Projecting the Best Case Scenario of Murderer’s Row 2.0

The 1927 Yankees are widely considered one of the greatest teams of all time. The term Murderers Row was coined by a sportswriter in the pre-Babe Ruth era, but once Ruth and Lou Gehrig came into the fold, the term was much more appropriate. After an expedited rebuild, the Yankees have created a somewhat-cloned lineup 91 years later. They have built, as Brian Cashman would say, the Golden State Warriors of baseball. With the acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton, the Yankees are the first team to lead the Majors in home runs and then acquire that season’s individual homer champ since they purchased Babe Ruth from the Red Sox way back in 1919. But how good can this lineup be? With a world of potential, I decided to look at what optimal production could be for this team. This is NOT a projection. This is the BEST CASE SCENARIO. Most likely, their wOBA’s will be around .02 lower than I have projected (wOBA credits a hitter for the value of each outcome (1B, 2B, HR) rather than treating all times on base equally, like OBP). So let’s take a look at what could be the best Yankees lineup since Ruth and Gehrig.

 

Photo Credits: New York Times

 

Giancarlo Stanton:

Travis Sawchick wrote an excellent piece on FanGraphs this past August about how Stanton’s closed stance has impacted his game. Private swing instructor Bobby Tewksbary noted “Stanton has always been a classic Pull Pattern hitter. This means he’ll create separation between his hips and shoulders, but his hands would come forward with his shoulders. He would close off in his stride, but he wasn’t able to delay the hands.” The article mainly pointed out that since about the end of June, the closed stance saw his production go crazy. From June 29th until the end of the season, Stanton, with a career 28.5 K%, struck out only 23.6% of his AB’s and raised his BB% by a significant 2.1%. Stanton had a 178 wRC+, including a .712 SLG%. He put together one of the greatest stretches in history. With 39 (!) home runs during this 84 game stretch, that projects to 74 over a full season. With some regression bound to hit, I say best case scenario is ¾ of what Stanton delivered after his stance change. AKA, a season for the ages.

.290/.380/.660 62 Home Runs, .440 wOBA

 

Photo Credits: AP Images

 

Aaron Judge:

In a vacuum, Judge had an MVP caliber season, finishing with the highest wOBA in the sport. Oh, and he was a rookie. It was a season of streaks for Judge. From the start of the season until the All-Star Break, he hit .329 with a 197 wRC+. Unsustainable, obviously. From the ASB to September 1st, he hit a putrid .181 with an 86 wRC+. However, he made his final MVP push in the last month+ of the season, slugging .889 while hitting .311 up until the Yankees were eliminated from the playoffs. Now, Judge isn’t either of these extremes, but it’s clear that he is closer to the MVP version. We have to account for a few things when it relates to Judge. First, he is still developing, so his game should naturally improve just based on the aging curve of great young players. Second, Stanton will create massive protection for Judge and in turn get more pitches to hit. Third, Judge was so god awful for a stretch, that if those numbers are even slightly better, he wins MVP.

.280/.410/.650 58 Home Runs .440 wOBA

 

Photo Credits: Sports Illustrated

 

Gary Sanchez:

Despite playing in only 122 games, El Gary hit 33 bombs. Assuming he plays a full season, accounting for days off, he should hit around 40. Again, a better lineup around the star catcher will give him more pitches to hit, so expect fewer walks and more contact. In addition, Gary raised his launch angle 5.4 degrees from his rookie year, and I expect that number to rise even more as he matures. Gary was fairly level-headed for the season, meaning he didn’t have any awful stretches or monstrous ones, so his projection is a bit easier than Judge’s. He is arguably a better hitter than Jorge Posada ever was.

.290/.350/.550 42 Home Runs .380 wOBA

 

Photo Credits: Getty Images

 

Greg Bird:

Bird… is the word. Unlike the other members of Murderers Row 2.0, Bird isn’t as popular a name. But check out this graphic via FanGraphs on Bird’s numbers since coming off the DL with a nagging foot injury.

 

Bird, Since Coming off DL

Bird PA BA OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
2nd Half 98 0.253 0.316 0.575 0.365 128
Postseason 17 0.308 0.471 0.769 0.501 221
Total 115 0.261 0.339 0.604 0.385 142

“In his pre-DL performance, Bird averaged 87.7 mph exit velocity on his batted balls, but since returning, that mark has jumped to 91.1 mph. For reference, only 13 hitters with at least 100 batted balls averaged 91 mph in exit velocity this year.”

Bird has played in 108 games in his career and hit 23 home runs. Over a full season, that projects to 34 home runs. However, these numbers include the 19 games he played injured this past season. Over the stretch, he hit .100/.250/.200 with 1 homer. Taking those games out, his full-season Home Run projection is 39 long balls. The guy has not played 160 Major League games, so he’s still learning the nuances of the majors. Bird doesn’t have to be the stud everyone projected him to be last March. Instead, he can thrive as the forgotten man in this death lineup.

