April 20, 2015
The Coors Stack Strikes Back
After playing nine of their first 12 games away from home, the Rockies return to the launching pad with an 8-5 record and the third-highest run total in the National League. I expected the player prices to skyrocket in light of their recent success, the cozy venue, and the huge swings that were imposed upon the values of Rockies players last weekend. However, the market has adjusted, and though some players are still getting a hefty boost via context adjustments (e.g. Matt Kemp at $5400, facing a lefty in Coors), the high end is not priced as aggressively as they were last week; Mike Trout tops the hitters at $5900.
The top end of the pitching scale is light for today, a dynamic that will encourage many gamers to go dumpster-diving with the arms and reallocate those imaginary dollars to the offense. With this in mind, we'll focus on high-end hitters and low-end pitchers to stay focused on those tough decisions.
Corey Dickerson, OF ($4700)
vs. LHP: .239/.300/.384 in 150 PA
vs. RHP: .312/.360/.571 in 590 PA
Home: .348/.404/.664 in 372 PA
Road: .246/.291/.405 in 368 PA
There's a simple equation that I use when deciding whether to start Dickerson: If Home=Yes and RHP=Yes, plus salary < $5500, then Play=Automatic. The sample sizes are very limited but he has raked throughout his professional tenure, including a minor-league line of .322/.380/.601 in 1661 plate appearances that leaned toward right-handers. He's got Odrisamer Despaigne on the hill, and though the Padre has some tricks up his sleeve, Dickerson has to be salivating at the thought of this matchup. Expect Dickerson to be very heavily rostered.
Anthony Rizzo, 1B ($4700)
vs. LHP: .228/.324/.397 in 534 PA
vs. RHP: .264/.356/.468 in 1342 PA
Rizzo's development as a hitter has been nothing short of outstanding. The kid with exploitable holes in his swing is a figment of the past and has given way to and all-round hitting machine. His totals for walks and strikeouts keep drifting closer together, and though his power has been a bit slow out of the gate, Rizzo is a big game away from getting his stat sheet back in line. He's facing A.J. Burnett tonight, giving Rizzo the platoon advantage against a tough pitcher, but it's the stuff profile that is most striking.
Rizzo in 2014, vs. pitch types (AVG/ALG)
vs. 4-seam: .270/.547 in 137 AB
vs. SINK: .287/.548 in 115 AB
vs. Curve: .308/.654 in 78 AB
Sample size caveats abound, but Burnett lines up perfectly with the hitter that Rizzo was last season. Burnett is basically a two-pitch guy (three if you distinguish four-seam and sinker), and those offerings happen to play right into Rizzo's wheelhouse. He had the highest OPS against curveballs in the NL last season, smashing eight of his homers on the yellow hammer, and Burnett's 33-percent usage pattern with the curve bodes well for Rizzo's point total.
Jose Altuve, 2B ($4100)
vs. LHP: .352/.389/.491, 36/51 SB in 594 PA
vs. RHP: .286/.324/.403, 99/121 SB in 1703 PA
vs. Hisashi Iwakuma: .400/.357/.520 in 28 PA
Altuve presents an interesting case today. He is facing Iwakuma, a great pitcher who is on a difficult run to start the season, amd whose right-handedness saps a large chunk out of his line. He does have a great line against Iwakuma thus far, and Altuve has faced him more times than all but one MLB pitcher (C.J. Wilson), but the sample is much too small to draw any conclusions. He is on a nine-game hitting streak and yet the $4100 price is the lowest that I have seen from Altuve this season. The issue likely stems from stolen base value: Iwakuma has been ridiculously stingy on opposing baserunners, who are 0-for-9 since the start of 2014. Altuve has taken note, having not yet attempted a steal off of Iwakuma, and Altuve loses a lot of his value when takes the speed element out of his game for the first six innings.
Matt Shoemaker, LAA vs. OAK ($8100)
One way to look at Shoemaker's season to date is to see that he has rattled off two quality starts, with 12 strikeouts and a single walk in 12.3 frames. Another way to view his performance is to say that he has just barely qualified under Quality Start conditions in each outing, spanning 18 or 19 outs of three-run ball in each case, and that Shoemaker was facing weak offenses at Texas and Seattle. He has been particularly flyball-prone in his first two games, posting just a 22-percent rate of grounders, and he is playing in the right ballpark to make the most of that strategy. Shoemaker is still a mystery, but Oakland will be his toughest test of the young 2015 season.
Jorge De La Rosa, COL vs. SD ($6800)
Jorge DLR is making his 2015 debut, returning from a groin issue that cost him a couple of starts (including the nod on Opening Day). He seems specially tuned to pitch in Coors Field; consider his splits over the last two seasons:
Home: 2.92 ERA in 172.3 innings, 120 K and 52 walks
Away: 4.65 ERA in 179.7 innings, 131 K and 77 walks
DLR epitomizes an approach that might just work at altitude, that being the reliance on fastball manipulations and a quality off-speed pitch at the expense of breaking stuff. The thin air can spell doom on breaking pitches, but the splitter-reliant De La Rosa can take advantage of his fastball variations to keep hitters off-balance. If batters are additionally distracted by his elevator leg-lift, then all the better. That said, the lefty might need some sort of distraction to escape this outing unscathed, because the San Diego lineup is teeming with right-handed power.
Edinson Volquez, KC vs. MIN ($6600)
Raise your hand if you had Volquez with a 12-to-2 ratio of K's-to-walks over his first two starts of the season. Volquez has a 2.98 ERA in 208.3 innings going back to the start of 2014, and though his strikeout and walk rates are nothing to get excited about, he is a sneaky play today against a Twins offense that has yet to get off the ground offensively. He pitched well against Minny in his last start, fanning seven and pitching into the eighth inning, but three early runs were costly as he took the defeat. It's not easy to forget the four years of carnage that preceded 2014, all of which followed an incredible rookie campaign that raised the roof of expectations, such that it was once a question of which team got the better end of the deal that sent Josh Hamilton to the Rangers straight up for Volquez.
Trevor Bauer, CLE at CHW ($7100)
Bauer has made notable improvements with his X-plane balance, maintaining a streamline of energy to the plate that he bring with a torpedo of momentum. His back-side collapse still interferes with balance in the Y- and Z-planes, and consistency of timing is still an issue, but Bauer was doing a much better job of repeating his line to the plate.
Apologies, tt's just too tempting to jump into mechanics when talking about Bauer, but what has really stood out to me about the last two starts is the ludicrous movement and command of his fastball variations. Whether it's the four-seam or the sinker, a change-up or that screw ball (or “reverse slider”) which traveled at 89 mph. Bauer has had strong command of the pitches with arm-side run, though he struggles to command the pitches that break to the glove side. Bauer compiled a whopping 19 strikeouts over this first 12 innings this season, but the nine walks reveal another chunk of the story. He's still a volatile pitcher, and though I think that his risk factor is somewhat reduced by the improved stability, the inconsistency is worrisome for a pitcher of any stature.
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