Is Framber Valdez going to be a league-winner?

Valdez is on top of his game

By: Matt Goodwin

Going into 2021 drafts we all thought that Framber Valdez would have a chance to prove his worth and see if what he did in 2019 was a breakout or a hot streak. We wondered if he would be a huge value on draft day, a newly minted fantasy stud, or if he might turn back into a pumpkin and be a fantasy dud. Then he fractured his left ring finger in Spring Training and was only able to make his season debut on May 28th. Now we get to wonder all over again: what can we expect from what’s left of his 2021 season?

Let’s attempt to shine a light on some answers to this question by looking more closely at each of the four pitches he throws, how they performed in 2020, and how they factored into his overall performance last year.

Four-Seam Fastball

# in 2020AVGBABIPK%BB%SwStr%Chase%
35.400.66733.316.78.68.7
Source: https://www.fangraphs.com/players/framber-valdez/17295/splits?position=P&season=2021

For many pitchers, their fastball is their primary pitch. This is not the case with Valdez who threw it just 35 times in 2020. Having thrown so few pitches, it is reasonable to expect outlier numbers such as the .667 BABIP and 33.3% K-rate. What we can say with some certainty, however, is that this is not his best pitch, which is why he doesn’t feature it. In 2019 the K rate was just 2.9% and the SwStr% was just 2.8. With an average velocity of 94, however, mixing it in helps to make his curveball more effective. And that curveball is, undoubtedly, a much better offering. This is certainly not the pitch that will make or break Valdez in 2021.

Change-Up

# in 2020AVGBABIPK%BB%SwStr%Chase%
87.222.20011.1012.625.5
Source: https://www.fangraphs.com/players/framber-valdez/17295/splits?position=P&season=2021

The change-up, as you can see in the video, is a great change-of-pace pitch that can lock a hitter’s knees. It did not result in a ton of strikeouts, but it also did not yield any walks in 2020. This is most definitely a more successful pitch than his fastball, but having thrown only 87 of them, this is clearly more of a set-up pitch and not one that will put hitters away. You should not expect to see the change-up in 3-ball or 2-strike counts very often because he doesn’t want to risk the walk and knows it doesn’t generate many swings-and-misses. 

Curveball

# in 2020AVGBABIPK%BB%SwStr%Chase%
373.118.25551.751835.2
Source: https://www.fangraphs.com/players/framber-valdez/17295/splits?position=P&season=2021

This is Valdez’s money-maker. It is not his primary pitch, but it is, by far, his most effective. He gets batters to chase this outside of the zone more than 1/3 of the time and just look at that K%! To strike out that many hitters and only walk 5% is really something. At first glance, the difference between the BABIP and the average may lead you to think that there will be some regression to the mean. However, with such a high strikeout rate, this discrepancy is to be expected. This is the pitch that absolutely will determine whether Valdez continues to break out, or takes a step backward. All of his other pitches are complementary to this one, even his sinker which he throws the most often, which means this is the ride or die.

Sinker

# in 2020AVGBABIPK%BB%SwStr%Chase%
613.327.3337.46.24.918.6
Source: https://www.fangraphs.com/players/framber-valdez/17295/splits?position=P&season=2021

The sinker is definitely the pitch Valdez threw most often in 2020, tossing it 64% more often than the curveball. This is his “get me over and establish the plate” offering. The numbers show that it isn’t going to fool hitters if they anticipate it. Since he only gave up 3 home runs and had a low K%, the .333 BABIP is probably a decent indicator of what you can expect when batters put this pitch in play. He didn’t walk too many batters with it, but it was only in the zone 63.1% of the time so if he doesn’t improve the chase rate or find a way to get it into the zone more without giving up solid contact, it will only really serve as a 93 mph set up to the 81 mph curve. It would be much better for him to develop this into a secondary out pitch, inducing weak contact on the ground.

Conclusion

Valdez really only has one stand-out pitch and his success depends almost entirely on setting the batter up to be victimized by that wicked curveball. Count management, control, and keeping the hitters off-balance will be the key to continued success.  When you really only have one put-away offering, the finesse and approach become even more important and that definitely seems to be the case here. It also suggests that there are a bunch of ways the rest of 2021 could go bad for Valdez. It really is difficult to say with any certainty what we can expect from most anybody who showed signs of a break out in a short season with small sample sizes that limit the usefulness of the associated data.

Are Valdez’s other pitches showing as mediocre because he uses them so well to set up the curveball that they don’t need to be good? Are they actually exactly what they need to be for him to continue to be awesome like he was in 2019? Or, with batters being able to watch in-game video and make adjustments more quickly, with a better sense of what Valdez is doing, and with much more on the line for a lot of players, does Framber go back to being a pumpkin?

