Is Trevor Bauer worth the hype?
The Trevor Bauer era is about to begin.
The No. 3 pick overall in last summer's amateur draft, Bauer has been advertised as the most major league-ready pitching prospect in that class, and in 23 professional starts he has backed up such talk: He's 12-3 with a 3.03 ERA and a whopping 12.06 strikeouts-per-nine ratio. Bauer, of the Arizona Diamondbacks, earned Keith Law's No. 21 prospect ranking overall in the preseason -- 15th, if you extract those prospects now in the major leagues or on a major league DL -- and he has garnered arguably the most anticipation of any pitching prospect among fantasy owners this year.
Well, folks, your long wait is officially over.
Open up that FAAB (Free Agent Acquisition Budget) wallet, break out that No. 1 waiver position, clear the top spot on our Most Added/Dropped list, because Bauer Hype surely will be at its peak these next 24 hours.
But is it warranted?
Bauer's most staunch supporters -- this columnist included -- will go straight to the stats, stressing his sparkling 1.68 ERA and 11.17 K's-per-nine ratio in eight starts for Double-A Mobile to begin this season, or better, the 2.82 ERA and 11.28 K's-per-nine he had in eight turns for Triple-A Reno. The latter numbers are key: They came in the Pacific Coast League, a hitting-rich minor league in which the average team scores 5.16 runs per contest. That is nearly a run more than in the other Triple-A league, the International League (4.20), and it's more than half a run higher than in any other competitive league Double-A or higher, the majors included.
Success in the PCL, however, historically hasn't assured the same in the majors. To give a sense of the statistical "translation" to expect between the PCL and majors, I took a look at 16 notable prospects to make the jump midseason during the past five years. All 16 pitchers shared a common thread: They cracked Baseball America's top 100 rankings in one of the past five seasons (2007-11), and made at least eight starts in the PCL and the majors in the given year.
This group managed an ERA in the majors more than a run higher (4.80) than in the PCL (3.67), it allowed hits 13 percent more often, home runs 60 percent more often and recorded a strikeout 13 percent less often. If we're to take those stats as a "translation," just for a simple experiment, this is what Bauer's major league equivalent stat line might have looked like:
8 GS, 3.98 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 4.60 BB/9, 9.84 K/9
Admitting up front that, based on the sample, this is much more example than comprehensive analysis, the result is an extremely fair, reality-check stat line, if you're punching your ticket on the Bauer Bandwagon. The 3.98 ERA is realistic, yet valuable, and perhaps slightly high. At the same time, it demonstrates the risk present with any rookie pitcher. Bauer isn't exempt from an adjustment period; it could happen Thursday, next week, August or sometime next season, and we have no idea its length or magnitude. The strikeouts, meanwhile, underscore Bauer's most valuable fantasy asset: This is a guy you want to get if for no other reason than his strikeout potential.
Bauer's arsenal, as well as his delivery, is why. He throws at least six pitches -- though he claims he throws as many as nine -- including a low-90s fastball, changeup, curveball and two different kinds of sliders, a traditional one as well as one he calls a "reverse" slider. (If you're curious what one looks like, he has a slew of videos of his delivery and individual pitches on his YouTube page.) Looking at him, comparisons to Tim Lincecum are obvious and understandable; Bauer deliberately crafted his delivery in Lincecum's style.
And, perhaps, Lincecum is an equally fair comparison point. Though Lincecum wasn't one of those aforementioned 16 PCL-to-majors starters -- he made only five starts in the PCL during his 2007 debut season -- his transition to the majors demonstrates an equal amount of excitement as a need for caution. These were Lincecum's stats between the minors and majors that year:
PCL: 5 GS, 0.29 ERA, 0.74 WHIP, 3.19 BB/9, 13.35 K/9
MLB: 24 GS, 4.00 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 4.00 BB/9, 9.23 K/9
With the exception of the WHIP, which could be explained as simply as a few lucky breaks in BABIP, those are eerily similar statistics, aren't they? Treat Bauer as you might have Lincecum during his rookie year, but be careful not to cling too tightly to the player comparison. After all, Lincecum represents the best-case scenario of a prospect following this path, his having won a Cy Young Award during his second season in the majors. Bauer could follow suit, but it's not always that a pitcher travels the perfect path. He might wind up on the bumpier road, and could also face some of the same physical questions Lincecum has for years.
TOP 100 STARTING PITCHERS
Note: Tristan H. Cockcroft's top 100 starting pitchers are ranked for their expected performance from this point forward, not for statistics that have already been accrued. (Rankings updated Wednesday, June 27 at 11:30 a.m. ET.)
Walks are really the question for Bauer. They inflate his pitch counts, bloat his WHIP and should put him at greater risk in ERA in the majors, where opposing hitters are less forgiving of such mistakes. They're what bear watching as he adapts, and you can be sure that if he struggles in that department yet posts encouraging enough wins-ERA-K's numbers despite it, he'd be well-worth shopping on the trade market well, in redraft leagues, that is.
Sum it up and Bauer is worth that hefty FAAB bid, or No. 1 waiver position. There might not be a rookie starter with a greater potential impact to debut all summer, but at the same time, don't get overzealous with your expectations. As you can see, the rankings to the right demonstrate that.
Among streaming starters -- something I define as single-start options in daily leagues among pitchers owned in 25 percent of ESPN leagues or fewer -- options for the upcoming week, here are my picks by day:
Tuesday, June 26: Dillon Gee at Chicago Cubs
Wednesday, June 27: Jonathon Niese at Chicago Cubs
Thursday, June 28: Franklin Morales at Seattle Mariners
Friday, June 29: Randall Delgado versus Washington Nationals
Saturday, June 30: Francisco Liriano versus Kansas City Royals
Sunday, July 1: Jake Westbrook versus Pittsburgh Pirates
Monday, July 2: Carlos Zambrano at Milwaukee Brewers (boy, what a bad day for streaming starters this one is)
Tuesday, June 19: Aaron Harang -- 3 2/3 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, 8 BB, 6 K
Wednesday, June 20: Erik Bedard -- QS, 6 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 7 K
Thursday, June 21: Francisco Liriano -- QS, 6 2/3 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 K
Friday, June 22: Kevin Millwood -- 5 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 3 K
Saturday, June 23: Clayton Richard -- W, QS, 6 2/3 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 6 K
Sunday, June 24: Jonathan Sanchez -- 5 2/3 IP, 4 H, 6 ER, 6 BB, 3 K
Monday, June 25: Tommy Milone -- W, QS, 7 IP, 7 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 5 K
Week's total: 7 GS, 2 W (28.6%), 4 QS (57.1%), 40 2/3 IP, 36 H, 19 ER, 24 BB, 36 K, 4.20 ERA, 1.48 WHIP
Season total: 74 GS, 32 W (42.9%), 42 QS (57.1%), 454 2/3 IP, 412 H, 189 ER, 163 BB, 341 K, 3.74 ERA, 1.26 WHIP
Jason Hammel, Baltimore Orioles: Is it possible that Hammel's month-long "blip" in his seasonal statistics -- that 30-day span not too long ago during which he had two wins, one quality start, a 4.50 ERA and 1.59 WHIP -- was entirely related to the knee soreness he had been suffering around that time? Certainly. The good news is that we've heard nary a whisper of knee troubles in either of his past two starts, which combined saw him record both wins and quality starts each time with a combined 17 innings of zero earned runs, two walks, 18 strikeouts and a .103 batting average allowed. Despite popular wisdom that you temper your expectations for pitchers who reside in the hitting-rich American League East, Hammel has made a name for himself in fantasy thanks to a 26 percent miss rate on swings, up nearly 10 percent from his 2011 number, and good for a No. 17 ranking among qualified major league starters. He also has a 3.27 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in seven starts against AL East competition, numbers that explain why he doesn't rank higher in this week's column, but those aren't the types that will turn away his owners in deep mixed or AL-only leagues.
