Transaction Scripts: Jason Motte and the Cubs Bullpen

Hector Rondon
Can Motte and Maddon rain on Rondon’s parade or does this create a buying opportunity?

“The best way to predict the future is to study the past, or prognosticate.” Robert Kiyosaki

When I saw that Jason Motte had signed a one-year deal with the Chicago Cubs, it immediately jogged my memory to all of the closer reclamation projects of Tampa Bay’s past. Is it a coincidence that one of the first things the Dodgers have done under Andrew Friedman regime is clearing house in their bullpen trying to get rid of the salary burden? For years, the Rays built their bullpens with players who were discarded or unwanted by other clubs. As romantic and whimsical as all of this sounds, it also makes trying to predict what Joe Maddon will do with his closer as difficult as any manager in baseball.

In his nine-year tenure as the Rays skipper, only Fernando Rodney led the team in saves for two seasons in a row. Over those years the average age of the team’s leader in saves was 32.5 years old and if you take out J.P. Howell and Jake McGee who were thrust into the role to replace Troy Percival and Grant Balfour respectively, the number jumps to 34.3 years old. Speaking of coincidence (and this is bad news for Jake McGee), but the only two pitchers to lead the Rays in saves during Maddon’s tenure in Tampa Bay required surgery the next season. Reports that McGee’s surgery was just for loose bodies should relieve his fantasy owners in keeper leagues, but it took Jeremy Hellickson until July to return from a similar procedure.

How do we delve into the mind of Maddon and predict what his bullpen will do in 2015? For some clarity and to justify my research on his tendencies in Tampa, here are the leaders in saves over his time with the Rays:

2006: Tyler Walker 10 Saves, 16/7 K/BB, 4.95 ERA, 1.25 WHIP
2007: Al Reyes 26 Saves, 89/31 K/BB, 4.75 ERA, 1.21 WHIP
2008: Troy Percival 28 Saves, 38/27 K/BB, 4.53 ERA, 1.23 WHIP
2009: J.P. Howell 17 Saves, 79/37 K/BB, 2.84 ERA, 1.20 WHIP
2010: Rafael Soriano 45 Saves, 57/14 K/BB, 1.73 ERA, 0.80 WHIP
2011: Kyle Farnsworth 25 Saves, 51/12 K/BB, 2.18 ERA, 0.99 WHIP
2012: Fernando Rodney 48 Saves, 76/15 K/BB, 0.60 ERA, 0.78 WHIP
2013: Fernando Rodney 37 Saves, 82/36 K/BB, 3.38 ERA, 1.34 WHIP
2014: Jake McGee 19 Saves, 90/16 K/BB, 1.89 ERA, 0.90 WHIP

Off all of the above pitchers, Jason Motte has similarities with Troy Percival and Fernando Rodney in regards to his signing with the Cubs. At a relative low cost of 4.5 million dollars with incentives to close games, Motte is a chance worth taking.

If the Cubs are going to build toward contention they need a veteran presence in the bullpen to not only groom the up and coming pitchers but to set the tone for the other relievers. Only two years ago Jason Motte closed out 42 games for the Cardinals before requiring Tommy John surgery in May of 2013. Looking at his pitches thrown and batting averages against in 2012 versus 2014 show some changes, but being only a year removed from TJS, he still threw with good velocity:

Jason Motte 2012:
Fastball: 97.9 MPH, 59% Usage, .182 BAA
Sinker: 96.3 MPH, 13% Usage, .219 BAA
Change: 84.9 MPH, 2% Usage, .000 BAA
Cutter: 92.4 MPH, 26% Usage, .215 BAA

Jason Motte 2014:
Fastball: 95.1 MPH, 50% Usage, .245 BAA
Sinker: 93.6 MPH, 3% Usage, .000 BAA
Change: 89.7 MPH, 8% Usage, .000 BAA
Cutter: 89.7 MPH, 38% Usage, .400 BAA

In 2014 Motte relied much more on his cutter than in 2012. Further, he threw only 13 sinkers in 2014 as opposed to 156 in 2012. It will be interesting to see what pitches he uses with the Cubs this year and how much of his velocity he can recover moving ahead. It could be addition by subtraction if he can regain his sinker and throw more of them. In 2011, Rodney used his fastball and sinker almost equally. However, when he arrived in Tampa Bay he moved his spot on the pitching rubber and shelved his fastball, resulting in his best season:

Fernando Rodney 2011:
Fastball: 96.3 MPH, 32% Usage, .259 BAA
Sinker: 96 MPH, 31% Usage, .308 BAA
Change: 83.2 MPH, 26% Usage, .191 BAA
Slider: 89.3 MPH, 11% Usage, .217 BAA

Fernando Rodney 2012:
Fastball: 98.2 MPH, 7% Usage, .333 BAA
Sinker: 96.7 MPH, 55% Usage, .227 BAA
Change: 83.2 MPH, 37% Usage, .071 BAA
Slider: 89.8 MPH, 0.5% Usage, .000 BAA

Rodney ditched his slider and primarily used his sinker and changeup to record 48 saves with an ERA and WHIP under 1. What I find interesting are the seasons of not only Motte and Rodney prior to joining Maddon’s team, but Troy Percival’s also. Percival is interesting to take note of as he was returning from a forearm injury at a much more advanced age but still was able to save 28 games with Tampa in 2008:

Troy Percival 2007: 3 W, 34 G, 40 IP, 36/10 K/BB, 1.80 ERA, 0.85 WHIP
Fernando Rodney 2011:
3 W, 39 G, 32 IP, 26/28 K/BB, 4.50 ERA, 1.69 WHIP
Jason Motte 2014:
1 W, 29 G, 25 IP, 17/9 K/BB, 4.68 ERA, 1.52 WHIP

If Jason Motte can regain his velocity or at least his sinker, his three years prior to surgery were pretty impressive:

Jason Motte 2010-2012: 13 W, 53 Sv, 201 G, 192.1 IP, 203/51 K/BB, 2.43 ERA, 0.98 WHIP

Also, over those three years Motte had a K/9 of 9.5 and K/BB of 3.9. However, Joe Maddon has not had a weapon like Hector Rondon who will only be 27 during the 2015 season. While there is speculation that the Cubs need an upgrade at the closer position, it appears that people are missing some out on some of his statistics. Rondon had TJS in 2010 and fractured his elbow in 2011. After being selected in the 2012 Rule V draft by the Cubs he was able to regain his fastball and took over the closer role in 2014 replacing Jose Veras early in the year. His overall stat line passes the eye test, but going deeper into his splits by first and second half, there is a lot to like:

Hector Rondon 2014 totals: 4 W, 4 L, 29 Sv, 64 G, 63.1 IP, 63/15 K/BB, 2.42 ERA, 1.06 WHIP
Hector Rondon 2014 1H:
3.93 ERA, 39/13 K/BB, .259/.324/.311 with .290 wOBA, 10.2 K/9, 3 K/BB
Hector Rondon 2014 2H:
0.62 ERA, 24/2 K/BB, .162/.178/.202 with .170 wOBA, 7.5 K/9, 12 K/BB

In the second half, Rondon traded some strikeouts for contact but the results were something to like as his K/BB quadrupled from 3 to 12. Combine that with a .66 WHIP after the All-Star break and Rondon seemed to be gaining confidence in the role. Oddly enough, he and Jason Motte have similar arsenals:

Hector Rondon 2014:
Fastball: 97.1 MPH, 52% Usage, .222 BAA
Sinker: 96.6 MPH, 22% Usage, .278 BAA
Slider: 84.7 MPH, 17% Usage, .133 BAA
Cutter: 92.4 MPH, 8% Usage, .222 BAA

One area that Rondon does need to improve upon is his ability to enter a game with runners on base and maintain his effectiveness. If he comes in with no one on his slash lines against are .186/.234/.241, but if there are men on those numbers jump to .263/.307/.298. It is difficult to come in and put out a fire in the eighth or ninth inning if the BAA is .263 but that will be up to the Cubs to monitor and consider as he develops in the role. Therein lies the rub, can Rondon start in and maintain the closer role for 2015 in its entirety?

