The Legitmus Test – On Fluidity, Cedric Mullins and Shane McClanahan

Tackless and Tactile

“Look alive!” my father screamed as I shuffled my feet dreaming of post-game burgers hidden in the corner of despair of that is Little League right field. Then, suddenly, a ball was blooped in my vicinity. I stumbled forwards, performing a hybrid dive/fall that risked injury and embarrassment. Yet, somehow the baseball gods guided the ball into the webbing of my mitt. I was alive.

Look alive! I implore you as we approach the midway point in the dog days of the fantasy season. Be fluid in your takes. People change, profiles change, and if you blink you may miss the moment potential league winners like Carlos Rodon magically transform from a streamer to an ace on your waiver wire. If your appetite for breakouts is insatiable, if your research is diligent, and if luck is on your side you may find that the baseball gods bestow these gems into the webbing of your fantasy roster. These cataclysmic shifts are as rare as they are invigorating.

So throw away the Spider Tack on your takes because take lock is the death of your fantasy whimsy. Check me, ump.

No, for real though, check me ump.

Instead let us opt for a more wholesome and sporting combination of sunscreen, rosin, and sweat as my forehead drips dreaming on the ceiling of Wander Franco.

Cedric Mullins

Speaking of take lock, in all of my prognostication this year (which I can modestly say I’m quite proud of) my off-the-cuff take on Cedric Mullins may have been the worst one. In pontificating on the merits of his early-season breakout in mid-late April responding to a Redditor’s comment I said:

“He is a niche asset for an SB needy team. Best case scenario you get solid run production from the leadoff spot and 20+ SB’s. The lack of power limits his upside significantly. There is some hope that his improved discipline at the plate could raise his average and OBP significantly but his insane .593 BABIP at the moment clearly demonstrates some luck based success so far this season.”

Ha! What a fool I was. Even with a realistic quantitative analysis, I was wrong. That’s not to say Cedric Mullins is suddenly mashing with the power of Joey Gallo but at this point in the season, with 4 HR’s in the last 7 days and 8 in the last month, Cedric Mullins has an unquestionably changed profile.

With a career-high of 15 HR’s in a 2018 season spent between AA, AAA, and the MLB there really wasn’t much of anything to suggest Mullins would be sitting at 13 HRs before the halfway point of the season. But here we are – Is Mullins a legit threat for 25-30 HRs?

Away we stumble. First, let’s simply gawk at the fact that Cedric Mullins is currently sitting at #20 in the Razzball Player Rater. The same Cedric Mullins who was borderline free in most drafts and waiver wire fodder in others. Digging deeper, let’s look at Mullins’ statcast data and adjoining percentile ranks to understand what is driving these changes:

Wow, the jump this year is stark. Mullins is barreling the ball 2.4x more than he was last season, he is striking out less and has almost doubled his walk rate. His xStats jump off the page relative to his prior replacement level results. Mullins went from the 2nd percentile to the 61st in xwOBA. Although those same xStats show that Mullins is currently overperforming, it is undeniable that Mullins is a drastically improved player who is taking a major leap in his age 27 season. This is the romantic dream we hope for in projecting breakouts and, at 27, he is right on time.

Now, let’s look at his batted ball profile to see if the change is reflected in his approach:

The above profile mirrors the large-scale changes you’d hope to see in a player showing the changes Mullins has. Firstly, he has cut his groundball rate by 10%, cut his pop-up rate by almost 60%, doubled his flyball rate, and continued to add gains onto his line drive rate. Directionally, Mullins seems to be hitting the ball in similar directions but he is making better contact across the board. This is another notch in the belt of Mullins’ breakout.

With that laid as the groundwork we can’t deny the fact that Mullins is vastly over-performing his xBA and xSLG at such a rate that he will not be able to sustain:

Cedric Mullins – Stats vs. xStats

But even still, Mullins xHR of 12.7 is right in line with the 13 he has hit. Despite the oncoming .AVG regression, Mullins is a vastly improved player who fantasy owners should be able to count on to finish with 20 HR 20 SB with ease and can dream on 25-25 just with a reduced batting average closer to his .271 xBA.

This is a profile reminiscent of Starling Marte‘s 2015 breakout, also at year 27, when he finished with 19 HR and 30 SB. As we all know Marte carried that momentum into being a consistent power/speed threat through today. Given the above returns it is reasonable to assume we may have found the rare unicorn who can deliver you steals without destroying your power output.

