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Hot/Cold: Mid-Week Buy/Sell/Hold (Fantasy Baseball)

This series is going to be a little bit different than your typical buy/sell/hold article. I’ll be categorizing players as either HOT or COLD based on their performance over the past week. I won’t just be covering players that are available on the wire or can be bought for cheap. While those players will be discussed from time to time, I will also discuss the early round players who are showing improvements and could outperform their ADP or vice-versa. I’ll be referencing FanGraphs, BaseballSavant, etc showing metrics that back up my claims. Let’s get to some polarizing players over the last week.

Hot

Hunter Dozier (1B/3B – KC)
Would you believe that Hunter Dozier is hitting .300 with four homers and has dropped his strikeout rate by 11% from last year? His metrics back it up, he’s in the top seven percent in terms of average exit velocity, expected wOBA, and expected slugging. Dozier had a solid barrel rate last season but his high strikeout rate killed his batting average. Now that he’s improved his contact rate by six percent and his O-swing (swings outside the zone) by a whopping 12.8%, he’s become a complete hitter. He hasn’t even sacrificed his power or hard contact.

That tells a nice story there. What’s also interesting is that his speed is above average. He only stole two bags on five attempts last year but given the Royals aggressiveness, I wouldn’t be surprised if Dozier chipped in with 5-8 stolen bases this year. I don’t think he’ll sustain a .300 BA but I’m BUYING here.

Jose Altuve (2B – HOU)
Well, it’s official, the juiced ball is back! Altuve was hampered by injuries last year and now has blasted six bombs in the last week+. This is more than just the juiced ball though. Altuve has increased his launch angle to 16.2 degrees, an jump of nearly seven degrees from the last two seasons. He’s also hitting the ball harder, which is great given his new fly ball approach. Now, his contact rate is down a bit, so he might be selling out for power. That’s OK, because we have seen what it has done for Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez in previous seasons. Maybe Altuve’s average drops to .285-.290 but he has a legit shot at 30 homers if he can carry this approach through the entire season. I’d BUY him as a top 10 player but I doubt his owners are selling.

Marcell Ozuna (OF – STL)
Any chance I get to write about Ozuna, I do it. I loved Ozuna coming into the season and he has not disappointed hitting .293 with seven homers and even chipped in with two steals. His batted ball profile looks great, his launch angle is up nearly four percent and his barrel rate is at an impressive 15%. BUT, yes there’s a but, his contact rates are bad. Like, really bad. His in-zone contact is down 12%! That’s a big problem. Part of what made Ozuna so good was his ability to hit for power and limit the strikeouts. If his K% jumps to 25-26%, then he’s more of a .250-.260 hitter rather than a .290 hitter. The good news is, if he maintains his elevated fly ball rate, he could reach 30 to 35 homers. I’m holding and hoping his contact rate improves, if it does, he’s a HUGE BUY.

Joe Musgrove (SP – PIT)
Last night, Musgrove just gave up his first runs of the season in his third start and his ERA sits at a cool 0.81. His control is simply fantastic evidenced by his 21:4 K:BB ratio. Keeping walk rates down and inducing weak contact is how Musgrove thrives. I’m intrigued by his maturation as a pitcher but I have two concerns. One, his injury history, he’s never thrown more than 150 innings in a single season (including minors) and never more than 115.1 innings in a Major League season. The second concern is pitching to contact. The way the ball is flying, I have some concerns that his normally fantastic HR rate will jump up. That being said his slider and changeup have both generated a ton of swinging strikes and combined for 12 in last night’s start. I believe in his upside and can foresee around a strikeout per inning, he just needs to stay healthy. HOLD/BUY

Marcus Stroman (SP – TOR)
Wait, Marcus Stroman is striking out more than a batter per inning?! It’s true and he’s really increased his slider usage at the expense of his sinker. The good news is he hasn’t sacrificed much in terms of ground ball rate. His slider is a  very good pitch, it’s getting more horizontal movement and is allowing less contact on the pitch. Unfortunately for Stroman, the only other pitch that generates a swinging strike rate over 10% is his cutter at just over 11%. I like the pitch mix change but once the home runs start flying, his ERA is going to inflate. You likely got him on the cheap so I’d hold while he’s pitching well and flip him after a few more starts.

