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J.P. Crawford Seattle Mariners

Higher numbers are better.

Peter Kreutzer Rotoman
Yusei Kikuchi Seattle Mariners

Was hoping to buy Kikuchi on the cheap late in our AL auction, but so did others, and he ended up at $8.  More than that seemed imprudent given his error bars.

Phil Ponebshek Texpope

Kikuchi's FIP alerts us that he may have been victimized by bad luck last year. Baseball HQ, in its Friday newsletter, pursues this line of thought.

Is Kikuchi worth targeting? ... Yusei Kikuchi (LHP, SEA) has had his fair share of struggles during his first two seasons in the majors, as both have ended with an ERA over 5.00. Is there reason to believe he can post better results in year three?

Year   IP   ERA/xERA   BB%/K%   SwK    Vel    G/L/F   H%/S%  HR/F  xHR/F  BPX

==== === ========= ======= ===== ==== ======== ===== ==== ===== ===
2016* 143 3.20/3.86 14%/20% N/A N/A N/A 29/80 N/A N/A 73
2017* 188 2.44/2.78 8%/29% N/A N/A N/A 24/85 N/A N/A 129
2018* 164 3.82/3.70 9%/22% N/A N/A N/A 25/73 N/A N/A 79
2019 162 5.46/5.30 7%/16% 8.9% 92.5 44/21/35 32/70 19% 15% 69
2020 47 5.17/3.93 10%/24% 12.8% 95.0 52/23/25 31/59 9% 9% 100

The 2020 velocity bump has us intrigued:

  • Kikuchi added 2.5 MPH to his average fastball velocity, his Z-Contact% dropped from 89.3% to 81.0%, and both his K% and SwK shot up dramatically. He ditched the curve, which had been very ineffective in 2019, and all four of his pitches (including a new cutter) induced whiffs at a 12 percent or better clip.
  • He did issue walks at a very high rate, and his xBB% was identical to his BB% of 10%.
  • Keeping the ball on the ground helped solve the previous year's home run issues (2.0 HR/9), as he limited opposing hitters to just three home runs and five barrels all season. His HR/F was fully supported by xHR/F, but odds are, fly balls will leave the park at a slightly higher rate against him in 2021.

Kikuchi's surface stats in the majors have been underwhelming, but he showed some promising signs during the abbreviated 2020 season. He had a lot more zip on his fastball, missed bats at a much higher rate, and significantly reduced the hard contact against him, which helped him solve the home run issues that plagued him in 2019. If the velocity gains stick, a sub-4.00 ERA is firmly in play, making Kikuchi an appealing target when filling out your staff. 

Alex Patton Alex
J.P. Crawford Seattle Mariners

If you are a subscriber, it's interesting to compare what Peter finds in the Statcast treasure trove with what Baseball HQ finds. Re J.P.'s speed, for instance.

In HQ's Friday newsletter --

Can Crawford put it together? ... J.P. Crawford (SS, SEA) was strong out of the gate in 2020, as he went 11-for-28 with a couple steals in his first eight games. But then the calendar turned to August, and he limped to a .233/.305/.301 line across his final 197 plate appearances. Is there reason to believe he can take a step forward in his age 26 season?

Year   PA  HR/SB    BA/xBA   bb%/ct%    G/L/F   HctX/PX/xPX  Spd/SBA%/SB%

==== === ===== ========= ======= ======== =========== ============
2017* 631 14/5 .223/.240 14/76 31/27/43 44/81/20 142/5%/56%
2018* 199 4/3 .220/.220 9/68 38/23/39 64/102/74 137/7%/100%
2019* 527 9/7 .236/.242 11/75 45/20/35 74/79/69 119/8%/71%
2020 232 2/6 .255/.240 10/81 44/23/33 96/46/83 150/13%/67%
*Includes MLEs

Despite the struggles, the arrow seems to be pointing up on Crawford's fantasy value:

  • His contact rate is headed in the right direction, and his SwStr% was 18th lowest in the league in 2020 among 142 qualified hitters. He doesn't chase many pitches out of the zone (23.0% career O-Swing) and Z-Contact% is on the rise (89.1% in 2020). So while xBA doesn't suggest he'll be a BA asset, he shouldn't be a complete drag.
  • He has always possessed excellent speed but hasn't been the most efficient base stealer, as shown by his 67 percent success rate (71 for 106) in the minors. His SBA% is trending up, though, and the Mariners ranked 3rd in attempts in 2020, so he should reach double-digit steals in 2021.
  • He continues to draw his fair share of walks, which gives his value a boost in OBP leagues, and gives him opportunities to run.
  • Though he only hit two homers last season, Crawford's HctX and xPX did show signs of life. The declining fly ball rate may not be a bad thing, since power isn't a big part of his game, but he could pop 10-12 home runs if he does get the ball in the air a little more often.

