Week 5 Persons of Interest: May The 4th Be With You Edition


Happy Star Wars Day from Fighting Chance Fantasy’s Fantasy Baseball Persons of Interest column. Greetings to all the Rebels, Imperials, Jedi Masters, Jedi Knights, Padawans, Sith Lords and Ladies, Bounty Hunters, Wookies, Droids, Moffs, Grand Moffs, Hutts, Smugglers, Moof-Milkers, and Nerf Herders out there. Today is our day. If you’re like me, May 4th is pretty much a glorious day of movie marathoning and forgetting about anything that remotely bothers you. It doesn’t get much better than that.

There’s a special connection for people of a certain age when it comes to Star Wars. If you were a kid in the early 1980’s, there’s a good chance Star Wars either defined your childhood or at least defined it for one or more of your friends. I was born in 1975, so I was able to see all the movies when they were originally released in theaters. And yes, I remember seeing all of them for the first time. That’s the whole childhood-defining thing.

If Star Wars isn’t your bag, I get it. I know people who’ve really never seen any of the movies. Someone I’ve worked closely with for 15 years has never seen them, and I have a lightsaber in my office. I’m guessing the lightsaber in the office thing tells you what you need to know about me and Star Wars. I’m a Star Wars nerd, and proud of it.

If you’ve not into “the Wars,” you may be asking “why is May 4th Star Wars Day?” Here’s why: Even if you’ve denied yourself a chance at true happiness and enlightenment by never seeing the movies, you’ve probably heard someone say “May the force be with you.” As you’ve likely deduced, that’s from Star Wars. May the Force be with you/May the 4th be with you – get it? It’s ok; if you’re not into Star Wars, you’re probably not into Star Wars puns either.

Star Wars Day was actually started unofficially by Star Wars fans. They wanted Star Wars to have its own day, so they just picked one. Going with Star Wars humor (it really exists), they went with the pun. After that, “May the 4th be with you” became a thing and it was off to the (pod)races. Lucasfilm officially recognized it a few years later, and then the Disney Empire got behind it after acquiring Lucasfilm. Now we’ve got all-day movie marathons and celebrations around the world.

And here’s how I work Star Wars into a Fantasy Baseball column. Professional baseball has decided to feel the force and embrace Star Wars Day. It started in the minors like a lot of clever promotions, and now teams across MLB rock Star Wars Night every May 4th. Baseball and Star Wars? It’s like the day was set up just for me.

As I’m writing this week’s column, I’ve got the marathon going on in the background, so you know I’m going with Star Wars quotes. In case you’re wondering, A New Hope just got started and Revenge of the Sith just wrapped up. Say what you want about the prequel trilogy (and I’ll admit it; Attack of the Clones is just a lousy movie), but the greatest lightsaber duel ever makes it all worth it.

I know we’ve got to wait until December for The Rise of Skywalker, and there’s really nothing else going in movies this year. But at least we’ve got Star Wars Day and baseball to tide us over. Wait; I heard there’s a movie called End-something that’s doing ok at the box office. Anyone heard anything about this? In all seriousness, however, throwing out Endgame spoilers is not cool. If you’re doing it, you’re like the guy who shouts “Freebird!” at a concert. No one thinks you’re clever, and absolutely no one thinks it’s funny. And I’ve seen “Freebird!” happen. The band actually stopped playing and called the guy out. Yikes.

Of course, you’re not here just for Star Wars. This week in Fantasy Baseball, I’m taking a look at an early-season breakout SP and the latest top prospect to make his MLB debut. Let’s make the jump to lightspeed with this week’s Fantasy Baseball Persons of Interest.

2019 Week 5 Persons of Interest

Person of Interest No. 1: “Control, control, you must learn control!”

Caleb Smith, SP, Miami Marlins

Every time I watch The Empire Strikes Back, I always wonder whether Yoda was just messing with Luke when he had Luke stand on his head and balance rocks using the force. Was that really necessary, or was it just some form of Jedi hazing? Maybe there’s a deleted scene where Yoda says “Bong this beer or not, there is no try.” I wonder about these things.

As for Caleb Smith, this quote applies to his first two MLB seasons. You could say Caleb Smith was a little wild as an MLB pitcher. You could also say Order 66 was just the Emperor working through a minor grudge against the Jedi. This is why Imperial Officers made extra sure not to park in his spot.