.275/.370/.550 40 Home Runs .390 wOBA

 

This lineup is set to mash. This is not a scenario in which the window of excellence is closing. These guys are all either in their prime or are yet to enter it. Combine this with the consistent Brett Gardner, high ceiling Aaron Hicks, and top prospect Gleyber Torres, the Yankees are ready to mash. The 1927 Yankees could have company.

 

Data courtesy of ESPN, Baseball Reference, Five ThirtyEight, and MLB.com.

Article written by Cameron Levy

Cover Photo Credits: AP Images

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Started From The Top Now We’re Here

New York, a city that has long prided itself on its sports teams, can no longer do so; after years upon years of success across a multitude of sports, we have slowly slipped into the dreaded phase of rebuilding. Don’t believe me? Just look at recent playoff history: the Giants, Jets, Knicks, and Mets have shockingly only made the playoffs a combined three times since 2013, while the Yankees and Rangers have had much less success in recent years than they are accustomed to. I hate to break it to you, New York, but we are in a full-fledged phase of rebuilding. Although New York is no Cleveland, this overhaul in every New York team’s roster certainly is a harbinger of changing times.

Where better to look for change than at the New York Giants, who are recently New York’s most abysmal team. Sitting at 2-9, the Giants are among the worst teams in football and can’t even lose right, as they have picked up wins against the Chiefs and Broncos. With an onslaught of criticism, Coach Ben McAdoo decided to bench Eli Manning this past week, ending his NFL-record streak of 210 consecutive games started and certainly signaling a sign of change in New York. Manning, once the face of the franchise, has been replaced by dynamic playmakers Odell Beckham Jr., who has tallied at least 1300 yards and ten touchdowns in every year that he has been healthy, and Evan Engram, who has 470 yards and five touchdowns through 11 games. We have seen a very similar theme with the New York Yankees, who were also at one time, one of the best teams in the league, but have slipped in recent years. The days of Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez are long gone and have been replaced by the likes of superstar Aaron Judge, who finished second in the majors with 52 home runs last year, as well as his sidekicks, Greg Bird and Clint Frazier, and newly acquired superstar Giancarlo Stanton.

With direction but maybe less hope than the Yankees, the Rangers and Knicks haven’t been quite as successful in years’ past, but have a solid foundation and plan for the future. After a disastrous misallocation of resources and contract money during their run a couple of years back, the Rangers have traded Derek Stepan, Derek Brassard, and Carl Hagelin, and have let Dan Girardi and Anton Stralman walk over the past year and a half. These skilled players were once the backbone of the team, but have been replaced with rising young stars in Pavel Buchnevich, Mika Zibanejad, and Jimmy Vesey, who can take the franchise back to where it once was. The Knicks followed a similar model, as over the past two seasons, they have done a complete franchise overhaul by drafting one of the best players in the NBA in Kristaps Porzingis and by trading Carmelo Anthony, once the face of the franchise, for Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott.

While the Giants, Yankees, Rangers, and Knicks at least have some direction concerning the future success of their franchises, the Jets and Mets, on the other hand, do not. After purging their team of any source of talent during this past off-season, the Jets have been surprisingly competitive this season, but have done little to ensure future success. Aside from breakout rookie Jamal Adams and emerging receiver Robby Anderson, the Jets have little to look forward to in the future. The Mets have followed a very similar path, as their once “killer” rotation has been marred by a plethora of injuries as well as poor performance.

While things might not be looking pretty now, the future is certainly looking up for New York. Staying patient isn’t a strength of most New Yorkers, but once the rebuilding process comes to fruition, the payoff will be well worth the wait.

 

Thanks for reading! Data courtesy of ESPN, Baseball Reference, Basketball Reference, Hockey Reference,  and Football Reference.

Article written by Jason Platkin

Cover Photo Credits: New York Post

 

Give me the ball, and get out of the way.

All great teams have a player who has the ability to take over a game when need be. Mono e Mono, no screen, nothing. Just you and him. Whenever the Lakers were in a tight game with 10 seconds to play, everyone knew it was Mamba time. When the Bulls played the infamous game 6 in Utah, we all knew Jordan was getting the rock. Nowadays, names like Melo, Kyrie and Harden are the classic “go get me a bucket” guys. My question is, are they the best at it? Using NBA.com data from the last two years, I decided to calculate who the best ISO scorers in the league are. The 3 main stats in my algorithm are scoring frequency, turnover frequency, and effective field goal percentage. I weighed this past season more heavily than I did the current one, since some player’s stats haven’t normalized yet and regression is bound to hit. To be eligible for the list, the players must take an average of 1.5 ISO/game both years. 

