At the end of September, I posted the self-reflection
on the advice I published during the off-season. Thanks to all who responded via Twitter or email about that. Now that I am back from a world tour of travel that involved stays in the Philly area, Green Bay, and Puerto Rico, it is now time to finish the self-reflection to shut the book on the 2014 season and begin advising you on how to approach your 2015 drafts.
April 1st - Red Light, Green Light:
In short, spring training stolen base efforts can be a slight leading indicator of a more aggressive approach, but it has more to do with the change in personnel than it does the change in management. While Brad Ausmus would appear to be more aggressive than his predecessor simply by attempting more than two steals a week, the addition of Rajai Davis and Ian Kinsler on the roster will have more of an impact on the stolen base attempts than the change of skipper. The green light that Ausmus has given everyone this spring will be going away for a few players, but it would not be surprising to see Detroit more than double their team stolen base attempts total from 2013.
Ausmus and his team did more than just double their stolen base output, they tripled it! Detroit went from 35 steals to 106 steals as a teamů.and scored 36 fewer runs than they did in 2013. Davis and Kinsler accounted for 51 of the team steals and Andrew Romine
was the only other player on the roster who swiped at least 10 bases. It was not a change in philosophy as much as it was a change in personnel that fueled the new running game.
April 8 - Moore Has Been Less:
The theory goes that if the pitcher sacrifices a tick or two of velocity, they can command their pitches better. Moore is the outlier of that theory because his indicators are trending in the opposite direction.
In AL LABR, Moore went for $15. In AL Tout Wars, Moore went $16. In Mixed Tout Wars, Moore went $10. Last season, Moore was a $7 pitcher in mixed leagues and a $14 in AL-only leagues, despite missing 30 games with the similar issue he now has. The money invested in him on draft day can still be earned, but there is a zero opportunity for profit with him with the injury. The declining velocity without an increase in command is the larger concern. Adding a new pitch will help him somewhat, but rediscovering his old command will work even better.
|1st Pitch Strike%||60.0%||59.9%||51.1%||43.2%|
Assuming that Moore's MRI is clean and he only misses a small amount of time, you should think long and hard about rostering Moore this season unless his current owner is selling him at a good discount.
The MRI wasn't clean and he did need Tommy John surgery. I wouldn't expect Moore to be on the mound for the Rays until at least mid-May 2015.
April 15th - Empty Columns:
Trout has yet to attempt a steal this season despite being on base 17 times when the next base was unoccupied. Trout has only been on first with second base unoccupied four times this season: three times in a tie game and once in a 10-run blowout. This appears to be a matter of choice right now but it does not appear to be injury-related.
Trout's stolen base total fell from 33 to 16 in 2014. Some of it may have been a matter of choice, but more of it was due to the fact his on-base percentage fell 55 points from 2013.
April 23rd - Struggling, Not Sizzling:
Hitting is all about timing and pitching is all about disrupting that timing. Unpredictability is the best weapon a pitcher has to do that, and Salazar is leaving it in his back pocket. Salazar has the tools to be a very successful major league pitcher, but he needs a realignment to what made him successful last season. The slight decrease in velocity is not as much of a concern as the decrease in his ability to execute and sequence his pitches on a consistent basis.
Opponents hit .301/.364/.521 against Salazar before his demotion in mid-May despite his 25.5% strikeout rate. Once he went down and was realigned, he had better command of his fastball and moved it around the zone while not falling behind so much in counts and held batters to a .255/.304/.363 line the rest of the season.
April 29th - BABIP Surprises:
Each of these guys currently have BABIP's well below their career norms and will get an upswing in batting average in the coming weeks as things normalize. The lowest recent season of a BABIP this poor was 2001 when Mark McGwire had a .171 BABIP for the season in 299 plate appearances. He hit 29 homers, but struck out 118 times and hit .187 on the season. He, Andy LaRoche, Jermaine Dye, Drew Butera (UCF!), Aaron Hill, and Willie Harris are the only players since the league expanded to 30 teams to have a sub .200 BABIP in at least 250 plate appearances. I'll give Cozart good odds to join that list if the Reds give him enough plate appearances, but the rest of the players should be able to avoid that fate.
The names on that list included Brett Lawrie
, Mike Moustakas
, Carlos Santana
, Pedro Alvarez
, Daniel Nava
, Jhonny Peralta
, Curtis Granderson
, and Alejandro de Aza. Not a perfect list by any means.
May 23rd - Batter Strikeout Percentages:
Suddenly, Morneau does not want to take a walk Then again, the way he is hitting and where he is hitting, I don't blame him. His average is up 62 points from last season with a 26 point bump in BABIP, but most noticeable is the 163 point jump in his slugging percentage. This is quite the shock from a guy that looked done for most of last season. He's being more aggressive in the zone and making better contact when swinging at all types of pitches.
