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“The Cole Miner’s” Weekly Pitching & Hitting, Buying & Selling Week 11 Edition

As many of you who read these articles on a weekly basis know, I produce an annual (and extensive) preseason ranking set (doc) going 1 to 250. I have recently been preparing to create a similar, albeit likely less extensive Midseason List, and as such I have been forced to do what can often be terrifying as an analyst: analyze myself.

It is easy to feel good when you find those strong calls (Jean Segura, Trevor Story) but also make you wonder if you are causing anyone out there to lose their leagues when you look at a misplaced aggressive stance on Domingo Santana, Kevin Kiermaier, or Ian Desmond, all of whom went egregiously awry. But perhaps more important than all of that is looking into these calls and seeing if any trends stick out to be utilized in later years (this will somewhat be a theme with struggling hitters Gary Sanchez and Jonathan Schoop in their outlooks below).

Sometimes you really think the right call just happened to elude you, but for others, reflections can shine light onto what you may have missed. Desmond feels defensible, at least to me. The power’s there, as is the speed, but the BABIP is terrible despite Coors. I think the Santana call could’ve paid off. Still do. But I shouldn’t have kept my stance so bold when Cain AND Yelich came into the equation. Stubbornness is or can be an asset, except for when it is for the sake of stubbornness itself. Kevin Kiermaier‘s problem this year wasn’t performance– but it’s never been. So that should’ve been predictable. Or at least more calculated in the rankings.

In honor of trying to navigate my way into making fewer blunders, time for fresh outlooks.

New Outlooks

Pitching

Tyler Skaggs

What I’ve always loved about Tyler Skaggs is the diversity of the pitches, and the way in which I believed his pitches could work together to form a repertoire. Starting like most pitchers at Fastball/Breaking-Ball, Skaggs features an above-average left-handed fastball in terms of Average Velocity and Spin Rate, giving him a good attack pitch up in the zone. The Curveball is the weapon, or at least it has been throughout most of his career. Incredible combination of Whiffs, Groundballs, and a lack of damage shared by some of the games better pitches. This simple Curveball+Fastball combination is all that a few pitchers, namely Hill and McCullers, use for their repertoires. Skaggs also happens to throw a change-up, which represents a velocity in between that of the Fastball and Curveball, and has managed to throw that effectively based on similar criteria in his career.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this season is it is actually the Curveball that has caused Skaggs probably the most headaches this year. Leaving it up and letting hitters sit on it for line-drives has played a part in the Curveball allowing a .379 BABIP, but despite this the Curve still has a .357 SLG allowed, the Change-Up a .344 SLG, and the primary fastball a .421 SLG. These are all strong individual rates forming a diverse arsenal.

Skaggs has seen his Whiff% as a whole climb to 10.9%, he is striking out a lofty 9.62 per 9 and also features a solid 47.2% GB%. His Strand rate is a little high, but part of that is also due to excellent defense being played around him by numerous gold glove players, which is unlikely to change.

Verdict: Skaggs is a legitimate low-3’s ERA type with a strong K/9. He’ll compete for a spot in the top 30 SPs in my upcoming Rankings set, and I’m buying into what he’s been able to accomplish, though we could see the ERA come up closer to 3.25-3.35. 

Dylan Covey

Decided to do a bit on Dylan Covey of the White Sox this week, as there seems to be increasing intrigue when it comes to his potential fantasy value for 2018. Covey to me does not surpass that “Match-Ups” class to me, and I likely won’t be adding him in many leagues, but I do think there’s a little something to see here.

To start, Covey is throwing a different Fastball at a higher Average Velocity then he did in 2017. Brooks had him at roughly 92.00 last year and roughly 94.50 this year. That’s a very significant change. Why I like velocity gainers is that it is the easiest thing to track. If Covey throws 92 in his next outing, yes you will be overcome with pessimism, but that’s better than a lack of awareness. This is one of the most trackable variables, if in fact we believe it is having a major impact on his results. He is also throwing almost exclusively a 2-Seam Fastball instead of a 4-Seam Fastball.

The reasons I don’t love Covey are really more involved with the White Sox and a cap of potential than they are with my belief in Covey being a solid pitcher. He doesn’t miss many bats— his K/9 is above 8.0 while his Whiff% is below 8.0%, that will not continue. Leaving the statistic of Whiffs, the stuff in general just does not impress too much. Luckily he is flashing the ability to throw Slider, Curve, and Change-Up to accompany his Sinker, but if none of them are missing Bats, and if none of them look like a put-away pitch, then it is likely to me we see the K/9 drop closer to the 7.0 range. Couple that with a team that doesn’t earn Wins and a situation that doesn’t often result in the best performances, and you’re really leaning on Covey producing ERA/WHIP consistently for you. He might do that, but I’d easily prefer to use a longterm roster slot to take a shot on the next player (Domingo German) who I have much less faith in simply because of upside.

I will say this in terms of Covey— the Change-Up is intriguing to me. It is not a pitch he has thrown a lot; Covey’s Change-Up usage is under 10.0% on the season, but it easily has the best results in terms of Whiffs (16+%) as well as a sub-.200 SLG. This is a very small sample size, not just because of games, but because he hasn’t actually been utilizing it in this fashion. But I’d like to see him throw it more. If he can carry the Whiff% and the SLG% while doubling the usage (doubtful, but something to at least trend towards trying in my opinion), then I’d be much more interested in his repertoire’s potential.

Verdict: Sell. I don’t really think you can get much. That said, I’ve seen some chatter on Covey that’s surprised me, hence the mention, so if you can sell a hot but low-K White Sox pitcher, do that.

Domingo German (brief)

I think there’s some real potential with Domingo German. I’m a Curveball addict and he has a real good one. This past start Thursday with the crazy number of Whiffs came partially due to getting I believe 13 on just the Curveball. He throws the Curve about as much as the fastball, and even features a change-up a decent amount. I think there’s a really solid amount of potential here, and I’m willing to buy in particularly in long term formats or in leagues where I do not have to play him right away or much at all and can afford the bench spot.

All that said, for the most part, I’m not too interested in Domingo German. He has a good situation with the offense behind him, but so far in his career he’s shown both a proneness to the fly-ball AND a fairly high Hard% / HR/FB%. These, to me, are reasons to bench him on a start-to-start basis pretty much any time he’s playing in Yankee Stadium— his home park. My ideal match-up for German is a poor team on the road. There’s not going to be many  home starts right now where I’m not worried about getting blown up. I don’t like to take frequent blow-ups, and I think it is logical they’ll keep occurring for German in this park with some of the traits he’s shown. He could really benefit from some change of scenery. If he was part of an SP-Trade with a team from a neutral-or-better park, I’d instantly be far more interested in German.

Verdict: Sell. Same as Covey, I’m not thinking it’s very realistic you find buyers, but I can’t say “Hold” or “Buy” and he is coming off of a ridiculous start that caught some headlines. I’d like to see him prove that he can either limit the fly-ball or limit the damage on the fly-ball before believing in his ability to have success at this level.

Hitting

Gary Sanchez

Before I say any of this, let me preface Gary Sanchez’s outlook by stating that I still believe that, despite what I believe are very legitimate problems for Sanchez, he is still baseball’s best fantasy catcher. Sanchez’s power is just incredibly rare at the position, and the way the catcher position is, Sanchez’s poor BA and excellent power are actually likely to still produce starting Catcher value, even if they don’t of course return on that draft day investment. He’s the 8th best Catcher to date in ESPN leagues batting .188. Even if his Batting Average never returns to the last couple of years, he’s likely to compete for that top spot if his BA is closer to even .240 than .190.

Statistically, most if not all of Sanchez’s problems have come from his abysmal .195 BABIP. Coming into the year, he had produced a .317 and .304 BABIP the previous two seasons, and based on previous BABIP, should’ve been expected to be about a league average BABIP type. But there were significant reasons coming into the season to be concerned about pitfalls when it comes to Sanchez’s BABIP and BA. Sanchez has one of the highest pull%’s in baseball, one of the lowest usages of the opposite field, and a relatively high Pop-Up% (this year it has soared) paired with middling LD%. And it’s not as if he’s nicknamed Gary “Wheels” Sanchez either.

This is not just a statistical argument, it just happens to be one more easily argued with statistics. You can see things like this just very clearly when you watch Sanchez. I was surprised he didn’t get shifted more in 2017. He’s getting shifted all the time now. And he’s still pulling everything. Specifically, ground balls are an area of worry for Sanchez. It may seem insignificant— after all you want Sanchez for his Fly-balls— but Sanchez’s putrid BA against GB’s (.067) is not so much a result of luck as much as an obscene percentage of ground-balls being pulled over the course of Sanchez’s career and defenses/managing finally realizing that over-shifting is clearly the way to beat him. On the year, Sanchez is pulling 66.7% of his Ground-balls and putting 23.3% up the middle, so a typical lefty shift (mirrored to the right side) works for about 90.0% of ground balls. Righty over shifts are more rare, which is probably why it took baseball the extra year to implement them at such a high proportion, but this is clearly the way to handle Sanchez.

