We are now at the quarter point of the season, which means there are only roughly 120 games to go for each team. Still lots of time to make adjustments; however, performance year to date is very meaningful.
Batted ball profiles and strikeout vs walk ratios for both hitters and pitchers carry the key for what the future holds. The fine line between luck and skill should be quite distinguishable by now.
Regression of luck, both in positive and negative directions, should be expected. Use the player’s history and underlying data to determine the magnitude of the impact.
We will kick off this week’s Fantasy Lookout by taking a peek into the Seattle bullpen. Next, we will discuss a breakout star from last year. A power hitter’s return to prominence is unfolding in the Big Apple and we will see if it will continue.
Finally, this week’s deep dive takes us into the puzzle that is Stephen Strasburg.
A New Robin Has Emerged in Seattle. Will He Become Batman?
Let’s take a look at the relevant numbers for the guys at the back end of the Seattle pen.
Fernando Rodney has been a successful closer for the past three plus years. He has recorded 48, 37, and 48 saves over that span. This year, he has gone 13 for 15 in save opportunities. On the surface, that looks quite good. However, drama and intrigue always seem to be involved when Rodney pitches in the ninth. He has a habit of allowing plenty of base runners, which is proven by his unsightly WHIP. Rodney has a BB/9 of 4.19, which is actually better than his career figure of 4.40. Of his 20 appearances spanning 19.1 innings, he has only seven clean innings. You want your closer to put out fires, not start them.
With Danny Farquhar recently demoted to Triple A, a new challenger to the ninth has appeared, Carson Smith. While Smith does not throw quite as hard as Rodney (93 MPH vs 95 MPH), he has what you want in a closer. He has great control, strikes guys out, and keeps the ball on the ground. For his minor league career, Smith was an elite groundball pitcher, with a groundball rate over 60%. He also had a K-BB% over 21% during his three-year career in the minors.
A change may be on the horizon in Seattle and Smith has the better numbers. He has clearly moved up the pecking order and is knocking on the door quite loudly.
Carlos Carrasco, SP, Cleveland Indians
Carlos Carrasco took the league by storm late last year. He actually opened the 2014 season as a starter, but was then demoted to the bullpen after a rough first four starts. By early August, Carrasco was back in the rotation, and he was awesome over those 10 starts. There were plenty of questions coming into this year regarding the validity of the breakout.
Thus far in 2015, on the surface it appears that he has taken a step back, especially when you look at his ERA and WHIP. However, if you dig a little deeper, you see some promising trends continuing. His velocity is still very strong, he has slightly improved on his already impressive K-BB%, and he has been able to maintain most of his gains in his swinging strike rate.
Luck has not been on his side so far this year. His LOB% ranks as the 11th lowest of all qualified starters, while his BABIP ranks as the 4th highest. The inflated BABIP is partially explained by slightly greater than league average line drive and hard hit rates.
I think that once the Regression Police toss Carrasco a bone, his numbers will come back in line and I expect an ERA close to 3.00 and a WHIP close to 1.10.
Mark Teixeira, 1B, New York, Yankees
Mark Teixeira has experienced a little bit of a career renaissance so far in 2015. His power is back, ranking 3rd in baseball in home runs and 10th in RBI. Teixeira has managed all of this with a very poor batting average, mainly the result of a putrid BABIP. He has the second lowest BABIP in all of baseball, ranking only behind teammate Steven Drew by a mere .008. Teixeira has achieved a Hard% right at his career average, but his LD% is at a career low.
Teixeira is seeing the ball extremely well. He ranks 3rd with a BB/K mark of 1.27. He has achieved a career high walk rate and a career low strikeout rate. His contact and swinging strike rates are both near the levels achieved during his peak years when he first came to the Yankees. There might be a little regression of his HR/FB ratio of 26.4%, given that his career mark is 18.2%. That being said, I expect a recovery in his batting average, which will only help his counting stats going forward.
Deep Dive: Stephen Strasburg
To say Stephen Strasburg has been a disappointment would be a huge understatement. He was one of the top starting pitchers off the board this year. Let’s drill down into the numbers and see if we can explain the causes and determine if a turnaround is possible.
At first glance, once you get past the horrific ERA and WHIP, you see a solid, if not elite, K vs BB ratio. An MLB low LOB% (more on this later) has helped elevate the ERA. His 2015 numbers with respect to soft, medium, and hard hit balls do not seem out of the ordinary and do not help explain the fall off in production.
When you look at Strasburg’s batted ball profile, a few things jump out at you. The BABIP is at an MLB high for a reason, look at that LD%. He is also inducing a high number of popups, which has helped keep the BABIP from being any higher. He seems to have traded in fewer ground balls for more line drives, which is not a good trade to say the least.
|Year||FB%||FB velo||CB%||CB velo||CH%||CH velo|
Now let’s look at his pitch selection. Again, nothing seems out of whack. He has maintained his velocity and his frequency of pitch type is in line with previous seasons.
Once you get to the contact data, you start to see the reason for the inflated ERA and WHIP. Batters seem to be seeing the ball much better than they ever have in the past. The high line drive rate further supports this fact. They are making a much greater amount of contact on pitches thrown out of the strike zone. Also, Strasburg is throwing more pitches than ever in the strike zone. To make matters worse, Strasburg’s swinging strike rate is at a career low, by quite a large amount. The pitches leaving Strasburg’s hand have been roughly the same; however, their effectiveness has been severely diminished.
|Bases||Bases||Bases||Bases||Men on||Men on||Men on||Men on|
As mentioned earlier, Strasburg’s LOB% would be the lowest in all of baseball if he qualified. Since he has had so many shortened outings, his innings total is just less than the amount that is required to meet the qualification minimum. In 2015, Strasburg has had severe trouble with runners on, compared to his career figures. This trend has put a big hurt on his LOB%. I am not sure if it is lost focus or issues pitching out of the stretch, but he has been hit hard with runners on.
Last year, only 10 pitchers had a K/9 greater 9 with a BB/9 of less than 3. They were Clayton Kershaw, Corey Kluber, David Price, Felix Hernandez, Jon Lester, Chris Sale, Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, Madison Bumgarner, and Stephen Strasburg. That is an elite list. The average statistics for that elite group of 10 pitchers was a record of 16-8 and an ERA of 2.62 with a WHIP of 1.06.
There is a fair amount of risk betting on the future of Stephen Strasburg. His poor performance year to date may be a combination of bad luck, an injury, or even diminished skills. Either way, the discount would have to be fairly large to consider trading for him. If you already own him, I think you just need to hold tight, his value is so low already. I think Strasburg will figure things out and I place more weight on his track record than his nine starts in 2015. Given Strasburg’s still elite strikeout vs walk ratio and velocity, I would bet on a recovery back towards the pitcher we all expected when his name was called out on draft day.
The first quarter of the season has brought many surprises, some good and some bad. Let’s keep working at determining which trends will continue and which will fail. Until next week’s Fantasy Lookout, enjoy the games!
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