Prado is having a terrible season batting .250/.291/.310 and his slugging percentage is down 117 points. His main problem is he's not making contact on the pitches he has chased out of the zone as he presses the issue. He's nearly 200 plate appearances into the season and is still looking for his first home run.
Napoli is chasing fewer pitches, making more contact both in and out of zone, and despite all of the contact, his average has improved just eight points over last season. His BABIP is just 13 points below last season but his slugging percentage is down 55 points from last season. He's on pace to see his home run total decline for a fourth consecutive season. Father time is winning again.
Morneau went on to have a surprising season after looking lost for the past two seasons, Prado continued to disappoint, and Napoli's 2014 numbers were a level lower than they were in 2013.
June 2nd - The New Hughes:
Hughes won his start on Sunday in Yankee Stadium going eight innings, striking out six, and walking Brian McCann twice to end his walk streak. He did not allow a home run, and one of the two runs scored by New York came on a misplayed ball that Brett Gardner turned into a triple. Hughes threw 100 pitches, 72 for strikes, and earned his sixth win in eight starts and more importantly, exercised the demons in his former haunted house. He now has a 1.99 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP over his last eight starts. While he may not strike out as many batters as he once did, this new version of Hughes is better for fantasy owners as he is not creating the self-inflicted damage that held him back when he pitched for the Yankees.
From that date until the end of the season, Hughes went 10-9 with a 3.72 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP. He allowed 12 homers over his final 21 starts, but walked just eight batters while striking out 130 in 140.1 innings.
June 12th - Buy Lowest?:
Santana's groundballs are not as pull heavy as they were, he is showing more utilization of the middle part of the field, and his flyballs have more distance to him as he makes harder contact. His strikeout rate and his walk rate are nearly identical to what they were before the disabled stint.
Here's the dirty secret - so are pretty much every other one of his indicators.
The old pop in his bat is coming back, while all the while, the strike zone command never left. As Jensen said, the numbers are still ugly enough to suppress his value for those not paying attention to what Santana is doing of late. Buy, Mortimer, buyyyyyyyyyyyy.
Santana hit .264/.382/.493 after this article was written with 20 homers and 63 runs driven in. He was hitting .175/.337/.315 the date the article was published.
June 27th - Is Cain Still Able?:
By UZR/150, the Giants are one of the worst outfields in the league. If we look at the team's three starters in the outfield, each of them score below average.
The only two outfielders to score positively are the reserves - Gregor Blanco and Juan Perez. The Giants outfielders are in the bottom ten in terms of defensive runs saved (DRS), second worst in out of zone plays (OOZ).
In short, this is a combination of a pitcher going through an evolution at a stage in their career that needs better defensive support behind him. This is not an injury-related issue or even just bad luck from any type of metric. What Cain is doing can work, but he needs better defensive support behind him.
He made three starts after this article before his season ended with elbow surgery. Each of his final three starts were quality starts.
July 8th - What Happened to Chris Davis?:
Chris Davis' poor season comes in a year in which he has had to deal with an injury, contract negotiations, and becoming a first-time father a couple of months ago. Human elements can affect a player's performance and those issues cannot be dismissed as folly as we look to figure out why Davis is struggling so badly in situations where he flourished last season. In keeper leagues, Davis is primed to be poached from any team that is in contention that is running out of patience with the slugger. Like McGwire 22 years ago, Crush could come surging back with another 40/100 season.
Despite the horrendous close to the season, the point still stands for Davis. Before 2014 drafts, owners were not targeting the stained likes of Nelson Cruz
, Jhonny Peralta
, and Melky Cabrera
. Their 2014 success could be repeated by Davis. The power is still there in an era where homers continue to drop, but it remains to be seen whether Davis will make the adjustments necessary - or, was everything Adderall driven?
July 16th - Breaking Down Brantley:
Dr. Smooth, as Brantley is known in Cleveland, is holding a clinic this season. A tweak in his stance and hitting with pull power has helped the young outfielder flourish in the first year of his new five-year deal. Scouts know a few things, and you would be wise to listen to everything they have to say.
Some said Brantley's first half was a fluke - he answered those critics by hitting .335/.388/.488 in the second half of the season.
July 26th - Returning to Form:
From 2012 to 2013, McCarthy's cutter kept hitters at bay. He threw the pitch over 1,800 times and the league hit .233/.279/.345 against it. This season, McCarthy threw just 239 cutters while with Arizona and the league hit .231/.250/.446 against the pitch. One could extrapolate that with the decreased usage of the pitch, he was not as sharp with it and that along with the park factors of Chase Field led to the inflated slugging percentage. In short, it is weird how Arizona would ask a pitcher not to throw a pitch that has been a good one for him in the past. There has been talk of teams like Baltimore taking cutters away from young pitchers, but McCarthy is no kid. Perhaps this is why Arizona has struggled so much with developing pitchers.
