It's come to the truth day in Circling the Bases. Five players will be reviewed. Five opinions will be given. Five players have their fate determined in this piece.
WHAT TO DO WITH...?
Do you want to BUY or SELL this fivesome?
Matt Cain – A major disappointment in fantasy (5-5, 4.85 ERA), but honestly, not pitching different than normal. (1) His 8.25 K/9 mark would be a seven year high. (2) His 3.00 K/BB ratio would be the second best mark of his career. (3) His 1.14 WHIP would be a four year high, but it's still lower than his career 1.17 mark. (4) His .253 BABIP is right in line with his career .263 mark. (5) His 0.95 GB/FB ratio is right in line with his career mark of 0.86. So what gives? Well it's never as simple as one thing, so I'll list two. First, his left on base percentage which is 74.4 percent for his career is currently at 64.5 percent. Over the past six years it's been at least 70 percent each year and five times in that stretch it's been 73 percent or better. Second, the homers are killing him. Though he's allowing three percent fewer fly balls than his norm at 40.1 percent, his HR/F ratio of 12.8 percent is huge for a guy who has a career mark of 7.1. Think of it. Cain has never had a season of even eight percent meaning his current effort is 50 percent higher than it's ever been before. Given the totality of his work, a lowering of the ERA seems probable moving forward, and with that the wins should start to come with greater frequency. BUY
Starlin Castro – For three years he was the darling of dynasty leaguers as he hit .300, .307 and .283 over with growing power (three homers to 10 to 14). This season he's taken a huge step back hitting .233 with four homers through 86 games. He's also swiped only seven bags after seasons of 22 and 25 the past two years. Never a solid BB/K guy – he was at 0.36 the past two years – that mark has dipped even further to 0.20 this year. Not good. However, he's hitting as many liners as ever, his 20 percent line drive rate is 0.1 off his career mark, yet a guy who had never had a BABIP lower than .315 his first three years is down at .278 this season. That number should rise, and when it does, things will start to look much better for Castro. Also, career .295 hitters against lefties don't normal fall to the .168 average he has against southpaws this season. Expect that number to climb. BUY
Bartolo Colon – I have no idea what to tell you. I mean, how does anyone? We know he's doing it. We know it doesn't make sense. We know we cannot expect it to continue, yet it does start after start. Colon is 12-3 with a 2.69 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. We think he's 40 years old, he could be older, so is it reasonable to think he can have the best ratio season of his career at that age? The last time he won 15 games was 2005. From 2006-2011 – SIX seasons – he won 22 games. He's on pace to just about match that this season. The last time he had an ERA in the 2's was 2002, the only time he's done it. The last time he had a WHIP in the 1.10's was 2005. He's doing all this with the lower K/9 rate he's ever had (4.94 per nine tying his 2006 effort when he threw only 56.1 innings), oh, and he's literally operating at less than 50 percent of his career walk rate (1.12 per nine this season, 2.82 per nine for his career). And there's this: the last time he threw 165 innings was 2005. SELL
Zack Greinke – A frustrating own since he came back from his arm issue, even with a solid outing Monday night (seven shutout innings) his ERA is still at 3.91, and that would be a three year high and pretty much smack dab on the league average (3.94). Alas, Greinke has long had ERA's higher than his skills would dictate. After all, his career mark is 3.78. As for his WHIP, that 1.37 mark is unacceptable and totally out of line with expectations (Greinke last had a mark that high in 2006, and he threw 6.1 innings that season). Why is that mark elevated? The first reason is simple – he's issuing too many walks. For each of the past five years his BB/9 mark has been under 2.50. This season it's at 3.08. Take out that seven walk anomaly on July 3rd and he's walked two or fewer batters in five of six outings so maybe he's got that locked in fainally. In addition to the walks, his strikeout rate is way down, a terrible combo (duh). His 6.99 K/9 mark is lightly years off the better than K per inning mark he flashed the last two seasons, and his fastball velocity is down two mph and that hurts. There's also the fact that he's throwing his slider only five percent of the time after throwing it 15 percent of the time in his career (he's jacked up his cutter rate this season). I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt because of his career path, he pitches in a good ball yard in L.A., and the NL West isn't exactly a powerhouse division. BUY
Cole Hamels – At 3-11 with a 4.38 ERA Hamels has been about as disappointing a starting pitcher as there is in baseball given draft day expectations. All hope isn't lost though. His 8.52 K/9 mark is two hundredths off his career levels, and though his walk rate is a three year high his 3.24 K/BB ratio is still solid (Hamels has also been much better at throwing strikes of late walking a total of 11 batters over his last 10 starts). He's also allowed only four big flies in his last nine starts to bring his HR/9 mark down to 1.04 which is four hundredths better than his career average. Hamels has also brought his GB/FB back to within one hundredth of his career mark at 1.16. That's an awful lot of “normal” Hamels, and that usually equates to a ton of success on the mound. Expect the improvements to continue as the starts pile up. BUY
BY THE NUMBERS
Some quick stats from @MlbStatoftheDay on Twitter followed by my commentary.
Grant Balfour's 41 straight saves give him the longest streak in @Athletics history.
Balfour came into the year with some concerns, he was working his way back from that knee issue, but he's been “on” all year long. It's more than just the save thing, though he's 47 for his last 49 the past two years in addition to the righteous streak. Balfour has just dominated since the start of last season. The numbers: 3-3, 2.28 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 8.73 K/9, 2.61 K/BB ratio in 110.1 innings. The most amazing number though has yet to be listed. The guy has allowed 66 hits in 110.1 innings good for a hit per nine inning mark of 5.38. How amazing is that number? No pitcher who threw 110 innings last season had a mark lower than 6.72 (Kris Medlen and Clayton Kershaw), and since the start of last year no pitcher in baseball who has thrown 110 innings can better the 5.38 mark of Balfour (Fernando Rodney is second at 5.54). Balfour equals nails right now.
In seven starts since June 4, the @Mets' @jeremy_hefner53 owns a 1.64 ERA in 44 innings.
Jeremy Hefner has a 3.39 ERA and 1.20 WHIP on the year. He's also been flipping special his last seven starts having allowed one earned runs six times and two earned runs once. Pretty tough to pitch much better than that unless you're an elite arm (which he isn't). Hefner also has eight “quality starts” in his last nine outings with the only time he missed being a game on June 16th where he allowed one earned run in five innings. Hefner has a league average 7.04 K/9 mark. He's got a league average 1.22 GB/FB ratio. He's got more league average stuff in his line drive rate (19 percent) and HR/FB (12.6). He's not a pitcher that has great “stuff,” so his long-term outlook is dim compared to his special work the last two months. Ride the wave folks, but know that this boat could very well capsize in the surf.
Manny Machado's 122 hits tie Al Kaline in 1955 for the most for a player in his age-20 or younger season before #ASG break.
Kaline, in his third season as a 20 year old, ended up leading the league with a .340 average and 200 hits. He also went deep 27 times with 102 RBIs and 121 runs scored. His season will be better than Machado's, Manny only has six homers and 43 RBIs at the moment, but how amazing is it to think that Machado leads the league in games (90), at-bats (387), plate appearances (409) and doubles (39)? The all-time single season record for doubles is 67. He's got a shot.
Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87, Monday through Friday at 5 PM EDT. Ray's analysis can be found at BaseballGuys.com and his minute to minute musings can be located at the BaseballGuys' Twitter account.