Max Muncy, That Funky Muncy!

Friday: June 15, 2018

by Brandon Gutierrez

One of the many surprises this year around the league, has been the Dodgers’ Max Muncy. He has been called “This years’ Chris Taylor,” and for good reason. Entering play on Friday, he has a slash line of .277 / .395 / .631. His 1.030 OPS is 5th in MLB (min. 150 PA). His 176 wRC+ trails only Mookie Betts and Mike Trout (min. 150 PA). Last year in Triple A, he hit 12 HRs in 109 games. This year in the majors, Muncy has hit 13 through 46 games. But how is he doing this?

It’s deffinitley not on cutting strikeouts. In 2016 with Oakland, Muncy had a 18.0 K %. This year, 24.8 %. It is also not with walks. 15.0 BB% in 2016, 15.9 BB % this year. It’s not like he is chasing at less pitches. 20.5 O-swing  % compared to 19.4 %. So what gives?

What Muncy did do is decrease his groundball rate drastically. 2016, 51.2 %.  This year with the Dodgers 33.7 %. His average launch angle went from 10.4 degrees to 16.7.He is also crushing the ball tremendously more than he did with the A’s. 29.2 % hard hit rate compared to 45.7 % with the Dodgers. His average exit velocity has risen to a 91.9 mph from 82.3 mph. All these stats have combined to a  29.4 HR/FB %. and a .445 xWOBA.

What Muncy has really improved on, is crushing pitches he should crush. Below I have two charts of Muncy’s SLG. for each quadrant of the strike zone.

SLG in 2016

SLG in 2018

As you can see, he’s starting to destroy more middle-middle pitches in 2018

In conclusion, Max Muncy has not done anything with his strike outs and walks. But a combination of hitting the ball harder, hitting the ball in the air more, and mashing on pitchers mistakes. Has led to a break out season.

Sources:

Baseball Savant

Baseball Reference

Fangraphs

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Limiting Walker Buehler’s Innings

The Dodgers recently called up their top pitching prospect Walker Buehler . In 3 starts (16 innings), Buehler has only allowed 2 earned runs (1.12 ERA), 19 Ks, and 7 BBs. The Dodgers want to limit his innings since he’s 2 years removed since Tommy John Surgery. They proved it on Friday when they removed him after tossing 6 no hit innings. They also want Buehler to be available for a potential playoff run. Although right now it is a little tough due to the injury of starter Hyun-Jin Ryu. But the Dodgers are still going to limit Buehler’s innings and I looked into a few options on how they can.

Option 1: In and out of the rotation/bullpen

In this method, Buehler would be making spot starts but mainly pitching out of the pen. The Dodgers recently did this with Julio Urías when he came up in 2016. This is not the best method since Buehler will never really be in a consistent routine. Yes you do limit innings but it’ll be better if he had a consistent routine.

Option 2: Move to the pen then to the rotation

Buehler will move out of the rotation and into the pen for the time being. He will later join the rotation when there is no worry of him exeding his inning limit. The problem with this is the transition from starter to reliever to starter again. The transition back to starter could take some time.

Option 3: Modified 6 man rotation

With ace Clayton Kershaw  in the rotation, a true 6 man rotation is unlikely to happen. But the Dodgers can modify the rotation. They can have Kershaw be the only pitcher to pitch every 5 days. This is beneficial to the Dodgers because it keeps Kershaw happy, it limits the innings of not only Buehler but every other pitcher not named Kershaw fresh too. The only down side is with an extra men in the rotation, Los Angeles loses an arm in the pen.

Option 4: DL Train

The Dodgers are very good at this. They can always manipulate the roster and put Buehler on the 10 day DL. This is beneficial because he is only skipping one start and the Dodgers can have an extra reliever for the time being.

Option 5: Minors

If the Dodgers have everyone healthy in the rotation. They can always option Buehler to Triple-A. It would be easier to manage his inning there in a controlled environment. It is also easier to manage Buehler in an environment where the main focus is to develop players.

 

There is not really a “correct” way to limit innings. It can change year in year out.But let’s hope that Buehler can pitch as much as possible this year.

