How badly did you all want Bartolo to throw a perfect game last Sunday? How good would it have been for baseball if he had twirled that gem against the defending World Champs? The answer? Very good. It would have been most excellent if Big Sexy had done that, but alas, we can’t have nice things this season. Like good weather. Or no injuries to our top draft picks. Or literally a temperature above freezing at first pitch. But I digress…
Baseball is in full swing. The Red Sox will probably never lose again, Ronald Acuna is off to a cold start causing aggressive owners to freak out, and I’m back with another edition of Bridges of Fantasy County. I’m reprising last week’s format of naming three rising stocks and three falling stocks. Let me know how you feel about these guys. Are you buying the risers? Are you selling the fallers? Or perhaps your exhibiting patience until the weather becomes acceptable for human consumption? Let me hear it!
Here’s this week’s risers and fallers in fantasy baseball:
Photo By Editosaurus [CC0], from Wikimedia Commons
Asdrubal Cabrera (2B, NYM) – What a start it has been for the wily veteran! After being a total afterthought in most leagues around draft day, Cabrera is now up to 86% ownership on ESPN and has seen a 30% increase in said ownership over the last two weeks. He has compiled a stat line of 16 R/4 HR/9 RBI/.343 as of Friday afternoon and finds himself among the main offensive catalysts for the surprisingly hot New York Mets. He’s also compiled a triple slash of .343/.377/.600 from his perch atop the lineup, but the main question is what can we expect moving forward? Well, let’s take a deeper dive into his stats.
I’ll try to not be SO negative here, but I will say right off the bat that it doesn’t look especially promising for this production to continue. First of all, the BABIP of .357 should easily stand out as a red flag especially when his career mark is closer to .300. Basically, the track record and all we know about BABIP means that’s headed down at some point this year.
And if you’re an adopter of xStats, then you may or may not have heard the term “BACON” or “xBACON” thrown around. Note: if you have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s a great guide. Basically, BACON=BABIP but with HR factored in. That’s the oversimplified, not completely accurate, quick description of it. Anyways, Cabrera’s xBACON is cruising about 50 points higher than what it should be. As is his slugging percentage. And speaking of that elevated numbers, it is worth noting that he isn’t anywhere near the top of the league when it comes to exit velocity or barrels per plate appearance. Those indicators of legitimate power mean he’s probably in over his head with a slugging percentage of .600…which…we kind of already knew that.
Continuing on the xStats train, Cabrera has a quandary when it comes to his VH% (value hits per plate appearance) and PH% (poor hits per plate appearance). It just flat out doesn’t make sense to me. On one hand, Cabrera has a near-elite VH%, which is great and indicates that much of his production is earned and legitimate. However, the PH% is in the very poor area of the scale, which could indicate that the production ISN’T legit and the bottom could fall out any day. So, who’s the real Cabrera?!
All in all, there’s plenty of metrics that say enjoy it while it lasts…but it simply won’t last. xStats says his rest of season projected triple slash will be .261/.317/.435, and I think that checks out. It won’t kill you, but there’s some cooling off ahead. It’s a nice start for Cabrera, but I would most definitely be looking to sell high if possible.
Sean Manaea (P, OAK) – Hey, look! It’s a pitcher! I know what you’ve all been saying to yourself: when is Jake finally going to give us some pitcher analysis up in this joint?! The answer is now. Now. Let’s start with Sean Manaea.
The A’s hurler has seen his ownership go up to 79% on ESPN leagues thanks to his terrific line of 2-2/1.63 ERA/0.72 WHIP/20 K/27.2 IP. And for my quality start friends, make that3 QS in 4 outings. Wins vs. QS aside, you can probably see from that line that he’s not racking up a tremendous amount of strikeouts with just a 6.51 K/9, but it’s encouraging to see his BB/9 down to 1.30 from the 3.12 mark a season ago. That’s called improvement.
Another sign that the 26-year-old hurler could be legitimately improving is the growth of his fastball. Last year, he had an unsightly pVal of -3.6 with the pitch, and that has rocketed towards positivity as he now has a 5.2 pVal on that same pitch. The changeup wanted in on the action too as he’s gone from a -2.5 in 2017 to a 0.8 pVal in 2018. He’s also been leaning more on that fastball as the usage is up from a year ago as well.
Now, for the bad news. Unfortunately, there are signs pointing to squalls ahead. For starters, be THE WARIEST of that 4.08 FIP and 3.74 xFIP. Those aren’t horrific numbers, but they certainly do indicate some luck and leveling out in the future. Also, there are no major changes in his flyball, groundball, or hard contact numbers, which could indicate that he’s just outpitching the peripherals at the moment. Also, the BABIP is sitting at a cool .169, which is far lower than anything he’s posted before.
