Andrew McCutchen, Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw... we know the names and the game those superstars bring. We also know that while superstar foundations are the key to what we do in fantasy baseball, the only way to win is to add on top of those foundational players guys that are also performing at high levels. Today we'll take a look at some players who are performing at levels that were totally unexpected. If you grabbed the right guy off the waiver-wire then you've gotten that little extra boost you were looking for on your way to a championship. If you chose the wrong guy you could be mired in a morass of mediocrity this season.
HOW IS THIS HAPPENING?
Bruce Chen... fantasy star.
No, you aren't living in some drug induced coma being kept alive by machines. The reality is, and believe me I've pinched myself multiple times to be sure I'm awake, Bruce Chen is currently a fantasy star. Before we get to the proof, some background.
Bruce Chen began his career back in 1998. That's the 20th century folks.
Bruce Chen has made 376 big league appearances, 209 as a starter.
Bruce Chen has a career ERA of 4.45 and WHIP of 1.37. Both numbers are worse than the league average.
Bruce Chen has a career K/9 mark of 6.77, just below the league average during his career (6.82).
Bruce Chen has a career K/BB ratio of 2.10, one hundredth better than the league average during his career.
Toss in a 76-72 record, and there just isn't a better poster boy for league average than Chen. So what is going on in 2013? Beats me.
Chen is 5-0 this season over 72.1 innings (six starts, 19 appearances out of the pen).
Chen has a 1.62 ERA.
Chen has a 1.04 WHIP.
Chen has allowed two or fewer runs in all six of his starts. Actually, it's way better than that. In his six starts he's allowed a total of four earned runs. Four run in six starts.
Do you believe in six starts or 14 years? You know what my answer is, but the fact is that he is doing it right now. How? Why? Can it continue?
2013: 6.59 K/9, 2.48 BB/9
Career: 6.77 K/9, 3.23 BB/9
OK, he's knocked a bit off his walk mark and that's great. In fact his 2.49 BB/9 mark would be the second best mark of his career (he was at 2.21 last season). Like to see that of course, but the Ks are the same boring stuff as always.
2013: 1.62 ERA, 1.04 WHIP
Career: 4.45 ERA, 1.37 WHIP
I really don't need to explain how lucky he is here, do I? You say yes? OK, here's what you need to know.
2013: .236 BABIP, 53.5% FB rate, 5.4 HR, 0.75 HR/9
Career: .280 BABIP, 45% FB rate, 11.7 HR/F, 1.51 HR/9
Now we're getting to the meat of it.
His BABIP is way down, way down, and it would be his lowest mark since 2004. There's no reason to expect that to continue.
Explain this to me if you can. A guy who is obnoxiously homer prone, his 1.51 HR/9 career mark is insanely high, is able cut that mark in half. How? He must be allowing fewer fly balls, right? Totally wrong. In fact, Chen is allowing more fly balls than he ever has. More than ever. Still, he's somehow been able to cut his HR/9 rate in half. You know that makes no sense at all. The reason he's accomplished that homer reduction, despite an explosion of fly balls, is that he's somehow living with a HR/F rate that is literally less than half of his career number. When that situation reverts to his career norms, and it will, things could get ugly quickly for Chen.
2013: 4.33 SIERA, 4.66 xFIP
Career: 4.49 SIERA, 4.69 xFIP
These two measures speak to how lucky Chen has been. In fact, he's been so lucky that if we remove that luck factor he's basically been the same pitcher he's always been. Hardly a shock given that we have 14 years of data to survey.
Chen could keep this up, strange things happen all the time in baseball, but sooner or later things will return to “normal” with Chen. The question is will that happen in 2013 or in 2014? I'd bet on 2013.
DISAPPOINTMENT THY NAME IS...
Emilio Bonifacio was dealt to the Royals Wednesday for a player to be named later or cash consideration. He has to hope things are different with his new club.
Bonifacio came into the year being touted as a potential 50+ steal guy with multi-position eligibility. Oh how we were all misled. Some background first.
Emilio stole 40 bags in 2011 while batting .296 for the Marlins. Astute analysts looked at that effort and realized there wasn't a .296 hitter lurking here (his .372 BABIP that season had a lot to do with his elevated average). However, the speed was legit and expecting him to be a force on the base paths was a reasonable expectation.
