Yep, I’m covering two Cubs out of eight players. It’s that kind of season. I love my Cubbies, but they are also struggling enough that it warrants some analysis. If anyone has player requests this year, leave a comment. I’ll write them up for the next week or respond below.
Jean Segura – You’ve gotta admit, he’s kept things interesting. From breakout stud to disappointment, to potential bust, to rebound. Who knew what to expect in 2017? The high BABIP from 2016 implied that his batting average would fall, and his power was shocking and seemingly unsustainable given his previous metrics. So far he’s rewarding the faithful more than another similar speedster, Jonathan Villar. How about the rest of the season?
Well, on one hand he’s proven he can maintain a high BABIP well above league average, due to his speed and where he hits the ball. However, this year his BABIP is even higher, so you have to assume he can’t keep it over .400. Still, it gives hope that the .350 rate from 2016 is mostly repeatable, so for future projections, an average over .290 seems safe.
The rest of his profile is in line with 2016, aside from a bit of a drop in HR/FB. It means he won’t likely reach 20 HR again, but you can count on more than the 5-6 he had his down years. He’s dealt with a hammy issue this year, so it may cap his SB and prevent a career high, but overall his speed is still there. When you put it all together, a player who can play both 2B and SS, hit .290+ with 15 HR, and steal 25 SB is going to be a great value. I feel safe investing in him again.
Aaron Altherr – Altherr’s a bit older for a prospect breakout, but there are always a few guys who take until their mid to late twenties to put it all together. He showed power and speed that were a bit above average in the past, but this season the power has exploded. Has he truly turned a corner, or will he be a flash in the pan?
He still strikes out a bit more than I’d like, with a higher than average swinging strike rate. His contact rate isn’t amazing. And his speed isn’t as strong as I’d hoped, though he could still reach 15 SB. However, he’s converting ground balls to fly balls, and the power is legit. Even though he may not retain a HR/FB above 30%, he should still keep it over 20%, which is well above average. His home park will aid his run at 30 HR, which may not happen in 2017 but will happen soon.
He’s also learning to be more selective at the plate, which can only help his production. The BABIP is also high right now, but given how hard he’s hitting the ball, I’d expect him to keep an average over .280 by the end of the year. There’s a little risk here, as there is with any young and unproven bat, but I’m definitely buying in redraft formats.
Alex Wood – I’ve liked Wood for years, but his ability to remain healthy has held him back, so the Dodgers haven’t used him full-time in the rotation. But due to pitcher injuries and his hot start, Wood’s seen more starts, and I expect him to stick in the rotation for the year. If he does, look out — he’ll be one of the best returns on value for the season.
There’s nothing to nitpick in his profile. He has a ground ball tilt, and his walk rate is decent. Maybe his HR/FB will rise from 5%, but the GB% will keep it in check if it does. His BABIP is at .282 but could be sustained given the grounders. What’s really valuable right now is his giant jump in K/9. He’s always been above average, but a rate of 12.1 is certainly going to turn heads. His swinging strike rate justifies the increase, and his average fastball velocity is up. He’s throwing his changeup a lot more this year, and it’s helping him get hitters to chase out of the zone. Believe it or not, his shiny stats are mostly sustainable. Buy him if at all possible. The breakout I’ve been hoping for is finally here.
Michael Fulmer – Fulmer’s following in Wood’s footsteps, with an ERA of 2.54 and a WHIP of 1.00. He’s also improved his K/9 (though it’s not as elite as Wood’s) while maintaining a respectable BB/9 of 2.5. Fulmer has a ground ball tilt as well (49%). Can the youngster keep it up all year?
As I see it, yes, he can. A high velocity and good swinging strike rate support his K/9 growth. His HR/FB is league average, but the GB% keeps the damage in check. His hard hit rate is league average. He’s getting more swings out of the zone, and his first pitch strike rate is up, forcing batters to chase. My only nitpicks are that hitters make decent contact against him, and he doesn’t trust himself enough to throw more pitches in the zone. Also, his BABIP and strand rate are a little lucky. His ratios won’t look this shiny all season, but there’s solid talent here, so invest with confidence.
