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.
Sonny Gray: Oakland A’s
Gray was thoroughly overrated coming into 2016. He was being viewed as an ace, which wasn’t true except maybe in points leagues. His real world results were magnificent for the first few years of his career as he suppressed runs in a really effective manner. The strikeouts were not there, though, which makes it nearly impossible to be a fantasy ace in a rotisserie or category league.
There were some obvious stats to explain some of Gray’s disappoint 2016. He walked more people and gave up more home runs than he had historically. He also had a career high BABIP against him as it was .042 points higher than his career average. His home run to fly ball and strand rates were also career worst. He still got 53.9% ground balls, which is pretty intriguing. There was a lot of numerical backing to suggest that maybe gray was a bit unlucky last year.
The numbers argument is a mixed bag for Gray, but I’ve been really impressed from the eye test. He is throwing pretty hard by his standards and has seen an incremental velocity gain. Each variation of his fastball is up around a half mile per hour. The fastball is also moving side to side and down in an electric fashion. It’s easy to see why he induces over 50% grounders.
What’s more important and impressive was watching the breaking stuff from his last start. The curve and slider were true put away pitches, almost unhittable at times as he collected 16 swinging strikes against a daunting Boston lineup with elite contact skills.
Eye Test Advice: I would recommend buying, especially in a points league. This is the best Gray has looked since 2015. There’s a chance that last year was caused by injury and that he’s finally healthy now. If Gray is on waivers or if his owner doesn’t believe, I would try to nab him. He was top-15 pitcher in points and top 20-25 in roto. That’s the upside.
It’s not a lock by any stretch, especially since his defense behind him is not exactly that of the 2016 Cubs. Still, he looked like vintage Gray this past outing. The stink of his 2016 might make the asking price much more reasonable than if you’re trying to buy low on a Corey Kluber or even a Danny Salazar.
Jake Arrieta: Chicago Cubs
Speaking of brand name guys to buy low on… is Jake Arrieta one of these? I mentioned in the preseason that I would not own many shares of this guy. Those who paid for Arrieta are likely very frustrated. So what’s going on with this former Cy Young winner?
There’s some promising stuff in his underlying stats. His strikeout rate is up to 25% and his walk rate is down to 6.6%. This is exciting as these numbers look more like 2014 and 2015 than 2016. Part of why I was out on Arrieta was the spike in walks in the second half of last year. So these changes are really promising.
He also has a .355 BABIP which seems a high. We knew there was going to be some regression for the Cubs pitchers in regards to their low BABIP numbers last year. This is probably a bit too much. Hitters are hitting the ball harder than they have in the past few years. The 31.8% rate is well above his career average. His ground ball rate has also cratered. It’d down to 40.2% – we generally like our aces around 50% for ground balls, so this is troubling. To give some perspective, he was at 56.2% during his Cy Young season.
The numbers again are giving us some mixed messages. So what does watching Arrieta tell us? For starters he is not throwing as hard; his average fastball is way down, almost three full MPH from 2015. Maybe it’s because of the long playoff run last year, or maybe it’s because he is 31 and in decline.
Watching him pitch, he does not look like an ace and looks very hittable. The slider and sinker that dominated batters for a little over a year are now getting ripped as frozen ropes and homers. The defense is also not as good as it was last year. Schwarber, in particular, is a defensive liability.
Eye Test Advice: I’ve heard a lot of analysts call Arrieta an obvious “buy low.” Maybe he is, but it depends on your expectations. I get how good he was in 2014 and 2015, and maybe he can re-find what made him so great. From watching and parsing the numbers, I don’t really expect it.
It’s nice that the strikeouts and walks are better, but the lack of grounders and spike in hard contact is terrifying. The velocity dip kind of explains the change in results as well. I would buy on Arrieta if the owner has had it with him, albeit knowing that he is unlikely to recapture ace form.
Think of what you would pay for 85% of Rick Porcello. If you can find that deal for Arrieta then I would buy. I would sell for anything more than that if I was an Arrieta owner.
Julio Teheran: Braves
I’ve always liked Teheran. He’s not my normal type of guy, but I’ve always enjoyed watching him and he always felt underrated to me. I generally avoid players that outpitch their peripherals unless they develop a track record for doing so like Johnny Cueto has done over his career. For Teheran, this year, both the underlying numbers and the real life results have been brutal.
Sporting a 5.47 ERA, maybe we can look to his FIP and xFIP for signs of bad luck? Nope – 5.28 and 5.54 respectively… Woof! Okay, maybe there is something else wacky going on. The strand rate is a bit lower than his career average, but it’s not that far out of line. His home run to fly ball rate is within one percent of his career average. He’s walking batters at an alarming rate of 10.5% while also whiffing guys at a meager 16.4%. We haven’t seen that since his rookie campaign. Not good.
I made sure to watch Teheran his past couple of times out because I had a sneaking suspicion that it was the Braves’ new ballpark that was sabotaging him. Freddie Freeman was suddenly Babe Ruth, and Teheran was suddenly Hideki Irabu. Can you tell i’m a Yankees fan yet? Watching Teheran pitch made me feel differently about this.
Is Sun Trust Park a hitters park whereas Turner Field leaned towards pitcher? Yes. Is that why Teheran has been so bad? I don’t think so. Maybe it is a contributing factor, but Teheran looks like a different guy this year.
He is struggling to locate and constantly misses his spots. The velocity is down to 90.6 MPH. He was never a flamethrower, but I always felt that 92 was enough juice given how deceptive he could be. His slider still seems to fool batters, but he’s falling behind a lot and has not been able to use it as much.
Eye Test Advice: I would sell if I owned Teheran, and I wouldn’t try to buy low if I didn’t. I don’t like any of what’s going on here. Lowered velocity and strikeouts while waking the world. All this in a ballpark that is playing like a band box. No thank you… pass. I would trade him for a bag of baseballs. Maybe there’s still some name value and someone might want to take a chance. Given how bad pitching has been this year, someone might be willing to do just that.
I’m not sure I could bring myself to drop him since I think you should be able to get something in return better than waiver value. If you are in a shallow enough league where there’s good players on waivers, you can make that move. I would drop him for Patrick Corbin or Alex Wood if they are not owned. Same goes for Aaron Nola or the aforementioned Sonny Gray.
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