If Rondon starts the year in the role and can avoid early meltdowns, I think Maddon will stick with him as his closer. It has been mused that since the Cubs are spending for pitching like Jon Lester that a big ticket closer will be acquired as well. But a Jonathon Papelbon has never been Joe Maddon’s style and I do not think it will change. In fact, Rondon seems like a player that Maddon would love to take a chance on, so I think Motte is a Cub to fortify the bullpen and to provide insurance in the event that anything happens to Rondon either by injury or effectiveness. Motte will be a popular sleeper heading into the season and that could be justified, but I think this will help keep Rondon’s price below what is should be and make him a value pick entering 2015, as long as we do not tell anyone. Just remind people of the blown saves with runners on for Rondon then steal him late in the draft for auction. Unless Maddon burns us all, Rondon will be the man.

Statistical credits: Baseball-Reference.com, BrooksBaseball.net, Fangraphs.com, MLB.com
Photo cred: http://goo.gl/ZBW4Ln (Rondon), http://goo.gl/WNxj3o (Motte)

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Greg Jewett is The Sports Script’s senior fantasy baseball writer. Follow him on Twitter @gjewett9!

Transaction Scripts: Melky Cabrera to the White Sox

Melky brings his career .307/.345/.477 slash lines in the AL Central ballparks home to Chicago and sees his fantasy value rise
Melky brings his career .307/.345/.477 slash line in AL Central ballparks to Chicago

Whether you buy into steroids being the reason for Melky Cabrera’s evolution from a fourth outfielder with the Yankees to a viable fantasy option three of the past four years, he has been relevant. In 2011 he broke through with a career best 18 home runs and 87 RBI for Kansas City and then had a chance at a batting title in San Francisco in 2012 until his PED suspension. Not an ideal way to enter free agency. In 2013 Toronto took a chance on Cabrera, signing him to a two-year contract, but the stain of steroids made this risky. After struggling through a number of injuries, Cabrera had a disappointing season, making 2014 a make or break year for him. The “Melk Man” delivered, rewarding the owners who stashed him late in drafts with a bounce back season across every category but stolen bases. Playing on the turf in Toronto has had an adverse affect on speedsters like Jose Reyes, but Cabrera had his theft numbers cut in half from 13 in 2012 to 6 in 2014.

From a fantasy perspective, the move to Chicago should not only help Melky maintain his value, but may even increase it with an uptick in stolen bases being the prize. Using three of his last four years as an indicator (I am discarding his shortened 2013) Cabrera’s numbers seem to hold up. His HR/FB in 2012 was 9.8 and jumped to 10.7 in 2013, holding steady at that number in 2014. Since U.S. Cellular and Rogers Centre are strong hitter’s venues, this should have not affect on his power production going forward. While there is a big discrepancy in his home run distances from 2011 and the years following, his average speeds off the bat have held fairly stable as well according to ESPN’s Home Run Tracker:

Melky Cabrera 2011: average true distance 406.9, average standard distance 403.1, average speed off bat 105 MPH
Melky Cabrera 2012: average true distance 393.1, average standard distance 390.5, average speed off bat 104.4 MPH
Melky Cabrera 2014: average true distance 395.1, average standard distance 394.1, average speed off bat104 MPH

Here is a 2014 overlay of his home runs with the Cell as a backdrop:

Cabrera overlaySo far his home run metrics hold up, so how will Melky Cabrera adapt to the American League Central? Already having played in the division with the Royals should make his transition easier. Looking deeper into his numbers, this looks like a match made in heaven for Cabrera, not only to keep his knees healthier, but he enjoys hitting in all five ballparks in the Central. Here are his aggregate numbers for his career in the division’s ballparks:

Melky Cabrera in AL Central parks: 198 G, 126 R, 23 HR, 110 RBI, 22 SB, .307/.345/.477

In 34 games as a visitor at Chicago’s U.S. Cellular Field, he has been even better:

Melky Cabrera in Chicago (A): 34 G, 23 R, 7 HR, 24 RBI, 3 SB, .336/.366/.591

I understand that Melky will not be hitting against the White Sox, though their pitching staff is vastly improved, but his .957 OPS at the Cell should encourage fantasy owners. Digging a bit deeper I was surprised about how consistent he has been in spite of the steroid cloud that has been attached to him. Again, looking at his last three out of four seasons (skipping 2013) his counting statistics have varied but that is more about games played than production. Over his 2011, 2012 and 2014 this is his average stat line:

Melky Cabrera 3-year average: 136 G, 89 R, 15 HR, 73 RBI, 13 SB, .315/.357/.478

I think Cabrera may slot in second which would follow Adam Eaton and precede American League Rookie of the Year Jose Abreu. That being said, I have a hard time believing his runs would slip but his Steamer projection looks like this:

Melky Cabrera Steamer projection: 134 G, 77 R, 14 HR, 67 RBI, 6 SB, .288/.341/.432

I do think that Cabrera has probably already had his best season, but the move to Chicago may be just what he needs to bounce back to a fantasy double-digit provider in home runs and stolen bases. In spite of missing time in 2014, Melky was able to finish as the 25th ranked outfielder via ESPN’s Player Rater after going undrafted in leagues coming off of his 2013 disaster. What remains to be seen is what this move will have on his value in upcoming drafts. Here is the projected stat line I am willing to attach to the “Melk Man”:

My 2015 Melky Cabrera projection: 145 G, 87 R, 17 HR, 84 RBI, 10 SB, .293/.344/.480

Statistical credits: Baseball-Reference.com, Fangraphs.com, BrooksBaseball.net, ESPN.com
Photo cred: http://goo.gl/7z3JlW

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Greg Jewett is The Sports Script’s senior fantasy baseball writer. Follow him on Twitter @gjewett9!

Transaction Scripts: Cespedes to Detroit; Porcello to Boston

Yoenis Cespedes takes his power to Detroit, but will his fantasy value rise as a result?
Yoenis Cespedes takes his power to Detroit, but will his fantasy value climb as a result?

Winston Churchill once said that Russia is “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”. Since Cuba was one of Russia’s main allies I will use that as a segue to try and figure out which team won the Yoenis Cespedes and Rick Porcello trade. It feels like every year fantasy players expect more of each of these players but walk away disappointed. After Cespedes’ rookie season in which he hit 23 home runs in less than 500 at bats, more pop in the future seemed likely. His home run derby win seemed to punctuate Cespedes as a feared slugger. Although he hit three more homers the next season, his batting average plummeted to .234 as opposing pitchers took advantage of his poor plate discipline. In 2014 he finally hit the 600 at bat plateau but had the lowest home run total of his career (22). His batting average and RBI total salvaged his fantasy value though. Can the presence of Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez propel Cespedes to the fantasy season that we have hoped for or has he peaked already?

Speaking of peaked, it feels like the last three years have been the year that Rick Porcello is going to break out in the strikeout department. After being drafted in the first round in 2007, Porcello was put into the rotation as a 20 year old in 2009 and won 14 games. In fact, Porcello has won double-digit games every season of his career. In real life, that’s great. However, wins are hard to predict for fantasy purposes, making strikeouts the stat that fake gamers covet. Porcello has had great success keeping the ball on the ground and in 2013 struck out a career-high 142 hitters. The thought was that in 2014 he would continue to build on that number. On a positive note, Porcello won a career-high 15 games but his strikeouts dropped back to 129 for the season, leaving him with a pedestrian K/9 of 5.7. Now a member of the Boston Red Sox, is the breakout ever coming? Can John Farrell help Porcello reach his peak or was 2013 it?

Yoenis Cespedes moves to Motown

At first glance the move to Detroit seems like a great opportunity for Yoenis Cespedes as he will hit in the deepest lineup he has ever been a part of. Teaming up with Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez should provide Cespedes not only tutelage, but the opportunity to drive in and score more runs. But Cespedes’ supporting metrics suggest that the ballpark and his downward trends may counteract his new opportunity. In 2014 drafts he was the 21st outfielder taken according to FantasyPros.com at pick number 66. While Cespedes finished 24th among outfielders via ESPN’s Player Rater, it has to be a disappointment to his owners that he finished lower than two of his new Tiger teammates J.D. Martinez and Rajai Davis.

