Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening — whichever is applicable to you. From my front door to Great American Ballpark is 136 miles. The trip takes 2 hours and 20 minutes; 2 hours flat if you can avoid the livestock and farm equipment on Route 9. I’m a Cubs fan, so naturally when the schedule is released the Cubs’ series are marked on the calendar, and at a minimum one game per series is attended. While I’d love to be the alpha in my marriage, the cards just weren’t dealt that way. My wife’s the dictator. I’m not ashamed to admit it: she says when, she says how, and most importantly dammit she says what game I get to attend in the Cubs series.
Major league teams typically employee a 5-Man rotation, therefore it doesn’t take much talent to forecast SP starts days two weeks out. With this knowledge my ground work was planned. I counted the games, checked the upcoming weather forecast, all determining that Jake Arrieta would pitch Thursday, April 21st, and I would be in attendance. Now only to get the alpha to agree.
Naturally in order for her to be agreeable a certain level of manipulation would need to occur. Late last week my efforts seemed to pay off. While attending a birthday dinner with Co-workers, I suggested a group event called Arrieta night. Baseball fans get to see one of the best pitchers in the game; the ladies get a little bit of eye candy — it’s a win-win. Everyone loved it; enthusiasm was high; the mood was set, and the event was on.
As with many new items the excitement wore off, the chatter died, and by Monday the event was an afterthought. On Tuesday I attempted the Kid Card, “Brady would love the surprise” I said. My wife saw right through it, just as she does everything. Brady would love the popcorn, the Hot Dog, the Lemon Chill, the peanuts but eventually the stomach would fill and he would be left with only the baseball. Brady doesn’t like baseball. I know that, and more importantly she knows that. By Wednesday the realization that Thursday was off the table set in.
My wife could be the most insightful person I know, at least when the subject matter involves me. She knows my next move before I even think about it. For years I viewed her as a stubborn individual. In reality she was steadfast in her demeanor, yet willing to embrace newfound beliefs if the data suggests doing so. We as fantasy owners would be well served to implement this approach. Patience is preached in the early stages of the season. Problem is no one gives a definitive date when patience is no longer a necessity. Is it one week or four, one month or two? A stubborn individual will lean toward the latter. Their preseason analysis is still their guide. Not focused on the stat-line as of today, but how that line will look moving forward. An insightful individual will look at today. Not solely at the Baseball Card stats, but more on those indicators that we all love to treat as the Cliff’s Notes Guide to Success.
Today we’re taking a look at 5 players with mixed production thus far in 2016. We have three players who’d be considered nice surprises, along with two who have thus far been draft day disappointments. A stubborn individual will look at the offensive gains or losses and shrug them off with the “small sample size” label. The insightful individual looking at the same data will look for reasons as to why the results could have legs.
Colby Rasmus – Hitting .311 with 5 HR and an OPS of 1.156: at age 29, could this finally be the year Rasmus fulfills his promise? A stubborn individual goes by Rasmus’s track record and scoffs at the idea. Sure Rasmus has pop, but that power will come with a big AVG risk. Rasmus has hit 15 or more home runs in six of the seven years he has been in the league – it was 20+ in four of them. In that same span he has produced an average below .240 four times. They dismiss indicators as nothing more than noise, comfortable with the pop source label they’ve affixed on Rasmus.
An insightful individual will be enamored by Rasmus’s early gains in BB%: at 23.3% Rasmus is blowing away his career mark of 9.0. In addition to improved discipline he is showing improved K numbers; at 25% Rasmus is close to his career mark of 26.1%. However, the last three seasons have all featured a number between 29.5% and 33%. While a .346 BABIP seems inflated given his .299 career mark, the fact that he has already posted two season of a better mark in combination with an eye-popping 51.6% hard hit rate suggest to me the average isn’t the fluke it would seem to be.
I see Rasmus as a guy who has improved his approach greatly and is currently taking advantage of it by hitting the ball with authority. The track record suggests he’s the power source he’s been labeled, the leading indicators suggest to me we could really have something good here.
Jay Bruce – Hitting .283 with 4 HR and an OPS of .863, Bruce’s 2016 has gotten off to a fine start. Universally Jay Bruce is defined as a fantasy player – he has power and the AVG will be a struggle. Fantasy players may value this type of production differently, but few will suggest Bruce will ever be anything more. In his eight year career Bruce has hit more than 20 home runs in seven of them. Bruce has failed to hit at least .250 in three of those eight seasons, and it just so happens that two of the three have occurred the last two seasons. Recency bias can form a label that is hard to shed. The reality is Bruce’s career track record of production is far greater than his perceived value at this point in his career.
