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Real Deal or Impostor: Will Graveman, Bauer, and Cruz Sustain Their Performances?

With 2 weeks officially in the books, we can finally begin to consider 2015 performances, at least to a certain extent. The small sample size waters remain treacherous, but approximately 10% of a player's season should not be completely ignored either. Three players that are now looked at far differently than they were in the preseason are presented below, awaiting classification as either the "real deal" or "impostor." Let's begin.

 

Kendall Graveman, SP, OAK

A popular sleeper pick heading into the year, Graveman has done absolutely nothing to justify his sleeper status. Through 3 starts, he has posted a 1-2 record with a 6.94 ERA, 7.05 FIP, and 5.86 xFIP. Primary culprits for his failures are a dismal strikeout rate (4.63 K/9) and elevated walk rate (8 BB in 11.2 IP), adding up to a terrible 0.75 K/BB ratio. When hitters do not walk or strikeout, they have been hitting the ball hard - to the tune of a 23.3% line drive rate (league average is 21%).

On a per game basis, it is still difficult to find anything to like about Graveman's season thus far. His first start led to 3.1 IP and 7 ER, obviously bad. His second start against the Astros was better: 5.1 IP, 0 ER, 4 BB, and 3 K. That seems encouraging at first, but the Astros strike themselves out with startling regularity - how do you only have 3 Ks against them? How do you have a sub one K/BB against them? He got a W out of it, but it was not a great performance. His most recent start was weak: 3 IP, 2 ER, 3 BB, and 2 K. The alarming thing here is the length of the appearance - 2 ER should not have knocked him out so early. Nothing injury related has come out, so the evidence suggests that Oakland may be tiring of their struggling sinkerballer, preemptively yanking him before being forced to do so. If this is the case, his days in the rotation are numbered.

The greater mystery is why he was ever a sleeper in the first place. He has only 155 minor league innings, and they suggested that his K rate would be bad. He does not have a single plus offering according to Pitch f/x data(though it may be thrown off by the small sample). He has not allowed a crazy number of unlucky HR (2), and his elevated BABIP is explained by the line drive rate he allows. The only way this guy belongs anywhere near your fantasy team is if you stacked your lineup against him in a DFS format.

Verdict: Real Deal - he really is this bad.

 

Nelson Cruz, OF, SEA

Cruz has power. His 40 HR last year attest to this fact. The worry in the offseason was his change of address - from homer happy Camden Yards to Safeco Field, where offense historically goes to die - that may sap this one tool player of his one tool. Fantasy owners have seen this before - Brian Giles in Petco Park and Jason Bay at Citi Field are notable examples - and many legitimately worried Cruz may follow in their footsteps. 8 HR in two weeks later, Cruz seems to be all right.

Yet six of the eight bombs have come on the road, potentially leaving some to wonder whether Safeco may get into Cruz's head yet. Two is a far less imposing figure than eight, after all. Context, however, reveals that two is actually a solid figure, ridiculous road stats notwithstanding. Since the Mariners have played roughly a 50/50 split of home and away games, Cruz's two home HR can be extrapolated to four if he were to have played nothing but home games to this point in the season. That total would place him on par with first round sluggers like Giancarlo Stanton (three HR) and Edwin Encarnacion (four). That would still be a solid start.

Of course, Cruz really has eight dingers, and this fact will also help him. Historically, Cruz is a streaky player - a cold streak to start the campaign could have shattered his confidence and turned him into the second coming of Jason Bay. The scorching hot start will prevent this by proving beyond doubt that he can hit for power as a Mariner - he can tell himself that he is merely in a slump when things do go awry, that it will end eventually and he will hit for power again. Cruz will surely lose the .500 BABIP propping up his average and a few bombs to his roomier stadium, but he should still be good for 35 big flies. This one tool player has proven that his one tool remains sharp, and that makes him the...

Verdict: Real Deal

 

Trevor Bauer, SP, CLE

While most were fascinated by the fantasy prospects of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar; the more under the radar Bauer may have been the most intriguing member of the Cleveland rotation. He has a reputation of being unteachable, yet the position he stubbornly holds onto make a great deal of sense. Why should he give up offerings that can be effective weapons against major league hitters? Why should he strive to increase his groundball rate when balls in the air have lower BABIPs? His way is working very well thus far, as he has posted a 2-0 record with a miniscule 0.95 ERA, 2.02 FIP, 3.09 xFIP, and sexy 12.32 K/9. Since the advanced metrics support ace level production, he can be trusted to maintain his breakthrough, right?

His 5.21 BB/9 are a cause for concern, but he has managed to not allow them to hurt him thanks to a .211 BABIP against. That is a very low figure not suggested by some kind of super defense in Cleveland, so Bauer figures to allow more hits to drop through than he currently is, likely when his 40% IFFB% (career 9.8%) normalizes. That will make it harder to strand all of those walks, leading to a significant uptick in ERA. He is also yet to allow a HR this season, and he probably will at some point. Overall, luck seems to have played a significant role in Bauer's early season success.

It is possible that Bauer's improvement is the result of better pitch selection rather than merely good fortune, but this is not really the case according to Pitch f/x pitch values/100.

Pitch f/x pitch values/100 is an advanced metric that measures the effectiveness of each offering in a pitcher's repertoire, normalizing for how often each is thrown.

While it takes longer than three starts for the metric to stabilize, Bauer pitched enough in 2014 that last year's data should be applicable. Bauer has six different pitches, three of which are plus while the others are less effective. On the positive side of the ledger, Bauer has a 2 seam fastball (0.92 runs above average per 100 thrown), a cutter (0.29), and a curveball (0.80). Less effective are the four seamer (-0.47), the slider (-1.28), and the change (-1.97). Two of Bauer's better offerings, the 2 seamer and the cutter, are being used more frequently this year than last by a little more than 4% each. The curve, however, has fallen from 17% last year to just 5.7% this year. Since the curve is his second most effective pitch, using it more - not less - would explain an uptick in performance. Bauer's worst pitch, the change, is up 4.5%, while the weak slider is down 5%. Usage patterns stabilize quickly as the pitcher makes a conscious decision of what to throw for every pitch, and while Bauer has clearly tinkered with his selection it is not yet optimized according to publicly available data. Contact rate against Bauer has fallen 10% this year, but the sample is too small to rule out its being mere statistical noise. Since Bauer figures to allow more runs going forward, he must be labelled...

Verdict: Impostor, though he does have the talent to perform at his current pace if he can cut down the walks.

 

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