Fantasy Baseball The Week That Was: April 29
Glenn Colton takes an in-depth look at the past week of the MLB season and goes over how everything turned out for fantasy baseball owners.
Max Kepler : Max Kepler hit not one but two bombs Saturday finishing 2-for-4 with two runs and four RBI to go along with the two dingers. Through Saturday, Max has posted a solid .263 average with six dingers, 15 RBI and 13 runs. Of course, this simple math is intellectually dishonest but for fun -- extrapolated out, that amounts to over 35 dingers and close to 100 RBI and runs. Now, on deeper dive, are those lofty numbers possible? Answer: Yes. Kepler is squarely in the sweet spot for a big jump. He is only 26 years old and coming into the season had already accumulated over 1,600 plate appearances (meaning that he made the majors early and can use that experience plus his enhanced physical tools with maturity to achieve greater production). Moreover, Kepler’s growth curve should be expected to rise more steeply upward when one takes into account his fewer reps, etc. growing up in Germany rather than in a more baseball focused country. Finally, the advanced metrics paint a really nice picture: hard hit rate increasing every year (now well over 40); contact rate consistently around 80; and a BABIP around .260 which given the high hard hit rate, says unlucky. I am all in without reservation. [Final note, I am not saying Kepler is Lindor but remember what Frankie did last year leading off and getting those huge number of plate appearances].
Clayton Kershaw : Clayton Kershaw was strong again Saturday tossing seven innings of one run ball, while giving up just four hits and no walks and striking out eight. With two starts under his belt, the Dodger ace has 21K, 4BB, an ERA of 2.25 and a sweet 0.75 WHIP. Yeah, the fastball velocity continues to track downward but he gets ahead of the count (around 70% first pitch strike over the last few years and an even higher rate than that so far in 2019), he is getting more swings and misses (13% so far), and is inducing more ground balls (almost 60% thus far). Yes, there will be a nagging injury or two and the Dodgers will play the 10-day IL game to get Kershaw some rest but those who invested in the idea of 150-170 strong innings should be very pleased by year-end. If there is a Kershaw owner in your league who thinks s/he is selling high, they may well sell to you at a price that is too low. Explore!
Maikel Franco : Why does no one believe in Maikel Franco ? I do. Saturday, the Phillies 3B went 2-for-4 with two runs and two RBI to raise his average to .271 and his OPS to over .900 to go along with seven dingers, 22 RBI and 15 runs. I will not bother to do the extrapolation as it is clearly very strong. You already know I believe so let’s explore why. First, Franco (like Kepler) is at that classic growth stage (over 2000 plate appearances in the bigs and he is only in his age 26 season). Second, Franco has always made very good contact (well over 80% in each of his past full seasons) but is now at a truly special contact level of almost 92%. Third, Franco is hitting the ball in the air more and thus should see more big flies clear the fences (especially in Philly). Fourth, Franco is going oppo far more often which should result in more hits and more opportunities to both score and drive in runs. Finally, he is chasing outside the zone less often than a year ago. Right age, right experience level, strong lineup, great ballpark, plus advanced metric support equals career year!
Anthony DeSclafani : Anthony DeSclafani pitched six shutout innings Friday to get the win. In the outing, AD gave up four hits and three walks while striking out six. On the year, the numbers are pretty good: 1.26 WHIP and a K/9 over nine. The 4.26 ERA is not great and the low first pitch strike rate worries me but the next three starts should give him ample opportunity to improve -- this week AD gets the Mets which does not scare me and, wait for it, the week after will be a double shot of the Giants. Sign me up for that schedule!
