LET’S GO META
For the second year in a row, Tout Wars auctions are taking place online. The dates are tomorrow and Sunday, the times can be found at toutwars.com.
This year there will be public Zoom rooms for chatting during each of the auctions. The links are also at toutwars.com. See you there?
Actually, I’ll be auctioning in the NL on Sunday afternoon, and most definitely won’t be in the public room for that one. But in Monday’s newsletter you can be sure I’ll be writing about what I did and why.
PITCHING BATTLES I’VE KNOWN
My intention was to write today about some of the open questions about pitching around the camps. For instance, the fifth starter on the Dodgers? Who is it?
The front three, Kershaw, Beuhler, and Bauer, are clear. The next two, Julio Urias and David Price, would be set as well, except that Urias hasn’t pitched more than 80 innings in a year since 2016, and Price didn’t pitch after seeing only 107 innings in 2019 because of two arm injuries. Expecting those two to “round out” the rotation is obviously not wise.
Which leads us to Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin, the two most obvious arms to pick up the slack. First May:
The young swingman, for now, has the repertoire of a swing-and-miss artist, but gets surprisingly few swings and misses. Not that he isn't effective, but his hard stuff, his 99 mph four-seamer, his 98 mph sinker, his 94 mph cutter, his 87 mph curveball, and his 91 mph change, all get outs, but not as many whiffs as you'd expect. That was true when May was coming up through the minors, too, so let's accept that he's a groundball pitcher with great stuff and excellent control who gets plenty of weak contact rather than dominating hitters with strikeouts. He's bound to have an occasional bad appearance but enough good ones to make up for it. A bigger issue is his workload. The shortened season puts him in position to again have a limited workload this year, landing him in relief roles and missed starts sometimes, limiting his fantasy upside.
Didn't break camp with the team but was sent to the alternate site twice in August, with two starts in between. When he returned at the end of the month pitched every fifth day, though one of those was a five inning relief appearance. In his brief career he's been pretty much equally effective in relief as starting, and vice versa, and the Dodgers are not shy about having pitchers work in both roles. Gonsolin also pitched very similarly in his second big league season as he did in his first, the only real change a dramatic drop in the number of walks he allowed. Notably, he improved his first-strike (the most important pitch) percentage to 65.9 percent, up from 59.5. He's a hard thrower with a fine slider and a tough splitter, tools that help him avoid hard contact leading to a miniscule number of homers allowed on fly balls, which is an accomplishment for a guy who tends to throw fly balls and also a likely source of an ERA bump in the future. Of course, he has yet to pitch a full season in the majors, and will likely be on something of a leash this year, even if he's in the rotation from the start. But this 2016 ninth rounder with his ever improving control and command has a bright future.
So, it would seem that mixing and matching between Urias, Price, May, and Gonsolin could pay big dividends for the Dodgers.
In my first pass at prices I had both May and Gonsolin at $15. I’ve since dropped May to $10 (after seeing CBS and LABR pay $9 and $6), and Gonsolin, the better strikeout arm, to $13. CBS and LABR only went to $5 and $7 for him. At those prices I’m buying both of them.
The whole problem with these pitching battles is that these discussions end up easily resolved in our make-believe preseason world, or honesty requires us to admit we really don’t know.
Who is the fifth starter on the Tigers? The question is really better posed as how do the three, four, and fifth slots in the Tigers rotation round out, since after Matthew Boyd and Spencer Turnbull there is a lot of margin of error.
In the perfect world of 2023 the Tiger rotation will ideally feature three of the best pitching prospects in the game: Casy Mize, Matt Manning, and to a lesser degree Tarik Skubal. But this year?
To start this season Michael Fullmer, Jose Arena, and Julio Teheran are penciled in, but each has his own problems allowing too much contact, too much hard contact, and concomitantly, too many hits and too many home runs. Now maybe this year’s deadened ball and widespread use of the humidor will help them, it’s possible, but I wouldn’t count on it. Fullmer’s terrible spring, for instance, has already got him demoted to the pen. So who will sub in for them?
Casey Mize struggled with his control and the long ball in seven big-league starts last year. He’s got a ton of talent and when he’s ready could be an ace, but earlier this week he allowed homers to Bryce Harper and Didi Gregorius worth six runs in a game versus the Phillies.
He was the No. 1 overall in 2018, has an outrageously good splitter, and was hit hard in his time with the Tigers last season. He's underdeveloped, that splitter was hit hard last summer, but so was everything else. With just 78.7 innings pitched in Double-A, successfully, he needs to develop a winning approach against more advanced hitters. That might come this year after some time spent in Triple-A, but the delayed start to the minor league season makes that a little less likely. Still, he's worth an endgame play. Once he's got a good mix going that splitter is going to make him dangerous.
