Author Archive

Rick Porcello and Tanner Roark Find New Innings Buffets

Rick Porcello and Tanner Roark are both leaving the Winter Meetings with new teams, as Porcello agreed to a one-year, $10 million deal with the Mets and Roark will provide much-needed innings for the Blue Jays on a two-year, $24 million deal. Neither pitcher has had an ERA below 4.00 in any of the last three seasons, but both pitchers have been remarkably durable and largely reliable as innings eaters.

Porcello, of course, has a 2016 American League Cy Young Award on his résumé. While he has not pitched close to that level since, ample run support and regular turns in the Red Sox’s rotation have helped him to win 31 games over the last two seasons. In 2018, he went 17-7 with a 4.28 ERA, and that was good enough for Porcello to rank 41st among starting pitchers in 5×5 Roto value. With the Mets, he will hold down the fourth or fifth spot in the rotation, depending on whether they trade one of their other starters in the wake of adding both Porcello and Michael Wacha during the Winter Meetings.
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Michael Wacha Starts Anew With the Mets

The Mets signed Michael Wacha to a one-year, $3 million deal with $7 million worth of incentives on Wednesday afternoon, and he ostensibly fills the rotation vacancy left by Zack Wheeler, albeit as their fifth starter. Wacha has exceeded 170 innings only once in his seven-year career, and his 2019 season was discouraging, featuring a 4.76 ERA and a couple of demotions to the Cardinals’ bullpen. On the plus side, he recorded a 3.20 ERA in an injury-shortened 2018 season, and at 28 years old, he could still have several good seasons ahead of him.

Wacha’s fantasy appeal has never been about strikeouts, but he has authored four seasons with a sub-3.50 ERA. In each of those years, he has had low HR/9 ratios and BABIPs, both of which were frequently aided by soft contact rates. Pitching at Busch Stadium helped as well. Over his first six seasons, Wacha had a 3.54 ERA and an 0.7 HR/9 at home,, but a 4.02 ERA and a 1.0 HR/9 on the road. This past season, he was better at home yet again, but neither set of splits was very good. Wacha was abysmal on the road with a 5.30 ERA, and he gave up more than two home runs for every nine innings. At home, his ERA was superficially respectable at 4.07, but he needed to strand 81.7 percent of his baserunners to keep it that low, as hitters collectively put up a .278/.338/.481 slash line against him.
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Tommy Pham’s Value May Dip, But Not Because He’s a Padre

The Rays agreed to trade Tommy Pham, along with two-way prospect Jake Cronenworth, to the Padres for Hunter Renfroe and middle infield prospect Xavier Edwards on Thursday night, but this isn’t exactly a trade impact piece. I don’t see the deal having much of an impact on the fantasy value of any of the players involved, or at least not enough of an impact that the changes of scenery are likely to affect my 2020 rankings.

In sizing up how the trade might affect Pham’s fantasy value, I noticed something odd in his month-by-month trends from 2019. He had never recorded a BABIP below .333 in any of his four previous seasons, and through the end of May, Pham had a .346 BABIP that looked quite normal for him. Then, all of a sudden, he stopped BABIPing. Pham’s rates for the next three months were .288. ,265 and .303, though he did rebound for a .338 BABIP in September. His .299 BABIP over those four months combined is normal for most hitters but unusually low for him.
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Three Non-Tendered Players Who Could Bounce Back in 2020

A total of 53 players were non-tendered prior to Monday night’s deadline, and a number of fantasy-relevant players were included in that group. Domingo Santana and C.J. Cron fit that description, and if they can successfully come back from injury, so may Steven Souza Jr., Taijuan Walker and Aaron Sanchez.

What is less clear is whether Blake Treinen, José Peraza and Kevin Gausman can still be called fantasy-relevant. They certainly were as recently as 2018, but each of them fell so far in 2019 that they failed to make the top 500 in ADP in the 2 Early Mocks. Yet, upon closer examination, all three have the potential to have comeback seasons in 2020. Even though they may not get much attention in fantasy circles this offseason, I’ll make the case as to why each is deserving of a spot on your late-round flier or watch list.

