This past weekend was practically the perfect storm for fantasy owners in keeper leagues. Not only did ballyhoo’d pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg make his encore appearance on Sunday against the Indians, but the top hitting prospect (Florida’s Mike Stanton) and the top catching prospect (Cleveland’s Carlos Santana) also enjoyed a productive first weekend in the big leagues.
Every few years or so, there seems to be a huge bumper crop in top-flight rookies. 2006 had a ridiculous year that included the likes of Hanley Ramirez, Ryan Zimmerman and Justin Verlander (to name a few). There were a couple guys named Albert Pujols and Ichiro Suzuki who topped eventual interlopers like CC Sabathia, Roy Oswalt, Jimmy Rollins and Adam Dunn in 2001. And with Jason Heyward, Buster Posey, Mike Leake, Justin Smoak and Neftali Feliz having major impacts in the game during their freshman campaigns, 2010 is looking to be very similar to ’06 and ’01.
For now, though, let’s take a look at how these three uber-prospects fared this past weekend. And just a word of warning: these three players have not been in the big leagues for very long, making for small and unreliable sample sizes. The numbers may eventually prove to be accurate, but there simply is not enough Major League data to make solid guesses/estimates. Proceed with caution!
As much as Indians fans may be missing Victor Martinez at the plate (though him behind it is another matter, altogether…), this kid isn’t too bad himself. While his debut wasn’t much to write home about (0-for-3 with a walk and a run scored on June 11 against the Nationals), he exploded in Game 2 by going 2-for-4 (first hit: double) with a home run, three RBIs and a run scored, then got a hit and a walk off Strasburg on Sunday. And one of the best parts about his first three games is that he has yet to strike out.
(Now watch him go on a horrid, Mark Reynolds-like stretch where he whiffs once every three at-bats.)
In all seriousness, though, one of Santana’s better qualities is his discerning eye. Starting in 2006, Santana’s walk rate in the Minor Leagues improved every season. His strikeout rates have been a little more mercurial, but have never topped 20 percent over a full season. This is good news for fantasy owners in leagues that value walks and/or on-base percentage because in an Indians lineup that has just Shin-Soo Choo as it’s lone legitimate threat, it would be safe to say that Santana will encounter his fair share of walks, since the 24-year-old backstop has clearly demonstrated he has power from both sides of the plate.
Now three games is an awfully small sample size to judge how Santana’s skills will translate at the big league-level (a hurdle all three of the featured players will encounter), but so far, the numbers Santana is providing don’t seem to be out of line with his skill set. He’s only swung at 29.6 percent of pitches outside the strike zone (comp: Vlad Guerrero leads baseball by offering at 49.5 percent of pitches outside the zone), and when he does swing at pitches inside the zone–55 percent, BTW–he puts the bat on the ball 90.9 percent of the time, so it seems as if he’s making good decisions at the plate, so far.
Does this guy have rotten timing to make a debut or what? The same day he goes 3-for-5 with two runs scored and almost gets the go-ahead hit, the guy at the end of this list not only makes his MLB debut, but decides to strike out over half-a-dozen batters in less than 100 pitches. This past weekend wasn’t that bad, either: 4-for-10 with a triple, a double, four RBIs, three walks, four strikeouts, two steals and two runs scored in three games against a tough Tampa Bay pitching staff.
And keep in mind this: he won’t be able to buy a drink until just before this Thanksgiving. There is little debate about Stanton’s power. After clubbing 89 bombs in 323 Minor League games (13.4 HR/AB), people would have possibly started talking about his hitting exploits the same way they talk about Chuck Norris “facts.”
Stanton’s biggest flaw, though, is his propensity for strikeouts. Throughout his Minor League career, Stanton struck out 371 times in 1,392 plate appearances, which comes out to him striking out in 26.7 percent of his PAs. 2008 was especially harsh for the Marlins’ 2007 second-round draftee, when he collected 153 whiffs in 540 plate appearances (28.3 percent). Obviously, this is a big red flag because even though he will get his home runs (and they will come), all those missed swings will greatly hold back his batting average and, in turn, limit his batting average and RBI opportunities.
There is plenty of hope on the horizon, though. The majority of those strikeouts came while he was just a teenager and after initially struggling in his first go-around in Double-A Jacksonville last season, Stanton made the necessary adjustments to boost his batting average from .231 to .311 at the time of his call-up. His strikeout rate fell from 99/341 (29 percent) in 2009 to 53/238 (22.3 percent), while his walk rate bumped up from 31/341 (9.1 percent) to 44/238 (18.5 percent). He also is not only an outfielder–limiting the amount of wear and tear on his body–but he is also a highly-rated defensive outfielder, too.