In 2012 Emilio, predictably as I just noted, saw his batting average dip down to .258 (given that he's a career .261 hitter... well, duh). He also stole 30 bases. Without some context that base stealing number would be a huge disappointment after swiping 40 in 2011, but remember this... Bonifacio stole 30 bases in 64 games last season. That's right, he was on a 70-steal pace before injury ended his effort. You can see why there was a lot of excitement about him coming into the season.
Flash forward to 2013 and Emilio Bonifacio has been an abysmal failure by any measure. He's appeared in 94 games accruing just 18 more at-bats than he had in 64 games last season. Why is that? He's ended up bringing up the rear of the Blue Jays batting order most of the time, and even worse he's been so ineffective that he's found it difficult to work his way into the starting lineup at times. Can't blame the Blue Jays for the way they have used him either. Emilio is batting .218 with a .258 on base percentage (recall that his batting average was .258 last season). Obviously he's not producing hits or getting on base, so it's not shocking to see his stolen base rate slow, but 12 steals? Twelve? Disappointing is a strong enough term.
The Royals will likely move Bonifacio around, use him as a pinch hitter / pinch runner type. It's very difficult to envision him playing every day or being much more than what we have seen from him this season in a Blue Jays uniform, and that just isn't going to get it done in fantasy baseball.
A couple of side notes for the Jays.
Colby Rasmus was placed on the DL Wednesday with a left oblique strain. Rasmus had been very effective over his last 36 games batting .331 with four homers, 22 RBIs and 20 runs scored. Still, he's never taken the step forward that everyone thought he would. On the year he's batting .273 with a .335 OBP, wholly uninspiring numbers, and his totals of 18 homers, 60 RBIs and 53 runs scored paint him as nothing more than a depth outfielder in mixed leagues when you factor in that he's also failed to steal a single base this season.
Miguel Tejada, for those of you in AL-only leagues, is done for the year after being transferred from the 15 day to 60 day DL with a strained right calf. Tejada had been a very effective waiver-wire addition given that he was batting .288 with three homers, 20 RBIs and 15 runs scored over 156 at-bats. So much for that. Before moving on though, does Tejada deserve to be in the HOF? I ask cause he has a .285 career average, 307 home runs, 1,302 RBIs, 1,230 runs scored and 2,407 hits. Those are elite numbers for an infielder who also had a season of 150 RBIs, won an MVP award, and from 2000-06 produced an average season of .297, 29 homers, 116 RBIs and 102 runs scored.
A HIDDEN GEM
I saw a tweet from @MLBStatoftheDay Wednesday. Here it is:
Among players with at least 75 PAs since All-Star break, Will Venable is 5th in AVG (.364), 3rd in SLG (.662), and 5th in OPS (1.072).
How about some more Will Venable news.
Venable has 13 steals. That's the same total as Alejandro De Aza and Shin-Soo Choo.
Venable has 15 homers. That's the same total as Choo and one more than Hunter Pence.
Do you know how many outfielders in baseball currently have 15 homers and 13 steals? The answer is six: Mike Trout, Carlos Gomez, Andrew McCutchen, Carlos Gonzalez, Choo and Venable.
From 2010 through 2012 Venable averaged 10 homers and 26 steals a season despite an average of just 393 at-bats a season. Give him 500 at-bats a season during that time and we would be looking at a guy averaging 13 homers and 33 steals the past three years. His current 500 at-bat pace would equate to 23 homers and 20 steals this season.
Venable, year after year, costs a relative pittance an on a per at-bat basis he's always a very productive power/speed producer. Now if we could just do something about that .254 career batting average of his...
*NOTE: Venable has been a big leaguer for six seasons and his batting average has been between .245 and .264 every season. He is what he is there.
FINALLY — for those of you who are also football fans, if you’re looking to dominate the competition in 2013 then check out the 2013 Fantasy Football Draft Guide that is nearly 200 pages long.
Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87, Monday through Friday. For more of Ray's analysis you can check out BaseballGuys.com or the BaseballGuys' Twitter account where he tirelessly answer everyone's questions.
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