Oak's Corner: Who’s Hot, Who’s Cold?

Oak's Corner: Who’s Hot, Who’s Cold?

This article is part of our Oak's Corner series.

The Week That Was


  • As an A's fan, there hasn't been a lot for me to watch the last couple of years, but I always make sure to pay attention whenever Khris Davis is up. Davis has started the season on fire with seven homers through his first 16 games with an absurd .411 ISO. Davis has an elite hard hit rate of 48.8 percent, but surprisingly, he's hitting fewer fly balls than usual at only a 30.2 percent rate. Of course, 15 games is a small sample, but Davis is also striking out a little bit less at 24.2 percent. Most impressively, Davis has dropped his soft contact rate under 10 percent so far this season.

    The qualifier on Davis's early season success is that he is notoriously streaky. When he's doing well, he seems to hit everything hard, but when he's cold, it feels like he will never get a hit again. In 2016, he had two months where he hit under .225 but at least in September when he hit .200, he still managed to hit eight homers. In 2015, he hit only six homers through the first half of the season over 159 at bats but then smoked 21 big flies in the second half over 233 at-bats. His current 53.8 percent HR/FB is obviously fluky, but Davis is one of those guys that when he gets one, it's gone, as shown by his consistently high HR/FB numbers over his career. He seems to have become

The Week That Was


  • As an A's fan, there hasn't been a lot for me to watch the last couple of years, but I always make sure to pay attention whenever Khris Davis is up. Davis has started the season on fire with seven homers through his first 16 games with an absurd .411 ISO. Davis has an elite hard hit rate of 48.8 percent, but surprisingly, he's hitting fewer fly balls than usual at only a 30.2 percent rate. Of course, 15 games is a small sample, but Davis is also striking out a little bit less at 24.2 percent. Most impressively, Davis has dropped his soft contact rate under 10 percent so far this season.

    The qualifier on Davis's early season success is that he is notoriously streaky. When he's doing well, he seems to hit everything hard, but when he's cold, it feels like he will never get a hit again. In 2016, he had two months where he hit under .225 but at least in September when he hit .200, he still managed to hit eight homers. In 2015, he hit only six homers through the first half of the season over 159 at bats but then smoked 21 big flies in the second half over 233 at-bats. His current 53.8 percent HR/FB is obviously fluky, but Davis is one of those guys that when he gets one, it's gone, as shown by his consistently high HR/FB numbers over his career. He seems to have become a bit of a better hitter over the last year, and while the current .321 average is clearly not a long-term thing, I think .265 with a repeat of his 40 homers is a real possibility, albeit with some ice cold streaks in there.

  • I was admittedly wary of Wade Davis coming into this season after his elbow issues with the Royals last season. I pushed him to the bottom of the second tier of closers, as I felt the other guys in that range came with fewer question marks. My concerns look silly so far as Davis has thrown exceptionally well so far through his first eight outings. He hasn't allowed a run all season nor has he allowed multiple base runners in any outing. He's not posting massive strikeouts numbers, but with seven in 7.1 innings, he's certainly still at a solid level even though his swinging strikeout rate at only 10.8 percent doesn't predict many more Ks are coming. The key so far is that his velocity is nearly the same as it was in 2016 (94.7 in 2017, 94.9 in 2016), and while that may be a touch off his peak 2014/2015 seasons, it's only 1 mph down and still really good. He's mixing in more pitches than in the past, throwing his cutter and curveball more so far this year while relying on his fastball less at only a 39.2 percent usage rate. If I were drafting today, with Davis on such a great team and looking good, I'd push him to the top of that second tier behind Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman.

  • One of the biggest stories of the young season so far has been the hot start of Mitch Haniger, acquired by the Mariners as an assumed secondary piece in the Taijuan Walker/Jean Segura swap. After a few reports of Haniger hitting second came out in spring, his stock started to rise but he was still available after round 17 in 15-team leagues on the final weekend before the season. Through 16 games, Haniger has 15 runs and 15 RBI to go alone with his four homers and two steals. A former 38th overall pick in 2012, Haniger had a power breakout in 2016, hitting 30 homers across three levels. Haniger showed a solid hard hit rate at 37.3 percent in his 34-game major league cup of coffee in 2016 and has a similarly solid number at 35.6 percent so far in 2017. I've watched a number of Haniger's at-bats and I'm buying the breakout, especially with the lineup spot between Jean Segura (when he returns) and Robinson Cano/Nelson Cruz.