Cold

Mookie Betts (OF – BOS)
This really pains me to write this about my beloved Mookie Betts but he’s off to a very slow start. He’s currently hitting just .212 with three homers and only one stolen base. What’s going on, a slow start or something else? Well actually, Betts’ O-Swing 13.6% with a swinging strike rate of 4%, both would be career lows. His swing rate sits at just 33.3%. He’s being ultra-patient and his contact rates are off the charts but it hasn’t translated into success. His walk rate is great but his BABIP is a paltry .220. That’s not going to last but it’s thanks to an extremely low 13.7% line drive rate. Let’s all sit back and relax, this is Mookie Betts we are talking about. He’s, of course, a BUY/HOLD. I’d buy him for $0.95 on the dollar if possible. Maybe you can flip Yelich for him? Then again Yelich is out of his mind right now with four homers in two games.

Jose Peraza (2B/SS – CIN)
Peraza turned a nice profit for owners last year who invested hitting for average, stealing bases and providing unexpected mid-teens power. The expectations were that he would hit atop an improved Reds lineup but the Reds have realized that getting on base is more important than speed. I discussed how I believed Peraza’s power was a mirage last season, here. This year, he’s hit one homer and stolen just one base while batting near the bottom of the Reds lineup. What’s really concerning is his plate discipline. He’s offered at pitches outside the zone over 50% of the time and has not drawn a single walk. His in-zone contact is still very good but he’s gotten behind in the count nearly 75% of the time and it’s lead to an uncharacteristic 26.4% strikeout rate. His contact rates are weak and his fly ball rate is 50% which is not ideal for a weak hitting speedster. I’d SELL for 85 cents on the dollar but wouldn’t give him away because I think he bounces back to give 80% of his production from last year.

Aaron Nola (SP – PHI)
Aaron Nola has now given up five earned runs in three straight starts and owns a 7.66 ERA with a 1.66 WHIP. Scanning his metrics, his velocity looks good, pitch mix is fine, BABIP is neutral, so what is it? Well, his first-pitch strike rate is an abysmal 48.3%, down 21% from last year! Yes, 21%! Instead of getting ahead of batters nearly 70% of the time, he’s working from behind far too often which has elevated his walk rate. Combine that with a 60% strand rate and a home run rate three times higher than last year and here we are. Nola’s zone rate is OK, so I’d expect him to improve his F-Strike% and lower those walks. Given the juiced ball and his home park, Nola will likely end up with a HR/9 slightly over 1.0, so if you’re expecting a sub-3.00 ERA, you may be disappointed. I think something closer to 3.40-3.50 is where he ends up with a little over a strikeout per nine innings. I’m holding Nola unless you can’t get close to 100% of his preseason value.

Corey Kluber (SP – CLE)
I could write about a dozen top 20 starters having poor starts to the season but let’s discuss Klubot. His 6.16 ERA and 1.84 WHIP are very ugly but his walk rate sits at a career-high 10.8%. He’s never had a walk rate higher than 6.6% in any full season in the Majors. His skills look fine to me but his zone rate is down five percent. The difference between Kluber and Nola is that Kluber is still getting ahead of hitters over 65% of the time. He’s suffering from an inflated BABIP (.390) and a low strand rate (60%). Both metrics will stabilize at some point and Kluber should get back to his low-3s ERA with a great WHIP. I’d probably slot him just ahead of Nola going forward and call him a moderate BUY candidate.

Follow me @FreezeStats. Check out my work at FantasyPros and Pitcher List.


