PT TOMORROW: NL East—If I had a Hamels

Atlanta Braves

Cole Hamels (LHP, ATL) is dealing with what’s been termed an “irritated” throwing shoulder and will rest the angry joint for three weeks before throwing again. That puts him on pace to miss Opening Day and at least the first few weeks of the regular season, opening the door for another pitcher to take his spot in the rotation.

In his recent PT TODAY entry, BHQ’s Phil Hertz reminded us that Hamels missed time in the second half of 2019 with a sore shoulder—a troubling injury for any pitcher, doubly so for a 36-year-old. BHQ projections have been adjusted accordingly, shaving Hamels’s innings down to 131.

Candidates to replace Hamels include Kyle Wright (RHP, ATL), Bryse Wilson (RHP, ATL), Touki Toussaint (RHP, ATL), Ian Anderson (RHP, ATL), and the recently signed Felix Hernandez (RHP, ATL). Wright was scalded worse than the lady in the famous McDonald’s lawsuit during his second cup of coffee with the team in 2019 (8.69 ERA, 1.88 WHIP, 8 BPV). He couldn’t find the plate (5.9 Ctl) but all that trouble was over a mercifully small 20 IP sample. Wilson had a similarly frustrating audition (7.20 ERA, 1.80 WHIP, 17 BPV over 20 IP). Like Wright, he fared better in Triple-A (4.13 xFIP). Toussaint also struggled with his control (5.6 Ctl, 52 FpK) over 42 IP while working mostly out of the pen with the Braves in ’19. Anderson is the team’s top pitching prospect; he’s posted truly impressive strikeout rates in the minors (28.5 K% in 377 IP) without a dominant FB, relying on an effective CB and plus CU. The commoner formerly known as King Felix will be given a chance to reclaim his throne, but after posting 89.6 Vel and 7.2 Dom in ’19, it’s unlikely that this pauper will ever be a prince again.

One name to tuck away is Tucker Davidson (LHP, ATL), who broke out in Double-A in 2019 (9.9 K/9, 50.2 GB%, 3.13 xFIP) and was ranked as the 5th best prospect in the ATL system by BHQ. He has four pitches—two of them (FB, CB) plus—and could move up if he can continue to keep the ball on the ground and sustain his newfound dominance.

 

Miami Marlins

We mentioned Jonathan Villar (2B/SS, MIA) in this space a few weeks back not long after he was acquired from BAL. At the time, it wasn’t entirely clear where he’d play, as the Marlins already had Miguel Rojas (SS, MIA) stationed at short after signing him to a two-year, $10.25M extension last September and touted prospect Isan Diaz (2B, MIA) penciled in at second. Diaz crushed Triple-A in 2019 (132 wRC+) but found the sledding much tougher after his promotion (.173/.259/.307, -13 BPV in 179 AB), so it’s still possible that he’ll need more seasoning, opening up some playing time at 2B for the likes of Villar and the fleet-footed Jon Berti (INF/OF, MIA). There was talk that perhaps Villar could take over at 3B, pushing Brian Anderson (3B/OF, MIA) back to RF.

But Marlins manager Don Mattingly stated that Villar would likely begin the 2020 season in CF, a position he’s played in all of eight games in the majors. Time and spring training blooper reels will tell if Villar indeed sticks in center, but assuming that he does, the versatile 28-year-old would add OF eligibility early on, further increasing his value.

Since joining MIA, the market for Villar has been all over the place (NFBC ADP 42.45, with a min. pick of 22 and a max. of 92). Fantasy GMs are right to question whether Villar can repeat 2019’s $33 5x5 value, but as far as his playing time opportunities go, at this point he looks like he’ll be an everyday player while possibly adding another position to boot. Don’t forget about Villar, especially if you see him slip past the 40s in your draft.

 

New York Mets

Yoenis Cespedes (OF, NYM) emphatically announced that he wouldn’t be talking to the media—or, in his words, “Not today, not tomorrow, not at all this year.” That won’t stop us from writing about him, though, and write we shall, for the crowded left field situation in Queens is indeed worthy of our attention.

There are a number of talented hitters vying for time in left, including Cespedes, J.D. Davis (3B/OF, NYM), Dominic Smith (1B/OF, NYM), and the recently signed Matt Adams (1B, NYM). Writing for MLB.com, Anthony DiComo described Cespedes as a “limited participant” after participating in most activities in his first day at camp. He reportedly hit several home runs during batting practice and, according to Mets manager Luis Rojas, the slugger performed well in running drills. Putting a number on Cespedes’s playing time is very challenging at this point, but BHQ currently projects him to claim a 35% PT share and 218 AB.

