New Ace Smackdown: Collin McHugh vs Matt Shoemaker

This week’s Smackdown pits two 27 year old veteran minor leaguers who emerged as star hurlers in 2014. Neither of them were ever considered top prospects by any stretch of the imagination. McHugh was an 18th round draft pick by the Mets in 2008 and reached the majors with them in 2012. He was traded to the Rockies last summer but they made a big mistake by releasing him last December. The Astros claimed him off waivers and he has been an ace ever since. Shoemaker wasn’t drafted at all, signing as an undrafted free agent that same year of 2008. Neither of them distinguished themselves in the minors or gave a hint of future stardom. How did these two completely unheralded pitchers develop into aces? Are they for real or are they merely mirages that will quickly disappear when we examine them closely? Which one of them is the better bet for your fantasy team? Let the Smackdown begin…

Traditonal Stats McHugh Shoemaker
Record 10 – 9 16 – 4
Strikeouts 151 124
ERA 2.66 3.04
WHIP 1.03 1.07
Innings Pitched 148.2 136.0

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Young Ace Smackdown: Alex Cobb vs Alex Wood

This week’s smackdown pits two young hurlers named Alex — the Rays’ righty Cobb and the Braves’ lefty Wood. Both are a little light on innings this year but for different reasons. Cobb missed some time early in the season due to an oblique injury that sidelined him for a month. Wood spent a month in the bullpen due to the crowded Atlanta starting rotation. Here are their stats for the season:

Traditonal Stats Cobb Wood
Record 9 – 7 10 – 10
Strikeouts 138 147
ERA 2.75 2.90
WHIP 1.12 1.15
Innings Pitched 147.1 152.0

Right now the duel is too close to call. Wood has one more win and a few more strikeouts, but Cobb has fewer losses and a slight edge in both ERA and WHIP. Both have been fantastic. We are going to have to dig deeper to find a winner. Continue reading

Young Ace Smackdown: Danny Duffy vs Jake Arrieta

Danny Duffy and Jake Arrieta are both pitchers who have burst onto the fantasy scene this year despite very low expectations coming into the season. Their ownership rates in fantasy leagues were practically zero on Opening Day but that changed gradually as the season wore on and both are now owned in nearly all competitive leagues of 12 or more teams. In 5×5 roto leagues Arrieta ranks as the 23rd best starting pitcher in 2014 while Duffy comes in one slot behind at 24th. That is better than Stephen Strasburg, Yu Darvish, Jeff Samardzija, Sonny Gray, Jeff Weaver, James Shields and many other good pitchers.

If you compare their statistics you can see a lot of similarities:

Danny Duffy vs Jake Arrieta

Both look like excellent young fantasy starters. Both have stellar ERA and WHIP scores. Both have well above average fastball velocity. Since they look so much alike it seems this smackdown could end in a tie. We are going to have to look much deeper into their peripherals to figure out which of these guys is better than the other:

Danny Duffy vs Jake Arrieta

Now we begin to see some big differences. Despite the fact their fantasy numbers and rankings are almost exactly the same, now we can clearly see that one of these guys has pitched much better than the other, and furthermore one of these two is much more likely to put up elite fantasy stats next year. The clear cut winner in this battle is Jake Arrieta, who has huge leads over Duffy in all of the key stats above. These are the most important metrics for evaluating the performance of pitchers. These peripherals portray a stark contrast between a pitcher who is having a dominant season (Arrieta) and a pretender who is skating on thin ice (Duffy).