 

Sources:

Baseball Reference

Top 10 Closers

Official K-Zone Ranking Mike’s Ranking Ian’s Ranking Mojo’s Ranking Guti’s Ranking
1. Kenley Jansen (LAD) Kenley Jansen (LAD) Kenley Jansen (LAD) Kenley Jansen (LAD) Kenley Jansen (LAD)
2. Craig Kimbrel (BOS) Corey Knebel (MIL) Craig Kimbrel (BOS) Craig Kimbrel (BOS) Craig Kimbrel (BOS)
3. Corey Knebel (MIL) Craig Kimbrel (BOS) Corey Knebel (MIL) Roberto Osuna (TOR) Felipe Rivero (PIT)
4. Aroldis Chapman (NYY) Brad Hand (SD) Roberto Osuna (TOR) Aroldis Chapman (NYY) Wade Davis (COL)
5. Filipe Rivero (PIT) Aroldis Chapman (NYY) Aroldis Chapman (NYY) Wade Davis (COL) Corey Knebel (MIL)
6. Roberto Osuna (TOR) Ken Giles (HOU) Zach Britton (BAL) Ken Giles (HOU) Aroldis Chapman (NYY)
7. Ken Giles (HOU) Filipe Rivero (PIT) Felipe Rivero (PIT) Felipe Rivero (PIT) Sean Doolittle (WSH)
8. Wade Davis (COL) Edwin Diaz (SEA) Ken Giles (HOU) Raisel Iglesias (CIN) Raisel Iglesias (CIN)
9. Raisel Iglesias (CIN) Cody Allen (CLE) Raisel Iglesias (CIN) Corey Knebel (MIL) Cody Allen (CLE)
10. Brad Hand (SD) Raisel Iglesias (CIN) Cody Allen (CLE) Greg Holland (FA) Alex Colomé (TB)
Sleeper Archie Bradley (CLE) Archie Bradley (ARI)

Sean Doolittle (WSH)

Edwin Diaz (SEA) Archie Bradley (CLE)

 

Closer has long been the home of the players who can put up the best inning-by-inning results, and as I have written, they are the future of the game. If this future stays with top closer Kenley Jansen, it’s in good hands. Jansen had multiple historic stretches in 2018, and he finished with a 1.31 FIP, 1.82 xFIP, and 1.48 SIERA. His peripherals supported the historic numbers, including the 14.36 K/9, 0.92 BB/9, and 5.57 WPA as a reliever. And, he did all that with a sustainable .289 BABIP and 8.9 HR/FB. While nobody could get close to what Jansen did, Craig Kimbrel is a pretty darn good second best. The Boston closer struck out nearly half the batters he faced (49.6%) on his way to, and forgive me for spewing stats twice in a row here, a 1.43 ERA, 1.42 FIP, 1.50 xFIP, 1.18 SIERA, and 4.48 WPA. “Evil” Corey Knebel was a major part of the 2017 Brewers’ breakout, with 46 shutdowns (as defined by Fangraphs). A 14.92 K/9 led his charge to a 1.78 ERA. It’s hard to call fourth best closer Aroldis Chapman‘s 2017 a “down year,” but for his standards, 12.34 K/9 was just not good enough. He induced a stellar 48.7% ground balls last season, and one can reasonably expect a sub-2.50 ERA in 2018, although it’s not the guarantee it was a couple years ago. While some would argue that Filipe Rivero broke out a couple years ago, he came to the public eye this season after being named the Pirates’ closer. The 25-year-old showed no growing pains, posting a 1.67 ERA with 10.51 K/9, 2.39 BB/9, and 0.48 HR/9. Roberto Osuna of the Blue Jays was a FIP champion last year, with a figure of 1.74. He reached that thanks to a 9.22 K/BB ratio and 48% ground ball rate. Old early season worries were quickly overcome by #7 closer Ken Giles, who nearly hit 12 strikeouts per nine on his way to a 2.30 ERA and 2.39 FIP. The ability to retain a low home run rate has been key to Giles success, which the Astros hope he can repeat as they make another championship run. Wade Davis brings his services to Coors Field in 2018 after another year of strong statistics. Davis’ 2017 ERA of 2.30 is actually the highest that it’s been in four years, and if he continues to strike batters out at a high rate, he can expect to continue his consistently strong statistics. Rising senior Raisel Iglesias has improved in every season of his young career, so far culminating in a 2.49 ERA and 2.70 FIP in 2017. Iglesias owns a similarly counter-intuitive yet possible portfolio of high strikeouts and low home runs to many of the closers ahead of him on this season’s top 10 list. Instead of getting traded from the Padres, Brad Hand got extended by his home team this offseason. He slots in 10th on the overall chart after breaking out with a 2.16 ERA, backed by 5.20 K/BB and a batted ball profile that built a 2.56 SIERA.

See the top 10 players at every other position here and follow us on Twitter to be the first to know whenever a new list comes out!

