Early Hot Streaks: Finding Stuff where Not Expected

Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening – whichever is applicable to you.   It is truly amazing how much disorder one 9-year-old girl can accomplish in a 10 x 12 room. Perhaps even more stunning is how quickly the clutter can amass.

You see, my daughters attention span would make a fruit fly seem focused. To further complicate matters everything that is popular among kids these days are small. Micro has become the newest trend in the toy industry – the smaller the better. Smaller items means more space for varying items. Before you know it, seven different themed toys have been united for five minutes of a role-playing medley. Once the action is ceased, the carpeted floor is the new-found home for 100’s of thumb sized toys.

Once the room is on the verge of being uninhabitable, the demands of cleaning are extended. After a verbal spat and over dramatized sighs of displeasure are manufactured, the cleaning process ensues. Her goals of room cleaning and mine are completely opposite to say the least. In my mind, cleaning would essentially be reversing the steps implemented in getting the items out. For my daughter, the process of cleaning includes picking the visible items up and searching high and low for a cavity within the room to stuff them into.

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We have reached the point in the season where breakout players have emerged. With the limited data to go on we find ourselves questioning what to expect moving forward. Far too many are quick to point out underlying numbers such as BABIP, HR/FB, and FIP to validate or question the season to date totals.

Take Eric Thames for example. As I write this post, Thames has a batting average north of .400 with 8 home runs. Naturally, this week I’ve heard over and over again how Thames will not keep up this pace. So, you mean to tell me Eric Thames won’t post the first .400 season since 1941? This bold claim of regression includes a noting of his .419 BABIP as well as his 46.7% HR/FB rate. While it may be a safe claim to suggest Eric Thames isn’t the next Barry Bonds, one should look beyond the cartoon BABIP and see this success has some substance.

A 0.73 BB/K , 21% O-Swing%, and 39% Swing Rate emphasize Thames’ plate discipline. This plate discipline, in turn, gives me confidence that Thames can have sustained success at the major league level should this keep up. So to state that Thames will regress is rather obvious, but to discount his success entirely isn’t a sound prognostication either.

With Thames in mind, I wanted to take a look at perceived fringe players off to good starts.  Specifically I wanted to look at players who had performed well, yet have potential concern areas that success has glossed over up to this point. I wanted to ignore those perceived “luck” areas and focus on things such as plate discipline and control concerns of starting pitchers. I tend to value these skill based numbers with the feeling they are easier to project moving forward.




Ryan Zimmerman: Washington Nationals

Currently hitting .380 with a 1.146 OPS, Zimmerman would appear to be amidst a comeback season. Overall his plate discipline is the same as last year when he posted a .28 BB/K rate (27% in 2017).

My biggest concern for sustained success would be Zimmerman’s career high 35% O-Swing which continues a 2 year decline in that area. While Zimmerman is currently swinging at more pitches outside of the zone, a career high O-Contact % rate of 83.3 (Career Mark: 65.5%) has him making the most contact on those offerings for his career. What happens when that rate begins to be chipped away at? Less contact and slipping hard contact suggest to me the .250 hitting Zimmerman we’ve grown to love is lying in the weeds just right around the corner.

Corey Dickerson: Tampa Bay Rays

Heading into last season I really felt Dickerson would shed the Coors product label. A .245 batting average with 24 home runs doesn’t exactly accomplish this. Early returns for 2017 have been much better and offered some hope, and I’ve purchased multiple shares in his stock.

His 40% hard hit rate would be a career best, and early results have him less pull happy with a career low 22.2%. A further uptick in FB% would lend one to believe a conscientious effort is taking place in order to become more of a power hitter. While all of the above offers some hope, one must take the dark with the light.

A O-Swing% of 45.9 is a career high and is continuing a three-year increase. Both his Z-Contact (76.3%) and contact% (72.3) would mark career lows at this point, as is his 15.7 SwStr%. Unlike Zimmerman, Dickerson has potential value regardless as I feel his home run approach is here to stay. Does Dickerson have the .250 average to go with it, or are we looking at the current .300 + hitter his career suggest he can be? With the batted ball approach and contact issues, I’m leaning closer to the .250 range.

Chris Owings: Arizona Diamondbacks

Owings has cooled here of late after a blistering start to the season. Still, you’re looking at a .308 hitter whose swiped 4 bags and offers multiple position eligibility. On a positive note, Owings has offered up the best pull rate of his career (39.5%), and in turn his lowest soft contact % of his career at 10.5%. Concerns however do exist.

While a 25.5% strikeout rate is in the ballpark of his career 22% mark, it signals a regression from last seasons 18.7%. At 45.1%, Owings is seeing the fewest amounts of fastballs, and with all these additional breaking pitches has come a decline in contact% and pitches in the Zone. This plan of attack has increased Owings BB% ever so slightly, but in order for Owings to find sustained success, an increase in walks will be needed.

Jameson Taillon: Pittsburgh Pirates

Three starts, 20 innings pitched, and a 0.90 ERA have dynasty and redraft leagues alike applying for his services. While the totals are what you desire, the road to get there certainly wouldn’t be.

