Fantasy Baseball Edge: Going Deep
Moe Koltun, and Matthew Schwimmer of Roto Analysis
Usually, we take this column as an opportunity to give our opinions on a variety of different fantasy-relevant players with varying values to help as widespread a portion of the fantasy community as possible. While the advantage to that strategy is that it helps a larger portion of the fantasy community at least somewhat, it does have the intrinsic disadvantage of us writers being unable to go as in-depth on each guy as we possible could. So, as a change of pace, this week we decided to focus on two players who we wanted to ‘Go Deep’ on, meaning guys we wanted to do slightly more elaborate research on so we could share some more finessed opinions with you guys. So, we decided to go deep on the Tigers’ Max Scherzer and the Indians’ Carlos Santana.
Max Scherzer, Starting Pitcher, Tigers
Max Scherzer is having one of the strangest starts of the 2013 fantasy baseball season. His ERA is nearly identical to what it was last season—3.74 ERA in 2012 vs 3.61 ERA so far this year—despite the fact that he’s improved in essentially every category across the board. Not only has Scherzer sustained the jump he made last year from around 8 K/9 previously in his career to the 11.08 K/9 he posted last season, but he’s actually improved on it, currently posting an 11.60 K/9 rate. Scherzer has also decreased his already solid mid-twos walk rate all the way down to a spectacular 1.71 BB/9, making his current K:BB ratio an elite 6.78:1, more than double the rate of Justin Verlander. On the batted balls side of things, Scherzer has also increased his ground ball rate to a career high 43.6%, and lowered his HR/9 rate to a career low 0.57 HR/9. So why has Scherzer’s ERA not followed suit with the rest of his improving stat line? The answer is simple: bad luck.
Among qualified starters, Scherzer has the sixth lowest Left On Base Percentage (LOB%) in major league baseball, which is the percentage of runners a pitcher strands on base. This stat is almost entirely uncontrollable by the pitcher, and subject to large fluctuations. If with that outlandishly low rate Scherzer is capable of managing a 3.61 ERA, the rest of the way I’d project him for a sub-3.00 ERA which should match his currently impeccable 0.97 WHIP and make him a top 15 fantasy pitcher the rest of the way. If Scherzer’s owner undervalues him because of some small sample bad luck in the ERA department, I’d be more than willing to pounce on his four-category dominance.
Carlos Santana, Catcher, Indians
Carlos Santana seems to have taken the next step to being a perennial all-star catcher. After a frustrating first few seasons in the league laden with high expectations, Santana had an incredibly strong finish to last season and has taken even more steps in the right direction this year. One sign that always gave Santana hope was his incredible walk rate, which has never been lower than 14.7% in the majors. This season Santana’s Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) has taken a major step forward—from a .279 career rate to .367 this season—and while some of that is fluky, it’s not entirely due to luck. One of the main reasons for Santana’s increased BABIP is his improved Line Drive rate. It has improved steadily from 2011 when it reached a low of 15%. This season it is bordering on 20% and that seems to be more in line with his second half numbers last season.
Additionally, Santana’s strikeout rate also has the potential to improve. In the second half last year, Santana only struck out 13% of the time and his contact rates have improved this season despite a relatively high strikeout rate. Although his BABIP may be fluky, it is probably going to be offset in the long-term by Santana depressing his K-rate. While making all of these adjustments and changes, Santana hasn’t had to sacrifice any power as he already has seven homers and his RBI’s should get a small boost with the return of Michael Bourn. While many are looking to sell high on Santana, I would be looking to buy low (or I suppose buy high) on the former top prospect. I would look for Santana to be in the conversation with Buster Posey for the #1 catcher for years to come and remember that Santana has the ability to DH on his off days unlike Posey, which could mean a lot to his long-term durability.
Agree? Disagree? Questions? Tweet @RotoAnalysis and be sure to follow Moe @MoeProblems and Matt @Schwimingly. Check out their work on RotoAnalysis.com, as well as The RotoAnalysis Fantasy Sports Podcast.