Photo Credit: John Sleezer

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2018 Pitcher Projections Revisited

Featured Image Courtesy of AP Photo/Nah Y. Huh

Last week I posted my results from my 2018 hitter projections. This week, I take a look at the results from the 2018 season in respect to my pitcher projections. I did not include the relief pitchers that I projected and removed any projections for pitchers under 85-90 innings (either actual 2018 IP or projected IP). Of course, injuries are more prevalent with pitchers so I only have 68 SPs in the attached google sheet (link below).


What I’ve learned in my two years of calculating baseball projections is that pitchers are difficult to project. More difficult than hitters (duh). I mentioned in the hitters’ post that I will be projecting more player in 2019. My goal is over 400, but shooting for 450. That makes at least 150 pitchers which should lead to an overall better review at the conclusion of the 2019 season. People have asked what projection model I use, and it’s more of a combination of many different models to make it my own. I use everything from past performance, batting order, team context, injury history, xStats, batted ball profile, plate discipline, trends, etc. Anyways, here’s a couple SPs on both sides of the projection spectrum.

2018 Pitcher Projections vs Actual (IP, Wins, ERA, WHIP, SO) (click-bait)

Carlos Carrasco (SP – CLE)

Proj 186 16 3.43 1.12 204
Actual 192 17 3.38 1.13 231

Two years ago, Carrasco was considered an injury risk with just one season of at least 150 innings between 2011 and 2016. After the 2018 season, he now has two straight 190+ inning seasons both with at least 30 starts. Maybe my innings projection of 186 was risky but half of his injuries over the previous five seasons were fluky. What really catches my eye is Carrasco’s strikeout total with a strikeout rate of 29.5%, almost 5% over his career rate. Even though Carrasco will be age-32 when the 2019 season starts, he’s one of the more steady SPs and will most likely be had at a discount. He’s pitching better now that he ever has before and it’s backed up by a career-low 69% (nice) contact rate. I’m looking to snag CC (not Sabathia) as the 8th or 9th SP off the board.

Rich Hill (SP – LAD)

Proj 141 10 3.57 1.10 156
Actual 132.2 11 3.66 1.12 150

Lance McCullers Jr. (SP – HOU)

Proj 134 9 3.68 1.29 142
Actual 128.1 10 3.86 1.17 142

I’m lumping Hill and McCullers Jr. together because of their similar injury histories. My model was able to accurately project innings based on multiple years of lower but consistent innings totals. It’s interesting that I pegged McCullers strikeouts but was a bit off on ERA and WHIP. The WHIP projection was high because I didn’t anticipate that McCullers would successfully improve his control given his nasty breaking ball, and that was true. His low WHIP was due to his BABIP that went from .330 to .278. It’s safe to say I won’t be projecting more than 140 innings for McCullers in 2019. The Rich Hill story and the journey is an incredible one, I suggest you read up on how he got to this point.  Similar to McCullers, Hill puts up very good numbers but fails to throw a ton of innings. At what point will this all go belly up? Hill will turn 39 just before the 2019 season. I think one more season of around 120 innings with solid ratios is in order before the end for Hill.



Jameson Taillon (SP – PIT)

Proj 185 12 3.50 1.15 164
Actual 191 14 3.20 1.18 179

Back in late November 2017, I wrote a sleeper post about Taillon. I highlighted his above-average fastball, ground ball tendencies, and his insanely high second-half BABIP. I knew there was positive regression coming for Taillon but did not account for the addition of the slider (which he introduced it in late May). While the slider didn’t unlock a bump in K-rate last year, I think it will help increase his strikeouts for 2019. He’s already climbed high on big boards, so, unfortunately, he won’t come at a discount.

Dallas Keuchel (SP – HOU)

Proj 178 14 3.80 1.21 159
Actual 204.2 12 3.74 1.31 153

On the opposite end of the sleeper/bust spectrum, there’s Keuchel. Two main points I made with Keuchel were the health concerns and the razor-thin margins of his control. Without the luxury of missing bats, Keuchel’s success lies in his ability to induce ground balls at a rate almost no one else has achieved. Sure enough, his groundball rate went from 66.8% to 53.7% and his strikeout rate dipped yet again. Now, he did stay healthy, but the rest of my projections were nearly spot on. I cannot recommend Keuchel for 2019, there’s very limited upside.

