Ahead of the Curve: I Don't Care What Josh Beckett Cares About

(monkeys jumping on a trampoline. monkeys jumping on a trampoline.)

Outside of the Johan Santana no-hitter from last Friday, there was really not a whole lot of impact news in MLB this week, so we're just going to go with the brief introduction in favor of longer analysis on the first spotlight player. You may know him from such highs as the 2003 World Series and such lows as September 2011 and everything since then. He's also many other things, depending on how much you believe the narratives emanating from the greater New England region of this fine country.

THE POTENTIAL OUTPERFORMERS

Josh Beckett (@MIA, @CHC, ATL, @SEA, @OAK)

I think we can all say, unless you really have it out for the Sox (which I don't), that it's been enough with the chicken and the beer and the "Josh Beckett doesn't care" storylines for a while now. I understand the need to sell newspapers (do they even make those anymore??), but it's obnoxious and deflects us from actually learning something. And isn't what what we all watch and read about baseball to do?

What we do know about Josh Beckett in 2012 is that his fastball velocity is not what it used to be. Here are his 4-seam FB velocities over the past five seasons: 95.2, 95.2, 94.2, 93.8, 92.3. Is he hurt? Maybe. But let's just assume he's not, since we're not looking that far into the future here. What we care about are his strikeouts, since that's a huge part of both his success and his fantasy impact. Right now, he's got a 17.5% K-rate and a 6.4 K/9 -- both disappointing numbers for him as he's been 22.4% and 8.4 for his career, respectively. The outlier in his decline is his swinging strike rate, which is 10.1% so far in 2012 -- higher than his 9.9% career rate.

So should his decreased fastball lead to this sort of depressed level of strikeouts even while his swinging strike rate remains above average? To help answer that question, we'll use a formula created by Michael Barr of Fangraphs (and the site formerly known as Roto Hardball) to determined expected strikeout rate. The article describing it is linked here, although it is FanGraphs+, so you'll need a sub. Regardless, what it tells us is that Beckett's K-rate should be around 21.4% -- much higher than the rate he's currently fanning opposing hitters at. To transpose this to K/9, it means he should be around 7.9 instead of 6.4. Time will tell if he is injured or not, but if he's healthy (big caveat), I expect his strikeout numbers to normalize. And this next stretch of five favorable match-ups won't hurt.

More after the jump..

J.A. Happ (@SF, KC, CLE, @CHC, @PIT)

There have been a ton of articles on fantasy sites dedicated to J.A. Happ's improvements, so I won't go into that much detail (if you want more detail, check out Ben Duronio's piece here), but I will talk about my favorite J.A. Happ stat. Now, you all know that ground ball rate is something I look at with SP, and Happ has a 46.5% rate in 2012 compared to his 37.1% career rate. Some of this is due to the incredible GB rate he's getting with his curve -- of the 32 balls put in play off his curve this year, 28 have been ground balls. That's an insane 84.9% rate.

Jarrod Parker (@ARZ, SD, LAD, @SEA)

Outside of one start at SF (when he was my #streameroftheday, of course), Parker has not let up more than 2 ER in any start. On top of that, he's faced the Red Sox, Tigers, Rangers, Blue Jays and White Sox during that stretch. What he will get over the next four starts, is not nearly as difficult. And it starts with a really intriguing match-up, not only versus the organization that traded him away, but against the very pitcher he was dealt for (Trevor Cahill).

Johnny Cueto (CLE, @NYM, MIN, @SF, @LAD, @SD)

I did write earlier in the season that Cueto was getting by on guile and magic beans, since he was dancing around the lowest strikeout rate of his career and a much lower ground ball rate than he has been recently putting up. However, he hasn't had a ground ball rate below 50% in any of his last four starts -- a very small sample size to be sure, but hopefully a sign of things to come. His pre-ASB schedule may be the most pitcher-friendly in baseball.

Chris Sale (HOU, @LAD, CHC, @MIN)

I have officially run out of interesting things to say about Chris Sale, so I will just fawn over him to myself for a couple of minutes while you wait. OK, I'm good. Moving on!

