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“Seventh Nevin” Oh to Be GM for a Day

We play Fantasy Baseball (daily, dynasty, head-to-head, points, roto, or some derivation thereof) for prizes or bragging rights because we love baseball and want to be as close to our passion as we possibly can. “Owning” players and trading them to improve our “now” or build for our “tomorrow” – that’s what the real-life GMs do, right?! What a great feeling when you acquire that piece that sets you up for your championship run or cements your lineup for the next five years. (If you have the patience to actually hold a player that long.)

However, in many cases, our moves don’t work out and we find ourselves making more moves to recover or even adding more teams to further muddy the waters, or worse, both. (Those that know me very well know that my lineups have a tendency to be revolving doors. I like to blame the OCD. However, I did actually hold a player for a personal record 405 days, recently trading Buster Posey (Giants) on May 10. He was expiring and I have Danny Jansen (Blue Jays) to replace him in 2019. That is the thinking anyway.)

We won’t talk much about Jansen today other than to say – did you know he’s leading the International League in batting average (0.321) and on-base percentage (0.433)? He is also fourth in OPS (0.903) and he has walked (23) more times than he has struck out (22). I realize the Blue Jays have some infield issues and that Russell Martin is athletic (and courageous) enough to volunteer to attempt to address those issues, but clearly the Blue Jays are reluctant to call up Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. Why also the reluctance to call up Jansen? Josh Donaldson is hurt (again!) and their defense as a whole (anyone that has started 25 or more games) is just porous, according to the UZR metric. Only Donaldson (26 games at 3B) has a positive UZR (0.2). Everyone else is negative. Everyone. (Granted, some are right-close to zero, but negative is negative. And negative needs attention.)

Thus, today’s topic: Oh to Be GM for a Day! Realizing that Jansen and Guerrero, Jr. should already be in The Show, we’re going to bypass them and focus on three other players (and why) I believe they should be receiving a call from the GM, sooner than later. Particularly if these teams are looking to improve or continue their runs toward post-season immortality.

And what better place to start than with the defending World Series champions.

Name: Trent Thornton (Astros)
Height:
6-0   Weight: 175  Throws: Right   Bats: Right
Born:
  September 30, 1993 (Age: 24), Pittsburgh, PA
College: University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill)
Drafted: Amateur Draft 2015 (June);
5th Round, 139th Overall by the Astros
Prospect Rank: Not Ranked
Currently Pitching: AAA Fresno Grizzlies

The big club is looking at all types of solutions for its bullpen woes. One answer was just get dominant starters to negate the need for a bullpen, and to a degree, the Astros have. With arguably (perhaps inarguably?) the major leagues’ best rotation in Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, and Dallas Keuchel. You know you’re in good shape when former Cy Young award winner Keuchel is your 4th best option. (And there are some who could rightfully petition that Lance McCullers, Jr. should be in there and not Keuchel.)

Anyway, these five starters are averaging an eye-popping 6.1 IP as a unit with a combined ERA of 2.69. That is impressive work over 385.1 IP coming from five different pitchers. (If you’re wondering, yes, the ERA is #1 in all of baseball and the 385.1 IP comes in at #1 as well.) Because the starters only leave (on average) 8 outs on the table, you would think that the bullpen would be able to dominate. Not a lot of pressure, not a great number of outs to achieve. On the surface, the bullpen’s totals are not deplorable: 3.13 ERA over 163.2 IP with a WHIP of 1.118. But they have 8 blown saves and a lowly save conversion of 61.90% (good for 18th in the majors).

For a team with aspirations of repeating as World Series champions (and having nearly everything in place to do so), this type of late game faltering just won’t do. Understandably, Keuchel and/or McCullers will likely shift to the bullpen in the playoffs, just like Collin McHugh did to start the regular season. But maybe it’s time to address the dumpster fire known as: Joe Smith + Will Harris + Ken Giles (they have a combined ERA of 5.18 and WHIP of 1.238). Amazingly, the WHIP isn’t that bad, but nearly half (33) of the baserunners (71) these three allow are coming across to score. That is unacceptable. I understand the reluctance to move Giles, since they gave up so much to get him. (But sometimes you do have to just cut your losses.)

So, peeking into the Farm System, specifically Fresno, we see a young Trent Thornton, primed and ready to help the Astros’ late-inning woes, if we can get out of our own way with the starter-reliever mentality and just start thinking that we need pitchers who can get outs. Thornton has had one poor performance in 2018 (April 11, allowing 5 ER on 7 hits over 4.1 IP) and several quality starts (5) as well as tying a PCL record with eight (8) consecutive strikeouts in a game on April 23. This 24-year-old right-hander is about as ready as he can be to step in and get 3-9 outs to close a game for the Astros.

