Mixing Fantasy & Reality: Strasburg Dumps His Slider & More by Jeff Zimmerman December 12, 2016 Stephen Strasburg plans on decreasing his slider usage. The impact on his fantasy value could be huge. First the facts. The stated reason for the change is to stay healthier. Stephen Strasburg added a new slider to his repertoire this past season, and while the pitch was devastatingly effective, it may have led to the elbow injury that ended the Nationals right-hander’s season prematurely and forced him to miss the postseason. Strasburg, who left the mound on Sept. 7 with what would later be diagnosed as a slight tear in his right pronator tendon and weakness in his flexor mass, believes the issue developed during the season in part because he became too reliant on the slider. After it was virtually not used at all previously, the slider became Strasburg’s second-most-used pitch in 2016 (behind his fastball). While the exact medical implications won’t be known for a while, Strasburg knows his body the best and any move to stay healthy is good news. Now the impact on dropping his slider may point to him being less productive, but I will bet against it. Using my per pitch ERA grades (pERA), here are Strasburg’s values per pitch ERA and percentages from the past 3 seasons. Strasburg’s Pitch Usage and pERA Values Usage pERA Season FB% SL% CB% CH% FB SL CB CH Overall 2014 61% 1% 17% 21% 4.53 3.39 1.25 0.62 3.24 2015 63% 1% 22% 14% 4.29 3.48 0.84 1.22 3.24 2016 57% 17% 13% 13% 4.14 3.50 0.53 1.06 3.20 Strasburg’s slider is by far his worst breaking ball. Even though had a 11.3% swinging strike rate (SwStr%), that value was way below the league average (14.4%). When the low swing-and-miss capability is combined with no groundball nature, the pitched is expendable. Strasburg’s overall pERA has hovered right around 3.20 even when he hasn’t thrown his slider, so not much change might be expected. But his fastball value has improved. I took his 2015 usage along with the 2016 pERA grades, Strasburg’s pERA drops to 2.99. While not a huge improvement, it is is decent for a top 10 pitcher. Better health. Better results. Buy while others may be looking away. Notes • The Reds have too many middle infielders and Bryan Price explains how he will divvy out the playing time. “The one thing we were able to define last season is that Jose Peraza is a Major Leaguer,” Price said. “He’s not a guy that, in my opinion, is better served playing Triple-A.” Peraza is primarily a shortstop, but he can play second base, left field and center field. Price and Williams have envisioned scenarios where Peraza gets starts at different spots at least four times a week. … “I think what we have to do is get to Spring Training and see where we are,” Price said. “There is no question this is a picture that’s painting itself. If we come fully intact, we’re going to be heavy on middle infielders and we’re going to have two real young guys and two veterans, and defining who is going to be a part of 2018, ’19, ’20 and ’21 is going to in large part define who is playing in 2017. And that’s something that organizationally will be defined by the time we get to Opening Day.” In a shallow league, I want nothing to do with this situation to start the season. Even though I expect Peraza to eventually have a full-time job , it is tough to gauge when the transition will happen. I could see Peraza get a little too much preseason love and owners overpay for just three to four weekly starts. I would start to target him in trades after two months. The owner needs to be frustrated, but also it needs to be far enough from the trade deadline when Cozart or Philips may be moved. • John Jaso is learning to play third base this offseason. Jaso said he was approached about the idea of playing third base and outfield by the Pirates, who are seeking additional options at third base given Jung Ho Kang’s legal issues and uncertain status for the start of the season. Josh Bell appears to be locked in at first base with Neal Huntington saying Thursday the club plans to “hold” Andrew McCutchen. Jaso looks like he could be worth a late flyer in deep bench or NL-only league to eventually get some playing time. • The Mets think they can fix Travis d’Arnaud by building up his confidence. The idea is that if d’Arnaud can improve defensively, it will allow him to focus more fully on the offensive struggles that have consumed him. The 37th overall pick in the 2007 Draft, d’Arnaud has hit only .245 as a big leaguer. But he has shown flashes of excellence, most notably swatting eight home runs over his final 42 games in 2015. “If I had to be honest, I would say that much of his lack of performance [last year] was a loss of confidence,” Alderson said. “And loss of confidence can come from a variety of sources. I