Wednesday, May 22, 2013

I want Moore! Give Me Moore!

Mike Podhorzer over at FanGraphs makes the case that you should sell high on Matt Moore. He offers a very compelling argument, but I'll tell you why Moore will remain successful throughout the year.

Moore has been able to compensate for his shortcomings by increasing his slider usage, easily his best pitch. That’s going to keep him at bay in the short term, but yes he needs to correct his shortcomings before running into danger.

The good news is that the walk rate is trending in the right direction. His last 2 starts aren't a great sample size to read too much into, but a 2.08 BB/9 is at the very least a positive indicator. Moore also has a reputation for being a slow starter. He shaved .92 off of his BB/9 in the 2nd half last season, and developed better control as the season went on during his years in the minors as well.

Fewer line drives are being hit off Moore, and the pitch values on his 2 seamer and changeup are grading out higher than last year. At 23 years of age he's still a pup, still learning and improving. He will suffer some bumps and bruises at times, but Moore has the demeanor and talent of a man who will continue to frustrate opposing batters.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

3 Bats & 3 Arms

Matt Kemp's power outage is very real. His batted ball distance on homers and fly balls this year averages 269.79 feet, last year he lead the league with a 313 foot average distance. MLB average is 275-280 feet. The offseason shoulder surgery is the obvious culprit. 

The Dodgers likely wouldn't risk long term injury by having him play every day if he wasn't feeling 100%, so that's the good news. Power is usually the last thing to come back in the recovery process. I think the Dodgers will likely administer a cortisone shot in the near future. It's what turned Ryan Zimmerman’s season around last year while he was nursing a bum shoulder, and Kemp received one in September last year and cranked out 6 HR that month. I’m not a doctor, but experts in the field have suggested the same thing.

That won’t be the cure to all of his problems though. It won’t improve his hand-eye coordination. K% is up, BB% is down, but Kemp has likely been pressing at the plate due to high expectations of him. Hopefully the HR he hit last night was the confidence booster he needed.

I’m bullish on the AVG and HR to improve, but I just can’t project them to come back at the high levels fantasy owners got in ’11 and ’12. Still too much uncertainty with how Kemp and the Dodgers are managing the shoulder. Think .280, 17 HR the rest of the way as a modest projection.

Manny Machado has been great, but just how great? Assuming he plays in all 162 games (a tall order), he's on pace for 18 HR/14 SB. Good, but not the type of numbers that usually wind up inside the top 30 on the Y! player rater. It's the AVG and RBI/R that give him a lot of value. Machado doesn't exactly have great plate discipline, not working the count and putting balls in play that he shouldn't be chasing. A high BABIP is fueling his average. Remember he never hit for a great AVG in the minors, he's more of a .270-.275 hitter. A lower AVG also means lower counting stats. With a high probability of regression and potential fatigue, he’s likely to hit a speed bump this year.

Gerardo Parra has been a nice surprise, but he's only on pace for a 14/14 season while playing over his head. Let's not act like he's a world beater. Adam Eaton is due back soon which will cut into his playing time as well. He's a good bet to fall off the fantasy map in most formats.

Normally I wouldn't say to trade for a pitcher with an ERA over 5 that’s on the disabled list, but David Price is the exception to that rule. Still has a K/9 above 8, sub 2.5 BB/9, and nothing alarming in his batted ball data.

He has lost some juice on the fastball, but since he’s actually gained some zip on his curve and changeup, I’m optimistic the flames will come back. Playing in the AL East is always a tall task, but his matchups have been even tougher than usual. Only 1 offense he’s faced has been in the bottom half of league scoring, and that’s the Blue Jays who are #16 out of 30. Soon enough he will wind up with a soft schedule to pad his stats.

Marco Estrada has a K/9 above 8, BB/9 under 3, inducing more grounders/fewer liners/less fly balls, yet his HR/9 is up. SwStr% is up slightly, and his contact rate is down. Velocity is down a bit and he’s not working inside the strike zone as much, but his pitches are still doing what they’re supposed to do. Late movement on the fastball, off-speed pitches are still breaking hard, etc. He's not going to cost you an arm and a leg, so why not take a flier on him and buy low?

