2014 Fantasy Baseball: Week Six Roundup
One of the great things about watching baseball is that you never know what you are going to see in a particular game. The uncertainty is what keeps us intrigued over a marathon of a season that consists of 162 games. Any avid sports fan will tell you that if you just so happen to be lucky enough to see a one of a kind moment, it makes the experience that much more special. For the lucky few Rockies fans in attendance for Colorado’s game versus the Texas Rangers in Arlington last night, they witnessed an accomplishment that was a first in team history.
The accomplishment at hand happens to be second-year third baseman Nolan Arenado setting a Rockies record with his 28-game hit streak he established on Thursday night with his third inning single. Heading into the season we already knew Arenado was a defensive whiz as evidenced by the Gold Glove he won as a rookie and the seemingly endless amount of highlight reel plays he makes. What many didn’t know is what Arenado’s production at the plate would look like. Over his first 37 games though, Arenado has shown that he can hit with the best of them as well. I know defense doesn’t matter in fantasy baseball, but check out the crazy gif below. The play at first wasn’t even close.
With that stellar gif in the back of your mind, it’s time to get the week six roundup started. Of course, Arenado is our first topic of discussion.
Arenado Halfway to DiMaggio
With hits in 28 straight games, Arenado is halfway to the magical number that is Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hit streak, an MLB record that has stood for the last 72 years. The 23-year-old third baseman was only hitting .200 before his streak began. During his hitting streak though, he has raised his average over 100 points by going 40-111 (.360) at the plate. His current .322/.344/.527 slash line is solid and he has plenty of counting statistics as well (6 HR, 26 RBI, 21 R).
He has already provided 1.4 WAR and his .322 average is 12th best in the league. His .205 ISO is promising and he has also decreased his strikeout rate from 14% in 2013 to 11.5% this year. A five percent increase in his fly ball rate (38.9%) suggests he will have no problem clearing the 20 homer threshold, especially since he plays half his games at Coors Field. Additionally, Arenado is swinging less at pitches outside the strike zone while also making more contact when he does swing.
One negative in his statistical profile is his 4.6% walk rate but Arenado has always been known as a bit of a free swinger and his approach at the plate is obviously working just fine at the moment. I’m pretty high on him for the rest of the season, I think he can provide top 5 value at the third base. At worst, he’ll be a top 10 guy at the hot corner the rest of the way. I wouldn’t be looking to sell high. Somehow Arenado is only 89% owned in Y! leagues, that number should be 100%. If he’s somehow sitting on any waiver wires, although I imagine he’s not in most competitive leagues, pick him up now.
Edwin Taking Parrots for Walks
If you have no idea what the headline above meant, I don’t blame you at all. What it is referring to is the way Edwin Encarnacion tends to hold his right arm as he makes his trot around the bases after a home run. I’ve always wondered why he does this as it’s a pretty comical sight and today I finally found the answer. Enjoy the gif below.
Fantasy owners who spent an early round draft pick on Encarnacion have been wondering when the 30+ home runs they expected from the artist formerly known as “E9” were going to come this season. Fortunately for those owners, the answer appears to be right now. In his first 32 games Encarnacion only had two roundtrippers. Want to guess how many he has hit the last three games? If you guessed four, you’re correct. He has homered his last three games (including two last night) and during that time he is 7-13 with four home runs, 7 RBI, and five runs. His .257/.344/.493 slash line leaves a lot to be desired as do his overall totals of six home runs and 24 RBI, but his production is going to pick up soon.
A few concerning trends in Edwin’s game are his rising strikeout rate (18.2%) and his current career-low line drive rate (16.7%). Encarnacion has also seen his HR/FB ratio plummet in the early stages of this season. In his last two years with the Toronto Blue Jays, Encarnacion had HR/FB ratios of 18.7% and 17.6%. This year, that number is at 11.6% and before his two homer outburst last night, it was at 8.3%.
There were concerns entering the year about how offseason wrist surgery would affect the power of the Blue Jays slugger but he dismissed any notion it would hinder his ability at the plate by saying he was fully healthy. There’s no way to really know how much his wrist is affecting his performance, if at all, but I tend to trust him when he says he’s fine. Many of his other rates are close to the numbers he’s posted throughout his career and owners have likely already weathered the worst of the storm so to speak since he is producing now. The time to buy-low on Encarnacion may have already passed, but I would advise buying on Encarnacion the rest of season. Hitters with the ability to hit 40+ bombs are pretty rare now and he could swing the HR category your way when he gets hot like he is now.
Cargo Back on Track
One of the biggest caveats that comes with drafting Carlos Gonzalez is he is injury-prone and you can usually expect a DL stint or three for him throughout the season. When he’s out playing on the field, he’s as talented of a player as there is in MLB. True to form, Cargo has already missed time this year due to a sore knee and finger contusion and his numbers for the season haven’t exactly been All-Star caliber. Prior to the 10-game hit streak he is currently riding, Gonzalez was hitting .234 with a .287 OBP. By going 17-44 at the plate the last 10 games, Cargo has raised his season slash line to .283/.322/.522. Still not what you expected when you drafted him but better than it was a week ago.
