What a week of baseball! Christian Yelich can’t stop hitting bombs and every stud pitcher is getting blown up expect my beloved Trevor Bauer and last year’s heartthrob Luis Castillo. Link. deGrom and Snell went down with injuries this week, Scherzer, Cole, Sale, Nola, get blown up; it’s crazy! This is why streaming pitchers like Jordan Lyles and Caleb Smith are so important. In some instances, they are outperforming the aces. Let’s look at some solid options for Week 4.
Luke Weaver (SP – ARI) 17% owned @PIT Tuesday 4/23
I’m not really sure why Luke Weaver is owned in only 17% of leagues. I have a feeling his ownership jumps over 25% by the end of next week. He totaled 17 strikeouts in his last two outings and was touching 97 MPH in his last start. His K-BB% is 21.6% which is tied for 20th among qualified starters. This matchup is nice as the Pirates who just lost Starling Marte in a scary collision on Friday night. He has since been placed on the IL, the lineup is essentially a Triple-A lineup with Josh Bell as the team’s best hitter. As a team, the Pirates are ranked 23rd in the league in wOBA (.290) and have hit just 13 homers on the young season, good (bad) for second-lowest total in the bigs. Easy Stream here.
Pablo Lopez (SP – MIA), 4% owned @CLE, Tuesday 4/23
Lopez is a well-kept secret but the word is about to get out. His 5.85 ERA is a mirage thanks to a .386 BABIP and a 61.1% strand rate. His 23% K-BB% is actually better than our boy Weaver above and his velocity is up over one MPH this year. He gets Cleveland who receives a much-needed boost with the return on Lindor but doesn’t move the needle enough for me given the current 27% strikeout rate the Indians have as a team. My only concern is how deep he will go. He’s only averaging five innings per start, so a quality start might be tough to get. I still think he’s in for more than a strikeout per inning and solid ratios. Stream
Jordan Lyles (SP – PIT), 25% owned Home vs ARI, Wednesday 4/24
Lyles is right on the cusp of going over my 25% ownership cap. Why? Well, he’s rocking a 0.83 ERA with a 0.88 WHIP in 17 innings. Look, he’s not this good, not even close but a PNC is great pitchers park. However, the Diamondbacks have been better than advertised offensively and Lyles is due for some regression. The DBacks have already hit 32 homers and have a .339 wOBA as a team. Lyles struggles against lefties and the DBacks have some solid lefty bats (Peralta, Marte, Escobar) along with hot-hitting righty Christian Walker to handle Lyles. I’m going to pass on this start for Lyles, besides, he hurt his hand in his last outing, so I think this is where regression sets in. Stay Away.
Martin Perez (SP – MIN), 1% owned at home vs BAL, Friday 4/26
A home start against the Orioles at home is a nearly ideal situation for Perez. He’s essentially a new pitcher because he no longer is a soft-tosser averaging near 95 MPH which has skyrocketed his swinging strike rate and K%. In his start on Saturday, he wasn’t great but got the win thanks to an offensive explosion. The Orioles are deploying Chris Davis almost every day, which should tell you how poor their lineup is. Perez should be good for at least five to six strikeouts in this one (maybe 3 from C Davis) and a good chance at a win. Stream
Jered Eickhoff (SP – PHI), 2% Owned at home vs MIA, Friday 4/26
Eickhoff has been called up with the move to send Pivetta down to the Minors and he gets the Marlins at home next week. Look, Eickoff missed most of 2018 with injuries and hasn’t been good since 2016 but he seems to have a better pitch mix. His fastball is not good and he’s throwing it a lot less than in 2017. Getting the Marlins at home should help keep his ratios in check. The Phillies offense should put up plenty of run support against Jose Urena. I’d look to stream Eickhoff in 14-team leagues and deeper. Stream lightly here
Jake Odorizzi (SP – MIN), 10% owned Home vs BAL, Sunday 4/28
I already bashed the Orioles in the Perez blurb but can what else can we say about them? We know they strike out a lot. Would you believe me if I told you Odorizzi has a 14.3% swinging strike rate and has allowed just a 66.4% contact rate? That’s over 10% lower than the league average! We have to keep in mind that Odorizzi is a junkballer and can struggle to find the plate. There’s risk here but I like that this start is at home. Stream
Just before the start of the 2018 regular season, I did similar research looking at hitter’s ground out air out ratios (GO/AO). It spawned from an article Jeff Zimmerman wrote about which spring statistics have the highest correlation to the regular season. Most spring numbers don’t matter, but an increase in the percentage of balls a player is hitting in the air may signify an approach change. With an entire offseason for players to work on a change such as trying to elevate the ball more, could be important when trying to identify potential power spikes or breakouts. Last year, I wrote about Ozzie Albies, Brandon Nimmo, and Steven Duggar. So Albies was a great one and Nimmo wasn’t too bad either; I’ll take the “L” on Duggar. In addition to those three, guys like Jesus Aguilar, Kiké Hernandez, and Christian Villanueva showed up on this list; all ended up with career-highs in home runs. With a limited sample, I’m mostly looking at a minimum of 50 plate appearances and 35 balls in play for these players.