  • Jose Bautista has been a fan favorite in Toronto over the last five years, so it was a bit jarring to hear some boos on Thursday in Toronto as Joey Bats went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts (recently renamed a "Buxton"). Bautista has had a truly awful start to the 2017 campaign, hitting .109 with zero homers and only one RBI over 66 plate appearances. A closer look shows that Bautista hasn't really been the victim of bad luck, despite his .176 Babip, which will obviously rise as the season goes on. Bautista has now struck out in an incredible 33 percent of his at-bats, a number that is even more startling considering Bautista has never been over 20 percent in his time with the Jays. Further, he's currently carrying a 20.6 percent hard hit rate, a huge drop from his 41 percent mark in 2016. The strikeouts and lack of hard contact cause me more concern than I'd normally have for a guy with his track record this early in a season. Bautista showed some signs of struggles in 2016 when his strikeout rate rose to 19.9 percent while his average fell to .234. I liked Bautista at his ADP (108 after March 1st) and drafted him in two NFBC RotoWire Online Championship teams, as I thought his hard hit rate from 2016 would carry over and boost the average back up and his power would be there as always, but looking at his stats and watching his at-bats, I'm genuinely worried.

  • It's amazing just how bad Yan Gomes is and how rapidly his offensive profile snowballed. After a breakout 2014 when Gomes hit .278 with 21 homers, in 2015 he was considered one of the better up-and-coming catchers in baseball. Gomes lost nearly half his season to injury in 2015, hitting only .231 with 12 homers, but then he fell off a cliff in 2016 with a horrendous .167 average over 74 games. Those struggles haven't abated this season, as Gomes has managed a meager .143 average through 39 plate appearances, but if you're looking for a silver lining, he has bumped up his hard hit rate to 35 percent so far. Luckily for Gomes, his backup, Roberto Perez, is only hitting .150, but at some point, the Tribe will need Gomes to hit over the Mendoza Line to keep him as their starter. The hard hit rate is a bit of good news, but I dropped him in a 12-teamer last week, and while he's probably a hold for now in a 15-teamers where catchers on the waiver wire are tough to come by, I would drop him as soon as I found anyone with even a bit of a pulse on the waiver wire.

  • I find the baseball instant replay process painful. I understand the desire to get calls right, but I feel like the process where a manager holds the game up while someone watches a slow motion video and then signals to the manager to challenge a bit of a joke. I don't think the spirit of replay in baseball should be to slow down every single close play at first or see if a guy's foot came off the base for a millisecond when attempting a stolen base. When instant replay was first introduced, it appeared that only obvious missed calls would be overturned and anything too close to call immediately would be left as called on the field. It feels like some crews still adhere to this, while others take five minutes with every possible angle to try and get the exact right angle on a true bang-bang play. When a huge baseball fan like me changes the channel to basketball or something else when a play is challenged, something has to be wrong with the process.

FAAB Feelings

For a look ahead at this weekend's FAAB, I picked three starting pitchers who are available in most 12-teamers and some 15-teamers, all three of which have been pitching well and have two starts coming up this week.

Chad Kuhl: Kuhl has pitched nicely through his first three starts, tossing up a 2.60 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP through 17.1 innings while allowing no more than two earned runs in any start. Kuhl is not a big strikeout guy with a 7.27 K/9 after a 6.75 K/9 in 70.2 major league innings in 2016. Kuhl has a history of out-pitching his peripherals in the minors, as his ERA has been significantly better than his FIP in each season from 2013 to 2016. A closer look at Kuhl so far this year shows a few scary numbers, as he has allowed a 52.1 percent fly ball rate while also allowing a 36.7 percent hard hit rate, yet has somehow managed to allow zero homers so far. I always like Pittsburgh pitchers with their home park and the tutelage of pitching coach Ray Searage, but after looking at the hard hit rate and fly ball rate, I'll drop my bids on Kuhl a bit this week. He did have a much lower 36.1 percent fly ball rate last season and has a solid history of limiting homers. He faces the Cubs at home and then gets the Marlins on the road, not what I would call an easy slate by any means. I like a small to medium bid on Kuhl this week in deeper leagues with the thought he will be useable for good matchups at home as the season progresses.

