Welcome to week 6 of 2 to Watch! To read previous editions of 2 to Watch, check out this link. As usual, we'll start by checking in on last week's players to see how they've done in the past week.
Note: all stats from Fangraphs and current up to 5/20
Colby Lewis: 5 innings, 9.0 ERA, 2.0 WHIP, 26.9% K%, 11.5% BB%, 2.14 FIP, 3.81 xFIP, 0.438 BABIP
Lewis had a rough start against the Indians this week, but I can't pat myself on the back too much yet for saying he will regress because his FIP and xFIP were still pretty good and his K%-BB% was still 15.4%, which is very good. I still think there will be more starts like this one ahead and that he isn't someone worth owning in most leagues, but this week alone isn't enough to say that, that is based on his body of work.
Shin-Soo Choo: 2 HR, 4 R, 3 RBI, 7.2% BB%, 17.9% K%, .368 BABIP, 0.346/0.393/0.654 (AVG/OBP/SLG)
The window to buy low on Choo has passed. He is smack in the middle of a red hot streak at the plate. I don't know if he made any adjustments to his approach or not, but his results have changed significantly in the past three weeks and he isn't showing many signs of slowing down. Sure, the walk rate isn't great, his BABIP will decline and that slugging percentage is way out of whack for his career marks, but he will still offer great value and is a starting outfielder in all leagues.
Who am I watching this week? Let's find out.
If you've been watching the Orioles utility guy/3B/outfielder this year, you know he has been on one long hot streak. I'm going to put a table in that I think says a lot about Paredes' true skills and how they relate to this season's performance. Table coming in 3...2...1...
He has appeared off and on for MLB clubs in his young career, but most of his numbers have been pretty consistent. Until this year. The numbers that jump out at you in this table are his 2015 BABIP, PA/HR, HR/FB ratio, and slugging percentage. All of these are at career highs (or low for PA/HR) and at unsustainable levels. Once his BABIP returns closer to his career average of 0.326, what will be left? His HR/FB will almost certainly drop as well, down to 10% or lower (10% is about league average), his BB% is poor and right at his career average so there is no help there.
Let's look at that K% too. It looks like he has improved, as it is at a career low. However, when you look at that sky high swinging strike rate, you see he is really the same free swinging hitter he always was and that K% should rise back up to the 25-30% mark.
Here are his swinging-strike peers in 2015 (min. 100 PA): Mike Zunino, Avisail Garcia, Chris Carter, Chris Davis, J.D. Martinez, Rene Rivera. And here are their strikeout rates: 36.7%, 22.1%, 37.3%, 38.5%, 29%, 27.6%. Only Garcia is near Paredes' strikeout rate and Paredes does not have the same power as any of these hitters (except Rivera). They make up for that swing and miss with extreme power, but Jimmy has never had a slugging percentage over 0.444 in the majors and even in the minors he topped out in the mid-to-upper 0.400s.
So, his power is unsustainable, his average is unsustainable, and his strikeout rate is unsustainable. That leaves us with something like his ZiPS rest-of-season projection of 0.251/0.280/0.397, which is not very useful. He is surprisingly projected for 10 more homers and 15 more steals, though, so that would be potentially viable in a deep league. I would bet the under on those projections personally and go with Steamer's 6 more HR and 6 more steals. If you can sell some desperate owner on Paredes hot start, do it right now, but otherwise know that this run will end and he will go cold quickly.
Ah, Mr. Santiago, the lefty starter for the "the angels angels of Anaheim." As an aside, what a terrible name for a team. That is not a typo above; Los Angeles, as far as I know, means "the angels," so their full translated name is as above and sounds dumb. They should either be the California Angels as a throwback, or simply go back to the Anaheim Angels. Anyway, end tangent here.
Hector has had an up-and-down career (and is only 27, believe it or not) and is off to one of his best starts ever. Check out his stats so far, along with the past three years of his career:
Interesting. While his 2.25 ERA is clearly unsustainable because it would take an ace level of ability to keep that up, his other numbers aren't far from his other years. His FIP and xFIP numbers are right there with previous years. Also, he has beat his FIP and xFIP every year, which is somewhat unusual. His groundball percentage is unchanged and his swinging strike rate is actually up this year. His strikeout rate does show some of that improvement, but I would actually expect a couple more percent of increase. His poor walk rate is still there and he has had low BABIP numbers every year. The low BABIP is almost certainly due to his fly ball approach, which leads to his very good infield fly rates (20.3% this year). Infield flyballs are basically automatic outs, so that really helps him keep his BABIP under 0.300.
Complicating matters is that his left-on-base percentage (aka strand rate) was at 86.2% in 2012, 77.4% in 2013, 72.9% in 2014 and all the way up to 87% this year. I think 87% is unrealistic and will decline (league average is in the low 70s). It will be very hard for him to keep beating his peripheral numbers. It is very rare that a pitcher can sustain that kind of thing for years. Without grounders to get easy outs and his reliance on fly balls, he will give up some homers. His fastball sits at just 90 mph this year, which is barely average for a lefty.
Peeling one more layer off this onion, I want to look at this individual pitch whiff rates. He is getting career high whiff rates on three (!) different pitches this year: the changeup, cutter, and curve. The change up and cutter are now both well above average for their pitch type, while the curve is now about average. The sinker is about average as well. What is interesting about Santiago is that his sinker is awful at getting ground balls. It might be the worst sinker in baseball for getting grounders. He somehow makes it work. Throw in the fact that he seems to have ditched the four seam in exchange for more sinkers and cutters, and he might be on to something here.
If it seems like I keep going back and forth on him, it's because I am. Not only has he changed his pitch mix, but he has also moved his pitches around. He is throwing much more up and away from lefties and up and away from righties. To keep this from being a hundred charts, I am only pasting in the heat maps for all hitters, but that is enough to see the changes. Trust me when I say that the changes are even more noticeable when you filter by handedness. Or, you can look for yourself here. I put just the 2014 and 2015 heat maps for all of his pitches so you can compare his locations.
So, I'm 1400 words in, let's wrap this up. I started writing about Santiago thinking I would recommend avoiding him and keeping your expectations low, but now that we've dug a little deeper, I think he could have a career year this year. He's in a great home park for a flyball pitcher, he has clearly changed his approach and hitters haven't yet adjusted, he can keep a low BABIP with his high pop up rate, and his strikeout rate and individual pitch whiff rates are up.
I think this is a case where you shouldn't be completely scared off by his bad FIP and xFIP. Sure, he won't keep his current ERA, but he could finish with something like a 3.5-3.7 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and a bunch of quality starts. I think he has real mixed league value, especially in 12 teamers and up. Start him in Anaheim, Oakland, Seattle, Kansas City, Tampa, and other good flyball parks with confidence. Avoid him in most of the AL East parks, Chicago, Houston, etc.
Sometimes, you can have a pre-conceived idea about what a player really is and then be surprised by what you find, so don't write anyone off based on reputation or name alone, always dig deeper and see what's going on. Thanks for reading, Tschus!