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Shift Happens – Everyone’s Doing It (Fantasy Baseball)

We hear a lot about defensive shifts in baseball today. Teams will find ways to get a competitive advantage any way they can (cough Astros cough) and defensive shifts are one of the most popular forms of gaining that edge in baseball today. There is a multitude of shifts, infield shifts, outfield shifts, and countless strategic defensive positioning. For today’s article, I want to focus on the most popular shift. The infield shift. In 2019, not only were there more shifts than ever before but the percentage of infield shifts doubled since 2017. Infield shifts occurred on 26.2% of all pitches in 2019. Consider back in 2015, infield shifts occurred on just 9.8% of all pitches thrown. But, do they really work? I’d hope so with the increasing popularity and any team’s urge to gain an advantage. 




In order to see if the shift works, I first looked at wOBA for all players against an infield shift and against a standard infield defense. I gathered the data from any player who was shifted against between 10% and 90% of their plate appearances to eliminate some very small sample sizes. As it turns out, 190 players managed a better wOBA against the shift than against a standard infield defensive alignment while 184 hitters performed worse in terms of wOBA against the shift. So, the results clearly did not prove that the shift works and is essentially inconclusive. End of article. Just kidding!

I dug a little deeper. Over the last three seasons, I looked at all the hitters who were shifted on in at least 50% of their plate appearances. I also looked at each of these player’s batting average minus expected batting average (BA-xBA) overall. After all, the infield shift is not necessarily designed to limit extra-base hits (or home runs, obviously). Extra base hits influence wOBA much more than singles and outs. The shift is used to turn base hits (largely singles) into outs. Since xBA doesn’t account for the shift, let’s see the results, then uncover the outliers.

2019 Hitters shifted over 50% of the time - BA-xBA

PlayerYearShift%BA-xBA
Joey Gallo201994.00.024
Chris Davis201986.4-0.027
Matt Carpenter201985.9-0.003
Matt Olson201985.4-0.009
Jay Bruce201985.2-0.027
Curtis Granderson201983.4-0.033
Mitch Moreland201982.2-0.005
Cody Bellinger201981.1-0.019
Kole Calhoun201980.9-0.015
Brandon Belt201980.2-0.011
Kyle Seager201979.7-0.025
Justin Smoak201976.8-0.042
Max Kepler201973.6-0.010
Eric Thames201973.50.021
Max Muncy201973.4-0.018
Rougned Odor201973.0-0.024
Cavan Biggio201972.7-0.006
Yonder Alonso201972.7-0.033
Brian McCann201971.90.008
Rhys Hoskins201971.30.005
Jake Lamb201970.6-0.036
Matt Adams201969.6-0.001
Anthony Rizzo201968.9-0.007
Hunter Renfroe201968.7-0.002
Eddie Rosario201967.90.007
Brandon Lowe201967.40.026
Daniel Vogelbach201967.0-0.020
Joc Pederson201966.9-0.005
Kyle Schwarber201966.0-0.017
Christin Stewart201966.0-0.009
Matt Joyce201965.80.024
Freddie Freeman201965.10.003
Jackie Bradley Jr.201964.3-0.017
Mike Zunino201964.3-0.029
Willie Calhoun201963.40.001
Gary Sanchez201963.1-0.015
Stephen Vogt201962.30.009
Rowdy Tellez201962.0-0.024
Dexter Fowler201960.9-0.013
Didi Gregorius201960.4-0.009
Carlos Santana201959.70.013
Yasmani Grandal201959.00.006
Bryce Harper201958.7-0.019
Todd Frazier201958.50.011
Brian Dozier201957.9-0.002
Charlie Blackmon201956.70.020
Jose Ramirez201955.1-0.019
Neil Walker201955.1-0.010
Billy McKinney201955-0.014
Ji-Man Choi201954.7-0.002
Kendrys Morales201954.6-0.079
Shin-Soo Choo201954.50.005
Asdrubal Cabrera201954.50.019
Jason Kipnis201954.5-0.016
Josh Naylor201954.50.008
Yordan Alvarez201954.30.024
Kris Bryant201954.10.036
Michael Conforto201954.0-0.005
Aaron Hicks201953.20.009
Jake Bauers201951.20.002
Derek Dietrich201951.0-0.037
Randal Grichuk201950.9-0.005
AVG (BA-xBA)-0.0071

Joey Gallo

Despite seeing the shift on nearly 95% of his plate appearances, Gallo’s batting average of .253 in 2019 was .024 above his xBA.  What did Joey Gallo do differently in 2019 that allowed him to outperform his expected batting average? He lowered his launch angle a bit but it was still over 20 degrees. He pulled over 50% of his batted balls, so it’s not as if he was altering his approach to beat the shift. I suppose we could point to his insane 26.4% barrels per batted ball event (BBE) which was about four percent better than his previous two seasons. That’s probably not enough to account for a major shift in BA-xBA though. In 2017 and 2018, his BA-xBA averaged -.020, yet in 2019 he outperformed his BA-xBA by .024. That’s a significant swing of .044. 

