3 Burning Questions (Fantasy Baseball)
I don’t know about you, but I just took it on the shin in several leagues in regards to the disabled list. The players I lost included Lorenzo Cain, Dylan Bundy, Caleb Smith, Michael Wacha, and Kris Bryant. Just kidding! I don’t own Kris Bryant anywhere, in fact I wrote a “bust” article about him this offseason. How’s that for a shameless plug. The bust term is relative. He’s still a solid fantasy asset just not where he was being drafted. The good news is players like Robbie Ray and Brandon Morrow are coming off the DL very soon. In this week’s article I discuss a couple of players who recently came off the disabled list and compare two starting pitchers and their value the rest of the way.
Gerrit Cole or Trevor Bauer rest of the season, who ya got?
These two are connected in more ways than one. How could we forget the Twitter war these two had two months ago, started by Bauer. Even Alex Bregman got involved calling Trevor “Tyler.” Good stuff. This is a deep rooted feud that must have began way back in their college days. Yes, Cole and Bauer were teammates at UCLA and were both drafted in the first round of the 2011 draft. Cole went number one overall to the Pirates and Bauer went third to the Diamondbacks. I wonder if Bauer took that personally, or maybe Cole stole his girlfriend back in college. Either way, both have had incredibly great seasons to date. This question would have been crazy to ask at the end of April when Cole had a 1.73 ERA, 0.79 WHIP and 61 strikeouts in only 41.2 innings! Fast-forward to the end of June and here are their current stats
Fairly even across the board save for the WHIP and wins in favor of Cole. Current stats can be deceiving and both of these players are headed in opposite directions. Cole’s monthly ERA look like this is; May and June, 2.45 and 3.77, respectively. Bauer, on the other hand, has been more consistent keeping his monthly ERA between 2.00 and 3.00 with his lowest being the month of June at 2.08. As we look at additional statistics in the table below, we can see where Bauer has some favorable numbers.
Right off the bat (not literally), we see that both have very low batting averages against but Cole’s is an insane .169! Remember how I discussed the increase in monthly ERA from Cole? Well, it has not been due to a bump in batting average against. He’s maintained a sub-.200 batting average against in every single month this season. What’s happened is his BABIP against has dropped considerably from .272 in April, to .241 in May, to an unsustainable .191 in June. Conversely, Cole’s HR/FB has jumped 10% from April and is currently 18% in the month of June. For the season, it sits at 13.1%. If you remember a couple months ago, I wrote about Cole’s breakout. The one concern I had was his incredibly high fly ball rate and low HR/FB rate. Well, that seems to have normalized and it’s happened quickly.
Bauer, on the other hand, has completely suppressed home runs this season. He’s given up a total of only five long balls all year! Clearly the ground ball rate has something to do with it, but there’s got to be something else for a guy who gave up 25 home runs just a year ago, right? Well, the only thing I can find from his pitch mix is the fact that he hasn’t allowed a single home run off the curveball or the change up. In 2017, he gave up a total of nine home runs off both pitches combined. He’s getting a lot more ground balls from each of those pitches and his location is lower in the zone. Bauer also has bumped his first-pitch strike percentage up eight percent while decreasing his zone percentage by three percent. In other words, he’s getting ahead of hitters, then not giving them anything to hit. This is why his strikeouts are up and home runs are down.
It seems simple from here on out. Cole is carrying an unsustainable BABIP and an increased walk rate to go along with his jump in home run rate. I didn’t even go into great detail about his inflated walk rate, which is over 12% in the month of June. Cole is still getting plenty of swings and misses and playing for the Astros should pump up his win total. Even if the home run rate decreases, he’s still susceptible to BABIP regression closer to his career .304. With a left-on-base rate well over 80%, more base runners are bound to score on Cole’s watch.
Bauer has not only shown that he has been more consistent in 2018 but his underlying statistics are more sustainable. Trevor Bauer has broken out everyone! It began in the second half of last year. We may very well see Bauer and Cole face off in the ALCS this Fall. I cannot wait.
Kevin Kiermaier is off the Disabled List, but does anyone care?
