Welcome back to 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 edition's players to see how they've done in the past couple weeks.
Note: all stats from Fangraphs and current up to 9/1
Dallas Keuchel: 21 innings, 1.29 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 27.9% K%, 2.5% BB%, 1.94 FIP, 2.29 xFIP, 0.278 BABIP
After I said Keuchel might see some regression in his strikeout rate, he went ahead and increased it instead. That is a fantastic 21 innings there. Wow. You just can't pitch much better than that. I couldn't find any reasons for his strikeout rate to be higher this year than last, but he has been proving people wrong all year. With this kind of K%-BB%, he is a top 5 starting pitcher with his elite groundball rate. Continue to use him as an ace.
Jonathan Lucroy: 3 HR, 10 R, 11 RBI, 5% BB%, 17.5% K%, .464 BABIP, 0.444/0.450/0.861 (AVG/OBP/SLG)
So, after slumping all year, Lucroy decides the two weeks after I write about his decline and return to being a mediocre offensive catcher is the best time to suddenly start hitting like Ted Williams. Obviously, if you take away the insane BABIP and his very high 27% HR/FB ratio, his line doesn't look quite so dominant, but this is still a good sign. I still stand by what I said last week since this is just a 40 PA sample and we have an entire season of bad stuff before this, but I'm sure no one is complaining. Enjoy this burst while it lasts, but he's still just not fundamentally the hitter he once was. I should mention that his groundball % during this streak has dropped significantly from his season average of 47% (bad) to 32% (good), so there are positive trends for his power bouncing back a little bit. If you own him, hold onto him and see where this goes.
For this week's 2 to Watch, I've picked a young pitcher making his MLB debut this year and a veteran hitter that everyone knows on a new team. Before we get into the profiles, a brief side track. Do you know anyone with a famous name? And by that I don't actually mean you know a celebrity, but that you know someone with the same name as a celebrity. For example, I have a friend named Jami McMurray. She is not related in any way to NASCAR driver Jamie McMurray, but their names sure are close. Anyway, I don't know if this happens to anyone else, but this relates to today's post because I have a longtime friend named Jon Lamb and today's pitcher is also named John Lamb.
John Lamb, SP (left handed), CIN
Lamb was traded to the Reds from the Royals as part of the big Johnny Cueto trade in July. He didn't get to pitch above AAA for the Royals, but was called up almost immediately for the Reds. His results so far have been poor. A 5.24 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP are not so good. However, digging below the surface, we see much better numbers. A 3.67 FIP, 2.90 xFIP, 2.77 SIERA, 30.2% K%, 5.2% BB%, and a 10.6% whiff rate. Those are really excellent numbers. Why are his ERA and WHIP so high then? His BABIP is a sky-high 0.404 and he is allowing 1.61 HR/9 innings. Those numbers will both come down.
I should mention that he is a very flyball heavy pitcher with a 91-mph fastball in a hitter's park so homers will probably be a regular issue with him. His excellent strikeout stuff and great control will prevent those homers from doing too much damage though. He throws mainly a four seam fastball (54% of the time), a cutter (22%), and a change (18%). He rarely throws his curveball. Since his velocity is mediocre, he relies on movement to keep batters off balance. His changeup, cutter, and curveball are all way above average at getting swings and misses. His fourseam is terrible for whiffs, but his other pitches are so good it doesn't matter.
This post would not be complete without some nice looking figures! Presented for your consideration, three heat maps for John Lamb.
What do these tell us? Well, the first heatmap says he likes to throw down and in to righties a lot. The second heatmap says that hitters prefer to swing at his pitches that are belt-high and in the middle of the zone up to the top of the zone. One other thing to note with this heatmap is that hitters are swinging quite a bit at pitches off the zone inside to right handers and somewhat at pitches near the bottom of the zone. Those are areas Lamb needs to continue to exploit.
The third heat map shows how hitters are doing against pitches in various locations. They are hitting him very hard in the belt-high section of the zone and up and in to right handers. He also gets hit hard away to righties just outside the zone. If Lamb can stay away from that belt high area and keep the ball low in the zone, he could limit the damage quite a bit.
I will point out here that as a lefty, he should be worse against right-handed hitters, but so far, it has been the opposite. He has been almost exactly as good in regards to strikeouts and walks against both sides of the plate, but lefties have been crushing him with homers for some reason. Lefties have hit homers almost twice as often as righties. That trend will not continue, so there is good evidence for a drop in homers. Further, his lefty numbers should drop for BABIP, AVG, OBP, and SLG too as his platoon advantage takes over.
Steamer is the only projection system that gives him an ERA under 4 for the rest of the year (3.83), but I am much more optimistic. His strikeout rate will come down since he throws that fourseam so often and his other pitches will not continue to get near league best whiff rates. If he can keep his walk rate down and gets luckier with balls in play, the drop in strikeouts won't be too destructive. I think he can pull off 9.0 K/9 with a 3.40 ERA and 1.24 WHIP the rest of the season. That is worth rostering in your fantasy playoffs.
Troy Tulowitzki (I think you know what position he plays), TOR
No introduction needed here. We all know who he is and most know that he was traded from Colorado to Toronto in July. Let's look at his season splits before and after the trade:
There's a lot to unpack here. First, his production is clearly way down since the trade. Look at the drop in average and slugging. A sharp drop in BABIP is definitely part of this problem. His move from hitting third in the order in Colorado to leading off in Toronto has shifted his RBI to runs. Look at his sharp increase in runs per plate appearance and associated drop in RBI per plate appearance. Toronto is still a very good hitter's park, so we can't really blame this dropoff on leaving Coors.
What else? Well, he is pulling the ball more in Toronto and it is not resulting in increased power. Let's take a look at some graphs and see if we can see more.
As you can see from these two graphs, his exit velocity trended down in August after the trade on all hit types and against all pitch types except off speed pitches, which saw a weird sharp increase. On average, his exit velocity did drop in August, but there isn't enough here to say his velocity is in a long decline or that he is dealing with an injury. Nearly every other stat I look at shows no change from before the trade. His plate discipline is the same, his HR/FB% is the same, etc.
I can't really find any reason for his recent struggles and expect him to bounce back in September with a better BABIP, since that seems to be the primary source of his issues. He still won't get the RBI you hoped for batting leadoff, but the power should get better than it has been in the past month, since there aren't any glaring signs of injury here. Check back next week for more player breakdowns! Tschus!