Honorable Mention

Tyreke Evans- The former rookie of the year has seen his career quickly deteriorate. He was merely a salary match in the Boogie Cousins trade. This year however, he has the highest ISO eFG% among players with 1.5 ISO/game. He is averaging career highs in points/36 minutes, FG% and 3PT%. His poor ISO season last year took him off the list, but if he keeps this production up, he could find himself with a revitalized career in Memphis.

Victor Oladipo- Other than Evans, Oladipo has been the best isolation player in basketball this year. He has shown flashes of being a #2 pick with the trade back to the state of his alma mater. He is shooting 45% from 3 this season and has not turned the ball over once in 32 ISO’s. Similarly to Evans, last season’s performance made him ineligible.

James Harden-Harden was outside the top 10 mainly due to a poor 2016-2017. He turned the ball over at an extremely high clip, and only shot 37% on ISO’s. This year he has been much better in all facets, but I need to see more for him to make the cut. 

10. Damian Lillard

9. Harrison Barnes

8. Marcus Morris- Last year, Morris took .7 more per game ISO shots than he does in Boston, a product of Brad Stevens. Of all players last year to attempt 2 ISO shots/game, he scored more frequently than anyone.

7. Jeff Teague-Although not the best finisher, his pull up 3 pointer is boosting his EFG%, making him a viable option for this list. For a thin point guard, he drew fouls on 17.5% of his ISO’s last year, 6th best in the league.

6. Isaiah Thomas- I think we need to temper the expectations for Thomas this season. His injury is a serious red flag. Some reports out of Boston said he has a chronic hip, and with all the Kyrie trade drama I don’t think that is a blasphemous belief. Last year he was arguably the most exciting player in the league, though. Of all players to take 1.5 ISO/game, he got to the line on these attempts at the second highest clip in the league behind Dame Lillard and scored 2nd most frequently.

5. Austin Rivers- “OHHHH, OHHHH, UNBELIEVABLE!!” We have all seen the epic Austin Rivers buzzer beater against UNC where Dicky V delivered the call of the year. Turns out, he is superb at that exact kind of shot. Rivers has been sensational in isolation plays this season, not committing a turnover in 44 isolation plays with an excellent eFG% of 57. He has scored on ISO’s at higher rates than LeBron, James Harden, and Kyrie this year. His game surely has its flaws, but his isolation skills are among the game’s elites.

4. LeBron James-LeBron is no doubt one of the guys you don’t want to see in an ISO situation. His strength is overpowering for most defenders, and he can pull up from 3 if necessary. Among all players with at least 2 ISO shots/game this year, he has the highest eFG%. Nobody can guard him 1-on-1.

3. Chris Paul-This is why I am one of CP3’s biggest fans. We know about his defense, playmaking skills, and leadership. But people don’t realize how lethal of a scorer he can be. If he took as many shots as Russell Westbrook, he would average 25 points/game. Last year, he had the 2nd highest eFG% on ISO’s and turned the ball over at the smallest rate in the league (3.3%). So does D’Antoni give him, or James Harden the ball in the final possession? It is a good problem to have for the Rockets.

2. Kevin Durant-KD is the best scorer in the league. His length, combined with his jump shot makes him a Giannis-Curry hybrid. Durant is scoring on ISO’s more frequently than anyone and gets to the line with ease in such situations. He has the length to shoot a Kobe-esque fadeaway but the speed to take his defender to the hole.

1. Kyrie Irving-This should come as a surprise to nobody. With the league’s best handle (of all time?), Kyrie was by far my highest graded ISO player in the league. He never turns the ball over, and owned the highest eFG% among ISO’s last year. He also averaged 1.12 PPP on ISO’s, best in the league.

All stats via NBA.com, clips via 3ball.io

My Hall of Fame Ballot

How do I measure baseball greatness?

What defines a Hall of Famer? In my opinion, the two most important characteristics of baseball immortals are longevity and relative excellency. To measure both of these, I am going to use career WAR (based on the FanGraphs formula) as a reference point. Career WAR takes into account longevity, as it is a cumulative statistic, and it takes into account relative excellency, as it is adjusted based on how well the league itself performed each year.

Chipper Jones (Career WAR–84.6)

Chipper owns the highest career WAR out of any player on the ballot this year who didn’t take steroids. His 84.6 career WAR ranks sixth all-time amongst third basemen. He averaged 4.7 WAR in his eighteen years as a regular. Some might suggest this was the product of playing a lot of games and getting a lot of PAs. Although he was durable–Chipper averaged 138 games and 589 PAs in those eighteen years–he also was excellent; his career wRC+ of 141 ranks tied for ninth all-time amongst the 588 third basemen with at least 1000 PAs. Keep in mind the fact that Chipper did it for longer than most on that list, with 10614 PAs–in fact, he had the most PAs of the top 17, discounting A-Rod, a steroid user. One of the players he is tied with is A-Rod. Furthermore, he is behind Edgar Martinez, who only started 533 games at third base (as opposed to Chipper’s 1970). He has the second highest offensive runs above average, behind only A-Rod, in that group, and there is an argument to be made that using offensive runs above average is the best all-around measure because defensive statistics can be unreliable. Some other stats of note: for his career, Chipper walked more than 1000 times more than he struck out, and had a .401 career on-base percentage. He stole 150 bases at a 76.5% success rate. Chipper Jones is a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Mike Mussina (Career WAR–82.2)

Mussina has the next highest career WAR total on this year’s ballot. His total of 82.2 WAR ranks 16th all-time amongst pitchers (15th if you discount Roger Clemens, who probably used steroids). This is especially telling of Mussina’s excellency because he has the lowest career innings total amongst those 16. This is not due to durability issues, either: Mussina averaged 31 starts (and 4.7 WAR) during his seventeen full seasons. Rather, it is a matter of the era that he pitched in, which saw pitchers accruing fewer starts. The era he pitched in has adversely affected him in other ways, too. I think that the reason Mussina hasn’t received much love on the ballot is because his career ERA of 3.68 (FIP of 3.57) is considered underwhelming. I think the higher ERA is also a product of the era in which Mussina pitched: the steroid era. ERA is not a good measurement in this sense. Instead, league adjusted stats (like WAR), which take into account the higher offensive output of the era, should be used.

Jim Thome (Career WAR–69.0), Edgar Martinez (Career WAR–65.5)

I lumped these two guys together because they were incredible hitters, but poor defenders. As I said previously, though, I weigh offensive metrics for hitters much more heavily than defensive ones. The reason for this is that most, if not all, offensive events in baseball are discrete and can be measured probabilistically. Defensive events, however, are not. A player’s defensive value is determined based on the plays he made and the plays he could have made. “The plays he could have made” has always been a relatively subjective way of measurement. Some people might think it was possible for him to make that play, while others may not. However, statistics like wRC+, used to quantify offense, are purely objective. While I don’t think that defense should be entirely ignored, I think that it should be weighed far less significantly than offense.

All of that being said, we have two of the best pure hitters ever on the ballot this year.

Of the 431 players with at least 7000 PAs (longevity!), Martinez ranks 25th and Thome ranks 30th in terms of wRC+ (relative excellency!).

Thome was one of the greatest home run hitters of all time. His 612 dingers places him 8th on the list. His career OBP was .402. His career ISO of .278 ranks seventh out of those 431. Thome is a first-ballot Hall of Famer by tradition means and by advanced measures.

Martinez is different. He is adored by Sabermetricians for walking more than he struck out in his career, his astounding wRC+ of 147 (higher than even Thome’s 145), and his incredible career OBP of .418. However, he is not loved by traditional statisticians, since he was a DH for a while, has a middling home run total, and limited accolades. Nevertheless, I think he deserves to be in the Hall.

Scott Rolen (Career WAR–70.1)

While Rolen’s eight Gold Gloves signify that he was known primarily as a glove-first third baseman, he also should have been know for his offensive prowess and longevity. Don’t get me wrong, he was an excellent defender, posting positive defensive runs above average in every year except his rookie year in which he played only 37 games. But he also had a career wRC+ of 122 and an ISO of .210. He’s tied for 20th on the all-time home run list for third basemen (Chipper is fifth, by the way). Discounting his rookie audition, Rolen averaged 4.4 WAR over 16 years. Excellence and longevity.

 

That’s it for my ballot. I’ll write a post soon talking about my snubs, don’t worry! If you want to read some more about the unreliability of defensive metrics and attempts to better quantify defense, try this link:

http://www-stat.wharton.upenn.edu/~stjensen/research/safe.html

Data from FanGraphs and Baseball Reference. Picture from MLB.com. Thanks for reading!

College Football Playoff Preview

1 Alabama

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Photo Credits: Bleacher Report

Much to the surprise of no one, Alabama has already established themselves as the “team to beat” just 3 weeks into the season. After throttling previously 3 Florida State in a highly anticipated Week 1 matchup, Alabama has once again secured themselves as the premiere powerhouse in college football.Alabama has a tough test late in the season, where they will travel to 17 Mississippi State on 11/11. Let’s be real though, this is Alabama; there is a very good chance that they win this game, and even if they don’t, there is almost as good as a chance that they will make the Playoff. At this point in the season, there is no foreseeable future where Alabama will not be playoff-bound once again.