Crawford is a former top prospect who hasn't lived up to the hype to this point in his career. There are some flaws in his game, as he doesn't hit for average or power, but he brings to the table outstanding speed, strong defense, and an improving plate approach. Crawford is expected to hit at the top of the lineup for the Mariners in 2021, and if your team is in need of runs and/or steals late in the draft, he makes for an intriguing target.

Alex Patton Alex
Michael Wacha Tampa Bay Rays

In today's newsletter from Baseball HQ --

Can Wacha rebound? ... Michael Wacha (RHP, TAM) had a rough season with the Mets, as once again battled shoulder issues, and he posted an ugly 6.62 ERA in eight appearances (seven starts) that totaled 34 innings. After landing in Tampa on a one-year deal, do the skills show any hope for a bounceback season?

Year   IP   ERA/xERA   BB%/K%  xBB%   SwK   Vel    G/L/F   H%/S%  HR/F  xHR/F  BPX

==== === ========= ======= ==== ==== ==== ======== ===== ==== ===== ===
2016 138 5.09/4.30 7%/19% 8% 8.7 93.2 47/24/30 34/67 12% 13% 95
2017 166 4.13/3.99 8%/23% 10% 10.0 95.1 48/21/31 33/72 12% 12% 120
2018 84 3.20/4.24 10%/20% 11% 10.2 93.5 43/29/27 26/78 14% 18% 62
2019 127 4.76/4.99 10%/19% 10% 10.1 93.1 48/22/30 32/76 22% 22% 58
2020 34 6.62/4.53 4%/24% 8% 12.0 93.6 36/23/41 39/64 20% 15% 112

Don't dismiss the possibility of Wacha holding some value in 2021:

  • He recorded the highest SwK of his career and highest K% since his debut back in 2013. Scrapping the curve and throwing more changeups (22% SwK in '20) led to more whiffs, but the right-hander hasn't found another pitch he can be consistently effective with.
  • He dished out fewer free passes than ever before, though the sample was quite small, and xBB% was more in line with his career norms. 
  • Wacha allowed fly balls at a career-high rate in 2020, which, combined with a 16th percentile Hard Hit % led to some issues with the long ball. 
  • There's no denying he was pretty unlucky last season. His ERA was more than two runs higher than xERA, as H% and S% fortunes worked against him, and HR/F was quite a bit higher than xHR/F.

Wacha's surface stats were awful in 2020, but beneath the hood, the skills showed some signs of life, particularly the jump in swings and misses. He can't be counted on for a real heavy workload, as he has a history of shoulder problems, and he topped four innings in just three of his seven starts a season ago. But Wacha would seem to be a logical choice to come in after an opener, a role the Rays often deploy, at which point he wouldn't have to go a full five frames to qualify for a win. He doesn't offer a great deal of upside, but if the SwK gains hold, Wacha could turn a decent profit on his draft day cost, which is very low at this point (489 NFBC Draft Champions ADP in January). 

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Alex Patton Alex
Eloy Jimenez Chicago White Sox

In today's newsletter from Baseball HQ --

Jiménez keeps mashing ... Eloy Jiménez (OF, CHW) put together an excellent 2020 campaign, finishing with a .296 batting average and 14 home runs in the shortened season. Fantasy managers seem to be expecting a repeat performance, as his NFBC ADP since January 1st sits at 37. Let's dig in to help determine if he's worth such an early pick.

Year   PA  HR  xHR    BA   xBA  bb%/ct%    G/L/F   h%  HctX  Brl%   PX  xPX  HR/F

==== === == === ==== ==== ======= ======== == ==== ==== === === ====
2018* 446 21 N/A .315 N/A 7/81 N/A 35 N/A N/A 128 N/A N/A
2019 526 32 30 .268 .255 6/71 48/18/34 31 94 13% 128 102 27%
2020 226 14 15 .296 .268 5/74 52/20/28 34 132 16% 150 125 31%

Jiménez packs some serious power:

  • He hits the ball on the ground at a high rate for a power hitter, but when he gets in the air, it is with authority. He ranked 8th in the league in average exit velocity on fly balls and line drives, and his lofty HR/F has been supported by xHR/F in both seasons (26% in '19, 33% in '20).
  • His Brl% ranked in the 96th percentile (per Statcast), while his Hard Hit % was even better, finishing in the 98th percentile. The one stat that doesn't support the monster power numbers is his average home run distance of 393 feet, which ranked 110th among qualified hitters, though it was 409 feet in 2019.
  • The high contact rate he displayed in the minors in 2018 didn't carry over to the majors, but he did cut down on the strikeouts a bit in year two. Another near-.300 BA may be tough to pull off again, but given the amount of quality contact he makes, he's a good bet to finish with a .280-plus mark in 2021.

