Rise and Fall of Yasiel Puig

Originally Posted August 3rd, 2016

In 2013 a young, vibrant, Cuban born player named Yasiel Puig burst on to the baseball scene. This 22 year old outfielder had an electric arm and smashed the ball out of the ballpark. Not to mention a fair bit of speed. After his call up Puig went on a tear and finished his rookie season with a .319/.391/.534 slash line with 19 home runs and 11 stolen bases in 104 games. Baseball fans everywhere were impressed by what he had done.

Turn to today and you will see a much different story. Puig was told on Monday that if he wasn’t traded he would be sent down and the latter came true. Yesterday he was sent to the Dodgers Triple-A affiliate Oklahoma City. Puig has seen his career nosedive since his outstanding rookie season. Not only has his performance on the field taken a hit, but there have been several stories about his off the field behavior that have made you wonder about his character. Little did we know at the time that in 2013 Puig would have his career high in home runs, stolen bases and batting average. He has had multiple injuries that have slowed his progress and one mental mistake after another.

Yasiel Puig
By TonyTheTiger (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
What Yasiel Puig really needs, and looks like he will get, is a refresh. Puig will get a chance to go down to AAA and sort out his issues. He will be able to learn the game the way he should have earlier in his career. It is not his fault he was rushed to the majors and not give a chance to truly learn the game of baseball, but he has been blamed for it over and over again. Now let’s not take all the blame away from him as his off the field and clubhouse issues are on this shoulders, but maybe this dose of humility will help him in that area as well. We wish Puig the best and know that it won’t be long before we see him in the majors again.

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DeSclafani Spins His Way to a Victory

Last night Anthony DeSclafani threw a four hit shutout against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Normally this wouldn’t catch my attention, but it did because of the disappointing performance DeSclafani had in his last outing against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Against the Dodgers on August 21st DeSclafani went 7 IP, 8 Hs, 1 BB, 6 Ks and 4 ERs. Not a bad start but against a better offense in the Diamondbacks last night he went 9 IP, 4 Hs, 1 BB, 9 Ks and 0 ERs, a remarkable start for any pitcher and especially for DeSclafani. After seeing last night’s results, I dug deeper in to the data to see what I could find that was different.

Before I get in to that let me say how wonderful it is to have the data we have from games these days. Within minutes of a game being finalized anyone can look up how many of each pitch a pitcher threw, what the velocity of those pitches were, how many were strikes versus balls and a host of other information. One of my favorite sites for this data is BrooksBaseball.net and that is where I did the bulk of my research for this post.

After looking over the pitch data from the two games in question one big difference jumped out at me. That difference was the amount of rotations DeSclafani was getting on his pitches in last night’s start compared to the August 21st start. Below are charts that show the RPMs of his pitches from both the August 21st and 27th starts.

Data and charts courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net

As you can see from the charts not one pitch had an RPM level of 2400 or above on the 21st, while several pitches on the 27th had over 2500 RPM. What does that mean though?

In very simple terms an extreme spin rate, one way or the other, equates to a harder pitch to hit. The average major league fastball has a spin rate of between 2,000 and 2,200 RPM. Major league hitters see that spin rate and are able to track where that pitch will end up crossing the plate easily because they see it so often. However, if a pitcher has an extremely high spin rate, or extremely low, the ball acts differently from what the hitter is use to seeing. In the case of a high spin rate a fastball tends to stay higher in the zone for a longer period of time. If a pitcher has a below average spin rate, Dallas Keuchel for example, then the ball drops out of the zone sooner than a hitter is use to. Either way a fastball is harder to hit if it doesn’t end up in the strike zone where the hitter is use to it being. A breaking pitch, such as a curve or slider, that spins faster will have more vertical and horizontal movement. Again, making it much harder to hit.

In DeSclafani’s case you can see that his pitches on the 21st had an average to below average spin rate leading to less horizontal and vertical movement on his pitches. On the 27th his spin rate was above average and lead to more vertical and horizontal movement on his pitches. A perfect example is the movement on his slider. Against the Dodgers his slider had a horizontal break of 2.54 and a vertical break of 0.37, whereas against the Diamondbacks the same pitch had a horizontal break of 2.83 and vertical break of 1.72. It is easy to see that the faster a ball rotates the more movement it will have and therefore the harder it would be to hit. Because we know this now we better understand why the outcome of last night’s game was so much better than the August 21st game.