Much has been made about Matt Kemp’s move to San Diego and how it mat have an adverse affect upon Matt Kemp’s fantasy value but Cespedes seems to be getting a pass due to the improved lineup. Digging deeper however, there appear to be some warning signs. Small sample size alert, but in eight games in Detroit Cespedes has a .686 OPS. Over the last three years his power numbers according to ESPN’s home run tracker have been in freefall:

Cespedes 2012: Avg.. True Distance – 409.1, Avg. Std. Distance – 407.1, Avg. Speed off Bat – 106.4 MPH
Cespedes 2013: Avg. True Distance – 403, Avg. Std. Distance – 403.1, Avg. Speed off Bat – 104.7 MPH
Cespedes 2014: Avg. True Distance – 387.5, Avg. Std. Distance – 387, Avg. Speed off Bat – 101.7 MPH

Not only is Cespedes hitting the ball for less distance, but the speed off the bat has dropped 5 MPH over the last three years. It is unfair to just judge his overlays in regards to lost home runs but if he were hitting in Comerica over the last two seasons, the charts suggest he could have lost up to 13 home runs:

Cespedes Comerica Overlay
Cespedes Comerica Overlay 2013
Even if I take half of those 13 homers off the table and round down, he loses 6 long balls. Unless Cespedes can get his swing speed back to 2013 levels, his power numbers are due for a dip, especially since his HR/FB% has been in decline. However, I also felt like Ian Kinsler would suffer a bit in Detroit after leaving the comfortable confines of Texas, but he was able to maintain his value. This is where the Cespedes peripherals come into play. Using Fangraphs’ weighted statistics in runs created plus (wRC+) and weighted on base average (wOBA), Cespedes has been in decline since his debut.

Cespedes 2012: wRC+ 136, wOBA .368
Cespedes 2013: wRC+ 102, wOBA .318
Cespedes 2014: wRC+ 109, wOBA .326

Once is a mistake, but twice is a trend. Since the weighted numbers do not rely solely upon ballpark effects, they are a truer measure of what a player has done. Over the last two years Cespedes is getting on base less, creating fewer runs and hitting for less power. A look at his zone profile may provide a glimpse. Note the amount of pitches that Cespedes saw in the lower four quadrants representing low and away:
Cespedes zone profile pitches seen 2014
This number has grown over the last three years as well. In 2012, Cespedes only saw 522 pitches in those quadrants, but in 2013 it jumped to 602 and in 2014 it reached 665. One of the reasons that Cespedes chases the pitches low and away is that he hits the bottom third of the strike zone well for power. It is a fine line to walk as a pitcher when you see Cespedes’ zone profile for slugging, noting that he hits the low and away in the strike zone for his second highest slugging percentage at .794.

Cespedes zone profile slugging 2014
But if he drives these pitches to center field, how many fewer home runs will he hit? Steamer projects the following season, which is almost a direct reflection of his last three years averaged together:

Yoenis Cespedes Steamer Projection: 138 G, 75 R, 24 HR, 87 RBI, 7 SB, .268/.319/.467

Since I usually use the last three years to try and project players, I came to almost those same numbers. Due to the ballpark, I will take the under on 24 home runs (I say 18) but the over on runs and RBI due to the support of the Tigers lineup. Cespedes has stolen seven bases each of the last two years so that is tough to dispute. I will also take the under on his slugging percentage unless he has a career year. Let others buy into the Tiger hype while you remember that he is a mystery wrapped in an enigma.

Rick Porcello comes home to New England

Rick Porcello comes home to Boston, but is the best yet to come?
Rick Porcello comes home to New England, but has he already reached his peak?

After being spurned by Jon Lester (Editor’s note: spurned, Greg? Only you), the Red Sox took their return in that deal and replaced him with Rick Porcello. Porcello is coming off of a 15-win season for Detroit and is a consistent but unspectacular pitcher. He features five pitches including a sinker, change, slider and curve to go along with his fastball. For Porcello to thrive, he needs to pitch to contact, primarily inducing ground balls. He’s similar to Cespedes in that he likely already reached his peak. Here are his last three years averaged out:

Rick Porcello 3-year average: 13 W, 186 IP, 126/42 K/BB, 4.08 ERA, 1.34 WHIP

While his wins were valuable to fantasy owners, his lack of strikeouts limit his ceiling. After reaching a 7.2 K/9 in 2013, he dropped back to 5.7 in 2014 which is in line with his career number of 5.5. Even though he is viewed as a ground ball pitcher he only had a 1.69 GB/FB ratio in 2014. His career number is 1.89 and in 2013 it was 2.34. Porcello threw fewer sinkers (42% 2013, 33% 2014), struck out fewer batters but set a career-high in wins and career low in ERA (3.45) last season. He is a good pitcher who has seemed to reach his ceiling but he is still young. Porcello will turn just 26 this season, but the breakout may not be coming. He will still have value in deep and AL-only formats, but I would be hesitant to use him in more shallow leagues. While John Farrell has helped to turn around pitchers before, Porcello’s career swinging strike percentage of 8.6 and K/9 of 7.2 really mitigate his fantasy ceiling.

Statistical credits: Baseball-Reference.com, Fangraphs.com, ESPN.com, BrooksBaseball.net
Photo cred: http://goo.gl/KHoVUy (Cespedes),  http://goo.gl/sXy15A (Porcello)

Check out FantasyRundown.com for all of our latest articles and other great fantasy content.

Greg Jewett is The Sports Script’s senior fantasy baseball writer. Follow him on Twitter @gjewett9!

Transaction Scripts: Santana, McCarthy & Masterson

Can a healthy Masterson fix his command and rebound on his former club?

Woah, what a couple of days. A flurry, no, a blizzard of deals were made at baseball’s Winter Meetings yesterday. The storm is by no means over, as there are still some big name dominoes that have yet to fall. While the blockbuster deals involving Jimmy Rollins, Matt Kemp, Yoenis Cespedes and others have stolen the headlines, some notable free agent veteran arms have found new homes. Overlooked by some, these transactions will have immediate fantasy repercussions.

Ervin Santana finally gets a multi-year deal

Santana pitched well for Atlanta in 2014, winning 14 games behind a 3.95 ERA and 179 strikeouts. One of the few big league pitchers to ever successfully rehab and pitch through a partially torn UCL, Santana was unable to land a multi-year contract over the past couple of years due to free agent draft pick compensation and uncertainty around the elbow. However, Santana has been remarkably durable throughout his career, failing to reach 150 innings only one time since 2005. The Twins seem comfortable with him, as they gave him a 4-year deal (with an option attached) for 54 million dollars on Thursday. He’ll slot in behind an improving Phil Hughes in 2015.

There’s no doubt that Santana benefited greatly from his short stay in the National League. He saw his strikeout rate (K%) balloon to 21.9%, his best since 2008. Santana, who turns 32 today, took advantage of facing the opposing pitcher. According to Mike Petriello of Fangraphs, Santana fanned 23 of a possible 60 pitchers in their plate appearances last year. The right-hander got almost 2% more swings and misses in 2014 then he did the year prior as well. He did this by fooling the opposition into chasing pitches outside the zone, again seeing a 2% increase in his O-Swing%.

The move to Target Field should be good for him. He, like former gopher ball machine Phil Hughes has historically had a problem with the long ball, something that the Twins’ new stadium has fixed for Hughes. Like Hughes, Santana has evolved a bit in recent seasons. Since 2011, he’s induced grounders at least 42.7% of the time. Couple this with Target Field’s uncanny ability to depress power and Santana should be quite comfortable rocking the Minnesota pinstripes in 2015.

Of course, he doesn’t come without his concerns either. We know about the UCL, and that’s not something that just goes away. In fact, there are really no stories of pitchers successfully being able to overcome that completely until they go under the knife. Santana also threw more sliders than any other pitcher in baseball over the last two seasons. In case you weren’t aware, sliders are elbow mutilators. Nevertheless, Santana is a slightly above average arm and if he can avoid landing on the disabled list, he will probably wind up being a pretty good value for the Twins over the course of his contract. What they are paying him is comparable to what Brandon McCarthy and Fransisco Liriano got in their respective deals, with the inly caveat being that Santana has been lightyears more durable. The verdict here is that Santana will likely continue to be a solid SP4 or 5 for your mixed league fantasy team. Unfortunately though, his whiff rate is going to come down some.

Brandon McCarthy is Hollywood’s newest talent

The Dodgers have been nothing short of busy. They shipped off Dee Gordon, Dan Haren and Matt Kemp on Thursday in return for Jimmy Rollins, Yasmani Grandal, Howie Kendrick and several prospects. They also cleared salary room for future transactions. To replace Dan Haren they signed veteran right-hander Brandon McCarthy to a 4-year contract. McCarthy will be immediately inserted into one of baseball’s best starting rotations that includes the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu.

