Let’s get into it. Thoughts, questions, whatever… you can always find me on Twitter.
CLOSING TIME IN COLORADO
Jake McGee was rocked by the Dodgers on Sunday night and though it was his first blown save of the season, it shines a light on what could quickly become a very fluid bullpen situation. I expect that McGee will get the benefit of the doubt given what the organization gave up to bring him in this winter, but even before this outing, he hadn’t been at his best, with a .143 BABIP supporting a very poor strikeout rate. He converted his first four save opportunities, but those peripherals are not what the Rockies paid for.
And in the background, guys like Miguel Castro and Boone Logan are pitching extremely well. Castro, in particular, is a very interesting player to watch. He saved a couple of games last year for the Blue Jays and has absolutely dynamite stuff.
Probably nothing will happen in the very short term, but in deeper leagues, this is a situation worth monitoring.
3 TO CATCH
Players to be picked up; available in most standard leagues
Yasmany Tomas | Arizona Diamondbacks | 3B/OF
After sputtering through his rookie season, Yasmany Tomas is settling in as a sophomore. His slugging percentage is up nearly 100 points, his walk rate has nearly doubled, and he’s significantly cut down on his strikeouts.
Often, these sorts of results come alongside improved discipline. The young hitter realizes that pitchers know how to get him out, and he adjusts his plan, eschewing pitcher’s pitches and waiting for the mistakes that he knows he can punish. At least that’s how the narrative normally goes.
Tomas’ success hasn’t come from being less aggressive, it’s come from making his aggression more focused. Last season, he was hacking at just about everything on the inner half of the plate.
This year, his hot zones are similar, but he’s focused more on pitches up in the zone, passing up low offerings that often became ground balls last season.
And that is a very good thing, because when Tomas unloads on a pitch up in the zone, this happens.
Overall, his fly ball rate is up more than 10 percentage points. He’s popped four homers and four doubles in his first 17 games. Time will tell whether pitchers adjust their approach, but for now, Tomas is a solid and widely available source of power.
Trevor Bauer | Cleveland Indians | SP
After only six outings as a reliever, Carlos Carrasco’s hamstring injury has elevated Trevor Bauer back to the Cleveland rotation*. Though his 4.50 career ERA doesn’t inspire a whole lot of confidence, Bauer undeniably has some of the most explosive raw stuff in baseball, and as a reliever, I think he may have found a more efficient way to use it. Per Brooks Baseball, the bullpen version of Bauer leaned significantly more on his collection of heaters.
This adjustment, led by an increase in cutters, had the dual impact of helping Bauer stay in the strike zone and improving the performance of his offspeed and breaking pitches, which have spiked to career best whiff rates.
Relieving and starting are two very different beasts, but stamina has never really been an issue for Bauer, and his fastball velocity didn’t increase much over shorter outings anyway. I really do think that this new approach could carry over. And that version of Bauer would be a spectacular starter.
*It’s possible that the Tribe will just stick with a four-man rotation, but given that Bauer has started for the club in the past and pitched well in relief of Carrasco on Sunday, I’d be very surprised if Terry Francona didn’t just plug him into Carrasco’s slot.
Drew Pomeranz | San Diego Padres | SP
After languishing on the island of post-hype sleepers for what seems like forever, Drew Pomeranz is breaking out. He’s whiffed 25 batters through his first three starts and hasn’t allowed more than two runs in any outing.
It’s by far his best start to a season, but there’s no magical adjustment here, he’s just been smarter about using the great stuff that he’s always had. Pomeranz is on pace to set career highs in whiff percentage on every single one of his pitches, per Brooks Baseball.
He’s kept hitters off balance by adding a cutter and varying the movement and velocity on his fastballs more than ever. Now, you’d expect the next sentence here to be something like “Pomeranz uses that fastball variety pack to set up his devastating curveball”, but that’s not really true. Part of what’s made Pomeranz so great this season is his willingness to throw any pitch in any situation. Even in two ball counts, he’s chucking curves almost 40% of the time. And in two-strike counts, he’s still throwing just over 40% fourseamers.
As long as Pomeranz can keep hitters guessing, the strikeouts will continue to follow. He’s not overpowering, but fear of the curveball makes his low-90s heater a weapon; his two best offerings are downright indistinguishable coming out of his hand.
Oh, and he gets to pitch in Petco.
3 TO CUT
Players to be traded or dropped, depending on the depth of your league
J.J. Hoover | Cincinnati Reds | RP
J.J. Hoover deserved to lose his job last week and in doing so, he’s lost the one thing that gave him fantasy value in the first place: inertia. He didn’t win the job because he was an especially good pitcher, he just happened to be in the right place when Aroldis Chapman was traded. And it’s a well known law of fantasy baseball (and physics) that a pitcher in the closer role will stay in the closer role, unless acted upon by an outside force. In Hoover’s case, those forces were the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, and Colorado Rockies. Those three teams combined to tag him for 12 hits, three homers, and 12 runs in two and a third innings spread out over four of his last five outings.