Thornton has above-average control (2.13 BB/9) and limits baserunners (1.01 WHIP), doing so with a 5-pitch arsenal. Leading the way is a 90-93 MPH fastball that sometimes can touch 94-95. His cutter comes in between 86-89, but its late lateral movement makes the pitch especially difficult for lefties (which is a bonus for a bullpen with only one left-handed pitcher). Thornton’s over-the-top curve drops in in around 75 and its spin-rate is rumored to be better than that of McHugh’s. His slider is between 81-83 and more importantly, also has good movement. Thornton can also throw a fifth pitch – a change-up – which is low-80s and admittedly is not his best pitch. (But perhaps working with guys like Verlander and Cole, it’s just something else that can become a more finely-tuned instrument for getting batters out.)

I do realize that the bullpen could absolutely use a left-handed reliever, with Tony Sipp being their only lefty option. Maybe that piggyback the Thornton call up with a lefty acquisition? (Say goodbye to Smith and Harris?) Either way, Thornton is a polished pitcher who can help the Astros’ bullpen get outs. Today. I don’t think waiting until August (or worse September) to iron out bullpen issues is appropriate for a team locked and loaded for a deep playoff run in 2018.

And this leads us to two other teams needing to make a few adjustments pre-trade deadline in order to see what they have. (I mean, why not? He’s in your farm system … give him a chance and see if he saves you from expending Prospect Capital and millions on larger contracts when you may have the solution in your own house?!)

Name: Cody Carroll (Yankees)
Height:
6-5   Weight: 215  Throws: Right   Bats: Right
Born:
  October 15, 1992 (Age: 25), Mount Juliet, TN
College: University of Southern Mississippi
Drafted: Amateur Draft 2015 (June);
22nd Round, 663rd Overall by the Yankees
Prospect Rank: #16 (Yankees)
Currently Pitching: AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders

Now, it is fair to say that with every Yankee starter’s ERA at or above 3.62 (not named Luis Severino), they may need more help in the rotation. It would be difficult to argue with you there. But with Chance Adams regressing a bit in 2018 and no real standouts at the AAA or AA level, I’m going to make a reliever suggestion instead, especially with that side of the coin failing as well.

The Yankees have already jettisoned Tommy Kahnle and I’m not sure what happened to once-reliable David Robertson. Chasen Shreve hasn’t been the type of lock-down reliever you like to see … ever. (Is it wrong of me to think that as a reliever in 2018, your job is simple? One inning – three outs. Of course, when you fail and give up anything amounting to *damage*, your line suffers. Sometimes catastrophically. (Just check out Drew Steckenrider’s (Marlins) line on May 10. He surrendered 6 ER in 0.1 IP and his ERA ballooned from 1.08 to 4.24.) Anyway, one bad outing will take a reliever’s line a while to recover, which is why for relievers I really look to the ancillary metrics, particularly ERA+, FIP, and the per/9 numbers. Shreve has underwhelmed in all categories save for the K/9 over the last 3 seasons. Kahnle was great in 2016 and 2017 and just hit a wall in 2018. Similarly may be able to be said of Robertson, although he began to show signs of struggling in 2016 in Chicago.

Surprisingly, we now need to add Dellin Betances to this list. Solid ERA+ numbers since 2016, but ever since last season’s arbitration fiasco, Betances hasn’t quite been his dominant self. 6.6 BB/9 in 2017 and 4.0 BB/9 in 2018? His FIP is nearly a full run (0.85) higher in 2017 and 2018 than his career (2.35) total. What is going on here? Well, regardless of what it is, the Yankees won’t bounce Betances or Robertson. Kahnle has been DFA’ed and Shreve should be. Opening a spot for Cody Carroll.

Currently for the RailRiders, Carroll is dominating in the early going. Over 25.2 IP he has only allowed 17 hits, 5 ER, and zero home runs. His skinny-thin 1.75 ERA would be a welcome sight in the Bronx, coupled with his 1.052 WHIP and his 11.57 K/9. These are the types of ratios that absolutely look sterling along side the two high-performing Yankee relievers to date: Aroldis Chapman (14 saves, 1.46 ERA, 0.892 WHIP, 16.42 K/9) and Chad Green (3-0, 2.25 ERA, 1.036 WHIP, 11.57 K/9).

Since being drafted, Carroll has risen quickly through the Yankees’ system with his longest stop being the full season in 2016 with the Charleston RiverDogs of the Sally League. Every other stop has been a launchpad to the next challenge, each of which Carroll has conquered quickly (20 IP in A+, 47.1 IP in AA, and now 25.2 in AAA). He could likely use a little more seasoning with the RailRiders, but he’s showing that he can get AAA hitters out (0.185 opposing AVG against) and there is a pressing need in New York.

In college at Southern Mississippi, Carroll worked in the 90-92 MPH range, touching 95 MPH on occasion. As of last season, Carroll routinely sat between 96-98 MPH, reaching triple digits on more than a few occasions. While the fastball is Carroll’s #1 offering, he does possess two secondary pitches: a slider and a splitter. Both of these pitches are a in the upper-80s but both are also a little inconsistent. I would submit that the Yankees pitching coaches could help isolate one or the other making him a dominant 2-pitch reliever. One that would help calm the fears of Yankee fans everywhere.

