For years, the Athletics and their general manager Billy Beane have dealt with punchlines regarding the Josh Donaldson trade. As part of their return in that deal, they received Kendall Graveman, who has been a solid source of back-end innings for the A’s with his wormburning ways. However, despite movement and velocity, Graveman has never produced strikeouts at a fantasy relevant level, been subject to the whims of the BABIP gods and given up a few too many homers for a groundball specialist.
Late in the year in 2016, Graveman committed to becoming a pure sinkerballer – throwing his sinker at high percentages at the expense of mediocre secondary stuff. In his first two starts this year, he has taken that usage to the next level – throwing his sinker 87% of the time. Not only is he getting grounders on the pitch, but also generating some swings and misses thanks to another velocity bump (in excess of the league-wide velocity boost). Early in this season, Graveman is striking over 8 per 9 innings. This is an extension from what he did in spring training with 16 Ks in 19 innings. On Yahoo!, Graveman is currently owned in 48% of leagues, which might be a tad inflated for those digging around for two start SPs in the first week. I think that ownership percentage should be closer to 65-70% based on what we’ve seen at this point.
Other takeaways from the weekend slate:
-The Diamondbacks have a couple of stars in Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock, but the surrounding pieces – Jake Lamb, Brandon Drury, David Peralta, Yasmany Tomas and Chris Owings – should also be owned in most leagues. As you can tell from reading the site and listening to the podcast in the preseason, I was high on the individual pieces of this offense. Well, in opening week, it looked like Colorado South. There is a lot of offensive value in Arizona – try to get a piece.
-Mitch Haniger is even better than I expected, in part, because of his role on offense. As the piece between Jean Segura and Robinson Cano, Haniger is being put in prime position to succeed and is receiving a healthy volume of at-bats. The strikeouts are a little high in the early-going, but four of his six hits have gone for extra bases and he has added four walks. He’s owned in only 19% of Yahoo! leagues currently – that needs to change – fast!
-Gary Sanchez went down this weekend with a biceps strain. Although not the worst case scenario, he remains without a timeframe and has been placed on the disabled list. At minimum, owners should expect to be without Sanchez for three weeks. I can sympathize as a Sanchez owner. I dug a little deeper last night and uncovered two interesting names for those wanting to swing for the fences rather than settle for a few weeks of Francisco Cervelli’s walks.
The first name is the player that I actually tabbed to be Sanchez’s replacement – Jason Castro. Yuck, right? Maybe, maybe not. Between the first week of the regular season and spring training, Castro has accumulated 57 PA. In those 57 PA, Castro has walked 12 times and struck out just 7 (5:1 in the regular season). Walks and strikeouts stabilize fairly early so this is an encouraging sign. Castro has also hit 3 homers during that span. He is clearly seeing the ball well early in the year and that could be the foundation for a hot streak or even something similar to 2013 when he was a breakout catcher for the Astros.
The second player is Detroit Tigers catcher James McCann. He also has enjoyed early success – walking 4 times to just 1 K in 15 PA. James McCann’s plate discipline was improved during the spring, as well, but not to the same level as Castro. Offense usually comes late for catchers and McCann might just be ready to tap into some power in his age 26-27 season.
-Ryan Zimmerman blasted his third homer of the year on Sunday. In the offseason, Zimmerman worked improving his approach – namely, changing his launch angle to avoid groundballs and emphasize lift so he could take advantage of his excellent exit velocity. The early returns are promising. If you need some power or got left out in the cold at first base, Zimmerman should be a priority pick-up.
-Presumably, we will find out today about the Phillies closer situation. Everyone presumes that it will be Hector Neris receiving the job. However, a savvy owner might want to snag a share or two of Joaquin Benoit and Pat Neshak in the event that the Phillies elect to keep Neris as their set-up/fireman style reliever (and cheap during arbitration).