“Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” — Tony LaRussa, probably.
The thing about being a historian is you carry the past with you. Like Tim O’Brien wrote in his most famous novel, Tomcat in Love…wait, is that the right book? Or was it that other Vietnam-themed book where it was all a dream? Oh, sorry, The Things They Carried. Yes, this one is for Lemon, who’s floating in the breeze out there. ENYWHEY. We carry the burdens of the past with us, etched upon our hearts, weighing heavy on our souls. As the immortal poet collective, Papa Roach once taught us, “The scars remind us that the past is real.” Funny, how that works for fantasy baseball. What you did in the past is both predictive of what you do in the future, but also completely detached from what’s going on in the present. “He’s changed,” we all whisper. “Velocity is down.” What exactly was the normal velocity? Do we all run 4-minute miles every year of our life? Or is it good enough to run 4.5 or 5-minute miles? Does it matter if we throw 96 or 94 or 25 or 6 to 4? And on and on it goes. Let’s jump over to the news and notes and find out which pitcher has me thinking so nostalgic.
News and Notes
Dallas Keuchel: DFA’d by the Chicago White Sox. You wanna know the fleetingness of prime talent? The 2015 Cy Young Award Winners were Dallas Keuchel (now unemployed) and Jake Arrieta (retired due to unemployment in early 2022). That said, these guys don’t need to work a day in their lives again — each of them brought home about $100 million over the course of their career. In 2022, Keuchel walked as many batters as he struck out and sported an ERA of nearly 8 with true skill stats above 5.00. We all like to joke that you or I could go out there and generate some whiffs, but after watching Andrelton Simmons freeze batters with a 45-MPH fastball, it does make us wonder how pitchers like Keuchel fell so far from the Cy Young tree. This is sort of a fantasy obituary for our dear Keuchel, who was last relevant in 2020 when he finished 5th in the Cy Young race (and maybe deep-league relevant in 2021). Can we learn anything from Keuchel’s decline? The closest comparison on the K/BB/HR-allowed chart is Ian Anderson. Yeesh. At least Anderson has a fastball that’s 6-7 MPH faster than Keuchel. Best wishes to our legacy fantasy lothario as Keuchel looks to revive his career, likely on the Rockies as a closer or something.
Robbie Ray: Can I go three weeks without mentioning my man? No, no I cannot. Last time I raised Ray’s name, it was in response to Coolwhip wondering if our man Jordache had given up the ghost. And to Whip I replied with nothing. Because I ghosted him! HAR HAR HAR. ENYWHEY. Since Whip last asked me if I was concerned about Ray and I said “no” and he said “prove it,” Ray has unleashed for a 14+ K/9, 3 BB/9, and a 2.52 xFIP, which I only mention because of the 5.32 ERA in the same period. Ugh. 12 readers, you know how I feel about ERA. None of the “runs responsible for” metrics are truly “the best,” but when you see the metrics in massive disagreement, you know there’s something un-lucky happening. In fact, Ray is one of the few pitchers who is generating more strikes by whiff than by called strike, and his big ERA is caused by an unexpected level of homers allowed over the past month. I mean, Ray is always a homer-magnet. Always has been. But when you’ve got a guy who is top 10 in the league in whiff rate (and indeed, has a 22% swinging strike rate since May 10, which is extraordinary) and is generating nearly 38% of his outs by himself, you’ve gotta pay attention to that. If Ray’s current repertoire continues through June, the ERA will normalize and we’ll be seeing Ray compete for his second consecutive Cy Young Award. Take that Keuchel!
Sonny Gray: Here’s a list: Gerrit Cole, Clay Holmes, Keegan Akin, Sonny Gray, Aaron Nola, Spencer Strider. That list is the 13th-18th best CSW% generators in 2022. Cole and Nola are stalwarts, Holmes and Strider are newcomers, and Akin is the guy who kinda figured it out this year. Gray? He’s always been a good strike generator, but he struggles to put up lengthy runs of health due to his bad back. After the Twins acquired Gray from the Reds earlier this year, Gray spent time on the IL (expected) before coming back and pitching in short spurts as he recovered (also expected). But Gray’s 12.6 K/9 over the last month? Unexpected, my friends. His ERA and true skill stats align, and we’re looking at a crafty vet who is at the top of his game going into June. Problem is, we know Gray will miss some more time. He hasn’t topped 200 IP in 7 years, and the main projection systems view him as having 100 IP left in the tank for 2022. Enjoy Gray while he’s healthy, and let him start every matchup until he gets hurt again.
Hyun-Jin Ryu: Cam back! And then left again. Fresh off the IL, Ryu is dealing with elbow tightness…right after forearm tightness. Pitchers can be effective while dealing with those injuries (see Jacob deGrom in 2021), but we’re looking at a ticking timebomb with the usually reliable Ryu. In the pre-season I wrote about how Ryu had become a reliable option over the past few years as he neared the top of the charts in overall IP. Then, the lockout happened. Reports indicate that Ryu struggled with conditioning during the lockout and wasn’t fully ready for the reason, and now we’re seeing him pitch through the precursor injuries to Tommy John surgery. So, keep an eye on his health, and start him in favorable home league matchups and DFS. But you high stakes mavens? I’d find anybody other than Ryu right now.