Now, riding a 15.26 ERA (and 10.63 FIP!!!) into an open competition, I can’t imagine a scenario in which Hoover wins his job back. There are reports that Hoover was tipping pitches or that he’s figured out some kind of mechanical flaw, but he was bad last season too; this isn’t just a two-week blip.
He has a career FIP of 4.35 and lost his taste for strikeouts last season, so it’s unlikely he’ll win the job on the basis of skills alone. He’s 28 years old and not signed to a long term contract, so the Reds have little incentive to stay committed to his development. And he’s only registered six saves in his big league career, so he’s nowhere close to earning the “proven closer” tag.
Even in NL-only leagues, I’m dropping him.
Julio Teheran | Atlanta Braves | SP
Per FanGraphs, Julio Teheran has been tagged for hard contact on over 45% of balls in play. He’s just not the same pitcher he was during his excellent 2013 and 2014 seasons. In those years, he excelled at getting hitters to expand the strike zone and making them miss when they did. This season, this chase rate and swinging strike rate are both well below average.
Teheran is becoming a much more predictable pitcher; everything is down the zone.
That approach helps drive up his groundball rate, which sits at a career best 42.3% this season, but are we sure that’s a good thing? Erick Aybar is at best a mediocre shortstop, Adonis Garcia is completely overmatched at third, and Jace Peterson and Daniel Castro combine to form a very underwhelming platoon at second base. Castro’s -2.6 UZR/150 is by far the best of that group this season. And yes, defensive stats are notoriously volatile in small samples, but aside from Freddie Freeman at first, no Braves infielder has proven himself to be even an average defender over the long term.
So even if there’s logic behind Teheran’s new approach, more hard contact and worse infield defense is never going to be a recipe for success.
Blake Snell | Tampa Bay Rays | SP
Blake Snell is clearly capable of getting major league hitters out; he certainly proved as much in his impressive debut over the weekend at Yankee Stadium. But that does nothing to change the fact that the combination of Tampa’s enviable rotation depth and shrewd deployment of its pitching assets severely limits Snell’s short term fantasy value. The Rays have already sent Snell back to Triple-A Durham, preferring not to carry five starting pitchers when it’s not absolutely necessary. Barring injury, there’s essentially no chance that Snell usurps Chris Archer, Drew Smyly, Matt Moore, or Jake Odorizzi. Archer is the only one of that group not pitching well at the moment, and his dominant 2015 has earned him an infinite leash. And that’s not even mentioning the fact that Erasmo Ramirez is already on the big club as a capable spot starter and Alex Cobb is on the mend.
He may very well end up back with the big club again this year, but in shallower redraft leagues, Snell just isn’t worth a roster spot at this point. If I’m holding a pitching prospect, I’d prefer one with a clearer path to a rotation slot.
3 TO KEEP
Players to hold or trade for; owned in most standard leagues
Byung-ho Park | Minnesota Twins | 1B
Byung-ho Park is whiffing in nearly a third of his plate appearances, and I am totally ok with it. For most players, a whiff rate like that would be alarming, but this is what we expected out of Park. Much like his teammate Miguel Sano, my man does not get cheated.
Park has long swing that generates tremendous power; he willingly sacrifices contact rate. So yeah, he’s one of only a handful of major leaguers to strike out in more than 30% of his plate appearances, but in exchange, he’s among the league leaders in hard contact rate and batted ball distance.
Sure, he’s not perfect, but the big question with Park is whether the power he showed in Korea would translate to MLB. I think we can say he’s proven that it will. Even with the strikeouts and an impossibly high HR/FB rate in the earlygoing, I’m optimistic about his chances to get to 30 homers this season.
Mat Latos | Chicago White Sox | SP
On the one hand, a guy sporting both an 0.74 ERA and a 4.63 ERA projection for the rest of the season should probably never end up in this section of the column. But on the other hand, Don Cooper is a freaking wizard.
Mat Latos, the same Mat Latos who bounced between three teams and pitched to a 4.95 ERA last season, is leading all starters in generating weak contact, per FanGraphs. Under Cooper’s tutelage, he’s made some slight tweaks to his pitch mix that have undoubtedly helped to produce these stellar results.
For what it’s worth, the season in Latos’ past that bears the most pitch mix resemblance to his present is 2013, when he set a career high in WAR and pitched to a 3.16 ERA and 21.6% strikeout rate. I don’t think there’s much chance of that strikeout rate coming back, but with the way Latos is keeping hitters off balance, he can certainly keep his ERA down.
I wouldn’t advocate giving up much to get him, but if you’ve got him on your squad, hold on, at least until he starts showing signs of decline.
Jose Abreu | Chicago White Sox | 1B
Jose Abreu has stumbled to a .183/.259/.388 line out of the gate, with more soft contact than hard contact, per FanGraphs. He’s only managed three home runs and after starting his career with back-to-back 100 RBI seasons, he’s driven in only eight runs through 19 games.
But fear not, Abreu is going to be just fine. He’s not pressing; his plate discipline numbers are in line with (or in some cases, better than) his career averages. And he’s not changing the type of contact he creates. In fact, Abreu is elevating the ball more and hitting it further than he ever has before. His 323-foot average batted ball distance is in a virtual tie with Chris Davis, who already has six homers this season.