Let’s check Joey Gallo’s batted ball profile in 2017

compared to 2019

Aside from putting fewer balls in play (BIP) due to an injury in 2019, Gallo appeared to have an even more significant pull-heavy approach in 2019. In 2017, his balls hit to the outfield were more evenly dispersed. This doesn’t explain the improvements in his BA-xBA. However, if we isolate his weakly hit batted balls and bunts, we see a significant difference between BA and xBA. Take a look at the left side of the infield. Gallo bunted four times in 2019 and reached on three of them. He also hit three weakly hit ground balls (<75 mph) to the left side of the infield. He reached on two of them. That’s six hits on eight balls in play. But, xBA expected only one of those BIP to end up as a hit. That’s a difference of five hits. It doesn’t sound like much except when you consider Gallo had just 61 hits in all of 2019. If we drop him to 56, his batting average falls to .232 and much closer to his xBA of .229. The question is whether or not Gallo will continue to take advantage of aggressive shifts against him. It could make the difference between Gallo finishing as a .210 hitter or a .250 hitter. Below is a scenario where Gallo successfully bunted against an extreme shift.


 

Matt Carpenter

Defenses have always heavily shifted Carpenter and for good reason. Since the 2016 season, Carp’s pulled over 75% of his ground balls topping out at a whopping 81.3% in 2019. In fact, his pulled ground ball percentage has risen every year since 2014. That’s a bad sign for an aging veteran. As a result, teams have increased the percentage of shifts against him. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s shifted on over 90% of the time in 2020. In 2017 and 2018, his BA-xBA was consistent (-.015) but he nearly broke even in 2019. That’s in large part due to hitting .220 on grounders last season. This may be a good example of how pull-heavy left-handed batter without good speed earned such a high batting average on grounders.  Can he count this type of luck going forward? I wouldn’t bet on it. His speed is diminishing along with his hard contact%. I’d expect his BA on ground balls to fall below .200 making him a major batting average risk.

Jay Bruce

Poor Jay Bruce. He’s been a victim of the shift for a good portion of his career. Over the last two seasons, only Kyle Seager and Curtis Granderson managed a larger discrepancy between BA-xBA on ground balls (minimum 140 GB). Yes, he’s slow, pulls a high percentage of his batted balls, and hits from the left side. A prime candidate for the shift, no doubt.

He’s interesting though because he’s attempting to beat the shift by going over it. His 54.1% fly-ball rate ranked number one in baseball among players with at least 300 plate appearances (per FanGraphs). The good news is Bruce managed an impressive 13.4% barrels per batted ball event in 2019. The bad news, his popup rate shot up to 13%, nearly double the league-average. Unfortunately for Bruce owners, he’s going to be in a reserve role with the Phillies limiting his opportunities. If an injury, God forbid, to Rhys Hoskins or someone in the outfield, Bruce is a dark horse candidate to hit 15-20 homers in an abbreviated season. NOTE: Add in the wrinkle with the potential universal DH and Bruce could fall into additional playing time making him a DEEP league power option.

Kyle Seager

I think it’s safe to say, opposing defenses have figured out how to deploy the shift against Kyle Seager. Over the past two seasons, he’s hit just .158 on ground balls (league-average is .236). What’s more, he managed just .070 on pulled ground balls last season. Similar to Jay Bruce, Seager is another slow-footed left-handed hitter who is heavily shifted against. He’s very likely going to continue to underperform his xBA going forward.

Rougned Odor

Rougned Odor seemed to beat the shift in 2018 outperforming his xBA by .006. It wasn’t much but compared to 2017 (-.028) and 2019 (-.024), that’s a win. In 2018, he may have been fortunate but in 2019 he was a different hitter. Did he deserve better despite the shift? A quick glance at his Baseball Savant page shows some impressive batted ball metrics. His average exit velocity (EV) of 89.4 mph was top 16% while his barrels per batted ball event (BRL%) was in the top eight percent. While his strikeout rate went through the roof, there’s a reason for optimism as both those batted ball metrics are by far the best of his career. 

Back to the shift. Yeah, he was killed by it with just a .287 wOBA when shifted on compared to a .343 wOBA with standard defensive alignment. Odor is actually pulling a fewer percentage of his ground balls than in years past, so why is the shift hurting him more? Well, fewer than seven percent of his ground balls were hit to the left side of the infield and over one-third up the middle.

As you can see, defenses are still bringing three fielders to the right side of the infield and shading the defender on the left side up the middle. Then, there’s the blue dot right on the infield grass near third base. This positioning is likely to take away a bunt attempt from Odor but opens up the middle. Opposing defenses are going to have to decide between taking away the single up the middle or taking away a bunt attempt. Odor is still a highly volatile hitter but he crushed the ball in 2019 so there is value given his ADP after pick 200.

Cavan Biggio

I have my concerns regarding Cavan Biggio‘s skill set for fantasy purposes. In OBP formats, I think he holds solid value but Biggio backers may want to pump the brakes a bit in standard formats. Baseball Savant shows Biggio as slightly unlucky based on this metric (BA-xBA) but let’s take a look under the hood to find out what’s going on here. He pulled 49.4% of all batted balls in his brief MLB debut but this approach matches what he’s done over the course of his minor-league career. Additionally, 90% of the ground balls he hit in 2019 were pulled (73%) or hit up the middle (17%). He took a major hit when defenses put the shift on with a .334 wOBA against the shift and a .375 wOBA without the shift. I expect Biggio will see an increase in shifts in 2020 based on this data. 