 

Sources:
Fangraphs
Baseball Reference

Images Attributed to:
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NESN

Top 10 Middle Relievers

Official K-Zone Ranking Mike’s Ranking Ian’s Ranking Mojo’s Ranking Guti’s Ranking
1. Andrew Miller (CLE) Andrew Miller (CLE) Andrew Miller (CLE)  Andrew Miller (CLE) Andrew Miller (CLE)
2. Pat Neshek (PHI) Dellin Betances (NYY) Dellin Betances (NYY) Pat Neshek (PHI) Chad Green (NYY)
3. Chad Green (NYY) Pat Neshek (PHI) Addison Reed (MIN) Chad Green (NYY) Pat Neshek (PHI)
4. Addison Reed (MIN) Chad Green (NYY) Chad Green (NYY) Tommy Kahnle (NYY) Ryan Madson (WSH)
5. Ryan Madson (WSH) Addison Reed (NYM) Pat Neshek (PHI) Addison Reed (MIN) Addison Reed (MIN)
6. Dellin Betances (NYY) Nate Jones (CWS) Ryan Madson (WSH) Will Harris (HOU) Tommy Kahnle (NYY)
7. Anthony Swarzak (NYM) David Robertson (NYY) Will Harris (HOU) Ryan Madson (WSH) Anthony Swarzak (NYM)
8. Will Harris (HOU) Ryan Madson (WSH) Anthony Swarzak (NYM) Anthony Swarzak (NYM) Dellin Betances (NYY)
9. Nate Jones (CWS) Kyle Barraclough (MIA) David Robertson (NYY) Nate Jones (CWS) David Robertson (NYY)
10. Tommy Kahnle (NYY) Carl Edwards Jr. (CHC) Nate Jones (CWS) David Roberston (NYY) Nate Jones (CWS)
Sleeper Adam Morgan (PHI) Carson Smith (BOS)

Carter Capps (SD)

 Scott Alexander (LAD)

Dellin Betances (NYY)

Tony Cingrani (LAD)

Josh Hader (MIL)

 

It’s a shame that middle relievers don’t get the attention they deserve, after all, their role is equally important to that of the closer. They have the power to lead to a win or loss of each game, and some middle relievers are particularly good at leading to the wins. Andrew Miller was the consensus #1 choice, as his services have been invaluable to Cleveland since they paid a king’s ransom for him a couple years ago. The bearded southpaw threw 63 innings of 1.44 ERA ball in 2017, which was the first year since 2012 that his K/9 dipped below 14, and the first since 2013 that his xFIP fell below 2.10. Phillies’ reliever Pat Neshek ranks second overall after pitching 1.59 ERA ball last year with a 1.86 FIP, less than one walk per nine innings, and less than one home run per eighteen. Breakout Yankees’ reliever Chad Green takes over the #3 spot after tossing 69 innings of 1.75 FIP ball with 13.43 K/9. Green is a flyball pitcher, but he still kept his SIERA as low as 2.03. Addison Reed thought he had secured the Twins’ 2018 closer job until the team signed veteran arm Fernando Rodney, pushing Reed into setup. Addison allows few walks and is assisted by a 40% ground ball rate. Reed is generally consistent, although his 1.97 2016 ERA makes his 2017 2.84 total look like a failure. Ryan Madson, also, at one point thought he may have a closer job under control, until teammate Sean Doolittle took it from him. Madson put up 10.22 K/9, 1.37 BB/9, 0.31 HR/9, and 54.7% GB% in 2017, totaling up to a 1.99 FIP. Dellin Betances was perhaps the most controversial of the rankings, placing a solid #2 in two writers’ books, while ranking 8th on another and not making the list at all for a fourth. Once thought to be a bona fide future superstar, a 16.9 BB% has ruined his reputation to some. 15 K/9 two years in a row has saved his numbers (2.87 2017 ERA), but I’m sure he hopes as much as any Yankee fan that he can decrease the walks while maintaining the whiffs. Anthony Swarzak, another 2017 breakout, threw 77 innings of 2.33 ERA ball while striking out 10.59 per 9. He had a reasonable HR/FB, and his BABIP looks sustainable. Will Harris is sometimes overshadowed by the rest of the excellent Astros bullpen, but he’s put up great numbers in recent years. Harris recorded 10.32 K/9 in 2017 with a 2.94 xFIP. He might even improve in the coming year when he experiences positive regression on the home run rate. Nate Jones enters 2018 in competition for the White Sox closer job, but probably in second place to Joakim Soria. His ERA has been below 2.31 for two years in a row now, and it’s backed by strong peripherals in strikeouts and home runs. However, if he wants to take another step forward, he will have to bring back his 2016-level command. Tommy Kahnle, the third Yankee on the overall list and the fourth ranked by any writer (if you doubt the Yankees’ superpen, read this), enjoyed a 1.83 FIP in 2017 thanks to 13.79 K/9 and 2.44 BB/9. His outcomes are backed up a 2.25 SIERA.