Justin Masterson, Cleveland Indians: Your classic "must-hit-his-spots" pitcher, Masterson has done just that so far this month, going 4-for-4 in terms of quality starts with a 1.24 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and 4.50 K's-per-walk ratio. During June, little in his peripheral statistics shows any marked change beyond pounding the zone with his sinker, his signature pitch: He has thrown it in the zone 59 percent of the time and generated strikes 67 percent of the time, whereas in the season's first two months he had 48 and 61 percent numbers in those categories. Masterson's improved command puts him back on the list of valuable fantasy starters, though matchup-sniffing remains smart with this type, especially one who really lacks a dominating pitch to use versus left-handers. Here's something to consider as you sift through his matchups: He has eight quality starts, a 2.73 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 10 starts at Progressive Field, compared to two, a 7.07 and 1.68 in five on the road.
Wade Miley, Arizona Diamondbacks: I tweeted this last night and I meant it, but Miley absolutely deserves consideration for an All-Star start. That doesn't say he should start -- though I'll say he should be on the team, at the very least -- but he absolutely deserves to be in the discussion based upon his performance thus far. As a starting pitcher this season, he has eight wins, nine quality starts, a 2.09 ERA and 0.98 WHIP in 12 turns, and his 1.79 walks-per-nine innings ratio for the season (counting his relief work) ranks 10th-best among qualifiers. What's more, Miley's diverse arsenal has balanced his lefty-righty splits almost perfectly -- lefties actually have better numbers, .247/.278/.376, against him than do righties, .204/.253/.310 -- so success isn't close to a mirage for him. So here's the question: What does regression mean, exactly, for Miley looking forward? He has a 77.8 percent left on base rate, 20th-highest among qualifiers, a .255 BABIP that ranks 23rd, a 2.88 FIP that ranks eighth, and a 3.64 xFIP that ranks 36th (which can be easily explained by his 4.8 percent home run/fly ball rate). There's room for his ERA/WHIP to rise accordingly, but those numbers don't stand out as extreme worries. Heck, at 35th, he might still be ranked too low.
Dan Haren, Los Angeles Angels: Back problems were a question hovering over Haren a few weeks ago; could it be that they're resurfacing? We've heard nothing of the sort, but Haren nevertheless has a 6.65 ERA, 1.94 WHIP and 2.00 K's-per-walk ratio, the latter stat most perplexing because he's a pitcher who hasn't in any of his seven full major league seasons had a number lower than 3.08 in the category. Haren's full-season numbers -- 7.91 K's and 2.12 walks per nine -- as well as his reputation will have you thinking this is a mere short-term blip. But breaking down his outings individually, he has endured multiple stretches where those command numbers have wavered. Remember, during a four-start stretch from May 3-19, he had a 1.67 K's-per-walk ratio, too. The overall stats, and again his reputation, say Haren might rebound and easily be a top-25 starter from this point forward. But haven't we seen enough at this point that some hesitation is warranted?
Anibal Sanchez, Miami Marlins: Like Haren, Sanchez is another pitcher whose full-season stats might reveal little of concern, but whose recent performance is troubling. In four starts in May he's winless with only one quality start -- and that one barely met the requirements -- and a 8.06 ERA, 1.66 WHIP and 1.45 K's-per-walk ratio. Sanchez simply hasn't located his offspeed stuff during that time; he has thrown 41 percent of his offspeed pitches in the zone and gotten 60 percent strikes in June, whereas in April and May those numbers were 51 and 69 percent. Fortunately, what separates Sanchez from Haren is a lack of injury question, at least this season, though he also has less of a reputation between the two. Take a step backward for now, benching and monitoring him in the short term.
Carlos Zambrano, Miami Marlins: Welcome back, 2011 version of Carlos Zambrano. One of the most encouraging pitching storylines of the season's first six weeks, Zambrano has collapsed statistically in his past six starts, during which time he has an 8.04 ERA, 1.75 WHIP and a whopping 20 walks compared to 22 strikeouts. Walks have been a huge issue for Zambrano all season; his 4.55 walks-per-nine ratio is sixth-highest among ERA qualifiers, and it raises as many questions about his future value as were present exactly one year ago. The Zambrano-Ozzie Guillen merger fueled some good feelings about the right-hander in fantasy, but that kind of thing can be fleeting. The truth is in Zambrano's peripherals, which have said for years that he's a pitcher teetering on the brink of a statistical collapse. Apparently, it appears to have arrived.