GO/AO Rates - Spring Training 2019
Est. Reg Season GB%
Some players that just missed the cut who I am keeping an eye on include Clint Frazier (OF – NYY), Scott Kingery (2B – PHI), Billy McKinney (OF – TOR), Willie Calhoun (OF – TEX), Eric Sogard (2B – TOR), and Chad Pinder (OF – OAK)
Paul Goldschmidt (1B – STL) There’s not much more we can say about Goldy because he’s still a monster at the plate. His extreme fly ball approach this spring is interesting because he has never had a GO/AO ratio below 1.00 in any season. He’s almost literally hitting everything in the air this spring. Last year was his lowest ground ball rate at 38.6% but is regularly in the mid-40s. If he carries this approach to the regular season, he has a shot at his first 40-homer campaign. He might take a hit in batting average but an upside of .270-40-110 looks pretty nice.
Juan Soto (OF – WAS) Well, this could be scary. At age-19 Soto had shown power to all fields but carried a low fly ball rate at 28.8% in 2018. This spring, It’s only been 59 plate appearances, but based on Jeff Zimmerman’s table from last year, that pegs Soto between a 43% and 44% ground ball rate. That’s potentially significant because his ground ball rate was all the way up at 53.7% last year. Now, his line drive rate was relatively low at 17.5%, so I’d expect to see that jump up to 20-22% given his profile. That would still leave a nice 5% bump in fly balls for Soto. The question remains, can he maintain a lofty HR/FB rate which was an impressive 24.7% in 2018?
Soto hits the majority of his fly balls to the opposite field. He was able to maintain a 19.6% HR/FB on those fly balls the other way which ranked seventh in all of baseball last year. Here are the names ahead of him: Aaron Judge, Jesus Aguilar, Khris Davis, J.D. Martinez, Giancarlo Stanton, and the aforementioned Paul Goldschmidt. I would say, that list depicts power hitters to a “T.” Soto’s 47.8% hard contact on those balls backs up the high home run rate to the opposite field. I was skeptical coming into the season about Soto due to a high HR/FB rate and elevated BABIP ticketed for regression (which I still believe), but I’m coming around on his power. I’m a little disappointed that I missed out on shares of Soto this year but I still think top 30 overall is just too pricey.
Jose Abreu (1B – CHW) Is Abreu changing his approach? He’s given us a pretty good sample and he’s walked just once this spring and stuck out 12 times putting the ball in play a total of 51 times. He’s never been a patient hitter and it looks like he’s elevating the ball more as well with four homers and nine extra-base hits. Referencing Zimmerman’s data, Abreu would carry an approximate 42% GB rate compared to a career 45.6% GB%. Abreu is a notorious slow starter so it’ll be interesting to see if he can buck that trend this year with more fly balls. I’ll be watching Abreu early this year because he had some rough injuries in the second half last year curbing his production. If he can have a solid April, he could end up back around the top 30 overall with some nice value.