See the top 10 players at every other position here and follow us on Twitter to be the first to know whenever a new list comes out!

 

Sources:
Fangraphs
Baseball Reference

Images Attributed to:
USA Today
Newsday
Waiting for Next Year

Top 10 Third Basemen

Official K-Zone Ranking Mike’s Ranking Ian’s Ranking Mojo’s Ranking Guti’s Ranking
1. Nolan Arenado (COL) Nolan Arenado (COL) Josh Donaldson (TOR) Josh Donaldson (TOR) Kris Bryant (CHC)
2. Kris Bryant (CHC) Justin Turner (LAD) Nolan Arenado (COL) Nolan Arenado (COL) Nolan Arenado (COL)
3. Josh Donaldson (TOR) Kris Bryant (CHC) Kris Bryant (CHC)  Kris Bryant (CHC) Josh Donaldson (TOR)
4. Anthony Rendon (WSH) Anthony Rendon (WSH) Anthony Rendon (WSH)  Anthony Rendon (WSH) Anthony Rendon (WSH)
5. Justin Turner (LAD) Jose Ramirez (CLE) Jose Ramirez (CLE) Justin Turner (LAD) Justin Turner (LAD)
6. Jose Ramirez (CLE) Jake Lamb (ARI) Justin Turner (LAD) Jose Ramirez (CLE) Jose Ramirez (CLE)
7. Alex Bregman (HOU) Alex Bregman (HOU) Alex Bregman (HOU) Adrian Beltre (TEX) Alex Bregman (HOU)
8. Adrian Beltre (TEX) Josh Donaldson (TOR) Adrian Beltre (TEX) Kyle Seager (SEA) Adrian Beltre (TEX)
9. Jake Lamb (ARI) Kyle Seager (SEA) Kyle Seager (SEA) Eugenio Suarez (CIN) Jake Lamb (ARI)
10. Kyle Seager (SEA) Adrian Beltre (TEX) Jake Lamb (ARI) Alex Bregman (HOU) Kyle Seager (SEA)
Sleeper Maikel Franco (PHI) Nick Castellanos (DET) Jake Lamb (ARI) Matt Chapman (OAK)

 

Third base has become the most top-heavy position in baseball, surpassing even first. There are six players that had a legitimate argument to be #1 at the position, and probably would be first or close to it at any other. So, our apologies to Justin Turner and Jose Ramirez, go play something else if you want to get higher on the list. Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado actually took the first spot. Arenado set a career high hitting .309 while swatting 37 home runs. Not only can Nolan hit, but he has put up stellar defensive metrics every year, saving 20 runs at the hot corner in 2017. 2016 MVP Kris Bryant regressed a little in 2017, but still ranks as our second best third baseman. Bryant’s OBP soared above .400, and he ended up posting a very strong 6.7 WAR. Josh Donaldson missed time last year with a lingering injury, but still managed to hit 33 home runs in 113 games, with a .385 OBP and 149 wRC+. And, he did all that with a .289 BABIP. Donaldson is a free agent following the 2017 season, so he may have a chip on his shoulder to outplay competitors like Manny Machado. #4 is Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon, who slashed .301/.403/.533 on his way to 6.9 WAR. Thanks in part to a few super-games, he was able to set career highs in most statistical categories last year. Dodgers’ third baseman Justin Turner ranks fifth on the list, after leading third basemen with 151 wRC+. A recent broken wrist will get in the way of him filling out just his second full season, but Turner will still look to put up strong rate stats, including a potential .400 on-base clip. Jose Ramirez, who shifts back to third to make room for a healthy Jason Kipnis, rounds out the top tier of 2018 third basemen. The 25-year-old put up 148 wRC+, .957 OPS, and 6.6 WAR last year. He also contributed on the basepaths in the form of 17 stolen bases. Alex Bregman, the newest Astros rising star, could very well join the upper third base tier next season. He put up a respectable .248/.352/.475 slash line last year while nearly joining the 20/20 club. 141 wRC+ in the second half brought him to an all-star level 3.8 WAR to end the season. 20-year vet (20 years!Adrian Beltre, who reached the 3000 hit plateau in 2017 and is on his way to 500 home runs, hopes to return to his past state of durability in the coming season after posting 3.1 WAR and 138 wRC+ in only 94 games. Despite his age, Beltre continues to add defensive value along with strong offense, saving 6 runs last season, and 15 and 18 the years before that. Jake Lamb was able to put together his on-base and power skills last year, finishing with an .844 OPS, but hitting 20 of his 30 home runs in the first half last season. The hyper-consistent Kyle Seager rounds on the list by hitting 27 home runs, making 2017 the 6th year in a row that he hit at least 20 longballs in at least 154 games. Seager finished 2017 with 3.5 WAR, and has totaled at least that much for the six-year period.

