FACTS/FLUKES: Zimmermann, F. Pena, Owings, E. Nunez, Cessa

Zimmermann's skills rebound... After consecutive sub-3.0 command seasons in 2016-2017, Jordan Zimmermann (RHP, DET) bounced back to his customary 4.0+ level in 2018, but still ended up with a 4.52 ERA. What should we expect from him in 2019?  

Year   IP   ERA  xERA  Ctl  Dom  Cmd  FpK  SwK   Vel  hr/9  GB%  Hard%  BPV
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ===  ===  ===  ====  ====  ===  =====  ===
2014  200  2.66  3.22  1.3  8.2  6.3  71%  10%  93.8   0.6  40%   30%   130
2015  202  3.66  3.82  1.7  7.3  4.2  67%   8%  93.0   1.1  42%   30%   105
2016  105  4.87  4.87  2.2  5.6  2.5  65%   8%  91.8   1.2  43%   27%    63
2017  160  6.08  5.50  2.5  5.8  2.3  67%   8%  92.2   1.6  33%   40%    48
2018  131  4.52  4.48  1.8  7.6  4.3  65%   9%  91.2   1.9  35%   38%   102

Zimmermann is well into the decline phase of his career, but still has the skills to contribute in most leagues: 

  • The 2018 skills rebound was not a fluke. His xDom was 7.7, and his xCtl was 1.9, which equates to a validating xCmd ratio of 4.1. 
  • He permitted a lot of hard contact in 2017-2018, and with career-low ground ball rates those same years, it is no surprise that more balls left the yard. 
  • The mid-90s velocity Zimmermann pumped in his peak years isn't likely to return. He adjusted in 2018 by throwing his fastball much less (43% usage was a career low) and relying on his best pitch, his slider, more than ever before (33% usage). 

Zimmermann has likely pitched through multiple injuries for some time and had offseason surgery to repair complete or partial tears to three different core muscles. His skills were very sharp in spring training, with 21 strikeouts to 4 walks in 17 innings, and he reportedly tweaked the grip of his slider to positive results. The 33-year old Zimmermann makes an excellent late-buy, as you are unlikely to find any other opening day starters coming off of 4.0+ CMD and 100+ BPV seasons who can be acquired at such a low cost (676 ADP). 

 

Pena intrigues... After entering the Angels' starting rotation permanently in mid-June, Felix Pena (RHP, LAA) found his footing late in the season, and pitched well down the stretch, recording a 3.60 ERA and 1.08 WHIP combo in ten August/September starts. He has since secured a spot in the 2019 rotation by striking out 25 batters over 15 spring training innings. Should fantasy owners take notice? 

Year  IP   ERA  xERA  Ctl  Dom  Cmd  Ball%  FpK  SwK   Vel  hr/9  GB%  BPV
====  ==  ====  ====  ===  ===  ===  =====  ===  ===  ====  ====  ===  ===
2016* 72  3.87  2.82  3.3  9.8  2.9  36.3%  60%  16%  93.5   1.0  39%  112
2017* 73  6.08  6.13  4.1  8.9  2.2  36.5%  49%  12%  94.3   2.1  35%   41
2018  93  4.18  4.01  2.7  8.3  3.0  36.3%  62%  11%  92.4   1.2  43%   96
*includes MLEs

Pena has under-the-radar appeal: 

  • His best pitch is a slider that he leans on heavily (35% usage) to miss bats (21% SwK) and get outs (.164 BAA). His change-up also shows promise as an out-pitch (17% SwK), though he only threw it 7% of the time in 2018. 
  • Thus his arsenal is sufficient to induce a goodly amount of swinging strikes, and he could end up with Dom rate approaching, or exceeding 9.0. 
  • He swapped out his 4-seam fastball for a sinker in 2018, which helped him keep the ball on the ground more frequently, and limit home run damage. 
  • He throws enough strikes and first-pitch strikes to maintain sub-3.0 control and 3.0+ command. 

As an unheralded 29-year-old, without prospect pedigree or significant MLB success, Pena is not in high demand (652 ADP) in 2019 fantasy leagues. But he has intriguing sleeper appeal due to his seemingly secure spot in the starting rotation, and his ability to miss bats and limit walks. It's worth noting that he experimented with throwing his change-up more frequently during spring training and finished with a 15.3 Dom. Be ready to pounce quickly if that is something he carries over into the regular season.  

 

Owings bottoms out... Coming off of consecutive double-digit R$ seasons in 2016-2017, Chris Owings (OF, KC) entered the 2018 season as a popular power/speed growth stock, with SS/2B/OF eligibility. But by the end of July his triple-slash was .198/.267/.287 and he was optioned to the minors. Does Owings retain any 2019 fanalytic appeal? 

