A Change in Approach For Kole Calhoun
Going into the 2015 season, Kole Calhoun was a fantasy darling, shooting up the fantasy draft boards. While he had a fine season, we saw an interesting shift in the type of hitter he was for fantasy owners. Hitting ahead of Mike Trout in 2014, many owners were taking Calhoun with the hope for a little power, but mostly to prop up their team's run total. However, instead of getting 80 runs, we got 80 RBIs. So what changed? Most notably for me was his change in plate approach. We've now seen 3 straight seasons of on-base percentage regression, walk rate, and strike-out rate. We've also seen three straight years of regression to chase rate and swinging strike rate. In fact, Calhoun's swinging strike rate regression was the 5th highest among qualified batters between 2014 and 2015. So how does all this regession point to improved power numbers? I think it all comes down to him being more aggressive at the plate and swinging at more pitches. Pair these other stats with a significant 6% drop in contact rate and a 3% rise in flyball percentage and we're looking at a player who is seemingly trying to swing harder and lift the ball. The result was a 2MPH increase on his batted ball speed from on his homeruns. While the extra speed is nice, the fact remains he's still only hitting the ball with league average speed and his 28% hard hit percentage is well below the mark we'd like for him to be at to support his 15.7% HR/FB ratio. At the end of the day, Calhoun isn't a true power hitter so the continued decline in his plate approach is concerning and will be a drag on his value.
Lorenzo Cain - One Year Wonder or Repeat Performer?
Lorenzo Cain has been the center of a lot of chatter this pre-season as fantasy owners try to decide whether or not they believe in his break out. Admittedly, he's an extremely difficult player to crack, with many of his indicators supporting his breakout, but there are still some nagging questions that shade my confidence in him. Let's break out each of his counting categories to see if we expect a repeat performance or not. The first and easiest to confirm are his stolen bases. With back-to-back 28 steal seasons and a projected batting order slot of #2, there's no reason to expect Lorenzo Cain to run less in 2016. The next category we'll tackle is runs scored. From 2014 to 2015, Cain nearly doubled his runs scored from 55 to 101 yet only increased his OBP by 22 points. This type of jump with related runs scored could mean either his 2014 was understated or just 2015 is overstated. Either way, it seems this total is a product of sequencing, which more or less refers to the timing of hits. If the batters behind Cain got hits more frequently when he was on-base in 2015 than in 2014, this might help explain why his run total is also higher. It's hard to measure this for sure, but it seems his actual runs scored total should fall somewhere in the middle, with 80-90 runs likely if he can repeat his same on-base percentage. Like runs scored, RBIs is also related to timing of hits and since his total extra-base hits only increased by 6 year-over-year, it's hard to say this justified 19 more RBIs. Next up is batting average and with two straight years of a .300+ batting average paired with consistent 27-28% opposite field percentage, there's no reason to expect him to veer too far from this path in 2016. For what it's worth, his BABIP in 2015 was .347, right in line with his career BABIP on .345. Finally, we come to homeruns. Cain tripled his total from 2014 (and basically doubled his total career homeruns) last year. A 6% shift from groundballs to fly balls is likely to have fueled the rise in homeruns, but it was also paired with a 6% increase in his homerun-to-fly ball rate. Surprisingly, Cain also had a 2 MPH boost to his batted ball speed on homeruns, from league average of 103 in 2014 up to above average at 105, so there's no reason to question his HR/FB. Looking forward to 2016, if he maintains his batted ball profile and continues to hit 30%+ FBs, I'm buying a repeat HR total for Cain. So where does this leave us? I think his stolen bases, home runs, and batting average are legit, but his RBIs and runs may be at-risk. Even still, I'll gladly take a .300 hitter who can go 15/30 in the 4th or 5th round.
Is Carlos Correa worth a top-5 pick?
