- Tristan H. Cockcroft, Fantasy
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Ask any student: It stinks to have two pop quizzes dropped on you in a six-day span. (Then again, that's why they call them "pop quizzes"!)
Except, of course, if the topic is baseball trivia. Boy, wouldn't it be fun if every test in school was about baseball?
Just as last week's "Hit Parade" did, today's "60 Feet, 6 Inches" quizzes you on some of the findings of our Player Rater, a handy resource which weighs every player's contribution in the 10 prominent rotisserie categories, then comes up with a total score that shows the impact that player has had thus far.
Though Player Rater placement and rest-of-year rankings are two very different things -- the latter the most important in player valuation -- be aware of the lessons that can be learned from our Player Rater. An outstanding example came up in my Monday chat, when it was noted that Jason Grilli (fourth) ranks higher than Clayton Kershaw (fifth). Grilli's 22 saves have driven his standing to date; he has five more saves than anyone else in the National League, and his ranking on that page demonstrates the weight that differential has in fantasy.
Let's see how many of the following 10 questions you can get right; the answers are at the bottom. And don't forget: No cheating!
1. Name the three pitchers who have spent one week apiece -- this defined as any of the nine Monday-to-Sunday periods through June 2 -- ranked among the top three as well as the bottom three on the Player Rater.
2. Name the four rookies to rank among the top 50 pitchers.
3. Which four teams don't have a single pitcher ranked among the top 60?
4. Which team has four pitchers in the top 25?
5. Which team has three middle relievers -- not closers, middle relievers -- ranked ahead of its highest-placing starting pitcher?
6. If you were to remove the Wins Player Rater score and recalculate the rankings -- meaning, for example, that you dock Yu Darvish the 2.46 points he has earned in the category -- which starting pitcher, who has made a minimum of 10 starts, would plummet the most in the rankings?
7. Which team has only two pitchers ranked in the top 200?
8. Who are the two pitchers, whose 40th birthdays are behind them, ranked among the top 50?
9. Name the two lowest-ranked, ERA-title-eligible pitchers.
10. Who is the only starter to rank among the top 75 pitchers, despite having failed to pitch the requisite innings to qualify for the ERA title? (For these purposes, we mean real-field role, not SP-eligible. This guy's in a big league rotation.)
Maholm and Parker might've been easy guesses had you been tracking their weekly performances -- though Parker's struggles had lingered so long that many of his owners might have given up hope before he turned in a quality past week. Maholm's up-and-down weeks have played straight matchup: His Week 2 included games against the Miami Marlins and Washington Nationals, his Week 4 including only that road stinker against the Detroit Tigers. Then again, so have Parker's: His Week 9 included home games against the San Francisco Giants and Chicago White Sox, while his Week 2, like Maholm, had only a start against those potent Tigers.
Is there any more compelling evidence that either pitcher is a matchups type?
It's Verlander who was the stumper, though his fantasy owners would've been quick to voice their frustration with his stinkers of May 16 and 22 -- those in separate "weeks"/scoring periods, keep in mind -- at the Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians. It's stretches like those that occasionally spawn questions about every-start versus matchups status; those look like clear matchups-driven struggles, at least on paper. Still, keep in mind that every pitcher is entitled to the occasional stinker, Verlander's own history-compelling evidence: Look at his Aug. 28-Sept. 8, 2012; April 5-11, 2010; or April 6-22, 2009, stretches.
Miller was the obvious one, and had you remembered that Ryu is rookie-eligible, you might have gotten him, too. Both possess the skills to remain productive fantasy starters, and earn a healthy chunk of the rookie of the year balloting in the National League. Miller, thus far, has to be the leader in that race.
But how about those two rookie National League relievers: Wilson has quietly developed into an effective middle man, though much of his Player Rater stock has been driven by his five relief wins, most in the majors. Though he's a handy ERA/WHIP/K's option in NL-only formats, he's unlikely to maintain this high a standing, and his six holds -- remember that he's a long man rather than a setup man -- haven't driven his value in formats that reward for those.
Henderson, meanwhile, has been one of the season's biggest closer surprises. He is a perfect 10-for-10 in saves plus holds (9 saves, 1 hold), and he has the fifth-best ERA (0.92) and eighth-best WHIP (0.81) among relievers who have faced at least 75 batters. Henderson, currently on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, should immediately recapture his closer job once healthy, and by all indications he should be back with the Milwaukee Brewers by Sunday.
The Astros and Marlins were the easy guesses, and if you recalled that the Padres shrank the outfield dimensions at Petco Park this season, you might have gotten them, too. In case you haven't noticed, Petco is no longer a slam dunk to occupy the bottom spots on our Park Factors page.
It's the Angels who were the toughie, being that they had a top-10 starter (Jered Weaver) and a 13th-ranked closer (Ernesto Frieri) last season. Weaver's 46-game absence, however, removed him from the equation, and the Angels' starters as a whole sport a 4.38 ERA and 1.40 WHIP. How telling is it that the team's most effective starter to date, Jerome Williams (3.08 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 5 quality starts in 6 games), might be moved to the bullpen this week?
The 2013 Cardinals have been a curious bunch, at least as far as their pitching is concerned, generating as many headlines for their injuries as their mound success. Three incumbent members of their rotation have succumbed to the disabled list during their first 57 team games -- Jake Westbrook (elbow, May 12), Jaime Garcia (shoulder surgery, May 18) and John Gast (shoulder, May 26) -- and they lost their closer, Jason Motte, to the DL on March 22 and Tommy John surgery a little more than a month later. And here's the kicker: Their initial fill-in closer for Motte, Mitchell Boggs, was a disaster who was subsequently sent to Triple-A Memphis -- on multiple occasions.
Still, as things stood on Tuesday morning, the Cardinals sported the majors' best team ERA (2.96) and OPS allowed (.656), and second-best WHIP (1.19) and quality start percentage (66.7). In addition, in true Dave Duncan fashion, the Cardinals sport the majors' highest ground-ball rate as a staff (51.1 percent), and there's no question that having Yadier Molina behind the plate for an amazing 465 of the team's 511 1/3 innings helps -- Cardinals pitchers have a 3.06 ERA when he's catching.
Keep that in mind when you're evaluating those matchups of less-proven Cardinals pitchers, including rookies Michael Wacha and Tyler Lyons, and Gast once he's healthy. Cardinals pitchers appear to possess a lesser downside than those on other squads, evidenced by only four examples of a Cardinals pitcher registering an ERA of 4.00 or higher in five or more starts in any of the past three seasons: Blake Hawksworth (5.83 in 8, in 2010), Kyle Lohse (6.55 in 18, in 2010), Kyle McClellan (4.21 in 17, in 2011) and Westbrook (4.66 in 33, in 2011).
Maybe Wacha can make a run at full-season, top-40 starter status, or Lyons can remain useful from a matchups perspective. And if you're speculating further down the road, keep tabs on the progress of Carlos Martinez, who through two starts since his demotion to Triple-A Memphis -- that to transition him back to starting -- has totaled seven shutout innings, allowing four hits with eight K's.
This is unfortunately more damning of the Blue Jays' disappointing starting pitching than a tip of the cap to their relievers, though in defense of the ERA/WHIP contributions of these three, Cecil, Delabar and Loup rank ninth, 11th and 15th among pure middle relievers. The problem, however, is that middle-relief contributions in fantasy tend to come from holds; and no Blue Jays reliever has more than four. To compare, major league leaders Jesse Crain and Joel Peralta (15 apiece) have almost twice as many holds as Cecil, Delabar and Loup combined (8).
Dickey's command has regressed, as his walk rate has climbed by more than 4 percent and rate of pitches thrown in the strike zone has slipped by more than 4 percent; and he hasn't been nearly as capable of throwing his hard knuckler, throwing only 16 percent of his knucklers 78 mph or faster, down from 52 percent in 2012. Until that velocity returns, there's practically zero chance he'll restore even top-25 starter status, let alone top-10, as Dickey's owners from 2012 should be quick to remind you how key that hard knuckler was to his success.
Johnson and Morrow, meanwhile, have been affected by injuries; Johnson is due back from the DL on Tuesday, but Morrow is fresh on the DL with a forearm issue. While either pitcher has some hope of a rebound, that injuries capped what were disappointing starts for each casts some doubt on any major bounce back. There might not be a single Blue Jays starter ranked among the top 50 at the position by season's end.