Jiménez has been an excellent power source in his first two big-league seasons and was even a big-time BA asset in 2020. The average is likely to drop a little, but he should still help in the category, while adding plenty of runs and RBIs in the middle of a loaded White Sox lineup. Jiménez doesn't run but will be a high-end four-category performer, and a small uptick in fly balls could yield 40-plus homers in 2021.

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Alex Patton Alex
J.D. Davis New York Mets

Off 2.3, Def -11.0 last year, in the estimation of Fangraphs.

J.D. Davis (3B) NY-N - Feb. 18

Davis could be headed for a utility role this season after Mets manager Luis Rojas wouldn't commit to him as the team's starting third baseman during Wednesday's press conference, Deesha Thosar of The New York Daily News reports. "It's really tough right now to commit to any role," Rojas said. "I've got to stick with our versatility. J.D. is a guy that's played left too. We're thinking of that. He improved a lot at third base. But we want to keep that versatility always open. Multiple guys are going to play multiple positions. That's where our roster is."

ROTOWIRE RECOMMENDS: Jeff McNeil, Jonathan Villar and Luis Guillorme could all be options at the hot corner as well, but Davis is still the most likely candidate to see a plurality of starts at third, if not an outright majority. The 27-year-old also saw his offensive numbers take a big step backwards in 2020, which could be factoring into Rojas' hesitation. 

Alex Patton Alex
Julio Urias Los Angeles Dodgers

Are we sure the Padres are now the favorites in the NL West?

Julio Urias (P) LA - Feb. 18

Urias will throw a bullpen session Friday, Bill Plunkett of The Orange County Register reports.

ROTOWIRE RECOMMENDS: Urias was praised by manager Dave Roberts for his physical conditioning upon arrival at spring training. While that's a common refrain for many players at this time of the season, it's still encouraging that Urias is on track physically. He's expected to be a key member of the Dodgers' rotation, though may have to compete with Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May for the role.

Alex Patton Alex
Carlos Martinez St. Louis Cardinals

Reports of his arrest this winter, Peter notes in the Rotoman Special, were somewhat exaggerated.

Carlos Martinez (P) STL - Feb. 18

Martinez, who enjoyed a successful run in winter ball in the Dominican Republic, enters spring training focused on regaining a spot in the starting rotation, Zachary Silver of reports. "I feel great with all my pitches," said Martinez. "One hundred percent focused. On my mind, focused, on my workout, focused, on working hard. ... If I didn't play in the winter league, I wouldn't [be as prepared] right now."

ROTOWIRE RECOMMENDS: The veteran right-hander was felled by COVID-19 during the abbreviated 2020 campaign, and as an asthmatic, he was clearly suffering residual effects once he returned. Martinez generated an unsightly 9.90 ERA and 2.10 WHIP -- both career-worst figures -- across 20 innings over five starts before landing on the injured list with an oblique strain in the final week of the season. However, Martinez made up for some lost time this winter, opting to play in the Dominican Republic for the first time since the 2014-15 offseason and posting a 1-0 record and 1.84 ERA in three starts while working on refining his pitch combinations. Battery mate Yadier Molina went 0-for-3 against Martinez while facing him in the Caribbean Series and noted the pitcher looked stronger and more poised on the mound.

Alex Patton Alex
Jordan Hicks St. Louis Cardinals

Jordan Hicks (P) STL - Feb. 18

Hicks was impressive in his first throwing session of spring Thursday, Zachary Silver of reports. "All the feedback from the pitching coaches, [and from] Jordan, was favorable," manager Mike Shildt said. "Ball was coming out really clean, had life to it. We'll see how he recovers today, but a very positive first day for Jordan Hicks, no question about it."

ROTOWIRE RECOMMENDS: The right-hander will have plenty of eyes on him as he looks to return to full strength following Tommy John surgery. Hicks last faced bats in live action on June 22, 2019, so he'll presumably have plenty of rust to knock off over the next several weeks. Even though he  should get plenty of reps in spring camp and Grapefruit League action, he could start the season sharing closing duties with several other experienced ninth-inning options in the relief corps until he's deemed back to 100 percent.

Alex Patton Alex
Freddie Freeman Atlanta Braves

Hear hear!

Peter and I have Trout batting second, Freddie batting third in our XFL lineup.

Freddie Freeman (1B) ATL - Feb. 18

Manager Brian Snitker told reporters Freeman could bat third this season, Mark Bowman of reports.

ROTOWIRE RECOMMENDS: Freeman split time between the second and third spot in the Braves' lineup last season, hitting third on 32 occasions and second 26 times. Looking ahead to the 2021 campaign, Snitker reasoned that with currently no designated hitter in the National League, slotting Freeman into the three hole would allow him more RBI chances.

Alex Patton Alex
Aaron Slegers Los Angeles Angels

The BABIP, it seems, is somewhat supported by Statcast.

