Grading the Unexpected Aces: Wacha, Liriano, Burnett, Martinez and Odorizzi

Let’s take a look at another batch of pitchers having great years despite low pre-season rankings. All of the pitchers below are currently ranked in the top 25 starting pitchers in baseball in 5×5 leagues. Are they flukes or can we expect them to continue pitching at an elite level?

Michael Wacha, Cardinals — 9-3 Record, 2.85 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 69 Strikeouts in 88.1 innings.

Wacha was not a low-ranked pitcher this offseason. In most rankings he sat in the 35-50 range among starting pitchers. But so far this season he has been a top-15 pitcher in 5×5 leagues. His 7.03 K/9 is a league average strikeout rate. His 2.04 BB/9 walk rate is better than average. Wacha has been a little bit lucky with the .262 BABIP that should rise up to the .295 range. The Cardinals are not a very good defensive team that can maintain his BABIP far below league average. Wacha’s home run rate is low again this year despite having a neutral ground ball profile. We should expect him to allow a few more homers as the season rolls along. His 3.61 xFIP and 3.76 SIERA point toward a bump in his 2.85 ERA, but I think we should continue to see Wacha perform very similarly to what he has done throughout his career. The Cardinals are a strong team who can provide Wacha with plenty of support from the offense and the bullpen, and they play in a strong pitcher’s park. Expect a slight drop in the winning percentage and a slight rise in the ERA and WHIP. We are looking at an above average but not elite pitcher in a great situation to succeed. Verdict: The Real Deal. Continue to roll with him. Trade for him if the price is reasonable. Continue reading

Grading the Unexpected Aces: Archer, Keuchel, Hammel, Miller and Pineda

We are getting close to the halfway point of the baseball season and there are several pitchers having great years despite low pre-season rankings. All of the pitchers below are currently ranked in the top 25 starting pitchers in baseball in 5×5 leagues. Are they flukes or can we expect them to continue pitching at an elite level?

Chris Archer, Rays — 7-4 Record, 1.84 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 108 Strikeouts in 83 innings.

What is not to like about Chris Archer? He was never expected to be this good, but his performance is totally real. He has an ultra-elite 11.71 K/9 strikeout rate, a very good 2.17 BB/9 walk rate, a top 10 fastball velocity and a devastating slider.  He has been a bit fortunate with Continue reading

Buy, Sell or Hold? Hot Royals Hitters Edition

Let’s get right to it. We are going to examine some hitters who have performed much better than expected so far this year.

Mike Moustakas, Royals — .322 AVG, 5 HRs, 28 Runs, 16 RBI, 1 Steal

A month ago I talked about Moustakas HERE.  I told you to avoid him like the plague despite his hot start. He has not been as bad as I thought he would be, but he has not been as good in May as he was in April. In April he was awesome, putting up a .356/.420/.522 slash line for a .942 OPS. In May he has fallen off to a .286/.330/.440 slash for a .770 OPS. That is still pretty good, but remember this is a guy with a career .686 OPS, and that includes his excellent 2015 stats. Moustakas’ BABIP this year is .349, which is 81 points higher than his career BABIP. That is a very strong sign that he has been quite lucky, especially when you consider his batted ball profile is less impressive than it usually is. The narrative we hear on TV is that he has improved his approach by hitting the ball to the opposite field to beat the shift. That is true because his Oppo% is 35% this year compared to his career 23%. However his Soft, Medium and Hard hit percentages are exactly the same as his career. In fact he hit the ball much harder last year than he is this year. That is a strong sign that his improved BABIP is unsupported by anything in his batted ball profile that would make you think his luck is going to continue. Verdict: Sell. Cash him in while you can still get something for a proven below average hitter.
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Stock Watch: Bounceback Prospect Candidates

One of the hardest things to do (at least for me) in a dynasty league is to be patient, especially with struggling prospects. When a shiny new breakout prospect comes along, it’s easier in many cases to cut bait with a prospect who’s having a ‘down’ year to make room for the new helium prospect. Many times this is the incorrect long term decision and can set your team back if you cut bait too quickly. It’s an extremely frustrating feeling to see somebody snatch up your discarded prospect and see them reap the rewards when the prospect regains the form that attracted you to them in the first place. Sometimes it ends up being a good value play if you can spin the new prospect into something beneficial and you’re able circle back and pick up the old prospect if he is still available, so it can be a delicate situation. Let’s take a look at a few prospects who once graced various top-100 lists that saw their collective shine fade away over the last season or two and see if their 2015 performances warrant reconsideration.