Many scouts and analysts say that right now, Stanton projects to be a Ryan Howard-type player from the right side: a ton of power to go with a ton of strikeouts. But, if he continues to improve on his plate discipline and you add in the element of speed (he already has two steals and a triple, and is considered one of the best overall athletes in the game right now), keeper league Stanton owners may have one of the most valuable players not named Heyward.
C’mon, did you honestly think I’d make it to the end of June without looking into the kid. I mean, The Associated Press only compared him to Walter Johnson after his historic start last Tuesday. Thankfully, some of the hysteria has died down a little, especially after the more realistic outing he had yesterday against the Indians. Yes, his fastball hits 100 mph and “drops” to the upper-90s late in the game. Yes, his changeup can clock in at 91 mph (somewhere, Jamie Moyer just suddenly felt sad and doesn’t know why). And yes, his curveball would probably make Bert Blyleven jealous. But just for a moment, let’s go beyond that and see how Mr. Precedent gets things done.
In my hapkido (a Korean martial art) class, my master constantly preaches about how technique is “the ability to control your opponent.” Controlling his opponent is what Strasburg–and every other pitcher, for that matter–sets out to do in every at-bat, and that starts with throwing first-pitch strikes. Through two games, Strasburg pumps in a first-pitch strike 61.7 percent of the time, an astounding rate for a young power pitcher. Just to serve as frames of reference, only 30 eligible starters have higher FPS rates (Cliff Lee leads the Majors with a 71 percent mark) and names such as Sabathia, Adam Wainwright, Jered Weaver and David Price lag behind Strasburg’s mark.
All these strikeouts are great, for the fans, the TV ratings and fantasy owners of Strasburg, but we all know what happens when great young arms quickly pile up the whiffs. Probably no one knows this better than Nationals manager Jim Riggleman, who, as skipper of the Cubs back in 1998, witnessed both the meteoric rise and fall of Kerry Wood within a span of 14 or so months. Riggleman told Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell that while the strikeouts are nice, “it’s better to get three outs on 12 pitches than three strikeouts on 18 pitches.” Of course, this was said prior to Strasburg’s first start, when he had his cake and ate it, too.
Of the 36 outs Strasburg has recorded in his big league career, 22 were via the strikeout, nine on groundouts and five on flyouts. It would be impossible to expect the San Diego State alumnus to routinely rack up double-digit strikeout games without breaking the 100-pitch barrier, so for this year and possibly next, fantasy Strasburg owners (especially keepers) should go against their nature and hope he doesn’t collect too many K’s. Simply put, Mr. Precedent won’t turn 22 until the end of July and his body isn’t yet conditioned to handle a Major League season yet. Fewer strikeouts mean fewer total pitches he uses and less stress he will put his arm under.
But then again, his stuff is just soooooooooo good that he doesn’t even have to try to get the strikeouts. They will just simple come.
Another new addition here at The Fact of the Matter. This will list 24 players (C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, three OFs, DH/UTL, four SPs, two RPs, nine bench players) who I felt did the best between the previous Friday-Sunday period. I mean, this is Weekend Matters, right? But, as a caveat, I may not include players who had one really incredible day and were either mediocre or flat-out bad the other two days. If you feel anyone was egregiously left out, please, by all means, voice your concerns!
