It’s funny how we sometimes have perceptions of certain players and are stubborn to change our minds, regardless of the current success. Granted, it is always best to look at the numbers behind the numbers to make sure the present outcomes are real. Yet, too often we just assume the player has been lucky for one reason or another and miss out on possible acquisition opportunities. We’ll take a look at four players that are better than you may think. Well, three for sure and a fourth that has changed my mind. You may have already been a believer.
Hisashi Iwakuma, P, Seattle Mariners – Previously, when I saw Iwakuma was scheduled, I checked to see if the Mariners were at home, and if they were, I’d consider him a safe start. If it was a road tilt, not so much. But now I’m fine with trusting Iwakuma almost anywhere. He’s not quite 100 percent matchup proof (I’m still sitting him in Arlington, the Bronx and maybe Anaheim) but by and large he’s in my active lineup every week.
It wasn’t even that Iwakuma’s splits were that extreme last season, though they certainly favored his time in Safeco Field. It’s more that overall, Iwakuma is a better pitcher now with an elevated strikeout rate and I’ll play anyone whiffing a hitter a frame almost anywhere. His control is also better though it’s still too early in the season to trust that it’s real whereas we are at the point where an increase in strikeouts is likely to be sustained, at least in part. Specifically, Iwakuma’s K/9 at home thus far is 8.8 with a miniscule 0.7 BB/9. On the road, his K/9 Is a tick higher at 9.0 while he is sporting a still respectable 2.1 BB/9.
Please keep in mind that intertwined with these excellent skills is some extremely good fortune as Iwakuma’s BABIP is .198 and that is sure to rise. And to be fair, some of his increased control could be working from the wind-up more due to the paucity of base runners. The hits will increase as will the runs, but I am confident that when the dust settles, Iwakuma’s skills will indicate a better pitcher than last season. It helps that he’s a groundball guy so even away from home, Iwakuma should do a good job keeping the ball in the yard.
Kyle Kendrick, P, Philadelphia Phillies – In the spring, Kendrick was lost in the aura of the big three. Now with Roy Halladay injured and Cole Hamels scuffling, Kendrick is battling Cliff Lee for the unofficial title of staff ace and in fact, his peripherals are remarkably similar to those of the veteran southpaw.
One of the stigmas I had with Kendrick is I prefer to stream or spot start with home match-ups and in my mind, Citizens Bank Park is a hitter’s haven. Actually, that’s not true. I know the numbers and in fact CBP plays neutral with respect to runs and is overall barely favorable for home runs. To be fair, it elevates homers for left-handers while slightly hindering them for righty swingers.
But even though I am cognizant that CBP isn’t that bad a park for hurlers, I was reticent to trust Kendrick due to his lack of dominance. His career K/9 is a paltry 4.8 with last season’s 6.6 the first season it cracked the 6.0 plateau. So far this season, Kendrick has maintained that level of punch outs but has also trimmed his walks to a skinny 1.7 BB/9. I expect that to rise, though not much as his career mark is 2.5. Over the second half of last season, his BB/9 was 2.1 so when added to this season, we have well over half a season of a walk rate around 2.0. A mid-six K/9 is rather pedestrian, but acceptable when free passes are scarce.
Now, even though I know there will be some correction with Kendrick when his BABIP regresses, I’m over my stigma and he’s in my lineup for every home start as well as for those slated for pitching in favorable road venues. He’ll give up some dingers, especially at home, but the damage will be minimal. On a personal level, it’s a good thing I have lost my “CBPhobia” as Kendrick’s exploits have helped at least partially mollify the carnage that Joe Blanton and Dillon Gee had inflicted to my pitching staffs.
Carlos Gomez, OF, Milwaukee Brewers – Coming into this year, the party line was there was no way Gomez would be able to sustain his power gains. Now the smarts are saying there is no way he’ll continue to hit .368. Well, the smarts are likely right; a .439 BABIP is otherworldly and is due for a downturn. However, underneath this all is a continuation of some skills growth.
While most were focusing on Gomez’ power in March, my focal point was whether he would maintain a contact rate trending in the right direction. At least so far, Gomez has indeed continued to fan fewer times, albeit just a smidge less than last season. He’s still allergic to hearing the umpire bark, “Ball four, take your base” but we’re looking for baby steps, not miracles. My point is once that ethereal BABIP deflates, Gomez could sport an average a bit higher than some anticipate.
As for his power, Gomez is also continuing a trend of increasing HR/FB, though his fly ball percent is down so overall, his home run pace is on par with last season. That said, 20 homers from a guy on a pace to steal over 30 bases is pretty darned sweet. I was higher on Gomez than most coming into the season based on the HR/FB trending up.
But if you’re still expecting Gomez to slow down his homer output, I’ve got bad news. And if you think you can take solace in the fact that at least his average will soon plummet, I have really, really bad news for you. It will, but I foresee .275 going forward, well above his career average of .254.
Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks – I know, I should have seen this coming. But here’s the deal. I have a philosophy and I’m disciplined enough to stick with it. For me it’s about the process and sometimes, the process does not yield the expected results. I coined a saying I use as my forum signature – I’d rather be wrong for the right reason than right for the wrong reason. The idea is if I go with the odds, I’ll be right more than I’m wrong. In order to make this work, at times you need to accept being wrong. I was wrong about Goldschmidt.
Keep in mind that this time last season, Goldschmidt was platooning with Lyle Overbay. It’s not like he has the pedigree of Eric Hosmer and Brandon Belt, you know, the dynamic duo we continually say will break out any day. Goldschmidt has never carried a strikeout-percent below twenty. In 2011, in his 177 plate appearance audition with the Snakes, it was an unsightly 30 percent. To his credit, last season it was a more respectable 22 percent. Though I’m from Massachusetts, when it comes to player analysis, I’m from Missouri – you need to show me. Goldschmidt needed to show me his gains in contact were real. And he has.
So far this campaign, Goldschmidt’s strikeout percent is 23, fundamentally the same as last season and we’re at the point where contact rates are close to stabilizing. Keep in mind 23 percent is still below average, even for a slugger, but it sure beats 30 percent. The fact that Goldschmidt is taking more walks serves to fortify the contact gains and help consider them sustainable. I wasn’t sure he could do it and he proved he could. Now factor in the man they call Goldie is on a pace for 40 HR and 16 SB and we have an ADP in the top twenty next season. Not bad for a guy who not so long ago was stuck in a platoon with Lyle Overbay.
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