Alabama has a tough test late in the season, where they will travel to 17 Mississippi State on 11/11. Let’s be real though, this is Alabama; there is a very good chance that they win this game, and even if they don’t, there is almost as good as a chance that they will make the Playoff. At this point in the season, there is no foreseeable future where Alabama will not be playoff-bound once again.

 

2 Clemson

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Photo Credits: College Football News

After winning their first College Football Playoff, Clemson has rebounded strongly this season, even with the loss of significant offensive playmakers in Deshaun Watson and Mike Williams. Clemson’s defensive line might very well be the best position group in all of college football, and their offense has been very good this year too, averaging nearly 520 yards per contest.

Just like Alabama, Clemson controls their own destiny and could probably survive a loss to a ranked team and still make the Playoff. After destroying Virginia Tech, Clemson only faces one tough tests over the rest of the season: a home game against 12 Florida State on 11/11. After their domineering wins over Louisville and Virginia Tech, if Clemson wins the ACC, they will likely be a shoe-in to the Playoff.

 

3 Oklahoma

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Photo Credits: AP Photo

It is often said that revenge is the best form of motivation; Oklahoma is the living embodiment of that saying. After getting embarrassed by the Buckeyes in front of their fans in Norman last year, Oklahoma showed them up in an assertive win over then 3 Ohio State. Since then, Oklahoma has continued their trend of being incredibly dominant; led by Heisman hopeful Baker Mayfield, the Sooners’ offense is currently 4th in the nation, averaging an electric 599 yards per game.

Oklahoma has two tough tests remaining on their schedule: a road game at 15 Oklahoma State on 11/4, followed up by a home game against 8 TCU in the following week. Oklahoma’s remaining schedule is far from easy, but their strength of schedule and a huge win over Ohio State allows them to likely be in the Playoff even with 1 loss, as long as they win the Big 12.

 

4 Penn State

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Photo Credits: USA Today

After being left out of the College Football Playoff last season in one of the biggest snubs in recent history, Penn State has bounced back stronger than ever this year, obliterating their measly opponents thus far. Led by Heisman-favorite Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley, the Lions possess one of the most potent offenses in the country. Barkley has been an absolute force for the Lions, averaging nearly 200 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown per game.

With plenty of tough opponents left on their schedule, Penn State has tons of opportunities to build up their resume. On 10/21, the Lions will play 7 Michigan at home, and the following week, they will travel to Columbus to play Ohio State. If they survive these two tough tests, there is no foreseeable future in which Penn State will not make the College Football Playoff.

 

5 Georgia

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Photo Credits: Bleacher Report

After starting the season off everyone’s radar, Georgia has quickly burst onto the scene and is currently the #5 ranked team in the country. Although Georgia has a potent offense, most notably led by their stout rushing attack in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, Georgia’s true excellence resides in their defense. Through their first five games, which included two ranked opponents and a stellar Tennessee team, the Bulldogs have astoundingly only allowed 46 points.

Georgia’s schedule includes two tough opponents at the end of the year in a home contest against 21 Florida on 10/28 and a road test at 12 Auburn on 11/11. Although Georgia has a very impressive resume, which includes two top-25 wins, as well as a pounding of then 17 Mississippi State and Tennessee, they still have work to do. Unless a team ahead of them loses, Georgia will not make the playoff unless they beat Alabama in the SEC title game.

 

6 Washington

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Photo Credits: Sports Illustrated

While these top five teams have been stealing the national headlines, Washington has been slowly creeping its way into playoff contention. While Washington has been doing anything too special, as their offense is barely averaging over 400 yards per game and their defense has been good but not stellar, they have absolutely destroyed every team they have played thus far. Their closest game was all the way back in Week 1, where they manhandled Rutgers in a 16 point victory.

More so than any other team on this list, Washington needs help to get into the playoff. With a very weak schedule and a lackluster Pac 12, it is foreseeable that Washington could win out and still potentially miss the playoff. If they want any chance of getting in, it is imperative that they beat 20 Utah on 11/18 and 11 Washington State on 11/25 and win the Pac 12.

 

7 Michigan

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Photo Credits: AP Photo

For a team that is ranked #7 in the country, I have never seen one that is so incapable, yet has infinite potential. Even though they have played quite terribly (especially in the first half) in their first couple of games, Michigan has managed to dominate some quite terrible teams. Once Michigan starts to put it together, however, everyone should watch out, as they are capable of beating anyone. If they play like they did in the second half of their season opener versus Florida, they very well might be the best team in the country.

Although they are currently on the outside and looking in, Michigan has more opportunities to bolster their resume than any other team in the country. They face two very tough road tests at 4 Penn State on 10/21 and 9 Wisconsin on 11/18, followed up by a difficult homestand against 10 Ohio State on 11/25. However, if Michigan somehow survives all of these tests, they have a guaranteed spot in the College Football Playoff.