Danny Duffy — Kansas City Royals

Duffy’s 2.42 ERA is exactly two full runs better than his xFIP, and that is not a good thing because xFIP is much better at predicting the future than ERA. An ERA over 4.00 in today’s offensive environment would be a nightmare for your fantasy team. He has been very BABIP lucky with his .232 mark. His strand rate also indicates good fortune. Duffy doesn’t strike out enough batters, especially when compared to his walk rate. His 2.16 K/BB rate is indicative of a pitcher who is going to struggle. Duffy’s 93.3 MPH fastball is nice but he relies on it too heavily, largely because he doesn’t really have the depth of repertoire that one would hope for from a starting pitcher. He has a curveball that he throws 22% of the time and a changeup he only uses for 9% of his pitches. He is a  flyball pitcher who allows a lot of contact, but surprisingly his home run rate has been good, although I would expect that to rise as time goes by. Duffy is 25 years old but he has been in the big leagues since 2011.  He needs to learn another pitch to prevent batters from sitting on his fastball. Now would be a good time to trade Duffy as his value is at its peak. I would not risk using him in your fantasy playoffs if you have other decent options. Verdict: Fantasy Mirage. Trade him this winter.

Jake Arrieta — Chicago Cubs

Arrieta’s excellent ERA is fully supported by his underlying peripheral stats. His FIP, xFIP and SIERA all show that his 2.81 ERA is no fluke. Arrieta’s strikeout rate and walk rate are both 50% better than Duffy’s, so it is no surprise that Arrieta’s key K%-BB% metric is almost double that of Duffy. Pitchers just don’t succeed for any length of time with strikeout and walk rates as pedestrian as Duffy’s, but Arrieta’s rates are very good and portend continued success. Arrieta utilizes a four pitch mix that is basically the same as Duffy’s but adds in a good cutter that not only gets hitters out but also makes his other pitches more effective as well. Arrieta throws his fastball 50% less often than Duffy throws his, making it much harder for hitters to sit on it. Arrieta is 3 years older than Duffy. Despite this being the first year of sustained success for Arrieta he has shown signs of an impending breakout in prior years, especially in 2012 when he posted a 3.66 SIERA and 3.65 xFIP despite an horrific 6.20 ERA. In that 2012 season his good peripheral performance was masked by atrocious luck stats including a .320 BABIP and woeful 57.3% strand rate. The cutter is a new pitch that Arrieta has incorporated into his arsenal this year and it has worked like magic. He is a much better pitcher now than he was with the Orioles and his success is going to continue. Verdict: The Real Deal. Will continue to be a #2 fantasy pitcher moving forward and makes a good trade target.

Arrieta wins the smackdown! Does anybody disagree? Are there any factors I should have considered? Who should square off for next week’s epic smackdown? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

If you have Duffy on any of your teams you should try to trade him for Arrieta. If you can trade Duffy for any top 75 starting pitcher I would do it.

If you missed last week’s column you can check it out here: Prospect Perspective: Nolan Arenado and Nick Castellanos are Still Elite Prospects.

Nick Doran writes all kinds of cool stuff about the game’s ultimate flamethrowers at Blazing Fastball and will answer your baseball questions on Twitter @BlazingFastba11.

 

The Dynasty Guru Experts League — August 2014 Update #TDGX

There is one month left to go in the inaugural season of The Dynasty Guru Experts League. Team McKahn has pulled out to a commanding lead, having gained 11 points in the standings since last month’s update. It is going to take a monumental comeback of epic proportions for anybody to catch him now. He has snared 191 of the 200 possible points and might not be done yet. It is shaping up to be a beatdown that will go down in legend. The rest of us are going to have our work cut out for us trying to dethrone Ian and Tim next year. I am up for that challenge!

As you know by now, all of the writers here at TDG have been playing in an epic 20-team dynasty league with fantasy baseball writers from all over the Internet. Matching wits with some of the best players in the country has proven to be quite a challenge and a ton of fun — exactly the way a fantasy league should be. Below you will find the complete standings as well as plenty of enlightening comments from the team owners themselves.