Jason Vargas: Huh, well this one is certainly unexpected. Vargas has made three starts so far this season and allowed a grand total of one run while striking out 23 batters over 20.2 innings. All of that adds up to a 0.44 ERA and a 0.77 WHIP, obviously ridiculous numbers, but there is actually a lot here to like so far. He has induced ground balls at a 53.1 percent clip so far while only allowing 26.5 percent hard contact, a fantastic combo. All of that looks great, but unless we think he has reinvented himself at 34, you have to look at his historical numbers before deciding whether to add him. His last full season was 2014, during which he had a 3.71 ERA over 187 innings with a 6.16 K/9 rate, not awful from a ratio standpoint, but that low strikeout rate is the norm for Vargas over his career. He gets a pretty nice two-step this week at the White Sox and then home for the Twins, but I'm not willing to spend any real amount of FAAB on him even with two starts this week. I just don't think the strikeouts, once they normalize, are enough to take on the ratio risk, but I'll admit I'm more intrigued than I was before I looked closer at his start.

Jesse Hahn: Hahn lost his spot in A's rotation after a poor spring but was slotted into the rotation after Raul Alcantara got lit up by the Rangers in his first start. Hahn has responded with two effective starts since, allowing four runs total over two outings. Prior to his December 2014 trade to the A's, Hahn was an intriguing arm, posting a 3.07 ERA with nearly a strikeout per inning in 73.1 innings with the Padres in 2014. Hahn was good for the A's in 2015 when healthy even though his strikeout rate fell off drastically, and then he was terrible in 2016 with a 4.47 K/9 Rate while putting up an ERA over 6. So far in 2017, Hahn is throwing harder than he has in his career with a fastball at 94.3, and while his swinging strike rate won't excite anyone at 8.2 percent, it would represent the highest number since he joined the A's. Hahn has a history of keeping the ball on the ground (usually around a 50 percent ground ball rate), and while he hasn't done that so far this year, if he can revert back to that while keeping the velocity and swinging strike gains, he could be an intriguing arm for home starts in deeper leagues. This week Hahn has two road games, and while I like the one at the Angels, the start next weekend in Houston concerns me. With some actual effectiveness in his past, I'm putting a small buy in on Hahn where available in order to see whether the gains are real, with the thought that I'd use him as a back-end option depending on matchup and park.

A Closer Look

This week there are a couple of interesting closer situations at which to take a detailed look. Last week, I took a look at the Cardinals, and if no one added Trevor Rosenthal last week in your league, I would certainly jump on him this week. Seung Hwan Oh struggled again in both of his outings this week allowing five hits over two innings while only striking out one, while Rosenthal earned a save in a game where Oh wasn't available. The first seeds of an issue were planted last week and this week those seeds sprouted.

I drafted Francisco Rodriguez in the NFBC Main Event in Las Vegas, and while he was not a target, I was okay with him as a second closer with a firm grasp on the job. Well, after watching K-Rod's first seven appearances this year, I'm officially concerned and think the leash is getting shorter by the day. Rodriguez has seen his velocity drop significantly since his early glory days, but he had managed to keep the heater in the 89-90 mph range the last three years, which gave him a six to seven mph difference between his fastball and changeup. So far in 2017, his changeup remains 83 mph range, but his fastball has dropped to 87.5 mph, giving him a less than ideal separation between the two pitches.

Through 6.2 innings, K-Rod has already allowed 10 hits (including two homers) while allowing a run in four of his seven outings. He does have seven strikeouts in those 6.2 innings, but he appears very hittable so far and is inducing way less ground balls than usual at only 30.4 percent so far. Granted, small sample notice again, but with closers, it's often small samples that causes a guy to lose his job. As a long-established veteran, Rodriguez still likely has some leash, but it's certainly shorter the last two weeks, especially with the effectiveness of setup man Justin Wilson. Wilson has yet to allow a run through 7.1 innings this season while striking out 11 batters. Wilson is a lefty, which can sometimes work against relievers in earning the closer role, but Wilson has shown a reverse split, allowing only a .207 batting average to righties over his career. If you own Rodriguez, I'd definitely make a small FAAB bid on Wilson before he picks up even more steam or Rodriguez blows another save. Even if you don't own Rodriguez, Wilson is a nice save speculation play that you likely won't need to hold more than a couple weeks. Either K Rod will find it quickly and lengthen the leash and you can drop Wilson, or you may find yourself falling into a saves option on a solid team.