 

Data courtesy of ESPN, CBS Sports, Football Reference, and NCAA.com. Thank you for reading!

Written by Jason Platkin

Cover Photo Credits: Getty Images

Bread and Butter

Whether it’s Britton’s cutter, Kershaw’s curve, or Sale’s slider, every pitcher has their bread and butter pitch. It’s their version of the one play you run in Madden that nobody can stop. No matter how often you run “PA F Slide,” those chains keep moving until you’re in the end zone. We all hate that “one-play” guy. But if it helps me win then, hey, I too would run it every damn time. Using the same methodology for baseball, one would assume a pitcher should throw his best pitch a lot. Right? Who wouldn’t want to score a touchdown (or in this case, a whiff) on every play? Fangraphs developed a stat called “Pitch Values” which tries to quantify how good a pitcher has performed when using a particular pitch. If a pitcher whiffs on Aroldis Chapman’s fastball often (well, not this year), those numbers will be reflected in their wFB number. This stat is “the total runs saved by a pitcher using that pitch.” A problem arises, however, due to some pitchers throwing different amounts of each pitch. Therefore, Fangraphs created another category that standardizes the values on a per 100 pitch basis. Who are the pitchers that aren’t throwing that nasty cheese often enough? Using pitch values, let’s dive in.

 

Fastball—Jeremy Hellickson
wFB/C–.54 (16th among 63 qualified pitchers)
FB%-47.4% (58th among qualified)

Jeremy Hellickson was once a phenom. The former Rookie of the Year was supposed to be the next young pitcher the Rays somehow always seem to discover. David Price, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer and Matt Moore all have had successful careers with the Rays. None of them won ROY. Hellickson’s career has significantly fallen off, however. He has bounced around the NL since returning to the AL East in a July acquisition by the Orioles. With a 5.26 ERA, nobody was expecting the rookie version of Hellickson to step on the mound. With the Orioles, he has a 6.87 ERA. Hellickson’s fastball has been underutilized. Rather, he has been changeup heavy, tossing it 28.7% of the time (3rd most) but with a -1.78 wCH/C. He can throw the fastball more. Not asking for much, here. My mom can throw a fastball.

 

Slider–Lance Lynn
wSl/C—1.44 (10th among 46 qualified pitchers)
Sl%–12.4%(39th among qualified)

It’s fitting that Lynn plays for one of the most consistent franchises in sports. With an ERA under 4.00 every year of his career, Lance has been a rock for the Cardinals. Lynn started off with a repertoire guided by his curveball in 2012, where he threw it 17.8% of the time. Since then, those breaking balls have been substituted for fastballs with his slider staying around 10%. Previous to his Tommy John surgery, the slider was ineffective. He posted negative wSl/C every year of his career. However, this year his slider has been stronger than the ones of Severino, Darvish, and even Chris Sale. If he can keep this trend up, Lynn could become a more than reliable option behind Carlos Martinez.

 

Curveball–Masahiro Tanaka
wCB/C–1.63 (7th among 52 qualified pitchers)
CB%–6.2% (46th among qualified)

To succeed at Yankee Stadium, you better not hang your curveballs. That short porch in right field will rough you up. Masahiro Tanaka knows this all too well, as he has been somewhat home run happy this year with a 20.3 HR/FB %. Tanaka is an interesting case. His velocity is up on all of his pitches by a significant factor. This demonstrates the idea that velocity and results don’t always have a direct relationship. Despite its velocity jump, his fastball has been awful. His -2.24 wFB/C is the worst in the league by a healthy margin. Tanaka lives on his off-speed stuff. His sinker is what brought him to America, and now it’s time he implements the curveball more often.

 

Changeup—Gerrit Cole
wCH/C–1.30 (12th among 59 qualified pitchers)
CH%–10.8%(31st among qualified)

Gerrit Cole has been the subject of many trade rumors. A young, controllable starter like Cole should warrant the same kind of package the A’s got for Sonny Gray. He is the perfect candidate to throw his off-speed pitches more. Cole’s fastball ranks 2nd in velocity behind Luis Severino. Throwing the changeup more often would set hitters up for failure when they expect a pitch 8 MPH slower. Cole has been good this year, but not special. His HR/9 has more than doubled since last year, despite his peripheral stats staying essentially the same. Cole has also doubled his changeup usage, so he is on the right track. He recognizes the problem and has started to go after it. If he keeps using his secondary pitches to set up the fastball, Cole will rebuild his trade value and could find himself in a new uniform (Pinstripes? Please?!) soon.

