The Eye Test: Beltran, Berrios, and Tanaka

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.

Carlos Beltran: Houston Astros

Good old Carlos.  More old than good so far this year, but he’s been really consistent for a long time.  Let’s take a peek under the hood and see if the wheels are finally coming off of this old classic or if it’s just a cold streak.

Beltran owners probably weren’t expecting a repeat of 29 bombs and a .295 average, but they have to be disappointed with the .235 and 5 bombs they’ve gotten from him so far.  Taking a cursory look at the peripherals, it becomes pretty clear that the problem is that Beltran is swinging and missing more than he ever has.  His swinging strike percentage is a career high 10.3%  This in turn has led to a 23.7% strikeout percentage.  Woof.  Not a good sign when this happens to a 40-year-old.  

He’s also not hitting the ball as hard as he has when he does make contact.  His hard hit percentage is just shy of 29%, which is well off of last year’s 35.8%.  Finally, his line drive rate is down to a career worst of 15.6%.

The numbers tell me to bury Beltran.  Just like they told me to bury Jose Bautista a few weeks back as well.  It’s scary when older players get off to a bad start.  It’s more scary when they are doing things like striking out at a much higher rate.  Watching Beltran, he still looks good at the plate.  He works the count and turns 98 MPH around as well as any 40-year-old not named David Ortizi that I can remember.  So what’s going on?  

It seems to me that he’s just not capitalizing on his pitch the way he used to.  He’s crushing the high 90s heater 400 feet, but he does that foul.  Then he gets put away on a nasty breaking pitch that dips out of the zone.  These are pitches he used to be able to foul off or put in play and give himself a chance.  The Fangraphs discipline statistics seem to support this narrative as well.

Eye Test Advice: Beltran should only be owned in deep leagues – roto leagues where you need 5 outfielders and leagues with 14 or more teams.  There has been a lot of great outfielders that have emerged this year so there’s no reason to own him in anything shallower than that.  

In the leagues where you have to own him, I would just hang on to him.  He might be done, but I don’t know for certain.  That lineup is still really potent, and he could really benefit if he can heat up at all.  I wouldn’t drop him just yet.  You’ll be really annoyed if he turns things around the way Joey Bats has been able to.

Masahiro Tanaka: New York Yankees

This guy is one of my favorite players in baseball and was one of the few things to root for as a Yankee fan when he first came over.  He then made the decision to forego Tommy John surgery and has still been a borderline ace in the real world, if not quite that in fantasy.  An ERA near 6.00 is not what Tanaka owners had in mind.  Let’s see what’s going on here.

The FIP and xFIP are pretty high as well sitting at 5.17 and 3.88 respectively.  His K rate is actually up a bit this year to a very acceptable 21%.  The walk rate is up a bit too, but is still a manageable 6.1%.  His batted ball profile is basically identical to what it’s been since he came into the league a few years back. 

It is the BABIP and HR/FB rate that seem to be what is killing him.  His BABIP is currently sitting at .330 – well above his career .276, and his HR/FB rate has also spiked and seems out of whack at 22.8% as opposed to 12% last year and a career average of 15%.

I’ve watched a lot of Tanaka this year and he seems just a little off.  His command just seems in need of a tweak as the pitches aren’t going quite where he wants.  It also feels like he’s getting a bit unlucky – some bad sequencing and Yankee Stadium style homers.  The stuff looks pretty much like vintage Tanaka, though.  The pitches were definitely dancing against KC in his last start.  He is also seeing a slight velocity gain back to where he was when he first came onto the scene.

Eye Test Advice:  I feel like this is an obvious buy low.  There might be Tanaka owners who are still worried about the elbow.  They could be sick of all the homers being hit against him and might be jumping at the chance to sell after a 13K start against a bad Oakland lineup.  He’s been an elite command pitcher in the past so I don’t think he has suddenly lost that ability.  Tanaka is also throwing harder and pitching for a better offensive team than we imagined coming into the year.  

The BABIP and HR/FB% should regress back down to something more closely resembling his career averages.  I would buy and do so with confidence.

Jose Berrios: Minnesota Twins

Like many fantasy buffs, I am all about the post-hype sleepers.  The former top pitching prospect had an 8.02 ERA in his first run through the majors. Clearly he stinks now.  All the prospect sheen is gone and he’s just another bust after a meager 60 or so innings in the bigs.  He dominates AAA again this year and folks aren’t that excited for him to get the call, because he did that last year too.  

I’ll admit – I didn’t pick him up right away in most leagues either just because of the terrible matchups of Cleveland, Colorado, and Baltimore to start. Let’s take a look at what the very small sample of numbers are showing us so far.

We can wager that the .106 BABIP and 100% strand rate will probably come back to earth.  The FIP and xFIP say 3.76 and 4.08.  A nearly 28% K rate has me flat-out drooling, especially while keeping the walks under control at a 5.1% clip.  This is big because part of his struggles last year can be attributed to the 12.5% walk rate that he sported.  

There are not as many ground balls as you’d like from what many scouts anticipated would be an ace one day. Only 36% of balls in play have been on the ground as opposed to 52% in the air.  This can be okay, though, as some very high-end pitchers  like Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer have made being a fly baller work at an elite level.  They’re just a bit more prone to some home run variance.  

There might be a game, like this last start in Baltimore, where an opposing lineup pops a few homers.  We just have to hope he is able to limit them to solo shots like he did. There is upside to this style of pitching too as fly balls have a really low BABIP.   Hitters are also not hitting the ball very hard off of Berrios as evidenced by both a 26% hard hit rate and a mere 12% line drive rate.

Watching Berrios so far has been a joy.  The fastball has great juice and generally sits at 94-95 MPH with the potential to reach back for more.  He’s been able to work the zone side to side and up and down with that great heat.  He has a change that’s a bit better than a “show me” that is clearly his third best pitch.  But oh my God, Berrios has a hell of a slider.  This thing is beautiful.  It’s absolutely ridiculous and already one of the best pitches in the bigs.  I’ve heard it from multiple sources that Berrios breaking pitch reminds them of the one that the dearly departed Jose Fernandez used to throw.  That is high praise.  And it’s dead on.  

Ian Desmond invoked the same comparison after Berrios struck out 11 Rockies.  Berrios also reminds me a bit of Luis Severino whom I profiled here in the past.  Both had rough seasons last year but possess superlative stuff.  Severino throws a bit harder, but Berrios has a better breaking pitch, which is saying something since Severino’s slider is no slouch.

Eye Test Advice:  He looks legit.  I know there’s some numbers that suggest that he’s been a bit lucky, and I know it’s only three starts.  Still, if I did in-season ranking Berrios would already be in my top 40-ish tier with room for growth. I would buy high if someone is a non believer.  

Target Field is reasonably cavernous and his outfield defense is elite.  Buxton may not turn into the next Mike Trout at the dish, but he’s really valuable to Twins pitchers as long as he’s patrolling center field.  Between the stuff, defense, park, and reasonably good run support I expect big things from Berrios in his first full campaign.


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Mike Sheehan

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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.