Last week, I lead off by saying that the introduction would need to be kept short because my first pitching AND hitting article would need more depth. Apparently being “first” had nothing to do with it. But, while this “outlook” style is actually a bit more tedious and harder to put together, I actually prefer this both as a fantasy baseball analyst and as a player.
This week, I won’t have any “Opus” about what I value in a Starting Pitcher. (If you wish to learn a bit more about my methodology, last week’s article can be found by clicking the hyperlink on my name taking you to my Writer’s Page.) What I will have is a few in-depth looks at some of Fantasy Baseball’s hottest pitching and hitting commodities, what makes them successful, and what they still struggle with. The reception to having fewer, more detailed outlooks has seemed to be positive, but I would like continued feedback on the style of this Buy+Sell article. Would simply including more names with less detail be more beneficial? Or is this style preferable.
Without further ado about next-to-nothing…
Base Stats: 48.2 IP, 2.77 ERA, 1-2 W-L, 0.99 WHIP, 47 Ks
The last time Trevor Cahill was a full-time starter for a season was 2012. In fact, it goes a bit forgotten due to his long time bouncing around bullpens, but Cahill actually managed consecutive 30+ Start, 200+ Inning seasons in 2011 and 2012 at the ages of 23 and 24. Cahill isn’t a young man (comparatively to the sport) anymore, but he has learned a few tricks, and he is doing quite a few things differently than that last time he was in the rotation. Let’s start with the type of pitches he’s throwing.
*Breaking Ball is Curve/Slider in 2011 and 2018, defined as Curve/Cutter in 2012.
So the biggest difference is that he’s going away from the fastball and pouring on those Breaking Balls/Change-Ups. The Curve is a decent pitch for Cahill, and while the Slider doesn’t get excellent results, it is serviceable for a Four-Pitch Pitcher’s Fourth pitch. Defining his arsenal of weapons though is the Change-Up.
Cahill’s Change-Up profiles as one of Baseball’s better pitches so far in the season. It is being used more than a quarter of the time, which is fairly substantial for a secondary weapon, it is getting a similarly massive Whiff% (25.63%) and it is suffocating damage (.294 SLG Allowed). This is not new, as between 2014 and 2017, the pitch accumulated a .205 BA, .325 SLG, and 22.07 Whiff%. Perhaps he’s using it better and as a weapon more often now.
The rise in Change-Up performances is accompanied by a rise in velocity around that same 2014 time line. When in the rotation the first time, Cahill had a 90 MPH average fastball velocity. For most of this year, as well as the last few years, that number has hovered above 93. I do think there is a fair question mark here as to if he can do 93 MPH average velocity for a large workload, as he has never kept up that degree of velocity for more than about 110 Innings, though that had more to do with role.
Sometimes for a pitcher, what he “IS” right now can differ from how to grade him. There’s reasons to doubt sustained success for Trevor Cahill. However, there are not reasons to doubt how good of a pitcher he is right now in terms of what he’s doing on the diamond. He’s throwing decent velocity, four pitches, and a borderline-elite change-up. We haven’t even mentioned his terrific Groundball%. If he can continue to repeat the process as he has early in the season, he will continue to have sustained success as an MLB pitcher, of that much I’m sure.
Verdict: At 30% owned, the league seems to be debating Cahill enough that an acceptable price, even in trade, is very possible. I’m buying.
Base Stats: 66.2 IP, 3.38 ERA, 6-3 W-L, 1.31 WHIP, 59 Ks
Marco Gonzales is a former highly touted prospect out of the St. Louis Cardinals organization that fell onto some tough times due to some injuries. Gonzales does not get added in leagues as much as he should and does not get the respect for a very solid beginning of the season most likely due to his lack of flash. He doesn’t miss many bats. That certainly isn’t a good thing for a pitcher, but there are pitchers who know how to pitch and can avoid damage while getting enough strikeouts. Right now, this seems to be Marco Gonzales.