Did not project well

Marcus Stroman (SP – TOR)

Proj 198 13 3.69 1.25 169
Actual 102.1 4 5.54 1.48 77

Carlos Martinez (SP – STL)

Proj 203 15 3.52 1.20 208
Actual 118.2 8 3.11 1.35 117

Ok, so Stroman was lost to injury and Martinez went sent to the bullpen mid-season. That’s tough to project, especially for Martinez who was essentially dubbed the Ace of the Cardinals’ budding staff. Despite Storman’s small stature, he threw over 200 innings in 2016 & 2017, so naturally, I project him for just under 200 innings. We know he isn’t a strikeout artist, but wow, those ratios took a tumble as well. The only thing I learned here is that pitching is so volatile, but we already knew that. Martinez’ projection wasn’t all that bad other than the innings differential thanks to the move to the bullpen. A huge jump in his walk rate is the reason for a bump in WHIP. Martinez is going to be tough to project in 2019, he should be back in the rotation, but his poor control makes for a wild ride.



Blake Snell (SP – TB)

Proj 177 11 3.81 1.28 182
Actual 180.2 21 1.89 0.97 221

I liked Snell coming into the year, I wrote a sleeper post on him in December. So, do I really have to take the L on him if I was higher than most coming into the season? No one expected Snell to win the AL Cy Young prior to the start of the season, and if you did, you should have made a pretty penny. Just look at those numbers! The best stat that proves how much better Snell was in 2018 is the K-BB%. In 2017 his K-BB% was 11.0% (slightly below average) and in 2018 it sored to 22.4% (elite). That and his overall contact rate went down 8.1%. For 2019, there’s regression coming, but how much? Is he a top 10 SP? I’m about to dive into my 2019 pitcher projections, so we will have to find out.

Chris Archer (SP – TB/PIT)

Proj 195 12 3.78 1.23 232
Actual 148.1 6 4.31 1.38 162

Less than one month into the season, I knew that Archer was going to be a bust. I wasn’t high on him in the preseason with my projections above, but there certainly wasn’t enough there to completely steer me away from him either. In June, I put together a blind resume article for FantasyPros comparing Archer to Tyler Skaggs. Believe it or not, Skaggs’ numbers looked a hell of a lot better. Even the move to Pittsburgh couldn’t resurrect his season. Archer saw his K% drop to its lowest since 2014 and while I expect a bit of a bounceback in that department based on the plate discipline, Archer needs to develop a third pitch before I can trust him. I think there will be too many five-inning outings without much of a chance for a win. Expect an ERA between 3.80-4.10 with a solid K rate, but that’s about it.



Weekly Rundown – 4/21 – 4/27

HOT Hitters

The Notorious DIDI is at is again blasting 5 homers and driving in 13 runs while hitting over .450 this week. The league leader in RBI has continued his onslaught on MLB pitching. I’ll admit when I’m wrong and I was way off on Didi Gregorius coming into the season. He’s walking at a career high and striking out at a career low. He’s hitting that ball very hard and his high drive percentage is a hair under 20% (league average is around 6.1%). His xStats are great but the one interesting note is that xHR sits under 5 (currently has 10 homers). He’s outperformed his Stats in the past so I’m riding this out with Didi especially if he continues to hit in the middle of the Yankee lineup.

Michael A Taylor has had himself a week after a slow start filling out the stat sheet with 2 homers and 3 steals hitting .313. Taylor has been a great source of steals with 9 on the season but I’m not buying the hot streak. He has contact issues, hits too many ground balls and a lot of poor contact. His walk rate is up which is good and I’d hold him if you need steals or are in a deep league. In shallow leagues, he’s a sell for me right now.

