The Thursday Takeaway
When David Price takes the mound, the Rays know better than any team the dominance of which the hard-throwing left-hander is capable. Price turned in countless such outings over his six-plus seasons in Tampa Bay, but on Thursday his former teammates were on the other end of one of his best starts. Fortunately for the Rays, they caught an early break and got a stellar outing from their new ace to ruin Price’s homecoming at Tropicana Field.
Helping you set your fantasy rotation for next week with a look at the two-start pitchers.
Welcome to the Weekly Pitching Planner!
A nice slate of options for the week, as only the Dodgers and Diamondbacks will be limited to five-game schedules. The American League is particularly stacked; while they lack an “auto-start” option from the top shelf of the league, there is a long and illustrious list of both “start” and strong “consider” options for fantasy managers to choose from. The Angels have still not announced a fill-in for Garrett Richards as of this writing. His gruesome injury is a huge blow for his real and fantasy teams alike. Whoever gets the nod will have a tough draw with the A’s on his card, and won’t be much more than an end-game “consider” at best.
Henderson Alvarez is unlike anything in baseball, and it's working.
Before Jose Fernandez's UCL popped, he was enjoying a fantastic sophomore season. He'd tallied nearly twice as many strikeouts as hits allowed, and five times as many strikeouts as walks. He'd surrendered just four home runs, or about one every 13 innings, leaving him with a shiny 2.44 ERA. Yet, for as good as Fernandez's season was, if he qualified he wouldn't lead the Marlins rotation in ERA—that honor would go instead to Henderson Alvarez and his 2.43 mark.
Preston Wilson recounts his development as a raw prospect with a lot of power.
As of August 21st, MLB’s leaguewide slugging percentage in 2014 sits at .385. The last time the league slugged at that level was in 1992, when .377 was the number. Just for perspective, the peak came in 2000 at .437 and the valley occurred in 1968 at .340. Quick math shows where on the continuum we reside today; therefore, amateur power is at a premium. Whether it’s a polished, explosive bat like that of Florida prep shortstop Brendan Rodgers—ranked the no. 2 overall player in the United States by Perfect Game—or the raw slug ability of Luken Baker—who, despite being the no. 3 right-handed pitcher in Texas according to PG, has gained arguably more attention by winning several home run derbies on a large stages this summer—power gets noticed.
So it seems likely that more truly unpolished big bats could soon enter the pro ranks, simply based on their rare and coveted skill. So I thought I’d connect with a former player who fit the mold of “raw” early in his career, and get inside his head about the growth he experienced and the pitfalls he encountered.
An examination of the deliveries of the best and worst right-handers at controlling the running game
The pitcher is only partly responsible for preventing the stolen base, as the process also involves the catcher, the infielders, and the baserunner himself. This reality is a major part of my personal disdain for the slide step, given the importance of pitcher timing and how that is disrupted when a pitcher compromises his delivery in an attempt to thwart the running game. That said, there is certainly an ability to limit opposing base-thieves that varies from pitcher to pitcher, including one's pace to the plate and the quality of a pitcher's pickoff move. These differences are better understood by examining those players who are at the extreme ends of the stolen-base spectrum.
We will be looking only at right-handed pitchers for the purpose of this analysis, as to avoid the additional variables that come into play with a southpaw on the mound. Let's start with the worst pitchers in the game with respect to policing the basepaths this season before we move onto those hurlers who keep runners handcuffed to first.
Notes on prospects who stood out yesterday, including Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson and Blue Jays lefty Daniel Norris.
Hitter of the Night: Joc Pederson, OF, Dodgers (Albuquerque, AAA): 2-4, 2 R, 2B, HR, BB, K.
This is a pretty standard Pederson game, with everything he has to offer: power—both gap and over the fence—walks, and strikeouts. He’s going to hit for power, draw a ton of walks, and whiff a lot, too, but the final package should be an above-average offensive player at an up-the-middle position.
Pitcher of the Night: Daniel Norris, LHP, Blue Jays (Buffalo, AAA): 5 IP, H, R, 3 BB, 9 K.
We’ve seen a little bit of everything from Norris this season. He dominated the Florida State League in the first half before a promotion to Double-A. In New Hampshire, he was less effective and threw fewer strikes yet missed more bats than ever. For the 21-year-old Norris, that would have been a fine stopping point on the season, yet the Blue Jays aggressively promoted him to Triple-A anyway. Through three starts for Buffalo, he’s allowed just two runs and has an ERA below 1.00. It’s been an incredible ascent for Norris, who could find himself in the majors by next year.
We all have our own idea of what constitutes a good ERA, FIP, or xFIP, but it's important to make sure that our benchmarks keep up with the times.
While some of us have come to use plus-or-minus stats that adjust to league average to make our determinations on where a player lands within his ranks, it’s clear that many people still use the standard ERA to evaluate a pitcher or batting average to evaluate a hitter. There’s no issue with that, especially when those are the relevant categories in a fantasy league—but there’s something of a collective benchmark that we have for what determines a good, great, or elite ERA or batting average. Even more advanced stats like FIP or xFIP fall prey to this collective benchmark and to our failure to adjust for context.
Focusing on the pitching side of the equation, based on the era I grew up in a 3.00 ERA was/is my benchmark for whether someone is a good pitcher. There are shades of gray of course—a mediocre pitcher can have a fluky season—but everything revolves around that 3.00. A 3.30 was pretty good and a 3.50 was solid. A 4.00 was fit for a fifth starter/long-man type. Reality, of course, is a different story. We all know that we’re in a down offensive period in baseball, but I do wonder if enough of us have adjusted to what that means on the pitching side of the equation. This is an effort to show just how dramatically things have changed over the last few years, so that we can recalibrate what an elite or good pitcher is, and then use that as a new frame of reference.
In order to do so, let us take a look at forecasting and what humans do when forecasting. My favorite definition of forecast (the verb) is from Merriam-Webster and it goes, “to predict after looking at the information available.” I like this definition because it is convenient for my article. I also like it because it highlights that our forecasts are dependent on “the information available.” Relatedly, in Thinking, Fast and Slow, our main human, Daniel Kahneman writes, “An essential design feature of the associative machine is that it represents only activated ideas.” Put differently, we cannot take into account that which we cannot imagine. I am throwing around a lot of combinations of words right now, so please allow me to simplify all this: