Stephen Strasburg’s Incredible Streak and His Best Season

There’s always been an aura of disappointment surrounding Stephen Strasburg. The expectations thrust upon him were gigantic. While he hasn’t ever been in the discussion for best pitcher on the planet, he’s managed to rack up an impressive resume. Strasburg is no disappointment. He’s one of the top pitchers in the game.

Since 2012, Strasburg ranks eighth in fWAR (23.9) sandwiched between Zack Greinke and Jon Lester. Among the 68 pitchers who have managed 750 innings since 2012, he ranks fifth in fWAR per innings pitched. Since 2015 he’s 10th in fWAR. All things put together, Strasburg has been an elite starting pitcher for many years now. 2017 has been Strasburg at his peak.

Stras ERA - updated

A quick note on ERA- and FIP-. Both are league and park adjusted making it easier to compare pitchers season by season. It is scaled to 100, like wRC+. Each point above or below is 1% better or worse than average. Strasburg has generally been near the 80 ERA- range making him 20% better than the league average pitcher. This mark is similar to Chris Sale, Jacob DeGrom, and Carlos Martinez over the past three seasons. His FIP- has been similar to fellow teammate Max Scherzer and Cleveland ace Corey Kluber.

Stras FIP- Plot

Strasburg hasn’t allowed a run in 34 innings! Despite not being close to Orel Hershiser’s record of 59 innings, it is incredible. Strasburg will likely never have a run this good ever again in his career. We are witnessing Strasburg at his peak. He’s been absolutely terrorizing batters.

The big thing going for Stephen this year is his home run rate. Strasburg’s strikeout and walk rates are excellent and consistent with his career. His batted ball profile remains much the same with a slightly better line drive rate. In seasons where he pitched at least 100 innings, Strasburg has given up a career low 0.75 home run per nine innings (he did have 0.79 in 2013). Historically speaking, Strasburg’s slider has been somewhat homer prone having a 22.2% HR/FB%. His changeup comes in at second (14.5%). Strasburg reduced usage of his slider to help with injury issues. And the change has always been a tough pitch to square up. It’s been absolutely incredible posting a -8 wRC+. Yes you read that right. Negative wRC+!

Stephen Strasburg has the best changeup in baseball. Opposing batters have hit .176 against it in the past three years, the best mark among those who hav

Here it is in slow motion courtesy of The PitcherList.

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Understanding Liam Hendriks Struggles and How He May Improve

After being traded to the Oakland Athletics for Jesse Chavez in the 2015 offseason, some felt Hendricks had an ability to be a very good reliever. He came off a season where he pitched to the tune of a 2.92 ERA and a 2.14 FIP. Hendriks K-BB% was excellent (23%) and almost the same as the one that belonged to Wade Davis (23.1%) that year. There was a chance Hendriks could end up as a relief ace and possibly a good closer. In his two years as a member of the Oakland A’s, Hendriks is struggling with consistency. The elite reliever still lurks however, a positive sign for his future in 2018.

K + BB Since 2015
Hendriks Has A Good K-BB Since 2015

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Christian Yelich, Flyballs, and a New Hope

Christian Yelich is a very good baseball player. Since becoming a full time major leaguer in 2014, Yelich has accumulated 13.8 Wins Above Replacement, good for 35th among qualified hitters. Yelich owns a career 120 wRC+ showing he’s a fine hitter. Yet there has always been a lingering question: Can his bat be even better?

Yelich hits the ball hard. Since 2016, only 10 players have a greater average exit velocity (minimum 2500 pitches seen). More importantly, his 94.3 MPH exit velocity off of flyballs is 25th from the same group. If we add in line drives with flyballs, Yelich, 95.7 MPH exit velocity ranks 17th, sandwiched in between Manny Machado and Yasmany Tomas. Exit velocity is only part of the story though. His launch angle is not ideal. Despite hitting the ball more than a mile harder than sluggers such as Bryce Harper, Michael Conforto, and Anthony Rizzo, Yelich has routinely chosen a groundball based approach. Since the all-star break, we might have gotten another indication of a possible transformation. The prospects are tantalizing. Have always been tantalizing.

Last season Yelich saw his wRC+ rise to 130, the best of his career. This was partly related to him increasing his power level as shown by a .185 ISO, the highest of his career. No doubt like every other batter he was aided by a mysterious force (most likely the ball), but he also had a slight approach change. Yelich hit more flyballs, and so far in 2017, he’s expanded on that. Yelich has the 35th highest (122 players) difference between his 2016 flyball rate and 2017 flyball rate (minimum 350 plate appearances in both seasons). Slowly, Yelich might just be embracing the flyball revolution. This is also seen in his launch angle. In 2016, Yelich’s average launch angle was 2.5 degrees. In 2017, it’s 4.9 degrees, nearly double (more on this later).

Yelich Rolling GB:FB

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The Incredible Cody Bellinger

If you’ve been following baseball, chances are you know of the NL Rookie of the Year frontrunner. The son of former baseball player Clay Bellinger (183 games), Cody Bellinger has more than 2.5 times as many home runs his father did in less than half the games. Bellinger has been worth 3 Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) in only 91 games, putting him at a 5.3 WAR pace over a full season.