Prior to 2016, the questions surrounding Taillon were related to either 1) health or 2) control. With a Minor League BB/9 in the high twos you felt confident in projecting a mid to low three at the major league level. Amazingly, after a two-year hiatus, Taillon came back with a vengeance posting a 0.88 mark at AAA along with the 1.47 at the major league level in 2016.

Up to this point, the control has yet to follow in 2017. A 3.15 BB/9 by itself isn’t a major concern. However, when you pair it with a lackluster 7.20 K/9, a 55% GB rate, and a contact rate above 80%, you subject yourself to a great deal of luck dependency – ultimately opening yourself up to too many five and six run outings.

Gio Gonzalez: Washington Nationals

Gio had a nice little run of production from 2010 to 2015. At no point was he the 1.33 ERA pitcher he currently is, but you could pencil in with confidence an ERA in the low threes and 180+ strikeouts.

Last season Gio struggled mightily, posting his first ERA north of 4.00 since his rookie season. Though his ERA took a spike, his ratio’s were very similar as his K/9 hovered right around his career mark and his BB/9 was actually a career best at 2.99. Through three starts and 20 innings this season, Gonzalez has managed a 1.77 BB/9. Seeing improvements in that area is always welcoming, yet its luster tends to fade when it comes at the expense of his K/9, which currently stands at a career low of 6.64.  

Will fewer swings and misses lead to more contact finding holes? With last seasons 12.5% HR/FB rate freshly on my mind, increased base runners would certainly be the last thing I’d want to see.

Jeremy Hellickson: Philadelphia Phillies

I’m not sure how much excitement surrounds Hellickson, but don’t let the 1.59 ERA and two wins fool you. Despite plus control, a 2.65 K/9… no, that is not a typo – 5 strikeouts in 17 innings… leads to increased contact (87.5%), which leads to a career 39.5% of baseball’s hit in the air. I’ve thumbed through my keys to pitching success manual and have found nothing to support the “let them hit it all the time” approach.

Danny Duffy: Kansas City Royals

A 1.80 ERA over the course of 20 innings (3 starts) is the type of start many envisioned for Duffy. Is it possible the early results are more at of a mirage than those who touted him would like to think?

A 7.65 K/9 is a big departure from the 9.42 that really sparked the Ace conversation. To go with the strikeout decline is a slight BB/9 bump to 3.15. While 3.15 is below his career mark of 3.33, it isn’t the number you project for that type of price tag. From a pitch by pitch basis things look good. Less contact allowed in both inside and outside the zone in addition to an increase in SwStr% from last season’s 12.9% to 14.1% in the early goings of 2017.

While those numbers offer reason for hope, one has to wonder why the results are not following.

Could pitch mix be to blame? Over his career Duffy’s fastball has been rated his best pitch using PITCHf/x data from Fangraphs. Despite the success with the pitch, Duffy’s fastball usage has dropped nearly 14%  from just last season. Is this simply a design to help guide Duffy to his first 200 IP campaign? Or, is Duffy having more problems this year putting people away? Either way, improvements in both areas will go along way in determining if draft day investors got their monies worth.

Robbie Ray: Arizona Diamondbacks

Another touted under the radar player who has owners feeling giddy. A 1.96 ERA is something to be proud of, but is it really as dominating as the 11.78 K/9 would suggest?

Ray’s 5.89 BB/9 is laughable, and it’s quite clear hitters are taking the four balls over the three strikes approach quite frequently. Currently hitters are swinging on just 40.5% of Ray’s offerings, while Ray himself is finding the zone even less often at 34.3%. I don’t care how dominant you can be; success will not find a home near those surrendering nearly six free passes per game.

Yu Darvish: Texas Rangers

Overall, the numbers on Darvish look good. He has posted a 3.28 ERA over 4 starts spanning 24+ IP. However, from a skills standpoint, owners have to be feeling somewhat concerned.

Darvish’s 8.39 K/9 in nearly 3 K/9 below his career mark. His 4.38 BB/9 is over 1.5 BB/9 higher than his post TJ return last season. Batters seem to be more conservative this season as they are swinging at 43.2% of Darvish pitches. He is rewarding their efforts by hitting the zone only 42.1% of the time. Fewer first pitch strikes, less swinging strikes, and more contact allowed only add to the potential concerns for an arm that very few questioned.

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At first glance my daughter satisfies the demands for cleaning her room. The longer you spend in my daughter’s room the more flaws present themselves.  Squinkies can be found boarding up with Barbie and Ken in the underwear drawer. Meanwhile, over in the vanity Strawberry Shortcake and various Shopkins are taking cover under a wet bath towel, shielding themselves from the rotting apple core sitting beside Mr. Potato Head.

For the aforementioned players an initial review of their season thus far would determine that success was found. Look beyond the initial glance and go beyond the box-score upon occasion. It is amazing the things you can find in places you wouldn’t be expecting.

 

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Josh Coleman
Father of four SP1 children. Replacement level husband to a top tier wife. I love my family, value my friendships, and spend as much time as possible (too much according to the aforementioned Mrs. Coleman) dedicated to the pursuit, of another Fantasy Championship. I'm the oddball at the bar who prefers Fantasy Baseball to Fantasy Football.