Since coming to New York, the cutter is most definitely back in play for McCarthy.
It also has not hurt that he has faced a cold-hitting Cleveland team, and the depleted lineups in Cincinnati and Texas. That said, this version of Brandon McCarthy is more rosterable than the one myself and others thought the Yankees were getting when they sent Vidal Nuno off to the desert. Chalk it up as a win for advanced scouting and metrics seeing what Arizona was apparently discouraging.
McCarthy went 5-5 with a 3.27 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP for the Yankees striking out 65 in 71.2 innings. He did, however, allow nine home runs in 11 starts with New York.
August 2nd - Second Time Around:
In short, the early returns on Salazar look promising since his recall. He is getting better results off his moneymaker, and is not as predictable in terms of location when he's down in the count. Joe Maddon is fond of saying batters can protect one half of the zone - outside or in or up and down - but not both. In the past, Salazar made it easy for them because he lived in one portion of the zone with his primary pitch, because he struggled to command it while repeating his delivery. Now, with a return to what made him successful mechanically and showing off the product of two months in the minors working on fastball command and building confidence in his secondary pitches, batters are no longer teeing off against him as he falls behind.
Salazar's post-recall improvements were noted earlier.
August 12th - Over Easy:
Odorizzi has showed a willingness to adapt to change his outcomes this season. He first added a split-changeup to his arsenal, then went to a 12-6 curveball for a bit, before finally taking a cheat-code (left/right; up/down) approach to the strike zone. While he lacks the velocity of a front-line starter, his 26.5% strikeout rate is currently tenth-best for all qualified pitchers in baseball and has the highest strikeout total for all rookie pitchers in baseball.
The real Odorizzi is somewhere in between what we saw and what we are seeing as he can't continue to strand baserunners at his current clip, but the strikeouts are for real. For those that were willing to overlook the baseball card stats with him and use advance metrics to see what was possible, they have been handsomely rewarded these past two months.
Odorizzi made eight starts after this article ran; he went 3-4 with a 4.76 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP. He looked like he ran out of gas down the stretch as his strikeout rate fell to a below-league average 18%.
August 26th - Drew Smyly's Evolution:
Smyly has thrown cutters to righties before, but never as much as he did on Friday night against a Toronto lineup that featured eight righties. In the past, when Smyly used his cutter, it tended to be a pitch that came in on righties more often than not. Against Toronto, Smyly threw the Jays a changeup as he used the cutter more frequently than he had before and also went backdoor with it rather than front door. The backdoor cutter in Tampa Bay is something all pitchers attempt to work through. It began with James Shields, then Wade Davis, and finally with the lefty Smyly is replacing in the rotation, David Price. When the pitch is executed properly, the batter is left with the tough decision of swinging at a pitch and it missing the sweetspot resulting in poor contact or taking a pitch that can catch the corner for a strike. Of course, the pitcher is left with the fine line between a properly executed backdoor cutter or one that comes out of the hand as a flat slider and ends up as a souvenir. It is something Matt Moore struggled with before his injury and something Smyly's current mechanics may struggle with as well on a game-to-game basis.
In short, the evolution process with Smyly is already underway. This offseason, expect some mechanical tweaks as well as the indoctrination into some form of a changeup, which is an unofficial requirement of the Tampa Bay pitching staff. If fantasy owners want to see how that evolution can help a pitcher, look no further than the growth Jake Odorizzi is showing this season.
Smyly was simply fantastic for Tampa Bay after the trade until the team shut him down for the season once they were officially out of contention. Odds are, he comes to camp in 2015 working on a changeup, but he isn't going to come cheaply on draft day after what he flashed in Tampa Bay.
September 4th - Back in on Brad Miller?:
Miller has lost a lot of his playing time to Chris Taylor, but when Miller has played in the second half, he looks somewhat better statistically. He is chasing fewer pitches and has also been more accepting of his walks.
If Miller is going to become an everyday shortstop, it is likely going to be because he is traded somewhere else as Chris Taylor has won that role moving forward. The skills have flashed at times, but the overall body of work is still unimpressive. He has made adjustments in his approach after losing his role. Miller will go from 2014 mid round sleeper to 2015 end game flyer after his performance this season, and he will still be a guy that will end up on a few of my teams.
Miller only saw 54 plate appearances in September, but he hit .314/.340/.549 with seven extra-base hits. Just enough for me to want to put him back on my team in 2015 despite his disappointing 2014 season.
Now that the review is over, what types of articles would you like to see me work on for this offseason?