- C: Jorge Posada — 4-for-9, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 2 BB, 4 K, 3 R
- 1B: Aubrey Huff — 5-for-11, 3 HR, 3B, 2B, 7 RBI, 2 BB, 0 K, 4 R
- 2B: Howard Kendrick — 7-for-14, HR, 3 2B, 4 RBI, 0 BB, K, CS, 2 R
- 3B: David Wright — 6-for-13, 2 HR, 2 2B, 7 RBI, 0 BB, K, CS, 2 R
- SS: Jose Reyes — 6-for-13, HR, 2B, RBI, 0 BB, 2 K, SB, 2 R
- OF: Chris Coghlan — 6-for-11, 0 HR, 3B, 3 2B, RBI, 4 BB, 4 K, 6 R
- OF: Josh Hamilton — 4-for-12, 2 HR, 2B, 4 RBI, 2 BB, 3 K, 3 R
- OF: Ryan Spilborghs — 7-for-12, 3 HR, 3B, 2 2B, 3 RBI, 0 BB, 2 K, 4 R
- UTL: Brandon Phillips — 5-for-8, HR, RBI, BB, 0 K, 2 SB, 4 R
- SP: Fausto Carmona — W, CG, QS, 9 IP, R, 3 H, 0 BB, HR, 7 K, 106/73 P/S
- SP: Zack Greinke — W, CG, QS, 9 IP, 3 R, 5 H, 0 BB, 2 HR, 12 K, 105/77 P/S
- SP: Colby Lewis — W, QS, 8 IP, 2 R, 3 H, BB, 2 HR, 10 K, 119/74 P/S
- SP: Francisco Liriano — W, QS, 8 IP, R, 5 H, 0 BB, 2 WP, 11 K, 105/7, 1 P/S
- RP: Mariano Rivera — 2 G, 1 SV, 2 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 0 BB, 4 K
- RP: Brian Wilson — 2 G, 2 SV (1 multi-inning), 2 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 0 BB, 3 K, 5-0 IR-S
- Bench: Carlos Santana – C, Troy Glaus – CI, Erick Aybar, MI, Milton Bradley – OF, Garrett Jones – OF, Felix Hernandez – SP, Ted Lilly – SP, Joel Pineiro – SP, Brian Fuentes – RP
SP Rich Harden (strained gluteus muscle, 15-day DL; put on list on Saturday)
- 2B Orlando Hudson (wrist, 15-day DL; may return for June 15-17 series vs. Colorado)
- SS Jimmy Rollins (calf, 15-day DL; starts rehab assignment on June 15 … may return for June 18-20 series vs. Minnesota)
- RP Huston Street (shoulder, 15-day DL; continuing rehab assignment with Triple-A Colorado Springs)
- SP Edinson Volquez (right elbow, 60-day DL; begins rehab assignment on June 17 with Class A Dayton)
- 3B Chipper Jones (finger; doubtful for June 15-17 series vs. Tampa Bay … whispers of retirement after season?)
- 2B Brandon Phillips (tight right hamstring; missed Sunday’s game … questionable for June 17-19 series vs. LA Dodgers)
- 3B Alex Rodriguez (hip; claims to be unrelated to ’09 surgery, questionable for June 17-19 series vs. Philadelphia)
- SS Troy Tulowitzki (strained groin on Saturday; available to play on Tuesday)
- 1B Kevin Youkilis (back spasms, HBP near right elbow Saturday; missed Sunday’s game)
- C Miguel Montero returned from 15-day DL on Saturday.
With the first month of the season out of the way, fantasy owners are getting a better feel as to how their players are shaping up. Some of them are doing about as well as expected (Albert Pujols, Tim Lincecum) and some are doing wildly better than could be expected (Robinson Cano, Colby Lewis), but the group of players who are on our minds the most are the ones who are giving owners another ulcer with every weakly-hit ground ball to second or pitch juuust a bit outside (a tip of the hat and best wishes to Bob Uecker) when they should be dominating.
Now, it’s a common reaction for owners to bench these players or, if they’re doing so poorly, to cut them altogether. But often times, owners aren’t looking carefully enough at the player’s performances. Many statistics commonly used in the fantasy world have long since been exposed as severely flawed (RE: batting average, RBI, wins), and some of the new metrics show that slumping players are pretty much thisclose from posting their usual stats.
There are plenty of examples to be had every year, but to avoid frying anyone’s brains with information overload, I’m going to stick with two hitters and two pitchers. Each is going in the opposite direction of their counterpart, and the purpose of this is identify particular trends and/or stats that can help an owner decide whether to keep a player, cut him, or trade him to an unwitting opponent.
Garrett Jones, OF/1B PIT
Raise your hand if you saw Jones’ 2009 season coming? No one? I thought so. The then-28-year-old rookie helped push many fantasy teams to either a championship or at least a playoff spot thanks to a year where he mashed 43 extra-base hits in only 82 games, and it appeared he’d be able to continue such a performance thanks to a patient, intelligent approach at the plate. Then 2010 and a .221/.358/.407 stat line came.