The power isn’t in question, and the counting stats have remained consistent. Fact is the only statistical area in which Bruce has struggled has been batting average. In the early goings of 2016 it would appear to me that strides have been made. First and foremost, Bruce is making more contact, at 82.5%; Bruce is easily posting his career best mark. A 21.5% K rate is the second best mark of his career and is continuing from the improvements made last year in that area. For me, the most encouraging mark would be Bruce’s improvements in decreased Pull%. Bruce has posted a Pull% greater than 45% in six of nine seasons – this years mark of 37.3 would be a career best. The lone other time he managed a mark below 40% was in 2013, and that season he managed to hit .262. That won’t win a batting title, but you pair that mark with 25-30 home runs and you’re looking at another player who will produce very solid draft day value.
Joe Mauer – Hitting .339 with 1 HR and an OPS of .954. Much like Rasmus, Mauer was a draft day afterthought, likely relegated to Minnesota-area leagues, deep mixers, and league-only drafts. Mauer the player is flawed to begin with, a heart of the order bat who has managed double-digit home runs 5 times in 12 seasons with only once hitting more than 13 (28 in 2009). His calling card is AVG; the problem is of late he’s failed to even produce that. Sure .265 and .277 is playable, but when those numbers are paired with no power or speed it becomes a rather empty stat-line. What if the batting average is more than early season noise? A .339 mark is batting title worthy. A .339 mark will drive up the counting numbers regardless if improved HR power would accompany the improved average.
In the early stages of 2016 Mauer has managed a 19.4% BB rate (12% career mark). As if the improved BB% wasn’t enough, the gains have come from his K%. Mauer’s career K% is 12.3 this season that mark is nearly half at 6.9%. His current BB/K is 2.80 – that’s the best in baseball. His contact rate of 92.9 is the 6th best mark in baseball. It’s one thing to get contact, but Mauer is capitalizing on the contact with 90.4% of the contact being of the Medium to Hard hit variety. I just can’t envision a recipe where vastly improved Plate Discipline combined with elite contact levels won’t prove to be successful.
Joey Votto – Hitting .172 with 1 HR and an OPS of .499. Now we’ll deal with a struggling superstar. Most will look at Votto and chalk it up to nothing more than a stereotypical slow start. While his track record would suggest it’s just that, there are some indicators that are a cause of concern to me. Decreased BB% in combination with increased K% is the starting point. BB/K is currently .50 (his career mark is .85), and the .50 mark from this season is essentially half the level he produced last season at 1.06.
If you look a little closer it would seem pitchers’ approach to Votto has changed. First pitch strikes 63.5% thus far, his career mark is 55.5. His pitches seen inside the zone is 50.4% compared to a career 43.5%. The point is, pitchers are no longer so eager to let Votto work them to death. Pitchers seem eager to get ahead in the count, perhaps changing Votto’s approach all together. Early data would suggest its working. A 42% Swing rate is his highest mark since 2011. When Votto is making contact he’s getting the lefty AVG killing combo of GB% (48.9) and Pull rate (48.9).
Justin Upton – Hitting .226 with 1 HR and an OPS of .584. The transition to the AL has not been a smooth one for Justin. His early BB% of 4.6 is half of his career mark of 11%. His K rate of 38.5% is easily a career worst, and 14% higher than his career mark. Needless to say Upton is making contact at a far lower rate than has become expected for what people label a safe fantasy play. His contact rate of 64.5% is well below his career mark of 72.8. Magnifying the contact concerns is Upton’s Zone Contact of 73.2% compared to an 81.1% career rate. When Upton does make contact it has come at the expense of his Hard Hit rate (26.5% this season compared to a 34.4% career mark). Broken plate discipline combined with contact concerns often lead to lost seasons. Is Upton’s simply a case of unfamiliarity with the AL? History would suggest the transition can be a difficult one.
I don’t know exactly how many MLB games I have attended in my lifetime. Best guess would be North of 50, South of 75. Above anything I have wanted to witness a no-hitter. As you well know I missed perhaps my only opportunity. What I viewed as being stubborn was simply understanding the facts of what lied ahead. My wife saw the three soccer games with concession responsibilities, late dinner for 4 kids, homework, baths, and all the while attempting to focus in preparation for what Friday had in store for her.
The reality of it is I was the stubborn one, focused only on wanting to be at the ballpark when Jake Arrieta took the mound. Two weeks ago my mind was made up, regardless of the noise around me, and my mind was not about to change. In life I had become the very thing I preach against in Fantasy, a close minded individual willing to ignore the data points.
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