Fantasy Football Outlook 2017: Bust Picks

As discussed in my most recent article (see: Fantasy Football Outlook 2017: Sleeper Picks), the number 1 mistake fantasy owners make when evaluating players is using the “eye test” instead of actual statistics. More so with bust picks than sleeper picks, fantasy owners overvalue their personal preferences, whether it be what team the player is on or the style they play, which leads them to pick injury-prone players who are past their primes or flashy players who can’t put up big numbers. In fact, three out of the four bust candidates I identify are among the most popular players in the NFL, which in turn has led them to be over-drafted. Let’s take a look at this year’s bust picks.

 

Russell Wilson, QB – Seattle Seahawks; ADP – 68

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Photo Credits: Getty Images

Out of all the bust picks mentioned in this article, this one gives me by far the biggest amount of hesitation. Russell Wilson easily has the talent to churn out yet another season, where he could finish among the top three to five quarterbacks for fantasy scoring, just as he did in 2014 and 2015. In some regards, it doesn’t seem like much has changed; the Legion of Boom is still intact and better than ever, Wilson has nursed his injuries back to full health, and the Lacy-Rawls-Prosise running back committee will pretty much match Lynch’s production in his latter years. However, Wilson’s changing role and Seattle’s inability to address their issues during this offseason will prevent him from returning to glory.

The most troubling stat line about Wilson, from a fantasy football perspective, is that he finished with a career high in passing yards (4,219) and a near career-best in completion percentage (64.7%), but only finished as the 14th ranked quarterback. In terms of passing, Wilson hit his ceiling last year (aside from his meager 21 touchdown passes), but finished nowhere near he did in the previous two years. How is that possible? Well, there’s a straightforward explanation; Wilson simply stopped running the ball, which has severely hampered his fantasy production. After establishing himself as an elite mobile quarterback, Wilson posted career lows last year in rushing attempts (72), rushing yards (259), and rushing touchdowns (one). This last season was the third time in the past four years that Wilson has only rushed for one touchdown on the year. With his limited mobility, which can be attributed to his injuries and the Seahawks telling him to run less, Wilson ran less and consequently threw 11 interceptions, a career high.

This offseason, the Seahawks did Wilson no favors by not improving their offensive line or receiving corps. Last season, the Seahawks had one of the worst offensive lines in football, which not only crippled Wilson’s mobility and the Seahawks’ run game but also contributed to Wilson getting injured after being hit so frequently. The Seahawks also did nothing to improve their thin receiving corps, which still lacks a solid second wide receiver after ultra-talented Doug Baldwin or a third receiving threat after Jimmy Graham. Additionally, the Seahawks’ running back committee will give headaches to both the Seahawks’ staff and Russell Wilson all season long. The trio of Lacy, Rawls, and Prosise will need time to figure out how this committee work, which should destroy the run game for the first couple of weeks in the season. Later in the season, I believe that this talented group will steal touches from Wilson, which will do him no favors either. The moral of the story is avoid Russell Wilson unless he falls very far down the board.

 

Lamar Miller, RB – Houston Texans; ADP – 26

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Photo Credits: AP Images

There’s no beating around the bush; Lamar Miller was simply one of fantasy football’s biggest let downs last year. Obviously, this was a huge surprise to many fantasy players, as Miller was coming off a couple of very productive seasons in Miami, and joining a much better NFL team in the Houston Texans. It is not to say that he can’t turn things around the season, as he is still the skilled back we once thought he was, but at his current ADP, Miller is a prime candidate to be a bust.

To be frank, Lamar Miller was downright terrible last year; nearly every advanced metric ranked him in the bottom third of qualified running backs and most didn’t even take into effect the horrible defenses the AFC South presented last year (the Jaguars, Colts, and Titans all vastly improved their defenses this offseason). Last season, Miller was just one of 13 running backs among the 42 who qualified (minimum 100 rushes) to finish with a negative DYAR (defense-adjusted yards above replacement). This stat pretty much indicated that against an average NFL defense, Miller performed worse than the average NFL running back. Although the sample size is somewhat limited as we are just looking at one season (this is generous – Miller had 299 touches), it is downright terrifying that someone with this stat line is being drafted in the 2nd or 3rd round.

What’s potentially even more concerning about Miller is his lack of upside. After averaging 19 touches per game last season, Texans’ coach Bill O’Brien said that he would be monitoring and limiting Miller’s touches, which wasn’t so surprising given his lack of success and massive volume. This wouldn’t be such big news if the Texans didn’t go out and draft D’Onta Foreman, who will still at least five touches per game as well as short-yardage goal-line work from Miller. With less of an opportunity to score touchdowns, Miller’s prospects seem to fall even further. The Texans’ quarterback situation does not appear to be helping much either; Watson will take time to learn the offense, which will be to the detriment of Miller’s performance, and later in the season, will likely throw the ball much more than Savage would, which eats into Miller’s touches as well. All I’m saying is don’t draft Miller with the expectations of him being an RB1.

