Some 2016 predictions that may surprise you. And some that probably won't.
As the countdown to Opening Day trickles ever-so-close to the holiday to top all holidays, the Baseballholic in me is compelled to predict what will happen in the 2016 baseball season. Most of the predictions will turn out to be wrong, which is a tribute to the volatility inherent in a sport that we spend way too much time trying to predict (not that it will stop me from trying). We release our BP staff predictions for the season on Monday, and those who want a sneak peak can tune into the latest Baseballholics podcast to see who I have tabbed for this year's awards and division winners.
The younger may have the kids more excited, but don't forget about the elder.
In today's edition of Two Trains, we survey a couple of pitchers who have both suffered from subpar strikeout rates throughout their careers, but whose ratios have put them in the SP2 conversation at various times. The fantasy values of Sonny Gray and Jordan Zimmermann are headed in different directions, with Gray coming off a career-best campaign that earned him the third-most votes for AL Cy Young Award, and Zimmermann trying to rebound from a career-worst performance with a fresh start on a new team in a different league.
The high-end crop of starting pitchers will have no shortage of bidders/press, but how deep are the pitfalls for that next group?
Jason Heyward is the cream of this free-agent crop, but David Price, Zack Greinke, Johnny Cueto and Jordan Zimmermann are sure to grab a lot of the headlines this winter. It’s been a while since so many very strong starting pitchers hit the market during one offseason. At least two of those four guys will get nine-figure multi-year deals, and it could be all four. That’s sure to raise the hackles and the red flags of columnists everywhere. Every winter (even when there are only one or two major pitching prizes on the market, as there were last year), we get articles like this one and this one, which detail the dangers and the historical pitfalls of the $100-million contract for pitchers. This is as conventional as baseball wisdom gets: big free-agent deals are traps. They’re sucker’s bets. They’re bad, bad, bad.
Here’s the thing, though: any team needs to foray into free agency in order to thrive. It’s damn near impossible to draft and develop an entire team with a chance of winning anything, let alone to do so on an ongoing basis, repeating the feat. Trade is necessary for the growth of any economy, and outside talent is necessary for the growth and improvement of any organization. So the question isn’t whether large or long-term free-agent deals for pitchers fit the guidelines we use to define and identify financially savvy moves, but rather, whether those big commitments are really worse for a team than smaller ones. And the answer, as it turns out, is no. In fact, hooking the biggest fish (even at the biggest price) might just be the most successful strategy there is for supplementing organizational pitching depth with outside talent.
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How the Manny Machado incident(s) occurred, Jose Bautista's big night, the Tigers' bullpen problems, and more, plus what to watch today.
The Weekend Takeaway
By the bottom of the eighth inning of Sunday’s series finale, the Athletics and Orioles had seen just about enough of each other. With the A’s up 10-0 in the rubber match at Camden Yards, Fernando Abad threw at Manny Machado twice, and the second straight tight one led Machado to chuck his bat toward third baseman Alberto Callaspo:
Doug's attachment to arms shines through as he nabs David Price and Felix Hernandez to anchor his dream Roto staff.
I tend to go with something resembling the stars-and-scrubs approach, mostly because I think that it's possible to identify “scrubs” who will be productive. It's no secret that I have an attachment to arms, and I always make a point to secure a pair of aces in my fantasy leagues, whether draft or auction.
The knock against pitchers is that they always get hurt, which tends to depress their value, and the injury-risk makes it all the more important to have two top-end guys at the top of my fantasy rotation—if one gets hurt then my season is not necessarily down the drain, because ace no. 2 can carry the weight. So my staff is top-heavy, after which it's time to go dumpster-diving, and I take great joy each fantasy season in identifying the cheap pitchers who will ascend to the next level. Oh, and sucks to closers—they are way too volatile to trust in a league where rosters are locked on Opening Day, so I'll just go ahead and aim for victories in the counting stats of Ks and Ws while sacrificing saves. My calculator says that two 15s and a 1 supersede the worth of a sixth-place finish in three categories, and the draft-and-lock setup changes the game in this case.
