Roto Arcade

Mostly MLB Notes: Examining hot starts by Justin Upton, Chris Davis and Jeff Samardzija

Dalton Del Don
Roto Arcade

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Justin Upton looks ready to reach his potential (USAT)

Justin Upton posted an .899 OPS as a 21-year-old, got away from a franchise that he clearly didn’t see eye-to-eye with, and there’s a real chance last year’s disappointing season was a direct result of a since healed thumb injury. On the other hand, Upton had actually disappointed two of the past three seasons, finishing as the 122nd ranked fantasy player in 2010 and 47th last year. Upton also left one of the best hitter’s parks for a generally neutral one that happens to depress power for right-handers (Turner Field’s HR Park Index for RHB is 88 over the past three years). Despite the latter, fantasy owners thought more highly of the former and drafted him aggressively, as he was likely gone within the first 15 picks. And as someone who ended up with Upton on zero of my fantasy teams, it’s been a rough first week to the season watching him go off, as he’s clubbed six homers over the first eight games. With a 1.192 slugging percentage entering Tuesday, fantasy owners have actually been unlucky to only get eight RBI from Upton so far, but it’s pretty hard to complain about his performance otherwise. It’s obviously just one week, and his K% is actually alarmingly high (37.9), but that doesn’t mean owners shouldn’t be excited that he very well may live up to all the previous hype and an MVP type season could be in store. Still just 25 years old, let’s hope Upton can stay healthy, as a monstrous campaign should follow.

[Also: Angels must regroup after Jered Weaver breaks elbow]

Chris Davis is another player off to a huge start, as he already has four homers and 17 RBI. Unlike Upton, however, it’s come with surprisingly strong plate discipline (4:4 K:BB ratio). Again, small sample caveats apply, but this is someone who had a 169:37 K:BB ratio over 515 at-bats last season. Another side note that makes his start all the more impressive is that nearly half of his ABs (11 of 24) have come against left-handed pitchers. Davis has shown much more willingness to take an opposite field approach, and he’s been far more selective at the plate so far. Baltimore is quietly one of the best parks in boosting home runs for left-handed batters, and while September numbers can often be misleading, it’s worth noting Davis’ scorching start is coming off the heels of batting .337/.419/.652 over the final month of 2012. In fact, he hit 15 homers over his final 132 at-bats last season. Back in 2011, Davis hit a whopping 24 home runs in fewer than 200 at-bats in the minors, posting a .372/.413/.819 line, so the power upside is massive. It remains to be seen if the dip in strikeouts is for real, but it’s possible the light bulb has suddenly turned on for Davis, who just turned 27 years old last month. Hitting in between Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and Matt Wieters is an awfully nice place to be as well. It’s easy to label Davis a sell-high candidate right now, but it’s also possible he entered 2013 a bit underrated (he certainly was by me), especially after further examining his growth in recent seasons. Even though it’s been just one week, I’ll be moving Davis way up my first base rankings.

April Fool’s gone wrong.

Headless man at the drive thru prank.

To call Roy Halladay’s poor start to the season a concern would be an understatement. Sure, it’s just two outings, and he’s actually fanned 12 batters over 7.1 innings, but this combined with a down 2012 and shaky spring is highly discouraging. Halladay had a strong 3.7 K:BB ratio last year, but he also posted a career low (at least since the stat has been recorded back in 2002) GB/FB ratio (1.39) and a career high LD% (23.0), so it was hard to call his inflated ERA totally unlucky. Unfortunately, those trends have continued over his first two starts this season (1.29 GB/FB, 27.3 LD%) to go along with further declining velocity (he’s averaged 89.6 mph with his fastball, which is easily a career low). Halladay is one of the smartest pitchers of his generation, so he should be capable of remaining successful even with diminishing stuff, but his days as an ace appear finished. And even then, that’s assuming he’s not pitching hurt, which very likely could be the real culprit here. Halladay owners can rightfully be pushing the panic button right now.

Here’s crazy footage of a woman getting saved from a train running her over at the last second.

Here’s a thief getting knocked out cold just moments after snatching a bag, but he still manages to escape.

Brett Anderson posted a 2.57 ERA and 1.03 WHIP with a 25:7 K:BB ratio over 35.0 innings after returning from Tommy John surgery last season. It was obviously a small sample, but it also included a GB/FB ratio (3.59) that would have led major league baseball by a wide margin (Jake Westbrook led with 2.77) had he qualified. And during the rare fly balls Anderson gives up, the A’s employ an extremely athletic outfield featuring Chris Young, Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick (and also Yoenis Cespedes). Anderson also benefits from the huge foul territory in Oakland, and believe it or not, the A’s led major league baseball in runs scored and home runs after the All-Star break last year and added Jed Lowrie, Chris Young and John Jaso during the offseason and now get to face the Astros 19 times in 2013. Don’t get me wrong, Anderson is an injury risk – he missed more time late last year after suffering a strained oblique and 32.7% of his pitches were sliders, which would’ve ranked fourth in MLB. But this is a stud when on the mound. After giving up 20 homers over 175.1 innings during his rookie season, Anderson has allowed just 15 long balls over 243.2 innings since, as he induces so many groundballs. The K rate previously hasn’t been elite, but he’s fanned 16 batters over 13.0 innings so far this season and is now more than a full year removed from TJ surgery. I’d love to see the type of season he’d put up if he could actually stay healthy.