Year   AB  HR/SB   BA/xBA    h%  HH%* ct%  GB/LD/FB   PX/xPX  hr/f  hr/HHf^ SB%
====  ===  =====  =========  ==  ===  ===  ========  =======  ====  ======  ===
2015  515   4/16  .227/.227  31  30%   72  39/26/34   76/ 93    3%    11%   80%
2016  437   5/21  .277/.273  34  30%   80  50/23/27   84/ 75    5%    15%   91%
2017  362  12/12  .268/.262  32  32%   76  43/22/36  108/109   12%    30%   86%
2018  281   4/11  .206/.220  27  39%   73  39/22/38   70/123    5%    12%   73%
* hard hit rate
^ percentage of hard hit fly balls that are home runs 

Yes, his power/speed combo keeps him relevant: 

  • Owings's career 84% stolen base success rate proves that he is a smart base stealer, and his 2018 Statcast Sprint Speed of 28.4 ft/s (league average is 27 ft/s) demonstrates that he remains sufficiently fast to continue stealing bases. 
  • His 2018 hard hit rate and xPX spikes seem to indicate that he may have a bit more power than meets the eye. 
  • More often than not, Owings has been the victim of very unfortunate home run per hard hit fly ball rates, which has naturally corresponded to unfavorable hr/f rates. 
  • Prior to 2018 Owings had a career batting average of .257 and regularly enjoyed above-average hit rates. With budding power and better hr/f & h% fortunes, a return to the .260-.270 range seems likely. 

Entering his age-27 season, Owings projects to play regularly as a utility player for the Royals in 2019, and should provide a blend of power and speed that won't cost much to acquire (639 ADP). And if everything breaks right, he has the skills to produce a .270 BA, 15 HR, 20 SB line. 

 

Nunez fading... Eduardo Nunez (2B/3B, BOS) enters the 2019 season as the weak-side platoon partner for the Red Sox until Dustin Pedroia is ready to play. What fantasy value, if any, could Nunez provide? 

Year   AB  HR/SB   BA    xBA  h%  HctX  ct%  GB/LD/FB  xPX  Spd  SB%  SBO%  sSpd*
====  ===  =====  ====  ====  ==  ====  ===  ========  ===  ===  ===  ====  ====
2015  188   4/ 8  .282  .284  32   93    85  57/16/27   68  100  67%   26%  28.6
2016  553  16/40  .288  .264  32   95    84  50/17/34   85  142  80%   35%  28.0
2017  467  12/24  .313  .292  33   96    88  53/17/29   67  100  77%   26%  27.9
2018  480  10/ 7  .265  .262  29   86    86  49/19/32   47  121  78%    8%  27.5
* Statcast Sprint Speed (ft/s)

He still can put the bat to the ball and run a little, but a return to $20+ levels is unlikely: 

  • His perennially good contact rates and speed, combined with a ground ball swing, have set a good batting average floor over the years. 
  • But his stopwatch speed has faded three seasons in a row, and that likely contributed to the significant 2018 hit rate decline. 
  • A career 79% stolen base success rate speaks to his prowess as a base thief, but the Sox have given him very few opportunities to run. 
  • Nunez has benefited from favorable hr/f rates in his best years, but our expected power index indicates that he might struggle to reach double-digit home runs again, even if he were an everyday player.  

In all fairness Nunez's knee was probably never fully healthy in 2018, and is at least partially to blame for the down year. But his speed fade began before that, and his power skills have always been below league average. While he can still be usefully deployed as a utility player who won't kill one's batting average in deep leagues, the 32-year old's best days are likely behind him. 

 

Cessa's potential... Luis Cessa (RHP, NYY) caught the attention of manager Aaron Boone during spring training (19 K, 2 BB, 18 IP), and was strongly considered for a spot in the starting rotation, though Boone ultimately decided to initially use him out of the pen. Should fantasy owners have Cessa on their watch lists early on in 2019? 

Year  IP   ERA  xERA  H%/S%  GB%  Ctl  Dom  Cmd  Ball%  FpK  SwK   Vel  hr/9  BPV
====  ==  ====  ====  =====  ===  ===  ===  ===  =====  ===  ===  ====  ====  ===
2016  70  4.35  4.37  24/71  43%  1.8  5.9  3.3  36.5%  58%  11%  94.6   2.0   79
2017  36  4.75  4.97  29/74  45%  4.3  7.5  1.8  38.0%  58%  10%  95.6   1.8   43
2018  45  5.24  4.14  35/64  47%  2.6  7.9  3.0  34.9%  63%  12%  94.8   1.0   96

An ADP of 713 belies Cessa's potential: 

  • His command sub-indicators show that he has 9.0+ Dom and 4.0 Cmd potential. His control rate in over 700 minor league innings is 2.1, indicating that 2018's control improvement was probably not a small-sample fluke. 
  • He registers strikeouts largely with a slider (19% SwK) that both misses bats in the zone and gets batters to chase out of the zone. He also throws a change-up that induces both whiffs and grounders (14% SwK; 62% GB%), and he pumps in a mid-90s fastball. 
  • Poor hit and strand rate fortunes wreaked havoc on his 2018 ERA. xERA and BPV paint a much prettier picture. 

Though the sample sizes are small, Cessa's combination of youth (age 27), high-octane arsenal, solid control, and bat-missing ability make him an interesting arm to track in 2019.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.