The easy comp that I’d make is the (probably a bit overrated) Miles Mikolas. Mikolas doesn’t miss very many bats either, and has produced a very pedestrian 6.58 K/9. Despite this, the incredible ERA (2.27) has lead him to almost universal ownership as a consistent contributor for the Red Birds. The general consensus is Mikolas knows how to pitch.
Gonzales knows how to pitch too, though, and while his weapons individually may not be special, his ability to throw 4 and 2 Seam Fastballs, a Cutter, Curve, and Change-Up all to keep hitters off-balance is underrated. His 4-Seam fastball, which is his least used pitch, is the only offering that has generated a SLG% north of .400. Gonzales is also not getting lucky. Just compare his BABIP— one of the highest in the Sport at .339— against Miles Mikolas, who has a .257 BABIP allowed. While many would expect Gonzales to have a more middling FIP/xFIP due to lack of Ks, both these metrics are very solid and very much in-line with Mikolas, and also very much support his 3.38 ERA (3.22 FIP, 3.46 xFIP).
Gonzales is being successful largely due to Home Run Suppression (0.68 HR/9) and K/BB. I bought into Gonzales as a low-upside hold fairly early into the season after a two start stretch where he had 16 Ks to only 2 BBs. From that Astros start (excluding the first three starts) to now, Gonzales has a 2.30 ERA and 48 Ks to 15 BBs (3.2 K/BB). He has not gotten nearly enough credit for that stretch.
Verdict: Gonzales’ value is spiking. Now might not be the best time to buy, as his Ownership% seems to have gone from about 5-10% to 30% to 50+% in the last few weeks. I would, however, value him very similarly to Mikolas. I think I’m even tempted to rank Marco higher on the upcoming rerank, as he misses more bats and is less likely to suffer from the textbook “regression”.
Base Stats: 83.0 IP, 4.23 ERA, 7-4 W-L, 1.19 WHIP, 83 Ks
There is a lot of debate over whether we should be concerned or not about Carlos Carrasco. His ERA is over 4 and, prior to a great outing against Milwaukee on June 6th, had looked pretty rough over his last few outings.
I’m not going to try and create a stir over Carrasco— I don’t believe there is any true reason to panic. That said, I do think there’s a few aspects of his Arsenal usage that deserve to be mentioned. Carrasco is a pitcher that is, at least to me, defined by the depth and diversity of his Arsenal. He has thrown, aside from a decent primary fastball, a Slider, Curveball, and Change-Up throughout his career that limit damage, create whiffs, and serve as three excellent secondary weapons. Trouble is, he hasn’t really had all four of his weapons working the same way this year.
His fastball has performed similarly, and his Slider, his typically most dominant pitch, is as reliable as ever. The Curveball and Change-Up performance however leave quite a bit to be desired. The Whiff% has evaporated from the Curveball. In 2016 and 2017, the Whiff% on that pitch was 20.87% and 18.06% respectively. So far in 2018, that metric is all the way down at 9.73%. That’s the difference between a pitch being a weapon and, frankly, below average. And on the other side of the coin, while his Change-Up has been getting the Whiffs, it has been giving up more than its fair share of damage. Between 2014 and 2017, the Change-Up allowed SLG%’s of 0.194, 0.262, 0.375, and 0.131 respectively. This year, the Change-Up is allowing a SLG% of 0.541.
The proof of these ailments is simply in the usage. While his fastball usage has remained roughly the same, give or take a few ticks, the Slider has gone from a 20.98% Utilized pitch to a 30.52% in just one year. The previous high usage for the pitch in his entire career was his 22.38% mark in 2015. Since then he has leaned on the depth of his Arsenal— until this year, where it has failed him.
It’s hard for me to determine a verdict based on these factors. I’m certainly not trying to start a panic. Two things I believe: you can lose a pitch at any time, and you can also, if you’ve proven to have it before, get it back. More to the point, as I often say, sometimes the truest point of the evaluation is simply to give you something to look for: keep an eye on if it comes back. I’ll buy into a strong Carlos Carrasco stretch if he’s utilizing all of his pitches. If he has a hot streak on the back of just his fastball and slider, I may be hesitant to lift my concerns. Most likely, if he continues this Fastball+Slider lean, Carrasco will function as a more limited pitcher who will perhaps still get the Ks, but will continue to have more volatile outings that ruin in particular ERA, or at least give a number much closer to 4 than 3. I’m hoping he gets those other two pitches back in full force.
