Let’s Talk About Kennys Vargas

With just over 100 Major League at-bats under his belt, it’s time we talked about the Twins’ Kenny Vargas. A prospect without a position for the most part, the Twins have been giving Vargas DH at-bats recently. Vargas has also appeared in a handful of games at first base this season.

Coming up through the Twins’ farm-system Vargas was able to display his power at multiple stops. In 2013 while playing in High-A, Vargas hit 33 doubles and 19 home runs to go along with a .813 OPS. While playing in AA prior to being recalled Vargas had a .832 OPS. Vargas has not appeared too highly on prospect lists, however, that can be partially attributed to his lack of defensive ability.

As shown above, result wise, Vargas was a rather productive hitter in the minor leagues. A big part of his success is the power his large frame generates. A key component to being a sound hitter at the next level I believe, is mixing power ability with an average or above understanding of the strike zone. While some hitters can make a living hitting bad pitches, young power hitters who can limit the number of pitcher pitches they swing at, have a better chance at putting their powerful bat to work.

Now that Vargas has reached 100 at-bats in the big league career (yeah, I know) let’s look at the key components that made Vargas successful in the minors as they relate to his current production.

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Appreciating Matt Shoemaker

With the loss of Garrett Richards it has been nothing but doom & gloom from most media outlets when it comes to their rotation. Matt Shoemaker, could you please stand-up and give the crowd a wave? – Sure Shoemaker can’t replace Garrett Richard’s production entirely, Richards was producing amazing results. But that doesn’t mean what Shoemaker has been able to accomplish shouldn’t be noticed on nearly the same level. If you were to judge the two pitchers entirely on xERA, they’re within 0.10 of one another.

So how has Shoemaker taken the next step to turn himself into a potential low-three ERA type of arm?

Commanding the strike zone and an increase in strike outs appear to be the main drivers. As Shoemaker rose through the minors his strike out rate fluctuated from level-to-level. As he threw more and more innings in AAA (remember he’s 27) he was able to rebuild his strike out rate from 6.32 K/9 in 2012 to 7.81 K/9 in 2013. In 25.2 IP in AAA this year Shoemaker continued the trend with a 9.12 mark. More importantly his 8.8 K/9 in the Major Leagues looks like it could be mostly for real. Not only does the steady increase year-over-year help to reassure these gains to his current ability might be real, so does the 12% swinging strike rate Shoemaker has displayed. Meanwhile Shoemaker has continued to be stingy with the free passes this year.

The results Shoemaker has posted (111 IP, 108 K, 3.33/3.19 ERA/xERA, 1.08 WHIP, 43% GB) are completely backed by skill up to this point. Shoemaker has been hot the entire month of August and is a piece fantasy owners can count on down the stretch. He may not always get a ton of love by some, but smart fantasy owners will make a play for Shoemaker if league settings still allow for such moves.

The Last 31: Falling Hitter Skills

Photo credit: Keith Allison

Today in the Last 31 we’ll take a look at hitters who at one point were showing useful skills, but for one reason or another, their abilities have taken a down turn the last month. One of these players is able to be replaced through FAAB bids or trade, while another was drafted as a foundation player on many squads. The last player was becoming a fairly well-known commodity and power source for his fantasy owners, but recent struggles call into question what to expect going forward.

James Jones: After a short AAA stint to begin the season, Jones was recalled by the Seattle Mariners and received frequent playing time in May and June this season. With zero power to speak of, Jones’ game revolves around stealing bags and he was quite successful at it early on. In May and June, Jones hit .289/.320/.351 with 17 stolen bases. Prior to being sent back down to AAA, Jones was hitting .196/.220/.237 with 3 stolen bases in July. Jones’ inability to drive the ball with any authority, as well a putrid on base percentage, made Jones a one-trick-pony and even that trick was starting to fade rapidly. Now back with the big league club and following the acquisition of both Austin Jackson as well as Chris Denorfia, Jones’ playing time looks to be relegated to pinch running duty. Fantasy owners will need to be in a horrible stolen base bind if they’re looking to continue rostering James Jones.

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The Last 31: Improved Hitter Skills

Photo Credit: Keith Allison

Today in The Last 31, we’ll examine the underlying skills of three hot hitters to determine what fantasy owners should expect going forward. Of course, 31 days is a very limited sample, but it could also be argued a season is a decently small sample itself. While playing fantasy baseball we do not have an infinite amount of time to make decisions. As such, analyzing recent statistics, coupled with past performance and any news we may be able to gather regarding particular change to process becomes crucial to our success.