Those indicators could be cause for concern, sure, but I’m choosing to take the high road here and be biased towards the positive signs. In fact, xStats seems to think that he’s actually performed pretty close to where he should be so far, and take note of the PH% of 25 so far on the year. Take a look at this mini-chart to see what xStats says about his triple slash:
Not too bad! My verdict is this: don’t freak out if he gets lit in his next outing against Boston. While there are a few factors pointing towards slight regression, there seem to be some legitimate adjustments being made here. He’s never going to rack up the strikeouts, but he’s becoming a very useful, season-long option.
Jed Lowrie (2B/SS, OAK) – It’s basically Oakland A’s corner over here today. Don’t hate me because they’re good right now. Or at least fantasy relevant. Anyways, there’s been very little Jed Lowrie hasn’t been able to do so far this season as he’s put up a surprising stat-line of 11 R/6 HR/21 RBI/.346. Those 21 RBI are good enough to lead the American League so far in the young season and are actually 4 more than the next closest guy. I’m digging this unsustainable triple slash of .346/.404/.605, and all I can say is ‘when you’re hot, you’re hot.’ And Lowrie is the spiciest right now. But What Lies Beneath???….starring Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer? “Your wife!” Was that THAT movie, or am I thinking of another one? Anyways…
There are a few obvious signs of regression here. First, Lowrie is 34, we have lots of data on him, and we know he won’t end the season leading the AL in RBI. If he does, then TEST THAT PEE! Also, the BABIP is up in the stratosphere at a .373 mark when his career average sits around .296. Peep the .259 ISO when the career mark is at .149 as well. I think it’s safe to say it’s all coming up roses for Jed so far.
Moving past those indicators, we should also take note of his Aaron Judge-like 41% hard contact rate. Obviously, it’s a big jump up for him, and when you combine that with his 93% contact rate on balls inside the zone, you can conclude one thing: when he’s getting meatballs in the zone, he’s beating the tar out of them. And to continue that point, did you know that Lowrie actually has a higher rate of barrels per plate appearance than Mike Trout, Giancarlo Stanton, and Rhys Hoskins? Again, that will not hold, but he’s certainly looking the part of a slugger in the early goings.
Now, let’s talk xStats. For one, the numbers back up the BABIP and ISO points I made earlier confirming that he’s getting slightly lucky so far. His xBACON is almost 100 points lower than his actual BACON at the moment, and his VH% of just 7.9% indicate he’s right around league average in high-quality hits. That also doesn’t make me think he’ll continue to lead the AL in RBI.
So what’s the verdict? Well, much like Cabrera, there’s a track record here that makes it easy to call for regression. How large or small remains to be seen. Unlike Cabrera, however, there are some indicators saying this is somewhat legitimate in the early goings. He’s making good contact on the pitches he should be, and he’s doing damage to them as well. He’s definitely an add in most leagues at this point, but I would be selling where I could.
By Minda Haas on Flickr (Original version)UCinternational (Crop) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Domingo Santana (OF, MIL) – It’s been a rough start for the Brewers’ outfielder as he has a line of 4 R/0 HR/3 RBI/.222 as of Friday afternoon. His ownership has plummeted to about 74% after being drafted within the first 10-12 rounds this past winter. Sure, we knew there may be a playing time question coming into the season, but I don’t think anyone thought Santana would force himself to the bench once Ryan Braun got healthy. So, how bad is it for the 2017 breakout?
Let’s start by conveniently tossing out his .340 BABIP because nothing makes sense and there is no God. Now that’s out of the way, we look at the paltry walk rate that’s fallen to 7% from the impressive 12% mark from a year ago. His hard-hit rate has also fallen off to 31% after challenging the 40% threshold each of the last two seasons. Two more red flags pop up when you notice that his pull percentage and groundball rate are both up almost 10% from last year. That could indicate he is pressing and trying to muscle some power into pitches right now.
There’s more bad news where that came from too! xStats says he’s earned these struggles as his xBACON says the actual number should be even worse than it is. And xBA says the average shouldn’t be .222. It should actually be .211. That’s like telling Eeyore his parents are dead. Also, his VH% is at a paltry 2.6%, which is not only terrible, but it’s worse than the “just ok” 7% he’s posted each of the last two years. To add insult to injury, the PH% is at 14%, which means…wait for it…yep, he’s struggling.
I want to believe that Santana will emerge from this a better man. I want to believe that the breakout guy from last year isn’t gone forever, but there are so many signs saying he’s just plain stinky right now. And, because he is fighting for playing time, my outlook has to be gloomy until those factors change.