The final player under today’s spotlight is a much-more unheralded individual.

Name: Jose Miguel Fernandez (Angels)
Height:
 5-10   Weight: 185  Throws: Right   Bats: Left
Born:
  April 27, 1988 (Age: 30), Santa Clara, Cuba
College: None
Drafted: None
Prospect Rank: Not Ranked
Currently Pitching: AAA Salt Lake Bees

Huh, you say? Why are we chatting about a 30-year-old man?
– Because the guy can flat out hit, that’s why.

But there’s no room for him in a crowded Angels’ lineup.
– Make room. Separate the wheat from the chaff and get his bat to Anaheim, better protecting Mike Trout and Andrelton Simmons than what we have currently going on there.

After winning the Shohei Ohtani lottery, the Angels went all in, signing Zack Cozart and then trading for Ian Kinsler. The latter portions of this experiment have not been as successful. Once a very surprising challenger to the Astros for the Western Division, the Angels are beginning to slip, as of Tuesday evening sitting at 5.0 GB of the division leading Mariners (surprise everyone!) and 4.0 GB of the Astros for the second Wild Card position. The Wild Card’s existence does give more teams more time to make the chase and potentially get into the tournament. However, every game counts. Every loss matters.

Like nearly every team in the league, who doesn’t need pitching? Obviously, if you keep them from scoring you better your chances of winning. But if you can pitch and outscore opponents (when your pitching falters), your team is doubly-lethal. Looking back at the Angels’ last 25 games (randomly selected, it was a round number), they are 11-14 and  average 3.88 runs per game (97 runs scored).  Interestingly, their staff has also surrendered 97 runs in these 25 games. Thus, coming back to my argument that I believe that they need at least one more bat to help get more runs across the plate. And look no further than Salt Lake.

Jose Miguel Fernandez was finally able to defect from Cuba on December 2, 2015 and didn’t sign on with a Major League franchise until 2017. After one year with the Dodgers, they released him, with the Angels signing him on January 4, 2018.

Fernandez has done nothing but hit though, so his release by the Dodgers was a surprise. (2017 saw Fernandez collect 16 HRs, 64 RBIs, 0.306 AVG, over 333 ABs with only 33 strikeouts and 24 walks. Not a bad season considering he hadn’t played competitively in a couple years.) For the Salt Lake Bees in 2018, he has taken his game to a new level. In 51 games Fernandez has 10 HR, 39 RBIs, 0.345 AVG, 0.415 OBP, and has walked (20) more than he’s struck out (17).

Kinsler – batting 0.212 through 47 games, already has one DL stint in 2018
Cozart – batting 0.228 through 50 games, suffering statistical drop-offs across the board

Jefry Marte is playing well this year (and he can play 3B) and honestly, I was surprised by Kaleb Cowart’s call up (over Fernandez). Mr. Bat Flip (aka Luis Valbuena) has regressed even further; In 2017, Valbuena had 106 strikeouts in 347 ABs. In 2018, he already has 51 strikeouts in 149 ABs, on pace – presuming 347 ABs again – for 119 strikeouts in 347 ABs! I’m sorry, but that just doesn’t offset his limited offensive production. There is plenty of room for massaging the roster to work in a player who will get on base, move runners over, or even better, drive some runs across the plate!

Fernandez has experience at both positions to the right of second, and his bat profiles well for both. Clearly, he has found his swing against the best the American minor leagues have to offer and he may be the key for the Angels with regard to how the West was won. Will they take the chance? I can hear Fernandez signing, in the immortal words of Abba …

In all three cases above, these are three players I believe should get the call today to help their teams now. That said, because they haven’t been summoned as yet, I would hesitate to use a roster spot on them as of this moment. Be watching your team’s transactions and listening to local radio and when you hear their name, now you know a lot more about them and why they should be your next fantasy target. Both pitchers will help your ratios and will collect some Holds with maybe a vultured Save or Win. Fernandez will unquestionably help your offense.

Have a great week everybody!

7th Nevin


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Major League Fantasy Football Radio Show: Join host Corey D Roberts, and James Wilk live Thursday June 7th, 2018 from 8-9:30pm EST for episode #81 of Major League Fantasy Football Radio. Call in number is 323-870-4395 press 1 to speak with the host. This is our kick of show for the 2018 fantasy football season. We will be breaking down over the next 8 weeks each division from a fantasy perspective. We will hit free agents, rookies, and fantasy football as a whole for each team for 2018. This week we will discuss everything  AFC East!

A business analyst by day, pursuing all things baseball by night. My favorite day of the year is opening day and my favorite sound is the crack of the bat ... the great contact-type, not that flubbed, squishy foul ball-type. In my free time I still collect some baseball cards (though not quite like I did when I was 12), join my colleagues here writing for Major League Fantasy Sports and manage a recently-founded Dynasty League.

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