Brandon Nimmo (OF – NYM) Nimmo once again shows up on this list. After a 0.87 GO/AO ratio last spring, he ended up right around his career rate in the regular season of 1.35. Even with a similar GO/AO ratio, he managed a career-best 17 homers. This spring, Nimmo has really gone to the extreme hitting nearly everything in the air. The data says he should decrease his fly ball rate by nearly seven percent this year compared to last season. His power numbers aren’t off the charts with just two homers and six extra-base hits but he’s cut his strikeout rate and is hitting a solid .291. After a 2018 breakout of sorts with 53 extra base hits, it seems like Nimmo is making even more of an effort to elevate the ball this spring. I worry a little about his batting average given his patience and contact rates, but given his approach this spring we may be looking at 20-25 homers this year from Nimmo.
Manuel Margot (OF – SD) Margot is once again putting balls in the air his spring. This approach has not worked out for him thus far in the majors and it resulted in just a 5.5% HR/FB rate in 2018. There’s hope here because while he improved his hard contact and decreased his soft contact last year, his home run rate was nearly cut in half. He was middle of the pack in terms of line drive/fly ball exit velocity last year, so there’s positive regression coming. Margot is still just 24 years old and I was invested in Margot heavily last year to my disappointment. However, Margot remains firm on putting the ball in the air this spring and it’s helped him hit .315 with three homers and eight XBH. The Padres have a crowded outfield, so Margot will need to earn his keep. I think the power should bounce back to the mid-teens given the opportunity. If he learns to be a better base stealer given his elite speed (96th percentile via BaseballSavant), there might finally be the breakout for Margot I’ve been hoping for.
Kike Hernandez (2B/SS/OF – LAD) Hernandez mashed an impressive 21 home runs in 2018. I’m not sure anyone saw that coming, mostly due to lack of playing time. Hernandez has outright won the second base job for the Dodgers to start 2019. Given the depth of the roster, Hernandez will likely sit against tough righties given his splits. That being said, he can also play the outfield and should compile over 500 plate appearances in 2019. His improved contact rates have cut his strikeout rates each of the last three seasons. He’ll need to continue those high contact rates given his fly ball approach if he wants to remain in the lineup. I see a player that’s similar to Nimmo in Hernandez but without as much speed and more batting average risk. He’s still a great utility guy to roster as he’s eligible at multiple positions.
Jorge Soler (OF – KC) Soler missed most of the season with an injury and has yet to accrue more than 405 PA or hit more than 12 homers in a single season. We know Soler has power, he mashed 24 homers in 2017 at Triple-A in just 74 games. He pulled that off with a 45% fly ball rate but it dipped to just 34% last year. If Soler can maintain his heavy fly ball approach, we might finally see the breakout we’ve been waiting for. He’s going to need to maintain an improved zone contact rate like he had last season and of course, requires a good bill of health. I’m sure he will struggle to maintain an average above .250 if he starts launching balls in the air at a 45% rate, but he went off the board after pick 300, so he’s basically free. If you’re in a 10 or 12 team league, he literally is free. He’s entering his age-27 season, so it could be now or never for Soler.
Max Schrock (2B – STL) Schrock is an off-the-radar fantasy player who will start the year at Triple-A for the Cardinals. Schrock came over to the Cardinals from the Athletics and brings a contract-first approach. He’s never shown much power and has moderate speed but has never posted a strikeout rate above 9.2% at any level. Now, at age-24, he’s starting to modify his approach putting more balls in the air. Schrock previously hit ground balls over 50% of the time and looks to be elevated more the last couple of seasons and carried it into the spring. He’s a longshot to break out as he’s blocked at the moment by Kolten Wong but might be someone to keep an eye on if an injury occurs in the St. Louis infield. If Schrock unlocks some power with his high contact approach, he might just be useful in mixed formats later in the year.
Garrett Hampson (2B/SS – COL) Hampson is currently locked into a battle for the second base job with Ryan McMahon. Both are having great springs and I smell a platoon a-brewin’. Unfortunately, the righty, Hampson would see fewer plate appearances if that is the case. Hampson has game-changing speed which is why fantasy owners are excited about him but his average to slightly below-average power could play up in Colorado. Typically, I’d expect an improvement on his power numbers from the minors but the Rockies’ minor league parks play up to power as well. Still, a jump in fly ball rate could make provide a few more home runs for Hampson over the course of the season. The range of outcomes is extremely large with Hampson. Over 600 PA, Hampson could hit 12 HR and steal 35 bases. Then again, in the short-side platoon, he may end up with a handful of HR and 15-18 SB. Given his potential approach change, I might set his HR ceiling at 15, so if you have room, go ahead and stash him if he’s on your waiver wire.