 

Dez Bryant, WR – Dallas Cowboys; ADP – 21

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Photo Credits: USA Today

Dez Bryant is among one of the most enigmatic players in the NFL; if he could always play the way he did against the Packers, where he torched them for 132 yards and two touchdowns, Bryant would easily be the best receiver in the NFL. Unfortunately, injuries, among a number of other factors, have severely hampered his performance in recent years, which has caused him to be a bit of a letdown. He was better than most give him credit for, as he finished as the 19th receiver in PPR formats, but for his current ADP, he’s going to have to perform a lot better than that just to live up to expectations. With that being said, I am advising fantasy owners to stay away from the brewing mess in Dallas.

Bryant faces a number of challenges that stand in the way between him and a great fantasy season. The first, and most apparent, challenge would be Ezekiel Elliot’s six game suspension. Without Elliot in the backfield, opposing defenses will be able to sit back in zone coverages that divert specific attention to Bryant, which for obvious reasons is not good for his production. Elliot’s suspension lasts for more than half of the fantasy football season (seven out of 13), meaning Bryant should be rendered down for a good portion of the season. Additionally, Bryant appears to be highly injury prone, at least one would think so based on his extensive injury history, so it is fair to assume he will miss at least a game or two with a nagging injury.

Perhaps Bryant’s biggest challenge lies in his astoundingly hard schedule he faces in this upcoming season. I honestly can’t say that I have ever seen an opposing schedule this hard, as Bryant faces nearly every top cover corner in the league. Bryant’s divisional schedule alone includes two games against Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who held Bryant to just two receptions for 18 yards in those games against the Giants, as well as two games against one of the top physical corners in the league, Josh Norman. Outside of the division, Bryant faces brutal competition in Chris Harris and Aqib Talib, Patrick Peterson, Marcus Peters, Desmond Trufant, Richard Sherman, and Casey Heyward, just to name a few. To put that into perspective, Bryant faces an elite (top 10) cover corner in 10 out of the 16 games this season. Please hear my warning and do not draft Dez Bryant.

 

Martellus Bennett, TE – Green Bay Packers; ADP – 85

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Photo Credits: ESPN

Let’s get something straight; I’d love to have Martellus Bennett on my fantasy team this season. However, at his current ADP of 85 in PPR formats, Bennett becomes a much less attractive in my opinion, as amazing fantasy talents are on the board. I have always been an advocate on waiting to pick tight ends until late in the draft; once the first tier is gone (Gronkowski, Kelce, Reed, Olsen), the difference between the Eifert (TE6) and Fleener (TE15) is projected to be a meager 2 points per week. If you insist on picking a tight end so early, I would highly recommend pick Kyle Rudolph (ADP – 70) or Zach Ertz (ADP – 87), as both have much more upside than Bennett and are fairly priced (unlike Bennett).

There are two main arguments for not drafting Bennett: his declining performance and poor fit in the Packers’ offense. Regarding the first, Bennett enters the 2017 season, his 10th in the league, at 29 years old. Although Bennett has impressively only missed five games over the last five seasons, it is clear that his performance is on the sharp decline. In his last three full seasons, Bennett’s quarterback has been Jay Cutler twice (2013 and 2014) and Tom Brady (2016). Everyone who has ever watched football before would agree that Brady is the better quarterback, and with Gronkowski out for most of the year, Bennett played roughly the same amount in both offenses. However, despite playing with the greatest quarterback of all time, Bennett averaged 120 less receiving yards, 38 fewer targets, and 28 fewer receptions per year than he did in Chicago; it is foolish to ignore that Bennett is on the decline.

Although Bennett is a couple of years out of his prime at age 29, he can still put up big numbers and be a very productive fantasy asset. However, his problem this year lies more in his team than himself. Aaron Rodgers nor Mike McCarthy, the Packers’ coach, have ever relied on their tight end too heavily, which is mildly concerning for a player that feeds on volume. Historically, Packers’ tight ends have been irrelevant in fantasy. With a loaded receiving corps in Green Bay, which features Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, and Randall Cobb, as well as wide receiver turned running back Ty Montgomery, Rodgers has many mouths to feed in Green Bay, and this trend seems likely to continue. Unlike in years past, the Packers have a solid running game, which should steal attention from their elite air attack, and hurt Bennett even further. The point I’m trying to make is that Bennett is talented and should be drafted if he falls, but if he doesn’t, his current ADP is way too high for his small window of opportunity.

 

Data courtesy of ESPN, Football Reference, CBS Sports, and Fantasy Pros. Thanks for reading!

Written by Jason Platkin

Cover Photo Credits: Chicago Magazine