This is going to be a mini deep dive, not because I’m anti-Biggio but because he’s so intriguing. The uber-patient Biggio managed a near-elite 8.7% SwStr% which is about 2.5% better than league-average. But, his 26% whiff rate was nearly two percent worse than league-average. This is a good example of the difference between SwStr% and whiff%. SwStr% is swing-and-misses per pitch. Whiff% is swing-and-misses per swing. Because Biggio swings at so few pitches, his SwStr% is low. Will pitchers use his patience to exploit his weaknesses? After starting the count 0-1, Biggio managed just a .630 OPS. That’s not a death sentence by any means but it’s in the bottom 30% of the league after getting behind in the count. Once ahead in the count pitchers have their entire arsenal at their disposal.

I bring that up because Biggio struggled to produce damage against offspeed and breaking pitches with a 40.8% whiff% versus offspeed pitches and a 44% K-rate against breaking balls. Of course, adjustments will be made, but Biggio doesn’t possess the elite power required (104.6 mph maximum exit velocity) to consistently beat the shift. Combine that with his shortcomings against non-fastballs and I see issues for Biggio in 2020 unless adjustments are made. I love the speed component to his game but when at the plate, he may be too one dimensional to be extremely successful now that there’s a book out on him. I’m interested to see what if any changes are made from the young second baseman in year two.

Brandon Lowe

I discussed Brandon Lowe in a recent first-half BABIP outliers peace. Well, after a bloated BABIP in the first half he plummeted back to reality in the second half. He only managed 123 plate appearances in the final three months so who is the real Brandon Lowe? Without any prior MLB experience, teams shifted on him nearly 70% of the time. That’s not a good sign because the more of a book the league has on him, the more the advantage tilts to the defense. How did he fare against the shift? Not good. A mere .311 wOBA against the shift compared to a Trout-ian .441 wOBA against standard defensive alignment. 

Someone, please tell me how Lowe managed a .273 BABIP on ground balls with the above extreme profile? He does hit the ball hard and hard contact will result in hit more often than soft hit balls, we all know this. But, if Lowe’s BABIP on ground balls corrects itself to around .215, we could be looking at a .230 hitter.

Yordan Alvarez

Yordan Alvarez showcased his impressive power to all fields in 2019 His batted ball profile is very eclectic, to say the least. That being said, I would not be surprised to see his shift percentage jump significantly in 2020. Let’s take a look at his spray chart from 2019.

The batted ball distribution for balls hit beyond the infield is beautiful. But, let’s focus on those ground balls.  You can see a high volume of balls hit between first base and second base on the infield/shallow outfield. Now, he hits the ball extremely hard but doesn’t run well. I think defenses will be able to net a few more outs on these ground balls in 2020. There’s still a pocket of balls he hits on the infield to the left of second base but they cluster near the traditional shortstop position. This is consistent with his batted ball profile in the minors. 

Kris Bryant

This one makes me go hmm? 2019 was the first year that defenses shifted against Kris Bryant over 50% of the time. It did not appear to work. Outperforming his xBA is nothing new for KB. He’s done it every year since 2015 and typically by at least 20 points. With a .386 wOBA against the shift and a .374 wOBA against standard infield positioning, you could say the shift was useless. But, why? Bryant has a relatively low hard hit%, especially for a known slugger. Hitting the ball hard yields better results, this is obvious. But, take into account Tom Tango’s research on wOBA for balls hit weakly/strong at certain launch angles. Obviously, it’s better to hit the ball hard but between 12 and 20°, the difference in wOBA between strongly and weakly hit balls is much smaller. 

When isolating Bryant’s batted balls into a 10-20° Launch Angle bucket, we find something interesting. His batting average on those balls is 0.691 and .041 higher than his xBA. These are essentially line drives. Line drives typically are hit harder than other batted ball types. The league average exit velocity on balls hit within this launch angle bucket is 93.1 mph. Bryant’s average EV on these batted balls in 2019 was just 90.0 mph. So, these balls are traveling beyond the infielders but dropping in front of the outfielders. Let’s compare Bryant to a couple of hitters who hit the ball at similar exit velocities within this launch angle band and then some of the players who absolutely smoke the ball in this range. 

Player BA xBA BA – xBA EV (MPH) Dist (ft)
Yandy Diaz 0.605 0.717 -0.112 101.0 319
Matt Chapman 0.636 0.727 -0.091 101.4 294
Kris Bryant 0.691 0.650 0.041 90.0 220
Cavan Biggio 0.875 0.774 0.101 90.7 220
Christin Stewart 0.706 0.653 0.053 90.1 217

The two columns I want you to focus on first are the BA-xBA and the exit velocity. Typically, the harder a player hits the ball, the better the result. However, in this launch angle band (10-20 degrees), that’s not exactly the case. Check out the average distance in the far right column. A line drive that travels 220 feet falls into the shallow outfield. Whereas a line drive that travels 290-320 feet falls somewhere in the back half of the outfield, in other words, near a spot where an outfielder might be positioned. A 220-foot line drive will likely fall for a hit more often than a 300-foot line drive because of the positioning of the outfielders. I could do an entire article on this but batted balls in this launch angle range is one of the main reasons Bryant outperforms his expected batting average every year.