Brandon Belt, the Prince of xStats is murdering baseballs. He’s hitting .455 this past week with 3 homers and leads the league in OPS (last 7 days). Whoops, nope, that’s Didi, Belt is second. The 6 homers on the season is a third of his career high in a single season. He’s rolling with career highs in both hard (high) and soft contact (low) which which tells me he’s selling out for power evidenced by his elevated O-swing and SwStr rates. I like the power gains but I’d sell him while he’s hot. If he maintains the power, which will be difficult at AT&T Park, he’s likely to lose 50 points on his average.

Kyle Schwarber has blasted 4 home runs this past week and has followed up a terrible 2017 with a hot start to 2018. So far, things are looking great, the strikeouts are down, the walks are up and the lower SwStr and O-Swing back that up. The one negative, I noticed is his launch angle is down to only 7 degrees. He’s hitting less fly balls, the ones he’s hitting have been fantastic, just check his 40% HR/FB rate. As great as that is, it won’t last. He’s not a sell, because he’s still stinging the ball and this lower LA could keep his average above .260.

Matt Davidson has 4 dingers this past week and continues to prove doubters wrong. He’s got 9 homers on the season but there are some underlying numbers that make me concerned about his season long term. The strikeout rate sits over 34% and his launch angle is below 9 degrees which is not ideal for a power hitter. As a result, he’s only hit fly balls 33% of the time which is more in line with a mid-teens to 20 homer type FB rate. Here’s the outrageous number of the day, his HR/FB is 60%! Yes, that’s correct, it leads the league by nearly 20% and almost doubles Bryce Harper’s 33% which ranks 3rd in MLB! In OBP leagues, I’m holding him because he has improved his walk rate but I’d sell high on him in standard leagues.

Freezing Hitters

J.D. Martinez is hitting .238 this past week. His Ks are up and BB are down. Has the decline for JDM begun? No, not even close, he’s hitting 60% of his batted balls hard. When he makes contact, it’s Judge-like, his average exit velocity is over 95 mph and his high drive rate is nearly 30% which is almost triple the league average! Per xStats, he’s actually been unlucky and should have more HRs and a higher average. If this cold stretch continues, I’m buying!

Chris Taylor has gone 5 for his last 26 with 2 runs, no homers, no RBI, and no steals. Ugh, this follow up to his 2017 breakout is a nightmare. He hasn’t stolen a base and his BABIP sits nearly 100 points lower than in 2017. We knew the .361 from last year was a bit inflated but this is low. He does have 3 homers and 10 XBH, and his contract rate is right where it was last year. He’s not hitting the ball quite as hard but I expect the numbers to up a bit, he’s a hold or moderate buy.

Andrew McCutchen is 2 for his last 16, that’s a .125 average but at least he taking walks, right? He hasn’t homers or stolen a base in that stretch and is now hitting under .200 for the season. Slow start for Cutch, but other than a slight increase in K rate, he’s the same guy. He’s still walking a ton, the BABIP will come back up and his 3 homers + 3 steals is solid. I’m buying Cutch right now.

Anthony Rizzo is 5 for his last 23 without a homer with a total of 1 bomb this year. He’s walking less and striking out more, very uncharacteristic of his track record. I’m worried about big Riz. His value hits are half of the league average and his poor hit rate is nearly 25% which is 5% over league average. His xStats don’t paint a much prettier picture, so it’s possible he’s hurt. If he keeps struggling the next couple weeks and they don’t DL him, I’m selling.

Justin Upton is in one of his slumps going 4 for his last 22 without a home run. Even though Upton was able to hold off an long slumps in his incredible 2017 campaign, he’s been known for prolonged slumps throughout the season. Nothing out of the ordinary for Upton. His batted ball profile and plate dicsiline is right in line with his previous seasons. It’s funny because the fantasy community believes Upton is inconsisten (especailly head to head players), but he’s as bankable as they come. He’l end up with a .260 BA, 26-30 HR, and 90-100 RBI.

Dee Gordon is hitting .192 in the last seven days without a steal. Where is Gordon’s value without steals? Now, he can’t steal bases every week but if you’re expecting 60 from him, you want that consistent production. The 9 steals on the season are nice and puts him on pace for over 50 steals. His speed hasn’t declined yet and so that’s good but he’s swinging and missing more so less opportunities to steal bases. If this keeps up, he’s probably more of a .285 guy with 50 steals than a .300-60 guy.