Mullins will regress but his breakout is

LEGIT

Shane McClanahan

 

Shane McClanahan is scintillating. There are few pitchers who will debut with stuff that rivals the games best. With a fastball that touches 102 with violent horizontal movement and a wicked slider that has produced 48% whiff rate, McClanahan’s stuff jumps off the page :

Supplementing this, his statcast numbers mirror the excellence your eyes perceive.

McClanahan ranks this year:

Overall, McClanahan possesses a whiff-inducing combo that has produced a CSW% sitting between Spider Tack King, Gerrit Cole and fellow breakout Joe Musgrove. At 24 years old and holding his own at the greatest level it is undeniable that McClanahan has a ceiling rivaling the games best pitching prospects but is this a profile we are buying to lead us to glory this season?

Lets take a look at his pitch mix to understand how Shane utilizes these weapons of mass destruKtion.

McClanahan is primarily a two-pitch pitcher throwing either his fastball and slider 80% of the time. Interestingly although his fastball has elite spin, horizontal movement and velocity the returns from his fastball are not promising. With an average exit velocity at 94.8 mph (95 mph is a “hard hit”), it is clear that Shane has yet to fully harness the potential of his fastball. That his breaking balls have all netted such relatively great returns really speaks to the power of the fastball and what he could be once he effectively mixes his pitches. As of now, it seems hitters can effectively guess fastball rather than add to the growing graveyard of whiffs his breaking balls have produced.

This profile begs a greater question, what leads to fantasy success? Is elite talent alone enough? In my estimation there is a continuum of talent and opportunity that are necessary for any high end player profile. Given opportunity without high end talent you have a stat accumulator that will burn a roster spot hurting more than they help (ex.  Maikel Franco). Given talent without the opportunity and you have a dreamy profile that will never ripen to the level you dream of (ex. Byron Buxton). The latter is what I believe is in the cards for Shane McClanahan this season.

This is due to a few factors:

  1. McClanahan threw a career high total of 120 innings in his 2019 season, he is already at 44.2 IP this season. It is not a question of if he will face an innings limit but more a question of when he will be shut down or transitioned to the bullpen.
  2. It’s the Rays who are incessantly pushing the boundaries of traditional pitching roles. Although these approaches are innovative and can provide value in real life, they will more often than not limit the chance at the coveted W’s and QS’ categories. Take it from their manager directly:

“Our pitching staff is just built a little differently this year,” Cash explained. “We’ve had more candidates in that flex option. In the past, it’s basically been we’ve had starters or relievers, and then it turned into opener/bulk guy. Well, this year, we’ve got a bunch of guys that are capable of providing between two and four innings of work. So it has allowed for a little bit of creativity. And then you add a guy like McClanahan and Luis Patino that you’re trying to manage their workload really well and their buildup as they’re continuing to develop into this season. So there has been some more creativity.”

-Kevin Cash, Rays Manager

We are already seeing the effect of the above 2 considerations. McClanahan, in 10 starts, has gone over 5 innings only two times (once giving up 4 ER and in his most recent start holding the Mariners to 1 ER in 6). Mirroring this he has never touched 90 pitches in a start and will likely remain so limited.

Overall, this lack of opportunity to go deep into games makes McClanahan’s ceiling a lot lower than his talent would suggest. Although you may be ready to anoint him as a fantasy gem after his 6 IP, 1 ER, 8 K outing at Seattle (one of the worst offenses in baseball) it would be smart to pump the brakes on your rest of season projections.

If you are in a dynasty or keeper league, buy this profile because his stuff is too good in his rookie year to not see ace-like potential, whether as a starter or as a Josh Hader-type fireman. But, in a redraft and specifically for this season, sell high on the excitement McClanahan’s stuff and ceiling provides. This year he looks as if he will provide solid K/9, below-average ratios, and be lacking in the QS and W categories which greatly limits his ceiling.

Although this in no way detracts from McClanahan’s keeper value – for this season only McClanahan is

NOT LEGIT

Featured image by Justin Paradis (JustParaDesigns on Twitter)

Sami Alsado

Sami is a lifelong Reds sufferer, proud Buckeye, NYC attorney and statistical romantic who you can find disguised in a Yankee hat with the Bleacher Creatures at Yankee Stadium. When not overanalyzing the fringe of his roto roster you can find him desperately seeking reservations at Michelin starred restaurants and exuberantly jumping off balance at concerts.

  • Avatar Jack says:

    Might I add, McClanahan isn’t a bad option for owners like me who have Sale and/or (in my case and) Severino (or other guys I don’t have like Carrasco, Kluber, Soroka) stashed on the IL and can thus swap out once the innings limit hits for Shane?

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