Living in Asia, I’ve come across many entertaining phrases but one of my favorites is the Tinglish, “Same same but different.” The meaning is just what you think and pretty straightforward, but the contexts in which people use (especially with Westerners) are endless. For example:
Chris asking about a Rolex at a street market: “Is this a real Rolex?”
Shopowner: “Yes, same same but different.”
In reality, it’s obviously a fake selling for $30.
Chris trying to understand the menu at a local restaurant: “Is this chicken?”
Waiter: “Yes, same same but different.”
I’m still not sure what it was and don’t think it was chicken. Needless to say I find myself eating a lot more vegetarian over here.
Keep this context in mind as you read my MLB version of “Same same but different.” Enjoy.
Same: Relief Pitcher
But Different: One is closing but the other is not (well sort of)
The demand for closers and saves is very league-dependent. In 10-team mixers, owners can oftentimes find decent bets on the waiver wire especially if they keep up with the breaking news. Conversely for those in very deep or mon0-leagues, the chase for saves is cutthroat and the setup men for every team may already be owned. With that context, we look at an interesting situation in Arizona where J.J. Putz appears to be sidelined for an extended period of time and fantasy owners are faced with deciding between Heath Bell (45% owned) and David Hernandez (19%).
We’ll start with the apparent incumbent with more closing experience, Bell. After five impressive, if not dominant, seasons in San Diego where Bell replaced the retired Trevor Hoffman and tallied 132 saves (2010-2012), Bell signed a 3-year contract to close in Miami last year. Unfortunately, like most of the 2012 season for Miami, things didn’t go as planned and Bell was miserable (5.09 ERA and 19 for 27 in save opportunities). Traded to Arizona this offseason, it appeared Bell would move back to a setup role in the hopes of finding his San Diego form. On the surface, things don’t look promising, but he’s actually deserved better than his 4.20 ERA and 1.37 WHIP would indicate, and there are a few numbers that stand out. First, his BABIP is an unworldly .400, and while he’s always had a slightly higher than average BABIP (career .309), that number should come down. It’s also unlikely his inflated HR/FB rate stays at 16.7%. Secondly, his K/9 rate is an impressive 11.74 which is what you want to see from the back of your bullpen. I’m a little concerned with the 1-2 MPH drop in velocity and the fact he’s traded 5% of his ground balls for line drives so that’s something to keep an eye on. Unfortunately, we just don’t get enough data to judge relief pitchers with statistical accuracy until much later in the season, and his 2.10 xFIP seems to be a more realistic interpretation of what he’s done so far this year.
On the other side of the coin, we have Hernandez, who prior to the Bell trade, most pegged to be the heir apparent for 9th-inning duties in Arizona. Since joining the club in 2011, he had posted a 2.94 ERA, 11.44 K/9 and earned 63 saves+holds (87.5% conversion rate); however, the surprise Bell trade muddied the waters a little bit, and he got off to a rocky start in 2013 with a 3.57 ERA, 8.66 K/9 and 4.08 BB/9. What’s more troubling about those numbers is the fact he’s actually been somewhat lucky (.255 BABIP, 92.4% LOB, 4.15 xFIP). Looking deeper, his struggles appear to be driven by a drop in his swinging strike rate and his ability to get batters to chase outside the zone. He’s stopped the bleeding with 4 consecutive scoreless innings in 4 appearances since his 3-run blow-up against San Francisco on May 1st, although he’s only registered 2 Ks since then, too.
For owners with deep benches, this is a situation where the best answer would be to own both, because I see Bell holding the role for the next month but Hernandez eventually overtaking him (partially a gut call as the numbers don’t necessarily indicate it). If you don’t have that luxury though, go with Bell for now and know it’s a situation you need to keep an eye on. I don’t think Bell is truly the more talented of the two, but he’s 3 for 3 in save chances over the past week, currently appears to have Gibson’s confidence and has actually outpitched Hernandez on the season. That said, if you’re in one of the 45% of leagues where Bell isn’t available, you could do much worse than picking up Hernandez. Even while he’s in a setup role, I’d take a chance on him getting back on track where he should be a positive contributor to your overall ratios. Just keep in mind the total X-Factor in the whole equation: Matt Reynolds is lurking...
Same: Starting Pitcher
But Different: 3-2 and with a 2.33 ERA vs. 1-5 with a 6.02 ERA
Travis Wood was added as a deep league pick-up on RotoBaller in early May and went on to pitch another gem this week against the hot-hitting Cardinals (6.2 IP, W, ER, 8K, 5H, 1BB). Meanwhile, Edwin Jackson is 1-5 with a 6.02 ERA through 8 ugly starts. Interestingly though their ownership percentages don’t vary too much at 44% vs. 31%, respectively. Outside of Jeff Samardzija, no one should be racing to pick up a Cubs pitcher, but there could be some NL value to be found in the Windy City... but which pitcher should owners choose?