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


Weekly Rundown – Chris Arrrrrrcher Walks the Plank




Welcome back to another round of the Weekly Rundown! A lot to cover this week and I want to start by saying I was dead wrong about Javier Baez this year. As a Cubs fan, I had seen too much of how reckless he was at the plate, not looking like he had a plan. He swings at everything and plays like his hair is on fire. As a fantasy writer, his plate approach still makes no sense to me, but I love that he’s doing it and is clearly inside the top 3 for the NL MVP.

Hot Hitters
I have to lead with Trea Turner who is running wild with 8 steals in the last 7 days! He’s also hitting .339 with a home run and 9 runs this week. I kept Turner inside my top 10 through the May Rankings but dropped him to about 15 overall in my All-Star ranks and now I’m kicking myself. A player with 60-steal speed with 20-homer power in an era where no one steals is fantasy gold. I had Turner ranked #3 overall in the preseason and while he won’t reach those heights thanks to Trout, Ramirez and Betts, I think he ends up inside the top 10.

Oh my goodness Rougned Odor! Odor has 5 homers, 10 runs, and 10 RBI this past week with a .421 average and a 1.642 OPS! What’s most impressive is that he walked 5 times in a single game AND hit a homer! This is a guy who typically walks 30 times a year. Yeah, nobody is hotter than Odor right now. He’s walking more and luck is more on his side this year. I expected a bounce back from Odor and he’s finally proving me right! Expect him to slow a bit, but should still end up close to 20 homers and 15 steals.

50 year-old Nelson Cruz has 5 more home runs this week with 9 RBI. OK, he’s not 50, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was still hitting homers at ago 50. What’s amazing about Cruz is the fact that his first MLB home run was hit at ago 26 and he wasn’t even a regular player until he was 30 years old! He’s managed to hit 351 home runs in his career. That’s basically in nine and a half seasons. Now at 38, nothing’s really changed. He’s actually making more contact inside the zone and while I don’t expect him to hit .290, I’d love to see him reach 40 bombs for the fourth time in five years.

Trey “Boom Boom” Mancini is actually hitting with 3 homers and 6 RBI this past week. I didn’t love Mancini coming into the year after his impressive rookie season, but I expected some better numbers. This is what happens when a .352 BABIP comes crashing down. His average goes from .293 to .231. Mancini has no speed and hits 55% of his batted balls on the ground. That’s not going to be a recipe for success. He also doesn’t make a ton of hard contact and his plate approach is the same as last year. It’s regression to the mean for Mancini, he can be left on waivers. I’ll have to call him Trey Meh-cini.


Daniel Palka (who?) is hitting .500 with 2 homers and 7 RBI this week in only 10 at-bats. Palka is kind of a meaty human being. He’s crushing baseballs though and he’s tied with Matt Davidson in home runs with 16 with 70 less plate appearances. Remember Matt Davidson? He hit 3 HR on Opening Day and had 6 in the first week? OK, here’s my analysis of Palka. He’s a classic free-swinging slugger. Palka has a poor approach with a lot of swing and miss in his game. His contact rate is trash and he hits a few too many popups. He’s a deep league flier if you need power, that’s about it.

Christian Yelich is rocking .367 batting average with 3 homers and 9 runs plus 5 RBI this week. He’s been elevated thanks to a .500+ BABIP in the last three weeks but I’m not selling Yelich. I was asked the other day is Yelich is a sell-high candidate. I basically said, HELL NO. I think Yelich is just reaching his potential. Remember, he’s only 26 years old, he’s hitting the ball harder than ever, and is 13 out of 15 on the bases. I think Yelich is a .300-25-20 player this year and for the next half-decade, especially now that he’s in Milwaukee.

Hot Pitchers
Carlos Carrasco is on fire with a 0.66 ERA with 18 strikeouts and a WHIP below 1.00 in his last two starts. If you were able to buy him when he was rolling with a 4.00+ ERA then kudos to you! Carrasco is the same pitcher he was last year, except he’s getting more swings outside the zone. That’s great but he’s also giving up more hard contact and less soft contact. That may explain the small bump in home run rate and WHIP. Otherwise, his K%-BB% is still elite and he should be a top 10 SP the rest of the way.

Justin Verlander did not have a great start a week ago but he was Str8 Ballin’ last night against the Dodgers. He struck out 14 batters and allowed a solo homer to Yung Joc Pederson. That gives JV 21 strikeouts in his last two starts. So guess what? Former Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander is having the best season of his career. Oh and he’s 35 years old. He’s one win shy of 200 for his career, which in today’s game is quite a feat. His K%-BB% is a crazy 29%! If that was his strikeout rate, it would rank 11th in MLB! Did I mention he married Kate Upton after the World Series last year? JV has successfully lived out everyone’s fantasies. #LIFEGOALS

I guess I’m forced that mention Trevor Richard of the Miami Marlins. Who, you ask? You know, Garrett’s brother, I’m JK, I don’t think they are related because Trevor would already be on the DL if that were the case. Anyways, my man TR has spun 11 innings of one run ball with 15 strikeouts and a WHIP of 1.00. He’s actually been great for three straight starts now. Here’s the deal, Richards is 25 and has decent strikeout potential and showed good control in the minors. He’s been wild since the call up, so I’d expect some positive regression there. I don’t think I believe in the low HR/FB continues, even in Marlins Park. He might be more interesting next year but for this year is just a streamer.