See the top 10 players at every other position here and follow us on Twitter to be the first to know whenever a new list comes out!

 

Sources:
fangraphs.com
bbref.com

Images Attributed to:
The Associated Press
The Denver Post

Top 5 Starting Pitching Rotations Heading Into 2018

By Brandon Gutierrez

Note: This is my opinion and all 5 of these team’s rotations are stacked.

5. New York Yankees

The Yankees return with the same staff as they had in the last game they played in last year. Luis Severino leads the staff after finishing 3rd in last year’s A.L. Cy Young award race. Sonny Gray, Masahiro Tanaka, C.C. Sabathia and Jordan Montgomery follow. Tanaka is hoping he can start from where he left off in the second half of 2017. In the second half last year, he posted a 3.77 ERA, 10.73 K/9, 1.65 BB/9, 1.06 WHIP, 3.41 FIP. Compare that to the first half where he checked in at a 5.47 ERA, 9.09 K/9, 2.38 BB/9, 1.37 WHIP, 5.04 FIP. Sonny Gray rebounded from a 2016 filled with injuries and logged in a 3.55 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and a 3.90 FIP.

Pitchers Who can Help Throughout the Season:

Yankees #1 pitching prospect Chance Adams should make his major league debut in 2018. Chad Green was discussed as a possible starter, but he has been  pushed back to the pen. He could possibly make a few spot starts if needed to.

Concerns:

Sonny Gray has been injury prone throughout his career. He has battled a strained forearm, strained lat and strained shoulder. CC Sabathia is 37 and will turn 38 in June.

4. Los Angeles Dodgers

Clayton Kershaw, no explanation needed. Many people believe that the Dodgers do not have someone to back up Kershaw, but Rich Hill is that man. Over the past two years Rich Hill has posted a 2.78 ERA, 3.12 FIP, 1.049 WHIP, 10.8 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 149 ERA+. Although this is limited to only 245.3 innings, he has been great throughout those innings.

Some people are concerned that the Dodgers are too “left handed heavy,” but Dodger left handers handled right-handed batters quite well last year. Kershaw held right-handed hitters to a .570 OPS in 2017. Hill limited them to a .583 OPS, Alex Wood held them to .625 OPS. The only left hander in the Dodgers staring rotation that was more vulnerable to right-hander was Hyun-Jin Ryu who checked in at a .730 OPS.  In 2017 these four pitchers against right handed-hitters combined to post a 2.60 ERA, 10.0 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 1.03 WHIP and a 3.35 FIP. The Dodgers are pretty comfortable heading into 2018 with 4 of their 5 starters being left handed.

Pitchers Who can Help Throughout the Season:

Dodgers #1 prospect Walker Buehler can help the Dodgers’ rotation. The Dodgers are optimistic 21 year old Julio Urías can appear in 2018 following shoulder surgery last year. Brock Stewart and Ross Stripling can provide starts if needed to.

Concerns:

Clayton Kershaw has landed on the DL twice the past two years with back problems. In 2017, Alex Wood had two separate cases of shoulder inflammation. Although Rich Hill has had great seasons the past two years, he is 37 and has battled shoulder and arm problems throughout his career. The blister problems seem like a thing in the past, but you never know.

3. Houston Astros

Veteran Justin Verlnader leads the pack followed by Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers. After trading for former All Star Gerrit Cole, many people believed the Astros had the best rotation in baseball. They are not quit there yet, but they do have a lot of good things going for them. Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers are one of the best 1 to 3 combo in the game. Last year the trio combined to post a 3.44 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 3.64 FIP. Charlie Morton had a breakout year posting a 3.62 ERA, 10.00 K/9, 3.07 BB/9, 3.46 FIP, 1.19 WHIP, 109 ERA+. They are deep, there’s no other way to put it.

Pitchers Who can Help Throughout the Season:

Astros #1 pitching prospect Forrest Whitley was recently suspended for 50 games for violation of minor league’s baseball drug program. If he can comeback strong, there could be a possibility for a September call up. But some major league options include Brad Peacock, Collin McCough.