Wait I thought Kepler retired? Oh, we aren’t talking about the spacecraft that discovered thousands of planets? Hey, shut up NERD! Anyways, Kepler really underperformed in 2018 and I don’t believe he will be on many owner’s radars going into 2019 (pun intended). Sure, Kepler hit 20 homers but he hit a gross .224 with just four steals and 58 RBI. I’ll be upfront with you, I don’t think Kepler should be drafted in shallow 10-team leagues, but there is value here in deeper formats.
First off, Kepler managed just a .236 BABIP for the season, down from .276 in 2017. Part of the reason behind that is he increased his launch angle from 12.9 degrees to 16.1 degrees. The results were not pretty because while he did improve his high drive percentage (link), his popups also went up and the line drives went down. Of course, line drives are a major factor in batting average. Kepler needs to adjust in terms of batted ball profile if he is going to hit for a high average. Kepler did improve his barrel rate and exit velocity of fly balls and line drives in 2018, but I still believe he needs to take another step forward if he’s going to become a 25+ home run hitter. His pulled fly balls went down from 34% in 2017 to 24% ion 2018. Kepler’s moderate power will play up more if he can generate more pulled fly balls.
He also struggled against right-handed pitching which is odd because Kepler hits from the left side. Including last year’s poor performance against righties, Kepler has a .448 SLG and a .204 ISO against them in his career. In 2018, Kepler went .403 and .187 in terms of SLG and ISO. That’s more a function of BABIP though with a .218 BABIP against righties. I expect regression to mean against RHP in 2019.
Enough with the negatives, let’s turn this rig around! Kepler was more selective at the plate as he chased pitches outside the zone nearly four percent less (28.5% to 24.9%) resulting in a swinging strike decrease from 9.1% to 7.1%. For most of 2018, Kepler was able to cut is swings outside the zone (O-Swing) and increase contact on pitches inside the zone (Z-Contact).
Those are near elite rates. The results are encouraging because his strikeout rate dipped to a career-best 15.7% and his walk rate jumped to a career-high 11.6%! While improving his plate discipline, As I mentioned earlier, Kepler managed to increase his exit velocity and maintain above average quality contact. Kepler is on the verge of a breakout, he just needs to adjust his percentage of fly balls and yank more of the fly balls he does hit to right field.
Take a look at the graph above. Much of Kepler’s struggles after game 55 came when his fly ball rate was elevated. Kepler closed out the season poorly and was hitting everything in the air with a very low hard contact rate. He may have been harboring an injury or he was pressing. Kepler is not going to be an elite power bat but his contact rates, plate discipline, and moderate power make him an interesting late-round target, especially in OBP formats. His well above-average defense should keep him the lineup and he will turn the prime age of 26 in 2019.
I’m expecting a line around .255/.338 with 23 HR, 5 SB, 85 runs and 77 RBI.
German Marquez is going off the board inside the top 100 overall as the 25th starting pitcher selected. There’s plenty to like about the soon to be 24-year-old Marquez. Yes, some may be surprised to find out that he is so young and has nearly 400 innings under his belt at the Major League level. In a year where only 13 pitchers reached the 200 inning plateau, an all-time low, Marquez finished 16th with 196 innings pitched in 2018. His 230 strikeouts finished seventh in all of baseball, and strikeouts are sexy! His ratios were solid and his peripherals stated that he underperformed. So why isn’t Marquez a top 12 pitcher in 2019? We all know the answer to that question, Coors Field.
Let’s get down to the nitty and find out if Marquez can tame Coors Field this year. The first thing that catches my attention is the first half/second half splits.
German Marquez - 1st Half / 2nd Half
While just about everything was going wrong for Marquez in the first half, he completely pulled a 180 in the second half. The ERA estimators show that his second-half numbers were legit, in fact, he should have been even better! There doesn’t appear to be much regression one way or the other in terms of BABIP either (.310 first half, .313 second half). The league average BABIP in 2018 was just .293 and Coors typically inflates BABIP by about 20-30 points. The one concern I have with Marquez is the home run rate. He cut the home run per fly ball rate by nearly six percent while increasing hard contact against. Per BaseballSavant, other than the month of April, Marquez never had a barrel rate of under five percent in the remaining five months. Given the fact that he calls Coors home, I think the home run rate jumps up closer to 1.1 or 1.2 HR/9 for Marquez in 2019.