Known as one of the best defensive center fielders in the game along with Byron Buxton, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Billy Hamilton, Kiermaier can’t seem to stay healthy. He’s only played more than 110 games in a season once and already missed 60 games this season. Coming off the DL, he went 0 for his first 14. He did, however, hit his first home run on Monday and stole a base yesterday. Kiermaier is intriguing because per 162 games he averages 16 home runs and 21 steals. We’ve already dealt with an injury this season, so what can we expect from Kiermaier the rest of the way?
Kiermaier was in a deep slump prior to the injury but it’s good to see that the Rays have shown confidence slotting him into the leadoff spot. He’s only played in 19 games to date in 2018 so I won’t sell you on his surface numbers. That would be a fool’s errand. He’s currently in the small sample portion of the season with only 81 plate appearances. What I’m looking for in Kiermaier is number one, his speed is still there, and he’s running. The stolen base yesterday is a great sign. His speed score on FanGraphs is at a career best 8.3 out of a possible 10. Per BaseballSavant.com, he’s tied for 29th overall out of a possible 467 qualified players in terms of sprint speed. Then again, he injured his thumb, so it’s not a surprise that his speed remains intact.
The power, though. Following surgery to his thumb, gripping the bat will prove to be difficult. Therefore, the power may take time to return. That’s why it’s nice to see the home run from Monday. Kiermaier does need to cut his strikeout rate down. He’s not expanding the zone, he’s just making less contact. While he’s not out of the woods yet, he’s making better contact and fortunately did not go down on strikes in yesterday’s game. Kiermaier is not going to save your season but a burst of power and speed could be on the horizon. After a tough four-game stretch against the Astros, the Rays get the Marlins, Mets, Tigers, and Twins. That’s not exactly a gauntlet of starting pitching. If you’re looking for a replacement for Lorenzo Cain or still searching for aagood power/speed player to fill in for A.J. Pollock or Byron Buxton, go grab Kiermaier before he’s gone.
How to handle Clayton Kershaw now that he’s off the Disabled List?
In his first start back from the disabled list, Kershaw went three innings, gave up five hits and two earned runs with four strikeouts. I know, you’re not impressed, but he came out of that start healthy. That’s what matters. His velocity was sitting around 91 mph which is where he’s been all season but that’s down two miles per hour from last year. Normally I’d wait until the second start off the DL to be concerned, but this is who Kershaw has been this year. Does Kershaw need a 95+ mph fastball to be successful? Obviously not, he’s proven to be elite without high-end velocity.
What concerns me is that his back may still be an issue. The Dodgers only let him go 55 pitches in that first start back against the Mets. There’s no way they let him go over 70-75 in his next start. He’s going to be brought on slowly and likely won’t reach 100 pitches in any start prior to the All-Star break. If Kershaw goes into the break healthy, the extra rest could put Kershaw in a position to be a huge asset in the second half.
If I’m a Kershaw owner, that’s the best case scenario, because so far, Kershaw has been a sunken cost. If you’re a Kershaw owner in a redraft league and still are in contention, you have a decision to make. Do you hold Kershaw and hope for health or sell him to get some actual production? Your decision will be based on how your team is constructed. If you’ve been fortunate enough to deploy guys like Blake Snell, Ross Stripling, Patrick Corbin, and/or Jack Flaherty, then you might have the luxury to sell Kershaw. However, if you really need ace-like production due to below-average starting pitching, you may want to hold.
The market will be all over the place for Kershaw. You’ll have to shop around. If you’re selling, I’d make it clear to the league. Send a message to league owners, but be clear he won’t be cheap. Some owners may just ignore you but I’m sure there will be a couple owners in the league who still have high expectations for Mr. Kershaw. I’d ask for a top 50 overall player plus an SP to supplement. For example, maybe Alex Bregman and Mike Clevinger or possibly Justin Upon and Jose Berrios. Then again, you won’t be able to replicate the production from a healthy Clayton Kershaw. Analyze your team and see if you can win without Kershaw and if not, no one will blame you for holding him hoping for the best.