I’m beginning to think people will go to great lengths to be on television. Haters gonna hate.

Lucky pedestrians side step dramatic car crash.

Alcides Escobar quietly hit .293 and stole 35 bases last season. His low walk rates haven’t made him a great option to hit atop a lineup, but that hasn’t stopped Kansas City from batting him second, which is actually quite a nice spot in between Alex Gordon and Billy Butler. Escobar has shown improvement (albeit marginal at times) every season he’s been in the league, and he’s still just 26 years old. He’s off to a nice start in 2013, batting .312 while walking as many times as he’s struck out, and Escobar’s counting stats should improve this season as a young Royals’ lineup gets better around him. Escobar swiped 42 bases in just 109 games in Triple-A back in 2009 and has been successful on 38 of his past 43 attempts in the majors, so a run at 50 steals this season isn’t out of the question. Escobar is a sneaky good fantasy option at a thin shortstop position.

Police Blotter: Man dies after his friend literally shoves his foot up his ass…3.9 tons of pot discovered during routine traffic stop. That’s a lot of weed…Man busted in grocery store bathroom with porn, cocaine and small child.

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Jeff Samardzija looks like the real deal (USAT)

Jeff Samardzija has recorded a whopping 22 strikeouts over 13.2 innings during his first two starts of the season. He’s walked five batters already too, and control has always been his biggest problem, but even when he walked 50 batters over 88.0 innings in 2011, he still had a 2.97 ERA because he’s so tough to hit. And of course, his control improved immensely last year, as he posted a 2.89 BB/9 rate. That coincided with a move to the rotation, so some remained skeptical of such a tough feat to be repeated. Count me among the believers. Samardzija had an 80:19 K:BB ratio with a 2.58 ERA and 1.02 WHIP over 73.1 innings after the All-Star break last season, and his average fastball velocity (95.0 mph) was the second highest among starters in all of baseball. It’s such a tiny sample so far in 2013, it’s of course pretty much meaningless, but it’s ridiculous what he’s done so far. Among the rare times Samardzija has allowed a ball in play (he has a 40.7 K%!), he’s induced 18 groundballs, three pop ups and just two fly balls to the outfield. That’s right, he’s currently combining a 14.49 K/9 rate with a 3.60 GB/FB ratio. Mind you, one of his starts came against a Pittsburgh team that entered Tuesday hitting a collective .126 so far this season, and his other outing came against a Braves squad that looks like the favorite to lead MLB in strikeouts (albeit while scoring plenty of runs), but it’s highly impressive nevertheless. Samardzija is a dark horse Cy Young candidate.

This deer fight is oddly compelling.

Here’s a raccoon tightrope walking across phone wires.

Quick Hits: Mitchell Boggs’ outing Monday (allowing six earned runs while recording just one out) is about as ugly as it gets and will take fantasy owners some time to recover. Boggs bounced back with a scoreless inning Tuesday, but Trevor Rosenthal obviously needs to be owned in all leagues, as at this point it would be surprising if Jason Motte pitches this season…Five of the first six starters who faced the Astros this season either set or tied their career high in strikeouts during their matchup, which is pretty unreal (all six games were played in Houston by the way). And that’s before the Astros made Joe Saunders look like an ace Monday. Of course, Houston then proceeded to score 13 runs over the first four innings of Tuesday’s game, burning everyone who streamed Brandon Maurer in the process. Go figure…J.P. Arencibia had three passed balls before R.A. Dickey had recorded five outs during the knuckleballer’s first start this season. Dickey has been anything but sharp early on, but some really poor defense has also contributed to his slow start…I got this stat from Jonah Keri, and it’s too crazy not to pass on. In 1974, Herb Washington attempted 45 stolen bases. He had zero plate appearances that season.

Longread of the week: What It’s Like to be (Fake) Kidnapped.

Bonus Longread of the week: Lying Around with Brandon McCarthy (the best (only?) athlete worth following on Twitter).

Bonus Longread of the week part 2: Here’s a story about a man released from prison after being jailed unjustly for 23 years. Believe it or not, he then promptly had a heart attack.

Quick Hits Part Deux: Carlos Gonzalez became the first position player Monday to homer off the Giants this season…Early returns on Shin-Soo Choo’s defense in center field suggest all the concerns were warranted. His two errors Monday on routine fly balls were brutal. Of course, even if he’s eventually moved to a corner, his bat is going to stay in the lineup, and fantasy owners certainly aren’t complaining about his .379/.514/.759 line early on, as he’s really liking the National League…After homering during his first at-bat of the season, Rick Ankiel has struck out a mind-blowing 12 times over his next 13 plate appearances. Meanwhile, teammate Brett Wallace has struck out 17 times over 21 at-bats…The reason Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez ended up on none of my fantasy teams was because I worried about their durability - not that they wouldn’t be highly productive when on the field. It’s only been one freaking week, and yet I’m already questioning that decision…John Buck currently leads the National League with 14 RBI. Joe Mauer, conversely, just recorded his first RBI of the season Tuesday…Giancarlo Stanton is currently batting .154 with zero homers, zero RBI and one run scored on the season. That’s not what one would call an ideal start for his fantasy owners, myself included…And finally, in case you missed it, this pitch was called a strike to end a one-run game.

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