The Houston Astros shortstop is taking the fantasy world by storm this spring and shooting up draft boards. He's certainly worthy as a first-round pick, but is he really worth a top-5 pick? Correa's supporters will point to position scarcity and the sizeable gap between him and the next shortstop, Xander Bogaerts, as part of their arguments for taking Correa so early. While that gap is real, should we really be taking into account position scarcity in the first round? I'm not against taking position into account, but I tend to ignore the position the player plays when I take my first round pick because I have confidence that I'll be able to round out my roster elsewhere. For that reason, I don't believe we should place a premium on a player in the first round simply because he plays in a shallow position. Therefore, let's dig in and look a little closer into Correa's numbers. Subscribers may look at our projection on Correa and be surprised to see that we are only projecting an increase of 3 homeruns despite nearly 200 more at-bats. As Anthony Perri mentions in our draft software, Correa was extremely fortunate in 2015 in terms of home runs and he's projecting a fair share of those to go for doubles next year instead of leaving the yard, driven in large part by below average home run distance and batted ball speed. Another aspect to this equation is hard hit percentage, that is, the percentage of balls in play that are hit hard. The league average mark for hard hit percentage is 28% and while Correa's 32% mark in 2015 was very good, it's nowhere near the 40%+ mark that was posted by other sluggers like Chris Davis, Giancarlo Stanton, or Bryce Harper, all of whom had HR/FB percentages of 24% or more. My point to all of this is that while Correa is truly a once-in-a-generation talent, we can't blindly take his 2015 stats and extrapolate those stats over 600 at-bats. There's no doubt he will be a strong contributor in all categories, but I'm still hesitant to take a player with the 5th overall pick who has less than 400 career at-bats. Pitchers will make adjustments to Correa this coming year and he will have to make adjustments to be able to return the statistics that are required at that position in the draft. I'd feel much more comfortable taking Correa near the end of the first round, where I'll likely get a second pick shortly afterward. Unfortunately, I'll likely never be in a situation where I can make that choice since his ADP is currently 6th overall.
Is Dexter Fowler's Power For Real?
There's been a lot of buzz surrounding Dexter Fowler and the Baltimore Orioles in recent days. Fowler would be an excellent fit for the Orioles and would also give him a very nice boost in value for fantasy owners. Baltimore struggled to find a leadoff hitter who could set the table for Machado and Davis last year, and Fowler has the exact skillset that they need. Fowler's stellar sub-2:1 strikeout-to-walk rate, plus speed, and 80% contact rate helped him maintain an above-average on-base percentage in 2015, but his career mark of .363 is nearly 20 points higher, which points to even more opportunities in 2016 and beyond. Fowler's 17 homeruns from 2015 were probably a little inflated thanks to a HR/FB ratio nearly 3% higher than his career, which is especially concerning since he spent his first 6 seasons in Colorado. However, I caution you to not only look at the HR/FB rate when evaluating the repeatability of homerun performance. According to ESPN's Hit Tracker, Fowler had a batted ball speed on his homeruns of just 101.2 MPH in 2015, well below the league average of 103 MPH, and below the mark that's needed to sustain a 10% HR/FB ratio. Pair this with a hard hit rate of just 27% and it's fair to expect significant regression in power for 2016.
Closer Controversy in Miami?
As many of you know, I write our weekly "A Closer Look" column for Fantistics. Seeking out current non-closers as potential future closers is my favorite part about my job. Going into the each season, I always like to have a handful of guys that I'm targeting to draft in nearly all my leagues as I speculate on not only their chances to grab the closer job, but also their ability to succeed while doing so. For 2016, the pitcher I'm most likely to own on the majority of my teams is Carter Capps. Capps missed most of the second-half of last year with an elbow strain in his throwing arm, but the newsflow has been positive on him this spring and it sounds like he has overcome any lingering issues. That's tremendous news for fantasy owners who don't want to pay up for closers early in the draft. Capps crossed over into the territory of elite last season as he recorded an eye-popping 25.4% swinging strike rate, the highest rate ever recorded in major league baseball (since the stat started being tracked). In addition, he also recorded a 41.9% chase rate, the 9th highest marker ever and an incredible 51.7% contact rate, the second lowest ever. Altogether, Carter Capps was the most unhittable pitcher than we have seen in the fantasy baseball game since Brad Lidge in 2004. AJ Ramos is the incumbent in Miami, but I would be utterly shocked if Capps didn't have the job by the end of the season, possibly even by the end of spring training.
Does Tyson Ross Have the Most Profit-Potential Among Starters?
If you're a listener to our Sirius XM show, you might have caught our segment of "Fantasy Tinder" this past Saturday. The premise of our game was to mimic the dating app Tinder, but with a fantasy baseball twist. For those of you who haven't heard of the app (or married like myself), it's basically a dating app where users view pictures of potential dates and either swipe right if they are interested, or swipe left if they are not. For our segment, our producer Phil Backert tossed out a player and a specific stat target for the year, while my co-host (Lou Blasi) and I had to either swift left (if he disagreed) or swipe right (if we agreed). For Tyson Ross, Phil set the target to be 200 strikeouts. With little deliberation, I said that I would "swipe right". My co-host on the other hand said that he would "swipe left". I tell you all of this because I think Tyson Ross is a very interesting player to breakdown this year. To me, he's a player that is getting severely under-drafted despite brimming with potential. Over the last two seasons, Ross has 391.2 innings pitched with an excellent 407 strikeouts. However, that only tells half the story, because the biggest reason Ross is such an effective pitcher is because he pairs his excellent strikeout rate with a groundball rate that's rarely seen from a power pitcher. In 2015, Ross led the league in Strikeout Percentage+Groundball Percentage, a combination that when paired with a very low walk rate tends to result in Cy Young-caliber performances. Unfortunately, Ross is still working on reducing his walk rate, and actually took a step backwards last season. Some of this regression is masked in his home ballpark, but in order for Ross to take the step forward into the elite at the positon, he needs to cut down on his free passes. Once he does so, he can be spoken in the same breath as Madison Bumgarner, Corey Kluber, etc.
Other News Around The League:
Michael Brantley (OF - CLE) - The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on Sunday that Michael Brantley could return end of April or early May. It's important to note that Brantley still hasn't been cleared to begin a hitting program, so this report seem more like speculation than hard evidence. Shoulder injuries like those that Brantley suffered are especially tricky, with a negative offensive impact likely to occur. If you're targeting Michael Brantley on draft day, you need to take him with the assumption that you likely will not be able to count on him until the All-star break. While he may return long before then, owners need to keep in mind that he's going to be significantly behind in his season prep after missing spring training and the first month of two of the season. Historically, players in his situation have started out a little slow. After a monster 2014 breakout season, Brantley took steps back across every counting category, particularly in runs scored. This was partially a product of the quality of the lineup around him, but unfortunately, it hasn't improved much. He remains an intriguing 5 category contributor when healthy, but given him current injury situation, he's nothing more than a flier for 2016.
Alex Cobb (SP - TB) - The Tampa Bay Times estimated that Alex Cobb would be able to return to the Rays rotation by July. That would put him about 15 months removed from Tommy John Surgery, 3 months below the targeted 18 months that seems to be the general guideline for a full recovery for most starting pitchers. Since he'll likely be less than 100%, it's unlikely we'll see him return the type of dominant performances that he flashed in 2013 and 2014. Pass on Alex Cobb in re-draft leagues this spring, but keep him in the back of your mind for 2017 and beyond.
Manny Machado (3B - BAL) - Manny Machado had an incredible season in 2015, setting career highs in all of the counting categories in addition to drastic improvements in most sabermetric indicators. One of the most notable improvements came in Machado's approach at the plate. His year-over-year chase percentage improvement of 10.4% was the second only to Charlie Blackmon's 10.5%. Machado also ranked second in swinging strike percentage improvement with 4.1%. These two statistics together paint the picture of a hitter who has much better command of the strike zone, which was reflected in big jumps in his contact and walk percentage. Mastering the strike zone was the final piece of the puzzle missing for Machado and he's a prime example of why these plate discipline metrics play such an important role in the evaluation of players.
Adam Warren (CHC - SP) - Acquired from the Yankees in the Starlin Castro deal, Adam Warren finds himself in the running for the Cubs 5th starting pitcher position. Warren struggled to find a defined role with New York last season, but did manage to start 17 games. Over his 104 innings pitched, he posted a 3.29 ERA with an excellent 7% walk rate and slightly below average 19.5% strikeout rate. Warren is primarily a fastball/slider pitcher, but he does mix in a changeup and curveball from time to time. However, with 75% of his pitches being a fastball or slider and a mere 5 MPH between the two pitches, there's little reason to expect him to improve upon his declining swinging strike rate. Warren profiles as a back-end fantasy starter, who should primarily be used for streaming throughout the season.
Yadier Molina (STL - C) - Yadier Molina underwent a second procedure on his thumb in December, and at the time, it was expected he would miss most of Spring Training. Cardinals GM John Mozeliak confirmed this doubt on a radio appearance on Sunday, saying that the team would have a better idea of Molina's availability in 2-3 weeks. Molina is nothing more than a high average catcher for the fantasy game and any remaining power he had will likely decline due to his series of thumb issues. Since 2012, we have seen his isolated power fall from .186 to .158. Even still, you can do a lot worse than him as your second catcher. Just know that while he may get 500 at-bats, it's highly unlikely you're going to get even half that number from him while he's 100% healthy.