Other Potential Outperformers:

Joe Saunders (OAK, @LAA, CHC, @ATL, SD, LAD)
Trevor Cahill (OAK, @LAA, SEA, @ATL, SD, LAD)
Jake Arrieta (PHI, PIT, @NYM, LAA)
Wei-Yin Chen (PIT, @ATL, WSH, CLE, @SEA)
Clay Buchholz (@MIA, MIA, ATL, @SEA, @OAK)
Max Scherzer (@CHC, COL, @PIT, @TB, MIN)
Nate Eovaldi (@SEA, LAA, @OAK, @SF, NYM)
P.J. Walters (CHC, PHI, @PIT, CHW, KC)
Clayton Richard (@SEA, @OAK, SEA, @HOU)
Madison Bumgarner (HOU, @SEA, @OAK, CIN, @WSH)
Matt Cain (HOU, @LAA, @OAK, CIN, @WSH)
Blake Beavan (LAD, SF, @SD, OAK, BAL, @OAK)
Adam Wainwright (CHW, KC, @KC, PIT, COL)
Jeremy Hellickson (@MIA, NYM, @WSH, @KC)

THE POTENTIAL UNDERPERFORMERS

Brandon Beachy (TOR, NYY, @NYY, ARZ)

I was not high on Beachy coming into the season and still stand by that. I know he's got the great story -- the undrafted college 3B who got put on the mound and took off as a pitcher -- but last year's performance just didn't compute for me. This year, the peripherals make more sense, although his ERA still stands at a ridiculous 1.87. That number should stand a bit higher after this stretch of games.

Ricky Nolasco (TB, BOS, @BOS, STL, PHI, @STL)

This year's been a strange one for Nolasco, as his ERA and xFIP are identical. To put that into context, each of the past three seasons, his ERA has underperformed his xFIP by at least one run. Unfortunately, he's done this by seeing a huge jump in his xFIP and not the other way around. With his strikeout rate, fastball velocity and swinging strike rate all in decline from 2011, the effects of his pitcher-friendly home park have been balanced out. Add on top of that, one of the most difficult schedules for a SP from now until the break and you get a recipe for a benching.

Stephen Strasburg (@BOS, @TOR, TB, @COL)

Yea, you're not doing anything with this guy other than leaving him in your lineup and feeling good about it.

Other Potential Underperformers:

Tim Hudson (TOR, BAL, @BOS, ARZ)
Tommy Hanson (TOR, BAL, @NYY, ARZ)
Josh Tomlin (@STL, @CIN, CIN, @NYY, @BAL)
Christian Friedrich (LAA, @DET, @TEX, WSH, @STL)
Kevin Correia (@BAL, MIN, DET, @STL)

#STREAMEROFTHEDAY UPDATE

As you may know, I post a streamer of the day owned in less than 10% of leagues on a daily basis at @tfw_bret on Twitter. And as a staple of this column, I'm going to review my picks as the season goes on. Here are the final numbers for the past seven #streameroftheday picks:

1 win, 5.01 ERA, 1.35 WHIP and 38 K's in 41 1/3 innings.

And the details:

Date Pitcher Opp IP ER H BB K ERA WHIP Dec
1-Jun J.A. Happ CIN 7 3 5 2 7 3.86 1.00 L
2-Jun Luke Hochevar OAK 4 2/3 6 5 3 3 11.57 1.71 L
3-Jun Michael Fiers PIT 5 4 8 1 8 7.20 1.80 L
4-Jun Dillon Gee STL 7 2 6 2 8 2.57 1.14 ND
5-Jun Francisco Liriano KC 6 1 4 1 8 1.50 0.83 L
6-Jun Clayton Richard SF 5 2/3 4 10 0 1 6.35 1.76 L
7-Jun Aaron Harang PHI 6 3 8 1 3 4.50 1.50 W

An overall disappointing week, although I believe this was my highest weekly strikeout total of the season. I should get flogged for taking Luke Hochevar again -- him and Rick Porcello are now officially in the oh-god-please-no zone. Fiers started off strong before he lost steam against the Pirates, but 8 K's is nothing to shake your head at.

Follow me on Twitter at @tfw_bret

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