German Marquez has a 2.45 ERA with a 0.65 WHIP and 17 strikeouts in his last two starts. If you read my blog, you know how I try to avoid Rockies pitchers like the plague. However, Marquez has managed a K/9 near 9.5, so he at least deserves some attention. Did you know Marquez is only 23 years old and has 300 ML innings under hit belt? Here are the pluses, his O-Swing is up, first-pitch-strike is up, and SwStr% is up. The bad, the HR/FB is up to almost 19% and his only plus pitch is his slider. I still can’t trust him, but will gladly stream him on the road.


Rick Porcello just threw a complete game shutout against the Yankees and in his last 14.2 IP with 4 ER with only 7 base runners and 14 Ks. Porcello is basically the same pitcher he was when he won the Cy Young back in 2016. Listen, we all know he shouldn’t have won and was relatively fortunate, but the fact remains, he’s been good. He’s lower his fastball usage to around 20% and he’s throwing his slider about 25% of the time, that’s great. He’s pretty capped with his strikeout rate, but keeps the walks in check. I like him as a top 35 starter ROS.

Freezing Cold Hitters
Ryon Healy is hitting a pathetic .091 with no homers, 1 RBI, and a 1 run this week. This is Healy you guys! I get that he has power, but his approach is trash and he has no speed whatsoever. His BABIP is sitting around .250 and should rebound a little bit higher, but up to what, maybe .270? Ok, so Healy is a .245 hitter with 25-28 HR power. I’m just not a big fan, you can find his production on the wire. I personally hope he gets to 30 HR this year so he can be over-drafted next year.

Through the first half, Matt Kemp was doing his best Return of the Mac impression. What happened to all the Matt Kemp hype talk? He’s down to .045 this week with no homers and RBI and 1 run. That’s not great. Is Kemp’s age finally catching up with him? Eh, not so much. He is swinging and missing a little more since the start of July, but he’s hitting the ball as hard as ever. He’s not hitting as many fly balls, but it’s coming in the form of line drives. He looks like he will be fine. I think he can hit .275 with solid power these last two months.

Eddie “Not so Money” Rosario is 3 for his last 25 with no homers or steals in that last 7 days. I don’t love Rosario’s aggressive approach, but he makes a lot of contact, so it works for him. His speed has slowed down considerably, at one point it was looking like Rosario was going to hit 35 homers and steal 18 bases. Now, he’s on pace for 25-26 homers and 10-11 steals, or basically the same as last year. His chase rate is up to an awful 42% and his zone% is 41.4%, so pitchers aren’t throwing him as many strikes and he’s chasing them. He’s only hitting .256 with 1 home run since July 1, plus his K% is up 4%. I would have sold him a couple weeks ago, but since his numbers are still solid on the season, maybe you can still sell relatively high.

Starling Marte was looking like he was going to lead the league in steals until TreaT Urner decided to go nuts this week. In the last 7, Marte has no homers, no steals, no RBI, and 2 runs, thanks to a 3 hit night last night. Marte is fine you guys, his fly ball and hard contact rates are up and as a result, he’s hitting for power. Marte typically gets at least one day off per week because he’s often injured/banged up, but that’s fine. He’s still going to hit 20-22 HR with 35 steals. No one will complain about that.

Max Muncy is back on the cold list for the second straight week after getting huge Mass Appeal. He’s only 3 for his last 19 without a homer and hitting .163 the last two weeks. This is actually concerning, after people we calling for Muncy as the NL MVP. The additions of Machado and Dozier along with the return of Justin Turner are squeezing Muncy out of some playing time. Chris Taylor may also feel it as well, but Taylor is better defensively and Muncy is struggling right now. Muncy is going through the struggles similar to Rhys Hoskins at the end of September last year. Muncy is chasing more pitches and making less contact, and of course the K rate bumps up as a result. I’m worried about playing time but if the Dodgers keep playing him, he’ll get himself out of it. I’m still on the Muncy bandwagon.


Freezing Cold Pitchers
Chris Archer has some new digs and after one start but I’d rather have him walk the plank. Archer got pummeled and struggled with control against the Cardinals. At least he’s not facing the Red Sox and Yankees, right guys? Well, to be fair, he’s getting BABIP’ed a bit in the past month but that doesn’t change my mind on Arrrrrrrrrrrcher. LOL, sorry had to do it. He’s striking less batters out, giving out more walks and doesn’t have a third pitch he trusts. Its well documented that the lack of that third pitch is forcing him out of games early and adding walks to the mix is really shortening his outings and killing his ratios. No thank you, Bucco. 

