Welcome to this week’s Triple Play. This week, we turn our focus to an outfielder finally meeting expectations, a one-time red-hot slugger who has cooled WAY off, and more – including our weekly Wainwright Walk Watch. Off we go:
Domonic Brown, Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies finally are finding out what Brown can do for them. In what is becoming a dismal slog of a season in Philadelphia, Brown has been the brightest spot. After a scorching two-week stretch, during which he hit .400/.423/1.060, Brown has taken over the NL home-run lead with 16 (along with 40 RBI). Many fantasy analysts are saying “it’s about time,” but it’s easy to forget that Brown is just 25. During auditions in the 2010-12 season, Brown was never given much of a chance to get comfortable, never compiling more than 212 plate appearances in a season. Here, in early June, Brown has already exceeded that total and has entrenched himself as an everyday player for the Phillies. I do wonder, though, if the power binge is sustainable. Brown became the first player to hit at least 10 homers and draw zero walks in a calendar month. That tells me that the plate discipline isn’t quite there yet. Pitchers will adjust to Brown’s power stroke, and then he will need to adjust to them. Also, Brown has stolen only four bases so far this season. For a player with above-average speed, as Brown possesses, that number needs to improve. However, fantasy owners shouldn’t complain too much yet. This month-long surge has allowed Brown to meet or exceed most season projections for Brown that I have seen. It’s always a welcome surprise for fantasy owners when a late-round pick like Brown can offer them more than they expect. It will be interesting to see how much more he can deliver this season for Phillies fans and fantasy owners.
Justin Upton, Atlanta Braves
It’s always hilarious to read baseball articles making “bold” proclamations – in April. I recall one such article, in which Atlanta’s front office was lauded for fleecing the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Justin Upton trade. The article mocked Arizona for trading away a superstar player for what amounted to spare parts. I didn’t agree with that article at the time – and I still don’t. Arizona traded from a position of strength – outfield talent – to shore up areas that were weak (infield, pitching). For the season’s first month, it may have looked like a monumental blunder – Upton smashed 12 home runs and won the NL Player of the Month award, but look now. Upton launched just two long balls in May and has fallen into a ghastly slump. Including his three-hit day Sunday against Washington, Upton has hit only .175 over his past 10 games with no homers, one lone RBI and two steals. He may still be on pace to hit 40+ home runs, but the projected RBI total is now below 90. Stolen bases? Forget them. He’s on pace to pilfer just 12 bases. Are those the numbers of a mega-star outfielder? Arizona obviously didn’t think so. Atlanta fans may have thought they were the beneficiaries of a modern-day Brock-for-Broglio trade, but the numbers say otherwise. Fantasy owners may want to send out some feelers to see what they could get for the junior Upton brother, but don’t sell low. He’s not as good as he was in April, but he’s also not as bad as he was in May.
Playing the Name Game
Player A: ..305/.361/.527, 10 HR, 34 RBI, 38 runs, 0 SB
Player B: .319/.392/.529, 8 HR, 34 RBI, 31 runs, 2 SB
Player A is Evan Longoria of the Rays. Player B is Oakland’s Josh Donaldson. As you can see, their stats are very similar. Longoria, of course, was a high draft pick in fantasy leagues, despite a lengthy injury history. Donaldson was, um, not a high draft pick, due to a history of not being a very effective player. Look at them now. Longoria is on pace for 30 HRs, 100 RBI, close to 100 runs scored – all numbers of an elite fantasy third baseman. Donaldson is on a similar pace in those three categories. Is this to say that Donaldson is Longoria’s equal as a player? Well, no. Longoria has established a track record as one of the best third baseman in either league. Donaldson, however, is in his age 27 season – when many a player enjoys his breakout season (incidentally, so is Longoria). Is it within the realm of possibility that the Donaldson we are seeing now is for real? Sure. It’s also within the realm of possibility (and much more likely) that Donaldson is on an extended hot streak, with a big regression coming. One positive on which to focus is that his walk rate is up, while his strikeout rate is down. That’s a sign of an evolving hitter, one who is providing his fantasy owners with more bang for the buck than Longoria. That is not to say Longoria has been a disappointment. On the contrary, given good health, Longoria could challenge his career-high numbers set in 2009. But fantasy owners paid for Longoria, whether it was with an early draft choice or big bucks at their fantasy auctions. Donaldson has been a revelation for fantasy owners thus far in 2013. The only question is if he will continue to be.
