Written by: Scott Rowland
The Giants have had an outstanding two-week stretch, winning 11 of 13 games: highlights including sweeping the Diamondbacks and Padres, and winning 2 out of 3 from the Cubs. The Reds have weathered the other side of that coin losing 11 of their last 12 games.
Clayton Kershaw sits atop the ESPN player rater through the last two weeks, with Mookie Betts being the top rated hitter. Carlos Correa is sitting a disappointing 170th, Bryce Harper 212th, and Manny Machado 222nd through this same period. Let’s dig in and take a look at some of the key risers and fallers.
Jackie Bradley Jr: The Red Sox have been outstanding as a team the last couple of weeks (and for the entire season for that matter). They’ve led the league in batting average, OBP and runs scored over this time. One key contributor to their success has been Jackie Bradley Jr. He’s been hitting .471, has five home runs, 9 runs, 18 RBIs, and nine runs scored. He is currently in the midst of a 27 game hitting streak.
This success is supported by a 16.4% walk rate and a 11.5% strikeout rate, showing he’s had a good eye and patience at the plate. Bradley’s BABIP, however, is an unsustainable .487 during this time, boosted by a near 39% hard hit rate, and his HR/FB rate is also unsustainable at 38.5%. His home run numbers and his batting average will both come back to earth.
Ben Zobrist: Even though the Cubs have cooled off the last two weeks, Ben Zobrist has not. He has proved the Cubs made the correct choice in trading Starlin Castro. During the last two weeks he’s hitting .426, and while he’s only had one home run and one stolen base during this time, he has scored 10 runs, walked more than 16% of the time, and struck out in just over 7% of his at bats.
Zobrist is making hard contact on 51% of his balls put in play with 90% of them going back up the middle or to the pull side, and over 30% are line drives. Meanwhile his fly ball rate is below 24% and his HR/FB rate is at 10%. This approach will lead to many singles and doubles with lots of scoring opportunities in that lineup, but few home runs and RBIs. The contact rates and line drive rates have led to a .452 BABIP. I expect to see his average come down as this rate normalizes, but I also expect to see more power numbers as he hits a few more balls in the air.
Mike Leake: This is even more than what the Cardinals were hoping for when they signed Mike Leake to a 5 year $80M contract in the offseason. He’s pitched 3 games in the last two weeks, going 3-1 with a 0.86 ERA over 21 innings, striking out 11 and walking only three batters.
Leake stranded nearly 97% of runners allowed, giving up 2 earned runs in this time – one of which was a home run. This won’t continue, and his ERA will obviously come up. A couple of things that worry me. His ground ball rate over this time is 60.6% and his K/9 is only 4.71%. He has never been a great source of strikeouts, but the strikeout numbers should improve a little bit. Leake should be a very serviceable back of the rotation fantasy pitcher in standard leagues. He’ll continue to provide a respectable ERA along with a good number of wins, but the strikeout numbers will remain low.
Matt Kemp: Matt Kemp has been on a fantasy roller coaster forever it seems, and over the last two weeks he has been on a sharp decline. He’s struggling to hit half of the mendoza line, batting a mere .103, with two home runs, seven RBIs and five runs scored.
During this span Kemp has been striking out 31.1% of the time and walking in 1.6% of his at bats. He is swinging at everything including 52.1% of pitches outside the zone, and his swinging strikeout rate was 19%. This is leading to his hard contact and line drive rates being significantly under his career norms. Until Kemp reigns this back in he is going to continue to struggle.
Michael Pineda: The Yankees have had a good two weeks of baseball going 9-4; Michael Pineda is responsible for two of those losses.He has started three games (16.2 innings), with an ERA of 7.56. He managed to throw a quality start his last time out, giving up three earned runs in six innings for a win.
Despite the ERA Pineda’s has managed to post an 11.88 K/9 along with an above average 53.2% ground ball rate. He’s getting BABIP’d to death with opponents managing a .422 average on balls in play, which is why he is only stranding 57.3% of batters – this combined with a below average 16.7% HR/FB rate. His K/9 will come down a bit, but his LOB%, BABIP, and HR/FB will all improve.
Jaime Garcia: Like Pineda, Jaime Garcia has also struggled over the last two weeks. He has only managed 14.1 innings over his last three games with a 5.02 ERA, a below average 6.91 K/9, and inflated 3.77 BB/9.
He has managed a ground ball rate close to 65%, but has allowed .375 BABIP during this period. This has led to him stranding less than 64% of runners, and in turn inflating his ERA. His velocity is right in line with his career average, and the biggest difference in his pitch selection is that he is essentially replacing his curveball with his changeup. During the last two weeks his fastball has had a negative value, traditionally being his most valuable pitch. He’s been leaving it over the heart of the plate and not changing locations. Garcia is too talented for this to continue. Unless he is hiding an injury, he’ll start locating his pitches better and improve his K/9, BB/9, and LOB rate.
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