Despite these weaknesses I still think Sanchez deserves to earn closer to a .260-.280 BABIP. I do legitimately believe that, if he continues to Pop-Up as he does and is unable to produce an opposite field approach, that we may be completely done with the days of seeing him get up to the .275-.290 range. But ultimately, I think his Pop-Up% regresses closer to last year, he gets a few more singles in the second half, and finishes up at around .220/33, with an expectation of closer to .240-.245 in the preseason next year instead of .275-.290.

Verdict: Fantasy’s Best Catcher, Not a .270 Hitter. Value Accordingly.

Jonathan Schoop

Jonathan Schoop and Gary Sanchez seem fitting to be paired. The two members of the AL East suffer from many of the same ailments, including a Pull Tendency and a proneness to produce Pop-Ups. But, unlike Sanchez, Schoop also just has a terrible eye. Schoop has 86 career walks and 528 career strikeouts. Ouchy.

Much of Schoop’s outlook here is simply a reiteration of the preseason one (google doc), and proceeding Sanchez, I don’t feel the need to go back over my stance on Pull% and Pop-Up% and their effects on hitters. Schoop’s poor eye though has also gotten him to make consistently worse contact then someone like Gary Sanchez in terms of Exit Velocities. Schoop, even in his absolute best years, always carried one of the league’s highest Soft%’s on fangraphs, likely due to chasing pitches outside the zone. And his Hard%? That’s been highly variable, and has spent years being far more pedestrian as well as years above average. Right now it’s pretty bad at 23.7%, and truly makes your stomach turn a bit when being compared with his lofty 27.0% Soft%. Over his career his Soft% of 23.5% and Hard% of 30.5% are not a ratio you want to strive for as a hitter.

Ultimately, like Gary Sanchez, I think Schoop is better than this. But my take in the preseason, and what remains my take, is that Schoop is a second baseman that doesn’t steal bases, and doesn’t have a great hit tool. Yeah he might be solid or a bit better, but what if, instead of the .293/32 player he was in 2017, he’s simply just the .267/25 guy he was in 2016? Nothing wrong with that line, and owners of Schoop would kill for it, but even in terms of upside with Schoop, I’m pretty pessimistic. And, as a hitter who can get lost at the plate, it wouldn’t surprise me if a turnaround didn’t happen.

Verdict: No distinct verdict here. Probably situational. For one, if you have to play him, you might not have time to wait out the slump like you might if he’s in a bench spot. Other options will matter as well. I’d likely be dropping him in numerous mixed leagues unless I was looking for specifically the power.

Special Addition: Finding Value

Based on some commentary in last week’s Reddit comment thread, I’ve decided to start looking at ownership%’s like this and listing some potential replacements available. This week will be MI, and next week CI.

Middle Infield

40-50%

Marcus Semien (43.9% ESPN) is a potential value pick in more shallow mixed leagues. His ISO is down so far this year, but as a player who has hit 27 HRs in a season in Oakland before, I think we see a bit of positive regression in this area. Semien is pacing 92 Runs, and if he can get his HRs up, could still see himself producing a .260/20/10 season.

20-40% (2)

Dansby Swanson (35.3% ESPN) has been available in a few leagues ever since he had that DL stint earlier in the season. Once thought of in such high regard, a bad season has soured many on the future of Swanson. I still think he’s going to be a ballplayer— whether that’s just a .270/15 guy or better.

Yolmer Sanchez (21.5% ESPN) is the more unsung, quiet man on this list so far. But I really like Yolmer as a potential value in the kind of leagues where Semien and Swanson are already owned, but perhaps a 2nd Baseman for the White Sox is not. Look— there’s nothing special here most likely. If there were he’d be owned in way more leagues by now. But a .264 BA isn’t bad, he’s hit a few HRs, he’s stolen half a dozen bases, and Yolmer often gets to hit out of the 2-hole even in a bad line-up. Will Yolmer win any leagues? Almost definitely not. But if, say, you’re sinking with Schoop, Yolmer Sanchez is a guy who I believe can tread water at 2nd Base and could have a mixed league relevant stat line between volume and steals when it is all said and done.

