Author Archive

Jackie Bradley and Batting Order

The star of yesterday’s Rays-Red Sox day game was Hanley Ramirez, whose fifth-inning grand slam erased a three-run deficit en route to an 8-6 victory for the Red Sox. Batting ninth in the order, Jackie Bradley was out of the spotlight, but his performance was likely more important to the team’s playoff aspirations given his recent struggles and history of streakiness. Bradley was on third base for Ramirez’s grand slam following a leadoff hit in the fifth inning. He added his own home run to extend the team’s lead to 6-4 in the sixth inning. And he added the team’s final run with a double to right field in the eighth inning. It was Bradley’s first three-hit game since July.

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Mookie Betts and RBI Rates

Following the five home runs he hit in the last three Red Sox games entering Wednesday, Mookie Betts has quickly joined the AL MVP race. Mike Trout, Josh Donaldson, Jose Altuve, and Betts are the only four hitters in baseball with at least 6.0 WAR so far this season. That race may come down to contextual factors beyond his control, such as whether the Red Sox makes the playoffs, but however it unfolds, Betts has an even stronger chance of landing the fantasy MVP, ignoring draft positions. His combination of 28 home runs and 18 stolen bases is so rare in today’s game. Trout and Wil Myers are the only other players threatening the 30-20 club, and they’re both five home runs short of Betts at the moment.

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Steven Wright Should Float On Ok

On Tuesday night, Steven Wright was roughed up for nine hits and eight earned runs in 4.2 innings against the Tigers. Amazingly, he remains seventh among qualified starters in the AL with a 3.12 ERA, but there seems to be this constant fear that Wright could become a bad pitcher at any moment. Given his lack of track record before this season, I think some apprehension is justifiable. However, my perception is that the greater part of the mistrust of Wright’s performance to date is tied to his being a knuckleballer, which I believe makes people think these sorts of blow-up performances are all but guaranteed when he loses the feel for his most important pitch.

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Hanging Pitches

Wade Miley hasn’t been a fantasy-relevant pitcher this season with his 5.36 ERA, but his performance on Tuesday night against the White Sox piqued my interest nonetheless. He wasn’t particularly good in the start, allowing three runs with just four strikeouts and three walks over 6.1 innings. However, Miley was just two pitches away from preventing the White Sox from scoring at all.

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Steven Matz Is Different But Still Effective

Steven Matz was effective in all six of his starts in 2015, striking out at least six batters in four of those outings and limiting opposing offenses to three or fewer runs in all six of them. However, Matz didn’t show the world the excellent pitcher he would become until his penultimate start of 2015 on September 8 against the cross-town rival New York Yankees. That was the start when he threw his first major league slider, and it helped him limit the Yankees to one run over six innings and then strike out eight Cincinnati Reds six days later to close out his season.

That new pitch has become an important part of Matz’s repertoire in 2016. Over his first 11 starts this season, Matz threw his slider on 12.7 percent of his pitches, a similar ratio to his other off-speed pitches, a curveball (13.0 percent) and a changeup (11.1 percent). However, four starts ago, Matz cut back heavily on his slider usage, and prior to his pushed-back-a-day June 30 start, we likely learned why. Matz felt tightness in his elbow after his previous start, and an MRI revealed that he had developed bone spurs in his pitching elbow.

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Quality of Pitchers Faced

Over the years, I’ve made several attempts to adjust both hitter and pitcher performance statistics based on the quality of their opposition, but I’ve never settled on a method that I really like. Those failures will not stop me from trying. In this attempt, I’ve opted to use a plus/minus approach similar to those used in modern defensive statistics like Defensive Runs Saved. Here’s how it works in this case. Whenever a batter records a hit, I am giving him credit of 1.0 hits minus the batting average allowed this season by the pitcher he is facing. So if that hit comes against Clayton Kershaw, that’s 1.0 minus 0.185 or 0.815 hits over what that pitcher would be expected to allow in a typical at-bat. If instead that hit comes against Alfredo Simon, that’s 1.0 minus 0.348 or just 0.652 hits. Meanwhile, if the batter fails to get a hit, he receives 0.0 minus the pitcher’s batting average allowed, which would be -0.185 hits against Kershaw and -0.348 hits against Simon.

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Trevor Bauer and Critical Strikes

Trevor Bauer’s performance in 2016 has not jumped off the page, but after nine starts and a handful of relief appearances, he is enjoying a career best 3.69 ERA and 3.70 FIP. His strikeout rate has declined somewhat from 8.7 to 7.9 per nine innings, but his walk rate has declined more significantly from 4.0 to 3.0 per nine and is palatable for fantasy owners for the first time. If this is what Bauer is now, then he can finally be a fantasy asset, even if not quite in the form that many expected from him when he struck out more than a batter per inning in the upper levels of the Diamondbacks’ farm system.

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A Clayton Kershaw Thought Experiment

Clayton Kershaw is ridiculously good. You know this. I know this. There is not much to say about him for fantasy owners other than you should start him every time in every format. But perhaps because I hit my dog days of summer two months early this season, I wanted to write an article about Kershaw to wrap my head around just how good he has been.

For the purposes of this article, I am going to rely on a stat called Game Score, which Bill James came up with to compare starts to one another. You can look up exactly how Game Score is calculated here. Unless you are in a format that rewards pitchers for getting outs, Game Score is not a perfect proxy for the fantasy value of a start, but it does reward pitchers for strikeouts and penalize them for earned runs, hits, and walks, all of which play into the standard rotisserie categories. Meanwhile, Game Score is a convenient way to place one number on a start that reflects its quality.

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The Positional Scarcity Sea Change

From the day I started playing fantasy baseball, I have placed a premium on players eligible at shortstop because all of the analysis I read and performed myself suggested that the replacement level at shortstop was less productive than the replacement level at other positions. Even in the shortstop boom of the late 90s that featured exceptional fantasy shortstops like Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter, and Barry Larkin, the cliff to non-productive replacement options happened much sooner at shortstop than other positions.

Over the last two seasons, we have entered another shortstop boom as elite prospects like Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor have made their way to the majors. You can check out the Last 365 Days split on the leaderboards to get a taste of their fantasy potential. Over that time frame, Correa has 29 home runs and 22 steals. Lindor has 15 and 21. Xander Bogaerts has hit .335 with 14 steals, and he has projectable power growth ahead of him. Even though players like Mike Trout and Paul Goldschmidt have been projected to have better fantasy statistics, I was prepared to thrust the likes of Correa and Lindor to their rankings neighborhood because I believed that positional scarcity would bridge the gap in their production. I no longer believe that is true.

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Stolen Base Opportunities

Stolen bases require a combination of runner speed, aggressiveness, and opportunity, but all too often, we assign all of the credit or blame to runners who either increase or decrease their stolen base totals to their speed. A month and a half into the season, it’s common for runners to be well off of their stolen base pace from last season even if they have not experienced a change in their speed or willingness to steal bases. Before I make any alterations to my expectations for players, I like to take an alternative look at basestealer effectiveness based on their opportunities.

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