Last season, Caleb Smith was one of those pitchers Fantasy Baseball owners “kept an eye on.” Maybe you weren’t going to draft him, and he might not even be your first pick off the waiver wire, but he flashed strong skills you so followed his stats when he pitched. With these guys, you’re hoping to see the start of a breakout, but you’re not really sure it’s going to happen.

Caleb Smith can generate Ks, which is why he’s on the Fantasy Baseball radar. He’s also had major issues with BBs, however, which is why he wasn’t on a ton of draft boards heading into this season. He’s also on the Marlins, which isn’t exactly encouraging after the Marlins’ last ownership change/roster deconstruction/fire sale. They even ran off Marlins Man this time. Ouch.

Chaos, however, creates opportunity. After everyone else has been traded away, someone’s still got to pitch for the Marlins. In Fantasy Baseball, a player who puts up good numbers on a bad team is the same as a player who puts good numbers on a great team. I think that’s one of the great things about Fantasy Baseball. Even if your favorite MLB team isn’t going anywhere this season, you’re still going to follow them just for Fantasy Baseball purposes.

The Marlins acquired Caleb Smith from the Yankees in November of 2017 during the most recent roster purge. Although he had an ugly 7.71 ERA in 9 games with the Yankees in 2017, the 8.68 K/9 was intriguing. He made 16 starts for the Marlins in 2018 before being shut down in July with shoulder tightness and a lat strain, and finished 2018 with a 5-6/4.19 ERA/1.24 WHIP/88 K stat line in 77.1 IP. Those 16 starts included performances of 10 Ks, 9 Ks, and 8 Ks twice.

So far this season, Caleb Smith has posted a 3-0/2.00 ERA/0.83 WHIP/45 K line in 36.0 IP. He’s also working a 45:9 K/BB ratio in those 36.0 IP. Looks like the breakout might be happening. Like 30 Rebel fighters somehow blowing up the Death Star (with an assist from Han Solo, Chewie, and the Millennium Falcon – always give credit where it’s due), you might be wondering “how did that ever happen?”

I think the following numbers tell the story. Here are Caleb Smith’s ERA and WHIP, along with K/9 and BB/9 rates, from 2017-2019:

 

                        YEAR   ERA     WHIP   K/9      BB/9

                        2017    7.71     1.66     8.68     4.82

                        2018    4.19     1.24     10.24   3.84

                        2019    2.00     0.83     11.25   2.25

 

Seems pretty simple when you look at it like this. Ks are up; BBs are down. Command makes a big difference. He doesn’t turn 28 until July, so even some further improvement is possible. On the other hand, the .224 BABIP suggests some regression is to be expected. The Ks are for real, however, and so is the potential. Caleb Smith could be that early-season pick up you always have in a championship season.

Like Luke becoming a Jedi, consistent control doesn’t happen overnight. Caleb Smith will have some bad outings along the way that will hurt your weekly ERA and WHIP. But he’s shown that he can improve his command and so fair he’s maintained the improvement, and hopefully he won’t have to get his hand cut off like Luke did. He’s going to generate Ks (12% swinging strike in 2018), and those are never going to hurt you. He’s also got real DFS potential no matter what else, if that means anything to you.

If you need SP help, you should be checking your league’s waiver wire to see if Caleb Smith is still available. He’s currently owned in 76% of both Yahoo and ESPN leagues. This is probably the last chance to get him, so go and see if the force is with you.

Person of Interest No. 2: “If there’s a bright center to the universe, you’re on the planet that it’s farthest from.”

Nick Senzel, 2B (ESPN) 3B (Yahoo), Cincinnati Reds

Like I said earlier, I’m taking a look at the latest top prospect to make his MLB debut. Here you go. Wait; were you thinking of someone else? Did I miss something? If I did, it must have been due to lack of decent news coverage. Seriously though, Vlad Jr. had a more-hyped premiere than Endgame.

While Nick Senzel’s debut didn’t get anything even close to the same level of media attention, Fantasy Baseball owners were lined up waiting like it was a Star Wars premiere. If you draft prospects but didn’t want to spend a fourth-round pick on Vlad Jr., you probably drafted Nick Senzel somewhere.

The quote above shows that Luke Skywalker really didn’t like Tatooine. Bitter much? It’s also probably how Nick Senzel felt for the last year. Nick Senzel’s bat has been basically MLB-ready for the last two years, but circumstance and bad luck kept him stuck in the metaphorical desert.

