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Alex Wood Will Try to Bounce Back With the Dodgers

When Alex Wood reached an agreement with the Dodgers on a one-year, $4 million contract on Sunday, it didn’t quite get the attention of, say, Gerrit Cole’s megadeal with the Yankees. The Dodgers are bringing the 29-year-old lefty back after a one-year hiatus in Cincinnati to compete for the fifth spot in the rotation, so it shouldn’t have been a headline-grabbing move. Yet it has only been three years since Wood was one of the biggest stories in fantasy, ranking as a top 10 starting pitcher despite totaling 152.1 innings. After having missed much of 2016 with an elbow impingement, Wood went 16-3 with a 2.72 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and a 24.6 percent strikeout rate.

If 2019 hadn’t happened, this would have been a much more celebrated move, but as it turns out, 2019 did happen. Wood developed back issues in spring training, and he did not make his debut with the Reds until July 28. He started off decently enough, allowing two runs in each of his first two starts, but then he went on to roll off a string of four starts that produced 18 runs (16 earned) in 18.1 innings. He rebounded with a quality start against the Marlins, though all three runs he allowed were solo homers, giving him a total of 11 allowed in 35.2 innings. After that start, Wood’s back stiffened up again, and he would not take another turn in the Reds’ rotation. He finished with only one win and a 5.80 ERA.
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Edwin Encarnación and Kole Calhoun Bring Similar Profiles to New Teams

Edwin Encarnación had been overshadowed by bigger-name free agents throughout the Hot Stove season, but he had the Christmas Day headlines all to himself. That’s when reports emerged of the 36-year-old slugger reaching an agreement with the White Sox on a one-year, $12 million contract with a 2021 team option. There had not been much buzz over the market for Encarnación, possibly because he will turn 37 in January and his main appeal is as a designated hitter. Perhaps he also received less attention because of missing the vast majority of the final two months of the 2019 season due to a fractured right wrist and a strained left oblique.

Despite missing a substantial chunk of the season, Encarnación smashed 34 home runs. This was two more than he hit for the Indians in 2018, and his .287 ISO was his highest ever. Encarnación wasn’t hitting the ball harder — his 94.4 mph exit velocity on flyballs and line drives (EV FB/LD) was within 0.2 mph of his averages from 2017 and 2018 — but he was hitting it a lot higher. His 22.5 degree average launch angle was more than four degrees higher than any of his previous averages during the Statcast era, and his 50.6 percent flyball rate was a career high.
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Maikel Franco Just May Have More Fantasy Value as a Royal

My first reaction to Maikel Franco agreeing to sign a one-year, $2.95 million deal with the Royals was one of slight disappointment. After four years of being roughly league-average or worse, I did not have high expectations for Franco going into 2020, but in leaving one of the majors’ best home run parks for right-handed hitters for one of the worst, my expectations got even lower.

Then in looking over Franco’s stats as a Phillie, something occurred to me. He has an incredibly similar profile to another third baseman who has been a much better home run hitter than Franco has been in recent years. While Franco has averaged 22.5 at-bats for every home run going back to 2016, this other third baseman has needed only 16.3 at-bats per homer over the same period. Here is how these two third basemen have stacked up for each of the last four seasons.

2016-2019 Trends for Two Third Basemen
Player Season K% BABIP FB% IFFB% EV FB/LD (mph) FB Pull%
Player A 2016 16.8% 0.271 35.5% 17.1% 94.2 31.8%
Player A 2017 15.2% 0.234 36.7% 16.3% 93.6 28.6%
Player A 2018 13.3% 0.270 33.7% 19.0% 91.8 35.7%
Player A 2019 14.3% 0.236 40.2% 24.1% 93.4 30.8%
Player B 2016 11.5% 0.214 39.6% 11.1% 95.4 30.6%
Player B 2017 15.7% 0.263 45.7% 16.0% 92.3 30.5%
Player B 2018 16.2% 0.259 46.3% 19.2% 92.9 35.2%
Player B 2019 16.8% 0.250 45.3% 13.5% 93.8 28.6%
EV FB/LD data are from Baseball Savant.

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Tim Anderson: He’s Not Just for Stolen Bases Anymore

The hot stove season is a time of discovery. In responding to the news of trades and signings, and in doing research to prepare our annual preseason rankings, we learn things that we missed during the regular season.

After the Rays traded Tommy Pham to the Padres earlier this month, I wrote about how Pham mysteriously started hitting grounders with less authority one-third of the way into the season. (Also, thank you to commenters randplaty and zwibi, who pointed out that Pham was playing through hand and elbow injuries over several weeks late in the season.) Of 130 hitters who saw at least 1,500 pitches and hit at least 100 ground balls in both 2018 and 2019, Pham experienced the sixth-largest year-to-year decline in average exit velocity on grounders (EV GB), and that was even with his decline not beginning until two months into the season.
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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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