McCarthy is an anomaly. He tossed a career-high 200 innings in 2014 between Arizona and New York, but he’d gone past 111 innings just one other time in his career. McCarthy drastically outperformed his ERA last year before being shipped to New York. Once he got the Bronx, things corrected themselves. Go figure. After the trade, McCarthy was money, posting a 7-5 record with a 2.89 ERA in 14 starts. He was one of the best pitchers in baseball down the stretch.

The former Athletic has made 30 starts just one time in his career (2014). The problem with McCarthy has always been his health. Check out his graphed injury history, courtesy of Jeff Sullivan at Fangraphs:

McCarthy Injury HistoryYour guess is as good as mine as to how his shoulder is still attached. He’s missed an almost infinite amount of time with throwing shoulder injuries throughout his career. You could always, always, always pencil McCarthy in for a DL stint, but it didn’t happen in 2014. Is it just a fluke that he was able to get through an entire season without landing on the DL? Maybe. Jeff Sullivan has a different take. Maybe, just maybe Brandon McCarthy has turned a corner in the health department.

Supposedly he started a new workout routine last winter which allowed him to get his body in better shape. Lifting heavier weights helped him physically in order to deal with the long, grueling season. This theory may have some staying power as his average fastball velocity went up more than 2% between 2o13 and last season. It’s probably safe to assume that his shoulder is feeling pretty good if he’s throwing the ball harder.

As I mentioned, he really struggled in Arizona before being shipped to the Bronx. However, his peripheral numbers were still solid. Some bad luck was likely the culprit there. After the move, McCarthy dominated. He and catcher Brian McCann tried a new approach to keep hitters off balance, and it worked. This included throwing a ton more four-seam fastballs up in the zone, laying off the sinker and mixing in his cutter about 20% of the time. These adaptions helped McCarthy post the best groundball rate (GB%) and strikeout percentage (K%) of his career, 52.6% and 20.9% respectively.

Digging deeper, McCarthy allowed a lot less contact and in turn induced a ton more whiffs. He increased his swinging strike percentage (SwStr%) by a robust 2.9%. Steamer projects McCarthy and free agent right-hander James Shields to have very similar 2015 seasons. Shields, 33 is two years older than McCarthy and will come at a much higher free agent cost. If McCarthy can stay healthy, and that is a big if, the Dodgers may have acquired a #2 for the price of a #4. More whiffs, better velocity, a more articulate use of his arsenal and a finally healthy shoulder may make Brandon McCarthy a steal in the ladder portion of your fantasy draft next year.

Justin Masterson returns to Boston

In an effort to rebuild their rotation, the Red Sox seem to be going the way of the groundball. They’ve acquired Wade Miley, Rick Porcello and now Justin Masterson, who pitched for the team in 2008 and 2009. Compared to the market, Masterson came relatively cheap and represents a low-risk addition to their rotation. Boston has guaranteed Masterson 9.5 million dollars for his services in 2015, with incentives if he reaches certain innings thresholds.

The trend here is to force the opposition to beat the ball into the ground. Masterson definitely fits that mold. The lanky right-hander has never recorded a groundball rate (GB%) below 53.6% in his career, an impressive feat. In 2013 at age 27, Masterson broke out. He won 14 games for Cleveland en route to a 3.45 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and a massive spike in strikeouts. He seemed primed to enter free agency after 2014 and demand a big contract. However, Masterson regressed and was an almost complete mess a year ago. Between Cleveland and St. Louis, he posted a career-worst 5.88 ERA, earning himself a demotion to the Cardinal bullpen by year’s end.

While Masterson definitely got unlucky in the BABIP department last year, he pitched ineffectively. His strikeout to walk ratio fell to a career low 1.68 after he posted a solid 2.57 the year prior. Masterson has always had an issue with the free pass, but his walk rate (BB%) ballooned to just under 12% in 2014, something he could just not overcome. Opposing batters hit .278 off of Masterson last year as opposed to .220 in 2013.

In all fairness, Masterson did deal with a knee injury for the entirety of 2014 that he admitted he couldn’t get right. It had a negative impact upon his performance, as we can see in his pretty drastic dip in velocity from the year prior, an almost 3 MPH dip in fastball speed. Masterson is a two-pitch hurler, and last year he reverted back to throwing his heater more than 80% of the time. During his breakout 2013, he used the fastball less in favor of more sliders. It will be interesting to see if he goes back to what worked for him during that season and use his slider more again.

Masterson is a solid arm with walk issues and problems putting left-handers away. However, if he can move back to using some of the adjustments that made him so successful in 2013, we’re looking at a fantasy-relavant starting pitcher. If he can’t get his walk issues back in check, then he’s best left of off your draft board.

Statistical credits: Startribune.com, Baseball-Reference.com, Fangraphs.com, ESPN.com, Baseballheatmaps.com

Photo cred: http://goo.gl/z5Sy6q (Masterson), http://goo.gl/MQJIs7 (McCarthy graph)

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Timothy is a co-owner, head editor and sometimes writer at The Sports script. Follow him on Twitter @TKing978!

Transaction Scripts: Kemp to San Diego; Grandal to LA

Is Kemp's move to San Diego that drastic of a downgrade for fantasy? His career .837 OPS in Petco suggests otherwise
Kemp’s career .837 OPS at Petco suggests he’ll be just fine in San Diego

Things are fast moving places like Los Angeles. So, in an effort to continue restructuring their roster, the Dodger brass have freed up some space in their outfield by moving the mercurial Matt Kemp to the division rival Padres in return for catcher Yasmani Grandal along with minor league pitchers Joe Wieland and Zach Eflin. While this move is definitely about money it is also about the Dodgers addressing a need behind the dish.

Eflin is essentially going to be the return for Jimmy Rollins, which is probably why the Dodgers wanted him involved. It’s obvious that they needed to shore up their infield defense and Rollins definitely helps them do that.

Matt Kemp is a Padre

As the fantasy pundits are lining up to jump off the Matt Kemp bandwagon, I am actually intrigued by this trade. Not only has Kemp played in Petco but if his surgically repaired shoulder can stay glued together he may not fall as far as people are forecasting. I realize that the ballpark effects do not favor Kemp in this move as Dodger stadium is rated as a 100 for right-handed hitters while Petco is only rated a 91. Over the last 3 years Kemp’s homers have an average true distance of 404.3 feet, average standard distance of 398.2 feet and average speed off the bat of 102.3 MPH. Here is an overlay of Kemp’s 25 home runs from 2014 with Petco Park:

Kemp Petco Overlay 2014
While the fantasy community was going to be split on what type of year Kemp was going to have based on his splits from 2014, one thing is clear, he was a beast in the second half. San Diego has a hard time luring free agent hitters to sign because the ballpark can suppress power numbers. But in a time when power numbers are at a premium, this seems like a good chance to take. First, here are Kemp’s 2014 splits:

Matt Kemp 1H: 86 G, 38 R, 8 HR, 35 RBI, 5 SB, .269/.330/.430
Matt Kemp 2H:
64 G, 39 R, 17 HR, 54 RBI, 3 SB, .309/.365/.606

It’s obvious that Kemp will be hard pressed to replicate that second half over a full season but what if he is changing as a hitter? Because of the injuries it is apparent that the 30/30 days are over for him but that shouldn’t be a problem as long as he can be a 25 home run and 8 steal player. He is only 30 years old. For fun I wanted to see what his career numbers at Petco looked like:

Matt Kemp vs. San Diego: 123 G, 61 R, 17 HR, 63 RBI, 16 SB, .296/.358/.479
Matt Kemp in Petco: 59 G, 28 R, 7 HR, 34 RBI, 8 SB, .322/.372/.495

The former MVP runner up has a career slash line of .292/.349/.495 and when you look at that in comparison to his numbers in Petco, they are almost in line. But Kemp will play half of his games on the road, no? I also wanted to take a little time and run his average numbers from the last 3 seasons even though his injury shortened 2013 is involved. Even with that factored in, his slash lines from 2012 through 2014 are .282/.349/.493. If we use 2012 and 2014 to average his counting stats they look like this: 76 runs, 24 home runs, 79 RBI and 9 steals. Taking that into perspective and knowing his 2014 second half is an outlier is this projection really that bad?

