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“Hamilton Sound” The Case for Selling Strasburg

Hello again.  Last week we touched on a guy that I thought was a nice buy low opportunity, Kenta Maeda.  Maeda pitched eight scoreless Wednesday night (albeit against the lowly Pirates; man they look bad on offense) before giving up a two-run homer to Francisco Cervelli of all people in the 9th.  He still had a nice line of 8 hits, 5 ks, no walks over 8 1/3 innings.  The window on that buy-low is closing fast if it hasn’t shut completely.  (I wrote this on Thursday afternoon and in the interim Maeda was placed on the 10-day DL.  The door, my fantasy friends, is back open.  Maeda was placed on the 10-day DL with a purported hamstring strain.  You and I both understand that the Dodgers are manufacturing pitcher injuries to rest their talented-yet-brittle rotation.  I have zero concern about the hamstring, but maybe another owner does …).  Today we are going to switch gears and talk about a pitcher to sell high on: Stephen Strasburg.

Strasburg owners, myself included, drafted him with fingers and toes crossed hoping for an elite 125 to 150 innings.  If you were expecting anything more, I am not sure why.  After last night’s disappointing start against the Orioles – 6 innings, 8 hits, 9 ks, 2 walks, and 5 runs – Strasburg’s overall season still looks pretty good: 3.28 ERA, 45 strikeouts, and a 1.16 WHIP over 46 2/3 innings.  Although that’s not quite elite, it’s certainly not too shabby at all.  Why the reason for concern then?  It’s threefold.

As always with Strasburg, there is the matter of health.  He has pitched over 200 innings just once in his career and he is almost 29-years old (which, side note, makes me feel old as I vividly remember watching his debut).  There are the general concerns for a pitcher who has had Tommy John surgery, but add in the fact that Stras is also is pitching with a partially-torn pronator tendon and the concern starts getting all exponential and

Although I am not a doctor, I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, have access to Google, and have watched all four seasons of The Wire more times than I can count.  (Fuck you, I know there are five seasons of The Wire, I just don’t count season 2 as legitimate.   It’s an “alternative fact”, to use today’s parlance.).  With those powers combined, I found that there are two options when dealing with a torn pronator tendon.  First, surgery.  Second, rest and rehab.  Strasburg opted for rehab and that choice seems to be working … for now.  Thing is, the tendon is still torn. Rehab involves only the strengthening of the muscles around the tear to compensate and the tendon itself doesn’t actually heal.  This may be the Holiday Inn speaking but it sounds like a matter of when and not if Strasburg is going to run into future problems with the elbow.  I wouldn’t bet against those problems surfacing again this year in some form, whether it be time off or fantasy-gods-forbid, a full tear and he’s done for this year and next.  Fine.  Great.  We already knew this coming into the year, so what?  Injury history was baked into his draft position/auction price.

That brings us to the second part of why I think we should sell, ‘member I said the issue was threefold about 10,000 words ago.  Strasburg signed a seven-year $175 million contract with the Nationals at the beginning of last year and he’s pitching differently to stay healthy for as much of the deal as he can, at least that’s my theory.  I think he and/or the front office has/have made the calculated decision that a good/great and healthy Strasburg is better than the lights-out elite 11 k/9, but oft-injured Strasburg.  This is good news for the Nationals and there is no real doubt that it is the right decision in the for-real baseball world.  For us fantasy nerds though, there’s implications.  We paid for the lights-out version and I don’t think we’re going to get it.

I just worked The Wire and It’s Always Sunny into a fantasy baseball article. You’re welcome.

Strasburg said in December that he was going to abandon his filthy slider and he has.   Last year, he threw the slider almost 18% of the time.  This year that’s down to a little less than 7%, with a corresponding uptick in curves and change-ups.   Both Strasburg’s Swing% and Contact% are up and he is generating ground balls at a 49.2% clip, up from 42.2% and 39.5% over ’15 and ’16.  I do not want to go so far as to say that Strasburg is pitching to contact, but I do believe that he is dialing it back a bit to protect the elbow: cruising when he can and reaching back when he needs it.  His K rate is sitting a career low of 8.68 per nine, largely, I think, as a result of this protect-the-elbow mentality. Moreover, his HR/FB is down around 7% this year, when his career average is closer to 11.5%.  If that ticks back up to his career norm, we’re looking at 3.50 ERA pitcher with a strikeout rate hovering at or below 9k/9.  What he is doing is working in the real world, it’s just not what we paid for in our (fantasy) world.

The third prong; where we’re going to get into some controversy.  Some of this is just a pure gut-call.  There is a substantial gut on this author, so you should pay attention.  Comparatively, Maeda was an easy call as a buy-low as the issue he was facing was rather cut and dry.  Not so much here.  Boiling this situation down, I think we can say there are three potential outcomes: (1) injury and misery; (2) Strasburg has in fact changed his approach and this 8 or 9 k/9 is what we’re going to see going forward with an ERA in the 3.60 to 3.20 range assuming neutral luck; or (3) Strasburg reverts back to his old self and I eat crow.

Would I be shocked if (3) occurred?  Not utterly, no, but yeah, I would be surprised.  We’re looking at a guy that has eliminated a pitch with the numbers showing a change in approach.  He’s succeeded with a similar repertoire before, though.  In ’13, Strasburg had a very similar pitch-mix to this year and, not coincidentally, the second lowest k-rate of his career behind this year, but a sparkling ERA of 3.00.  That was four years and a lot of miles ago.  He struck out 9 batters over 6 innings on Wednesday night too, but I watched that game and a lot of those strikeouts came when Strasburg backed himself into issues with men on base, i.e., he reached back for more when he needed it.  Bottom line here: I just believe, based on the numbers and injury history, that outcomes (1) and (2) are more likely than (3), and substantially more so.  Would I sell Strasburg for nothing?  Obviously not.  A 3.50 ERA and 8.5 k-rate has a lot of value.  My plan is to hold through his next cupcake start against the Pirates and then see if someone is willing to pay for the old version of Strasburg.  If they are, I am more than willing to sell.  You?

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Major League Fantasy Football 2017 League Openings

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Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join Corey D Roberts, and Kyle Amore live on Sunday May 7th, 2017 from 7-9pm EST for episode #86 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. We will be previewing the coming week’s key matchups and discussing key fantasy information.

Our guest this week is Bryan Luhrs. Bryan is a writer with majorleaguefantasysports.com, and the owner of Real Deal Dynasty Sports.

You can find our shows on I-Tunes. Just search for Major League Fantasy Sports in the podcasts section. For Android users go to “Podcast Republic,” then download that app, and search for “Major League Fantasy Sports Show”

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(Click the RED link to listen)

Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join guest host Andrea Lamont, and Kyle Amore live on Monday May 15th, 2017 from 7-9pm EST for episode #87 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. We will be previewing the coming week’s key matchups and discussing key fantasy information.

Our guest this week is Lenny Melnick. Lenny is fantasy baseball pioneer, current FSWA Hall of Famer, and the host of his daily podcasts on lennymelnickfantasysports.com Mon-Fri at 9am EST. He also co-hosts a show every Sunday morning from 7-10am EST with Craig Mish on the fantasy sports station on Sirius.

You can find our shows on I-Tunes. Just search for Major League Fantasy Sports in the podcasts section. For Android users go to “Podcast Republic,” then download that app, and search for “Major League Fantasy Sports Show”

 

I have been playing fantasy baseball for about a decade over just about every format. Long time player, but first time writer. Hope to provide you helpful, informative, and entertaining insight throughout the season.

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