Author Archive

Scott Spratt’s 10 Bold Predictions for 2017

I’m barely getting these up before the start of the season, but given my track record with bold predictions, you probably shouldn’t listen to me anyway.

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Non-Closers Who Could Keep the Job If They Got It

No term annoys a sabermetrically-inclined fantasy player more than Proven Closer. As far as baseball has come in the last decade, I still won’t feel confident that Shawn Kelley, for example, will be given an opportunity to close until the ball is in his hands in his first ninth inning this season. That said, I think the casual rebuttal of Anyone Can Close misses the mark in the opposite direction. Any reliever might perform well in high-leverage situations, but a traditional closer faces an extra challenge that most setup men do not: he has to regularly face batters from both sides of the plate.

For most pitchers, it is more difficult to get opposite-handed hitters out than same-handed hitters. Since 2010, relievers who have faced at least 100 batters from both sides of the plate have averaged a platoon split of 44 points of wOBA, and that sample is biased toward relievers teams are comfortable using against batters from both sides. Many relievers, and not just LOOGYs, rarely face hitters on the opposite side of the plate because of the challenge.

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The Starters Who Do Not Want a Raised Strike Zone (Hint: It’s Pretty Much All of Them)

At the MLB owners meetings earlier this week, the competition committee agreed on a motion to raise the bottom of the strike zone from the hollow below the knee cap to the top of the hitter’s knees. That change isn’t a done deal for 2017—or at all—but it is an interesting idea for an attempt to cut down increasing strikeout totals in baseball. The ESPN Stats and Info tweet in that previous link shows the marked increase of called strikes in the lower third of the zone in recent seasons, a trend no doubt influenced by teams’ recent dedication to pitch-framing catchers.

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Drew Smyly’s Situation Hasn’t Really Improved

After a flurry of recent moves, the Mariners ended Wednesday with starter Drew Smyly as a new member of their rotation. Smyly has long been one of my favorite unheralded pitchers in the game, primarily because of his strikeout and walk rates, which Dave Cameron explained had him on the short list of baseball’s best starters in recent seasons.

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Trust Mark Melancon

Even though relief pitching dominated the narrative of both the 2015 and 2016 postseasons, and even though Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen made his contract look looked relatively tame inside of two weeks, I still couldn’t believe that Mark Melancon got a four-year, $62 million contract. Prior to that deal, the two biggest reliever contracts were four years and $50 million for Jonathan Papelbon and five years for $47 million for B.J. Ryan, two contracts their respective teams no doubt came to regret.

Melancon himself has been healthy and productive in his four seasons with the Pirates. He has thrown at least 71 innings every season with ERAs between 1.39 and 2.23 each year. However, he has achieved that success because of beneficial contextual factors and excellent command—he has walked between 1.0 and 1.6 batters per season in those four seasons—with good but not exceptional strikeout ability. He struck out 8.2 batters per nine in 2016 and has done the same for his career. That is only the 60th best rate among the 85 relievers who threw 60 or more innings last season, and Melancon’s 91.8 mph fastball does not hint at any untapped strikeout potential. Chapman and Jansen each struck out more than 13 batters per nine in 2016.

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Odubel Herrera Isn’t Joey Votto, But That’s Ok

Remember when Odubel Herrera had the third most walks in baseball this season? Jeff Sullivan wrote about it in late April. Herrera was a Rule 4 draft pick who immediately became a 4-win player in his rookie season for the Phillies in 2015. As such, he quickly dropped in the mental space I have that holds players like Jose Bautista and J.D. Martinez who changed something after already becoming major leaguers and became dramatically different players. And so maybe it was possible that Herrera could become the next Joey Votto. I just didn’t know how to project those late bloomers.

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Nolan Arenado Is a Homebody

Nolan Arenado didn’t have many flaws in 2015. He played in 157 games, hit 42 home runs, struck out just 16.5 percent of his plate appearances, and carried a .287 batting average that was supported by a sustainable .284 BABIP. But this season, Arenado still found a way to make a major improvement. He nearly doubled his walk rate from 5.1 percent to 9.8 percent, which increased his on-base percentage by 41 points and runs total by 19 without making much of an impact on any of the rest of his statistics. He was the No. 1 fantasy third baseman this year, and we project him to be the No. 2 fantasy third baseman next season.

When a player is that productive, there typically isn’t much else that needs to be said for fantasy purposes. Still, I’m always fascinated by the elite Rockies players because of their extreme ballpark, and Arenado has followed the same path that players like Larry Walker and Troy Tulowitzki blazed before him.

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The Good and Bad of Sandy Leon

It was a very strange year at catcher. The top of the end of season catcher rankings don’t look too unusual with Jonathan Lucroy and Buster Posey at the top, but those full-season numbers do not capture the amazing impact three catchers who become starters midseason had. Gary Sanchez’s prospect star had faded a bit in recent seasons, but that reflected defensive doubts. Most scouts agreed that Sanchez would hit if he could field his position. Willson Contreras had become the top catching prospect, and he immediately delivered on that promise with the Cubs.

Sandy Leon was completely different. Leon made his debut with the Nationals all the way back in 2012, and Wilson Ramos was not the only reason Leon never played regularly before this season. In his 235 plate appearances from 2012-15, Leon slashed an abysmal .187/.258/.225. His .223 wOBA over that period made him roughly equivalent at the plate to Mike Leake. This season, Leon was tied with Lucroy for the third-highest wOBA of .362. He was nearly identical to Contreras in both plate appearances and production.

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Reviewing Scott Spratt’s 10 Bold Predictions for 2016

Did my bold predictions crash and burn again? Yes. But did they actually lead to some good fantasy advice this time? Possibly!

Previous bold predictions reviews: 2015, 2014

 

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Seven Theories for the Home Run Surge Tested

Last Friday, September 9, baseball saw its 4,910th home run of the season hit, passing the total number hit in all of 2015. If you’re reading this, then you’ve probably known about the spike in home run rates since mid-2015 for a while now. I started to pay close attention to the trend when I read the first of Rob Arthur’s and Ben Lindbergh’s articles on FiveThirtyEight (one, two, and three) that posited that a juiced baseball could be responsible for the change. That was more than five months ago, and the trend has not slowed down since then.

In fantasy, the increase in power is particularly important because it undermines the value of hitters whose elite home run totals no longer stand out to the same extent. With still almost three weeks left in the season, 91 hitters have already reached 20 or more home runs. That’s the most players at that benchmark in a season since 2008. If this power surge continues, then the Khris Davises and Chris Carters of the world will lose a lot of value. Why reach for them when Brad Miller has 28 home runs and Marcus Semien has 24 home runs? Suddenly, speed is the scarce resource.

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