even solid teams have bad weeks.
The quote above applies to Jose Leclerc even though he wasn’t traded. One of Fantasy Baseball’s annual midseason traditions is trying to predict who will replace a struggling/rebuilding/cash-strapped team’s closer when the closer gets traded to a contender at the deadline. For the Texas Rangers, Jose Leclerc was the closer to be named later after Keone Kela was shipped to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Signed as an international free agent, Jose Leclerc made his MLB debut with the Rangers on July 6, 2016 as a 22-year old. Through his first two MLB seasons he was best described as “raw.” Nasty stuff, but command and control were an issue to say the least.
Jose Leclerc put up an impressive 9.0 and 11.8 K/9 ratio in 2016 and 2017. The 12% and 16% swinging strike rate in those seasons shows the stuff is legit. The problem was the 7.8 and 7.9 BB/9 ratio in those seasons. Even more than Michael Kopech, Jose Leclerc could be as wild as a Westworld episode. Sometimes you’re just not sure what’s going on and why it’s happening.
So far this season, Jose Leclerc has improved to a 4.1 BB/9 ratio. It’s still concerning, but it’s a big improvement. Combine that with a 13.5 K/9 ratio, Jose Leclerc was the prime candidate to take over as closer following the Keone Kela trade. Through August 27, Jose Leclerc has posted a 2-3/1.85 ERA/0.90 WHIP/72 K/7 SV stat line in 48.2 IP. He’s also 7-7 in SV opportunities since taking the job.
Let’s try an exercise, and compare Jose Leclerc’s past week with three of the highest-drafted closers this year. For the week of August 20-26, here are the stat lines for Jose Leclerc, Craig Kimbrel, Kenley Jansen, and Aroldis Chapman:
PLAYER IP W SV K ERA WHIP
Kimbrel 1.0 0 0 3 0.00 0.00
Jansen 3.0 0 0 4 15.00 2.33
Chapman NO STATS – ON DL
Leclerc 2.0 0 2 4 0.00 1.00
Who would you have wanted last week? Like I said; fungible goods.
In my auction league (which only uses 7 Ps), most everyone has two closers. My strategy is to take one closer during the draft (and never pay double digits), and to find another one on the waiver wire. Last season I drafted Edwin Diaz and worked the waiver wire for an Addison Reed/Brad Hand combo. And I was the champ last year.
Jose Leclerc is currently owned in 50% of ESPN leagues and 58% of Yahoo leagues. This shouldn’t last long. Grabbing the right post-deadline closer to be named later can be a critical component of Fantasy Baseball playoff success. And those guys are there every year. This is why putting major draft effort into closers (or kickers) is like trying to figure out why the original Law and Order was cancelled. It’s just a fruitless exercise. Keep that in mind when prepping for next year’s drafts.
Those are your Fantasy Baseball 2018 Week 22 Hot Topics. While you’re contemplating roster moves for the Fantasy Baseball playoff push, watch Bull Durham’s meditations on baseball and life in general for some perspective. No matter how things are going for your teams this year, always remember that baseball is like life. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains. Think about that for a while.
Until next time, always never forget to check your references.
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