Fear and Loathing in Small Samples

by Bill M on May 8, 2014 · 0 comments

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Every year you have some guys that start out like a house of fire in the first month of the season.  Who can last and who will fade?

Who the fuck knows, but at least I can give it a shot on a few guys…

HOT-SO-HOT

Charlie Blackmon (OF, COL) put up good minor league numbers (843 OPS with 0.376 OBA), and even better than that in the friendly confines of AAA Colorado Springs where they have the same elevation but not the humidor like Coors Field.  After failing miserably upon his first trip to the majors in 2011, he made decent progression in his call ups in 2012-13, putting up an 803 OPS last year.  But nobody could have expected what he’s done.  He’s been arguably as valuable as anyone this side of teammate Tulo, putting up a triple slash line of 0.359/0.398/0.590 and OPS of 988.  He’s already matched his HR and RBI totals of last year in less than half of the at bats.  So, the $64,000 question is, how much of a fluke is this?

Blackmon has always made decent contact, but his strikeout rate of 7.7% is ridiculously low.  What is also low that has been his entire professional career is his walk rate, at just 5.4%.  His BABIP is 0.350, but he’s actually had a pretty good history of high BABIPs, so no worries there.  His HR/F rate is 16%, which is 7% higher than his career rate.  By the Baseball HQ power metrics PX and more importantly XPX, this power looks like a small sample fluke.

Blackmon most certainly looks to be better than he was given credit for prior to the season, but with his unsustainably low K rate, fluky power, and consistently weak plate patience, it’s hard to imagine he maintains what he’s done so far.  I’d actually stick with him this year because he’s has a decent profile, so the biggest lesson here is that his end game numbers are likely to look fantastic.  Don’t forget about this hot start when you start valuing players next year.

FROM SHIT TO SHINOLA?

Aaron Harang (SP, ATL) has been in a vortex of suck for several years now and was so bad he was cut by the Indians toward the end of Spring Training.  Then out of desperation after losing Medlen and Beachy to TJ, the Braves signed him to a Major League guaranteed contract.  This move caused far more amusement than lauding, and rightfully so.  Aside from a come to Jesus game against the Marlins last week in a game fraught with accusations of sign stealing and general bad feelings, Harang has been nothing short of dominant this season.  Taking out that start, he’s produced a 1.19 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and striking out more than a batter per inning.

Nothing has changed with his velocities, but he has changed his usage.  He’s not using his curve or change nearly as much, favoring his four seam and his slider instead.  He has also increased his whiff rates considerably.  Much of this is likely due to the exposure of Roger McDowell and the Braves game planning.  The problem is that the stuff itself hasn’t really changed all that much.  His HR/F rate of 4% is his career best, and he’s marginally changed his GB rate.  His xFIP according to FanGraphs is 3.58.  I would expect a regression to at least that number, meaning some rough times to get there from his current 2.98.

Unlike Blackmon who I think could still be a useful player if not continuing what he’s doing, I think Harang is eventually going to be a liability.  Sell high if you can!

CHAVEZ Y CHAVEZ

After bouncing around to five teams since 2008 and spending considerable time in the minors during those years, Jesse Chavez (SP, OAK) has made the A’s his gang in 2014.  The A’s have become pretty famous for getting more out of guys than one should expect, but what has happened with this journeyman reliever is hard to believe.  As a reliever in OAK last year, his 3.04 FIP far exceeded his mediocre 3.92 ERA.  Still, nothing could prepare us for this.

Chavez currently sports a 1.89 ERA with 9.7 K/9, 1.9 BB/9 for an amazing 5.1 K/BB ratio.  His FIP is 2.62 and xFIP is 2.68 suggesting that while he’s a bit out performing his component stats, he’s been legitimately really good.  He’s always relied heavily on his cutter (~40%), but he’s really ramped up the usage of his sinker and changeup, and the result is a GB rate of 49%.  These are all positive signs for sustainment.

He does have a low BABIP of 0.255 and high LOB rate of 78.6%.  These will regress to more normal numbers, and his ERA will be the victim, but this is an excellent skill set.  The other two factors here are the fact that he’s never been anywhere near this level before and of course, he’s never withstood anything close to a starter’s workload.  These are significant concerns and would probably lean me toward another sell high call, but I’d feel a lot better about keeping him than Harang.

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