Notes: Stressing About Strasburg

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Matthew Pouliot
·10 min read
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Stephen Strasburg was excellent in his season debut a week ago, throwing six innings of one-hit ball while averaging right around 93 mph with his fastballs. Tuesday’s outing was a different story; he was tagged for eight runs in four-plus innings and he averaged just under 91 mph with both his sinker and four-seamer. He said he was having trouble with mechanics, but all anyone wanted to talk about afterwards was the hallway shot of him probing his shoulder.

Even without that surprising peak at Strasburg when he didn’t think he had any cameras to concern himself about, it would have been a worrying showing. He just didn’t seem comfortable in his follow-through in the latter stages of the outing, and, obviously, his stuff wasn’t there; he induced only three swings-and-misses among his 88 pitches against the Cardinals. Strasburg is currently slated to make his next start Sunday, but there’s a pretty good chance that some bad news is coming soon.

National League notes

- Eric Hosmer is off to an excellent start -- he’s hit .341 with three homers in his first 11 games -- but I’d actually call it discouraging. Hosmer’s strong 2020 was partly the product of a breakthrough in the launch angle department; he hit fewer grounders than ever and thus was able to produce career bests in his home run and slugging percentages. This year, he’s back to hitting grounders 60% of the time. It started during the spring, and it’s kept on going this month. His three homers have come on just eight flyballs this season, a HR/FB rate that’s more than double his career mark. Maybe there’s the chance he could get back to where he was last year, but that seems less likely since what he’s doing now has worked so far. I’d be looking to trade him.

- Actually, Hosmer and Manny Machado should switch batting lines right now. Machado leads baseball in hard-hit rate, and is in the top five in both average exit velocity and barrels, yet he’s batting a modest .250/.377/.432. Statcast believes he should be hitting .307 and slugging .649.

- Zac Gallen looked great Tuesday in his return from a stress fracture in his right forearm. His velocity was reportedly up a tad this spring prior to the injury, and he still showed some of those gains in his four-inning start against the A’s, even though he’s building stamina after pulling off a quick return. Gallen was my No. 14 SP before he got hurt, and he’s back up in that same territory again now.

- Whereas most starters are going in the other direction in recent years, Luke Weaver is using more fastballs this year and has thrown a total of two breaking balls in his two starts. Weaver’s inability to come up with a quality third pitch to go along with his fastball-changeup combination has long been an issue, though he was plenty effective when healthy in 2019. His top two pitches have worked exquisitely for him thus far, but there aren’t any new wrinkles here and I wouldn’t expect him to keep it up.

- Tyler Naquin’s emergence has thrown a wrench into my plans for Nick Senzel. I’m somewhat buying into Naquin’s showing; he’s always had pretty good power anyway, and it seems like he’s added to it now. I still think Senzel is a quality regular, too, but Jesse Winker and Nick Castellanos aren’t going to sit against righties, meaning the Reds’ choice will be between Naquin and Senzel most days. Until things get sorted out, Senzel probably won’t be worth using in mixed leagues. Naquin might not be, either, just because playing time is such an issue.

- I wasn’t expecting Anthony Bass to stumble so badly, but as a long time Yimi Garcia fan, it’s nice seeing the Dodgers castoff getting a chance to close. Garcia’s fastball is up over one mph so far this year, and throwing more breaking balls, as well as the occasional changeup, has made him less of an extreme flyball pitcher than he once was. He’s still not an ideal closer by any means, but he could last.

- Cristian Pache’s groin injury apparently will make Ender Inciarte the Braves’ center fielder for the next couple of weeks. It’d be nice if Drew Waters were ready for that assignment, but the Braves don’t seem to think that’s the case.

- With Lorenzo Cain (quad) on the injured list, Avisail Garcia should be worth playing in shallow leagues for at least the next couple of weeks.

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American League notes

- Andrew Vaughn has started five of the White Sox’s 11 games to date. He’s played a full nine innings just once. I don’t think this was what the front office had in mind when it opted to put him on the Opening Day roster, but, then, Tony La Russa wasn’t what the front office had in mind when it was time to hire a new manager. Yermin Mercedes’ emergence definitely has something to do with Vaughn’s minor role to date, but there is still room for both. It’s just that La Russa thinks Nick Williams is the better option as a left fielder against righties, and on Tuesday, he sat both Vaughn and Mercedes so that Jake Lamb could start at DH. I didn’t project Vaughn as a mixed-league guy in redraft leagues this year anyway, but I also didn’t see this coming. La Russa should eventually realize he needs the rookie’s bat in there more frequently; it’s just a matter of whether or not it happens before the minor league season starts and the front office opts to send him down so that he’ll get to play regularly.