Coming into the season, it appeared that Ken Giles had a solid lock on the Astros closer role and he was selected among the top 11 closers in almost every fantasy draft. On the surface, Giles has struggled, allowing five runs over seven innings, including back-to-back outings where he allowed two runs to the Mariners. He has managed 11 strikeouts for an early very nice 14.14 K/9 rate, but the real issue for fantasy leagues is how manager A.J. Hinch has deployed his bullpen this week.

Giles was used in the 8th inning in last Saturday's game against the A's, even though they had a three-run lead and the A's bottom of the order was due up. So it wasn't a high leverage situation in which to bring Giles, but maybe more of a soft landing spot after the back-to-back rough outings. After he was used in a typical closer situation on Monday against the Angels, Giles entered the game on Wednesday in the 8th inning with a four-run lead (when he started warming up, it was a two-run game) to face the meat of the Angels lineup in Yunel Escobar, Mike Trout and Albert Pujols. Hinch said after that game that he wanted to use Giles in the most high leverage spot of the game in order to secure the win and that just happened to be the eighth inning.

While that may be (well, it is) the smartest path to winning games, but if Hinch is going to do that on a regular basis, it certainly lessens Giles' value in fantasy leagues. On Thursday afternoon, Hinch left Chris Devenski in for a seven-out save rather than go to Giles with a two-run lead in the ninth even though Giles hadn't worked back-to-back games. This situation bears watching, and while it seems like Giles will still get a majority of the Astros saves, it looks likely that he will lose some here and there based on matchups. If you can trade him for a comparable closer at full value, I would, but that will probably be tough to do with his bloated ERA, so you have to hold and realize you may need to lower the number of saves projected by a half dozen over the course of the season.

There's no clear guy to grab for some cheap saves in Houston if Giles is going to move around, but even in a 12-team league, if Devenski is somehow still available, it is time to pounce. Hinch is using Devenski all over the game, and he's producing enough strikeouts to provide value even without many wins or saves. With his 25 strikeouts (against only one walk), Devenski is the top 10 of MLB in the category even with only 13.1 innings thrown. If you play in a league with K/9 instead of total strikeouts, Devenski's value bumps up even more.

Series of the Weekend

There are a number of interesting series in the National League this weekend, including the Reds/Cubs, Diamondbacks/Dodgers and Rockies/Giants, but I'll be focusing most on the Nationals/Mets matchup in Citi Field. The Mets and Nationals are the consensus top two teams in the NL East, and this weekend will be their first season matchup. The series features two of the hottest hitters in the NL so far in Yoenis Cespedes and Bryce Harper, both tied for second in the NL with six homers (wow on Eric Thames with his seven), although Cespedes had a hamstring issue on Thursday night and is questionable for the series. The Nationals have four regulars (Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy and Adam Eaton) among the top 13 in batting average in the NL entering Thursday's games, and they're leading the NL in batting average, OBP, OPS and SLG, many of them by wide margins. Their offense is really dominating the National League right now.

The surging Nats lineup will make for a fun test for the three Mets starting pitchers throwing this weekend: Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler. Harvey has been exceptional in his three starts since returning from his surgery for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, posting a 2.45 ERA and 0.98 through his first three starts. DeGrom has also been lights out with a 1.89 ERA, and it will be fun to watch him battle the red-hot Nats lineup. Wheeler has struggled so far this season but was much better in his last start, striking out seven Phillies over five innings and will look to build on that start. No series in April means too much, but every Mets-Nationals game is likely to carry some importance when we look back in September.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Scott Jenstad
Scott Jenstad is a veteran of both NFBC and CDM fantasy games. He has won five NFBC Main Event league titles and finished twice in the Top 10 Overall. Scott is a hardcore fan of the San Francisco 49ers, Oakland A's and Golden State Warriors. Follow him on Twitter @ScottJenstad.
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