August 25, 2015
Buc the Hand that Feeds
Target: RHB's Starling Marte OF ($5000, +161 OPS and +.046 ISO career vs. LHP), Andrew McCutchen OF ($4900, +121 OPS and +.050 ISO vs. LHP) and Aramis Ramirez 3B ($3400, +73 OPS and +.052 ISO vs. LHP) against LHP Brad Hand ($4000, +133 OPS and +.066 ISO career vs. RHB)
The Pirates hitters aren't discounted nearly so heavily as they were yesterday, so one has to pay a decent price in order to procure their services against southpaw Brad Hand today, but the platoon resumes suggest that the right-handed bats in Pittsburgh's lineup are well worth the investment. Marte is creeping up into uncharted territory (for him) with respect to salary, and just 10 days ago he was sitting in the $3900-$4400 range, but he can easily justify the higher price tag with his ability to demolish southpaws. McCutchen's track record is long and in that respect more impressive, even if he lacks the extreme splits of Marte. Newcomer Aramis Ramirez has mashed lefties his entire career, including his first tour with the Pirates 13 years ago. Hand has actually limited the homer and walks this season, generating a low FIP of just 3.04 that sits well below his 4.46 ERA, but his ultra-low K rate and high frequency of hits allowed (including 20 doubles in just 287 opponent plate appearances) indicates that his command is lagging behind his control, causing him to catch too much plate and play right into the hands of opposing batsmen. It's telling that Hand's price tag is lower than that of the best Pirate hitters despite his being a starting pitcher.
The Giants don't have a lot of team speed, so the target tag is a bit tentative despite Arrieta having given up the fifth-most steals in baseball this season. There's also the issue of getting on base, given Arrieta's general dominance that has included a 0.988 WHIP this year, right in line with the 0.989 figure from 2014.
Target: Anthony Gose OF ($3400, 19-of-28 SB this season), Rajai Davis OF ($3100, 17-of-22 SB) and Jose Iglesias SS/3B ($3000, 11-of-18 SB) against RHP Jered Weaver ($6400, opponents 16-of-20 SB this season)
The sheer count of steals against Weaver is good enough for the tenth-highest total in baseball, but the fact that he has made a half-dozen fewer starts than the other leaders essentially catapaults Weaver up the list on a rate basis. Opponent steals have been an issue for Weaver for most of his career (runners were 25-of-30 last season), and the problem only gets worse as the right-hander continues to give up more baserunners, though Weaver is doing his part by trimming the walks while his hit rate has skyrocketed. Davis might not play against the right-hander, but the platoon aspect will likely vault Gose near the top of the Tigers' batting order.
Avoid: RHP Jake Arrieta ($12500) against the San Francisco Giants
Last 12 games (12 starts): 1.26 ERA, 74 baserunners in 86.0 innings and opponents hitting .167/.229/.251 in 325 plate appearances
Arrieta has been on a roll for the last few months. He has a 10-2 record with 81 strikeouts and just 21 walks allowed over his last dozen starts, holding opposing batters to a paltry 480 OPS over that span. He has given up as many as three earned runs just once in the last 12 outings and has surrendered more than a single run just four times in that stretch. Perhaps more incredible is the fact that Arrieta has given up just one home run since mid-June, converting each hitter into a punchless robot that grounds out harmlessly at Arrieta's command. The BABiP against Arrieta over the last 12 starts is just .226, and though ultra-low BABiP's typically garner an explanation of luck, it can also be a reflection of a pitcher's ability to generate weak contact – listening to a game on radio or on a background television can reveal the “sound” of a good base hit on contact.
Temper: RHB Ian Kinsler 2B ($4300) versus RHP Jered Weaver ($6400)
Head-to-head: .227/.277/.386 with three homers in 94 PA
The two long-time AL West adversaries are very familiar with one another. The 94 plate appearances of head-to-head matchups are the most that Weaver has against any batter in his career, and for Kinsler the total is tied at the top with Felix Hernandez. The temper tag applies here for a couple of reasons, beginning with Weaver himself, as the right-hander is no longer the dominant force that used to compete for AL Cy Young Awards, and in 2015 his velocity is down to the mid-80's while the ERA has climbed to a career-high mark of 4.34; meanwhile Kinsler's 805 OPS is the highest that he has had in four years.
The second aspect of the temper tag has to do with the nature of batter vs. pitcher data. Sample size is an obvious issue, and though 30 plate appearances against a specific pitcher are more telling than 30 PA against a generic split (say platoons), we are dealing with a data set that is not only small but also spread out in time. It takes veterans who have been long-time division opponents to run up a meaningful sample size like that between Kinsler and Weaver, but players morph so much over that stretch that the data loses relevancy to the modern age. So I take all batter vs. pitcher numbers with a grain of salt and typically only give them consideration in extreme cases, to which a 673 lifetime OPS need not apply.
Target: RHB Byron Buxton OF ($2300) against RHP Nate Karns ($8300)
Buxton has been sitting in the $3500-$3900 range throughout his debut season, and though he has struggled in his initial exposure, it's tough to say what triggered such a massive drop in salary. His initial 11-game cameo may not have been quite as impressive as his number-one prospect billing had suggested, but he showed off the tools (namely speed) to promise greater things in the future. The Twins sent Buxton to Triple-A after he was activated from the disabled list, but he was called back up on August 20 and has batted leadoff for the Twins in each game since. The $2300 price tag is low enough to target for virtually any leadoff hitter, but rostering such a player who oozes the upside of Buxton and has the ability to run rampant versus a non-elite pitcher is a no-brainer.
Resources used for this article:
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