HOT Pitchers

Sean Manaea followed up his no hitter against the Red Sox with a gem against the World Series Champion Astros. No surprise, he’s the number one pitcher over the last seven days with 2 wins, 17 strikeouts, no earned runs and a WHIP of 0.44. He’s been amazing but he’s not an ace. His 98.2% LOB and a .148 BABIP just won’t stick. Don’t get me wrong , I love Manaea but he’s probably a 3.40-3.60 ERA pitchers with a K rate around 8.5/9. A solid #2 or 3.

Kyle Gibson has looked great in his last two starts with an ERA under 3.00 and a WHIP below 1.00 in that stretch along with 17 Ks in just over 12 innings. I’d be picking him up in 12 team leagues and deeper where available. His Swinging strike rate is up 3%, that is not insignificant. Yes, that’s a double negative. Otherwise, he’s the same guy, but more Ks equal less blow ups. I think he can be a solid number five or six, so hold or pick up for now.

Miles Mikolas has proved to be more than ready to dominate Major League hitters giving up only four earned runs in his last three starts. He needs to be owned in even the shallowest of leagues if available. He was bit by the long ball in his first few starts and could be an issue going forward, but he’s averaging over 95 mph on his fastball and allows a lot of weak contact. I’m buying now, but keep an eye on the velocity, if that dips, he may be starting to fatigue. If that happens, you need to sell.

Chris Tillman, yes everyone Chris Tillman pitched seven innings last night without giving up a homer or a run for that matter. He struck five and has a 2.77 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP in his last two starts. Here’s my advice for you on Tillman, don’t pick him up and if you own him in a super deep league SELL! He’s allowing a .313 BA with a .571 SLG. xStats actually says he’s been lucky! His walk rate and strikeout rate are identical. Excuse me….Sorry, I just threw up, but I’m back. SELLLLLLLL

Freezing Pitchers

Marcus Stroman has an 8.88 ERA on the season with his worst starts coming this past week.  He’s given up 14 runs (12 ER) in his last 10.2 IP, he also walks four in his start against the Yankees. Ground ball rate is great vut his hard contact given up is high. His average exit velo against is over 92 mph. That’s not good fam. He has been unlucky but his control is off as well with a 12+% BB rate, so he’s paying for allowing the walks and the hard contact. I don’t like what he’s doing and his velocity is down. I’m selling, he’s a streamer, nothing more.

Luis Castillo has given up eight earned runs in his last six innings along with 13 hits and six walks! This one really hurts. His velocity wasn’t bad last night, he was regularly hitting 96 mph and touched 97 but his command and control was off. He’s stuff is good but he’s making way too many mistakes. He also doesn’t trust his slider, he threw a total of three sliders and they all went for balls. This is a problem, if he’s not hurt he’s droppable in 10 team leagues. In deeper leagues you have to hold him for now. If he hits the DL then at least there’s a reason for his poor performance.

Danny Duffy has given up 10 earned runs in his last two starts while striking out only five batters in 10.2 IP. I’ll make this quick, I’m out on Duffy, Velocity is down a bit, swings and misses are down, contact up, hard contact up, I could keep going. He’s a drop in shallow leagues and ell low in deep leagues.

Clayton Kershaw has not looked sharp as he walked six batters, yes SIX, in his last start against the Marlins of all teams. It’s not just the walks but his 14 hits allowed in his last 12 innings is also no Kershaw like. Check out this great deep dive into Kershaw’s struggles from Nick Pollack on RotoGraphs. Basically, his fastball command is off and his velocity is down. It’s completely devalued the pitch which has been so great for Kershaw in his career and throws off the sequencing of his awesome curve and slider. I had Kershaw as the #3 SP coming into the year and if he can’t correct this fastball issue, I may be dropping him outside the top 5 or 6 overall SPs. Don’t sell yet, but monitor the situation.