Waiver Wire Add, Randal Grichuk

Randal Grichuk came in to the 2016 season with a lot of hype coming off of a break out season in 2015, but we soon found out that past performance doesn’t always lead to future success. Grichuk started the season with a .206 batting average and eight home runs in 62 games, with a horrible .276 OBP and .392 slugging percentage. This lead to him being demoted to Triple-A to try and find his swing. After being recalled on July 5th he lasted another 22 games before his second demotion of the season. This wasn’t the last we would see of him in St. Louis, but by this point many fantasy owners had already give up on a repeat of 2015 and some may have considered him a bust.

Randal Grichuk
By Minda Haas Kuhlmann on Flickr (Original version) UCinternational (Crop) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Nine games later Grichuk was recalled again on August 11th. Since then he has been a man on fire. His triple slash line since the promotion is .341/.356/.886. He has five home runs, seven doubles and a triple. To go along with those numbers, he has 11 RBI and 7 runs. He has been hitting the ball well and playing daily for the Cardinals and has begun to give fantasy owners new hope. Though he still doesn’t walk enough, one walk in 12 games, and strikes out way too much, 15 K’s in 12 games, he is putting the bat to the ball and raised his contact rate to 70%. Currently Mike Matheny has been batting him in the 7th or 8th spot in the Cardinals lineup, but other than Matt Carpenter there is no one in St. Louis’s batting order that would stop Matheny from moving Grichuk to the top third giving him even more fantasy value.

Grichuk is owned in less than 50% of all CBSSports.com leagues and should be owned moving forward in at least 70% of leagues. Don’t forget he came in to 2016 owned in 89% of leagues and has already moved up from his lowest ownership percentage of 30% quite a bit. If he is on your waiver wire, make sure you pounce while you still can.

(Players to drop for Randall Grichuk: Giancarlo Stanton, Max Kepler, Andrew Benintendi, Josh Reddick, Michael Saunders.)

Inflating ERA Expectations

Throughout the 2016 season there have been many analysts, including myself, that have been screaming from the rooftops that there is no good pitching available in fantasy baseball. We came in to this season with our lists of “aces” and had an idea as to what we thought our team ERA would be based on the pitchers we drafted. Each week we look at the available pitchers out there and among all the stats one we analyze more often than others is the ERA. We see pitchers with a high three ERA and say he stinks I would never want to add him, but he is the best pitcher available.

Our problem is not that these high three ERA pitchers stink, it’s that our perception of what a good ERA is might be skewed. To verify this I took a look at the league average ERA for the 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 seasons. Then I compared those numbers to the league average ERA for 2016. I was surprised at what I found.

Starting in 2012 and ending in 2014 the league wide average ERA decreased from 4.01 to 3.74. During those years we were getting use to pitchers with better and better ERAs. Then in 2015 the trend began to reverse, going from 3.74 in 2014 to 3.95 in 2015.

But why didn’t we complain about pitching being worse last year then? Probably because the increase was fairly small. Now we look at the increase from 2015 to 2016, where ERAs jumped from an average of 3.95 to 4.18 so far in 2016. That’s not a significant difference when you look at it compared to the jump from 2014 to 2015, but it is a major shift if we look at from 2014 to 2016. League average ERA is at its highest point that it has been in five years.

Pitching in general is lousy compared to 2014 ERA numbers and therefore when we look at one individual pitcher on the waiver wire who has a high three ERA we say no thanks, but when you realize that is well below what the league average ERA is that pitcher becomes a whole lot more usable in fantasy baseball. Key point to remember her is that there are still players out there like Danny Duffy, Clayton Kershaw or Jake Arrieta who will blow you away with their ERA, but that guy on waivers with a 3.60 ERA is actually a pretty good add relative to the league.

Even more important in regards to this conversation is that when you draft your team next year remember to keep these new norms in mind when setting expectations.