Written by: Scott Rowland
April is over, and with it week 4. Like a broken record the White Sox and Cubs still sit atop the AL and NL in team records. The Phillies are a pleasant surprise at 5 games over .500, and the Yankees a disappointing 7 games under.
A surprising Ian Desmond sits atop the ESPN player rater for the last two weeks, with Rubby de la Rosa being the top pitcher over the same timeframe. Let’s dive into the recent performances and see who’s looking up, and who’s looking down.
Rubby de la Rosa: Over the last two weeks Rubby de la Rosa has had two excellent starts and a one inning relief appearance in which he struck out 3 batters. During those three appearances he has shown an Noah Syndergaard-like 12.21 K/9 with an above average 2.57 BB/9. He’s carrying a 0.64 ERA during this time, and he’s managed wins in all three games.
Last season de la Rosa started throwing a slider; this was easily his most valuable pitch. During the last two weeks he’s increased his slider usage and decreased the usage of his changeup, which has not been a valuable pitch. A 0.64 ERA won’t continue; it’s unrealistic to expect a 100% LOB and 61% ground ball rate to continue. Continued effective use of his slider will ensure that all of the improvements will not be a mirage in the desert.
Neil Walker: Neil Walker is batting .365 with 6 home runs, 11 RBIs, and 8 runs scored over the last two weeks. Those 6 home runs are tied with Giancarlo Stanton for the lead over that time. He’s only striking out 12.5% of the time, compared with walking 7.1% of the time. These are great ratios. The walk rate is slightly below his career average, but he has cut a full third of his career strikeout rate off. This is a result of swinging at only 18.2% of pitches outside of the zone, nearly half of his career rate of just over 30%.
The strikeouts will come back to an extent, the power will drop, and the average will come down. That being said, Walker is pulling the ball a bit more and showing a better hard contact rate. His BABIP is not significantly higher than his career number so an improved average over his .273 could come with this improved contact rate.
Ian Desmond: Is the 2014 Ian Desmond back? During the last two weeks Desmond has looked like a contender to be the top shortstop in baseball again, hitting .390, with 3 home runs, 10 RBIs, 14 runs, and 4 steals, all while carrying a 14.6% walk rate and an uncharacteristically low 16.7% strikeout rate. He has made hard contact 10% more, hit 7% more flyballs, and had a 10% higher HR/FB rate than his career.
After watching his strikeout rate raise from 19% in his first full season, to over 29% last season the lowered strikeout rate is a welcome sight to his owners. This lower rate is supported by a 19% swing rate on pitches outside of the zone, down from over 33% for his career. He won’t sustain a sub 17% strikeout rate for the whole season, nor will his .433 BABIP continue. However, even if his BABIP falls back to his career .321 he should sustain a decent average, even as his strikeout rate climbs. He will not sustain this level of power as his hard contact, flyball, and HR/FB rates normalize.
Matt Moore: Matt Moore started three games in the last two weeks, pitching to a 4.05 ERA with 1 win and 2 losses. His 43% ground ball rate is 5% higher, strikeout rate is more than two k/9 higher, and he’s allowing 6% more home runs on fly balls than his career numbers.
The two things that have worried owners the most about Moore is his control and health. Both of these have looked great; he’s thrown more than 6 innings in each of the last 3 starts, and had only 4 walks in the 20 innings during that stretch. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to strand runners at his normal rate, letting 10% more score. This combined with giving up more home runs than normal have led to his poor record in the last three games.
Yasiel Puig: Yasiel Puig has made strides to be a better teammate this season, but that hasn’t translated to a better performance on the field. Over the last two weeks he is batting .140, with a 27.5% strikeout, and a 2% walk rate, to go along with 1 home run, and 2 stolen bases. Looking at the numbers under the hood here, a BABIP of .171 is about half of his career average. He is, however, swinging at everything, to the tune of over 45% of pitches outside the zone.
Puig’s ceiling is sky-high. Until he shows some signs of living up to this potential I’d steer clear. The BABIP should come up, but he’ll struggle to make good contact until he lays off some pitches outside the zone. As he finds the zone again, his walk rate and strikeout rate should normalize a bit, bringing his average up with it. There is still more power and speed there, but his performance hasn’t lived up to the hype. Puig is too talented to cut, and selling him right now would not net you anything near his potential.
Randal Grichuk: Randal Grichuk flashed good power and a decent average in his first full season in 2015. He was a somewhat popular pick to have 25 home run power in the later rounds with some upside. Over the last two weeks he has hit a measly .152 with 1 home run, 5 runs, 6 RBIs, and 1 stolen base.
These numbers have been brought down by a low BABIP (.176), which seems to be caused by a few things. One, a 25.7% hard contact rate, his career number sits at just over 38% – most of the drop in hard contact has turned into soft contact. He’s also hitting more fly balls, and more to the opposite field. Soft fly balls, to the opposite field are going to turn into outs more often than not. This could be a change in approach gone wrong.
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