Flipping over to the pitch splits, prior to 2018, Marquez had already had an elite curveball. I understand that the pitch value of the curve was just 3.3 (0 being average), but check out the metrics. Marquez got batters to chase the pitch 41.2% of the time and induced swings and misses on 20.4% of the time he threw the curve. If that doesn’t excite you, how does a 54.1% strikeout rate with a .151 batting average and 23 wRC+ against sound? That’s fantastic! What Marquez added to his arsenal in 2018 was his slider. He increased the usage of the slider from 4% in 2017 to 18% in 2018. Remember the great numbers against the curve, well the slider got more swings outside the zone, more swinging strikes while being thrown in the zone more often. The results against the slider were even better. Marquez allowed just a 17 wRC+ and a .183 wOBA against. It’s safe to say that Marquez has two elite breaking pitches and he throws them nearly 40% of the time.
Now the negative. His fourseam fastball was not good last year. Marquez throws hard, 95+ mph, but batters do not seem to have issues catching up with it. Marquez was punished with a .385 wOBA and a 145 wRC+ against his fastball. The good news is, he decreased its usage in favor of his far superior breaking pitches in the second half. That’s part of what vaulted his success in the second half. What’s less known about Marquez was his fastball placement. Since the introduction of the slider, Marquez now had hitters off balance with breaking balls low in the zone. In order to counter, he needed to throw his fastball up in zone changing the eye level of the batter. In the first half, he did not do that. Take a look at the location of the fastballs while ahead in the count from the start of the season through 8/8/18.
Notice how Marquez was throwing the fastball middle-middle far too often while ahead in the count. Now let’s take a look at the fastball locations from 8/14 through the end of the season.
He elevated much more frequently! It also helps that Marquez bumped his velocity from 95 mph early in the season to nearly 97 mph in September. Throwing a 97 mph fastball up in the one has the effective velocity of around 100 mph, while his breaking balls were diving below the zone between 80 and 85 mph. That’s just unfair to the hitters. I’m a big believer in the skills of Marquez and at age 24 I’m confident he will continue to be successful. My hesitation in putting him in my top 15 overall for starters due to Coors Field. There will be the occasional blow up if his breaking balls aren’t as sharp. I also don’t believe Marquez has a first half as bad as it was in 2018. His stuff is nasty and he’s a lock for 200+ strikeouts. Coors will keep his ERA above 3.50 but Marquez is quickly turning into a power pitching workhorse. My projections for Marquez in 2019 are:
I love me some Irish Whiskey and this Jameson might be the highball I’m looking for. Can he really be an ace though? Well, based on the 2 Early Mocks run back in October, he went as the 23rd SP off the board. That’s firmly in the SP2 territory. Since then, NFBC has his ADP all the way up to 65 which means he’s somewhere between 15-20! Anyone not paying attention to the second half of 2018 might be a bit surprised about Jameson Taillon’s rank. It was more than a great second half for Taillon, here are his numbers since 6/1/18: 12 wins, 2.63 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 125 K in 133 IP. Oh, and he went at least 6 innings in 16 of those 21 starts. Taillon did introduce a slider into his pitch mix late in May which helped boost his numbers. While I expected additional strikeouts with the slider, his K rate remained unchanged. Let’s look under the hood with Taillon.
The slider yielded very good results with a 6.4 pitch value which is solid for only four months of use (pitch value is a cumulative stat and is results based). Personally, I believe the slider is much better than the pitch value indicates. The 49.8% chase rate means the slider has very good deception. However, the 13.7% swinging strike rate against the pitch is not what I’d expect given the extremely high chase rate. An elite strikeout pitch such as a slider should yield a swinging strike rate of near 20%. The slider can be a putaway pitch if he throws it for strikes less often. Here’s why; Taillon was inducing hitters to swing outside the zone half the time with a 54.9% contact rate on those pitches offered at outside the zone. Conversely, the slider had a 94.6% contact rate on in-zone pitches. That’s not good and Taillon threw nearly half of his sliders for strikes. Hitters are chasing the pitch, so let em chase, just ask Patrick Corbin.