It’s been a great career for King Felix but I think he’s soon to become a pauper. Felix has given up 9 ER in his last 7.2 IP and his ERA is up to 5.49 for the season. He’s been dealing with some back luck in terms of strand rate but he’s not inducing much weak contact and his velocity is down 1.5 mph this year. He’s either injured or his career may be just about over. This is a cat that used to throw 95 mph on the regular and can’t even average 90 mph anymore. I’m sensing a DL stint is coming followed by an attempt to come back next year. Then…..retirement.

Marcus Stroman has given up 9 ER in his last 11.2 IP with a whopping 18 hits against. He somehow hasn’t allowed a homer in either start, but his ground ball tendencies are really working against him in Toronto. It’s not all his fault that the Blue Jays infield defense is trash, but it’s also not changing this year. I wouldn’t own him in anything deeper than 12-team leagues, there just isn’t enough upside with his low strikeout totals.

Andrew Cashner is anything but Straight Cash-ner Homie. How does 12 ER in his last 2 starts sound? How about a 2.35 WHIP in those two starts? Did you think his 3.40 ERA in Texas last year was for real? I apologize for all the questions, but this is a guy who probably had the luckiest season on record last year. A 4.64 K/9 and a 3.6 BB/9, with a 91.6% Z-Contact and a 6.1% SwStr rate make me sick. Those look like an elite hitter like Jose Ramirez. So Cashner was putting up elite hitter numbers, but was a pitcher. Is that bad? OK, no more questions. He’s just BAD.

Follow me on Twitter @FreezeStats



Top Waiver Wire Adds for the Stretch Run



We are approaching the end of July and playoffs in Head-to-Head leagues are just around the corner. Maybe you’re looking for an edge in your Rotisserie league to put you over the top. Either way, I’m taking a look at a collection of hitters and pitchers who may be available on your waiver wire. I’ll cover shallow and deep league adds to put you at an advantage over your league-mates. I’ll look at ownership rates based on FantasyPros.com ESPN/Yahoo combined.

Jesse Winker (CIN) – OF, 39% Owned
I absolutely love Winker’s approach. He’s walking more than he’s striking out and since June 1st no one in Major League Baseball has a higher OBP (.476). His .400 BABIP in that time frame is high, but when you consider his 53% hard contact rate combined with a near 35% line drive rate, it’s justifies an elevated rate. Winker doesn’t provide speed and I wish he’d hit the ball in the air more because a 32% fly ball rate isn’t going to yield more than 20 homers. Either way, he’s a great source of average/OBP, runs, and can provide some pop. Add in all leagues

Rougned Odor (TEX) – 2B, 45% Owned
If you left Odor for dead months ago, I don’t blame you. Early on, Odor somehow looked worse than his did in 2017. There was a time in May where Odor had an infield fly rate of over 35%! At that time, he also had a high quantity of weak ground balls, it was ugly. Since the start of June, he’s cut his IFFB% to a much more reasonable 10%. His hard contact has been sitting around 40% and his zone contact is up around 90%. The results are there as well, he’s hitting .300 with six home runs and seven steals since June 1. Odor is an add in all leagues right now. Add in all leagues

Ketel Marte (ARI) – SS, 22% Owned
Marte basically did nothing the first month and a half like most of the Diamondbacks, but has been solid since. Marte has improved on his O-Swing and currently has a very solid 92% zone contact rate. Since June 1st, Marte turned up the power with 8 HR, 2 steals and a .281 average. His walk rate has also improved and his 43% hard contact rate since the start of June is well above league average. Marte hits too many balls on the ground to have huge power upside but also has more speed than he’s displayed. I love players with high contact rates that have 15-20 HR upside. Grab him for solid average, 5-8 HR and a few steals. Add in 14-team and deeper leagues

Jake Bauers (TB) – 1B, 23% Owned
Bauers is another young hitter with elite plate discipline. These are my kind of players and he’s got above average speed for a first baseman. Bauers is similar to Winker because he squares up a lot balls with a 46% hard contact rate but a low 33% fly ball rate will cap his power. He does strike out a bit more than Winker but it’s still just about league average. Bauers possess above average speed which is rare for 1B eligible players. He profiles as a 15-20 HR hitter with around 10 steals and a .275-.280 average over a full season. He gets a bump in OBP leagues. Add in 12-team and deeper leagues; add in all OBP leagues



Jason Heyward (CHC) – OF, 33% Owned
Yes, I know, it’s Jay-Hey. He hasn’t been fantasy relevant for about 2.5 years and it’s not like he’s killing it this year with only six homers and one steal. However, his .284 average with a .351 OBP are at least helpful in all formats. Plus, he’s hitting .302 with four home runs since June 1. Joe Maddon has even began slotting him the two-hole at times which has boosted his run production. The last two seasons, Heyward averaged 114 runs+RBI, this year he already has 94 runs+RBI, on pace for 150. His strikeout rate is also down to a career low 10.7%, so he’s likely going to keep the batting average steady. He’s still not 12-team viable but in 15 team leagues, he can help in two-three categories. Add in 14-team and deeper leagues

Charlie Culberson (ATL) – SS, 3B, OF, 2% Owned
Culberson has basically been a utility player for the Braves this season managing only 188 plate appearances in 2018. The leg injury to Ozzie Albies has given Culberson the start at second base the last few days but he’s also been used at 3B and the outfield. As the Dog Days of summer start rolling in, Culberson could find a little bit more playing time. Since the start of June Culberson is hitting .303 with 4 homers and 2 steals in only 117 plate appearances. No one is rushing out to get him but if you need depth at MI, CI, or in the outfield in deeper leagues, he’s a good bench guy to grab. Add in deep 15-team and NL Only leagues