Bellinger tore up the minor leagues showcasing his prodigious power, consistently posting Isolated Power ratings above .220. Realistically, he won’t keep up an ISO over .300 but the mid-high 200s is within his capabilities. Last night his power was on full display as he cranked out his 32nd of the year.

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Dan Straily’s Getting Better With His Flyball Approach

There are 94 pitchers with at least 200 innings pitched over the past two years. Dan Straily ranks 34th in ERA. He also has the 19th worst FIP, 11th worst xFIP, and 24th worst SIERA. Only Ervin Santana has a bigger gap between his ERA and FIP.

With the Cincinatti Reds in 2016, Straily performed well from a results perspective. There was good reason to think he got lucky considering his 3.76 ERA came with a .239 BABIP and a left on base percentage over 80. Straily’s strikeout rate was average and his walk rate was bad. With the Marlins this season, Straily’s been better. His ERA is nearly identical but his FIP and other peripherals have been better. His BABIP is up to .272, higher than his career .258 BABIP. Through 569 career innings, Straily might just be pitching in a way that leads to depressed BABIPs. He’s a flyball pitcher with a penchant for popups. Like Marco Estrada before him, we might just have another FIP breaker.

Straily has a three pitch mix relying on his 4-seam fastball, slider, and changeup. Straily’s fastball has below average velocity, ticking in at 90.8 MPH on average. However, there are few pitchers who are able to make their fourseam fastball “rise” as much as Straily. Straily, Pitcher Velo, Mov, UsageThis is what helps give his fastball above average swinging strike rate and an elite pop-up rate. Only 4 pitchers with at least 200 fastballs thrown have a greater infield flyball percentage than Straily.

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The Maple Leafs Marleau Mistake

It’s exciting to have Patrick Marleau. Over 1000 points in nearly 1500 games, Marleau’s blend of speed, shooting ability, have always been a nice mix. He’s had a great career and his Hall of Fame candidacy will no doubt be dissected after his retirement. He and Jumbo Joe were always two players I enjoyed watching. The Maple Leafs big free agent splash was a mistake however, and will likely be a net negative contract.

Marleau is a good fit for the Maple Leafs. Despite being 38 in a couple of months, Marleau has good speed to keep up with the Leafs. Furthermore, the left wing position is noticeably weaker than the right wing. After JVR (who might be on his way out), Leo Komarov (might not be back), Josh Leivo, Zack Hyman, and Matt Martin round out the individuals who can play in that position. Faceoffs are an added bonus which he’s fine at on his strong side. The problem with Marleau is the cap hit compared to what he provides.

There is plenty of data to suggest Marleau is a middle six winger as opposed to a top line winger. Guess which one he gets paid like? Marleau certainly had a good 2016-2017 season with 27 goals and 46 points. Those 27 goals, however, came with a shooting percentage of 14.2%, a mark he hasn’t reached since 2009-2010. Given his age, this is something that will be lower this season. Players lose accuracy and strength in their shot as they age.

marleau skater card
Patrick Marleau Skater Card

The picture above, courtesy of HockeyViz, shows Marleau produces at a third line rate while given top line minutes. Over the past three years, Marleau has a decent 50.69 CF% but a -1.03 relative CF%. He hasn’t been a play driver nor does he score at rates like he is being paid. Read More »

Outfield Rankings 2017

The outfield position this year seems to be less deep than usual. There are studs in the beginning, good players with question marks, and a few high upside options. Midway through, there is plenty of power available but it comes at a price. In other cases, three to four category contributors are available in a healthy number. In the later rounds, cheap power sources or speed sources become available. It’s an interesting position this year with a wide range of outcomes possible.

Before I begin, here are the OBP risers and fallers. It is divided up into three different plots each with different projected plate appearance totals.

OBP RF OF > 500 PA

Joc Pederson, Jose Bautista, and Bryce Harper get some of the biggest boosts in OBP leagues. Shin Soo Choo is someone to keep an eye on this summer especially in OBP leagues. He can be great for a potential platoon.  Adam Duvall is a power hitter who can definitely needs to learn how to take a walk if he wants to have an extended career. Hunter Renfroe, a hot commodity, has 25 HR potential but will be a drag on both batting average and on base percentage. Keon Broxton, another hyped sleeper, is someone who has shown a propensity to take pitches and reasonably could go 20/40. OBP R+F 400-500 PA

Matt Holliday is an underrated player heading into the season. In OBP leagues, David Dahl sees a decrease in value. Jay Bruce batting average won’t be pretty, nor will his on base percentage. Randall Grichuk is of similar vein. He’s like Adam Duvall but with bigger strikeout issues. The power is real though.OBP RF 250400 OF

For players projected for 250-400 plate appearances, Brandon Guyer and Steve Pearce are intriguing picks. You’d want to stay away from Melvin Upton Jr.

