Tuesday, May 15, 2018
by Josh Rohrer
What’s up, fantasy baseballers? Today I’m diving into the stats behind three bats that could provide value to your lineup in the under 30% ownership group. In addition, I’ll be identifying key streaming matchups with pitchers that are traps rather than the solid streamers they appear, while also suggesting some SPs to stream instead. As always, I end with a craft beer review, this one from Lagunitas Brewing in California.
Let’s do this thang.
Moneyballers: 3 Impact Bats from the Under 30% Ownership Group
Mitch Moreland, BOS (1B) – 24.4% owned
2018 Stats: (67 PA) .318/.390/.602, 6 HR, 15 R, 20 RBI, 1 SB
Mitch Moreland is having himself a fine year at First Base. In fact, he’s having a pretty excellent year so far. So why is a guy with nice stats who plays for the potent Sawx offense only owned at 25%? Basically, it’s all JD Martinez’s fault.
During the first month of 2017, Moreland started 24 Games, got 88 ABs, and 100 PAs. During the first month of 2018, he’s started 19 Games, logged 59 ABs, and just 67 PAs. He’s not hurt. And he’s certainly not worse. The only issue is that he doesn’t get to play as much thanks to that pesky JD Martinez, whose offseason arrival simultaneously improved the Boston offense and degraded the defense. The reason for that is JD Martinez is like many 30-year-old Outfielders with power, in that he is merely tolerated as a mediocre (read: shitty) defender, and his fielding a position is more about finding a way to get his bat into the lineup than his glove.
Normally that’s not an issue, but you’ve also got to find playing time for the powerful bat but equally atrocious defense of Hanley Ramirez. Starting to see the problem? Hanley, Martinez, and Moreland are all over 30 and all benefit from frequent DH-ing. Unfortunately, there’s only two spots for three players, and so far this season Alex Cora has shown he prefers the bat of JD Martinez to the defense of Moreland at first base. And boy do they miss his defense when it’s HanRam out there.
That being said, Moreland is forcing the conversation with his stellar performance out of the gate, and despite his (somewhat) reduced playing time he’s still very valuable in most formats. When he does start, he’s typically batting out of the cleanup spot, an enviable position anywhere, but particularly in Boston.
While Moreland’s .318 AVG is more the product of a hot start than anything else (previous career-best season BA was .278), it’s indicative of plenty of good peripherals that support his value.
First and foremost, Moreland is walking more and striking out less than any other point in his career. His 2018 11% BB-rate and 17% K-rate are both personal bests, and it’s showing up in his stats. His two best seasons by far in terms of slashline and counting stats, 2015 and 2012, have some striking similarities to 2018 Moreland that merit a second look.
While his .333 BABIP is a career-high, it’s not out of the realm of possibility, as his aforementioned 2012 & 2015 seasons saw him post BABIPs of .306 and .317, respectively, which aren’t all that far off from his current mark. I’m not suggesting his AVG stays in the .300’s, but I also would be shocked to see it nosedive to last year’s mark of .246. Obviously the plate discipline has been a huge boon to his OBP, so OBP leagues should 100% be rostering Moreland. I’m buying his improved plate discipline, as his BB-rate has steadily increased over the last four seasons (at least 1.2% better each year from 2015 onward) to this year’s career-high of 11%.
Best of all is Moreland’s power increase, with modest and sustainable peripheral gains supporting the surge. While 6 HR might not sound like a world-beater, that number is deceptively low: he’s averaging one HR per 16 PAs, a significant jump from last year’s mark of 26 PAs per HR. Moreland’s HR/FB rate, while high at 20%, is not out of the realm of possibility for him, as his previously mentioned career-year in 2015 netted him a nifty 18.3% HR/FB.
His deflated HR total is caused by his reduced playing time, but when he’s swinging the bat the ball is jumping off. The extra rest may actually be helping him. Either way, it’s hard to argue with a higher-than-his-career-norm-but-still-sustainable BABIP and HR/FB rate in conjunction with his other peripherals.
Moreland’s spray chart shows other similiarities between 2018’s great start and his prior best years in 2012 and 2015: Pulling the ball more. Including 2018, Moreland’s three best professional seasons have all seen him pull the ball at at least a 42% clip, with this year’s mark of 44.4% supporting that trend. The only concern is that he’s not hitting enough Line Drives, which shows me the AVG is unsustainable: eventually all these flies and grounders he’s hitting will sink the AVG, as he’s currently sporting his worst-ever LD rate at just 16.7%. Again, expect the AVG to drop, but the power is real.
Lastly, Statcast shows us where this power’s coming from: his Exit Velo. Moreland’s career best Exit Velo before 2018 came in, you guessed it, his great 2015 campaign, in which he crushed batted balls to the tune of 91.4 MPH. This season? He’s smoked that figure to the tune of a 93.1 MPH average Exit Velo.
In summary: Moreland plays on a great team, in a great spot in the lineup, and has a newfound power swing to go along with his best-of-the-platoon defense. While his playing time is less than what we’d like, he’s still providing great counting stats, and Cora can’t keep him out of the starting lineup forever if he continues to produce. Moreland’s peripheral stats are matching up or better than those he posted in his successful 2012 and 2015 campaigns, and his plate discipline has taken another leap forward with his fourth consecutive season of improved BB-rate and a career-low K-rate. Snap him up if you need help in your infield.
Tucker Barnhart, CIN (C) – 13.8% owned
2018 Stats: (134 PA) .286/.363/.464, 3 HR, 10 R, 14 RBI, 0 SB
Another middle-of-the-road catcher on a hot streak?? Sign me up!
Seriously though, sign me up.
While Barnhart’s season totals of counting stats might not jump off the page, he’s been straight up mashing the last two weeks. In that span, he’s batting .411 with an OBP of .524, and he’s currently riding a 7-game hit streak with 5 multi-hit games in that span. Holy guacamole that’s hot.
Like Moreland, Barnhart hasn’t turned some Votto-like page in the book of his career to support this crazy hitting streak, but unlike Moreland his AVG may not be destined to drop. While the hitting streak (.411!!) is not sustainable, his season average of .286 just might be. Barnhart has hit in the low-.300’s in the minors, and he’s improved his batting average consistently over all four of his MLB seasons. He jumped from .257 in 2016 to .270 in 2017, so it’s not that hard to buy a similar jump in AVG this year.
It’s not hard for me to buy because of the patience Barnhart is demonstrating at the plate. He’s posting a career-best BB-rate of 14%, and while his K-rate is also up a tick at 18.7%, that’s more than livable, and when he’s posting his best-ever BB/K-rate you almost forget that it matters that he’s striking out a hair more than usual. Barnhart isn’t just taking more balls, he’s swinging less in general: his O-swing, Z-swing, and general Swing rates are all down to career-lows. Simply put? Tucker is taking pitches, and it’s working.
Barnhart’s improved AVG comes from modest gains in his LD rate, which is at a career-high of 31.6% (career-avg: 25.1%) and explains all the hits that are dropping without being alarmingly unsustainable. Even more good news comes from his impressive (and career-best) Hard Hit Percentage, which has gotten better every year he’s played and currently sits at 38.9%, a healthy increase from 2017’s 33.2% Hard Hit rate.
The verdict: Barnhart isn’t a stud, but his statline might not be a mirage, either. While his counting stats will never be in Gary Sanchez’s league simply due to the fact that he plays on the woeful Reds offense, Barnhart’s AVG and OBP gains look like they’re here to stay, and it’s an easy add if you need help at backstop on your waiver wire.
Travis Jankowski, SD (OF) – 4.3% owned
2018 Stats: (50 PA) .349/.440/.512, 1 HR, 8 R, 1 RBI, 3 SB
I know, I know: the Padres just promoted heavy-hitting stud-muffin Franmil Reyes, but this is another SD Outfielder that deserves your attention.
First and foremost, I need you to know that in 2013 Jankowski stole 71 freaking bases in just 122 games for the Padres High-A affiliate. This guy has wheels. He’s already stolen 3 bases in a perfect 3 tries with barely 50 PAs to his name in 2018. He’s an on-base speedster with patience, think peak Brett Gardner with the solid/high-ish AVG and great OBP, which he’s already demonstrating to the impressive tune of a 14% BB-rate to match his equally impressive 14% K-rate.
The downside is that he has no power. None. He hit two dingers in 133 MLB games back in 2016, and that’s his career high. Now if you can stomach that, realize you’re going to get a guy that could easily score 70+ R and swipe 30 (or 40? 50??) bases if he gets the playing time.
That’s the fly in the soup. (More on that at the end)
However, he’s still worth your attention. This was a highly-regarded prospect taken 44th overall in the first round of the 2012 draft, and though injuries derailed the start of his pro career, he’s finally arrived and is making the most of it by greatly improving his plate discipline (1:1 K:BB ratio, 14% BB-rate) and continuing to improve his contact skills. Jankowski’s O-contact, Z-contact, and Overall Contact rates are all at career-bests. His Swinging Strike rate is at a sterling 4.4%, nearly half his prior career-low of 7.4% SwStr rate. While the .349 AVG is obviously going to stabilize down, it’s not crazy to see him as a .300+ hitter. As a minor leaguer, his four longest seasons resulted in BAs of .282 (A-ball), .286 (A+), .316 (AA), and a whopping .392 (AAA). Yep, you read that right, he improved his AVG at each level. Is it crazy to think he can sustain that in his second full MLB season?
The verdict: With Reyes’s callup, the Padres are putting Jankowski on notice, but the 26-year-old lefty is making the decision a hard one for San Diego. In deep leagues he’s an easy add, and even for 12 or 10 teamers you should keep a VERY close eye on him: if he keeps playing remotely like this he will win himself a job, and he might be this year’s sneaky pick to win you the SB category. The speed is real, and the plate discipline and on-base skills are finally following through. He’s already hit 2 triples this year, and big things could be on the horizon. Just not Home Runs.
To Stream or not to Stream
I’m pretty sure Shakespeare would’ve liked baseball, but as he’s a Brit his opinion on the subject counts for next to nothing anyway.
That’s my lame segue into this final section, where I identify streamers for the week: some good, some bad. Here they are:
Vince Velasquez (PHI) @ BAL (5/16) – 11.3% owned
2018 stats: (41 IP) 5.05 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 10.98 K/9, 3.07 BB/9
VV is everyone’s favorite streamer, what with the great strikeout potential (12 K’s against SF last week!) and easy availability. Sure, he’ll poop the bed every now and again, but usually against predictably tough foes like ATL and ARI. His only real issue is that he gives up too many Home Runs, but that’s liveable.
The woeful Orioles should be easy fodder for this K-machine, right?
In the last week, the Orioles are on fire. They lead the MLB (by a wide margin) with 19 team HR in that span, and they’ll be taking on VV in the confines of the extremely hitter and HR-friendly Camden Yards, which ranked behind only Citizen’s Bank and Yankee Stadium for the most HRs per AB in 2017.
I know VV is usually a solid streamer. I know it looks tantalizing to put him up against the Orioles. But I think he’s going to get bombed. His weakness (the HR) is the Orioles’s strength right now, especially in Baltimore.
Verdict: I promise, for a wide variety of reasons, to only say this once: IT’S A TRAP! Don’t stream him this week.
German Marquez (COL) @ SD (5/15) *today* – 7.4% owned
2018 stats: (38.2 IP) 5.35 ERA, 1.68 WHIP, 8.84 K/9, 4.42 BB/9
This seems like a relatively easy one: playing one of the worst offenses in baseball in one of the best pitcher’s parks in the league. Then you look at his stats and he looks more ugly than duckling. But the splits are where we really see the difference:
15.2 IP with a 10.34 ERA at Home, 23.0 IP with a 1.96 ERA on Road
Now that’s a split.
While I don’t assert that he’s a 10+ ERA pitcher at home (no one’s that bad) and a Scherzer-like ace on the Road, he obviously benefits from being away from Coors. And Petco Park in San Diego was the most pitcher-friendly park in the MLB last year outside of AT&T in San, making this a matchup to feast on. Toss in the fact that SD has a strikeout-prone lineup with a freshly minted, strikeout-happy rookie (Reyes) in the six-hole and no Wil Myers in sight, there isn’t much for Marquez to be afraid of.
He’s also been very unlucky with a super high .356 BABIP and a way-too-low 67.3% LOB rate that’s bound to go up. The high walk rate is very concerning, especially when he’s giving up HR, but that shouldn’t be an issue in cavernous Petco Park.
Jeremey Hellickson (WSH) vs. LAD (5/20) – 33.9%
2018 stats: (32.2 IP) 2.20 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 7.16 K/9, 1.38 BB/9
Hellickson is one of those guys where you see his statline and wonder how he’s only 34% owned. The answer is he may not be for long.
While his season ratios are phenomenal, particularly his ERA and WHIP, he’s been even better recently. Over his last two starts, Hellickson has K’ed 13 batters in just 11+ IP, finally adding the high K-rate piece to his sweet ratio puzzle. But therein lies the problem.
Manager Dave Martinez has been adamant in pulling Hellickson out of games early: in 6 starts this year, Hellickson has only been allowed to pitch 6 or more innings once, and that was against the Padres. Even when he was cruising last week against the Diamondbacks after 5 innings in which he got 5 K’s and just 3 hits and 1 BB with a great pitch count, Martinez pulled him from the game. The reasoning behind this move is that the Nationals don’t trust Jeremey Hellickson to face the order three times.
Whenever the opposing team has seen Hellickson twice in one game, the hook comes out. In fact, Hellickson has only been allowed to face the batters three times in one game for 1.2 innings this year, or 5 outs. However, the data (what little there is) supports that move, as his ERA in 2018 has risen exponentially by the number of times he’s been through the order: 0.57 ERA (1st time thru order), 1.76 ERA (2nd time thru order), and a comical 21.6 ERA on his third pass through the order. Yikes.
Finally, Hellickson is enjoying an excellent but unsustainably low 7.7% HR/FB rate, which is sure to make you nervous when he’s pitching in a HR park: that rate is bound to rise. The good news is that when it does and he inevitably gives up more HR there won’t by many guys on base: his control is impeccable, as he boasts a sterling 1.38 BB/9 and has earned his sub-1.00 WHIP by inducing nearly 50% Ground Balls to go with limiting Hard Contact to just 27.8%.
Verdict: This one is mixed. If you need a W or a QS then avoid Hellickson. He’s almost certain NOT to get you one based on how the Nats are using him. If you’re just after ratios and you’re alright with a 5.0 IP, 4 H, 1 BB, 5 K statline then snatch him up.
The Beer – “Citrusinesis Pale Ale” by Lagunitas Brewing Company
Beer Name: Citrusinensis
Brewery: Lagunitas Brewing Company (Petaluma, CA)
Style: American Pale Ale
Usually I’m wary of ales that use any kind of blood orange/orange juice: it’s too easy to overdo it and end up drinking what tastes like a radler or a cup of jungle juice from a frat party. Lagunitas nails the Blood Orange Juice ratio and flavor in Citrusinensis, though, as it’s just the right balance of refreshing juicy blood orange flavor with bitter citrus balance to reign in all that sweetness.
The hops don’t come through as strongly as you’d think, but it’s a Pale Ale after all, not an IPA despite what the ABV might suggest. This is a crushable, easy-drinkin’ type of summer beer: crisp and sweet, yet bitter and hoppy enough to remind you you’re not drinking a watery hard lemonade.
Tasty and crisp, another clean and well-executed Pale Ale from Lagunitas.
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