6. Jason Hammel, who would drop by 242 spots.
Few pitchers have benefited from the amount of run support that Hammel has; he is tied for eighth in the majors in wins (7), thanks to his being backed by the most run support of any qualified pitcher (6.75). Though he was one of the more surprising stories of the first half of 2012, Hammel has suddenly reverted to the ERA/WHIP liability that he was in his three seasons apiece in Tampa Bay and Colorado, meaning that his fantasy owners are chasing wins with him these days.
Unfortunately, that might be a fair statement about any of the Baltimore Orioles' starters; they have a 4.85 ERA, 1.38 WHIP and only 25 quality starts in their 57 games this season.
7. The Milwaukee Brewers: Jim Henderson (49th) and Marco Estrada (170th).
What's unexpected here is that two members of the Brewers who ranked among the 50 best pitchers on last year's Player Rater rank worse than 200th: Kyle Lohse, who ranked 16th in 2012, is 249th this year, and Yovani Gallardo, who was 45th last season, is 216th this year. Besides a predictable degree of regression to the mean, Lohse's primary difference this season has been a lack of run support: He has received the third-least run support among qualifiers (2.50) and has one win to show for it.
But Gallardo has been the real disappointment, the two most disconcerting changes in his 2013 game being drops in both average fastball velocity and his strikeout rate. After averaging 92.6 mph with the fastball in 2011, Gallardo's heater dropped to 91.7 in 2012, and now 90.5 this season. Opponents' OPS against his fastball has risen accordingly: He served up a .746 in 2011, .806 in 2012, and now a whopping .914 this year. Overall, Gallardo's K rate has slipped from 9.00 per nine innings last year to 7.45 this, and from 23.7 percent of total batters faced last year to 18.7 percent this. There's a definite skills regression here, and it's something that minimizes Gallardo's chances at earning his No. 26 preseason ADP among starters.
Rivera was obvious. Was Colon? The real challenge to guessing him was knowing that he has passed his 40th birthday, which happened on May 24. Though Colon is a soft tosser with durability questions who relies on a limited arsenal, his performance the past three years shouldn't be easily cast aside. He has a 3.65 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 64 games (61 starts) since his 2011 comeback with the New York Yankees, cementing himself as at least a matchups candidate or AL-only option.
Davis has been a massive disappointment given another chance to start in the fresh surroundings of Kansas City, as his ERA/WHIP contributions combined rank the worst of any qualified starter on our Player Rater. He has had just three quality starts in 11 tries this season. A lack of immediate alternatives -- Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino aren't quite ready to return from injuries -- might keep Davis in the Kansas City Royals' rotation, but the threat of a move to the bullpen looms. That sure wouldn't help his cause in fantasy, being that the Royals have plenty of better-regarded relievers in the saves pecking order right now.
Jackson, meanwhile, hasn't taken to the "friendly" confines of Wrigley Field. He's 0-5 with a 7.83 ERA and 2.01 WHIP in six starts there. Jackson's history of unpredictable fantasy performances has been well-documented, and his early struggles make him a risky option, even in NL-only formats.
10. Johnny Cueto (66th).
Though his 35-day DL stint for a lat strain might have been a frustration for Cueto's owners, it hardly had any noticeable impact upon his pitching. In three starts since his activation, he's 2-0 with two quality starts, a 1.80 ERA, 0.75 WHIP and 7.20 K's per nine innings. Granted, that came during a stretch of light matchups -- at New York's Citi Field, versus Chicago Cubs, at Pittsburgh's PNC Park -- but even adjusting for those, Cueto's numbers fall right in range with his career rates. Perhaps he lacks the feel for that of a top-20 fantasy starter, primarily because he sports a modest 7.04 career K's per nine ratio, but Cueto's track record of success since 2011 makes him a legitimate candidate for that status.
TOP 150 PITCHERS
Note: Tristan H. Cockcroft's top 150 pitchers are ranked for their expected performance from this point forward, not for statistics that have already been accrued. For starter- or reliever-specific rankings, see the "Pos Rnk" column; these rankings can also be seen split up by position.