Blake Treinen

In 2019, Treinen lost all of the gains he made in his strikeout and swinging strike rates in 2018, and he even lost his long-held knack for getting grounders. This combination led to the escalation of Treinen’s ERA from 0.78 to 4.91 and to him losing the Athletics’ closer role to Liam Hendriks. The loss of whiffs is likely related to a decrease in average sinker velocity from 98.0 to 96.7 mph, as well as a drop in average sinker spin rate form 2371 to 2250 rpm. He was generally locating his pitches higher (see below), which would explain his middling ground ball rate (42.8 percent) and HR/9 ratio (1.38).
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The Case Against Walker Buehler as a Top Five Starter

The results from the Pitcher List Experts Mocks are in, and the consensus is that Walker Buehler will be a top five starting pitcher in 2020. He was the fifth starter taken in two of the three leagues and was the third starter taken in the third league. This coincides with the results of the 2 Early Mocks, in which Buehler emerged with the fifth-highest ADP among starting pitchers.

I don’t get it.
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Heading in Opposite Directions: J.D. Martinez and Jorge Soler

For each of the previous installments of this series, where I have compared the 2019 seasons of two players on different trajectories who achieved similar Roto value, I have run a poll. The assumption behind the polls is that the two players could be similarly valued for 2020. I’ve used the polls to get a pulse on which player would be viewed as the better fantasy performer — the one on the upswing or the one who just had a “down” year?

In comparing Jorge Soler and J.D. Martinez, whose 5×5 Roto values were separated by one-tenth of a dollar, there is no mystery as to which player will be targeted earlier on draft day. In the #2EarlyMocks, Martinez ranked seventh among outfielders with an 18.6 ADP, while Soler ranked 30th with a 97.3 ADP. In the recently-completed Pitcher List Experts Mock that I participated in, Martinez was the 20th player chosen overall, and Soler stayed on the board until the 73rd pick. Soler may have slightly outearned Martinez this year, but the Red Sox outfielder/DH has had success for so much longer that it is not at all surprising that fantasy owners would not view them as equivalent.
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How Early Should Will Smith Be Drafted in 2020?

The Braves continued the upgrading of their bullpen, which they began at this year’s trade deadline, by signing Will Smith on Thursday. In inking the lefty to a three-year, $40 million deal with a fourth-year team option, they added a reliever who struck out 96 batters over 65.1 innings and recorded 34 saves for the Giants in 2019. Smith’s ex-teammate (and now new teammate), Mark Melancon, was effective as the Braves’ closer down the stretch this season, but I was probably not alone in assuming that Smith would go into spring training as the team’s new closer.
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Which Hitters Changed their O-Swing% the Most in 2019?

A hitter doesn’t have to be selective in order to produce, but it certainly helps. Alex Bregman, Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, George Springer, Marcus Semien and Anthony Rendon were all among the top 10 percent of qualified hitters in terms of O-Swing% this season. In other words, they were among the choosiest hitters, swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone at exceedingly low rates.

Eddie Rosario, Tim Anderson, Javier Báez, Jeff McNeil, Nicholas Castellanos, Eduardo Escobar and Rafael Devers were in the bottom 10 percent for O-Swing%, proving that you can still be valuable in fantasy (and in real, actual baseball) without having even decent plate discipline. Some members of this group are simply good bad-ball hitters. Rosario, McNeil, Escobar and Devers were well above average at making contact with out-of-zone pitches. McNeil also made relatively high-quality contact on those offerings, posting an xwOBA (.314) that was 16 points above the average on out-of-zone pitches for hitters who saw at least 1,000 pitches this season.
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Heading in Opposite Directions: Manny Machado and Marcus Semien

If, at this time a year ago, I had told you that between Manny Machado and Marcus Semien, one was going to finish sixth among shortstop-eligible players in 5×5 Roto value and one was going to finish 16th, there would have been no question about which player was going to rank where. But all of us (except for the most prescient) would have been wrong. Semien trailed only Alex Bregman, Trevor Story, Xander Bogaerts, Ketel Marte and Jonathan Villar, while Machado — who played in all but six of the Padres’ games — amassed less value than either Elvis Andrus or Amed Rosario.
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Are There Chronic wOBA Over- and Under-Performers?

You know the third base pool is loaded at the top when there are three players at the position who returned more value than Alex Bregman did in 2019 5×5 Roto leagues. Yet, on draft day 2020, owners are likely to at least consider making the Astros’ 25-year-old the first third baseman taken, ahead of Rafael Devers, Anthony Rendon and Nolan Arenado. To this point, in the currently-under-way Pitcher List Experts Mocks, Bregman is the only third base-eligible player to be taken within the first 14 picks in all three drafts.

It’s not hard to see why. This season, he maintained his elite contact and plate discipline skills while tacking on 10 home runs, nine RBIs and 17 runs to his 2018 totals. In 2020, he would appear to be primed for another batting average around .290, and with a spot in the heart of the Astros’ order, he could clear the hurdles of 110-plus RBIs and runs yet again.
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