Verdict: Unless you get 99 cents on the dollar, there isn’t much to do with a struggling pitch in terms of selling. So I’m probably holding. But I’m keeping a cautious eye on Carlos Carrasco. And if this past start can net me 90-100% of “face” value of Carlos Carrasco, I am going to take it and leave this problem to someone else.
With so much discussion about which Brewers would see the field and which would sit the pine, perhaps the most relevant name to discuss at this stage of the season is someone no one was talking about in the preseason, 27 Year-Old First Baseman Jesus Aguilar. Aguilar has gotten a lot of recognition from both the Fantasy world and also the Brewers world, as one of the main question marks with Aguilar was as to if he would even have an opportunity to earn that playing time. Right now though, he’s playing quite a bit for the Brewers, so at least for now we can shove that question mark aside, at least for the purposes of this evaluation.
There’s a lot to like about a lot of the simple peripherals when it comes to Aguilar. A 25.0% K% is high, but not gross, and met with a fair 10.0% BB%. The Hard Contact is there (44.3% via Fangraphs), as is the high Line Drive and low Pop-Up swing that I like to fawn over. There are a few concerns with me however when it comes to Aguilar.
Firstly, in that batted ball profile, there is more than just a slight tendency to pull the ball. A 48.7% Pull% matched with an 18.3% Oppo% would give Aguilar one of the heaviest pull tendencies in baseball. This isn’t the worst thing, especially for a power projection, but it does give me even less confidence in his .343 BABIP, even if it comes with a nearly .330 career number. Many will point to this career number as an excuse for the high BABIP, but his career is still overwhelmingly short (555 PAs) and I’d prefer to use a projection based purely on his batted ball data, and without any semblance of an opposite field approach, my BABIP projection would likely be around .300 at most right now, probably lower, and would drop his BA about .50 points. .250 and power is valuable, but I don’t have faith he’s better than a .250-.260 hitter yet.
The other thing I obsess about with new hitters is how they respond to certain pitch types. Aguilar has not checked this box as of yet. A few mitigating factors go into each number as the sample sizes are incredibly small right now, but Aguilar, despite his .538 SLG on the season, is showcasing SLG%s of below .400 on each major secondary offering (Change-Up / .357, Slider / .394, Curve / .385). That isn’t to say he DOES or WILL struggle against these pitches, but statistically he has to date.
I probably shouldn’t use this argument, because it may color it a bit unnecessarily, but this is the exact same argument I used in this column weeks ago in regards to Christian Villaneuva when his BA was closer to the .290 Range. Aguilar could continue his breakout, and with a better eye I think he has a far better shot than Villaneuva. But the practical application of some of these pitch numbers and how players are pitched suggest that, as Aguilar earns the respect of the league, he will be shifted more, and see fastballs less. These things I believe will be absolutely detrimental to the performance he has put up to date. He most likely fills the category of the player who, whether he “contributes” or not the rest of the way, his greatest fantasy contribution has already came and went.
Verdict: Sell if you get a legitimate buyer.
Joe Musgrove learning “The Pirate’s Way”
Couldn’t let Joe Musgrove go completely unheralded, as I initially planned on making him one of my profiles this week. The long-and-short of it is that, not necessarily as a huge value or as significantly more than a streamer, but I really buy into a lot of things Mugrove is doing. Just like it was argued by a few and is my argument that Gerrit Cole is thriving in Houston in part due to a failure for his skill-set to match-up with “The Pirate’s Way,” Musgrove, a fastball thrower with some command and some variable fastballs, is the perfect candidate for this methodology. One factor? To date, Musgrove is throwing a perplexing Cutter, which is not getting whiffs really at all, but is limiting damage and getting groundballs— the perfect Pirate’s pitch.