If you’ve made it this far with him on your IL, then obviously you are rolling with him to see what happens. If he is on your wire, he probably represents the most upside of anybody floating around at this point, so go ahead and add him if you have an easy drop. But if you are considering making a play to get him in a trade, be careful not to give up too much for the promise of what he did last year. Think regression and hope for better.

Jesse Winker is heating up for the Reds

Jesse Winker is on FIRE

By: Matt Goodwin

Jesse Winker, Major League Baseball player for the Cincinnati Reds, had himself a week. A few years back in 2017, there was some helium around his debut before we called it that. I believe one industry professional called him “Joey Votto Light” as he came with a promise of power, some speed, and a ton of on-base upside.

While his numbers were pretty good, he couldn’t get himself onto the field with regularity, either due to injury or split playing time problems. He’s been a guy you could snag off waivers and ride while he was hit, and then fairly easily move on from (with a strong likelihood he’d be available the next time you needed him).

But that’s changed in a big way, and what he’s done in 2020 and 2021 so far are really exciting. Granted, it’s only 92 games between the two, but that’s more than he got in 2017 and 2018 (47 and 89, respectively) and just 21 games of his career high in 2019 (113 games).

The biggest thing that seems to be happening here is that he is hitting the ball more squarely and, in turn, harder. Here are some numbers:

Barrel%SweetSpot%HardHit%
20194.33241.1
202013.537.549
202114.540.253.8
Source: https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/savant-player/jesse-winker-608385?stats=statcast-r-hitting-mlb

Comparing 2019 to 2021 there are clearly large jumps in each of these categories. However, you can also see larger increases from 2019 to 2020 than from 2020 to 2021 as well. And with all of this, Winker had a 146 wRC+ in 2020 which is solid. So far in 2021, it’s 189 which is elite and good for third in the league (second only to Mike Trout and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.). 

He is also swinging more on pitches that are middle-middle, so-called “meatballs” that come his way. Here’s another chart:

MeatballSwing%
201976.5
202082.6
202181.3
Source: https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/savant-player/jesse-winker-608385?stats=statcast-r-hitting-mlb

While these swings are down a touch so far in 2021, which is not to say that won’t change with it being a fairly small sample size, the jump to the low 80 percents from the mid 70 percents would seem to indicate an intentional choice or difference in approach. 

His BB% is in just the 43rd percentile, which is odd for a high OBP guy (currently .412), but could indicate that he was being TOO choosy in previous seasons and is now letting it fly more. His O-Swing% is up a bit (as is his O-Contact%) which could also be due to a more aggressive approach. All in all, swinging at meatballs more is a good way to boost your results.

A few more notes about his season thus far:

  • 88th percentile max EV
  • 94th percentile HardHit%
  • 88th percentile Barrel%
  • 93rd percentile xwOBA

And that brings us back to this week for Mr. Winker.  On Tuesday (5/18) he went 2 for 4 with a dinger. If you want a stat that is fun but means nothing, his wRC+ for that game was a goofy 368. And if you thought that was nuts, on Friday (5/21), he went 4 for 5 with 3 home runs and a preposterous 895 wRC+. He added another bomb on both Saturday and Sunday to end the fantasy week with 6.

Winker has been on fire and, while this pace certainly won’t maintain itself, it doesn’t appear to be by accident. Invest where you can, though you might wait for him to cool off a bit before making those trade offers.

Luis Castillo Stinks Right Now

Castillo has been dreadul

By: Matt Goodwin

Young arms are exciting. Luis Castillo has electric stuff with the potential to dazzle every time he takes the mound. In 2020 he made 12 starts and ended the year with a 3.21 ERA and, even better, a 2.65 FIP all despite having what was likely a pretty unlucky .329 BABIP (so he could have been even better).

Going into the season, he was a highly sought-after commodity – pitching was going fast and furious and people wanted an ace. In NFC drafts that took place between January 1 and March 31 of 2021, Castillo’s average ADP was 29.19, the 10th pitcher off the board overall right behind Max Scherzer and ahead of Jack Flaherty, Brandon Woodruff, Clayton Kershaw, and 28.42 spots before Corbin Burnes.