Matt Kemp 2015: 150 G, 80 R, 25 HR, 80 RBI, 9 SB, .288/.345/.480

If people are not going to buy any stock on Matt Kemp so be it, he’ll be cheaper for us.

Dodgers add Grandal, Wieland and Eflin (for now)

Grandal may lose sleeper status but do not forget his 15 HR and .781 OPS as a left handed hitter
Grandal may lose sleeper status but do not forget his 15 HR and .781 OPS as a left-handed hitter

Prior to the Dodgers adding Yasmani Grandal I was starting to target him as a sleeper for 2015. Now that his arrival in Los Angeles may take that option away, it bears looking at why he is being acquired to play as the left-handed bat in a platoon with A.J. Ellis. Taking a look at Grandal’s 2014 numbers they seem innocent enough:

Yasmani Grandal 2014: 128 G, 47 R, 15 HR, 49 RBI, 3 SB, .225/.327/.401

Kind of standard for a second catcher in an NL-only league or deeper mixed as his power is enticing. But looking deeper there is a reason that he should only play as a left-handed bat:

Grandal as L vs RHP: 303 AB, 15 HR, 43 RBI, .241/.329/.452
Grandal as R vs LHP:
74 AB, 0 HR, 6 RBI, .162/.323/.189

Since he can be on the positive side of a platoon and in a lineup more prone to generate runs and RBI opportunity, Grandal stands to benefit. He is only 26 years old and may be approaching his peak, offensively speaking. In 2014 his standard true distance for home runs was 400.5 feet and the speed off of his bat was an impressive 104.1 MPH. Here are his home runs with an overlay of Dodger Stadium:

Grandal overlay in LA
Better than that, he was showing progress in the second half slashing .242/.356/.440 as opposed to .210/.299/.364 prior. In his 58 games after the All Star break, Grandal hit 8 home runs and drove in 30. If he is going to play in a straight platoon, Grandal is a player to target at catcher late in auctions or drafts for a run at 18-20 home runs before he is a known entity.

Joe Wieland is one of the pitchers to come over in the Kemp trade with a strong minor league pedigree but also the victim of Tommy John Surgery in 2012. Featuring an above average curveball and changeup, Wieland has an impressive 5.2 K:BB in 476 innings in the minors. His fastball sits at 92 MPH and has been very hittable in the majors with a batting average against of .330 in his time with the Padres but his curve’s BAA is .222 and his changeup is only .188. Since he is still building up his innings due to the surgery and minor elbow complications last year, Wieland only logged 50 innings last year. Like Andrew Heaney yesterday, it is not yet known if Wieland is wanted by the Dodgers or if he is a piece they will move in a future trade.

According to most reports, it appears that Zach Eflin is the player to be named to make Jimmy Rollins a Dodger so he will be moving to Philadelphia. He is only 20 years old but won 10 games in high A last year with 93 strikeouts in 128 innings. His fastball touches 95 but his changeup is a work in progress. Moving to the Phillies may help him get the call up to the big club a bit quicker then if he were with another organization.

Since the Padres were dealing from strength to address a need, this was a deal they had to make. They get the power hitting corner outfielder that they have been unable to attract and Yasmani Grandal gets the chance to hit in a deeper lineup. While Kemp may see a slight drop in his counting stats, the fact that many are going to avoid him creates a unique buying opportunity on a player that is not done yet.

Statistical credits: Baseball-Reference.com, Fangraphs.com, MiLB.com, BrooksBaseball.net, ESPN.com
Photo cred: http://goo.gl/PkC3na (Kemp),  http://goo.gl/rxDnkm (Grandal)

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Greg Jewett is The Sports Script’s senior fantasy baseball writer. Follow him on Twitter @gjewett9!

Transaction Scripts: Dee Gordon to Miami; Andrew Heaney to Angels; Howie Kendrick to Dodgers

Moving to Miami are the Marlins hoping for Juan Pierre 2K15?
Are the Marlins hoping Dee Gordon can be their Juan Pierre 2K15?

In a move that may be vetoed in a dynasty league, the Dodgers and Marlins agreed to a 4 for 2 trade involving an All-Star second baseman who stole 64 bases along with an aging starting pitcher who has stated he will not pitch outside of California for 4 prospects. That prospect is prized left-handed starting pitcher Andrew Heaney. Heaney is presently ranked as the 18th overall prospect by MLB.com and the second best left-handed pitcher in the minors.

This tweet is true because there are many factors in play. While the Marlins get a spark plug at the top of their lineup who single-handedly stole more bases last year than the Marlins did as a franchise (64-58), they are giving up a good young pitcher who can impact the Dodger rotation this year.

With Jon Lester already getting $155 million from the Cubs and Max Scherzer hoping for a $200 million dollar offer, having a young arm like Heaney is a great chip to possess. Given the popularity of Dee Gordon in Los Angeles, this will be a tough trade initially for some of the fan base to accept, but most of the baseball community is already impressed by the Dodgers Andrew Friedman.

Not only is this an interesting baseball trade, but there are some fantasy ramifications that will come from it. I will start by looking at the impact that Dee Gordon may have in Miami. As I was researching this another twist occurred. I felt more and more like this:

Basically the Dodgers traded Dee Gordon for prospects, and flipped one of those prospects, Andrew Heaney, for Howie Kendrick and agreed in principle to sign Brandon McCarthy to bolster their staff and replace Dan Haren. I will do my best to fit all of this in, starting with the Marlins gamble on Gordon building upon his growth in 2014.

Dee Gordon flies South for the season

One of the most popular players in the Marlins franchise history has to be Juan Pierre. His speed and smile made him likeable. Since his departure, the Marlins franchise has struggled to develop or acquire a legitimate leadoff hitter. Sure, Emilio Bonifacio had 30 steals out of that spot in 2012, but fizzled out shortly after. There are going to be comparisons between Pierre and Gordon, not only for their speed, but the fact that Gordon plays the game the same way, hard and with a smile. One of the reasons for Gordon’s improved on base percentage last year is due to his diligence in learning how to bunt. Since being patient is not a forte of either player, being able to get on base by bunting is a must.

Juan Pierre had a bunt hit (BUH%) percentage of 34% over the course of his career. In 2013, Gordon was only successful getting on base 27.3% of the time via the bunt. In 2014 though, that rate jumped to 42.6%, raising not only his batting average but his OBP. Both speedsters were very impatient at the plate with Juan Pierre only walking 5.6% in his career and Gordon sitting presently at 5.2%. The difference lies in their strikeouts. Pierre owned a very low career whiff rate (5.8%) but Gordon strikes out nearly 3 times as much (16.5%).

What is encouraging is that even though Gordon strikes out much more, he did show some growth last year. The not so good news is that he only drew 4 walks in the season’s second half. Four. However, Gordon’s halves weren’t all that different on average. Warning signs do remain in regards to his OBP and slugging percentage:

1H: .292/.344/.398
2H: .284/.300/.348.

Gordon’s career slash line is .272/.314/.345 over 329 games so regression should be expected in 2015. Not leaving the theme of the Pierre and Gordon comparison though, here are each of their respective age 26 seasons:

Dee Gordon 2014: 148 G, 92 R, 24 2B, 12 3B, 2 HR, 34 RBI, 64 SB, .289/.326/.378
Juan Pierre 2004:
162 G, 100 R, 22 2B, 12 3B, 3 HR, 49 RBI, 45 SB, .326/.374/.407

To try and project Gordon’s 2015 I looked at his Steamer projection and Juan Pierre’s 2005 season for historical comparison:

Dee Gordon 2015 Steamer: 136 G, 67 R, 3 HR, 40 RBI, 50 SB, .256/.307/.331
Juan Pierre 2005:
162 G, 19 2B, 13 3B, 2 HR, 47 RBI, 57 SB, .276/.326/.354

Without sounding like a debbie downer, Gordon should take a step back this year. His inflated BABIP from a season ago should come back to earth, hurting his batting average. He’ll lose a little luster, but if he hits leadoff or between Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton, he should still be an appealing commodity for fantasy owners. The reason Miami wanted Gordon was to add an additional element (that of speed) to their lineup. Trading 4 young prospects for Dee Gordon and Dan Haren tells us that the speedster will be a fixture at the top of the Miami order on Opening Day.

