Why I’m Bullish on Carlos Carrasco & Noah Syndergaard

Since the calendar has turned to March now is the time to compare personal rankings/projections with other sources. Two of the starting pitchers I’m more bullish on than everyone is Carlos Carrasco and Noah Syndergaard.

When I evaluate pitchers the three biggest data points I review are: strikeout rate, walk rate and ground ball rate. Based on Carrasco’s numbers he’s one of the best pitchers in the majors. However, there are more reasons why he’s my ninth ranked starting pitcher.

The biggest reason why I love Carrasco is the defensive upgrades on the infield. Since he strikes out so many batters he doesn’t allow many balls in-play, but when he does its usually soft contact on the ground. He had the 18th highest ground ball rate among qualified starting pitchers last year. The Indians defense improved dramatically after shortstop Francisco Lindor and Giovanny Urshela were called up; it also does not hurt Carlos Santana will not be at first base too. After Lindor was called up Carrasco, in 17 starts, had a 3.12 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and a 31.2 percent strikeout rate. Both players will be back (Juan Uribe, another good defender at third base, could also be the starter) and he’s my dark horse for the Cy Young (if he gets lucky with wins).

If Syndergaard played a full season his 27.5 percent strikeout rate would have been the seventh best strikeout rate among qualified pitchers. Also, his 5.1 percent walk rate would tie him for the 12th lowest. Most importantly, his 14.5 percent hard hit rate would have tied him for the fifth lowest (with his teammate Matt Harvey). To recap, he’s striking out a lot of batters, he doesn’t walk batters and when hitters make contact its extremely weak. On top of that he pitches in one of the best pitcher parks in the majors.

The biggest hesitation is the Mets defense; it could be one of the worst defenses in the majors (assuming Yoenis Cespedes plays the majority of innings in center field). How many games will David Wright play? Asdrubal Cabrera is barely serviceable at shortstop. Even if Juan Lagares were the starting center fielder the outfield defense would be average. *Complete aside, but if Michael Conforto gets off to a slow start I bet the Mets send him to the minors to improve the outfield defense. I wouldn’t be surprised if Syndergaard and the other Mets starters all have ERAs much higher than their FIPs like the Indians last year.

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Ian Desmond’s 2016 Projection & Fantasy Value

When Ian Desmond signed with the Rangers my reaction was similar to Keith Law’s. I thought the Rangers had plenty of internal options ready to left field (even with Josh Hamilton going on the DL) with Joey Gallo being the most interesting fantasy option. The fantasy takeaway from the signing is Desmond is going to play every day and should be drafted in all formats. The question is what type of numbers will he put up?

Desmond was a 20/20 player for three straight years (2012-15) and was seen as a safe fantasy option heading into 2015. However, he struggled defensively to begin the season as he committed nine errors the first month of the season. It looked as as though he brought his defense to the plate hitting .217/.287/.326 during the first month.

The defense improved as the season progressed but his hitting did not. The next three months after he hit .216/.257/.374. These are arbitrary end points, but he hit .216/.264/.362 for the first four months of the season.

The question is why were his numbers so bad? The three biggest factors were:

  1. He struck out 29.4% of the time
  2. He hit the most ground balls of his career
  3. The hard hit rate was 17 percent, the lowest of his career

The strikeout rate has increased year-over-year for four straight years and last years 28.7 percent swing and miss rate was the 16th highest among qualified hitters (just ahead of Brandon Crawford and behind Brandon Moss). My takeaway is he’s going to continue to have a strikeout rate, which will limit his batting average upside.

Last year his ground ball rate increased 5.5 percentage points (from 48.7 percent to 54.1 percent). That sounds like a lot but that’s only a difference of 15-20 ground balls. It’s difficult to identify of 2015’s ground ball rate is an outlier or if it’s the beginning of a new baseline. Since the ground ball rate was consistently high every month I’m inclined to believe it’s a new baseline.

The move from Washington to Texas is a positive because Texas is the fifth best hitters park (compared to Washington at 13th) per Tristan H. Cockcroft. From 2012-15 Desmond had a 17.3 percent HR/FB rate at home compared to 14.9 percent on the road. Playing in Texas probably gives him 1-3 additional home runs. However, the new ballpark may be negated if the hard hit rate doesn’t improve.

Usually when a hitter hits more ground balls the hard hit rate decreases too (because ground balls are usually not hit hard and if the number of them increases it has a bigger effect on the aggregated total).