Hisashi Iwakuma has been a big surprise and a great story, but everything I see screams that a decline is certain. 180 degree in his batted ball data, more fly balls/less grounders, and his HR/9 is somehow down. The batted ball distance is down 1.3 feet, virtually identical. Velocity is down on all of his pitches. His pitch selection remains close to the same as last year. Batters are swinging at the same rate as last year and making the same amount of contact inside the zone. How he’s been able to miss more bats is puzzling.

The biggest improvement is his control, big slash in BB/9. He’s throwing more first pitch strikes and constantly working inside the strike zone. Considering he was known for his control in Japan, it makes sense that this would return after a year of experience in America.

I also worry about his endurance. During his time in Japan he wasn't able to eat up innings, dealing with a shoulder injury that would bark up from time to time. He’s on pace to throw for a career high 230 innings, but he only logged 119 in 2011 and 125 last season. He could slow down or have that injury bark up again.
None of this is meant to bash Iwakuma, but to highlight the unsustainable numbers he’s put up. He’s the #9 SP in the Y! player rater. If you can convince someone he’s an ace, sell him high.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Fast Take- Josh Donaldson & Joe Mauer

Donaldson has always flashed good plate discipline in the minors, but never really made great contact. As seen here, Donaldson has made the mechanical adjustments necessary to generate more power. He posted a .1000 OPS in AAA last year, .844 OPS in the bigs after the ASB, and currently has a .936 OPS. Selective sampling, I know, but it looks like he's turned a corner.

His .360 BABIP would hint that he can’t sustain a .323 batting average, but a rough estimation of his XBABIP spits out a .337 mark. So even if you shaved off .23 off of his AVG due to luck, Donaldson is still hitting a cool .300.

Donaldson currently has a prime spot in the heart of the order batting 5th, so RBI are ripe for the taking. I’m curious to see where Bob Melvin will insert Josh Reddick once he returns from the disabled list. Reddick was dropped in the order because of a very poor start. If he gets the vote of confidence and returns to the #3 spot it’s bad news for Donaldson’s counting stats. Ideally Reddick gets slotted in the #6 spot to give Donaldson some protection.

If you can trade Donaldson for proven talent by all means go for it, otherwise he looks good to roster for the rest of the season.

Mauer has really become unhinged at the plate, striking out 20.9% of the time this year when his career rate sits at 10.8%. This isn't just an aberration, it’s a trend. This is the 3rd straight year his K rate has increased. He’s chasing pitches that he doesn't even normally think about taking the bat off of his shoulder for. His stats still look good, but his problems have been masked by a league high .451 BABIP.

wouldn't worry about him too much this year, he’s still talented enough to get away with these issues for now. For those who own him in keeper leagues, this is a clear sign. A 30 year old catcher with an injury prone past is starting to become reckless. Now is the time to sell.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Buy Low/Sell High- Lance Lynn, Victor Martinez, Carlos Gomez

Lance Lynn is off to another hot start this season, but just like last year it wasn't meant to last. Another correction is coming soon. He just can't sustain success throwing the fastball 70% of the time. Gio Gonzalez, Clayton Kershaw, and David Price are the only 3 pitchers from 2010-2012 to post gaudy stats throwing the heat over 70% of the time. No disrespect to Lynn, but he's just not on the same level as those guys. Sell high.

V-Mart hasn't returned from his injury as many had hoped, but those who remain patient will soon be rewarded. He's nothing but a victim of a poor BABIP. He's walking and striking out at a rate that we're used to seeing, he continues to spray the ball all over the field, and he's hitting the ball with authority. Some suggest he's nursing an injury, but his batted ball distance on fly balls + HR is up 13 feet from his 2011 batted ball data. That suggests otherwise. Buy low.

A great finish last year and he's off to a superb start this year. Always been well regarded by scouts and his breakout has people thinking he was just a late bloomer. I happen to think he's just in the middle of the greatest stretch of his career. His plate discipline remains abysmal and his batted ball distance on fly balls plus HR is down 10 feet from last season. An absurd .423 BABIP is fueling his performance. Sell high.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Clay Buchholz- Legit or Not?

His K/9 is definitely going to come back down to earth. His velocity hasn't changed from last year, his SwStr% is around career norms, and he's throwing fewer pitches in the zone.