Garrett Hampson (COL) – 2B, 5% Owned
The Rockies prospect was called up last week after hitting 8 homers and compiling 33 steals across two levels in 2018. He’s filling in for the injured DJ LeMaheiu but could stay up if he performs well. Hampson has great speed and should continue running in the Majors. He managed to get 51 steals in High-A in 2017 so I wouldn’t be surprised if he swiped eight to ten bags if he remains up with the big club. Hampson is also not a zero in terms of power, especially in Colorado. I’d be very aggressive in adding Hampson in all leagues because of his intriguing upside but understand he could be sent back down in a couple weeks. I’d roll the dice. Add in 12-team and deeper leagues

Pitchers

Shane Bieber (CLE) - SP, 47% Owned
Bieber has been impressive in his short stint in the Majors thus far. He was sent back down during the All-Star break to continue to get work but has since been called back up. He’s been fantastic and has managed a 3.52 ERA with an outrageously inflated .362 BABIP. Bieber has given up a high percentage of hard contact, so a low HR/FB might jump up a bit. That might be OK if the BABIP regresses. Plus, he’s got above average O-Swing, SwStr rate, and contact rate compared to league average. His walk rate sits at a minuscule 4.4%, so free passes are not an issue. I love Bieber, and he’s my top add of this pitching group. Add in all leagues

Kevin Gausman (BAL) - SP, 42% Owned
Gausman continues to be inconsistent but he seems to pull things together in the second half. The timing of this isn't great after the beating by the Red Sox, but Gausman's peripherals look as good as ever. His swings outside the zone sits near 35% and his swinging strike rate is a career high 11.5%. Gausman doesn't give up a ton of hard contact in a year where hard contact is up 3% across the board. Maybe it's the 3.58 career second half ERA with a strikeout rate that's 4% higher after the All-Star break. Either way, he's due some positive regression. Add in 12-team and deeper leagues

Jordan Zimmerman (DET) - SP, 27% Owned
After an awful start to the season, I had all but forgotten about Zimmerman. Prior to this season, he hadn’t provided a K/9 over 6.0 since 2015. That’s trash for fantasy purposes. This year, he’s over 8.0 K/9. He’s lower his fastball and upped his slider usage, which is great. In his last six starts he has a 2.21 ERA with a 30.1 K-BB% and 22% soft contact rate. As long as he keeps throwing the slider over 35%, I recommend him in all leagues.

Dereck Rodriguez (SF) - SP, 25% Owned
Ivan’s son might not play the same position as his Hall-of-Fame Father, but he certainly inherited his cannon for an arm. Rodriguez is another low-strikeout pitcher, which I understand isn't exciting, but that’s where the value is on the waiver wire. Everyone wants the 10 K/9 pitchers, so there’s less available. His best pitch is probably his changeup and his sinker is by far the worst pitch in his arsenal. Rodriguez’s sinker only gets ground balls 45% of the time. Sinker’s typically don;t get swings and misses and D-Rod’s is not different, but they are effective because of the high ground ball rates near 60%. A 45% rate will not cut it. It sounds like I’m talking you out of grabbing Rodriguez, but here’s the thing. Since June 16th, he’s cut his sinker usage and has thrown more change ups. Since then, he has a 1.98 ERA! The trend is getting better as well as his change up usage is over 20% over his last two starts compared to a season low for the sinker.Whew, sorry that was long winded. Either way, he and his pitching coaches are figuring out the combination that works. Go get em in 12-team and deeper leagues

Zack Wheeler (NYM) - SP, 23% Owned
Wheeler is healthy and slinging fastballs around 97 mph and has touched 100 mph several times in recent starts. Wheeler’s 4.44 ERA, 8.89 K/9, and 3.35 BB/9 don’t exactly jump off the page at you, but he’s been better than the numbers indicate. Wheeler is generating a ton weak contact and limits hard contact. He has two plus pitches, his fastball and slider which he throws a combined 77% of the time. He’s also increased his swinging strike rate to an above average 11% and has increased swings outside the zone. Since May 22nd, Wheeler has a 3.63 ERA with a 2.99 BB/9. His SIERA and FIP match his sub-4.00 ERA and I think the best is yet to come with Wheeler. He’s intriguing in most leagues.



Tyler Mahle (CIN) - SP, 17% Owned
Mahle is a young pitcher who has given up quite a few homers but has some decent swing a miss stuff. Since June 1 he sports a 3.78 ERA with nearly a strikeout per inning and his homerun rate is down 0.5 HR/9 from his season rate. Not bad but he still has an elevated walk rate. Mahle is a streamer in 12 team leagues but I'd grab him in 15-team and deeper leagues.

Michael Pineda (MIN) - SP, 1% Owned
Remember Pineada? He used to post great strikeout numbers, walk no one and give up a ton of home runs. Well, he's with the Twins now and is beginning to throw in simulated games. He's scheduled to be back by the start of September and plays in a better pitchers park and doesn't get to face much of the AL East. He's a deep league stash for some strikeout upside. It's risky, but for deep 15+ team leagues, you could do much worse.



