“That’s Amore!” National League Central: The Cardinals are Strolling Down Injury Lane
Losing arguably the best number one starting pitcher in the game hasn’t stopped the St. Louis Cardinals. Young players stepping up, to fill in for Adam Wainwright, have helped the Cardinals stay atop the NL Central. If losing Wainwright wasn’t enough, the Cardinals were dealt other injuries as the season progressed. First baseman Matt Adams was lost for a substantial period of time due to a quadriceps injury. As of the past week and a half they saw Matt Holliday go down with a quadriceps injury and Lance Lynn suffer a forearm strain. As of Monday, they currently hold a six game lead on the Pittsburgh Pirates and six and half games on the Chicago Cubs. These injuries and the way the team has performed speaks with loud volume. This organization has faced the adversity and not only own the best record in the Nationals League, but the best record in all of baseball. Being a lifelong Cubs fan, you’d expect me to have harsh words for their longtime rival. This isn’t the case. It’s a respect factor. What the St. Louis Cardinals have been able to do as an organization is astounding. They’ve been able to put a competitive team on the field year in, year out, and I wouldn’t bet against them winning the World Series this season. Yes, they may have to make a few moves depending on how Holliday responds to his injury, but they have the main pieces intact. Landing Ryan Howard would give them the option to platoon first base with Mark Reynolds while having either come off the bench to provide power in a pinch-hit situation. The Cardinals have a charismatic way of landing key pieces at the trade deadline, and as July 31 approaches, keep and eye on what moves are made to keep this steam engine rolling.
McCutchen: He’s Back!
I had my doubts when it came to the health of Andrew McCutchen. He wasn’t healthy, and it was noticeable from his approach at the plate. If you took my advice and bought low on him, you landed a gem. McCutchen has bounced back from his early woes and is putting together another solid season. Within the last 30 days, the Pittsburgh centerfielder is hitting .344 with 4 HR, 17 RBI, and a .998 OPS. He’s absolutely on fire and there’s no reason why owners that held onto him aren’t licking their chops. Not only has McCutchen’s resurgence been great to the fantasy world, but he’s helped propel the Pirates to second place in the division, only six games behind the leading St. Louis Cardinals. I’m interested in seeing how McCutchen fairs this week. The Pirates get the White Sox during the first part of the week and the Washington Nationals over the weekend. McCutchen will see hard throwers in Carlos Rodon, Jeff Samardzija, and Max Scherzer. If he puts up another solid week, he has to be on every fantasy owner’s radar moving forward.
You’re Killing Me Jonny Boy…
I’m not sure what I expected out of the Jon Lester signing, but I never thought he would have a losing record after 13 starts. Lester is too good of a pitcher to have only his second losing season in his ten-year career. I want to make an excuse and suggest Lester needs time to learn the hitters in the National League, but I can’t do it. Usually, it’s the NL pitchers who have a hard time switching leagues. I remember CC Sabathia going to the Brewers, from Cleveland, and absolutely belittling National League hitters. Why isn’t Lester having the same effect? First, I thought of effectiveness. Maybe, Lester is walking too many batters or giving up too many homeruns? This hasn’t been the case. In 13 starts, Lester has 20 walks to 74 strikeouts, and has given up only nine home runs. I dug a little deeper. A quality start is defined as a starting pitcher completing at least six innings while permitting no more than three earned runs. With that being said, Lester has had eight quality starts. If he’s given the team a chance to win, then why do his numbers not reflect this? I started looking into other avenues that would explain Lester’s season. One of the best statistical measures that most people don’t understand is WHIP. WHIP is a sabermetric measurement of the number of baserunners a pitcher allows per inning pitched. It’s simply calculated by adding walks plus hits and dividing the sum by the number of innings pitched. Lester’s season WHIP is 1.367. This shows that Lester is giving up nearly a runner and half per inning. Still, there is more to this number. If we look at the WHIP leaders in the MLB, the top ten features players that have a WHIP of 1.00 or less. Chris Sale currently sits in tenth with a WHIP of 1.00, while Max Scherzer leads MLB with a WHIP of 0.88. While Sale barely allows one base runner per inning, Scherzer is allowing less than one. By comparing these two pitchers to Lester, it’s easy to see that the Cubs’ lefty is allowing nearly half a runner more than the league leader. This can play numerous roles. Not only does allowing baserunners change your pitch plan to individual batters, but it can lead to more runs due to extra base hits, home runs, or even fielding errors.