Concerns:

Charlie Morton is heading into his age 34 season and has only topped 170 innings once in his career. Lance McCullers was put on the DL twice last year with two separate cases of back discomfort. Can Gerrit Cole rebound from elbow problems in 2016? He was healthy in 2017 and logged in 203 innings. But he wasn’t the same, he had career highs in 4.26 ERA, 4.06 WHIP and a 15.9% HR/FB rate.

One unusual stat line that could be a concern for the Astros in the first half, is Justin Verlander’s 1st and 2nd half splits over the past two years.

2016 First Half: 4.07 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 3.85 FIP, 9.20 K/9, 2.53 BB/9

2016 Second Half: 1.96 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 3.10 FIP, 10.93 K/9, 1.96 BB/9

2017 First Half: 4.73 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, 4.29 FIP, 8.43 K/9, 4.39 BB/9

2017 Second Half: 1.95 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 3.37 FIP, 10.75 K/9, 1.87 BB/9

It’s unexplainable, he was not put on the DL during both years. Maybe he was hiding a an injury in both years? Who knows.

2. Washington Nationals

The Nationals arguably have the best 1-2 punch in baseball. Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. Last year both combined to post a 2.51 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 2.81 FIP. Scherzer is coming off his second NL Cy Young award in a row. Stephen Strasburg topped 170 innings for the first time since 2014. You can also argue that the Nationals have the best 1-3 with Gio Gonzalez. In 2017 he posted a 2.96 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 3.93 FIP. Combine him with Scherzer and Strasburg and they combined a 2.67 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 3.20 FIP (better than Houston). As of right now, it appears the 4 and 5 spots belong to Tanner Roark and A.J. Cole. Roark in 2016 posted a 2.83 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 3.79 FIP, but he did not replicate that in 2017 and posted a 4.67 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 4.13 FIP. Cole started 8 games last year with the Nationals last year.

Pitchers Who can Help Throughout the Season:

Nationals #4 prospect Erick Fedde can make some big league starts this year. He started 3 games last year in which he got rocked giving up 5 home runs in 15 innings. But small sample size.

Concerns:

Stephen Strasburg is always a concern. He’s had elbow surgery twice (2013 and 2010) with one of them being Tommy John. He has been on the DL every year of his big league career.

1. Cleveland Indians

Led by two time Cy Young Award winner, Corey Kluber, the Indians have the best rotation heading into the 2018 season. Carlos Carrasco has been good the past two seasons. Over the past two seasons Carrasco has pitched a 3.30 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 3.36 FIP. Trevor Bauer started off slow but was better in the second half. In the second half, Bauer posted a 3.01 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 3.68 FIP. Mike Clevinger had a 3.11 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 3.85 FIP. Josh Tomlin is likely to be the 5th starter.

The Indians have the same staff as last year. The same staff that led all other starters in a combined 23.4 WAR. The same staff that was second in ERA (3.52) and first in FIP (3.34).

Pitchers Who can Help Throughout the Season:

Danny Salazar is expected to be back sometime in April. Ryan Merrit will make some starts for the Indians like he did last year.

Concerns:

Keep the drones away from Bauer.

Kluber did have back discomfort last year and did miss some time but he obviously rebounded just fine. If it happens again this year, it’ll become a bigger concern.

Just Missed:

Chicago Cubs

Arizona Diamondbacks

Sources

Mlb.com

Baseball Reference

Fangraphs

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Why Kenley Jansen can be the Best Closer for Years to Come

by Brandon Gutierrez

Last season, Kenley Jansen established himself as the best closer in baseball. In 68.1 IP he posted a 1.32 ERA, 1.31 FIP, 1.82 xFIP, 109 K, 14.36 K/9, .092 BB/9, .07 HR/9, 1.48 SIERA, WPA of 5.57. Kenley has made All Star appearances in the past two years and has won The Trevor Hoffman Award (best National League reliever award) back to back years.

Great in High Leverage Situations

How can you be the best closer if you cannot get outs in pressure? You can’t. In Jansen’s career in high leverage situations he’s been great. In 142 high leverage IP he’s posted a 2.17 ERA, 13.8 K/9, 1.7 BB/9, and .06 HR/9. More of the same in October: in 37 IP in the postseason he has posted a 2.19 ERA, converted 13 saves in 14 opportunities, 13.4 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, and 0.7 HR/9. Jansen has been able to handle the bright lights of the postseason well.