As for Haren, there have been reports that he would retire if he didn’t have the chance to pitch for a team in California. If that’s really the case, maybe Miami flips him to another club in the near future. If they don’t, there’s a chance that he walks away, leaving 10 million bucks on the table.

Andrew Heaney to the Angels?

Heaney is moving to LA but is now an Angel and will compete to be the 5th starter
Heaney should slot in as the #5 in a solid Angels rotation

In an era of dominant pitching, teams are jumping at the thought of being able to land a top left-handed pitching prospect. The Dodgers essentially traded Dee Gordon for Andrew Heaney, Chris Hatcher, Kike Hernandez and Austin Barnes. Like the White Sox adding Jeff Samardzija for Marcus Semien, LA is trading from a position of strength. However, the Dodgers intent was not to use Heaney, but to trade him to the Angels for veteran second baseman Howie Kendrick.

Starting with Heaney, the Angels have gained a 23-year old Major League ready lefty with a 3-pitch arsenal as described by Eno Sarris of Fangraphs above. Heaney throws a fastball in the low 90’s that can touch 95 along with a plus slider and good changeup. Here are his number from 2014:

Andrew Heaney Minors (2 Levels): 9 W, 137.1 IP, 143/36 K/BB, 3.28 ERA, 1.14 WHIP
Andrew Heaney Miami:
3 L, 29.1 IP, 20/7 K/BB, 5.83 ERA, 1.33 WHIP

There may be some growing pains but I think he has sleeper potential for fantasy teams in the late rounds. Take note in deepe mixed and AL-only leagues.

Dodgers retool and add Kendrick

LA replaces Flash with Howie as they strengthen their lineup for a World Series run
The Angels replace Gordon with Howie in hopes of giving their lineup more balance

Before we could publish a column detailing the trade between the Dodgers and Marlins, a wrinkle was added. The Dodgers flipped Andrew Heany to the cross-town Angels for Kendrick. Heaney was traded twice within 8 hours to two teams in the same city.

What does this do for Howie Kendrick’s fantasy value? Depending on where he hits in the lineup it can certainly have a positive impact. Kendrick finished the 2014 campaign as the #8 ranked second baseman on ESPN’s Player Rater. In fact, he was a top 75 overall fake player. Fantasy owners have finally given up on hopes that Kendrick will ever win a batting title, but he has settled in quite nicely as a consistent option at second base. I averaged out his last 3 years. Here’s what you get:

Howie Kendrick 3 Year Avg: 142 G, 66 R, 9 HR, 65 RBI, 11 SB, .292/.336/.410

Not spectacular by any means, but slow and steady wins the race. His boost in RBI last season can be attributed to his spot in the Angel batting order. Kendrick hit cleanup 39 times and fifth 57 times. An improved Angel offense helped him tie a career high with 75 RBI while coming close to a career best with 85 runs. Adding another veteran presence just seems to signal that the Dodgers are going all in on 2015. As for Kendrick’s fantasy outlook, much will depend on where he hits in the lineup. But if you are paying for 10-12 home runs and 10-12 steals with his career slash line, you will not be disappointed.

In an effort to beef up their bullpen, the Dodgers also acquired relief pitcher Chris Hatcher. He’s already 29 but had a solid season with the Marlins in 2014. He actually threw five different pitches last year using a 96 MPH fastball, 88 MPH split-finger fastball, a 91 MPH cutter, 95 MPH sinker and an 87 MPH slider. 9 of the 10 home runs he gave up in 2014 were against his fastball so it could be savvy of the Dodgers to encourage him to throw more sinkers along with his split-finger and slider. Opponents only hit .205 against his sinker, .208 versus his split and .250 off the slider. The best part of Hatcher is that he throws strikes and in 2014 had a K/9 of 9.6.

One of the trademarks of the Tampa Bay Rays under Friedman’s guidance was the presence of players with versatility. This speaks to the other two players to come to Los Angeles in this deal. Austin Barnes played second base and catcher in AA last year and has caught scout’s eyes:

What is in his bat was impressive 2014 across two levels. Even though he bounced around the diamond, he was able to stay consistent at the plate and made strides as a catcher. Here are his statistics from last year:

Austin Barnes (2 Levels): 122 G, 80 R, 13 HR, 57 RBI, 11 SB, .304/.398/.472

The last player to come over in the trade is Enrique (Kike) Hernandez who split time between the Astros and Marlins last year. He appeared in the outfield, second base and shortstop in games. Are you seeing a theme here? A big league ready arm, a bullpen piece and two versatile players that could contribute at the Major League level at various positions for a speedy second baseman and a near-retired pitcher. As for Hernandez, his numbers are intriguing from the minors last year as a 22-year old utility player:

Kike Hernandez Minors AAA: 98 G, 58 R, 11 HR, 42 RBI, 6 SB, .319/.372/.484
Kike Hernandez Majors 2 Teams:
42 G, 13 R, 3 HR, 14 RBI, .248/.321/.421

Again, with the emergence of Alex Guerrero in the minors last year, I think that Hernandez was targeted to be a utility player for the Dodgers. Jimmy Rollins gives Corey Seager a year to develop and only costs the Dodgers two minor league arms and some money. With Dee Gordon out of the picture, I am most intrigued by Guerrero and his power potential at third base:

Alex Guerrero Minors 2014: 77 G, 47 R, 17 HR, 57 RBI, 4 SB, .333/.373/.621

Even though he lost developmental time due to losing part of his ear in an awkward dugout altercation with Miguel Olivo, it appears that second base is Guerrero’s job to lose this spring. Look at that glorious .994 OPS! What happens next with the Dodgers is going to be interesting but if I were a Giants fan, I would be nervous about what the Dodgers are building for in 2015.

Statistical credits: Baseball-Reference.com, Fangraphs.com, BrooksBaseball.net, MiLB.com, MLB.com
Photo cred: http://goo.gl/Hu6D7w (Gordon), http://goo.gl/jllWoX (Heaney)

Check out FantasyRundown.com for all of our latest articles and other great fantasy content.

Greg Jewett is The Sports Script’s senior fantasy baseball writer. Follow him on Twitter @gjewett9!

Transaction Scripts: Jon Lester to the Cubs

Jon Lester is reunited with Theo at Wrigley but are Cubs fans and fantasy owners expecting too much?
Jon Lester is reunited with Theo at Wrigley but are Cubs fans and fantasy owners expecting too much?

Not only were prospective free agent pitchers awaiting for Jon Lester to decide where to sign, so were the fan bases of Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Lester is not only the first real domino for starting pitchers, but it should be the first of many dominoes to fall as the market has been set. It has been said repeatedly in fantasy not to pay for a career year, but did the Cubs do just that? After the Oakland A’s went all in on pitching to try and win a World Series it seems forgotten that Jon Lester was not able to preserve a 7-3 lead on the road in Kansas City while giving up six earned runs in the Wild Card play-in game. The ripple effect of being traded by Boston had to have some affect upon his decision to leave Fenway:

Whether Boston blew a chance to sign Lester last is a moot point now, but for fantasy purposes, what does this do for Jon Lester moving forward? Not only was 2014 one of Lester’s most successful years as a pitcher, it had some noticeable peaks. He posted career highs in swinging strike percentage (SwStr%: 9.9), a career low in HR/FB (7.2), had his best K:BB (4.58) and had his lowest WHIP (1.1). Although Lester’s repertoire has not really changed, his percentages year to year have fluctuated.

In 2014, Lester primarily used his 93 MPH fastball (42%), his 89 MPH cutter (31%) and his 76 MPH curve (16%) while mixing in his sinker and change. His curveball generated a 40.8 whiff/swing rate according to BrooksBaseball.net and limited hitters to a batting average against of .155 for the season. Since his 3 main pitches all produce groundball per balls in play above 48% (FB-76%, Curve 52.5%, Cutter-48.1%) it is reasonable to say that Lester can keep the ball in the park at Wrigley. But Chicago is a better ballpark for hitters than Boston or Oakland was so that career low in HR/FB may not return. What will ultimately determine Jon Lester’s fantasy value going forward will be how many wins can he get with the Cubs and whether he can maintain the career low in WHIP.