However, Jack Moore over at FanGraphs writes:

So what’s new? Via last night’s Blue Jays broadcast, Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said Buchholz’s biggest difference is improved fastball command. And indeed, the numbers (via bear this out: Buchholz has thrown his four-seam fastball for a called strike 27.5 percent of the time this year after just 22.8 percent in 2012. Conversely, the pitch has seen a similar drop in in-play rate. Considering Buchholz has allowed a .537 slugging on contact on the pitch for his career — the worst by over 100 points for any pitch he still throws — the fewer four-seam fastballs put in play the better.

By keeping the fastballs on the corners, something he did proficiently Wednesday night, he’ll turn what used to be balls in play into called strikes or foul balls. He has thrown the fastball for a strike but not in play 51.8 percent of the time this year, six points higher than last season. And, with 160 four-seam fastballs thrown already this season, this difference is already statistically significant (in a 90 percent confidence interval, to be specific).

His HR/FB won’t stay grounded at 3.7 percent, but keeping fastballs out of play will keep it from escalating too quickly. It’s especially key because he needs to be able to throw the fastball to get into favorable counts — it’s his best-controlled pitch at about 68 percent strikes the last two seasons, slightly better than the two-seamer and much better than his off-speed options.

And thanks to those fastball strikes, Buchholz has been in plenty of two-strike counts. The next question, then, is which pitch will be the out pitch. His curveball has been shockingly bad at drawing whiffs — under 10 percent since 2007, close to the major league fastball average — and that hasn’t changed this year. But his changeup, at least in 2013, has been an elite swing-and-miss pitch. Of the 74 Buchholz has tossed, hitters have waved at 20, a massive 27 percent.

As mentioned above, Buchholz’s changeup has been heralded in the past; a 70 grade is frontline material. But he was struggling mightily with the pitch last season, so much so that he scrapped it for a splitter Josh Beckett taught him after he threw the pitch for a ball nearly 50 percent of the time in April last season.

That arsenal change didn’t take as the calendar flipped to 2013. Buchholz had little trouble drawing swings and misses when he used the changeup in 2012 — 18.9 percent is still an excellent mark for a changeup — and his control issues have disappeared. Buchholz threw 13 changeups Wednesday night with nine (69 percent) going for strikes, and his 63 percent overall strike rate works fine for a pitch designed to fool hitters. The pitch has been devastating to left-handers and right-handers alike, with whiff rates over 20 percent to both sides. It’s been so good, he’s put the splitter back in the toolbox, leaving it as a side project for bullpen sessions.

Things will come back to earth. Buchholz’s changeup probably won’t finish with a higher whiff rate than Aroldis Chapman‘s slider (currently at 24.4 percent). Teams will tag his fastball for a few home runs. But Buchholz has already thrown enough fastballs to suggest his control and command of the pitch have improved this year, and his changeup has been a highly regarded pitch dating back to his time in Double-A. If he can maintain even a fraction of the improvements he’s shown over his first five starts with these two pitches, the Red Sox can expect Buchholz to finally step into his frontline potential.

There's certainly reason for optimism. In addition there are 2 big things that I can take away from looking at his stats:

#1. Big leap in first pitch strikes. This started last year and really amplified in June. Getting ahead in the count has made a huge difference for Clay. This looks stable.

#2. Big decline in Swing %. Jack notes Buchholz has done a good job painting corners, but it's also been the movement on his pitches landing anywhere in the strike zone. You know how a batter will admit he was fooled by shaking his head after a swinging strike? I've seen more head shakes, deep breaths, and other assorted dejected body language from hitters on called strikes. Clays pitches are dancing. Pitch looks like it's outside the plate, and breaks into the strike zone at the last possible moment. This is where the doctoring accusations become really interesting IMO. He's already made 2 starts post allegations, going 14 innings with a 3.85 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, and 13 K's. Not terrible, not great either. Of course 2 starts isn't a lot to go on.

I'd like to see 3-4 more starts before making a firm declaration on his outlook for the rest of the season. If I had to make a decision right now, I'd sell high if possible. When in doubt don't trust a 6 week sample size. From here on out I'll project a 3.55 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and a 7.2 K/9. Still a perfectly solid starter, but not an ace.