A look at the pitchers the fantasy crew expects to outperform their PECOTA projections in ERA.
One of the fun ways we all try to outsmart our opponents in fantasy is by searching for hidden value in players who, for one reason or another, we suspect have the ability to outpace their projections (and, relatedly, their draft cost). Our Darkhorses series features staff picks for players who could very well outpace their PECOTA projections for the year and provide the top overall production in one of the standard five-by-five categories. We’ve all picked one player currently projected by PECOTA to fall outside of the top 10 and one longer-shot player currently projected outside of the top 25. We’re taking a look at pitching this week, following our run on offense a week ago. To read the earlier editions in this series, click below:
Mike runs down 10 players who have hurt their fantasy owners in recent weeks and explains whether you should ride out their ruts or cut bait.
If you’re in an NL- or AL-only league, your bed is made with all of the big-ticket items on your roster. Starlin Castro might be a disappointment, but at this point he’s your disappointment. You’re not going to cut him for a back-up middle infielder in the free agent pool who is going to get three to five at-bats a week.
In mixed leagues, however, these are the types of players you have to make choices on down the stretch. A number of mixed leaguers have already cut the cord with Castro. However, there are other players who might be worthy of tossing off of your roster, or at least keeping on reserve for the time being. Below are a handful of players who are slumping yet mostly owned in mixed leagues. Should you hang on or try to find better stats elsewhere?
Can Jordan Zimmermann keep getting batters to hit into outs?
Jordan Zimmermann, in a starting rotation with Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, doesn’t get much attention. But did you know he led the Nationals pitching staff in quality starts last year? And that he leads the major leagues in WHIP this year? Zimmermann’s path to success, especially so far this year, defies basic sabermetric assumptions and is worth examining more closely.
Zimmermann is built like a power pitcher. He’s a sturdy 6’2”, 220 lbs., and he has a fastball that averages better than 94 mph. He has a hard slider and much-improved curveball as his secondary pitches, as well as an occasional changeup. He has the pure “stuff” to strike out 200 batters a season.
The Rangers and Giants will probably both be playoff teams, but two other virtual locks for October, the Yankees and Nationals, made them look bad last night.
The Monday Takeaway
According to the playoff odds as of Tuesday morning, the Rangers are virtually certain to (99.5 percent) be dancing in October, and the Giants have more than a puncher’s chance (58.4 percent). Twelve hours earlier, the Yankees and Nationals, respectively, made them look like bona fide pretenders.
In the Bronx, Ryan Dempster retired the first six Yankees he faced, allowing the Rangers offense to build a 2-0 lead. Then, someone moved batting practice to the bottom of the third inning, and Nick Swisher highlighted the five-run session with a four-run missile into the second deck. The grand slam was Swisher’s 200th career home run, but it had nothing on this 441-foot, sixth-inning blast off the bat of Eric Chavez. And, as if those two bombs weren’t enough, Derek Lowe—fresh off the scrap heap and straight into mop-up duty—needed only 44 pitches to cruise through four innings and earn his first save since 2001. A game Texas led 2-0 ended 8-2 the other way, and the Yankees surged a half-game ahead in the race for the American League’s number-one seed.
The Tigers' three-star strategy has not been working out so far.
The Wednesday Takeaway
Two months ago, when the offseason was winding down and every team’s slate was still clean, the Detroit Tigers were the trendy pick to win the AL Central. Indeed, if you went by ESPN’s predictions—made by a diverse group of 50 analysts and pundits, ranging from former managers and players to insiders like Buster Olney to our own Kevin Goldstein, from all corners of the country—the Tigers were the only choice. Each and every one of the 50 picked Jim Leyland’s team to sit atop the division standings come October 3.
But after last night’s 9-6 loss, the Tigers are 25-31, six games back, and trailing both the White Sox and the Indians, who are separated by half a game and tied in the loss column. Presented with a chance to gain ground on Cleveland in a three-game series at Comerica Park, Detroit has dropped the first two and will rely on rookie Casey Crosby to play stopper in his second major-league start this afternoon (1:05 p.m. ET).