Throws A lot of Strikes

Since 2014 (age 26 season) Jansen has owned a BB/9 of 1.6. Last year Kenley Jansen broke the record for the most strikeouts without allowing a walk to start a season, striking out 51 batters before walking one. Jansen had 109 strikeouts last year, so he nearly struck out half of his season total before allowing a walk. It is obvious that Jansen is getting ahead and finishing his opponents.

Cutter Ages Well

Kenley Jansen’s bread and butter is his natural cutter. Many people have compared it to that of the greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera’s cutter.

Others have said that Kenley Jansen is the closest thing since Mariano Rivera. Rivera’s natural cutter helped him dominate the 9th inning for 19 years. In his age 40- 43 season, Rivera posted a 1.95 ERA, 1.40 FIP, 1.4 BB/9, 7.8 K/9 and HR/9 of 0.45. It is still too son to say that Jansen will pitch into his 40s. Even if he does, him posting similar numbers to Rivera would be too much to ask for. Jansen pitching past 35 is more reasonable with his natural cutter.

Even an unnatural cutter has saved or made a pitchers career. The cutter does have a bigger role in the pen. For example C.C. Sabathia, Wade Davis. In 2015 CC Sabathia posted he posted in 167.1 IP a 4.73 ERA, 86 ERA+, 7.4 K/9, 2.97 BB/9, 16.6% HR/FB, 1.422 WHIP, 4.68 FIP,. He had a 29.1 Hard Hit %. In 2015 Sabathia threw his cutter only 3% of the time. In 2016 he threw his cutter 29% and in 2017 he threw it in 30% of the time and it worked. In 2016-2017 he posted a 3.81 ERA, 116 ERA+, 7.5 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 1.297 WHIP 4.38FIP. His Hard Hit % from 2015 -2016 dropped from 29% to 24. His GB % went form 45.9 to 50.1. A big reason why Sabathia was able to improve after an age 34 season was because of his cutter.

Wade Davis is a dominant closer who also used the cutter to his success. In 2013 he abandoned his slider and started throwing a cutter. He was a starter in 2013 and struggled. He threw the cutter 19 % of the time and in 135.1 IP he posted a 5.33 ERA. In 2014 he was moved into the pen where his cutter played a bigger role.

This was SLG. aginst the cutter in 2013 as a starter

This is CC Sabathia’s SLG against the cutter in 2016

SLG against the cutter in 2014. This time as a reliever.

Big difference on what the cutter can do in the pen. In 2014 Davis threw his cutter 20% of the time. He posted a 1.00 ERA, 2.29 FIP, 3.68 xFIP, 13.68 K/9, 2.28 BB/9, .00 HR/9, 1.61 SIERA, 3.81 WPA.

Jasen, unlike Sabathia is in the pen where his cutter will play a bigger role. Unlike Davis and Sabathia Jansen’s cutter is natural.

Lack of Injury History

Kenley’s only arm problem came in 2011 when he was put on the DL for right shoulder inflammation. He was also put on the DL in 2011 and 2012 for an irregular heartbeat, but that was not pitching related. He got surgery to fix the irregular heartbeat and bounced back from both injuries. The only other time he would need surgery was in 2015 to remove a growth from a bone in his left foot. A big reason Jansen has avoided any major arm concerns is because of his history.

Less Wear and Tear

Jansen has only been pitching for 9 years. Unlike Jansen, most of the relievers/closer in the big leagues today have been pitching since young ages. Jansen was signed as catcher out of Curacao on November 17, 2004. In 2009 he transitioned to a relief pitcher. Throughout his whole life, he has far fewer innings compared to other relief pitchers. He has a less chance of getting injured by wear and tear.

Jansen has been able to maintain his velocity. A list of his average velocity from 2010-2017

Jansen should be able to maintain this velocity due to his past history.

It’s hard to argue that Jansen is not the best closer in baseball. He gets big outs, throws strikes, limits walks. His natural cutter plays up and his history shows he should be able to stay on the field while maintaining his velocity.  If he can continue to limit his walks, he will be the best closer in baseball for years.