Aaron Slegers (P) ANA - Feb. 18

Slegers is expected to come out of the bullpen for the Angels this season, Rhett Bollinger of reports.

ROTOWIRE RECOMMENDS: Slegers was acquired in a trade with Tampa Bay in February following a solid 2020 campaign in which he ranked in the 92nd percentile for hard-hit rate leaguewide, per Statcast. The 28-year-old has started in six of his 20 appearances in his big-league career, but the Angels apparently favor his ability out of the bullpen. Slegers has only 34 strikeouts across 58 career innings, so his ability to continue to limit hard contact will be a key to his success in Los Angeles.

Alex Patton Alex
A.J. Puk Oakland Athletics

Did you really think you were going to get him for single digits?

A.J. Puk (P) OAK - Feb. 18

Puk put on an impressive showing during his first throwing session of camp Wednesday, Martin Gallegos of reports. "He looked great. I think surgery really did a lot for him," manager Bob Melvin said. "There were times last year that you'd watch him and you could tell he was kind of feeling a little something and guarding his shoulder. That was not the case today at all. The ball had a lot of life, and he looked really good."

ROTOWIRE RECOMMENDS: The glowing report from Melvin is obviously music to the ears of many holding Puk in keeper and dynasty formats, a practice that's often proven frustrating over the last couple of seasons due to the left-hander's assortment of injuries. Puk was slated for a rotation spot last season before shoulder issues derailed those plans, but the Athletics are planning to build him up as a starter in spring training with an eye on deploying him in some sort of multi-inning capacity to open the season. Whether that  immediately equates to a rotation spot remains to be seen, however, as there is also the option of having Puk initially operate in a long-relief role that he performed well in during his first taste of big-league action in 2019. "We're still kind of figuring out what we're going to do with A.J.," Melvin said. "Whether or not we use him out of the bullpen or in a starting role, we're not sure yet. But you can't have enough depth as far as the starters go, and if someone like A.J. isn't ready to start, then he's a good fit for the bullpen."

Alex Patton Alex

Unlike a lot of AL teams, seemingly, the A's are still trying to improve their roster.

Mitch Moreland (1B) OAK - Feb. 18

Moreland signed a one-year, $2.25 million deal with Oakland on Thursday, Jeff Passan of reports.

ROTOWIRE RECOMMENDS: The 35-year-old is at the stage of his career where his numbers should be falling off, but he's managed to defy aging in recent seasons. His 110 wRC+ over the last three seasons is better than his 98 mark over his first eight, and he's coming off a year in which he homered 10 times in 42 games while slashing .265/.342/.551. He's joined a team that has another left-handed first baseman (Matt Olson) seemingly locked into a starting role, so he'll probably find himself fighting for time at the designated hitter spot, where he should be a favorite to start against righties.

Alex Patton Alex
Tyler Glasnow Tampa Bay Rays

Tyler Glasnow (P) TB - Feb. 18

Glasnow has been working on a new pitch which he described as a slider or cutter, Adam Berry of reports.

ROTOWIRE RECOMMENDS: Glasnow has almost exclusively used a fastball and a curveball over the last two seasons, throwing the two pitches over 95 percent of the time in both years while turning to his changeup very infrequently.

Alex Patton Alex
Diego Castillo Tampa Bay Rays

Diego Castillo (P) TB - Feb. 18

Castillo was delayed getting into the country but has since arrived and will join the Rays for their first full-squad workout Tuesday, Neil Solondz of the Rays Radio Network reports.

ROTOWIRE RECOMMENDS: Expect the pandemic to cause a few similar delays around the league, but there's plenty of time for the situations to resolve before Opening Day. Castillo will miss a few days of workouts while going through his mandatory quarantine period, but he shouldn't be at any risk of missing time to start the regular season.

Alex Patton Alex
Ryan Brasier Boston Red Sox

Ryan Brasier (P) BOS - Feb. 18

Brasier has yet to arrive at camp but is expected to do so within a few days, Chris Cotillo of The Springfield Republican reports.

ROTOWIRE RECOMMENDS: There will likely be a handful of players around the league who are delayed due to intake testing, though it's not clear that's the reason for Brasier's absence. He's reportedly gone due to "personal reasons" and hasn't been placed on the COVID-19 injured list. It doesn't appear as though his readiness for Opening Day is under serious threat.

Alex Patton Alex
Shane Bieber Cleveland Indians

Shane Bieber (P) CLE - Feb. 18

Bieber has tested positive for COVID-19, Zack Meisel of The Athletic reports.

ROTOWIRE RECOMMENDS: Bieber reportedly experienced mild symptoms following his positive test and is a late arrival to camp as a result. However, president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti was hopeful that the right-hander will be able to join the team at spring training in the coming days.

Alex Patton Alex
J.T. Realmuto Philadelphia Phillies