Taillon already had a very good breaking pitch, the curveball, which is probably as good or better than the slider. In addition, and most importantly, Taillon’s fastball got better. It averages over 95 mph and produced a 10.8% swinging strike rate where league-average for the pitch is only 9%. It’s all about location. That’s how he managed a 24.7% K rate on the pitch compared to a 14.2% in 2017. Take a look at how Taillon attacked hitters with his fastball while ahead in the count.
Now that’s a thing of beauty! Almost all of the pitches are located up in the zone, that’s how he improved his strikeout rate with the fastball. The sinker, on the other hand, does not get swings and misses but got very good results. It induced ground balls over 60% of the time, so while I don’t love sinker, I think this pitch serves a purpose for Taillon and he’s obviously used it to keep hitters off balance. He tunnels all his really well which only adds to the effectiveness and deception. Taillon does occasionally throw a changeup but it’s a bad pitch, Luckily, Taillon knew that and only threw it 3% of the time during the last month of 2018. He certainly doesn’t need it and it seems like he’s phasing it out. If Taillon can continue to have four plus-pitches, he could be an absolute monster in 2019. I can see why he’s flying up draft boards.
For 2019, my projections for Taillon are 188 IP 11 Wins, 3.64 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 190 Strikeouts
For your viewing pleasure, here’s Taillon throwing his fastball, curveball, and slider. Notice how all the release points are nearly identical, great tunneling.
What to do withHarrison Bader? The Cardinals came into January of 2018 with an insane amount of depth in the outfield that included: Tommy Pham, Marcell Ozuna, Dexter Fowler, Stephen Piscotty, and Randal Grichuk. Oh and Tyler O’Neil and Bader waiting in Triple-A ready for a call at any time. So the Cardinals moved Piscotty to Oakland (a very classy move) and Grichuk to the Blue Jays. With Fowler struggling early, the Cardinals called upon Bader to fill in as the fourth outfielder. He was more than a fill-in, to say the least. In fact, per FanGraphs, he posted positive values offensively, defensively and on the base paths compiling 3.5 WAR. That ranked third among NL rookies behind only phenoms Ronald Acuna Jr. and Juan Soto, not bad(er) at all! After Pham was moved mid-season to the Rays, Bader will be given a full-time roll with the Cardinals.
In 2018, Bader hit a solid .264 with 12 homers and 15 steals in just over 425 plate appearances or about 70% of a full season. I’m not paying too much attention to the run/RBI total because he spent most of the season batting 7th-9th (pinch hitter). We know Bader has speed, his average sprint speed per BaseballSavant ranked top 10 in 2018 and is 17 of 21 on the bases in his MLB career. His stolen bases will be largely dependant on getting on base (obviously Max) which he did at a .334 clip in 2018. Solid, but what concerns me is his 29.3% K rate and below average walk rate. In other words, his .358 BABIP may have inflated his OBP a bit. My questions are the following: Can he maintain an elevated BABIP? Can Bader cut down on strikeouts and improve his walk rate?
When I dig into Bader’s BABIP I see that he maintained an insane .366 BABIP on ground balls in 2018 where league average is around .235-.240. Now, Bader is fast and isn’t affected by the shift, so I’d expect his BABIP closer to .280 on ground balls. That’s a difference of about 8-9 hits which puts his batting average at about .240. There’s good news though! His BABIP on fly balls was an impossible .055 where league average is about .138.
Take a look at this 30-game rolling average graph, Bader had an extremely high percentage of infield fly balls early but he cut down on them in the second half. As a result, his hard contact shot up. At the same time, he increased his percentage of fly balls. As we know, hard contact on balls in the air lead to good things like home runs and extra base hits. How about the quality of contact though? His exit velocities look middle-of-the-road to me but his maximum exit velocity of 113.6 MPH puts him inside the top 20% for 2018. There’s hope for Bader’s power with that information along with his 403-foot average HR distance.