Freddy Peralta: Gonna miss “significant time” but there’s no timetable on his return from a shoulder strain. These kinds of injuries go with the territory of the “reliever becoming a starter.” Flash backward (what am I, a tachyon?) to pre-2021. Peralta’s pitching career featured spot starts, but about 70% of his appearances were non-starters (hmmm, sounds sus). In 2021, Peralta made 27 starts and threw 144 innings, which was about 40% more than his previous career highs. Say what you want about modern pitchers, but the recent emphasis on spin and grip can take their toll on young pitchers who are still building strength year after year. Last year, Tyler Glasnow burned his elbow out in the matter of 3 starts while prepping for the sticky substance ban. Peralta’s high K rate (11+ in 2022, 12+ in 2021) shows that he’s worth stashing in dynasty leagues, but for those of you in best balls or 12 team formats, you might want to move on. Milwaukee is already indicating they’re going to be careful with Peralta — he’s only 26! He’s got a team option on his contract until 2026! Like, holy crap, what agent did that to Peralta? Best wishes to our favorite pitcher who saved everybody’s team in 2021, and maybe he’ll be back for a 2022 fantasy (or MLB?) playoff run. Also, it’s worth noting that his high ranking on the confidence scale is due to Rudy’s algorithm not yet adjusting for the “significant time missed” news; it will catch up next week once it’s updated.
Aaron Ashby: Supposedly, Ashby’s coming back to a starter role to replace Peralta. Ashby’s been all over the place this season, and he’s not really usable at this point for 12-teams unless you’re one of the bold players who doesn’t care about blowups (that’s me). There are some games where Ashby K’s everybody. There are some games where Ashby walks more than he Ks — and K’s a lot! Maybe I’m being too conservative here. Let’s think about the best possible outcome: Ashby has the ability to K over 11 per 9, which is all any fantasy manager can ask for in an elite starter. If a starter can K 11 per 9, a 3.5+ BB/9 becomes somewhat tolerable. Low IP becomes toolerable. My questionable usage of singular vs plural nouns becomes tolerable. So, logic friends: IFF Aaron Ashby continues a 10+ K/9 (and preferably 11+) as a starter, he’s rosterable everywhere. However, if we see Ashby dial back his repertoire as a starter — because starters need to pitch more IP and more IP means more efficiency with pitches and a guy who walks a lot of batters may need to resort to contact rather than trying to K everybody — then he sits on your bench. QED. Almost wrote “queso” there.
Sandy Alcantara: Something’s changing! Flash backward to the pre-season, and I was one of the more critical analysts on Alcantara, with good reason: over his career, his fantasy efficacy was very similar to Hyun-Jin Ryu. Alcantara had nearly 500 IP of sub-8 K/9 performance with a 3+ BB/9. Let’s pause here to comment: those are not the kinds of numbers that make you a fantasy champion. You know which pitchers had similar comps? Reynaldo Lopez, Chase Anderson, Jorge Lopez, Jordan Lyles, and Yusei Kikuchi. A veritable murder’s row! So, don’t come yelling at me about Alcantara — even mediocre pitchers can have hot streaks [stares at Martin Perez]. That said, Alcantara is changing his pitch mix a lot, and the results are 20%+ swinging strike rates over his last few games, with a 14K performance this past weekend. Those 14 strikeouts? Twice as many as any performance he’s had this year. Tied for his career-high — and he’s only K’d more than 10 batters in a game like 5 times in his career. I’m not trying to knock Alcantara because we’re seeing him make adjustments that could lead to him becoming elite. But, just like we can’t look at a high-strikeout performance from Kyle Hendricks and call it a renaissance, analysts can’t sit here and proclaim Alcantara as reborn. Even with the recent K success, Alcantara’s K/9 on the 2022 season stands at…8.4. Prior to the hot streak, his K/9 was 7.4 on the season with a 3.55 BB/9 with a pedestrian whiff rate of 11%. Best of luck to Sandy and I hope whatever he’s doing will stick. I’d love to be wrong about Alcantara. But right now, two games of performance is not sufficient to overturn years of data that describe him as a status quo pitcher.
Updated this week to add the team for each player. I think it’s worthwhile to add my usual addendum: ranking players over each other is kind of meaningless. Like, I’ve said this for two years while also topping the FantasyPros weekly football ranks four times in 2021. I understand why ranks are needed (TL;DR: To organize our thoughts) while similarly, I don’t actually use rankings myself . I’ve said this probably 100x over the course of my industry fantasy career. The point of the Confidence Score is to give players a shorthand, simple, quantifiable statement: this guy should be better than everybody below him. That’s it. In other words, I am more confident in this guy than everybody below him. But, like, a confidence score of 2.8 vs 2.6? That doesn’t really matter. 3.5 vs 3.4? Yeah, it doesn’t matter. 3.5 vs 2.6? Yup, that matters. At a certain point, there’s decision paralysis when all the players are basically the same ranking. The takeaway is that, Somebody from the general range of scores is acceptable. Hope that helps clarify things.
Here’s how to use the list:
- Tier: 1=best, 2=everybody else for 12 team consideration, 3=deep league/dynasty/best ball/tournaments/DFS.
- Name/Team: Player name, player team
- Confidence: The overall score my system outputs. The higher the score, the more confident I am in using the player in the near term.
- Own%: This is the rostership % of the player in Razzball Commenter Leagues, run on Fantrax. This % may vary depending on site and format for readers.
- L30/G: This is how valuable the player has been over the past month. Players with high confidence who have low or negative $/G are “buy low” candidates. Spot starters/Roleless Robs will have a lower $/G because they play in more games.