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The Eye Test: Week 1

No, I’m not an optometrist, but I am a baseball junkie and a stathead.  I love sabermetrics, statcast, and batted ball profiles as much as the next guy.  They’re really useful, but they don’t always tell the whole story.

Just think of guys like Michael Pineda whose FIP suggests he should be more Yu Darvish than whatever it is he passes as currently.  I can think of others like Ricky Nolasco and Yovani Gallardo who never reached the peak that the stat lovers thought they might.  On the flip side, guys like Johnny Cueto and Sonny Gray (before last year) routinely outperformed their peripherals.  It’s a complex game, and as great as things like FIP, SIERA, wOBA, and exit velocity are – they’re far from perfect.

In this series, I will give you my personal scouting report from watching lots of baseball during the week while trying to leverage my perspective as a former college ballplayer and lifelong baseball fan.  I will also do my best to fuse this visual examination with the underlying statistics that we all know and love to provide the most accurate analysis possible.

We’re going to start off week one with some of the really positive things I saw this week.  I’ve got some rosey scouting reports for guys.

Michael Conforto – Just kidding, Terry Collins still doesn’t let him play.

Dylan Bundy
Line vs Toronto: 7 innings, 1.29 ERA, 0.57 WHIP, 8 K’s, W/QS

Oh man! Oh man!  Bundy’s first start exceeded my already lofty expectations.  He looked absolutely electric.  The slider/cutter/slurve – whatever the hell he wants to call it was more disgusting than a BBW convention.  He made a potent Blue Jays lineup look lost and struck out plenty.  He throws medium-hard, but his windup is deceptive.  This seems to make the heat sneak up on the batters more than the radar gun might suggest.

He looked like a veteran as well by throwing breaking stuff from behind in the count.  It is also worth watching an Orioles game or two this year to see how great Machado is over at third.  There were a couple of scorched balls hit his way that he made easy.  Having that kind of glove down the line should help Bundy out all year.

He still may hit a bump now and again being a young gun with a tough park and division, but he looks like the real deal.  As long as the Orioles let him throw that cutter, he will be a threat to shove.  Combine that with a solid defense, an elite bullpen, and what should be good run support, and I love Bundy even more after this first start than I did coming into the season.

It is also worth mentioning that while Welington Castillo is not the best pitch framer in the game, Matt Wieters was considered one of the worst.  That is a big reason why it took so long for Wieters to get signed despite his history of relatively solid production.  Castillo is more middle of the pack according to most of the sites that rank such things, but that is still a vast improvement over Wieters.  An extra couple of strikes per game for a young stud like Bundy might prove invaluable.

If for some reason Bundy is on your waiver wire (43% Y!, 50% ESPN), make sure you get him.  If you have someone in your league that isn’t sold just yet – see if you can still buy him cheap. He was the #2 prospect in baseball at one point considered the best pitching prospect.  This is post-hype sleeper at it’s finest.  He thoroughly passes the eye test!



James Paxton
Line vs Houston: 6 innings, 0.00 ERA, 0.50 WHIP, 5 K’s, QS

This may be one of the last times I write about Paxton.  I’ve been writing about him since late last season when he broke out, and it is getting to the point that everyone else is on him now.

Paxton’s first start was a thing of beauty to watch.  He assaulted the strike zone and got ahead of basically everyone.  The velocity spike seems to have stuck even in this early season with questionable radar readings.  Not only did he attack the zone, but he really went after righties inside.

The deuce looked beautiful, and the local announcers were giving the reintroduction of the curve as the reason for his breakout.  Lefties had actually been hitting him better because his old curve was more of a twelve-to-six.  The change of his arm angle added extra juice to his heater, but it also added some run to his curve.  That break away from the lefties has helped neutralize his reverse splits.

In addition to the stuff, the Mariners outfield is as good as advertised defensively.  There were definitely balls being caught that would have dropped in last year.  This is great news for Seattle pitchers.  It does make the back half of their lineup drop off rather quickly, but it might be worth it – especially considering their top-5 is as good as any other team.

The most important thing my eye test of Paxton’s first start gave me was his look and body language.  He has the same body language now that I associate with Max Scherzer.  He just looks like he knows he’s a stud.  He didn’t give in like I had seen him do so many times in the past either.  He was throwing nasty breakers in 3-2 counts.  Last year he got BABIPed on occasion, and I believe part of that was because he gave in too often.

Paxton passed my eye test last year and is now way beyond that.  I predicted he would be a fantasy ace in our bold predictions. – however, I don’t think that is as bold of a prediction as it was a few weeks ago.  Treat Paxton as a must-start option moving forward.