The players with ten spots of him, before and after, were:

10 Players Before10 Players After
Bryce HarperCorey Seager
Lucas GiolitoJack Flaherty
Francisco LindorXander Bogaerts
Manny MachadoKyle Tucker
Walker BuehlerBrandon Woodruff
Aaron NolaOzzie Albies
Bo BichetteClayton Kershaw
Adalberto MondesiLuis Robert
DJ LeMahieuJose Abreu
Max ScherzerWhit Merrifield
Source: https://nfc.shgn.com/adp/baseball

I’m sure you’re yelling at me right now: “Yes, yes. You’ve made your point! He was supposed to be really good. But he’s not and I need to know why! I NEED YOU TO TELL ME THE FUTURE WITH 100% ACCURACY OR I WILL TROLL YOU ON TWITTER!”

Like people need excuses to troll others on Twitter…

So what’s up with Luis Castillo this year? He stinks. So far he is 1-4 in 7 starts with a 6.42 ERA (his 4.56 FIP means the fielding behind him is hurting him a bit, but not to a point where he’d be otherwise good and that bad fielind ain’t changing any time soon) and absolutely horrid 6.95 K/9. 

Scratching the surface, we can also see that his ground ball rate is down from 2020 to 50.5% (from 58.4%) and his HR/FB ratio is up to 18.5% from 12.5%. This makes a lot of sense when you also notice that his SweetSpot% is up to a bloated 35% from 28.7%; more than a third of the contact against him is square. And while I am not a huge fan of citing average exit velocity, it may be worth noting here that it is up 3.3% from last year as well. Barrel% is up. Average launch angle is up. His K% is cut nearly in half. As you may have noticed, none of this is good news.

Let’s take a closer look at the zone data and see if things get any more promising (narrator: they didn’t). Castillo is in the zone slightly less, down 2.8% from 2020. This, on its own, isn’t necessarily bad, but batters are swinging at his pitches outside the zone 4.6% more and are making contact 70.9% of the time (this is way up from 52.0% in 2020). We already know hitters are making BETTER contact, and now we know they are making MORE contact on balls outside the strike zone. 

Inside the zone, batters are making contact 86.8% of the time (a nearly 10% increase). In total, batters are hitting the ball more than 80% of the time Castillo throws a pitch. 

Despite being in the 89th percentile for velocity, his fastball contact is up 19% while the SwStr% has gone from 15.8% to just 6.8%. The line-drive rate on the four seamer has gone from 33.3% (a career-high) to an incredible 48%. It has never been his best pitch, but it is now downright dreadful. His changeup and sinker are both being hit more often and yielding far fewer swings and misses as well. The contact rates on his slider are off the charts as well. Here’s a table comparing hitters’ chase rates, contact on sliders outside the zone, overall contact percentage, and swinging-strike rate from last year to this year:

Luis Castillo’s Slider: 2020 vs 2021

O-Swing%O-Contact%Contact%SwStr%
202020.031.859.215.2
202128.664.382.57.3
Source: https://www.fangraphs.com/players/luis-castillo/15689/pitch-type-splits?position=P&data=pi&pitchtype=SL

Now, I will be the first to admit that there is nothing here that tells us WHY he is so bad, but it does confirm that he hasn’t just been unlucky, he has been, unequivocally, bad. His pitch mix is slightly different, relying on the changeup more (2020: 29%, 2021: 38%) and his fastball less (2020: 52%, 2021: 46%) but that is more likely another symptom of the root cause rather than the cause itself.

Luis Castillo won’t be this bad all year, but I would not be expecting a stretch of DeGrom-esque brilliance that will even this stretch out. More than likely, the regression to the mean will help him, but not save his season. In fantasy, I’m not sure that if you try and sell him now you’ll get anything close to what it would take for me to trade him which means it’s best to leave him on your bench and hope he rights the ship sooner than later. That said, if you get an offer for somewhere around 80 cents on the dollar, and it helps your team right now, it is worth considering.

Let’s raise a glass to better days for Luis Castillo, for baseball is better when he is great and far worse when he is not.

Haz Matz: Is Steven Back to His Old, Ineffective Ways?

By: Matt Goodwin

In baseball, we are pathologically obsessed with “the next big thing” to come up from the minors. Sure, we drool over rookie quarterbacks and bell-cow running backs in football, but baseball is built differently. Trevor Lawrence will play in the NFL next year, but in baseball, draft picks take years to get to the bigs. There is an entire farm system set up to develop talent rather than depending entirely on the NCAA to take care of that.

This means we have time to be excited about the stars of tomorrow well ahead of their arrival on the big-league squads and, especially from a fantasy perspective, nobody wants to miss out on the next Mike Trout or Shane Bieber.

And pitching is especially tough. With all of the injuries and Tommy John procedures happening with pitchers you are younger and younger, exciting arms have to run a gauntlet that derails a ton of careers. You may be wondering what all of this has to do with an article about Steven Matz and the long and the short of that is this: at one time, he was going to be the next big thing.