Now the bad. Bader’s plate discipline is not great but he showed slight improvements across the board in 2018 from his cup-o-coffee in 2017. At the age of only 24, I think Bader continues his slight improvements at the plate and becomes a bit more patient. He does need to keep his chase rate in check and continue to make contact in the zone near 85% as he did the last month and a half of 2018. I’m going to expect a slight uptick in power but not much regression in batting average. The decreased BABIP will partially offset w/ a few more home runs. To be clear, Bader is far from a sure thing in terms of batting average. He also needs to improve his plate discipline if he wants hit in front of Goldy & Ozuna. Therein lies the risk, but given his current ADP, I can see owning a few shares of the Dude.
For 2019, I’ll give Bader a line of .259/.323 19 HR, 21 SB, 75 Runs, 61 RBI
I know, I know, we all got burned last year with Luis Castillo. Castillo ended the season with a 4.30 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP with 165 strikeouts in 169.2 IP. The overall numbers are not the main concern here. It’s the fact that, owners had to carry a 5+ ERA with a 1.40 WHIP through the first half. At that point, most owners jumped ship or were out of the race already. If you jumped ship or stopped paying attention, you missed out on a stellar second half. In fact, Castillo’s second-half was near ace-like with a 2.44 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP with a 26.3% K rate. Yes, I prefer K% to K/9 and 25% is the magic number. How about those walks? Well, for the season, Castillo dropped his walk rate from 8.9% to 6.9% with a tiny 5.3% walk rate in the second half.
Those are gorgeous numbers, let’s see if the plate discipline backs it up. In 2018, Castillo increased his chase rate by 5%, decreased his zone-contact against by 1% and increased his swinging strike to 13.5% up from an already impressive 12.6%. Those numbers are the sole reason I held on to him in 2018. Castillo’s velocity dipped overall but it did come back some in the second half averaging just under 97 mph the last two months of the season. Castillo’s sinker has not been good, there’s no way around that. He just needs to throw it less often or better yet, eliminate it. His fastball, on the other hand, is better when his velocity is up but he also needs to work on locating it up in the zone more to fully take advantage of its speed. That’s where he can fully utilize this pitch because unlike the sinker, it can get swings and misses.
Castillo owns one of the best changeups in the game that resulted in a 43.4% strikeout rate and an incredible 52.8% chase rate with a 25.9% swinging strike rate (nearly double the league average). Castillo did increase the usage of the changeup which is good, but that sinker, now with over 700 thrown has a 126 wRC+ against it without the threat of strikeouts. Per Alex Chamberlin’s K% Outliers from 2018, you can see that Luis Castillo tops the list. That’s largely because of his change. If you look at pitch values per 100 thrown on Fangraphs, its value was much better in 2017. However, and this is where pitch values can be deceiving, pitch values are ONLY results based. Castillo gave up more home runs on the pitch (still just 5 in total) and gained 100 points in BABIP. He did that while increasing his vertical drop on the pitch yet decreasing the ground ball rate against. Hmmm, that doesn’t compute. All of his other metrics on the change improved from the previous season. In other words, pitch value isn’t everything. I think he falls somewhere in between next year and the pitch generates a pitch value north of 12.
Enough about the changeup, because one pitch won’t make Castillo a stud. His slider is his second-best strikeout pitch. It’s good but it doesn’t generate enough swings outside the zone to make it a great pitch. It already has a sub-80% zone contact rate which means it’s very difficult to hit, even in the zone. Since the velocity of the change and slider are similar but move in opposite directions, it would help Castillo is if he tunneled these two pitches better. Take a look at his vertical release points of these two pitches.
In the first half, there was a pretty decent separation in vertical release points between the slider and change. But in the second half, he tightened it up a bit. I think a combination of his release points and fastball velocity with better location up in the zone are going to be the key to Castillo’s success in 2019. Here’s the deal, if he’s able to capture what he did in the second half of 2018 for a full season and locate his fastball better, he’s a top 10 pitcher. That is not something most pitchers being drafted outside of 100 overall can attain. This is where projections are difficult because while Castillo was both unlucky and deserved some of his struggles, he still has elite skills. He just needs to make adjustments. Will he make them or not. We have to monitor the velocity in spring training, hopefully, he’s around 95-96 and can ramp up during the season. Here are my projections for Castillo in 2019.