Michael Wacha
Line vs Cincinnati: 6 innings, 1.50 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, 6 K’s, W/QS

This is another start that left me feeling really confident in my preseason analysis.  Wacha looked like old Wacha.  The results were there with a 6 inning gem culminating in a W for the still young, right-hander.

Wacha went from overrated as a top 15-20 pitcher to thoroughly underrated.  This guy went undrafted in plenty of leagues, but it is time to grab him – if someone else hasn’t already.  He had 12 swinging strikes in 6 innings, which helped lead to 6 strikeouts.

Let’s not go too crazy just yet, Mike; it was the Reds offense.  Even the Reds have a couple of thumpers in Votto and Duvall.  Wacha looked like vintage Wacha.  He throws hard enough with a solid breaker and a passable change.  Combine that with a nice home park, an offense that was top-5 last year, and a nasty bullpen to drive home the Win, and I love Wacha to finish as a top 30-40 pitcher.  The eye test confirmed what his 2016 FIP already told us.

Mitch Haniger
Week one line: .214 BA (6-24), 3 HR, 1SB, 8 runs

The Haniger Hype train was starting to leave the station as the season was set to begin.  I was contemplating boarding; now one week in I find myself in the first class section of said hype train.

The guy was a 1st round selection in the draft and was arguably the best player in the minor leagues last year as he had a higher WRC (weighted runs created) than any other minor leaguer at any level.  The pedigree is there, so what does the eye test tell you.

He looks like a polished pro at the plate.  He settles in and makes pitchers work.  He has three bombs and a steal to this point, but I was most impressed with a walk that he worked after falling behind against former closer, Luke Gregerson.  It was an awesome at bat for anyone that appreciates the game on a deeper level.

He’s batting 2nd in a lineup that has a really solid top-5 so he should get some good counting stat opportunities and a high number of at bats.  People often underrate the importance of ABs, which is a mistake – especially in points leagues.  Haniger is striking out a bit higher of a rate than his minor league stats suggested he might.  That is the one point of concern for me.  Other than that, I am thoroughly impressed with the rookie and he passes my eye test with only minor reservations.

Gerrit Cole
Line vs Boston: 5 innings, 9.00 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, 2 K’s, Loss
Line vs Atlanta: 6 innings, 4.50 ERA, 1.67 WHIP, 4 K’s, ND

I didn’t want to go a whole column with only folks that pass my eye test, but I also don’t want to overreact to one or two mediocre starts. So we’ll keep this one short with some room for updates.

Gerrit Cole has disgusting stuff and was a bigtime prospect.  He is just one year removed from being a top-10 SP.  I was really high on Cole coming into the year.  Elite OF defense, big park, and great stuff with all that pedigree, and he has shown he can be a stud in the past.  All that said, I’m a little concerned.  Not freaked or anything, but a bit concerned.

He still throws really hard even with all the radar gun confusion out there.  He seems to be a bit in love with his fastball, which is something he had a problem with before he broke out.  It’s a really great pitch, but he needs the breakers to get the strikeouts and keep good lineups off-balance.  Yes, he cruised through 4 innings against a great Boston lineup.  Yes the implosion started with two BS infield hits.  But the Ks were also on the low side.

At the time of this being written, he is struggling through an improved Braves lineup.  Only 2 runs so far, but the hitters seem to be getting good hacks in on him.  Not the kind of swings you’d expect a middling offense to be consistently getting against an ace.

The conclusion of my eye test on Cole is inconclusive.  I know… a lot of help that is, right?  I wouldn’t give up on him or anything, but I am concerned that he’s not throwing the offspeed stuff more often.  No one has a fastball good enough to be a major league starter throwing that heater almost exclusively.  I am feeling less confident that he will return to ace status after his first two starts, but there is still hope since the stuff is still as nasty as it has ever been.

*****

Hopefully my being able to watch a few hours of baseball weekly will be able to help you score sheet scouts out there.  Remember, stats are awesome but not everything when it comes to predicting future performance.

I missed out on Nelson Cruz for the first two 40 homer seasons.  Meanwhile, if I just watched the guy mash the ball constantly I’d have understood that fly ball rates might not tell the whole story with a guy like Cruz.  Watch some MLB if you can and try to make some of your own assertions.  If you’re too busy, don’t worry – I’ve got you! Check back next week for more insight into the live action.

 

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Mike Sheehan
Comedian, Powerlifter, and most importantly a Cum Laude graduate of the fantasy baseball school of hard knocks. Double major in points and categories with a minor in roto. Happy to be doing my Postgraduate work here at the Fantasy Assembly.

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