Author Archive

Should We Assume Strikeout Underachievers Will Bounce Back?

For the last couple of seasons, I have been waiting for a Tyler Anderson breakout. Over the course of 2017 and 2018, he induced whiffs on 11.9 percent of his pitches, which is good for the 21st-highest SwStr% among the 91 pitchers who have thrown at least 250 innings over that span. As I seemingly write in every other column, it is well established that SwStr% is strongly correlated with strikeout rate, yet Anderson’s 22.3 percent K% from the last two years ranks just 41st out of those same 91 pitchers.

The reason for Anderson’s apparent underachievement is clear: he doesn’t get many called strikes. The Rockies’ lefty throws a lot of pitches in the strike zone, and he gets swings on those pitches at an unusually high rate. That helps his swinging strike rate, but the flipside is that he has frozen batters at a subpar 16.5 percent rate over his career.
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The Closer Landscape Continues to Shift

Over the last several weeks, I have been writing about the closer picture for teams who are unlikely to contend, but are likely to deal an incumbent closer before the trade deadline. While this year’s Hot Stove season has generally moved slowly, there have been a number of moves and announcements involving relievers lately, so I’m taking the opportunity to update some of the situations I have written about recently. I am also tossing in a couple of closer conundrums from teams that I have yet to address this offseason (including one from a clear contender). Both situations are already starting to vex owners getting ready for drafts.
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Using Flyball Launch Angle to Spot Risers and Fallers

In the aftermath of last Thursday’s trade that sent J.T. Realmuto from the Marlins to the Phillies, I’m started to look into how much of a hit Jorge Alfaro’s fantasy value would take going from Citizens Bank Park to Marlins Park.

The exercise turned out to be a convoluted mess. Ultimately, it led to a finding that could prove useful in identifying players who are due for spikes or dips in their power numbers.
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Fantasy Relievers on Non-Contenders: Blue Jays

The Blue Jays have the highest projected win total (77) of any team I am writing about in this series, but it’s fair to say they will be non-contenders in the AL East. Their biggest moves have been to sign Matt Shoemaker and Freddy Galvis and to trade for Clayton Richard, and they haven’t been linked to any deals for impact players. As currently constituted, they don’t appear to have either the offense or pitching to keep up with the Red Sox, Yankees and Rays.
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Fantasy Relievers on Non-Contenders: Tigers

In this series, I have focused on pitchers who are likely to close for teams that project to be sellers at the deadline, as well as the potential replacement closers for when said pitchers get traded. For most teams, that has meant taking a look at a total of four or five relievers. In the case of the Tigers, there are really only two relievers who matter: Shane Greene and Joe Jimenez. Ron Gardenhire has named Greene as his closer, With Alex Wilson gone, Jimenez remains as the only viable closer-in-waiting, and it’s no secret that he is being groomed to be the Tigers’ next closer.
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Fantasy Relievers on Non-Contenders: Rangers

Earlier this offseason, it appeared as if Jose Leclerc might get traded rather than be a part of a rebuilding Rangers squad. Then new manager Chris Woodward was reportedly thinking of using his incumbent closer in a variety of relief roles. Now we know that Leclerc isn’t going anywhere — not to another team and not to another role — as Woodward named him as the team’s closer.

If the Rangers fall out of contention as expected, teams will certainly be calling about Leclerc. Also, while Leclerc was one of the best relievers in the majors last season, he is only two years removed from an astronomical 20.0 percent walk rate. As great as Leclerc was in 2018, it is still worth our while to venture out further into the bullpen to see who might have value in 2019.
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Will Becoming a Dodger Change A.J. Pollock?

A.J. Pollock is going to be a tough player to project for this season. For the purposes of forecasting, we like our hitters to have consistent skill sets, and when healthy, Pollock had been that sort of player. In 2018, he made several changes, though they were ones we have seen many hitters make in recent years. For his swan song with the Diamondbacks, Pollock hit more flyballs and became pull-heavier. He also became much more aggressive, increasing his Swing% from 42.3 percent to a career-high 48.1 percent. This, in combination, with a higher whiff rate, gave Pollock his highest-ever strikeout rate (21.7 percent) and lowest Avg (.257) for a season with at least 200 plate appearances.
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Fantasy Relievers on Non-Contenders: Padres

Initially, I was not going to include the Padres in this series about bullpens on non-contending teams. I realize that sounds ludicrous, because I don’t actually expect the Padres to hold their own against the Dodgers and Rockies. My focus on selecting teams, however, has been more about effort to contend than about the current makeup of a given roster. Still, even with their pursuit of players like Corey Kluber and Miguel Andujar and all of their emerging young talent, the team could very well be sellers at the trading deadline.

That means incumbent closer Kirby Yates could find himself pitching the latter part of the season someplace where he will have fewer opportunities for saves and fish tacos. There is a case to be made that Yates would be worth keeping around for the 2020 season when the Padres could be in a much better position to contend. However, if they wanted to trade Yates in order to fill another need or get reinforcements for the farm system, they have enough depth to provide a replacement closer and still have quality relievers for other roles.
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Fantasy Relievers on Non-Contenders: Royals

The Royals’ closer situation is distinctly different from those of the teams already previewed in this series on bullpens for likely non-contenders. The Marlins and Diamondbacks will almost certainly be auditioning relievers for various roles — including closer — in spring training. Will Smith figures to be the Giants’ opening day closer if he sticks around, but it seem likely he will get dealt. The same goes for the Orioles and Mychal Givens, and if they don’t trade their incumbent closer this spring, it could easily happen at some point during the season.

Wily Peralta would appear to be the Royals’ equivalent of Givens. He took over as the team’s closer shortly after Kelvin Herrera was traded to the Nationals in last June, and he converted all 14 of his save chances. But whereas Givens’ most likely path to losing his job is getting traded to a team that uses him in a different role, Peralta could get ousted as closer without leaving Kansas City. While he throws hard and, at least in 2018, got a lot of weak ground ball contact, there is little else in Peralta’s skill set that suggests he can be a consistently effective closer.
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Who Will Follow Dallas Keuchel’s Lightly Traveled Path?

As we anticipate Dallas Keuchel finding a new home this offseason, we should probably be wondering more about where he will be locating his sinker in 2019 than where his moving van is headed.

Sinker location has been key to Keuchel’s success, and his mostly-consistent five-year run has been nearly unique this decade. When he shaved more than two runs off his ERA from 2013 to 2014, Keuchel had a dramatic breakout that may have been most notable for what didn’t change. He didn’t throw substantially harder. He wasn’t notably better at throwing strikes or getting whiffs, chases or freezes. Keuchel did induce more grounders, but his biggest improvement came in his avoidance of hard contact. His rate dropped from 29.3 percent to 19.7 percent, and in the four seasons that followed, Keuchel continued to demonstrate that skill — as long as his sinker was down and away from righties.
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