think injury has to do with it, and then the interruption of playing time. Getting off to a poor start can have an impact. There are a lot of different things that can lead to it. It’s not just one thing. I just think it was a general loss of confidence that was reflected in his offense. It was reflected in his defense. And I think that’s something that can be restored.” d’Arnaud had one big issue and I don’t think it is his confidence. He raised his 2014-2015 ground ball rate from around 40% to 52% last season. The reason for the jump isn’t clear and could be injury related. The change killed his power potential even though his Hard% (29% to 32%) and corrected exit velocity increased (831.1 mph to 85.9 mph). His ISO (.218 to .076) and batted ball distance (201 ft to 187 ft) dropped. Besides hitting the ball like a slap hitter, his hitting performance was unchanged. I am monitoring his groundball tenancies to start the season to see if his power swing returns. • David Phelps fantasy value just got hammered as the promising starter will begin the season in the Marlins’ bullpen according to manager Don Mattingly. Q. Do you have a preference with Phelps, keep him in the back end or rotation? DON MATTINGLY: We feel like he can affect more games out of the pen. He gives us — I don’t want to say poor man’s, but an Andrew Miller type. He’s a guy that can close a game out for you, he can pitch in the eighth, multiple innings. When we put him in the rotation, he was able to give quality innings there. With the way we are, with the loss of Jose and where our rotation is and where we’re at, we feel like David is going to best serve us out of the pen. That could still change, injuries, anything that happens. But his flexibility and durability, what he was able to show last year, we thought was best suited for us in the pen. There goes one of my starting pitcher sleepers. • David Wright is penciled in as the Mets starting third baseman except when he isn’t. Mets general manager Sandy Alderson did not hesitate Monday when asked about the identity of his third baseman heading into next season. “David Wright,” Alderson said simply, as if anything regarding Wright these days were simple. The injuries still exist. The goal is for Wright to report to Spring Training in peak shape, though no one knows exactly what form that will take for a 34-year-old who has appeared in 75 games the last two seasons. In addition to his recovery from neck surgery, Wright is still managing a spinal stenosis condition that will affect him for the rest of his career — and that he has largely ignored since landing on the operating table. And the stipulations also exist. “I think he’s committed to be as good as he can possibly be, but I think he also recognizes he needs to modify his training program to ensure that he can be available as often as possible,” Alderson said. “I think he’s realistic about what he needs to do and how he’s going to keep himself in shape. The question is how that translates into performance and his ability to stay on the field.” I see no positives in owning Wright this season. While any value will be surplus since he has none right now, ignore the heartburn and pick up a healthy, everyday player instead. • The Reds closer will be some combination of Raisel Iglesias, Tony Cingrani, and Michael Lorenzen. “I’d say right now that we have a series of guys that I’m comfortable with in the ninth inning and that would include (Raisel) Iglesias, (Tony) Cingrani and (Michael Lorenzen),” Reds manager Bryan Price said Saturday at RedsFest. “Should we stay with this format – which I intend to do – all three of those guys and maybe more could have opportunities in save situations. At this point in time, there’s no defined closer. There are multiple options and I’d like to stick with the philosophy that we’re going to have our multi-inning guys, so we’re going to need multi-closers.” My money is on Iglesias ending up with the role. • Jake Lamb will not be platooned as much against lefties next season. While Jake Lamb may have sat against left-handers a bunch last year, he’ll likely get more playing time against them this year. “I think we are going to look for the primary third baseman to be him at this point in time,” Lovullo said. “We want to have guys established in one spot at one point in time. He’s an everyday player and we know some of the limitations that he had over the past year against left-handed pitching, but we are going to address those needs. And that’s something we are going to do as a coaching staff. We want to work and teach and make Jake an everyday player. We are not looking to platoon at this point.” More plate appearances for Lamb means more counting stats, but his AVG will likely drop since those extra chances will come against lefties.