3 Burning Questions (Fantasy Baseball)
It’s April 25th and the MLB season is nearly a month old. Over the last two weeks, I have focused on a few polarizing pitchers followed by hot and cold hitters. This week, I want to do more of a potpourri of MLB news that’s currently at the forefront. A lot has happened this past week. We also had this season’s first no-hitter by Sean Manaea against the Red Sox. Kudos to Manaea, as we had two near no-hitters from Tyson Ross and Patrick Corbin.
UPDATE: Literally two hours after I finished writing this, Acuna got the call. He’ll join the Braves tonight in Cincinnati. I’ll go on record saying he will go .281/.342 with 19 HR and 16 steals ROS. Must add, but most likely gone is most leagues. Speaking of call-ups, Gleyber Torres of the Yankees is the topic of my first burning question.
What can Fantasy owners expect from Gleyber Torres?
On Saturday, April 21 the Yankees called up their number one prospect Gleyber Torres. He was promptly inserted into the starting lineup batting eighth and playing second base. He went hitless in four at-bats and left seven runners on base. Not an ideal debut but if I remember correctly, Kris Bryant went hitless in four at-bats with three strikeouts in his debut. The point is, a prospect’s debut is meaningless as it relates to how the rest of the season plays out.
Based on his numbers, Torres appeared to be more exciting in Single-A when he was stealing 20+ bases. The stolen base attempts have dwindled but could in part be related to his elbow injury in 2017 where he had Tommy John surgery on his non-throwing elbow. It’s in the Yankees best interest to keep their number one overall prospect healthy for the long term. Even so, the Yankee’s don’t run much so a mid-teens stolen base total seems to be the cap for Torres.
One thing that caught my eye with Torres is his advanced approach at the plate. He sports high ground ball rates like many minor league players but has steadily decreased his ground ball percentage each year including this past spring. He’s got a pretty swing that generates good exit velocity. Check out the moonshot around 1:00 of the video. That looks like a popup that goes 420 feet to dead center. He’s only 21 years old, and that means the power is not fully developed. That may not matter. Many young prospects are slugging better in the majors than what their minor league numbers suggest. Look at Ozzie Albies so far this year. How about full-season examples like Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor?
Again, an approach to elevate the ball more seems to be a conscious change, but let’s be honest, he’ll likely hit at the bottom of the lineup with the Yankees depth one through five. As far as 2018 is concerned, Torres needs to be owned in 12-team leagues and deeper. I’m intrigued by Torres long term, but he may be a player that hits 12-15 homers and steals 10 bases with a solid but unspectacular .270 batting average this year. Remember, he’s only 21 and prospect growth is not linear. Don’t write him off if he struggles this year.
Why are home runs down in 2018?
Through the first 3 1/2 weeks of the season, strikeout and walk rates have increased compared to the 2017 season with strikeouts accounting for 23.0% of all plate appearances. In 2017, it was 21.7% and walks increasing from 8.7% to 9.2%. Major League Baseball is on a pace to set a record for strikeouts for a 12th straight year and produce an 18-year high for walks. The game is changing my friends.
However, the home run rate which has climbed every year since 2014 is down from 3.1% of all plate appearances in March/April 2017 to 2.8% in 2018. We now know that there have been changes to the ball which came in the second half of 2015. The results have been the skyrocketing of homers in the big leagues including a record-setting 6,105 in 2017. The seemingly minor difference in HR/PA would account for nearly 600 less home runs than in 2017. With the fly ball rate sitting steadily between 35.6% and 36%, the HR/FB rate has dropped to 11.8% this year from 12.8% in 2017. What’s the reason?
The postponement of the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets games last Sunday marked a record-breaking 26 postponements through April. Yes, there have been rain-outs, snow-outs, and games canceled due to just plain cold weather. This also means that many games have been played in “less than ideal” conditions for much of this month.
Both temperature and humidity play roles in how far a ball travels given the same impact and launch angle. Dr. Alan Nathan wrote an article explaining that global warming could partially be the reason for the home run increase. He’s proven that a 10-degree difference in air temperature will change the distance a fly ball travels by about five feet. The vast majority of games are played in weather 70 degrees or more throughout the season. This April there were dozens of games played in the 30s and some at or below freezing significantly reducing home runs in those games.
Regardless of the reason or number of reasons for the decrease in home runs, the game has changed. It’s becoming a sport that’s increasingly an all-or-nothing proposition. Take 2017 for example when more than a third of plate appearances (33.5 percent) resulted in either a walk, a strikeout or a homer. That’s the highest rate of “three true outcomes” and the lowest rate of balls in play in history. I saw a tweet from Joe Sheehan this week that said with eight days left in March/April there have been 388 more strikeouts than hits to start the 2018 season. There has never been a month in baseball history with more strikeouts than hits. You can’t hit a home run if you’re striking out. You also can’t hit a home run when you take a walk.
I want to compile more data as the season progresses before we make a final judgment. If the home runs increase, we can conclude that weather played a significant role. Then again if the strikeout and walk rates continue to rise, the home runs might decrease by default. As I’m watching games tonight, it seems like every game has five or six homers, so who knows. This game will make you ponder no matter how much you think you understand it.
Is Franchy Cordero for real?
The Franchyse, Franch Toast, The Franch Connection, whatever you want to call him, he’s been entertaining to watch, to say the least. The San Diego Padres prospect who was buried in their system somewhere between 15 and 20 overall due to the enormous depth of the system has come out guns blazing. The kid has raw physical tools for days. Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs has rated him with 70-grade raw power and 70-grade speed. He’s already displayed his raw tools by hitting four home runs and stealing two bases in only 11 games. Yes, the hit tool is poor and he’s a questionable defender, so is he for real or a flash in the pan?
While Franchy is tooled up, his approach at the plate is less than ideal. In the minors, he never showed the ability to draw many walks and a 25%-28% strikeout rate doesn’t typically translate well to the Major Leagues. Then he goes and does something like this hitting his third home run of the season, the longest of 2018 traveling 489 feet! The title claims he runs like Gordon and hits it hard like Gallo. Neither is a good comparison though because Gallo walks and hits over 50% fly balls. Franchy hits far too many grounders (46.4% currently) and sports a career rate just a hair under 50% through the minors.
The two closest comparisons I found from 2017 were a pair of Brewers; Domingo Santana and Keon Broxton. I love this because we really have both ends of the spectrum with these two. These guys both swing and miss a ton but when bat meets ball, it goes a long way. Over the course of a full season, Franchy’s upside looks like Domingo’s 2017 where his downside is Keon Broxton. In this small sample of 2018, Cordero’s plate discipline more closely resembles Santana where his lower walk rate resembles Broxton. Keep in mind, Broxton still hit 20 home runs and stole 21 bases in 463 plate appearances last year. Cordero, in my opinion, has more power than Broxton and even Santana. He’s averaging over 100 mph on his fly balls and line drive. That’s scary.
Playing time may start becoming an issue for Cordero now that Margot is back. Margot typically mans center with Wil Myers in right and Jose Pirela in left. I believe there will be some sort of four-man rotation that includes Cordero. Keep in mind, Wil Myers is often injured and just came off the disabled list himself. The Padres are bad this year. They need a guy like Cordero to get fans excited. I believe he’ll get enough at-bats to be viable in 12-team mixed leagues. However, much like Broxton’s 2017, there will be some very low-lows. I’m just hoping the kid can stay in the bigs to provide us with 500-foot bombs and spectacular defensive highlights.