In 13 starts, Lester has walked more than two batters only once. It’s safe to say he’s been able to limit the number of walks he’s surrendered. The main factor to Lester’s woes have been the number of hits he’s given up. He’s given up five or more hits in 12 of his 13 starts. Lester’s averaging nearly 10 hits per nine innings pitched. This is way behind league leader Francisco Liriano and his H/9 of 6.03. When it comes to pitching, it’s very important to get ahead in the count. Not only does it give the pitcher the advantage, but the batter will have to react to off-speed pitches rather than waiting on a fastball. The last stat I want to look at is Lester’s ERA while pitching ahead in the count compared to pitching behind in the count. While pitching behind in the count, Lester’s ERA is 4.63, but while pitching ahead his ERA greatly drops to 2.77. That’s nearly 2.00 runs less! I want to suggest that it isn’t a mechanical flaw with Lester. It’s as simple as Lester not getting ahead in the count, and being forced to throw fastballs that hitters are sitting on. If Lester can start getting into favorable counts such as 0-1, 0-2, or 1-2, he should be able to limit the number of base runners and earned runs he allows.
Week 10 Fantasy Studs
Miguel Montero, C, CHI(N) – Montero started the season very hot, but cooled down within the past month. Last week, he turned it on hitting .350 with three home runs and eight RBI. His nine home runs are tied for fourth in MLB. He may not be an everyday starter in fantasy leagues, but it’s a steal owning a catcher than is fourth in home runs and eighth in RBI.
Todd Frazier, 3B, CIN – This has been a repeating fixture all season. He currently leads all third basemen with 18 home runs and shows no signs of slowing down. Last week, the Cincy slugger hit .400 with a pair of home runs and four RBI. His one stolen base was a nice addition to any fantasy roster. Not known for his wheels, Frazier is currently second in MLB for stolen bases by a third baseman. Manny Machado is first with eight.
Joey Votto, 1B, CIN – I take back ever saying I would never own Joey Votto again. He’s finally healthy and is having a monster season. He’s tied with Miguel Cabrera for fourth in home runs from the first base position. The eye popping stat is his .956 OPS. He’s killing the ball. There was no stopping him last week as “Vottomatic” batted .321 with four home runs and five RBI. He’s looking like a lock to represent the NL and his home crowd at the 2015 All-Star Game.
Jason Heyward, RF, STL – I’ve come to accept Heyward will never be the hitter that was projected to hit 30+ home runs a season. There’s still time as he’s only 25, but I can’t see a light bulb going off. Nevertheless, the Cardinals desperately need a boost in production with Matt Holliday going down for at least two weeks. Heyward stepped it up a notch hitting .375, but only managed one RBI. Thus far, Shelby Miller has outperformed Heyward since being dealt from the Cardinals.
Francisco Rodriguez, CL, MIL – Rodriguez never disappoints his fantasy owners. Last week was no different as the closer notched three saves while striking out four in 4.0 innings of work. He didn’t allow any batters to cross home plate dropping his season ERA to 1.13. This is a player I look to be on the move come July 31. If the Nationals are serious about bringing in another closer, I’d look at Rodriguez as it could be cheaper than the prospects it may cost them to land Aroldis Chapman.
