Tag Archives: Paydirt

Is Jason Vargas For Real?

Never thought I’d ask that question. Though most of us to have adapted to the cold-blooded and calculated lineup engineering championed by our computer overlords, sometimes I feel quaint pangs of 20th-century “emotion” when making decisions on my players. In this particular case, that meant blackballing Jason Vargas from ever appearing on my teams for no apparent reason. Sometimes he’d pitch a good game, but hey, replicants have gotten pretty advanced since Rutger Hauer — I’ve got multiple blade runners out making sure Vargas, Scott Feldman and Mitch Talbot never throw a pitch for me.

But then the existential question emerges: What if we’re ALL replicants?

Vargas was a top-10 prospect for the Fish in 2005, managing a 4.03 ERA and 59/31 K/BB in 71.2 rookie innings. He mixed in a nice changeup, but he’s never lived up to the “gas” part of his name. His fastball averaged out at 89, and in recent years — he lost all of 2008 due to a bone spur in his elbow and a torn labrum in his hip — his velocity has dipped even further. Despite the lack of oomph, his repertoire helped him average 8.0 K/9 throughout his minor league career. He’s never whiffed as many major leaguers as he had at this year’s clip, 7.67 K/9.

I have to admit: I’m developing a strange fascination for his ch-ch-changes.

In ’05, when he was last effective, that changeup was a killer out pitch. FanGraphs valued it at a robust 3.2, declaring all his other pitches average. His change hasn’t come anywhere near that value — until this year. FanGraphs estimates it to be 2.6 this season, good for 20th in all of baseball, for what that’s worth. He’s sporting a decent xFIP of 4.17, and his groundball percentage is 40.7%, the highest of his career (though not stellar).

So Vargas seems to have turned a corner of some kind, but can he keep up this pace (3.69 ERA, 1.04 WHIP) all season long? His BABIP is .252 and his HR/FB rate is a low 7.0, so he’s had a little luck so far, but nothing extremely out of the ordinary. I’d say AL-Only leaguers have to take a chance on him at this point. Streamers desperate for a hero — just for one day — may want to give him a shot against the Angels tomorrow. That glimpse will be the true test for us curious mixed-leaguers to see if he’s the faker. My guess? His ceiling looks to me like a fringe no. 5 starter in 12-team mixed leagues capable of posting a respectable Kevin Correia-type season from last year.


Paydirt: Pick Up Justin Masterson

It’s looking like Scott is finally moving below Mary-Kate and Ashley as the most dysfunctional Olsen. Hopefully you picked him up per my request prior to his near no-no last night against the surprisingly awful Braves offense.

In the meantime, let’s dig in with some more waiver wire sorcery.

Somehow, Justin Masterson is owned in only 7% of Yahoo! leagues. There’s a formula somewhere that guarantees a league-average Red Sox or Yankees player at least 30% fantasy ownership, which I can completely understand — I’m all about the intangibles on my team, and I only like to field a squad of hustling gritty winners that play on the east coast.

Then there’s Cleveland. Before Masterson got shipped there in the Victor Martinez deal he had to waive his hustling gritty winner clause, causing him to fall off the world’s fantasy radar. But here’s the crazy part, guys: Remember when Bugs Bunny pulled out the “Secret Stuff” in Space Jam so the Looney Tunes could defeat the Monstars? I’m convinced Masterson’s had the hustling gritty winner spirit all along, and he doesn’t even need a team with Wayne Knight to get it back.

I’m an absolute sucker for anyone who can throw a K per inning, leading to dangerous liaisons with Daniel Cabrera and the like. But Masterson, currently sporting an ugly 5.40 ERA and 1.80 WHIP, has struck out 31 in 26.1 innings against just 12 walks. Where he’s getting destroyed is his hit rate — he has, as the experts say, an “unsustainable” .420 batting average on balls in play, which is due for regression to the mean, which is typically .300.

Why is a .420 BABIP unsustainable, especially in Masterson’s case? For one, he is a flickering beacon of light in our Paydirt pitching formula. He’s pounding the bottom of the zone, inducing a nifty groundball rate of 56.3%. The Indians defense is far from airtight, but those grounders are bound by physics to stop finding holes and stealing our fantasy oxygen. It also appears that Masterson is shaking off a bit of his offseason rust; his pitch trajectory shows a guy who has yet to reach his typical velocity. With perhaps diminished confidence in his breaking stuff, he’s throwing 10% more fastballs so far than what he averaged all of last year. At a lower velocity, those are going to get hit. As Masterson mixes up his repertoire going forward, hitters aren’t going to be able to sit on his fastball. Contact is gonna get weaker.

To top it off, a whopping 26.7% of fly balls induced by Masterson have gone for home runs, which is not gonna keep. Worst in that number last year was Braden Looper, who somehow managed to make only 15.8% of his flyballs go over the fence.

Like Zack Greinke and all Indians starters, Masterson will pitch some gems that won’t net him a W. That said, he is absolutely worth picking up in 12-team mixed leagues. This is a prime example of a talented young pitcher who needs to shake off some early season issues. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him kick off a string of brilliant starts, beginning tomorrow against the Tigers. Go get him.

Paydirt: Playing Duncanball With Starting Pitchers


So say the posters at Viva El Birdos, playfully mocking the philosophy of curmudgeonly pitching coach Dave Duncan. His success with transforming hapless fireballers into dirt devils makes for many decent but relatively unappetizing fantasy starters. Pair groundballs as a side dish to a strikeout souffle, however, and you’ve got fantasy gourmet.

At least, so said this guy. Warning Track Power, a well-spoken but defunct fantasy blog of old, gained my trust with the hypothesis that a pitcher sporting at least 6.5 strikeouts per nine innings and a groundball rate of at least 45% has the makeup of an ace. It’s hard to argue with the names from last year, too. With a minimum of 150 IP, here is the list of 26 pitchers to achieve roughly WTP’s criteria in 2009:

Chris Carpenter
Felix Hernandez
Ubaldo Jimenez
Brett Anderson

Adam Wainwright
Ricky Romero

Josh Johnson
Roy Halladay
Clayton Richard
Jon Lester
Tim Lincecum
Ryan Dempster
Josh Beckett
Jason Hammel
Chad Billingsley
Yovani Gallardo
Wandy Rodriguez

John Lackey
Kevin Correia
Jorge de la Rosa
Carlos Zambrano
Gavin Floyd
John Danks
Carl Pavano
Roy Oswalt

Not too shabby, eh?

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