Tier I

  1. Mike Trout (OF, Los Angeles Angels): He’s the best. There’s no other way around it. And he keeps getting better! Three straight years of increasing walk and decreasing strikeout rates. He has 30+ HR power and will challenge to hit .300. Add on 15-20 stolen bases. Trout’s one of the greatest baseball players of all time both in fantasy and in the real world.
  1. Bryce Harper (OF, Washington Nationals): No doubt in my mind Harper dealt with some sort of injury. It’s also no doubt 2016 was disappointing. Harper, 24 years of age, did manage to put up a 20/20 season. His hit tool remains fantastic which is why he’s ranked second. He has a strong floor as well with the ceiling to be number 1. The Nationals have a strong offence as well.
  1. Kris Bryant (1B/3B/OF, Chicago Cubs): I went into greater detail on Bryant here. He’s another fine choice to take as early as second overall.
  1. Mookie Betts (OF, Boston Red Sox): The biggest question with Betts is the power. He has the tools to hit over .300 again and nab 25 bases. The power might seem like natural progression for the 24-year-old. His ISO in his first three seasons: .153, .188, .216. The issue is that Betts was never heralded as a 30 HR hitter. It’s best to think he can hit 20 with an outside shot at 30. 20 of his home runs were classified as “Just Enough” or “Lucky” by ESPN Home Run Tracker. Fun Fact: Hanley Ramirez also had 20! With Betts, you know what you’re getting: the high average, the stolen bases, the bountiful counting stats. Keep expectations on the home run front healthy and there will be little disappointment if any. Betts is an all-around stud making him a great choice to be drafted in the top five.

    Zone Contact vs ISO Murphy
    Mookie Has a Rare Combination of Contact Ability and Power

Tier 2

  1. Trea Turner (2B/OF, Washington Nationals): I went into greater detail on Turner here. Lots of speed, good contact ability, in a good lineup.
  1. Giancarlo Stanton (OF, Miami Marlins): Aside from the injury concern, the big issue for Stanton is the strikeouts. He’s been hovering close to 30% across his past 193 games. He has mammoth power; few players can hit 50+ home runs. His career .273 ISO is ridiculous. Drafting Stanton comes down to how much you think he plays. If he provides you with 35 HR with a .260 batting average in 130 games, your replacement OF can probably add in another 5 HRs and a decent average. While you might miss Stanton for some time, the overall value will be high when factoring in his replacement. I think Stanton will cross the 100 RBI mark with 30+ HR. The rest will be gravy. Of course, I do think he gets into more games than he usually does. I think Stanton’s the only OF as of now who has a good chance of being in the top five when it’s all said and done.  Stanton Plot
  1. Starling Marte (OF, Pittsburgh Pirates): Marte stole a career high 47 bases in 129 games. He’s generally been in that 30-40 range; regardless Marte is a good source of stolen bases. His .311 batting average was also a career high with it being influenced by a career best .380 BABIP. On the plus side, Marte is a player to project for more home runs. For one, he hit 44 home runs from 2013-2015. Moroever, Marte had his worst ISO and HR/FB%. The Pirates outfielder provides a strong average with lots of stolen bases and runs.
  1. Ryan Braun (OF, Milwaukee Brewers): Braun keeps chugging along. He’s managed 550 plate appearances or more in each of the past three seasons with better batting averages and home run totals. Braun’s groundball rate as a career high 55%. Unless he gets the ball in the air more, he will be hard pressed to reach 25 HR. Furthermore, his HR/FB% nearing 29% was well above his career average 19%. The stolen base totals will likely continue to drop. At 33, Braun is good for average and has that 20 HR + 10 SB capability. With a slightly altered approach, the home run total could reach 25.
  1. Nelson Cruz (OF, Seattle Mariners): For three consecutive seasons, Cruz has hit 40+ home runs. Given his above average BABIP and low career line drive rate, Cruz likely sees a decrease in batting average this season. There is nothing in his profile that suggests Cruz will fall off a cliff. I get the feeling he’s a .265/35 HR type player. Khris Davis profiles for something similar for what it’s worth. Lastly, I can’t fault anyone for taking him over Stanton. There’s a distinct tradeoff between floor and ceiling here.
  1. Charlie Blackmon (OF, Colorado Rockies): As it seems like with every other player, Blackmon saw an uptick in the power department posting a .228 ISO. His HR/FB% was five points higher than his career mark. That means that Blackmon is more of a 20 HR hitter rather than someone challenging for 30 next season. Blackmon also had a high line drive rate nearing 28%. Given his career average is 24%, he does seem to have an inherent skill to hit more line drives. Even so, that number is quite high. A lower BABIP and therefore a lower batting average. With Blackmon, he’s more in the .290 mold instead of the .324 he hit last season. Furthermore, at 30 years of age, Blackmon is only getting slower; I’m hesistant to place him for more than 20 stolen bases. With all that said, Coors Field is what he calls home (unless he is traded) and he should be able to rack up lots of runs. I think Blackmon’s closer to his 2015 season with 2016 stolen base numbers. I’m not optimistic he is a top five outfielder again this year.

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