By The Numbers: Week 3 (Fantasy Baseball)
We’re nearing the end of Week 3, and are slowly reaching the point where in-season stats are becoming more and more relevant. For instance, hitters are beginning to eclipse 60 plate appearances, which is when strikeout rates begin to stabilize.
Of course, we still have a ways to go! Here are some noteworthy trends I’ve picked up around the league.
Mookie Betts finally has one strikeout
What do you know, he is human!
Last night, Francisco Liriano struck out Mookie Betts, which ought to be a fairly unremarkable baseball event — except it was Betts’ first strikeout of the season. In case you weren’t aware, it was also his first strikeout in 129 regular season plate appearances, the longest such streak since Juan Pierre went 147 in 2004. It’s a mind-blowing feat dating back to last September, and it’s not like Betts is the slap-hitter Pierre was.
Meanwhile, the guy with the most punchouts in 2017, Jonathan Villar, already has 26. It might be a while before Betts hits that mark!
The strikeout raises Betts’ strikeout rate to 1.9%. Couple that with his 9.3% walk rate, and you get a ridiculous 5.00 BB/K ratio. Nobody else comes close, with second place belonging to David Freese, with exactly half that figure (2.50).
Among qualified hitters, last year’s leader in BB/K ratio was Ben Zobrist with 1.17, so obviously, we can’t take these lofty video game numbers seriously. But it’s still fun to show how ridiculous Betts’ plate discipline has been so far.
No one is expecting him to go another 129 plate appearances without striking out, but it’s entirely possible he could lead the league in strikeout rate this year. In 2016, he finished with an 11% rate, good for 11th among qualified hitters. I guess there’s a reason he finished second in MVP voting last year.
Jason Vargas and his surprising 13.4% swinging-strike rate
That’s right, through three starts, the 34-year-old Jason Vargas is seventh among qualified starters in strikeout rate with 31.1%. This is someone with a career rate of just 15.7%. Surely this silliness can’t last?
Except Vargas has also compiled an excellent 13.4% swinging-strike rate. On the season that’s better than noted strikeout artists Robbie Ray (12.9%), Lance McCullers (12.3%), and the immortal Clayton Kershaw (11.8%).
So, what do we make of this? It’s another small sample size, but Vargas did have a 23.4% strikeout rate in three starts last season, so maybe it’s not entirely out of nowhere. However, he hasn’t had any noticeable change in velocity, and averages under 90 mph on his fastball.
It’s difficult to trust a pitcher in his mid-30s with Vargas’ history to suddenly turn into an above average strikeout pitcher, let alone an elite one. Even Rich Hill showed plenty of strikeout ability earlier in his career.
Remain skeptical, but for now, it’s hard to ignore what Vargas has done. He’s worth a pickup in fantasy leagues until further notice, and while we don’t know how long this sorcery will last, at the very least it’s a fun surprise storyline.
Corey Kluber getting hit hard 50% of the time
2014 Cy Young winner Corey Kluber hasn’t shown his typical dominance this season. Through three starts he has a bloated 6.38 ERA, although his SIERA remains at a more respectable 3.83.
The strikeout rate is down a bit (22.5%), but hardly a number to be that concerned about. His .294 BABIP doesn’t indicate a great deal of bad luck either. So what’s the problem?
That’s not the company Kluber is used to hanging out with. The hard contact has already led to five bombs, and likely explains his abnormally high 20.8 HR/FB rate.
Considering Kluber has a career hard-hit rate of 27.6%, and had the eighth-best hard-hit rate among qualified starters last year, we should chalk it up as a fluke for now. Furthermore, he’s dealt with some nagging injuries this season — blisters and back tightness — so that could be the main culprit to his early-season woes.
Keep the faith in the Klubot. Better days should be ahead.
Ervin Santana and his lucky .074 BABIP
Ervin Santana is quietly off to a hot start, with a .041 ERA, which is lower than his tiny 0.45 WHIP. He’s also kept the hard contact to a minimum, limiting it to just 21.8%.
But before we hand him a Cy Young award, there’s just one thing — he leads all qualified starts with a .074 BABIP. Even by early season standards, that’s extremely lucky. He’s also stranded 100% of runners on base, which obviously won’t last either.
His 3.85 SIERA is probably more indicative of how he’s pitched, and much closer to his career norms (4.17). His 20% strikeout rate is right around league average.
This is the same Santana we’ve always known. He had a fine 3.38 ERA last season, and another ERA in the mid-to-high 3.00s looks to be in the cards again. But given all of the above, expecting any breakout performance at age 34 seems unlikely.
Eric Thames leads the league with a 1.459 OPS
It would be remiss of me to not mention something about arguably the biggest story of the young season. As I mentioned in yesterday’s Depth Chart Review, Eric Thames is taking the league by storm, and leading the way in a bunch of major hitting categories.
He’s tied for the league lead in homers (seven) and tops the list in OPS (1.459), ISO (.551), SLG (.959), and wOBA (.595). Not too shabby for a guy who played in South Korea last season.
While it’s safe to say Thames will come back to Earth, it’s tough to figure out what level he’ll settle in at. The number of players to make the jump from South Korea is small, and the results are mixed, with Jung-Ho Kang and Byung-Ho Park as two notable examples.
Thames’ BABIP (.419) and HR/FB rate (46.7%) are two obvious spots that will significantly regress, but 30 home run power is starting to look like a reality. The question will be whether he can keep his batting average up as the league adjusts to him. At present, his strikeout rate sits close to league average at 19%.
But until regression hits, enjoy the ride! As we saw with Gary Sanchez last season, you never know how long a hot streak will last.