Author Archive

Half Season Heroes: Taylor Rogers

I’m bending the rules a bit to include Taylor Rogers in our Half Season Heroes series. He spent all of 2018 in the Twins’ bullpen, appearing in 72 games and tossing 68.1 innings. However, he wasn’t really the same pitcher he was in August that he was in April. Rogers did not start throwing a slider until May 31, and two-and-a-half months later, his curveball went from good to nearly unhittable. While Rogers was still a work in progress around the time of the All-Star break, fairly early on in the second half, he had transformed into a dominant reliever — arguably the most dominant reliever in the majors. It’s this version of the lefty who will be the focus of this column.
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Breakout Breakdown: Mallex Smith

In the first significant trade of the offseason, the Rays sent Mallex Smith and outfield prospect Jake Fraley to the Mariners for Mike Zunino, Guillermo Heredia and minor-league lefty Michael Plassmeyer on Thursday. Smith was a key part of the Rays’ surprising 90-win season, and in finishing as the 15th-ranked outfielder in Roto value (per ESPN’s Player Rater), he was a revelation for fantasy owners as well.

As is the case for many breakout players, Smith’s rise had much to do with playing time. 2018 was his first full season in the majors, and Kevin Cash penciled his name into the starting lineup 127 times. An increased role was not the whole story, as the 25-year-old did improve his skill set in a couple of important ways. Smith became a better contact hitter, which enabled him to reduce his strikeout rate from 22.1 percent over his first two seasons to 18.0 percent in 2018. That, along with a .301 batting average on ground balls, helped Smith to bat a career-high .296 overall.
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Breakout Breakdown: Jaime Barria

Next Monday, a new AL Rookie of the Year will be crowned, and it won’t be Jaime Barria. Though he made 26 starts in his first major league season, giving the Angels 129.1 innings of much-needed solid pitching, Barria did not grab many headlines. He made only moderate waves in fantasy circles. In CBS leagues, which tend to run deep, Barria’s ownership and activation rates peaked in early September, when he was rostered in 55 percent of leagues and started in 36 percent.

Even though the Angels’ righty finished with 10 wins and a 3.41 ERA, he ranked just 73rd among starting pitchers in Roto value (per ESPN’s Player Rater). Barria’s ERA was slimmed down by an 82.1 percent strand rate and .271 BABIP, so fantasy owners can’t be blamed for thinking he was not truly a top-75 starter. Pitchers with an 18.3 percent strikeout rate tend to not draw much interest in fantasy, and Barria did not overcome his relative lack of Ks with an avoidance of walks or homers. His walk rate was 8.8 percent, and he finished with a 1.18 HR/9. Suspicions about Barria’s value were validated by SIERA, FIP and xFIP, all of which exceeded 4.50.
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Why We Missed: Jose Peraza

Even though Jose Peraza had only a little more than a full season’s worth of major league playing time entering 2018, it seemed fair to think we had a strong grasp of what kind of hitter he was. In his major and minor league past, he had been an aggressive hitter with good contact skills but with little power. Speed was his top tool coming up as a prospect, but in his first full season in the majors in 2017, Peraza merely tied for 17th in the stolen base rankings with 23 and tied for 40th in infield hits with 16. It was easy to see why he was often ignored until after the first 200 players were picked on draft day.
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Walk-Rate Breakouts Have Become (Almost) Non-Existent

Among starting pitchers who finished in the top 20 in Roto value this season, few were further under the radar on draft day than Blake Snell and Mike Clevinger were. Though Snell was the fourth-most productive starter in terms of Roto value (according to ESPN’s Player Rater) and Clevinger ranked 17th, neither were among the top 190 players in ADP in NFBC or ESPN drafts.

In addition to a surge in their totals of innings pitched, both Snell and Clevinger experienced surprisingly strong improvements in their walk rates. Free passes were a weakness for both of them in 2017, but this season, Snell trimmed his walk rate from 10.8 percent to 9.1 percent, and Clevinger lowered his from 12.0 percent to 8.3 percent. Both pitchers were already proficient at getting strikeouts and had done a fair job of avoiding homers. With even stronger skill sets heading into 2019, fantasy owners could see Snell and Clevinger as particularly appealing options in a pitching pool defined by uncertainty and risk.

But should we?
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Breakout Breakdown: Nathan Eovaldi

By the end of this weekend, we may have seen our last innings of baseball for this season, but we will almost certainly get at least one more chance to watch Nathan Eovaldi. (I am personally just rooting for more baseball.) He has grabbed the spotlight this postseason, excelling in a pair of starts and in three relief appearances in which he set up for Craig Kimbrel. If needed, Eovaldi could be used as the bridge to Kimbrel again in Game 3, but if not, then we may see him as the Red Sox’s Game 4 starter.

It’s not only for the potential of postseason heroics that it’s worth taking one last peek at Eovaldi in 2018. It’s been a breakout season for the 28-year-old, though his 6-7 record and 3.81 ERA would suggest otherwise. In his first season back from his second Tommy John surgery, Eovaldi was better than ever in just about every regard aside from ground ball and home run rates and ERA, and the latter was inflated by a 67.3 percent strand rate. His walk (4.4 percent), swinging strike (10.7 percent) and O-Swing (33.9 percent) rates were all career bests, and his 22.2 percent strikeout rate was nearly four percentage points better than his previous high water mark (18.5 percent in 2016).

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Breakout Breakdown: Jeremy Jeffress

An extraordinarily deep and effective bullpen was a key part of the Brewers’ run to the NLCS and coming within a win of going to the World Series. While they got just 20.1 innings from their starting pitchers in their series against the Dodgers, Josh Hader and Corey Knebel each tossed at least seven innings apiece, allowing a combined one run between them.

Jeremy Jeffress was as much a part of that vaunted bullpen throughout the regular season, but he faltered in both the NLCS and the NLDS against the Rockies. Despite collecting 11 strikeouts in eight postseason innings, Jeffress allowed six runs on 16 hits (including two home runs) and four walks.
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Looking Ahead at the 2019 Fantasy Reliever Landscape

As a fantasy community, we liked Kenley Jansen and Craig Kimbrel a lot more than all of the other projected closers on draft day this year. Jansen and Kimbrel lapped the field of relievers in Roto value (per ESPN’s Player Rater) in 2017, and owners typically rewarded them with one of the first 50 overall picks. Aroldis Chapman, Corey Knebel and the most popular of the remaining relievers had to wait a bit longer to get their names called (or clicked on).
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Breakout Breakdown: Walker Buehler

In a postseason where David Price, Clayton Kershaw and Luis Severino have hit some snags, it’s hard not to be impressed by the recent showings of Walker Buehler. In his first-ever postseason appearance against the Braves on Oct. 7, the 24-year-old rebounded from a five-run second inning to toss three perfect frames.

On Monday night, Buehler was outdueled by Jhoulys Chacin, but he cruised through his first five innings, allowing a run on two hits with eight strikeouts. While the Brewers padded their lead in the sixth and seventh innings, the two-run homer by Orlando Arcia that doubled their advantage to 4-0 had a hit probability of just 22 percent, according to Baseball Savant.
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Al Melchior’s 2018 Tout Wars Team Review: The Pitchers

In my previous column, I looked at what went right and what went wrong (mostly wrong) with my team in the Tout Wars mixed auction league in regard to the five hitting categories. This time, I am turning my attention to my team’s performance in the pitching categories. With a fourth-place finish in these categories, it’s a less painful exercise than the last one, but not much separated my team from the two teams tied for eighth place. I was nowhere close to Tim Heaney’s league-leading 68 points, so this account of my pitching staff will include some cautionary tales.
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