Phil Ervin – CF, Cincinnati Reds (Pre-2014 prospect ranking #63, Baseball Prospectus)

What went wrong in 2014: Ervin saw his OPS fall from .989 in his first taste of pro ball in 2013 to .680 in 2014, his first full season in the Midwest League. Ervin clubbed nine home runs and swiped 14 bags in his 200 plate appearances in his draft year of 2013, but was only able to see seven balls leave the yard in 561 Midwest League plate appearances to go with 30 steals over the course of the year.
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Who Is The Real Trevor Story?

Shortstop Trevor Story has been one of the most enigmatic prospects over the last few seasons and the start of his 2015 season has served as yet another reason to not give up on a talented prospect too quickly in a dynasty league because of a ‘down’ season or an extended period of struggling. You probably are already familiar with the trials and tribulations that have played out over the last few seasons for Story. After being selected 45th in the 2011 draft, he burst on the scene at Low-A Asheville in 2012, posting a .872 OPS powered by 18 home runs and 15 steals. Dynasty owners were already licking their collective chops picturing the next up-the-middle fantasy monster invading Coors Field soon. Then 2013 happened. Continue reading

Should You Buy Low on These 5 Struggling Ace Pitchers?

There is a surprisingly large group of ace pitchers who turned in dismal performances in April. These are guys whose fantasy owners were counting on them to anchor their rotations. The question now is if we should pounce on these guys while their owners are panicking or if we should steer clear of a sinking ship.

Stephen Strasburg, Nationals — 4.60 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, 2-2 Record, 30 Strikeouts in 29 innings

Strasburg came into the season as a consensus top 5 pitcher in baseball but is currently ranked as the #1028 overall player in Yahoo 5×5 leagues, which means he has returned negative value to his fantasy owners and ranks below pitchers who have not even played yet this year. His WHIP is awful, but it is mostly due to a freakishly high .402 BABIP. He has allowed only 8 walks and one measly home run this year. His 9.20 K/9 is slightly lower than his career 10.29 rate, but it is still very good. His walk rate is right at his career average as well. Strasburg has also been unlucky with his 64.4% Strand Rate that is well below the 72% league average. The bottom line is that Strasburg has pitched as a nearly-elite pitcher this year despite his poor results. Expect him to be one of the best pitchers in baseball over the rest of the season. Verdict: Go Get Him! Strong buy low target.

Corey Kluber, Indians — 4.24 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 0-3 Record, 36 Strikeouts in 34 innings Continue reading

Breakout or Fakeout: Should You Target These Hot Hitters?

Last week I looked at some hot starting pitchers. This week we examine some unexpectedly hot hitters. One key to success in fantasy leagues is to quickly identify the true breakout players early in the season and separate them from the fakeout players — those whose success is a mirage. All of the players below are currently ranked among the top 40 hitters in 5×5 leagues in the early part of the season. None of them were ranked in the top 100 hitters in preseason lists, most of them way were not in the top 200 either. Let’s find out if these guys are real gold or fool’s gold.

Devon Travis, Blue Jays — .385 AVG, 4 HRs, 11 Runs, 15 RBI, 1 Steal

Obtained from the Tigers over the winter, Travis has taken over as the Blue Jays starting second baseman. He spent all of last season in Double-A and skipped Triple-A entirely. Coming into this season Travis did not make any of the Top 100 prospect lists, but did make some of the “players to watch” lists. Travis  is only five feet nine inches tall, so the power is a surprise. He did hit 18 home runs in the low minors in 2013. Travis is a promising young player but is unlikely to continue hitting anywhere near as well as he has so far this year. Verdict: Breakout. Good solid fantasy-worthy middle infielder, but not a star. Projects for .280 AVG, 15 homers, 80 Runs, 70 RBI, 15 steals.

Lorenzo Cain, Royals — .375 AVG, 2 HRs 13 Runs, 12 RBI, 5 Steals

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