His counting stats of seven home runs, 25 RBI, and 24 runs aren’t too bad, although his meager steal total of two is a bit disappointing. He’s sporting a 5.5% walk rate, a rate that only betters the one he posted his rookie year. The low walk total is no doubt affecting his .322 OBP, although I think he’ll get past his career .355 OBP average when it’s all said and done. When he does put the ball in play, he seems to be getting a tad bit unlucky. His current BABIP (.308) is almost 40 points lower than the .346 BABIP he has averaged the last six seasons. Look for that trend to correct itself quickly.
The problems with Cargo seem to stem from his astronomical ground ball rate (52.7%) and a staggeringly low fly ball rate (30.9%). Hitting line drives at a 16.4% clip isn’t helping him too much either. One positive is he is striking out a career-low rate. Obviously many of the aforementioned statistics don’t paint a pretty picture of Gonzalez this season, but I’m certainly not fretting about his somewhat sluggish start. The changes in his advanced statistics make me think it’s more of an anomaly than anything, I’d much rather rely on his previous body of work, which is excellent. Buying low isn’t a bad idea at the moment, but the risk you would be taking on is not for the faint of heart.
Will the Real Ian Kennedy Please Stand Up?
Since his extraordinary 2011 season with the Arizona Diamondbacks (21-4, 2.88 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 198:55 K/BB) Kennedy has floundered over the last two years (4.49 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 55 home runs allowed). Even after he got traded from the Diamondbacks to the San Diego Padres last year, he still struggled in pitcher-friendly Petco Park. Trying to assess his value for the upcoming season became that much tougher due to two subpar years in row. It’s safe to say that not many fantasy owners expected Kennedy to come out pitching like a potential Cy Young candidate like he was in 2011.
Through his eight starts so far, Kennedy is 2-4 with a 3.12 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and a 56:11 K/BB ratio in 49 innings pitched. His win loss record is certainly no indication of how well he has pitched this season. He put an exclamation point on his great start by throwing an absolute gem against a surging Miami Marlins team last night. Over seven innings, Kennedy allowed only four hits and one earned run while striking out 12. Although it didn’t result in him receiving a win, we all know wins are a fickle stat that shouldn’t determine the worth of a night’s outing. Kennedy was simply magnificent. Even more encouraging is his 2.33 FIP, an indicator that his current ERA could be even lower.
Compared to his sensational 2011 season, Kennedy currently has a higher strikeout rate (28.3%) and lower walk rate (5.6%). A couple stats that really jump out are Kennedy’s substantial increase in coaxing ground balls (46.9%) as well as posting a career-low fly ball rate (33.6%). Another encouraging development is that he has only surrendered three homers after giving up 27 and 28 the last two years.
His success seems to stem from a slight alteration in his pitching philosophy. Compared to last season, Kennedy has increased his curveball usage from 11.8% to 15.6% and has lowered his changeup usage from 21%-14.8%. His fastball has also gained 2 MPH of zip from the 2011 season. If you want to see his nasty two-seamer in GIF form, you can do so right here.
Somehow Kennedy is only owned in 44.1% of ESPN leagues and 66% of Y! leagues after his latest masterpiece. Considering his past success coupled with how well he is currently pitching, Kennedy is a must-own, must-start player right now. Make the add while you can! There is no reason he should be unowned in any competitive league at the moment. His current rates suggest that Kennedy’s value is here to stay for the rest of the season and I believe he can be a reliable SP3 with the upside for more the rest of the way.
Tidbits: Jay Bruce has been placed on the 15-day disabled list after undergoing surgery to repair a partially-torn meniscus in his left knee. He’s expected to miss roughly four weeks of action. Jeff Samardzija is somehow still winless on the season (0-3) despite posting a sparkling 1.62 ERA and 1.12 WHIP. That’s what happens when you pitch for the Chicago Cubs. Nathan Eovaldi had a dynamite start last time out against the New York Mets (7 IP, 3 ER, 5 H, 10 K) and he’s currently sporting a healthy 2.78 ERA with a 45:6 K/BB ratio. Pick him up if available, he’s the real deal. Billy Hamilton missed another game today and hasn’t returned to the lineup after spraining his knuckles on a diving catch last Thursday. Chris Davis is slated to begin a rehab assignment tomorrow. Matt Cain has been cleared to start tomorrow against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Ryan Braun is set to be activated from the DL on May 13, the day he’s first eligible to come back. Aroldis Chapman has allowed eight runs over his last two appearances during his rehab assignment but should be activated this weekend still. Anthony Rizzo is off to an extremely impressive start (.294/.414/.513) with seven bombs and 18 RBI already. So much for him not being able to hit southpaws. In 41 AB’s against lefties, Rizzo is batting .317. Juan Francisco has been a revelation for the Blue Jays with his limited playing time. In only 17 games, Francisco is batting .311 with five homers, 12 RBI, and 14 runs. Pick him up while he’s hot and ride him until the wheels fall off. After being examined by noted surgeon Dr. James Andrews, Matt Wieters has been cleared of any possible damage in his right elbow. This should bring a sigh of relief for fantasy owners as he is off to a terrific start to the season (.337, five homers, 18 RBI).
Thanks to FanGraphs and Yahoo for providing the statistical information. Be sure to comment below if you have any remarks or questions about anything discussed in the article. You can follow me on Twitter @MattMoczy and I’m more than willing to answer any questions you may have.