Kyle Schwarber – We all hoped for big power numbers, and some even though he’d help in batting average. Personally, I didn’t hold out hope for a high average, but overall his game hasn’t impressed in 2017. He’s a young player who’s still developing, so I’m optimistic about his future. But what about for the rest of 2017?
It’s anyone’s guess what his end results will look like. His walk rate and plate discipline is still strong. He’s whiffing less often, and he’s making better contact than his rookie season. These are nice signs of growth, so I hope his batting average will climb up to near .240. However, we bought him for prodigious power, and that’s not happening this season.
His HR/FB is just above average, and though he does hit a lot of fly balls, it’s not enough to generate the home run totals we wanted. Of note is his quite high infield fly ball rate, meaning he’s not always making great contact. Schwarber’s not going to be a Bryant or Trout — you’re going to get a bumpy road as he develops. In redraft I’d be tempted to sell to a Cubs fan, but I would refuse to move him in keeper leagues.
Edwin Encarnacion – You’ve been able to count on 35+ HR power for four years now, but in 2017 he’s seemingly fallen hard. Is it age catching up to him? Is he pressing hard due to the new contract? There may be several factors here, as with any analysis, but the signs aren’t too good right now. For the good points, he’s walking more, and his LD% is up. His hard contact rate is still above league average, but not by as much as his previous seasons.
The red flags are numerous in Edwin’s profile. His K% has jumped to a career high. He’s not chasing pitches out of the zone because his O-Swing% has gone down. His plate discipline is still decent due to his walk rate. The issues are his contact and swinging strike rate. Pitchers are throwing fewer fastballs, and they’ve upped their sliders and changeups against him.
I’d like to think he’s just pressing due to the new contract, but he may be losing a bit of bat speed, or teams have found some vulnerabilities in his swing. Add in a lower FB% and HR/FB than his recent trends, and it’s cause for concern. I’d say sell if you can get anything for him, but most owners probably won’t want him either, so if you have any other 1B option, you may as well hold on and hope he can rebound.
Taijuan Walker – Walker was a bit of a sleeper entering 2017, but so far he’s been middling at best after his first four starts. His season metrics still look pretty good, and it stands to reason he could quickly improve on his ERA and WHIP given his BABIP is a bit high. However, his last three starts show some cause for concern, as his K/9 has plummeted to 5.5 and his BB/9 has jumped to 4.4. His swinging strike rate is down too.
As it turns out, his strike percentage is in line with his career, though the PITCHf/x zone% is a bit lower than usual. It’s really his first pitch strike percentage that’s hurting him: it’s over 10% lower than the last three seasons. This means he’s having to play catch-up in the count, and his approach doesn’t seem to do well this way. He’s using more two-seam fastballs and cutters this year, so maybe he simply can’t control the break on them early on. In the grand scheme of things, he doesn’t seem far away from getting back to strong stats, but it does depend on whether he makes that pitching adjustment.
Jake Arrieta – Another Cub that owners were hoping would explode, but in a good way. That ERA and WHIP are unsightly, and it has lots of people ready to bail on him. The lack of wins and quality starts hurt him in roto formats. Was he just a two-season wonder, or can he turn it around in his walk year?
Bad news first. After keeping the ball on the ground for his 2.5 elite seasons (over 49% grounders), Arrieta’s fallen to a 40% GB%, and he’s suffering from a bit of gopheritis as those fly balls increase (16% HR/FB). He’s already given up 8 HR, whereas the last two seasons his numbers were 10 and 16. He’s currently earning that low strand rate and the high ERA.
The good news is that aside from the home run mistakes, he’s actually pitching well. His K/9 and BB/9 are both improved from 2016, and his soft contact is a bit better than previous seasons as well. His BABIP is unlucky, though his hard hit rate on line drives is also higher than previous years, so part of that is his fault. Even so, I don’t feel like a lot has to change in his game before he’s successful again. Watch his gopheritis, and I’d consider buying low if you can.
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