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Could Saves in the White Sox’s Bullpen Be Up for Grabs?

Alex Colomé was solid as the White Sox’s closer in 2019, going wire-to-wire in that role. He blew only three of his 33 save opportunities, but because he was short on strikeouts (55 in 61 innings) and had a merely good ERA (2.80) and WHIP (1.07), Colomé finished just 17th among relievers in 5×5 Roto value. Based on ADPs in NFBC drafts so far, that seems to be roughly where fantasy owners expect him to slot in among relievers in 2020. Colomé’s ADP of 160.0 places him 14th among relievers, so if anything, his 2019 performance has fantasy owners expecting a slightly better standing this season.

Many of us are likely to have some trepidation about any closer outside of the top six or so, meaning that Colomé’s ADP is not a sign of fantasy owners’ overwhelming confidence in him. Nonetheless, he is typically getting drafted ahead of Emilio Pagán, Brandon Workman, Hansel Robles, José Leclerc and Archie Bradley, so he is getting some respect. Also, no other White Sox reliever is getting drafted within the top 500 picks overall, as Aaron Bummer’s 586.6 ADP is the next closest. Colomé has engendered enough confidence that he is not viewed like Pagán, whose ADP is only 100 points higher than that of teammate Nick Anderson, or Mark Melancon, who is getting drafted 92 picks on average later than Will Smith, even though he is slated to be the Braves’ closer.
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We Are Ignoring J.A. Happ At Our Own Risk

If there was any mystery about J.A. Happ’s status with the Yankees, it got resolved on Thursday, when general manager Brian Cashman announced that the 37-year-old would begin the 2020 season as the team’s fifth starter, as reported by the YES Network. The lefty has elicited a yawn in early NFBC drafts, as his 474 ADP has him well outside the top 150 pitchers. Maybe the previous lack of clarity around his role has played some role in the low level of interest, but given the dropoff in his productivity from 2018, this news probably won’t move the needle much on Happ’s ADP. That means, at best, that Happ won’t be viewed as anything more than a reserve round pick in 15-team mixed leagues.

It was a mere two seasons ago that Happ was a top 20 starter in terms of Roto value (and a top 25 pitcher overall), sporting a 17-6 record, 3.65 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 193 strikeouts in 177.2 innings. It was Happ’s fourth straight season with an ERA in the 3.00s. That performance is being heavily discounted as we head into the 2020 season, largely due to Happ’s ERA soaring to 4.91 in 2019. The fact that he is now in his late-30s amplifies last season’s slide. Also, while Cashman has ensured us of Happ’s place in the starting rotation for the start of the season, he would seem to be at risk of losing it once Domingo Germán has completed serving his 81-game suspension for his violation of Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy in early June. He could also face competition from Jordan Montgomery, Jonathan Loaisiga and prospect Deivi Garcia, among others.
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Should We Be Avoiding the Cardinals’ Closer Situation?

This past weekend was an eventful one for the Cardinals’ bullpen. At the team’s Winter Warmup, president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said that Carlos Martínez was ahead of schedule in his return from offseason shoulder surgery, giving momentum to his push to become a starter again. Martínez was slated to begin his road back with a bullpen session on Tuesday, and barring a change in plans, bullpen roles are now up for grabs. Once Jordan Hicks was shelved by a torn UCL and subsequent Tommy John surgery last summer, Martínez took over as closer. He secured 22 of the Cardinals’ 30 saves after Hicks’ season had come to an end.

There was also news regarding Hicks. He is currently tossing on flat ground two or three times a week and could return by the middle of the season. While it seems unlikely that Mike Shildt would put Hicks immediately back in the closer’s role, it does complicate our calculus for determining who (if anyone) we should target from the Cardinals for saves in this year’s drafts. Even if there was a clear successor to Martínez as the team’s closer, that reliever could conceivably get pulled from the role if Hicks made a sufficiently early and strong return.
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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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