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Fire & Ice: Will Jankowski Steal Your Heart?

Fire – Travis Jankowski

First things first: respect the wonderful flowing locks of Travis Jankowski. Second: it’s Jank-owski, not Jani-kowski, like the 40-year-old NFL kicker Sebastian Janikowski. No relation. Not even the same name. Looking at them, you’d be hard pressed to mix them up as well. They go to vastly different barbers. As much as I’ve enjoyed the career of Janikowski, who I lovingly refer to as Sea Bass, it’s fantasy baseball that I truly love and Travis Jankowski is a man after my very heart.

I was interested in the speedy young(ish) man last season, only to look like a fool when he batted .160 over 16 games and was banished to Triple-A until a September call up. He managed a 36% K% and 12% BB% in that span and simply looked like he didn’t belong. Cut to his 28 plate appearances in September and things weren’t much better, as he hit .240 with 25% Ks and 7% BBs. Nothing to see here, right? Well, cut again to the year 2018 (hey, that’s now!) and what is he doing is vastly different. Since his recall on April 29 he has slashed .370/.463/.522 with nine runs and four steals in 15 games. Not only that, he has an 8:7 BB:K ratio (14.8%/13%). It’s just 15 games, but he looks like a stud. Is this for real?

First, let’s get out of the way what we absolutely know is real — the speed. He’s 4-for-4 in stolen base attempts in those 15 games and has the wheels to easily swipe 30+ bases over a full season. Now on to the rest of the profile, which is considerably sketchier. The power? Non-existent. He has five home runs over 620 career plate appearances. He will actively hurt you in the home run category, and there’s no getting around that.

The .370 average is currently floated by a .421 BABIP, and I don’t care how fast you are, that’s coming way down. I shouldn’t have to tell you too much about a .400-plus BABIP regressing, but just to encapsulate just how far it’s going to regress, we’ll glance at his quality of contact and batted balls. Supremely Super Small Sample Size (SSSSS) applies here. He has a way below average 23% hard contact rate, below average 18% line drive rate, and is hitting 67% ground balls. The MLB average on ground balls this season is .238 – Jankowski’s is .346.

So the average will crash, but his ability to control the strike zone and draw a walk looks better than ever. In fact, in this SSSSS, his plate discipline is incredible. He’s always been good at drawing walks, but his 12.5% O-swing% would be the best in the majors if he qualified. His 34.7% swing% would tie for fourth lowest. His 4.1% SwStr% would be 3rd lowest. His 94.1% z-contact% would be top 10, and his 88.1% contact% would rank 8th. Let’s just go out on a limb here and say he doesn’t suddenly have Joey Votto’s eyeballs; regression will come, but what he’s shown us early on here is very promising for his OBP.

I wouldn’t consider Jankowski a long-term solution. He’s really just a slap hitter who can take a walk, giving you steals and runs scored when he gets on base. There’s also his career wRC+ of 26 against lefties, which means he’ll be platooned, capping his playing time and overall ceiling. He gets a boost in OBP leagues for sure, and ride him everywhere while he’s hot, but expect him to slow down in a big way.

Ice – Jose Berrios

The 2018 season has been a microcosm of Jose Berrios’s career. There’s been ups, there’s been downs, take my word, my way around. (How does this column always turn into song lyrics? I have a problem.) What I mean to say is that if you’ve been in the Berriosmobile, you’ve got serious whiplash. Stop slamming on the breaks, grandma! You shouldn’t even be driving with your glaucoma!

Brrios’ 2016 debut ended with a cool 8.02 ERA over 58.1 innings, but last year it tapered down to 3.89 over 145.2 innings. This season he has made nine starts; four of them have been 7-plus innings with zero or one earned run. In the other five starts, he has allowed 23 earned over 23 innings. It’s either domination or disaster. So what’s going on? Should we be expecting Jekyll or Hyde the rest of the season?

Let’s break his season down into portions. He only had one awful start in his first five games, and it was against Seattle, who have the fourth highest road wOBA in baseball. We’ll chalk that one up to the occasional hiccup, which happens to everyone. He fired 14 shutout innings after that start with a 16:0 K:BB ratio. Everything was juicy. Then, against the Yankees on April 24, everything fell apart. He killed you with four clunkers in a row, 14 ER over 18.1 IP with an 11:8 K:BB. The problem seems to have lied with his curveball, as its effectiveness vanished over that rough patch.

Here we see the whiff rate on his curveball start-by-start in 2018. It tanked at zero — yes, zero whiffs on 17 curveballs — against the Angels on May 10. Berrios himself realized something was amiss. Through the help of tape and teammates, he discovered that he hadn’t been using his legs to get the proper drive in his delivery. The results from his latest start against the Cardinals — 7.1 IP, 2H, 1ER, 1BB, 10K — are as encouraging as you could have possibly dreamed of. His whiff rate on the curve shot way back up to 27%, his second best mark of the year.

Berrios is still just 23, and there will be bumps in the road. However, this latest start gives me confidence that you can roll him back out as a fantasy SP2 until further notice.

  1. TJ says

    I predict Jankowski will have a break out year. Sure he’s on fire right now and that will dissipate, but he is a different hitter this go around. Something is different about him. His K’s are way down, almost 20%. He will steal 40 plus and will have a slight power increase. He will bat .275 min. How many runs does he save with OF defense? The Padres will keep him as he also helps Hosmer batting after him.

    1. Nathan Dokken says

      He is showing a terrific eye at the dish, although I’m not seeing anything that indicates he’s going to have a power breakout. He still can’t hit lefties, and that OF will be crowded when Myers returns. I do like him to stick around, just not sure he gets the PT to steal 40 bags. Even if it’s just 25 the rest of the way though, he’s worth owning everywhere.

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