Odds are, a lot of Jones owners did one or more of the following: bench him, put him on the block, or cut him altogether. I almost did the latter of the three, but I felt that I wasn’t seeing the whole picture…and I wasn’t. When most players are taking a full-fledged nose-dive, they’re often expanding their strike zone: swinging (and missing) at more pitches out of the zone while making less contact. So far, Jones has done the opposite of that. The Braves 14th-round pick in 1999 swung at 21.7 percent of pitches outside of the zone in 2010, as opposed to 29.3 percent last year. And when he does swing, he’s slightly better this year at making contact, putting the bat on ball 78.1 percent of the time versus 77.5 percent last year.
So what does this mean? Basically, Jones is due for a good run. It’s all a matter of “hitting them where they ain’t.” If you still have Big Garrett on your roster, make sure he stays there.
Cole Hamels, SP PHI
Images from Hamels’ horrid April 23 game against Arizona still give me nervous twitches, and anyone who sees his HR/9 ratio of 2.1 will probably do the same. A 5.28 ERA and 1.47 WHIP won’t help matters, either. But, once again, here is another example of the numbers not telling the entire story.
First off, his HR/9 rate is grossly inflated by that one game where he allowed four home runs. That’s about as fluky as it gets. Secondly, his BABIP sits at an unusually high .357, as opposed to his career mark of .298, so you know those hits will soon turn to outs. And when batters are getting the bat on the ball, they’re doing so with less authority. Last year, his line drive and fly ball rates were 20.8 and 38.7 percent, respectively, but now they’ve dipped to 14.8 and 38.6 percent while his ground ball rate has spiked from 40.4 percent to 46.6. Translation for the mathematically-impaired: batters don’t hit the ball too good anymore off Cole this year.
Lastly, keep in mind Hamels’ history: April and May have been his worst two months. During those two months, his ERA is 4.19. In the last four months, that figure drops to 3.51.
Jake Peavy, SP CHW
For once, you cannot pin Peavy’s troubles on an injury or the World Baseball Classic (don’t get me started on that. I devoted a report to that such thing, but I digress…). His fastball is still consistently in the mid-90s and all of his pitches still have late, biting movement. It was expected to see a bump in some of his numbers given the change from pitching against NL lineups in cavernous PETCO Park to facing AL lineups in the launching pad that is U.S. Cellular Field. But this much of a bump?
A 6.31 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, 9.1 H/9, 5.3 BB/9 and a 7.8 K/9? And this is including his May 3 outing against Kansas City. Ouch.
So what gives? Right now, Peavy is going through the exact opposite of what Hamels is experiencing now. For his career, Peavy has a GB-pct of 41.5 while his LD-pct and FB-pct scores check in at 19.7 and 38.7, respectively. This year, though, that first figure has dropped to 31.5 while the other two have risen to 26.1 and 42.4, respectively. Add in the fact hitters are making contact on 83.9 percent of their swings against him (career: 75.5), and you’ve got the recipe for a very frustrated pitcher…and fantasy owner.
Now, this is Jake Peavy I’m talking about, so I would never think about suggesting cutting him. But odds are that your league has at least one person who is attracted to big names like goats are to shiny objects. Your job is to find that person and convince him to hand over a good and a really good player for Peavy, promising that you know he’ll turn it around soon…even though his body of work suggests otherwise.
Adam Lind, OF/DH TOR
“Gone with the Lind” would be a perfect title explaining the absense of Adam’s power. A year ago, he was hitting .315/.400/.533 with 12 extra-base hits and 20 RBIs. Now, it’s just 10 XBH, 14 RBIs, his OBP is down 70 points and his slugging has slid 93 points.
After a little digging, I’ve come up with two key factors in his decline. The first being everyone who is batting in front of him. Toronto posted a .333 OBP last year, seventh-best in the AL, but now the Blue Jays are dead last with a .303 OBP. It’s a lot easier for pitchers to do their job when they don’t have to worry about bothersome baserunners. In turn, they’re able to make Lind expand his strike zone, as evidenced by his strikeout rate soaring from 18.7 percent to 29 percent. This is happening because Lind is swinging at more pitches outside the zone (24.9 to 26.3) and fewer pitches inside the zone (64.8 to 61.8). Any hitting coach worth his calloused hands would tell you that’s a recipe for failure.
Again, what is one to do? For once, it’s difficult to tell. Lind doesn’t have too much of a track record to make any sound predictions, so it’s more of a crap shoot than it usually is. Right now, just do some simple matchup observations. If Lind does well against most of the pitchers in the upcoming week, start him; if not, sit him.
And, if you’re like me, find a nice, secluded spot somewhere that you can bang your head into the wall knowing you could have picked Andre Ethier instead.