- Tampa Bay’s Ryan Yarbrough has always been a soft-tosser, but he’s taken it to new levels this year, with his average pitch coming in at 79 mph. He’s rarely throwing his fastball, which is down about 1.5 mph to an average of 86 mph this year, and his more commonly used cutter is averaging just 82 mph. The command is still there, but he’s given up 23 hits in 16 2/3 innings, leading to a 6.48 ERA. Unless he gets some velocity back, the Rays might need to put him in middle relief and try someone else in the rotation. Of course, that’s a little more difficult now with Chris Archer (forearm) already hurt.

- Ramon Laureano is doing his best Adalberto Mondesi or maybe even Rickey Henderson impression, swiping eight bases in nine games to date. To say it’s a surprise is putting it mildly; he stole two bases in 54 games last year and 13 in 123 games in 2019. Laureano is fast, but he’s not a true burner; he’s been right around the 80th percentile in sprint speed in recent year. If he gets caught a couple of times, his stolen base attempts could come way down. Still, he’s typically been a fine percentage basestealer, and the A’s probably are going to have more difficulty scoring runs this year than they have the last couple of seasons. He could run enough to steal 30 bases and spend the rest of the season as a top-20 fantasy outfielder.

- Jake Diekman was supposed to be Oakland’s closer before the team came up with the money to sign Trevor Rosenthal, but Lou Trivino has overtaken him in the wake of Rosenthal’s injury. It helps a bunch that Trivino’s velocity has come back some after dipping last year. That’s especially true about his cutter, which was his most effective pitch before he lost 1.5 mph off it in 2020. He looks like a top-20 RP right now.

- I wasn’t expecting much of anything from Danny Duffy this season, but the lefty was actually sitting 94-95 mph during Tuesday’s outing (about two mph better than last year) and his slider is showing some additional break. Health is always a question mark here, but he’s at least a streaming option in mixed leagues at the moment.

- Alex Cobb is another guy who has looked especially good thus far. He’s sporting a 4.63 ERA after two starts, but that comes with a 17/2 K/BB ratio and a strong groundball rate. Cobb has reduced his fastball usage to the point where he’s throwing it just one-third of the time, and it’s helped him generate one of baseball’s best whiff rates to date. He’s worth considering for a full-time spot on mixed-league staffs.

- It’s not surprising that the Angels weren’t ready to go to Jo Adell as the injured Dexter Fowler’s replacement, but providing Taylor Ward with a real opportunity would be a good idea. Instead, the team apparently intends to give Jared Walsh more time in right, opening up extra at-bats for Albert Pujols. Jon Jay, who has a 76 OPS+ the last three years, was called up to replace Fowler on the roster. It’s stuff like this that has kept baseball’s best player out of the postseason six years running.

The 27-year-old Ward hit .277/.333/.383 in his 102 plate appearances for the Angels last year. He fares pretty well in the exit velocity department, and while he’s still rather inexperienced as an outfielder after spending much of his time in the minors at catcher and then third base, he graded out well in his major league appearances last season. If you ask me, he was a more interesting option than a healthy Fowler anyway, and he’s certainly worth trying with Fowler down.

- With James Paxton needing Tommy John surgery, it’s becoming increasingly likely that the Mariners could turn to Logan Gilbert in the near future. Gilbert, the 14th overall pick in the 2018 draft, has four quality pitches and impressive command, which should make him a solid pitcher right from the start of his major league career. He might be too homer-prone to be of immediate use in shallow leagues, but he’ll definitely be worth watching.

- Rafael Montero took his third blown save of the young season in the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader. It’s not nearly as bad as it sounds; he’s given up just three runs and three hits in 6 1/3 innings and the Mariners went on to win all of the blown saves. Still, he’s on thin ice at the moment, particularly since Kendall Graveman, who wound up with his first save Tuesday, has allowed just one hit in five scoreless innings to date. Montero seems like the better bet than Graveman going forward, but Graveman is still someone to consider in mixed leagues.

- Julian Merryweather is going on the IL with an oblique strain after leaving Tuesday’s appearance because of what was originally called hip irritation. Jordan Romano will likely serve as the Blue Jays’ closer.

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