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The Proof Is In The Peripherals: May 30-June 5

In many ways, this column mirrors Homer Simpson's questions to the president of Kwik-E-Mart.  "Is this guy REALLY a good player?...Really?....Him?"  While the Kwik-E-Mart president specialized in wisdom and convenience store management, advanced metrics are my area of expertise, and I have all the answers* to your fantasy needs.

* = editor's note: for legal reasons, we should point out that Mark doesn't actually have all the answers.  He's just full of himself.

* GyuckyJedd Gyorko was the rarest of specimens: a legitimate Padres hitting prospect.  He tore up the minors and then had a strong rookie season in 2013, posting a .745 OPS and hitting 23 home runs while gaining fantasy eligibility at both second and third base.  Naturally, Gyorko was a highly-sought after player in many a fantasy draft last spring, which makes his brutal start to the year all the more disappointing.

Through 206 PA, Gyorko has posted sub-replacement level offensive numbers, slashing .173/.218/.288 with five homers, 24 RBI, two steals and 13 runs scored.  He's striking out (25.7% K-rate) almost five times as much as he's walking (5.3% BB-rate) and you can't blame Petco Park -- Gyorko has a hideous .410 OPS in away games.

It's possible Gyorko could be feeling some of the pressure that comes with signing a big contract extension, or it could be that we may have jumped in the gun in anointing Gyorko as a top young second baseman.  His strikeout-to-walk rate was similarly skewed in 2013, and his power potential may have been overrated by a weird power surge that came in August and September of last season.  Gyorko hit 15 of his 23 homers in those two months, though his overall slash line (.245/.297/.510 in 219 PA) over that period is hardly that of a well-rounded hitter.

Gyorko is only 25 years old and only a season removed from being considered one of baseball's top 100 prospects, so if you have him in a long-term keeper league, don't start freaking out quite yet.  In a regular league, however?  Dump him.  It's a tough call to offload a mid-round draft pick type of player after just two months, especially at a thin middle infield spot, yet Gyorko has been so terrible that you're only hurting your team by continuing to give him starts.  He should've been riding the bench for the last three weeks, and by this point he may not even be worth the roster spot going forward.

* Klu Season.  An abnormally high BABIP is usually a scarlet letter that signifies a pitcher having a tough season, yet as of Thursday evening, the five highest BABIPs belonged to a veritable dream rotation.  Jordan Zimmermann (.369) is not quite at his usual form and Stephen Strasburg (.357) is probably drawing grumbles from a few owners with unrealistic expectations since he *only* has a 3.42 ERA (and a 10.67 K/9, and is generally awesome.)  The Braves' Alex Wood is next with his .353 BABIP, though that misfortune is somewhat balanced out by his 81.1% strand rate. 

The next two on the list are Corey Kluber (.350) and Madison Bumgarner (.346), and obviously you don't need me to tell you that Bumgarner is a top-tier fantasy ace.  What may surprise you through two months of 2014, however, is that Kluber has been even more of a plum than Bumgarner --- in fact, he's been better than almost everyone in terms of fWAR, as Kluber's 2.6 fWAR is topped only by Felix Hernandez's 2.8 fWAR amongst qualified starters.

The Indians righty seems to be having the breakout campaign that some pundits expected of him going into this year, and fantasy owners who spent a late-round draft pick on Kluber are proud as peacocks.  Heck, maybe you didn't even have to draft Kluber at all, given that Mock Draft Central's average draft position report doesn't even list Kluber within the top 76 (!) pitchers taken.  Kluber's modest bandwagon probably thinned out even more after his first start (five runs over 3 1/3 IP against Oakland) but since then, Kluber has been white-hot.

That high BABIP is the only thing that isn't cutting the mustard for Kluber, as with a bit more batted-ball luck, his 3.10 ERA would be even lower, as indicated by his 2.22 FIP, 2.70 xFIP and 2.78 SIERA.  A 45.8% grounder rate?  Six percent home run rate?  74.4% strand rate?  10.28 K/9 against only a 2.11 walk rate?  These kinds of statistics make almost any pitcher green with envy.

You can probably expect a wee bit of regression as the season goes on but Kluber put up good peripherals in 2012-13 as well, so this Cy Young-candidate year isn't totally out of nowhere.  If Kluber is in your rotation now, hang onto him.  If he isn't, see if you can convince your rival owner that Kluber is an overachiever and will come back to earth.  Your fellow manager might not believe this argument, but hey, someboddy is bound to be victimized by your logic.

* Elias KotEHHas.  As in, "ehh, this guy is nothing special."  (This is in no way a reference to Mr. Koteas' acting abilty, as he's a fine Canadian actor!)  On a whim, I decided to look for the "most average" starter in the majors according to the BABIP and strand rate metrics.  With .300 being the average BABIP and the average strand rate clocking at roughly 70%, the two pitchers who come closest to this theoretical sweet spot of neutral luck at the Padres' Tyson Ross and the Mariners' Roenis Elias.  We already covered Ross last week, and I'll bet you already guessed from this section's goofy title that we're focusing on the rookie Seattle southpaw.

While Ross has value in starts at his home ballpark, Elias has actually pitched worse at the hitting graveyard that is Safeco Field than he has on the road, posting a 3.58 ERA in six away starts and a 4.61 ERA in five home starts.  He therefore doesn't even have value as a two-start streamer, and judging by the rest of his good-but-not-great numbers, it's possible Elias might be the most average pitcher in the league.  The lefty has a 4.02 ERA, 7.89 K/9 and 2.19 K/BB ratio, and he's a bit too casual with the baserunners as evidenced by his 1.34 WHIP.  His peripherals (4.03 FIP, 3.75 xFIP, 3.87 SIERA) aren't bad at all, however, and he has a nice 47.% grounder rate.

To steal a phrase from ESPN's Keith Law, Elias is essentially "just a guy" for the back of your fantasy rotation.  He won't kill you, but he isn't likely to deliver you an out-of-nowhere gem of a start.  Since this is also his rookie season, Elias could start to wear down as the year goes on...or maybe even gain confidence and improve as he gets used to the majors.  Based on this x-factor and his middling track record so far, I'd stay away from Elias if you're looking for a fifth starter, though be warned that many is the fantasy owner who picked up the 'promising' starter with the big pedigree only to see that starter get rocked.  A steady-but-unspectacular guy like Elias may have more fantasy benefit down the stretch if he's still pitching on this same level in August.



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