Wood started in the Reds organization in 2006 and had mixed results as a slightly above replacement level player over three partial major league seasons (2010-2012) where he’s totaled about 365 IP with a 4.01 ERA and K/9 of 6.9. So far in 2013, he’s posted an impressive 2.33 ERA with a 0.93 WHIP, and probably most surprisingly he’s earned 3 wins in 7 starts for the lowly Cubs. So is there substance to this hot start or is it a fluke? As I’ve mentioned before, we’re getting to a point in the season where there’s sufficient data to support certain underlying numbers for starters including GB% and LD% so I took a look at these and the results were promising; his GB% is up 7.4 points to 40.9% and his LD% is down 4.8 points to 16.5% so I decided to dig even deeper and look at velocity, plate discipline and pitch type. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to see here. His contact rates are down slightly, his first-pitch strike rates up and he’s been using his cutter and slider more, but none of that really paints a consistent picture which says there are some wholesale changes and a pitching rebirth in the making. With a K/9 of only 6.6 which is in line with his career rates, a .198 BABIP, 7.4% HR/FB and an 80.7% LOB, I’m more inclined to think his xFIP of 4.18 is a better indicator of what the future holds compared to what he’s done so far.
Meanwhile, Jackson was a 0-5 heading into Saturday’s start against the Nationals where he picked up his first win of the season with a respectable but not great line (5.2 IP, W, 2ER, 3K, 4H and 2BB). But has Jackson really forgotten how to pitch or has he been a victim of bad luck? With a .333 BABIP and 54.7% LOB, my guess is the latter. Like Wood, Jackson is inducing ground balls at an improved rate (53%), but the trade-off for him has been with flyballs as evidenced by the 11.4 point drop from his career flyball rate to 24.6% resulting in a 2.15 GB/FB ratio. In the process, Jackson is also keeping his K rate above 20% for the second straight year. The changes in the GB/FB rate are pretty drastic and will likely revert some, but with a two-year trend starting to develop, there’s reason to believe Jackson is transforming more into the groundball-strikeout pitcher we love to see. Wins aren’t likely to be plentiful, but if comparing him to Wood, we can’t hold that against him as both pitchers are dependent on the offensively challenged Cubs’ offense (24th in runs scored).
Despite the records, I would take Jackson from this point forward if choosing between the two pitchers. This is based on the underlying numbers and higher strikeout upside. Neither will be a roster staple except in the deepest of leagues, and matchups and two-start weeks will play a factor in the decision making process from week to week, but if you’re faced with a situation where you need to throw in an over-performing starter today to seal a trade or cut someone I wouldn’t lose sleep about letting Wood go if I had to.
You may note I left Scott Feldman (3-3 with 2.7 ERA and 1.12 WHIP) off this list, but that wasn’t an oversight. Most of his numbers scream regression and like Wood, he doesn’t offer a ton of upside in the strikeout or wins departments. If ranking the three pitchers, he would be third on the list.
Here are a couple other under-owned options out there:
Dayan Viciedo – After an early season trip to the DL, Viciedo was dropped in many leagues (22% owned), but for owners in need of power, he is definitely worth keeping an eye on. In two games since returning to the lineup (very small sample size), Viciedo is 4 for 7 with a double and a pair each of walks, runs and RBI. His free swinging ways will keep him from helping you out much in the batting average department and don’t expect any steals, but 15.5 HR and 55.5 RBI would be realistic over/unders for the rest of the season and could be useful off your waiver wire.
Brandon Beachy – If I told you there was a 26 year-old starter who had an ERA of 2.00 last year and owns a career MLB 9.54 K/9 available in 75% of leagues would you be interested? Well, Beachy is set to begin a rehab assignment soon and on track to return in mid to late June. This recommendation comes with caveats (a) pitchers returning from TJ surgery usually have a sizable adjustment period before regaining their control (see Adam Wainwright 2012) and (b) Beachy was a sell-high candidate last year before his injury, but if you have a DL slot available, there’s no harm in picking him up. And for those in keeper leagues (especially where kept players who were picked up from the WW revert to a very late round), Beachy is an obvious add.
For owners looking to stay current on players to target, remember to check out our Ultimate Waiver Wire Watch List (updated daily) where you can find great updates and feedback on pitchers and position players from the staff here at RotoBaller.com, and feel free to shoot me any questions @Roto_Hawk on twitter.