The Reds drafted Nick Senzel with the second overall pick in the 2016 MLB draft, and his minor league stats tell you why. In 239 career minor league games, Nick Senzel posted a .312 AVG/.388 OBP/152 R/28 HR/132 RBI/40 SB stat line in 904 ABs. As Darth Vader would say: “Impressive. Most Impressive.”

Although Nick Senzel hit .286 during spring training in 2018, he started the season in AAA. The Reds were clearly concerned with his service time. What did I just say? I’m sorry, I mean the Reds were clearly concerned with making sure Nick Senzel was ready defensively. These aren’t the droids you’re looking for. Move along.

Along with Nick Senzel’s need to “work on his defense,” the Reds’ players at the MLB level closed off any opportunities for advancement. Nick Senzel is a natural infielder, but with Joey Votto at 1B, the emergence of Scooter Gennett at 2B and Eugenio Suarez at 3B, and the revival of Jose Peraza at SS, there was really nowhere for Nick Senzel to go in 2018.

If that wasn’t enough, Nick Senzel also dealt with health issues last season. He missed most of May with vertigo, missed the last two months of the season with a broken finger, and then had elbow surgery in October. Despite all that, he still hit .310 when he did play in 2018.

Talk about bad luck/timing. This is like Boba Fett winding up in the Sarlacc pit in Return of the Jedi after Han Solo accidentally sets off his jet pack. “Boba Fett? Where?” And yes, Boba Fett did go out like a punk.

Although the Reds had the same infield logjam heading into this season, a spot opened up in the Reds’ outfield with the end of the Billy Hamilton era in Cincinnati. I’m guessing Reds fans look at Billy Hamilton like Star Wars fans view The Phantom Menace. There was so much excitement heading in and there were some memorable moments, but expectations were never really satisfied.

At any rate, In February of this year the Reds announced that Nick Senzel would “be given every opportunity to focus on center field, play center field, learn center field [and] improve in center field to see where he stacks up against our other options[.]” Despite hitting .308 in spring training and looking good in center field, however, the Reds reassigned him to the minors again.

I’m sure the Reds just wanted to Nick Senzel to get some more experience at his new position at AAA before his MLB debut. Service time had absolutely nothing to do with it. We don’t need to see your identification. You can go about your business. Something apparently angered the baseball gods, however, because Nick Senzel sprained his ankle while playing in the minors and service time didn’t matter anymore.

Despite his latest setback, Nick Senzel resumed baseball activities in mid-April, and was playing in games by April 15. On May 3, he got the call. In his MLB debut, he went 1-5 with 1 R, but also got on base three times with 2 BBs. Nick Senzel can flat out hit. He’s just 23, and the power is beginning to show. He’s also got speed, and he makes good contact.

If Nick Senzel dropped in your draft (I got him for $5 in my auction league) due to the injury/service time/positional concerns, you may have an outright steal on your hands. He may not have Vlad Jr.’s power, but he’s got legit five-category potential and he’s also going to have OF eligibility in addition to either 2B or 3B (whether you’re in ESPN or Yahoo leagues).

Keep in mind to use standard caution with all debuting prospects. It may take some time before big numbers get posted. Just look at Vlad Jr. From a statistical standpoint so far, his premiere has been more Snakes on a Plane than Endgame. That doesn’t mean you should be avoiding Nick Senzel, however. Very few prospects with real impact potential get promoted each season. Nick Senzel has the skills to be one of them.

He’s currently owned in 54% of ESPN leagues and 65% of Yahoo leagues. That isn’t going to last. If you’ve got an available roster spot or you’re looking to make a move, you should be Jedi mind-tricking the other owners into not looking at the waiver wire and sprinting there yourself. Like Caleb Smith, Nick Senzel could be one of those early-season acquisitions that helps win your league.

 

Those are your Fantasy Baseball 2019 Week 5 Persons of Interest. I hope everyone has a great Star Wars Day. Even if you’re not a Star Wars fan, do something you enjoy today. If you’re reading this column, watching some baseball will probably work for you. That’s what Star Wars Day is really about, taking a day to do something you enjoy. I think everyone can get on board with that.

Until next time, it’s all in the reflexes. And may the Schwartz be with you.


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