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

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Breakout or Fakeout: The Collin McHugh Chronicles

Every year a handful of players that weren’t on anybody’s radar invariably come out of nowhere to impact leagues and help determine championships. It’s always fun – and usually necessary for a title run in a competitive league – to hit on one or two of these guys, but figuring out what to do with them in dynasty leagues after the season ends can present a challenge. Was it a flash in the pan or a legitimate coming out party for a player no one saw coming?

Perhaps no player better fits the mold this year than 27 year-old Astros righthander Collin McHugh. A former Met 18th rounder from a tiny school in rural Georgia, McHugh put together a solid if unspectacular minor league progression before running into nothing but trouble at the big league level. He bottomed out last year in a seven game, five start trial with both the Mets and Rockies, when he somehow managed to give up 45 hits over 26 innings en route to a double-digit ERA. That performance for the ages led the Baseball Prospectus staff to conclude in our Annual that “after another disastrous season…it’s time to ask what McHugh really offers a major-league team.”  McHugh subsequently went undrafted in NFBC leagues and remained unowned in Sportline leagues for the first month of the season. And then…well, a funny thing happened.

Fast-forward to the present, McHugh has turned in the 27th most valuable fantasy season by a starting pitcher, highlighted by a sparkling 2.79 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 144:40 K:BB in 142 innings. So what gives? What’s changed in McHugh’s profile to explain the huge turnaround, and what does it mean for his future value?

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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.


Breakout or Fakeout: 2nd Half Risers

This time of year it’s always fun to start looking at some of the players who took big steps forward production-wise in the second half. It’s a valuable exercise for dynasty leagues, as it can be a big help in setting up early off-season target lists and getting a head start on thinking about keepers for next season. So today a simple exercise: I’ve sorted out the top 20 hitters in baseball for the second half by wOBA, and below are four who have performed most dramatically better than their first half efforts. Let’s take a look and see if we can identify anything helpful in the profiles of these guys.

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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

Scouting the Statline: More California League Bats to Watch

Earlier in the season I took a look at some notable fantasy prospects of the California League, and with the regular season schedule out here in the Southland winding to a close this week I figured it’d be a valuable time to check back in on a couple more names of note. Three of the more interesting fantasy prospects still in the league were on display when I took in the High Desert-Lancaster series last week, but before we get into their profiles I’d like to take a moment to add my standard disclaimer for pieces in this series: you should NEVER SCOUT MINOR LEAGUE STAT LINES. They help for context, sure, and while they do matter to the degree that they influence how other managers in your league (and, it’s okay to admit it, you) view prospects, minor league statistics shouldn’t ever be the bottom line tool you use for evaluation in dynasty leagues.

This is perhaps more true of California League stats than any other league. Among the High-A ranks this circuit’s .764 league-average OPS is nigh on 60 points higher than the Carolina League (.706) and almost 70 clear of the pitcher’s paradise that is the Florida State League (.696). The outlying nature of the league adds another vast layer of complexity when trying to analyze player performance from afar, and the High-A level is already tough enough as is. It doesn’t mean that every breakout performance in the league is a mirage, but it does mean that more often than not it’s a good idea to avoid making rash decisions about acquiring or selling prospects in your dynasty league when they’re mixed up with the arid desert air of the southwest. So consider what follows a cautionary tale, but one filled with hope and optimism for our nation’s fantasy baseball future.

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