While Cespedes gets himself into playing shape over the coming months, Davis and Smith will resume their competition for time in LF. In 2019, the Mets played nine different players at the position, with Davis, Jeff McNeil (INF/OF, NYM), and Smith seeing the most time there. Davis (.307/.369/.527 with 22 HR in 410 AB) ran away with the gig after Smith (.282/.355/.525 with 11 HR in 177 AB) hurt his foot in July. Both players showed ample promise, and it’s possible that they could share time in a platoon situation, but Davis’s power (110 HctX, 111 xPX) is a bit more bankable than Smith’s (96 HctX, 89 xPX), so the righty currently appears to hold the advantage skills-wise. Adams will have to get in line to back up Pete Alonso (1B, NYM), but given the logjam in LF, he’ll have a tough time finding PT despite posting an impressive 20 HR and 148 xPX in 310 AB with WAS in ’19.

 

Philadelphia Phillies

The offseason acquisition of Didi Gregorius (SS, PHI) is pushing incumbent shortstop Jean Segura (SS, PHI) to another position. But which? The obvious choice would be 2B, as Segura played there regularly as recently as 2016 with ARI. However, the Phillies are giving him reps at 3B, which would mean a return to 2B for Scott Kingery (3B/OF, PHI), who played mostly CF and 3B last season.

Segura is looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2019, in which he hit .280/.323/.420 with 79 R, 12 HR, 60 RBI, and only 10 SB in 576 AB. We say “only” 10 SB because Segura had stolen 20+ for six straight seasons prior to last year’s dip. Did he lose a step? Scanning his BHQ speed metrics, we see that his 2019 RSPD of 103 was almost identical to his 102 score from 2018, in which he stole 20 bases, but his raw SPD score did fall off during the same span (123 in 2018, 112 in ’19). Baseball Savant backs that up, showing a decline in Segura’s Sprint Speed over the past two seasons (27.9 vs 27.5 ft/s). True, 0.4 ft/s doesn't sound like much, but the drop was enough for Segura to fall from the Top 73% to the Top 65% of the league.

“Best Shape of His Life” (BSOHL) stories abound in spring training, and Segura’s recent line about dropping 14 pounds by sleeping better and cutting out wine and whiskey sure sounds like a recipe for regaining a step. But before we assume he’s found the fountain of youth at the bottom of a mocktail, consider that Segura is turning 30 in a month, and speedsters rarely get faster on the other side of that number.

Even if he doesn’t get all the way back to 20+ SB, Segura’s 100 HctX and .291 xBA in ’19 suggest that he’s still a capable hitter, and adding either 2B or 3B eligibility will only further increase his value while shielding his playing time. If and when prospect Alec Bohm (3B, PHI) is ready to man 3B in PHI, the team may have to shuffle Segura around again. Ultimately, it might make most sense to have Bohm at 3B, Segura at 2B, and Kingery in CF… but we’ll see how the spring and early season play out.

 

Washington Nationals

The team resigned oft-injured veteran Ryan Zimmerman (1B, WAS) to a one-year, $2M contract, assuring him of a 16th straight season with the Nats, his one and only organization. The 35-year-old will pair with recent addition Eric Thames (1B, WAS), most likely as the short side of a platoon at first. What can we expect from these two?

Thames bounced back some in 2019 after a disappointing 2018, batting .247/.346/.505 with 67 R, 25 HR, 61 RBI, 3 SB in 396 AB in MIL. Some things we’re sure of: he walks (11% bb%), he hits for power (109 HctX, 157 PX, 158 xPX), he hits the ball in the air (46% FB%), he whiffs (65% ct%), and he mashes righties (877 OPS vRHP). In the three seasons since his return to MLB, Thames has posted OPS vLHP of 664, 612, and 679, so it’s fair to assume that a right-handed caddy is in order.

Cue Zimmerman, whose platoon splits have become more pronounced in the other direction (vLHP OPS of 1038, 1143, and 966 from 2017-19). He spent 106 days on the IL in 2019 due to plantar fasciitis in his right foot, but he did manage to contribute .257/.321/.415 with 20 R, 6 HR, 27 RBI in 171 AB while healthy. That line jumped to .367/.415/.551 in 49 AB vLHP, though with a rather modest 103 PX.

Thames and Zimmerman appear to be well-paired, and those two will in turn take a seat on occasion in favor of utility man extraordinaire, Howie Kendrick (1B/2B, WAS), who’s coming off a phenomenal 2019 (.344/.395/.572, with a 134 HctX to back that up). BHQ currently projects something along the lines of a 40/30/30 PT share at 1B between Thames, Zimmerman, and Kendrick. Of those estimates, the least certain is Zimmerman’s, due to his fragile health; Kendrick will also play 2B and 3B, so reaching 300-350 AB overall shouldn’t be a problem for him. Of the three, Thames potentially has the most PT upside, given his relative youth (33) and the success he enjoyed in 2017.


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