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Second Base – The Choice is Yours

I am going to round out the infield with second baseman as the regular season is literally eight days away! Some people have already had their drafts but this upcoming weekend is the last big time-frame for fantasy baseball drafts. I’d like to get the starting pitcher “The Choice is Yours” but I’ve been busy writing a few articles for draft preparation over at FantasyPros, so go check it out. If I can’t get to it, I’ll post all the pitchers I’m way higher/lower on than Yahoo ADP. Today I’m looking at five mystery second baseman using ZIPS projections and NFBC ADP. Second base is similar to shortstops in that I can’t believe how deep the position is compared to years past. There’s just so much offensive talent in today’s game, I wouldn’t put extra weight on positions like 2B and SS like in the past when they were considered shallow. Get your guys and get your numbers, catcher is the only shallow position in my opinion. Let’s look at our 2B mystery players.

2B ZIPS Projections   NFBC
PlayerAVGHRRRBISBADP
Player A0.283207484284
Player B0.25421637112103
Player C0.25629868614104
Player D0.25528778511128
Player E0.26116835811184

Player A looks like a safe bet to at least contribute in four categories but clearly has no speed. However, he’s doesn’t appear to excel in any single category. This AL veteran has long been considered one of the best second basemen of the last decade and has made eight All-Star appearances. Ok, this one is pretty easy, Player A is Robinson Cano. He’s not a bad “safe” pick but he’s 35 years old and his home runs totals the last four seasons are 14, 21, 39, and 23. The 39 in 2016 appears to be an outlier for an aging veteran who never really had elite power. Cano has always been a high contact guy with elevated BABIPs which typically were justified. However, his BABIP is trending in the wrong direction from .334 in 2014 and on a steady decline to .294 last year. Cano is no longer a .300 hitter and I expect the batting and average and power to continue their downward descent. DON’T GET WITH THIS.

Player B is one of the more exciting players to watch. He’s a wizard defensively and can hit some moon shots (when he connects). He’s on my hometown team so I get a lot of exposure to him, he’s only 25 years old and has over 360 games played in the majors. Player B is Javy Baez. Yes, he did have a solid season last year with a .273, 23 HR and 10 steals in only 508 plate appearances. If you’ve been visiting my site, you know I’m not a huge fan, here’s my bust post I wrote back in January. Click bait! Anyways, the keys points are that he swings at everything, doesn’t make a lot of contact, and doesn’t hit the ball hard constantly. Playing time could be an issue with Joe Maddon and the Cubs if he doesn’t kick the old habits. His stat line was just fine last year but xStats pegged Baez for a triple slash of .242/.317/.431 with a xBABIP of .304. If that isn’t bad enough, Javy was second to last in both O-Swing% and SwStr% which means he chased pitches out of the zone and swung and missed almost as much as anybody in the league. DON’T GET WITH THIS.

Player C looks like the best combination of power and speed based on ZIPS projections. He’s also one of the three players clumped in a tight ADP window that includes Baez and Player D below. Based on his projections, there’s no reason he should be drafted at the same ADP as Baez and I already wrote about my displeasure for the Baez ADP. The issue is that Player C hit an atrocious .204 last year! Ok, so Player C is Rougned Odor. Yes, the strikeout rate went up to a career-worst 24.9% and his plate discipline is poor, but it’s not as bad as Baez’. He still managed to hit 30 home runs and steal 15 bases which were nearly identical to 2016 and he’s only 24 years old. Bottom line is his BABIP won’t be .224 again and the power is legit justified by a 37% hard contact rate. A .250-30-14 season is much more likely for Odor is 2018. GET WITH THIS. 

Player D looks almost identical to Odor with a little less speed and maybe that’s why his ADP is a little lower. Player D is also very young (only 23), has a lot of swing and miss to his game, but actually has an above average walk rate, unlike the rest of this list. He also has a playing time issue similar to Baez but is eligible in the outfield as well. Player D is Ian Happ. I really like young players with good walk rates, it shows maturity and potential upside. His 30+% K rate is bad but his profile looks good in that he hits about 40% fly balls and only had a 3.2% IFFB rate, meaning he’s getting good value out of his fly balls, hence the 25% HR/FB rate. I don’t think he will repeat that but he did hit 24 home runs in only 413 plate appearances. So he has a little more power than Baez and a little less speed with a better walk rate, I’ll take my chances with Happ two rounds later. GET WITH THIS.

Player E is the other old man of the group. He had one of the worst seasons of his career and is now playing for a new club. To me, his poor season was fueled by a poor BABIP because his walk rate improved, his hard contact was the highest of his career, and his approach remained well above average. Player E is Ian Kinsler. Yeah, lots of Ian talk today. Kinsler is 35 years-old but I think the projection by ZIPS is a bit low. He’s averaged 25 home runs the last two seasons and will be leading off in front of Mike Trout. His SwStr rate and K rate remaining near elite and the improvement in walk rate mean plenty of runs. I can easily see 20 homers, 10 steals with 95-105 runs. His ADP needs to be inside the top 150. GET WITH THIS.