10-20%

Matt Duffy (11.8% ESPN) is someone I’ve been hoping to see get more recognition for some time now. His DL stint early on in the year have reduced the statistical weight in our minds of what has been an impressive .310+ BA start to 2018 for Duffy. No, the power and the speed won’t be great, but he has hit 3 HRs with 3 SBs, which could get him close to a 10/10 season (full Plate Appearances) with a solid BA and solid line-up positioning. Matt Duffy JUST got over 10.0% owned for the first time, and I prefer him to all but Semien on this list. Categorically depending even that is close. 3B/SS/MI/CI eligibility is also nice.

0-10% (4)

Obviously these are more like filers, so I’ll list a few with brief reasons. Amed Rosario has been disappointing, but he’s playing and has upside. Maybe not my favorite guy to own if I have to play him right away, but you could also do worse and Rosario could potentially do much better. Willy Adames isn’t guaranteed to stay up, but don’t let that stop you from adding him and letting the situation play itself out. Johan Camargo and Wilmer Difo do not share the upside of these two, but both are playing on their respective clubs right now, enough that if you absolutely need PT in a deep league, I’d be willing to start these two. In good line-ups they can hopefully outproduce expectations in R/RBI as well.

Next Week: Corner Infield

Final Notes

Updated Pitching Rankings

Last week I ranked all the pitchers in that article. I’m working on my full rankings now (see below) but I’ll add the three pitchers from this weeks article into that ranking. I’d put Skaggs above everyone I wrote about, save Carlos Carrasco, last week, and I’d put the other two at the bottom, effectively making the list: Carrasco, Skaggs, Tyson Ross, Trevor Cahill, Marco Gonzales, Joe Musgrove, German, and Covey in that order. Now of course, this came out prior to Cahill’s injury. No doubt I would take Gonzales over him now. If I have a DL spot, I still like his return potential, but someone like Joe Musgrove probably deserves to be ranking higher. Assuming I’m not just taking a 0 for a couple of months on Cahill, I prefer Cahill still to the other two, who I’m just not all that interested in.

Trevor Story’s Good Again

No call did I spend more time defending and have to suffer through last year than Trevor Story. This year has been excellent retribution. Does Story has his flaws? Yes, but don’t we all? There’s going to be good, bad, brilliant, and terrible, but there’s also likely to be 30 HRs, 20 SBs, as well as Coors influenced BA and counting stats. He’s looking every bit a top 50 fantasy player.

Trending Players

Ketel Marte’s been hot in June (.400 BA) and that has caused a climb in ownership%. To me though, this is like the definition of why Matt Duffy’s low ownership% mentioned above makes no sense. I’d easily prefer Duffy right now— batting 60 points higher despite Ketel’s good June. Ketel’s young and has talent, but still hasn’t shown the power or BA and, particularly, has just been a constant disappointment on the basepaths. Maybe he steals 20 and makes this foolish, but a third of the way through the season sitting at 2 SBs makes me feel okay with that stance. Joc Pederson was another one of my worst calls last year. But part of the reason I liked Joc so much was because his Contact% had been creeping up and it seemed to be going largely unnoticed. Now he’s finally turned that Contact% into a stunning improvement in K%. I’d still like to see him get a greater opportunity to hit lefties, but as is, he’s one of the best platoon bats in baseball, and one of the greatest changes in value when going from a Weekly league to a Daily league. Max Muncy will be covered in next week’s article. One thing I do like? I haven’t seen the pitches myself, but he’s managed to hit 5 HRs on Fastballs, 4 HRs on Change-Ups, 2 on Sliders, and 1 on the Cutter and Splitter according to BrooksBaseball. A lot of times early-career power strokes happen on exclusively Fastballs for fastball dominant hitters. This is more the case for guys like Villanueva and Aguilar. This is not the case here.

Full rankings set due out between the end of June and the ASB.

Cheers


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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Roger

    June 18, 2018 at 12:03 pm

    Great article! Thanks for the insight! Who do you like for ros?
    Muncy
    Conforto
    Thames
    Aguilar

    • Cole Freel

      June 19, 2018 at 10:54 am

      From that list, it’s tough, but right now I’m probably leaning Conforto because I believe he gets healthier, might be the most talented, and is more than anyone else on that list part of his teams Present AND Future. The other three even if they get the PT aren’t as guaranteed to have opportunities with competition on their own rosters. I havn’et dug too deep on Muncy, but he’d probably be my second favorite just on talent but it’s hard to argue with what Aguilar has done. But I do think there’s also some flaws in Aguilar’s game that was talked about maybe two weeks ago on this column if you link my writer’s page. And Thames has been hot and cold in the past and is more of a platoon bat. So for me it’s Conforto.

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