Steven Matz was supposed to be Shane Bieber while people probably still thought Shane was the sibling of a Canadian pop-star. In 45 games between A-AA ball in 2013-2014, he posted ERAs of 2.62, 2.21, and 2.27. In fact, in 21 games in A-ball in 2013, he had 121 strikeouts.

Sure there’s a big difference between low-A and MLB hitters, but there was a blue ribbon around Matz’s neck and people were stoked for his emergence onto the scene with the New York Mets which came in 6 games in 2015 where he struck out 34 batters and garnered a 2.27 ERA. Then, in 2016 with 22 starts and 132.1 innings pitched, 3.40 ERA with 129 Ks. I know that ERA is not the end-all-be-all, but a deep dive in xFIP and SIERA isn’t necessary to make the point that Matz was a promising young talent who came up and was on the precipice of stardom.

Until he wasn’t.

He ran pretty hot and cold through 2019 and in 2020 he was 0-5 across 30.2 innings with a 9.68 ERA and 7.09 xERA. During the off-season, his time with the Mets came to an end as the Blue Jays acquired him in a trade that sent the Mets young right-handers Sean Reid-Foley, Josh Winckowski and Yennsy Diaz. Not exactly a King’s ransom.

But then Matz came out hot in 2021, pushing lots of fantasy players to add him to their rosters (myself included). Some had tempered expectations and were willing to take the chance on him and, at least, ride the hot hand while it lasted. Others were convinced that the breakout had come, a change of scenery from The Big Apple to Hogtown (this is real, you can look it up) all it took to reignite the flame of awesomeness in Steven Matz’s left arm.

His first three outings with the Blue Jays were Quality Start Wins, yielding just 3 total earned runs across 18.1 innings with 18 strikeouts and 6 walks. He was absolutely killing it. In his fourth start, he still earned the win but managed only 5 innings and gave up as many runs in that start as he had in all three of his previous combined (3). In his last start, he lasted just 3.2 innings while giving up 6 earned runs and striking out only two batters.

Regression is a son-of-a-gun.

Could Matz find his form again and really lean into his long-awaited true breakout, the one that sticks and makes him a perennial all-star? Anything is possible. But, as the saying goes, I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

Before we part ways for the week, something that is interesting to note here: check out the home/away splits; a bit odd:

Home /AwayInnings PitchedERAERBBsKsAVGwOBA
Home9.26.52746.325.401
Away17.12.605521.145.207
Source: https://www.fangraphs.com/players/steven-matz/13361/splits?position=P&season=2021

Maybe there’s something in the water in Dunedin.

Fernando Tatis dazzles the league

By: Matt Goodwin

Fernando Tatis plays baseball with absolute fire; he’s awesome. His wRC+ in each of the last two seasons was 150 and 149 in 2019 and 2020 respectively (for reference, 100 is average and Mike Trout, was at 178 and 162 in those same years). So far in 2021, he has a HardHit% of 64.7%, a maxEV of 115.9 mph, and a 23.5% Barrel%. Of course, it’s early, and he spent time on the IL because of that shoulder, but the point here is that he’s very, very good at baseball.

On Saturday, he launched two home runs off of Trever Bauer (which is fulfilling on so many levels) and looked dang good doing it, too. Here is the first:

Not only was this ball scorched, but Tatis also had some fun trolling Bauer, covering his eye between first and second in a reference to Bauer pitching with one eye closed in Spring Training, he also mocked Bauer’s little strut as he crossed the plate:

To his credit, which is hard for me to say, Trevor Bauer, at least publicly, said all the right things about it:

It is beyond exciting to watch a generational talent emerge and even better when the player is really, really easy to root for. Fernando Tatis, Jr. is both amazing as a player and super fun as a person. But he’s playing baseball after what looked to be a serious shoulder injury:

I roster Tatis in leagues. I want to watch him play. I want him to help me win. But he’s a human being with a future and a life and people who care about him and I seriously fear that he is putting his talent and longevity at risk by being out there so soon after his injury. He risks re-injury. He risks a new injury from over-compensating and changing his mechanics. He is risking his longevity and ability to be an impact player in the league for the better part of two decades. So while he plays the game with fire, there is a real chance that he is playing with fire in terms of his overall health, and that is worrisome.