Matt Harvey : Last week we wrote: “Well, another week, another weak outing from Matt Harvey – 4.3 IP, four hits, four earned runs, one walk, and four strikeouts. On the year, Harvey has a hideously ugly 9.64 ERA. (yes, you did read that correctly and yes, the language is borrowed from Belle’s father’s description of the beast in Beauty and the Beast but I digress). Why then am I highlighting the pitcher formerly known as the Dark Knight? Well, I think there is value there and this week’s two-step (home to Yankees and then at KC) could be the week that value shows through. Here is why. First, his velocity has held at 94 from last year. Second, the advanced metrics look pretty darn good – 44% groundball rate, 12% swinging strike rate and a 65% first pitch strike rate. Third, Harvey has been VERY unlucky to the tune of a strand rate under 50 and a BABIP of .361. Fourth, his xFIP is actually less than half of his bloated ERA. Fifth, his HR/FB rate is a swollen 25% and is likely to regress substantially. Finally, he is actually giving up less contact than a year ago. If you liked Harvey to start the year, stay the course. If you didn’t give Harvey a second thought before reading this column, consider the numbers above and the fact that the Yankees often struggle in the first game of a west coast trip – the game Harvey starts on Monday.” Yes, it was a gutsy call to advocate starting a guy with an ERA of 9.64 twice but it paid off. In his two starts, Harvey tossed 13 innings, giving up just three earned runs and just 10 baserunners over those 13 innings. Not too shabby!
Finally, the moment you have been waiting for (sort of) -- Schultz says: “Roto-pundits spend a good part of April optimistically opining on poor starts that are not indicative of the rest of the season to come. In that regard, notwithstanding Jim Bowden's gaslighting of Fantasy Alarm (I'll leave that to The Overlord to explain), everyone, including Schultz, has a paragraph advising readers not to worry about José Ramírez ' conspicuously sluggish start. Sometimes though, optimism isn't warranted. Willie Mays had those dreadful seasons with the Mets; Ichiro stopped being a hit machine, Albert Pujols went from being a #1 overall pick to a $1 bench player. At some point, a bad start isn't just a bad start, it's the beginning of the end.
Although his success customarily fell outside the recognition of traditional rotisserie recordkeeping, Andrew Miller arguably held the title of "best pitcher in baseball" for the last couple years with "Miller Time" being quite the thing in Cleveland. Knee injuries provided an excuse for his disappointing 2018 and his move to the National League as part of a competitive Cardinals squad, which had yet to recognize the brilliance of Jordan Hicks , made him eminently rosterable in any format. In 10.3 innings, Miller presently sits with a 6.10 ERA and 1.94 WHIP. Save all the talk about small sample sizes, Miller Time is over - the bar is closed.
Over on the west coast, Cody Allen , the Indians' longtime closer, was expected to breathe new life into the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim California baseball club's bullpen. Although he's amassed 4 saves, Allen also has put up a 6.00 ERA and a 1.89 WHIP while losing 2 games. It's not even the end of April and Allen has already been yanked from the closer role and presently sits on the injured list while the Angels breathe a sigh of relief that they only signed Allen to a one-year deal. Allen may come back to baseball but he will not come back to roto-relevance.
It's worth keeping in mind that small-minded roto-pundits huffed and puffed in disbelief that the Indians' front office would let Miller and Allen leave town, destroying the back end of a once mighty and fearsome bullpen. Anyone that paid attention to the end of the Tribe's 2018 season knew that Miller and Allen were shells of themselves. Fortunately, the Indians didn't listen to those who think they know things.”
Response: Hmm, so much to unpack there. First, we have to excuse Schultz for being Cleveland-protective and respect his fandom. In the end, Allen and Miller have not been roto goodness. Second, the reference to the great Jim Bowden is from the FSTA experts draft in January at which team Colton & the Wolfman (including the wonderful Stacie Stern) was picking in the 3 hole in our attempt to repeat at champs. Of course, Trout went 1 and Betts 2 which left us with a choice between José Ramírez and Francisco Lindor . Jim was sharing a part of his incredible inside information noting the concerns those in baseball had over Ramirez’s trouble with the breaking ball down the stretch in 2018 and recommended we take Lindor. Schultz, being overprotective of his Indians, blanched at the criticism of Ramirez (a great player but the troubles were real). Third and finally, we will cut Schultz a bit of a break this week as he did get a shout out from Patrick Davitt during my recent appearance on his podcast and not everyone can say that!