First, here are Jon Lester’s career interleague numbers:

Jon Lester career interleague stats: 15 W, 29 G, 188.1 IP, 170/51 K:BB, 3.06 ERA, 1.26 WHIP

Those are solid numbers, but not dominant by any means. What is interesting is that even though Lester is only 1 year older than Jeff Samardzija and throws with less velocity, their 3-year averages may prove worrisome in regards to Lester’s win totals:

Lester 3-year average: 13 W, 212.2 IP, 188/61 K:BB, 3.65 ERA, 1.26 WHIP
Samardzija 3-year average:
8 W, 202.2 IP, 199/59 K:BB, 3.70 ERA, 1.27 WHIP

Not only that, but Samardzija has a better K/9 (8.8) than Lester (7.9) during that span. Because the Cubs were willing to deal Samardzija for another top middle infield prospect, I do not think they are done tinkering with their roster. Other than Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant, another Minor Leaguer or 2 may be on the move for another pitcher to slot in behind Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta. On the Samardzija front, he has to be ecstatic to see what a pitcher with similar stats was able to get in free agency, especially if he pitches well in Chicago. Also, pitchers like David Price and Johnny Cueto must be motivated to hit the free agent market after 2015. Not only is Jon Lester a huge signing for the Cubs, but now Chicago may be a top draw for other free agents to follow suit in 2016.

As for Lester’s 2015 fantasy value, I think his numbers will come back down to earth some. Fangraphs Steamer projections are a good start:

Jon Lester 2015 Steamer: 13 W, 192 IP, 185/51 K:BB, 3.28 ERA, 1.17 WHIP

I agree with the bump in WHIP, especially when you consider his career number is 1.28. If Lester can use his pitches effectively and keep the ball on the ground, the WHIP should not balloon past 1.20 in the National League. His interleague K/9 is 8.1 which is in line with his career 8.2 clip, so Lester may again break the 200-strikeout barrier. I am comfortable investing in 12 wins, 220 IP, 210/60 K:BB with an ERA between 3.30-3.50. The Cubs had to pay Lester to get him, but fantasy owners do not have to overpay to have him on their staff. Welcome to Chicago Jon Lester, it will be fun to see what the next chip that Theo plays is.

Statistical credits: Baseball-Reference.com, Fangraphs.com, BrooksBaseball.net
Photo cred: http://goo.gl/PjUC6r

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Greg Jewett is The Sports Script’s senior fantasy baseball writer. Follow him on Twitter @gjewett9!

Transaction Scripts: Samardzija to the White Sox, Semien to the A’s

Jeff Samardzija takes his 96 MPH sinker & 200+ K's to Chicago to join Chris Sale at the top of the White Sox rotation
Jeff Samardzija takes his 96 MPH sinker & 200+ K’s to Chicago to join Chris Sale at the top of the White Sox rotation

After the rumors surfaced that a deal had been in place to move Jeff Samardzija to the White Sox, it was made official today that he and Michael Ynoa were indeed moving to Chicago in return for Marcus Semien, Josh Phegley, Chris Bassit and prospect Rangel Ravelo. While there is certainly quantity in return for the services of Samardzija, the Athletics continue their rebuilding on the fly under general manager Billy Beane. Meanwhile, the White Sox are stockpiling players to enable them to build towards a run to the playoffs and even a chance at the American League Central crown. While it may take more than they presently possess, the pieces are in place for the White Sox to improve.

One of the things that the White Sox have lacked is a solid number 2 starter to slot in behind Chris Sale. ‘Shark’ will now split up lefties Sale and Quintana to compose a solid front-3. This puts 2 of the last 5 pitchers to strikeout over 200 batters over the last 2 seasons in the same rotation. The other 3 include free agent Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez and defending National League Cy Young Award winner and MVP Clayton Kershaw. That is pretty good company to be in and to have 40% of it in your staff, if only for a year, is something to pay attention to.

I understand that moving to a ballpark that is known more for its ability to produce home runs than prevent them is a daunting task, but Samardzija has had to pitch in Wrigley with the wind blowing out, so he should be up to the task. In fact, over the last 3 seasons, his grounder to fly ball ratio (GB/FB) has increased, settling at 1.64 in 2014. While his strikeouts per 9 dipped some this year (from 9 in 2013 to 8.3), his K:BB improved to a career best 4.7. Along with that 96 MPH sinker, Samardzija also features a 96 MPH fastball, an 87 MPH slider, a 94 MPH cutter and an 86 MPH split-fingered fastball. In 2014, the big right-hander had 3 of his pitches produce ground balls per balls in play percentages above 45% (slider 47%, split-finger 55%, sinker 62%). Here is a look at his zone profile, courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net showing his ground ball percentages of balls put in play:

Samardzija GB per BIP
Even though Samardzija has been a very good pitcher, he has only averaged 8 wins per season over his last 3 years as a starter. ESPN’s Tristan Cockroft has an idea as to why:

While it remains to be seen if Samardzija is continuing to grow or simply had a career year in 2014, returning to his hometown to pitch for his favorite team is a chance that the White Sox were willing to take. With a little run support he would be in line for a nice contract extension from the White Sox or a chance at free agency following the 2015 season. For an idea of his projection, I will average out his last three seasons:

Jeff Samardzija 3 year average: 8 W, 202.2 IP, 199/59 K/BB, 3.70 ERA, 1.21 WHIP

I think the move to a contender will propel him to double-digit (12-14) wins for the first time in his career. Being in the American League for the full season will probably force his WHIP up some (1.15 range, probably), but his ability to fan hitters at a consistent rate will be worth the price. His move to the less pitcher-friendly league may create a buying opportunity for fantasy owners, and a substantial return on investment is possible.

Due to the lack of power arms in the bullpen, taking oft-injured Michael Ynoa is worth the flier for the White Sox as well, but as enticing as his fastball and above average changeup are, his injury past makes him nothing more than a speculative bullpen piece moving forward.

Oakland’s quantity in return:

Can Marcus Semien's blend of power and speed make him a fantasy relevant player in 2015? Oakland thinks so
Can Marcus Semien’s blend of power and speed make him a fantasy relevant player in 2015? Oakland thinks so

While Billy Beane is trading pieces away from his failed run at the World Series this year, things are definitely changing in Oakland. In the short term, Marcus Semien will get a chance to gobble up the lion’s share of playing time at shortstop and Chris Bassitt will get a look at the rotation or as a long reliever for the A’s. Catcher Josh Phegley has had 2 stints in the majors but his swing can get long and he profiles as a backup catcher. The prize in this deal may be AA prospect Rangel Ravelo who is a first baseman but may get some time at third base in the minors this year to speed up his arrival to Oakland.

Since Marcus Semien seems to be the centerpiece of this trade, it will be interesting to not only see if his defense can keep him at short with the A’s, but if his bat can play a full season in the majors. There is some life in his bat and in his legs, but can he make enough contact in the majors to become fantasy relevant? To start building a baseline for his projection with Oakland, let’s have a look at his last 2 seasons in Triple A and with Chicago:

Marcus Semien AAA 2013-14: 115 G, 77 R, 19 HR, 69 RBI, 11 SB, .266/.368/.491
Marcus Semien Chicago 2013-14:
85 G, 37 R, 8 HR, 35 RBI, 5 SB, .240/.293/.380

There is a lot to like in Semien’s 2-year stat line from AAA, which features double-digits homers and steals with a .859 OPS. However, he’s yet to translate that to the majors. One of the reasons that Semien was traded is that the White Sox possess depth in the middle infield. Because Jeff Samardzija could be a 1-year rental, it was hard for Beane to maximize his full value on the trade market. But Semien does represent what Oakland prefers, a player with multi-positional possibilities that can get on base along and drive in runs. Some interesting splits exist when looking at Semien’s numbers in 2014:

Semien vs LHP: .271/.311/.424 wRC+ 105
Semien vs RHP:
.212/.294/.342 wRC+ 79

In the ever-changing world of fantasy baseball, Semien may be a great matchup play in daily fantasy against left-handed pitchers; even in Oakland. I was surprised by his home/road splits since Chicago is a good hitting environment:

Semien Home 2014: .220/.320/.385 wRC+ 96
Semien Road 2014:
.246/.281/.361 wRC+ 80

During the 2014 season, Semien was demoted to AAA since he really struggled early on, but after posting an .881 OPS with Charlotte he finished the year in Chicago:

Semien 1H 2014: .218/.287/.327 wRC+ 72
Semien 2H 2014:
.273/.333/.485 wRC+ 129

Predicting a player’s performance over his first full season in the majors is tough to do. Fortunately, Semien has provided a template for his performance thus far in his 85 games as a Major Leaguer. Fangraphs Steamer projection is bullish on him for 2015:

Marcus Semien Steamer Projection: 120 G, 60 R, 16 HR, 56 RBI, 9 SB, .242/.323/.410

With the move to Oakland, I will put my projection slightly under on the power numbers but I could see Semien producing 13 home runs with 55 runs, 49 RBI and 7 steals. But I could also see Semien reaching the projection above if his adjustments at AAA from last year stick. Let’s compare Semien’s projection with Asdrubal Cabrera’s 2014. Cabrera finished the year as the 16th ranked shortstop via ESPN’s Player Rater.