Sources: Baseball Reference, Fan Graphs, Baseball Prospectus, USA Today

 

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A Look Ahead Into the ’18-’19 Free Agent Reliever Market

 

The K Zone

A Look Ahead Into the ’18-’19 Free Agent Reliever Market

 By Brandon Gutierrez


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Over the past few years, the market for relievers has increased. Given how home runs have risen and how short starting pitchers are lasting, shutdown relievers are relied upon more than ever. Teams are willing to pay for that shutdown late inning pitcher. During last year’s offseason, Jonathan’s Papelbon’s reliever record 4 years/ 50 million dollar contract was shattered by Mark Melancon’s 4 years/ 62 million dollar contract. About a week later, Aroldis Chapman signed with the New York Yankees for 5 years/ 86 million. The Dodgers also re-signed closer Kenley Jansen for 5 years/ 80 million dollars. This off season, Wade Davis signed with the Colorado Rockies for 3 years/ 52 million. His annual average is 17.3 million, a reliever record. Brandon Morrow, a starter converted to a reliever, signed with the Cubs for 2 years/ 21 million despite his history with arm problems. Set up men are making more too. Anthony Swarzak, Joe Smith, Bryan Shaw, Addison Reed and Tommy Hunter all have signed for a annual average salary of 7 million or more. Teams are realizing that a strong bullpen is an enormous advantage in the postseason. For example, the 2015 Royals used the Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, and Greg Holland combo to win their first World Series since 1985. Teams have already spent a lot of money on bulking up their pen, and the crazy thing is, the best reliever free agent class is still a year away.


Zach Britton (31)


Zach Britton is interesting. In 2017, Zach Britton was put on the disabled list twice with a left forearm strain. Forearm strains can sometimes lead to Tommy John, so teams should be concerned. Another concern is that this winter, Britton tore his achilles while training. Although it isn’t an arm injury, it should force teams to further question his health. When Britton is healthy, he is arguably one of the best closers in the game. In 2016, he posted 9.9 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9. He had an ERA of 0.54, an unbelievable 1.74 SIERA, and a great 3.04 WPA. What separated Britton from the rest was his sinker. It helped him produce an insane 80 percent ground ball rate. In today’s game, with home runs increasing, that is a huge advantage. Britton also converted 60 consecutive save opportunities in 2016-2017. Zach Britton will miss about half of the 2018 season due to his torn achilles. If he does come back and proves the forearm problems are behind him, he will be able to find teams willing to give him a decent contract.


Andrew Miller (34)


Andrew Miller has been one of the most dominant relievers in the last few years. In 2016, he posted a 14.6 K/9 rate, 1.09 BB/9 rate, WPA of 5.04, SIERA of 1.10, ERA  of 1.45. In 2017, his numbers did decrease. His K/9 rate did drop a little to 13.6. His BB/9 rate did go up to 3.0. His WPA dropped to 3.77 and his SIERA rose to 2.34. These numbers are still really good, but it is quite a bit of a change. Andrew Miller’s HR/9 numbers was 0.47 although only a 7% HR/FB, compared to an 11% career average, which may indicate some luck in the HR department. Miller was going through some knee problems in 2017, which could have influenced some of his numbers. The team that does sign Miller will be paying for his declining years.


Cody Allen (30)


Cody Allen is the one of those guys you don’t realize how good he is until you actually look at him closer, no pun intended. Out of the four relievers on the list, Allen is the only one who has never landed on the DL. He did have Tommy John surgery in high school, but this was nearly 10 years ago. In 2016, Allen posted a 11.51 K/9 rate, a BB/9 of 3.6, WPA of 2.45, SIERA of 2.90, and ERA 2.51 . In 2017 he improved almost all those numbers, posting a 12.30 K/9 rate, 2.81 BB/9 rate, WPA of 1.87, 2.84 SIERA, and 2.94 ERA. Allen has been quietly one of the best relievers in the game over the past couple of years. For a guy who has never spent one day on the DL and elite numbers, he should be able to land a pretty good contract.


Craig Kimbrel (31)


In 2017, Craig Kimbrel was also one of the best relievers in baseball. Even after knee surgery in 2016, he pitched 53 innings and posted a 14.09 K/9, a 5.0 BB/9 rate, WPA of 1.01, SIERA of 2.93,and ERA of 3.40. In 2017, it was clear that the knee surgery did not affect Kimbrel at all. He went on to post an unbelievable 16.4 K/9, lowered his BB/9 to 1.8, 4.5 WPA, 1.18 SIERA, and a 1.43 ERA. In 2017, Kimbrel was the best reliever out of the ones on this list. He should be able to land a contract similar to Wade Davis.


All four of these men are elite relievers and will have a lot of interest next year. The Indians are obviously going to be interested. Red Sox are another obvious team. Arizona could want to give Archie Bradley more support. Angels and Mariners should if they want to gain ground on the Astros. Of course the Dodgers and Yankees are rumored to be interested on big free agents. Each of them should be able to land big deals, especially the way the reliever market is heading.


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