I will summarize the league setup here, but for a more in-depth overview of how it all got started read this: Welcome to The Dynasty Guru Experts’ League. The league is a dynasty league of course, with 30 man rosters Continue reading

Prospect Perspective: Nolan Arenado and Nick Castellanos are Still Elite Prospects

When a young player has been in the major leagues for awhile it seems like they are older than they really are. It is uncommon for a player to break into the major leagues at the age of 20 or 21 but it does happen. There are usually a couple players who do it each year. Oftentimes those players struggle quite a bit their first year or two in the majors, Mike Trout being the exception that proves the rule. Guys like Nolan Arenado, Nick Castellanos, Manny Machado, and even Yasiel Puig and Freddie Freeman are much younger than people think they are. It is easy to forget that these guys are still younger than many or most top prospects. Many baseball fans and fantasy team owners fall into the trap of believing that a player who has been in the majors for awhile “is who he is” and fail to consider the context of the player’s situation. The reality is that all of the players on the list below are still kids who are a long way from reaching their peak performance. You can expect significant performance increases from every player on this list over the next several years, even the ones who are already stars.

The definition of a prospect as defined by the baseball scouting industry is a hitter who has not reached 130 ABs or a pitcher who has not yet thrown 50 innings in the major leagues, but that definition is misleading. That may be the cut-off for Rookie of the Year eligibility, but a 22 year old doesn’t cease being a prospect just because he has seen a modicum of major league time. Continue reading

2014 Has Been a Disastrous Year for Elite Prospects

We had a bumper crop of elite prospects to play with this Spring. We had visions of new players joining our rosters and playing like the next Mike Trout and Yasiel Puig. The consensus Top 12 prospects this year were as good as we have ever seen. The excitement was at a fever pitch for prospect hounds like us, but the season ended up being a tremendous letdown. Some of it was due to injuries, while most of it was due to flat out poor performance. It just goes to show that patience is key when it comes to prospects — even the elite “can’t miss” prospects often struggle when they reach the majors.

For this discussion let’s focus on what I consider to be the consensus top 12. These are the guys that were ranked at the top of nearly every major list that was published last offseason. We will go down the list and review each prospect. The theme of the day is disappointment. Every guy on this list except for one or two had a disappointing season for one reason or another…

1. Byron Buxton, OF Twins

Buxton has been touted as the next Mike Trout, an all around superstar 5 tool talent. His season has been absolutely destroyed by injuries. He sprained his wrist early in Spring Training and was forced to sit out until May, then he played 5 games and re-injured the wrist again. He had to sit out another two months. He played 30 games at High A Fort Myers but didn’t perform as well as he did last year. His .718 OPS wasn’t too impressive but you could still see the talent and tools in action and see a future superstar. On August 13th he got promoted to AA and what happens? He got hurt in his very first game. He suffered a bad concussion during a diving collision in the outfield. Buxton is still an elite talent and a future star but this season was a total bust. Continue reading

Trade Targets: Strasburg, Leake and Odorizzi are Undervalued Pitchers

Here are some pitchers whose perceived value is less than their real value. Each of them is a solid trade target right now because you might be able to get them at a discount compared to what it will cost you in the offseason. These guys will be ranked highly on cheat sheets next Spring. Let’s dive right in…

Stephen Strasburg — Washington Nationals

9 Wins, 194 Ks in 163 innings, 3.53 ERA, 1.21 WHIP

Strasburg’s 3.53 ERA is easily the worst of his career and ranks him only 44th out of 93 qualifying starting pitchers in the majors. Is Strasburg really only a middle of the pack starting pitcher this year? Well, his 2.94 FIP is 16th in the league, his 2.51 xFIP is 3rd (behind only Kershaw and King Felix) and his 2.62 SIERA is 4th in baseball. You know how much I like K%-BB% and Strasburg’s is 5th in baseball at a stellar 23.2%, which is the best in his career for a full season. In fact, pretty much every one of Strasburg’s peripheral stats is better than his career averages. What does this mean? It means he has been pitching better than ever despite the fact that 26 starting pitchers are ranked higher than him in 5×5 roto leagues. Strasburg has a losing record again this year just like he did last year, but much of that is because the Nationals rarely score many runs behind him. His 4.42 runs per game of run support is 70th in the league this year. The Nationals’s below average Defensive Efficiency Rating of .700 is not doing Strasburg any favors either. His .336 BABIP is 40 points higher than his pre-2014 career average and is likely to come down as the season progresses. His ERA and WHIP will improve right along with his BABIP. Continue reading