Matt Manning didn’t play last year and is half a year younger than Mize.
He might have made his major league debut last summer but he was shut down with a forearm strain that was called no big deal. Manning was a 2016 No. 1 pick (9th overall) after a two-sport (basketball) career in high school, known for his size, athleticism, and the array of pitches he can throw with velocity. In 2019 he also dramatically improved his control, setting the stage for promotion to Triple-A last year, but we all know what happened with that. He'll surely start there this year and we'll see how he does. The Tigers have no reasons based on the current contract to promote him quickly, but they also know that next year there will be a new contract and it just might help them to show off some more of the potent young arms they have in the pipeline as they become ready. Manning is likely a groundball pitcher with strikeout oomph, when called up he's going to be a hot commodity right off the bat.
Tarik Skubal, unlike his phenom-mates, was not a first-round pick. He was a second-round pick either. Skubal was taken in the ninth round in 2018, the same draft that Mize was taken first overall. But Skubal has an awesome slider that gets swinging strikes, which in some ways puts him ahead of his betters.
He struck out 17.4 batters per nine in Double-A in 2019 and 10.4 per nine in the majors last summer, but also in the majors he gave up nine homers in his 32 innings pitched. Great to get the swing and miss, but a problem when they're not missed. It's easy to see the problem. He's got a nice fastball, 94 mph with lots of horizontal movement, and an excellent slider, but his curve ball is hittable. His solution last summer was to throw lots of heaters and sliders and as few other pitches as he could get away with. He's adding a splitter this year, it was reported in spring training, and we'll see what happens. He's worth an endgame flyer, the talent is there for mid-rotation success with perhaps extra strikeouts, if he can get the mix working.
If he can’t he’ll become a bullpen candidate eventually.
So who do you take? CBS/LABR spent $5/$4 on Mize, $6/$6 on Skubal, and $1/$1 on Manning. (For what it’s worth they didn’t buy Fullmer, Arena, or Teheran.) That seems about right, but since both Mize and Skubal will surely be on limited innings this year, those might be okay bets, but even better if cheaper.
Everybody and his brother has a bullpen chart this year, likely thanks to the creative focus the Closer Monkey put on the problem. The Monkey is cheeky and attentive and a must-follow, but the Roster Resource Closer Depth Chart at FanGraphs (inexplicably hidden from the front menu) has stats that make it easy to compare skills. Not that that necessarily means anything. But it does give us something to talk about.
The Phillies were supposed to have a team built to win last year, but they ignominiously crashed in large part because their bullpen was a disaster. This past winter they tried to rectify that by adding Jose Alvarado, Brandon Kintzler, and Archie Bradley to stalwart Hector Neris. That’s probably a better pen, but it’s also confusing.
Our expert leagues paid on average $4 for Neris and $8 for Bradley and they passed on Kintzler and Alvarado. There are negative things to say about all these guys (in order, walks are up, velocity is down, couldn’t break glass with heater, can’t throw strikes) but chances are somewhere around 30-35 saves are going to be distributed among them. Collectively they should go for about $20, with Neris and Alvarado having plus strikeout rates.
I’ve got Neris at $9, Bradley at $11 (probably a buck or two too high), Kintzler at $3, and Alvarado at $1. In your league, as in the expert leagues, Kintzler and Alvarado can probably be skipped, though they can also be cheaply speculated on in the end game or on reserve, but if you let Neris go for $4 you’re giving someone a good chance at saves for practically nothing.
When making your lists I think it’s a good test of bullpens to see what the aggregate amount you have budgeted for closers is. The high strikeout guys get more of course, but the best way to pick off the likely closer-in-waiting candidates is to make sure they’re a part of your overall budget.
ONE MORE THING
The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational drafts are complete. These are 29 leagues peopled by fantasy baseball analysts of one type or another. The 15 team leagues amongst themselves, and then teams are ranked against each other across leagues. Then one champion is named.
A guy who is in my league, Smada, has put together a monstrous Sheet with historical standings and projected finishes this year. I look forward to seeing how accurate those are.
The main thing here is that these are all serious players playing with their reputations on the line. Justin Mason’s idea is a great one, and very useful for fantasy players.
For instance, Philly Relievers? Neris 289, Bradley 242, Kintzler 426, Alvarado 428. Given their prices I’d take Neris.
Detroit starters? Boyd 301, Turnbull 334, Fullmer no, Arena no, Teheran no, Mize 372, Skubal 316, Manning 437. I’d take Turnbull over Skubal.
Dodger starters? Urias 129, Price 194, May 223, Gonsolin 253.
Thanks for reading. Please let me know if you have any comments, questions, or suggestions. Plus if you’d like to see certain players profiled I’d like to hear about them. Or rotation/closer battles you’d like to hear about. Might as well profile those you would like to read.
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