Chris Carter: By now we have a book on Chris Carter. With over 1300 plate appearances to his name and a career .224/.313/.465 slash line, he’s regarded as a low batting average, high power, type of hitter. Over the last 31 days however, Carter has been tearing the cover off the ball in an attempt to make fantasy owners reconsider what they thought they once knew. During our 31 day sample Carter has slashed his way to a .315/.379/.685 line, with 9 home runs. Even more impressive is Carters altered approach at the plate in the second half. Carter has increased his BB% by nearly two percent, while lowering his K% by over six percent. While Carter has a slightly inflated hit rate over this time-frame, his xBA comes in at an impressive .308, thanks in large part to all the balls flying over the fence. Luckily for Carter, the power metrics continue to back up his tremendous pop, which could ultimately lead to a respectable batting average down the stretch. (think .260ish the rest of the way).

Also worth noting in regard to Carter’s recent hot stretch is this research piece from David Temple at FanGraphs. It’s worth a quick read.

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Starting Pitchers: Best & Worst – August 11th to August 17th, 2014

Credit: Paul Miles

We are not evaluating 2-start options here. We’re simply looking at individual pitcher versus team match-ups. All match-ups are subject to change.

The following starting pitchers have at least one great match-up in the coming week:

Pitcher Home/Away Opponent
Jon Lester Away ATL
David Price Home SEA
Felix Hernandez Home TOR
Corey Kluber Home BAL
Joe Kelly Home HOU
Matthew Shoemaker Home PHI
Chris Sale Away SF
Felix Hernandez Away DET
Collin McHugh Home MIN
Max Scherzer Home PIT
Hyun-Jin Ryu Home MIL
Garrett Richards Away TEX
Trevor Bauer Home ARI
Chris Capuano Away BAL
Danny Duffy Away MIN
Jose Quintana Home TOR
Jon Lester Away KC
Chris Young Home TOR
Hisashi Iwakuma Home TOR
James Shields Home OAK
Jeremy Hellickson Away TEX
Rick Porcello Away PIT
Brandon Workman Away CIN
Chris Capuano Away TB

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High-Skilled Relievers Down the Stretch

Photo Credit: Keith Allison

We’re at the point in the season where protecting ratios by removing back-end quality starters and replacing them with highly skilled relievers is a viable strategy. In one particular AL-Only league that I am currently leading (without the help of a power-house offense) I’ve recently added Andrew Miller to replace Josh Tomlin. Truth-be-told, I actually like Tomlin, but the decision was made following his demotion. My pitching staff is also very strong with starters such as Chris Sale, Corey Kluber, Scott Kazmir, Dallas Keuchel and R.A. Dickey. Throughout the season I’ve slowly added relievers such as Dellin Betances and Carlos Carrasco to slide in for starters with bad match-ups and accumulate quality innings.

While Andrew Miller might still be available in your league (if he is and you’re following this advice, put a FAAB bid on him) the Dellis Betances, Carlos Carrasco, Brad Boxberger, Wade Davis and Joakim Soria’s of the world are probably already rostered. Today I’d like to look at the next class of middle relievers who are showing high skills and could help you down the stretch run. Continue reading

Starting Pitchers: Best & Worst – August 4th to August 10th, 2014

Photo Credit: Keith Allison

We are not evaluating 2-start options here. We’re simply looking at individual pitcher versus team match-ups. All match-ups are subject to change.

The following starting pitchers have at least one great match-up in the coming week:

Pitcher Home/Away Opponent
Felix Hernandez Home ATL
Felix Hernandez Home CHA
Corey Kluber Home CIN
Jeff Samardzija Home MIN
Dallas Keuchel Away PHI
David Price Away NYA
Chris Young Home ATL
Scott Kazmir Home KC
David Price Away TOR
Marcus Stroman Home DET
Jason Hammel Home MIN
Miles Mikolas Away HOU
Anibal Sanchez Home COL
Jose Quintana Home MIN
Max Scherzer Away TOR
Hisashi Iwakuma Home CHA
Alex Cobb Away CHN
Garrett Richards Home BOS
Max Scherzer Away NYA
Chris Capuano Home DET
Scott Kazmir Home MIN
Trevor Bauer Home TEX
James Shields Home SF
Hisashi Iwakuma Away BAL
Sonny Gray Home TB
Jered Weaver Home BOS
Yu Darvish Away HOU
Jeff Samardzija Home TB
Jose Quintana Away SEA
Garrett Richards Away LAN

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