Marcus Stroman (P, TOR) – This one pains me to write and not only because ‘Stro is just 2 inches taller than me. Even though he was a Top 25 SP coming into this season on many a draft board, his struggles have resulted in him now being just 81% owned in ESPN leagues. The first thing I have to say about that is BUY, BUY BUY. The second thing I have to say is I’m surprised there were more than a few people willing to cut bait at this point in the season. Here’s a great article from Baseball Prospectus that should make you feel ridiculous for doing so. Let’s get down to stats.
There’s no denying the unsightliness of Stroman’s 0-1/7.98 ERA/1.91 WHIP/16 K/14.2 IP line so far this year. It just stinks. However, the lazy man’s analysis merely points to the 3.86 FIP and 3.70 xFIP, calls him unlucky and publishes the article. Done and done. But we don’t take the easy way out here at The Turf! Let’s dive deeper!
Ok, found it. 6 walks per 9 so far. YIKES! That is gross. Ok, so that’s obviously a major problem in his first four starts. Just walking guys like it’s going out of style. It is encouraging that he’s pairing that with a 9.82 K/9 and getting you strikeouts, but bad control and tons of Ks is what we drafted Robbie Ray for…not Stroman! When you pair a 22% strikeout rate with a 14% walk rate, it’s not going to inspire a lot of confidence. That walk rate is double the 7.4% from a year ago by the way. And while we’re on the subject of that walk rate, Stroman’s swing percentage against has gone down which basically means hitters are thinking…when you’re facing unhittable trash out of the zone, why swing?
So now that we’ve established there are major control issues, let’s look at the stats on balls actually in play. The BABIP is an unsightly .378 at the moment, and the BACON is at .391. Both of those seem like they scream for regression, but not so fast as xStats says the xBacon is .345. So he hasn’t been THAT unlucky this year. In fact, he’s giving up tons of hard contact with a 45% mark on the year so far. That’s a big jump from the 31% he has danced around the last two seasons. Basically, hitters are simply getting more balls in play off him, and when they do, they’re getting all of the pitch. And the rise in all those metrics has resulted in pVal crashes for both his fastball and slider. The fastball has gone from 2017’s 7.2 to a mere -0.7 while the slider has fallen even farther going from last year’s 10.9 to today’s -1.2. You’re killing us ‘Stro.
So where do we go from here? Well, despite all the negative factors, I’m still buying. Or practicing patience at least. I’m not willing to say this is the new Stroman and throw in the towel. In fact, I scooped him up from anxious owners who dumped him in two different leagues this week. Also, keep in mind he’s pitched at home (Rogers Centre) against the Yankees, at the Rangers (hitter’s park), and most recently against a Cleveland team that suddenly woke up. It’s been a tough couple of matchups. Patience. It’s April.
Chris Archer (P, TB) – ALL the pitchers today! Unlike the other fallers on this list, Archer has maintained his 96% ownership through his struggles. Not sure why people are clinging to him and not Stroman, but what do I know? Archer has a Stroman-like line of 1-1/7.84 ERA/1.69 WHIP/24 K/20.2 IP so far, but unlike Stroman, his FIP (4.75) and xFIP (3.86) aren’t exactly encouraging. Neither is the xStats version of that number, which focuses on a pitcher’s individual batted balls rather than league average, known as bbFIP. This number is a ghastly 5.29. That would qualify for the “Poor” category of that metric. Sure, you can say he will regress positively towards career numbers, but will he? I’m not so sure. Let’s find out more.
One positive here is that the strikeouts have stayed consistent. The double-digit K/9 he’s famously maintained throughout his career is still intact, but the walk rate has climbed almost a full walk per inning to a 4 BB/9. Also, the left-on-base percentage sits at 55%, which tells us…well…he’s not leaving the guys on base. They’re getting hits and scoring. Upticks in contact percentage on balls in the zone as well as HR/FB rate further confirm that. And I don’t think we can chalk it up to being that unlucky either. In fact, xStats says his triple slash should be .274/.347/.488 with a .375 xBACON to boot. That’s a good line if you’re a hitter…not good if you’re a pitcher. xStats further buries him by listing his VH% at a very bad 9.4%, which means opponents are getting elite levels of quality hits against him. Oof.
As for his repertoire, his experiencing similar struggles to Stroman with his fastball and slider. The fastball has fallen to a -6.4 pVal this season, and he has lost a tick on the pitch’s velocity as well. The slider has dipped even more dramatically as he’s gone from 17 a season ago in pVal to just -0.1 this season. Strangely, he has shown an uptick in that pitch’s usage. Maybe he’s just in denial that the pitch isn’t effective? Who knows. All in all, I am more worried about Archer than Stroman. Archer’s stats point to this possibly being the new normal, which means there could be quite a tax to pay on all those strikeouts. I’m not selling until he strings together a few good outings and recoups some value, but I’m not hopeful that string will come this season.
Thanks for reading, and follow me on Twitter @jakebridges03!