In this week’s edition, we look at a former top draft pick who is fulfilling his promise, a big-time free agent who no longer is filling his, and more, including the most interesting pitcher to reach the major leagues in years. Off we go:
Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh Pirates
We could have gone with Chris Archer in this area (again), but we opted for an ace who isn’t getting quite as much publicity – the Bucs’ former top overall draft pick. Cole has blossomed into the ace Pittsburgh hoped for when they chose him #1 in 2011. In addition to racking up an NL-high nine wins (apologies to Crazy Brian Kenny, but they do matter in fantasy baseball), Cole also leads the league in ERA (1.73) and ERA+ (222). His FIP rating of 2.50 indicates that his performance is no fluke, either. He has fanned 86 batters in 78 innings (only six behind NL leader James Shields), versus only 19 walks, plus 10 quality starts in 12 attempts. Cole’s past four starts have been so good (0.61 ERA, .231 batting average against, 33/6 strikeout-to-walk ratio), that he is now outperforming Max Scherzer from a fantasy perspective. Cole is on pace to win 20 games, record over 200 strikeouts and post career bests in WHIP, hits and strikeouts per start. In a league that boasts Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, Cole Hamels, Matt Harvey, and Johnny Cueto, I think it’s safe to add Cole to the list of top pitchers plying their trade in the Senior Circuit. If Cole keeps pitching this well, he might edge out all those other guys in the Cy Young voting.
Robinson Cano, Seattle Mariners
Everyone talks about Josh Hamilton, Ryan Howard, or Albert Pujols when referencing the “worst” contract in baseball. But the 10-year, $240 million deal the Mariners signed Cano to after the 2013 season deserves some mention too, if his performance this season is a harbinger of things to come. Cano averaged 23 home runs a year with the Yankees, but he left his power stroke in the Big Apple. Fantasy owners figured that those numbers might drop by playing half his games at Safeco Field, but a dropoff like this goes beyond those tempered expectations. He tallied only 14 home runs in 2014, but he still drove in 82 and slashed .314/.382/.454, which was good for an OPS+ of 143. This season, Cano has struggled to an OPS+ of 74, thanks to his .239/.278/.320 and two paltry home runs. He has grounded into an AL-leading 10 double plays, and has an unsightly 40:12 K/BB ratio. Cano is 32, which is approaching a dicey age for hitters; is he beginning a rapid decline phase, or is he suffering from an extended slump? The Mariners (and fantasy owners) are hoping it’s only temporary. Otherwise, Cano’s contract, which still has eight years at $24 million per season AFTER this year, might become the worst in baseball.
Playing the Name Game
With the MLB draft taking place this week, it seems like a good time to take a look at the sons of former major leaguers who are eligible for the draft. It’s a rather impressive list. In no particular order:
- Bo Weiss (Walt Weiss)
- Dazmon Cameron (Mike Cameron)
- Ke’bryan Hayes (Hustlin’ Charlie Hayes)
- Tyler Nevin (Phil Nevin)
- Nick Shumpert (Terry Shumpert)
- Andy Pagnozzi (Tom Pagnozzi)
- Kody Clemens (Roger Clemens)
- Elih Marrero (Eli Marrero)
- Griffin Conine (Jeff Conine)
- Luke and Jake Matheny (Mike Matheny, probably an extra proud dad this year)
- A.J. Graffanino (Tony Graffanino)
- Chase Maddux (Greg Maddux). Is this a name or a career aspiration?
- Bo Bichette (Dante “Skates” Bichette). What is it with former Rockies naming their kids “Bo”?
- J.J. Niekro (the late Joe Niekro)
Clearing the Bases
- By now, you’ve heard that ambidextrous pitcher Pat Venditte was called up last week by Oakland, making him the first “switch-pitcher” in the majors since Greg Harris with the Expos in 1995. Beat reporters have talked about watching Venditte warm up with one hand, then switch to the other hand, which would be endlessly fascinating to see. MLB rules state that Venditte can switch which hand he pitches with from batter to batter, just not within the same at-bat. It’s too early to form any realistic impression of how he will do (two games, 2 1/3 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.42 WHIP, 2.26 FIP), but as long as he is in the majors this season, we will do the Venditte Watch.
- Remember when baseball fans were nearly impossible to find in Kansas City? Amazing what a thrilling World Series run can do. Royals players lead the All-Star voting in the following positions: catcher (Salvador Perez), first base (Eric Hosmer), third base (Mike Moustakas), shortstop (Alcides Escobar), designated hitter (Kendrys Morales), and outfield (Lorenzo Cain 1st, Alex Gordon 3rd). Plus, Omar Infante is second to Jose Altuve at second base and Alex Rios – who has been injured since April – is fourth in outfield voting.
- My favorite player name of the season so far: Buck Farmer, Detroit Tigers pitcher. Sounds like the name of a color analyst for a Big Ten college football game. Or a NASCAR racer. Or maybe even the mayor of, say, Lincoln, Nebraska.
- Cleveland’s Lonnie Chisenhall appeared to have finally arrived as a serviceable major-leaguer last year, playing 142 games and playing his way to a 116 OPS+. However, he never got untracked this season (.209/.241/.345, 62 OPS+) and got sent down to the minors again after being sent down in 2011-13. With Zach Walters called up from the minors and top prospect Francisco Lindor presumably on the way soon, it’s fair to wonder if this was Chisenhall’s last chance with the Tribe.
- We have featured this segment previously, now it’s time for another edition of Why David Ortiz Should Just Shut Up: so far this season, Ortiz has wet-noodled his way to a slash line of .219/.298/.375 and a measly six home runs, far from his typical numbers. At age 39, it is entirely reasonable to wonder if Ortiz is finally nearly the end of the line in his career. But, true to form, the hyper-sensitive, loudmouth slugger whines about being “disrespected” and insists he can “wake up and hit, bro.” Well, Papi, if it’s that simple, why aren’t you doing it? Until then, just shut up.
- If you asked a Dodgers fan who their least favorite opponent is, Madison Bumgarner is probably Public Enemy Number One, but Cardinals shortstop Jhonny Peralta is probably a close second after the way he has destroyed Dodger pitching this season. In the seven games the two teams played this season, Peralta went 11 for 21 with two home runs, eight RBI and he knocked in the game-winning run in Sunday’s come-from-behind win.
- Speaking of the Cardinals, as good as Lance Lynn, John Lackey and Michael Wacha have been, it’s not an unreasonable statement to say that Carlos Martinez has been St. Louis’ best pitcher this season. In his past four starts, he has averaged over seven innings per start, a 32/11 K/BB ratio, and one earned run in his past 27 1/3 innings. And he’s only 23.
- Imagine how good the Cardinals staff would be with a healthy Adam Wainwright leading the staff.
- We close this week with a look at what might be the ultimate case of trading up. On June 8, 1955, the Brooklyn Dodgers sent a struggling left-hander to the minors and replaced him with another lefty. What prompted the transaction? Well, Lefty #1 pitched himself out of a job, tossing up a 7.62 ERA over 13 innings. His replacement worked out a little better. The pitcher who was sent down was Tommy Lasorda. He was replaced by a fellow named Sandy Koufax, whom many consider to be the greatest left-handed pitcher of all time. The Dodgers, essentially, traded a Model T for a ’55 Corvette.
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