This isn’t just my opinion, either. Dr. Jesse Morse of thefantasydrs.com and a sports medicine specialist shares these concerns as you can see for yourself in his video here:

Here is an example of how easy it might be for Tatis, despite the measures he is taking in a new approach to stay healthy, to revert to his old ways. This is his second home run off of Bauer on Saturday. It’s a blast. It’s fun. But Tatis takes his second handoff of the bat, and two hands through the swing are one of the changes he was making to stay healthy:

I hope my fears are wrong and that this never becomes an issue again because what a shame it would be if, instead of having surgery now and being right for next year, he reinjures it, misses a bunch of this season anyway, and causes irreversible damage that shortens what is sure to be one heck of a career. But if this swing on this home run is an indication, I truly fear that re-injury is almost inevitable and that would mega stink for Tatis, for fans, and for baseball as a whole.

Godspeed, Tatis.

Is Francisco Lindor Going to be Okay?

By: Matt Goodwin @thecorkedmatt

One of the biggest splashes of the offseason, the trade of Francisco Lindor from the Cleveland Baseball Team to the New York Mets, was kind of a big deal. The biggest question mark was whether the Mets would be able to then sign him to an extension and solidify their shortstop spot with one of the game’s greatest stars.

As this NY Times article reported, the answer was yes:

“Unable to contain his jubilation, Francisco Lindor unleashed a short celebratory scream in his hotel room late Wednesday when his agent informed him that the Mets had agreed to give him a franchise record 10-year, $341 million contract extension.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/01/sports/baseball/francisco-lindor-mets-extension.html

You could almost hear the same cry echoing throughout all of Mets Nation as well, tears of joy streaming down the collective face of a fandom that has longed for success, living in the shadow of the “older brother” Yankees. Not only was this exciting because Lindor was going to be dropping bombs at Citi Field, but also because it was a big and bold move for new owner Steven A. Cohen who brought with him a lot of hope for a new kind of Mets and a pretty solid Twitter presence.

But so far, not so good for Lindor and the Mets. After 53 plate appearances, admittedly a very small sample size, he is hitting just .171 and slugging a paltry .195 with no home runs or steals. It’s just a 13-game stretch, and a two-week cold streak in the middle of July would barely register, but there are a lot of people with MTSD (Mets’ Traumatic Stress Disorder) wondering what the heck is going on?!

His Savant page tells part of the story, but, as with most things, if you rely solely on the information MLB has deemed “slider-worthy” you may not be getting a full picture. That said, here is some information that gives us something to monitor and some more that can help to make us feel a whole lot better:

We can see that he is still capable of hitting the ball hard, with an 89th percentile Max Exit Velocity, but something is up with how often he is doing that with an Average Exit Velocity in the 29th percentile and HardHit% in the 36th.

His strikeout and whiff rates are elite, and he’s walking plenty (which, incidentally, is propping up his .327 on-base percentage). These are excellent signs that his eye is still spot on and having that kind of awareness and control over the zone is huge.

Looking at some other Fangraphs data we can see that Lindor:
• Has not barreled a ball yet.
• Has a Launch Angle of 7.1, down 6.6% from his previous four-season average.
• His groundballs are up, his line drives are down.
• He’s hitting to the opposite field 40% of the time (career average is 25.4%).
• He’s pulling the ball at the lowest clip of his career by 10-12%.

This zone graphic breaks things down a little bit more:

Pitchers are clearly attacking him outside the zone, which, as we saw earlier, has not negatively impacted his walk or strikeout rates, but could be leading to all of the opposite field contact. The biggest issue here is the groundballs, with down-and-away (when he’s batting left-handed) being a particularly sticky spot. 

This is a lot of dissection of 53 plate appearances using data that most likely will change drastically with every subsequent game Lindor plays. It does reveal some of what is going on, but, in all fairness to Lindor, really says very little about what WILL go on in the future. Let’s check back in at the end of May and see what’s happening then.

Do we really believe that a 30+ home run guy is suddenly going to struggle because of two weeks without one? Do we think that his line drive rate will end up at a career-low because of 41 at-bats? Do we think that a player with 20+ steals potential won’t run because he hasn’t in the first 13 games of the 2021 season?

This really is much ado about nothing at this point. If he was struggling because his walks were way down and his strikeouts were way up, I’d still say let’s give it a little more time with a glint of concern in my eye.

But they aren’t. He’s sporting a .179 BABIP which, with a few more line drives, a couple barrels, and fewer ground balls will suddenly look a lot closer to his normal .280ish number.

Francisco Lindor is awesome; give him some time to transition to the new digs and to remind you just how awesome he is. So, yes, Francisco Lindor is going to be okay.

Proudly powered by WordPress | Theme: Baskerville 2 by Anders Noren.

Up ↑