Kyle Hendricks, SP, CHI(N) – Hendricks was part of the deal that sent Ryan Dempster to the Texas Rangers. No, his stats are not that impressive, but Hendricks has shown glimpses of really good stuff. He’s only 25 and looks to be part of the Cubs rotation for the foreseeable future. He’s a perfect pitcher to have at the back end of the rotation. Hendricks won his only start throwing five innings of one run baseball. He supported the start with seven strikeouts to zero walks. He currently sits at 2-2 with a 3.80 ERA and a [59:13] K:BB. If you’re looking for some help, he could come at a cheap price.
Jaime Garcia, SP, STL – His record (2-3) may not show that he’s been solid this season, but posting a 2.06 ERA does. Having a healthy Garcia is huge for the Cardinals who have had their fair share of injuries to their pitching staff. Last week, Garcia went 1-0 while striking out six in eight innings of work. He was able to dominate the Royals, limiting them to four hits with zero walks.
Aroldis Chapman, CL, CIN – Reports are starting to surface that Chapman could be in the mix of pitchers to be moved, along with Jonny Cueto and Mike Leake. If he is moved, Chapman should bring back a solid prospect. Again, there are other closers I’d look at before Chapman, only because I wouldn’t want to lose a top prospect for a closer. In week 10, Chapman was three for three in saves, while only surrendering one earned run. On the season, Chapman has 13 saves and a [47:18] K:BB.
Favorite Matchups Week 11
Jake Arrieta: [vs. CLE & @ MIN] Arrieta is the perfect example of how a change of scenery can help a player. He’s 6-4 on the season carrying a 3.16 ERA. He’s been solid with nine quality starts in twelve games. I like his matchups against Cleveland and Minnesota as no lineups fear him. He could help Detroit and the White Sox out by getting victories over both the Indians and Twins.
Francisco Liriano: [vs. CWS & @ WAS] Liriano is another pitcher whose record doesn’t reflect how he’s pitched. He’s never had a beautiful ERA, but he’s been reliable with strikeouts and quality starts. This season he has nine quality starts, and I like his matchups this week. The White Sox have under achieved and Pittsburgh is starting to get hot. His second start comes against a Nationals team that lives and dies by the home run. He should be able to keep Nationals hitters off their stride with his nasty slider.
Joey Votto: [4 @ DET & 3 vs. MIA] The way he’s been hitting all season there’s no way any owners can afford to have him out of their lineup. If you don’t own him, he’s a player I’d go after. He’ll come at a hefty price, but it’s worth it. He could be the difference between missing the playoffs or winning the league. He’s carrying a .298 batting average with 14 HR, 36 RBI, and 34 R.
Michael Wacha: [vs. MIN & @ PHI] He currently sits at 8-2 with a 2.45 ERA. He’s been everything and more for the St. Louis Cardinals. Before the season started, I predicted big things out of Wacha and Gerrit Cole. Neither has failed to live up to my expectations. He gets two starts this week against a Twins team that is 1.5 games behind the division leading Kansas City Royals, and a Phillies team that is looking more like a minor league organization.
Kris Bryant Watch
It’s been awhile, but the Kris Bryant Watch is back in the articles. I’m sure everyone knows who he is by now, while also realizing the hype is real. Yes, the strikeouts are a high, but that’s alright. He’s a rookie with power that is learning the Major League pitching game. On the season, Bryant is hitting .294 with 7 HR and 35 RBI. He’s also scored 37 R and has shown ability to run the bases with five steals in six attempts. I want to be clear that his 70 strikeouts are high, but he’s drawn 33 walks. He’s a guy that pitchers fear and owns an OPS of .885 (.403 OBP/.482 SLG).
Stars of Week Ten:
C – Miguel Montero (CHC)
1B – Joey Votto (CIN)
2B – Scooter Gennett (MIL)
3B – Todd Frazier (CIN)
SS – Zack Cozart (CIN) [Undergoing Season Ending Knee Surgery]
LF – Starling Marte (PIT)
CF – Gerardo Parra (MIL)
RF – Jason Heyward (STL)
SP – Kyle Hendricks (CHC)
CL – Francisco Rodriguez (MIL) & Arolid Chapman (CIN)
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