Asdrubal Cabrera 2014: 146 G, 74 R, 14 HR, 61 RBI, 10 SB, .241/.307/.387

Even with his limitations, Semien has top-15 potential at shortstop. However, that probably represents his upside. I think he can be a good late mixed league middle infielder with potential for more if he can thrive in Oakland as others have in the past.

Similar to their trade with Toronto, Oakland has acquired another big league ready arm in Chris Bassitt. He will get a chance to make the rotation or audition for Oakland’s long reliever gig. Bassitt has a fastball, sinker, a slider and a curveball in his repertoire, but his best pitch in the majors last year was his curve. Paired along with the acquisitions of Sean Nolin and Kendall Graveman, they are taking calculated chances on upside arms who could stick. I really see Bassitt sticking as the long reliever as he could reduce his pitches to his sinker and curveball. Further, Oakland’s ballpark will help Bassitt keep the ball in the park.

Josh Phegley has played 76 games with the White Sox and represents organizational depth at catcher. He does have pop in his bat but his 7 Major League home runs have come with a .207/.221/.332 slash line attached. He’s at best Oakland’s third catcher and should receive only limited playing time.

Along with Semien, the player I am most interested in from this deal for Oakland is first base prospect Rangel Ravelo. There are questions about his ability to hit for power and stick at first base but there are rumors already starting that the A’s will also use him at third base to season him quicker. Over 133 games in AA, Ravelo scored 72 runs with 11 home runs, 66 RBI and 10 stolen bases while slashing .309/.386/.473. A versatile high OBP player being acquired by Oakland seems to fit the Beane type of target in trade. There are probably more moves to come but as always there is a lot to talk about when it comes to this team:

It is much too early to say who wins a trade like this, but social media has decided that Chicago got the better end. How Marcus Semien and Rangel Ravelo develop and contribute in Oakland will be a determining factor when looking back at this trade in hindsight. The early winners are Jeff Samardzija and Semien. Samardzija should get more run support and Semien will get a chance to play full time with a big league club.

Statistical credits: Baseball-Reference.com, BrooksBaseball.net, MiLB.com, Fangraphs.com
Photo cred: http://goo.gl/FxRPHf (Samardzija), http://goo.gl/88yWvs (Semien)

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Greg Jewett is The Sports Script’s senior fantasy baseball writer. Follow him on Twitter @gjewett9!

Transaction Scripts: David Robertson to the White Sox

After seeing the bullpen convert only 63% of saves in 2014 the White Sox addressed a need and paid for Robertson's 13.4 K/9 and 39 Saves in 2014
After Chicago’s bullpen converted only 63% of saves in 2014 the White Sox addressed a need and paid for Robertson’s 13.4 K/9 and 39 Saves in 2014

Residing in the American League Central has to be a bit unsettling these days. With the World Series run by the Royals to the and the aging yet still looming Tigers, the upstart Chicago White Sox are throwing their hat into the ring to compete immediately. Quietly signing Adam LaRoche along with adding both Jeff Samradzija and David Robertson to be their second starter and closer respectively, the White Sox are going for it. Addressing the back-end of the bullpen is a great way to solve some of Chicago’s glaring problems from a season ago in which their relievers ranked 27th in save percentage, converting just 63% of their opportunities. As White Sox beat writer Scott Merkin encapsulates, the bullpen was solid last year but didn’t have an anchor:

David Robertson is fresh off of a 39-save season for the Yankees and becomes the stabilizing factor that the White Sox bullpen needs. In 2014, 6 different relief pitchers recorded saves for Chicago with Jake Petricka leading the way with 14. The staff as a whole struggled though, especially in the late innings. As a team, they blew 21 saves. 21! Not only that, teams slashed .265/.356/.384 against the White Sox bullpen with a .740 OPS. Here are the cumulative statistics from the White Sox bullpen in 2014:

Chicago White Sox bullpen: 471 IP, 7.2 K/9, 4.38 ERA, 1.51 WHIP

David Robertson going to help Robin Ventura manage the late innings. The former Yankee is also coming off a season in which he had to replace Mariano Rivera and has experience pitching in a hitter’s venue. Robertson features a devastating cutter (92.6 MPH) and curveball (83.8 MPH) combination, while inducing grounders at a rate of 43.9% which is important when pitching at unfavorable stadiums. What is even more encouraging is that Robertson’s swinging strike rate improved to a career high 11.9% in 2014, helping his K/9 to spike to 13.4. Here are Robertson’s 2014 stats along with his averages over the last 3 seasons:

David Robertson 2014: 4 W, 39 Sv, 64.1 IP, 96/21 K/BB, 3.08 ERA, 1.06 WHIP
David Robertson 3-year average:
66 G, 63.2 IP, 85/17 K/BB, 2.63 ERA, 1.03 WHIP

Robertson has a K/9 of 11.9 and a K/BB of 4.23 over the last 3 years, which are obviously huge improvements for the White Sox. This move pushes Zach Putnam and Jake Petricka to the seventh and eighth innings and may push up the arrival to Carlos Rodon. This is important as the White Sox have done this before with Chris Sale. In 2010 Sale only pitched 10.1 innings and was promoted to appear in 21 games after being picked 13th overall recording 4 saves as a 21 year-old rookie. Rodon was the 3rd player taken by the White Sox this year and made his debut in the minors across 3 levels but did not appear in Chicago. Rodon’s role in 2015 will be intriguing. With a mid-90’s fastball, one of the best sliders in the Minor Leagues and an improving changeup, he could follow Sale’s path by breaking into the bigs as a reliever first. The White Sox have a need for a power lefty out of the pen and with all of the troubles outlined above it could make sense for Rodon to pitch in high leverage situations. Rodon will turn 22 tomorrow which was the same age that Chris Sale was in 2011. Here is Sale’s stat line from that season as a reliever:

Chris Sale 2011: 58 G, 2 W, 4 Sv, 71 IP, 79/27 K/BB, 2.79 ERA, 1.11 WHIP

As it stands today, Scott Merkin projects the arms in Chicago like this:

Will Rodon make his debut as the 5th starter or as a power arm in the bullpen ala Chris Sale 2011?
Will Carlos Rodon make his debut as the 5th starter or as a power arm in the bullpen like Chris Sale 2011?

This is not to say that the White Sox rotation is set in stone but I can definitely see a scenario where Carlos Rodon makes his debut in the bullpen and transitions to the rotation like Sale did. Not only does the David Robertson signing shore up the bullpen, it could pave the way for Rodon to debut as well. Exciting times are ahead as the White Sox continue to evolve into a contending club.

As for Robertson’s fantasy value, I think he is likely to replicate his 2014 statistics with a slight dip in his strikeouts. However, Don Cooper is a respected pitching coach who may be able to help Robertson hold his 2014 gains in K/9 and swinging strike percentage. Barring injury, Robertson should prove 2014 was no fluke and he should remain a top-10 closer. Rodon’s value will be determined by his role but even if he is a reliever, the template from Chris Sale provides a nice baseline to use when forecasting his 2015 season. The biggest winner here is Robin Ventura who can now use his bullpen to it’s full potential in 2015.

Statistical credits: Baseball-Reference.com, Fangraphs.com, ESPN.com, MiLB.com, Sportingcharts.com, Baseball-Prospectus.com
Photo cred: http://goo.gl/Q0HycX (Robertson), http://goo.gl/cj5NFV (Rodon)

Check out FantasyRundown.com for all of our latest articles and other great fantasy content.

Greg Jewett is The Sports Script’s senior fantasy baseball writer. Follow him on Twitter @gjewett9!