I’m projecting a .244 batting average with 17 home runs, 70 RBIs, 60 runs and 16 stolen bases, which makes him the ninth shortstop overall. He’ll likely bat 6-7 in the lineup (my projection assumes he bats sixth) so he should have a good number of at-bats with men on-base. I honestly didn’t know what to project for the batting average. He’s striking out more and he only hit more than .220 in only two months last year. Desmond could hit in the .250s but the smart money says that’s unlikely to happen.

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Initial 2016 Starting Pitcher Rankings & Projections

The start of the 2016 season is quickly upon us so it’s time to start talking about baseball again. Below you’ll find my top 131 starting pitchers. The rankings are based on NFBC style leagues with 12-teams.

These are my projections for each player and I do not take into account replacement level performance for players who may not make 29-30 starts. For example, I only project 150 innings for Patrick Corbin. He had a TJ surgery in 2014 and only threw 100 innings last year. It’s unlikely the Diamondbacks ask him to throw more than 150-160. When my full projections come out I’m going to forecast 200 innings for Corbin. 150 of which will come from him and the other 50 will come from a replacement level pitcher. Corbin is ranked 97, but that will improve once I add 40-50 innings to his projection.

The starting pitcher position is very top heavy with a lot of high upside pitchers who could be in the top tier at the end of the season. Clayton Kershaw is in a tier all by himself. He provides 22 percent more than Max Scherzer, my number two starter. After Kershaw there are six pitchers who make up the next tier. This tier have pitchers you want to have. If you don’t grab one you’ll have to use more of your middle round picks to get more pitchers (assuming it’s a snake draft).

Gerrit Cole is going ninth, but I have him 18th. Cole is a really good pitcher, but his numbers/effectiveness dropped after the first two months of the season. His slider usage almost doubled, which is concerning. Pitchers who throw sliders put more stress on the arm and the fact he went on the DL in 2014 with a shoulder strain has me somewhat worried he may not throw 200-plus innings again.

I’m not worried about Adam Wainwright’s ability to throw 200-plus innings despite his injury last season. He went on the DL with a torn left Achilles in the left knee. I expect vintage Wainwright. I’m only projecting 170 strikeouts because the strikeout rate decreased substantially in 2014.

Carlos Carrasco was unlucky with the HR/FB rate and suffered in general from a poor Indians defense. If he played for a good defensive team like the Pirates his ERA would have been almost a run better. I love pitchers who strikeout batters, limit walks and generate a lot of ground balls. Francisco Lindor and Giovanny Urshela are vast defensive upgrades over the players last year. Eventually Carrasco is going to take a step forward and I think 2016 will be that year.

When I look at Jeff Samardzija I think 2015 and 2014 are both outlier seasons that do no reflect his true talent level. If I were to guess which season is more likely to happen again I would say 2014 because I’m sure Giants Pitching Coach Dave Righetti will ask him to revert back to the pitch usage prior to joining the White Sox. My biggest criticism about Samardzija before the 2015 season was despite the premium velocity lower tier batters that he should eat up are able to square him up too often. Righetti historically has been a great coach for teaching pitchers to not allow home runs so I’m optimistic Samardzija could have a bounce back in 2016.

I have no idea why a lot of fantasy prognosticators are so down on Gio Gonzalez. I get it. It was probably the worst season of his career in regards to ERA and WHIP, but all the advanced statistics indicate he performed as well as the two previous seasons. The fastball velocity was stable and last year he generated more ground balls than ever. Gonzalez doesn’t have the ideal profile of a starter I want to own (specifically the high walk rate), but he’s going to have a lot of great matchups against the NL East and should have 190-plus strikeouts.

I do not understand the love for Garrett Richards. He pitched 207 innings, but he only had 176 strikeouts. He’s currently going as the 29th pitcher in NFBC drafts while Jose Quintana is going 17 pitchers later, which is insane. If you compare their numbers last year they provided the same numbers. Some may think Richards has a better opportunity for wins, but I do not believe that is the case. The Angels lineup outside of Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun is a Triple-A lineup. Richards had an incredible 2014 season, but last year he didn’t show the same rate statistics, which makes me hesitant to think he could return to the 2014 for.

I Would Not Be Shocked If He Finishes Year As Top 10 Starting Pitcher:

I’m cheating here but I love Noah Syndergaard. If you read my DFS articles you know I loved him all of last year too. What’s not to love? He strikes out batters at a 27.5 percent clip, doesn’t walk batters and generates a lot of weak contact. If he pitched a full year he would have had the fifth best hard hit rate allowed. He’s currently going as the 15th starting pitcher in NFBC drafts. Therefore, he’s going to be on all of my teams. My only reservation about the Mets in general is their bullpen. After Jeurys Familia there a lot of question marks. Mets pitchers are going to lose more wins than they should with the current bullpen.

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