David Wright (3B - NYM) - Mets GM Sandy Alderson said that he expects David Wright to play around 130 games this year, if healthy, but not any more. Wright is entering his age 33-year-old season and has shown definite signs of decline in recent years. Alderson also mentioned that Wright would like sit against right-handed pitching this year. Wright hasn't been terrible against righties, but he has certainly been a lot more successful against left-handed pitching in recent years. It remains to be seen how serious they are about sitting Wright against right-handed pitching though, and could mean a significant decrease in at-bats if he doesn't start against righties (and possibly just comes in as a late-inning replacement). When he's healthy and on the field, he remains a very productive hitter, but he can no longer be counted on as your only 3rd baseman in fantasy leagues.
Masahiro Tanaka (SP - NYY) - Masahiro Tanaka had his first bullpen session of the spring on Sunday. In true Spring Training fashion, Yankees' pitching coach Larry Rothschild said that Masahiro Tanaka looked good in his first official appearance since undergoing surgery to remove a bone spur this off-season. Tanaka, who pitched the entire 2015 season with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament, managed to put together a season that was actually fairly close to his impressive rookie campaign. Despite his injury, Tanaka didn't lose any velocity on any of his pitches, although he did suffer a 2% drop in his swinging strike rate that translated to a 1% drop in his strikeout rate. Without an elbow ligament that's 100%, we'll likely never see Tanaka repeat his rookie performance, but he's still an effective pitcher that can return nice mid-round value as an SP3 for your fantasy team.
Madison Bumgarner (SP - SF) - MadBum will start his 3rd straight opening day for the Giants this year. Fantistics has Bumgarner ranked as the 6th pitcher off the board this draft season, but I don't think anyone would be surprised if he made a push for the best pitcher by the end of the year. Bumgarner has 5 straight seasons of 200+ innings thrown and has back-to-back year of 200 strikeouts or more. MadBum posted his highest swinging strike rate of his career last year at 12.5% and he continues to increase the velocity gap between his fastball and his slider each year. With an ADP near the end of the 2nd round, he provides a nice option for fantasy owners who have a top 3 pick, allowing them to take one of the best hitters and come back with one of the best pitchers in their next pick.
Carlos Gomez (OF - HOU) - Going near the end of the 5th round, Carlos Gomez has the tools to provide a 1-2 round profit from that spot in drafts. Gomez is a legit power/speed threat, but we likely will not see him return to his days of 30+ steals this year since he'll be hitting in the middle of the order for the Astros. He gets above average batted ball speed on his homeruns, which also helps him get similarly better than average distance. Moving from Miller Park to Minute Maid did actually hurt him slightly, but he's still in a decent park for the power numbers. Health is the biggest question mark for Gomez heading into this season and if he can stay healthy, there's no reason he can't end the year around fellow outfielders like Mookie Betts, Charlie Blackmon, or Starling Marte.
Randall Grichuk (STL - OF) - Whether he deserves it or not, Grichuk has seemingly become a player of consolation for many Cardinal fans. After losing out on Jason Heyward, many Cardinals fans found solace with the fact that they have a young, rising player in Randall Grichuk to slot into centerfield. While he's not on the same level as Jason Heyward, I do agree that there could be some value here. While he did flash plenty of power in the minor leagues (65 homeruns over 379 games from 2012-2014), Grichuk showed very little pop in his cup of coffee during 2014. We saw that pendulum swing the total opposite direction last year with the HR/FB rate sky-rocketing to 19.1%. While his batted ball speed on homeruns of 104 MPH was above average, it's not quite good enough to expect it to maintain his HR/FB rate into this year. With his below average walk skills, high chase rate and worrisome swinging strike rate, his batting average is going to be at risk. As a positive note, it is likely that Grichuk will draw a lineup spot right in the middle, which should give him better pitches to hit and more RBI opportunities. I like him as a mid-flier, and I do think regular playing time will help him find his groove.
Draft Advisor: bring our winning strategy (Serpentine / Auction) to your draft. Our player rankings adjust as players are selected, adhering to the changing dynamics of your draft. After a player is selected/drafted, the software will display/suggest the best players remaining. Purchase Today!