Player A: 17 saves, 31 strikeouts, 2.01 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 12.5 K/9 ratio
Player B: 22 saves, 41 strikeouts, 1.05 ERA, 0.66 WHIP, 14.4 K/9 ratio
Player A is Atlanta’s Craig Kimbrel. Player B is Jason Grilli of the Pirates. This is Exhibit A for why you should not use high draft picks or use big auction dollars on closers in fantasy baseball. Kimbrel was the clear-cut top closer (especially in NL-only leagues) coming into the 2013 season. Grilli was handed the closer’s job in Pittsburgh after Joel Hanrahan was traded to Boston. Prior to that, Grilli had a grand total of five saves in his career. So far this season, he is 22-for-22 in save chances, with 41 strikeouts in 25 2/3 dominating innings. Kimbrel, who has saved 17 games for the Braves, was the first closer off the board in two of my fantasy leagues; Grilli wasn’t drafted in my mixed league and was a late-round $1 pickup in the other (not by me, unfortunately). Now, is Grilli going to continue to be this untouchable for the entire season? Probably not. Relievers in their mid-30s don’t generally become shutdown closers. But you shouldn’t dismiss Grilli as a fluke, either. His WHIP and K/9 ratios have been excellent since joining the Pirates in 2011. Kimbrel should continue to excel as a closer, but that’s to be expected by his owners, who paid market value for his services. Grilli was a golden ticket plucked off the scrap heap. Once again, this is why it has become conventional wisdom to say “never pay for saves.”
- Wainwright Walk Watch: all season long, we are looking at how many free passes the Cardinals’ ace is NOT issuing to opposing hitters. After his most recent gem of a start, a complete-game manhandling of the San Francisco Giants in which he allowed one run and struck out 10, here are Wainwright’s stats: 84 strikeouts, 6 walks, 2.33 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 8-3 record, three complete games in 12 starts. The 14-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio is so far beyond ridiculous I can’t even quantify it. He’s on pace to walk 18 batters this season (or, as many batters as Jason Marquis walks in three starts).
- The American League version of Wainwright is Oakland’s Bartolo Colon. Through 11 starts, Colon has walked only four batters in 11 starts (70 1/3 innings), albeit in about three fewer games than Wainwright. The thing is with the 40-year-old Colon: you just don’t know how much more he has in the tank. Can he hold up, or will he blow?
- Follow-up to last week’s column: after the Rockies’ painful-to-watch loss to the Giants in extra innings on May 25, on Angel Pagan’s walkoff inside-the-park home run, I noted that Colorado has had a long history of letting such gut-wrenching losses affect them for days. That loss was no exception. The Rockies promptly lost the next game to the Giants (thereby losing the series), then followed that up by dropping three of four to the Quadruple-A Astros. They did manage to take two-of-three from the last-place Dodgers, but lost closer Rafael Betancourt to the disabled list.
- Some baseball fans and analysts were pretty rough on the Nationals for their extra-TLC approach with Stephen Strasburg last season. Seems to me they should really be on their case this season for their bungled handling of Bryce Harper. After his collision with the Dodger Stadium outfield wall in mid-May, Harper should immediately have gone on the DL to allow his knee to heal. Instead, the offense-starved Nationals kept running him out there in hopes that he could spark the offense. Finally, Harper was placed on the DL last Saturday and we discover that he also was injured in another outfield-wall crash (in April against the Braves). If you’re going to coddle a prized pitcher with innings limits, shouldn’t you also take some precautions with a prized outfielder who is blossoming at age 20?
- Garrett Jones of the Pirates becomes the second player (and the first in 11 years) to launch a home run into the Allegheny River on the fly. Distance measurement was an estimated 463 feet. Yowza.
- Speaking of yowza, Chris Davis is on pace for 55 home runs, 150 RBI and 120 runs scored this season.
- Who am I? I am the only regular active starter in the majors who has more walks than strikeouts. Despite this being only the second season in which I have made more than 6 appearances, I am developing a reputation as a me-first guy on a team that should have no “me” guys whatsoever (as reported by Ken Rosenthal). Who am I? I am Lucas Harrell of the Astros.
- A day after Shelby Miller and Wainwright absolutely dominated the Giants and swept a doubleheader by a combined score of 15-1, the Cardinals are shut down by 62-year-old Chad Gaudin, who hadn’t started a game since 2009, when he played for the Yankees. Baseball is a really strange game sometimes.
- As further evidence of this deep observation, I offer you the New York Mets. From the penthouse of a four-game, home-and-home sweep of the Yankees to the outhouse of a three-game sweep at the hands of the Miami Marlins. Gotta be tough to be a Mets fan these days.
- Josh Hamilton is getting lots nominations for “worst free-agent signing” award. Here’s another candidate: Edwin Jackson. Since signing his $52 million-dollar deal with the rebuilding Cubs, E-Jax has put together a 1-8 record with a 6.29 ERA. The Cubs could have paid someone the major-league minimum salary to do that. I’d be willing to wager that thought has crossed Theo Epstein’s mind a time or two.
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