Tyson Ross is a Fascinating Anomaly
Tyson Ross is someone that really deserves a lot of debate. At his (perhaps forgotten) career peak, Ross had two straight years of nearly 200 IP, around a 3.00 ERA, and more than a K per inning. He’s doing a lot of things exactly the same way this year. His GB% isn’t quite as high and his BB% is still fairly high, but as a whole everything Ross is doing right now from the strong ERA to the strong Ks seems fairly in line with exactly what he was doing before his terrible surgeries. Like Cahill, there’s a difference between performance and security. Ross still lacks the security, but damn if there aren’t reasons to buy in completely to Ross as an SP3 with SP2 upside.
Ranking the Articles Pitchers (SUMMARY)
To be clear: Carrasco is clearly the top dog still. I could make the argument because I am concerned about the lack of Curve/Change, but there’s just no way I’d take any of these guys, who I do like very much, over Carlos Carrasco. Ross would be the second best name to appear, followed by Cahill. They are both similar arguments: Gonzales is probably a safer pitcher, but lacks the upside of Ross and Cahill, and in most cases I’ll probably lean towards a Cahill or Ross, who I have faith in what they’re doing right now, and really they just need to keep repeating their process. Musgrove is last, as he lacks the upside and isn’t as guaranteed, but I do like him as a potential streamer. But out of every name in the list, I probably wouldn’t go too far out of my way for Musgrove, and do find him easily droppable in Mixed leagues for anything that comes around with potential to be a bit more interesting.
Freaking. Get. Matt. Olson.
I’m not going to say it for many more articles— because it isn’t going to be a secret as to why for very much longer. Since this time last week when I was drafting the article on Matt Olson, Olson has 10 Hits, 4 HRs, and 11 RBIs. He’s batting .435 on the week! And I truly believe that this is the BEGINNING. June and July are going to be the Summer of Olson, and if the “Matt Olson or Player B” questions I got were any indication of his current value (I said “Matt Olson” on 99% of questions) he is still not being appreciated the way he should. I like Jesus Aguilar, and I mean no offense to those who asked the question, but the idea that I would let Aguilar get in the way of getting Matt Olson is preposterous. Go out and get him.
Don’t Forget Jeimer Candelairo’s DL-Stint
(Maybe a bit of a misleading header). The point here is that, due to the lack of PAs due to his DL stint, Jeimer Candelairo’s volume and counting stats do not seem as impressive as they should. I’m paraphrasing this from a post of mine on Rotoworld, but, at least as of last Wednesday, Candelairo’s pace on ESPN.com is 130 Games, 497 ABs, 24 HRs, 78 Rs, and 68 RBIs. These numbers aren’t that spectacular for a deep CI class. However, when you use his 4.42 PA/Game to extrapolate a full season, Candelario is pacing 30 HRs, 95 Rs, and 82 RBIs. Combine that with a BA better than .270, and you have a top 10-positional type talent. Everyone is becoming wise to the fact that Candelairo is having a solid season, but the true story of his counting stats is a bit hidden right now.
Thanks for the read, especially if you made it all the way through. Until next week,
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join host Brian Roach, Jr, and Cole Freel live on Sunday June 10th, 2018 from 8-9:30pm EST for episode #124 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. We will discss the latest information in the world of fantasy baseball.
Our guest this week is Professor Mark Rush. Mark is the Political and Legal Professor for Washington & Lee University. He is also the Chief Editor for majorleaguefantasysports.com, and also an author.
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!
Major League Fantasy Baseball Show Episode #167, 6/23/2019 Host Brian Roach, Jr., Co-Host Cole Freel, Guest Kevin Bzdek
Major League Fantasy Baseball Show Episode #169, 8/4/2019 Host Cole Freel, Guest Joe Iannone
@brandonziman You are more than welcome Brandon. You were a fantastic writer and a joy to work with. As we move through a very big transition for us hopefully we can continue to work with one anither.