MASTER NOTES: Why I FAABed Daniel Norris

I FAABed Daniel Norris this past weekend.

Yes, that Daniel Norris, whose main claim to baseball fame thus far has been that he chose to live in his van.

Yes, that Daniel Norris, the DET starter with a YTD 4.60 ERA/1.45 WHIP, average fastball velocity under 91.0 mph, and 5x5 dollar value under zero.

And yes, that Daniel Norris, who has enjoyed such high praise as:

  • BHQ team analyst Tom Kephart: “Norris seems to be trading Dom for improved Ctl/Cmd as his FpK% has spiked while his SwK% has slipped. His velocity is roughly equal to what he showed in 2018, down considerably from his 2016-1017 velocity peak.”
  • BHQ Facts & Flukes analyst Brandon Kruse: “All the injuries have dimmed his star quite a bit.”
  • And the 2019 Baseball Forecaster: “Take (his) small-sample BPV growth with a grain of salt. Velocity drop adds some concern, especially when combined with GB% loss and poor control. DIS%-heavy baseline says he'll do more harm than good, so let someone else take the plunge.”

Well, I took the plunge. Which might make you wonder why I get to write a column called “Master Notes.”

But hear me out. It might not be totally masterful and could take the “e” out of “noteworthy,” and in fact, it could be a tire fire.

Still, I think this could work, for three reasons.

The first consideration is my league context. I made this move on my Tout Wars team, which regular readers will know is an AL-only. I am not strong in the pitcher counting stats, after losing a few of my drafted starters to injury (Matt Shoemaker) and suckitude (Ivan Nova, Ervin Santana). So I was looking for a starter, thinking that 6 Ks a week is likelier from a starter than any available reliever. And in this league, it’s tough to trade for a starter. One of my fellow Touts has offered Chris Sale, but I’m pretty sure I can’t offer what it would take without losing as much ground in hitting as I might gain in pitching. So free-agent it was, and in a wry comment on the quality of free-agent pools in only-leagues, Norris topped the list.

The second reason is that Norris has a bit of a pedigree. He was a second-round draft pick in 2011, and was rated as a “9C” prospect by the analysts at BaseballHQ.com. That “9C” rating means the BHQ scouts thought Norris had “elite player” potential, with a 50-50 chance of achieving it. He had more than 340 big-league innings at the time I bid, but he’s still only 26, coming into his physical prime. And he's a lefthander.

The third—and by far most important—reason is that Norris pitches in the AL Central. That means he figures to pitch more than half his remaining starts against teams with poor offenses.

I plotted out the DET rotation for the rest of the year, assuming the team will try to get ace Matt Boyd pitching exactly every five days, followed by Norris, then by whoever ends up replacing Ryan Carpenter (and someone had better), and Spencer Turnbull, with a fifth starter/swingman like Buck Farmer taking up the fifth starter role in weeks with doubleheaders or 10-day stretches without off days.

If the ROS schedule works out as I have plotted it, Norris will have 21 more starts, with 11 of those against weaker opponents. Keeping in mind that league-average OPS is .747, here are the weaklings on Norris’ docket

  • Three starts each against CLE (.695 team OPS) and CHW (.709)
  • Two starts against KC (.715), one of which took place this week
  • An interleague start next week against PIT (.721)
  • And one start each against OAK and PHI (both .747)

Before I made my winning $2 bid, Norris had eight starts against below-average OPS teams. In those, he went 3.65 ERA/1.38 WHIP, with a Dominance Ratio of 7.1 K/9, Control Rate of 2.9 bb/9, a Command Ratio of 2.4 K/bb, and an HR/9 of 1.2. In the five starts immediately before my bid, three were against weak sisters KC, BAL, and MIA. In those, Norris went  3.24/1.38, with  5.3 Ks and 1.6 walks per start. In BHQ metrics, he had a Dom of 8.6, Ctl of 2.7, Cmd of 3.2, and HR/9 of 1.1.

Those are good numbers—certainly good enough to spike a couple of FAAB dollars as a spec bet.

Against good teams, Norris has been bad: 4.91/1.36, a 2.5 HR/9, and 6.8 Dom. And Norris also has starts against stronger offenses, including:

  • Two each against MIN (.856) and TEX (.786)
  • And one each against WAS (.754), BOS (.772), LAA (.772), SEA (.774), TAM (.776) and NYY (.783).

No matter, because Norris ain’t gonna even get a glimpse of those teams on my roster. I will aggressively stream him out of any starts against tough opponents. On that topic, I had noticed that almost all of Norris’s tough starts fall in two-start weeks in which both starts are against tough teams. So I’m not going to face two-start weeks with one dream start and one potential nightmare.

DET also faces weaklings BAL (.700) and TOR (.660) this ROS, but regrettably, Norris is not in line to face them. He also misses HOU (.817), which is A-OK with me.

I know this tactic has a lot of risk. For one thing, a rainout here or there and Norris’ path could lose easy starts and gain tough ones. The anemic DET bats mean wins will be in short supply, even if Norris pitches like Mickey Lolich.

As well, the rebuilding Tigers might be looking at some other options in their rotation, and Norris could be bullpenned or benched, especially if he continues to be mediocre. Injured SP Jordan Zimmermann (elbow) is expected back in mid-June and Tyson Ross around the All-Star break, and the team has some possibilities in the minors and in their bullpen they might want to explore. RHP prospect Kyle Funkhouser apparently looked pretty good in a couple of starts coming off the minor-league IL, but he’s been so-so or worse at multiple levels this year. The Tigers could also look at LHP Nick Ramirez, who has looked impressive out of the DET bullpen this season with two vulture wins, 2.45/1.09 decimals and 22 Ks in 22 IP. And on Tuesday of this week, BHQ scouting analyst Nick Richards identified DET prospect Alex Faedo as a potential sneaky callup in his excellent article  “Next year's hot prospects—The 2019 List.”

But I don’t think DET will rush up their top prospects. In the latest of several rebuilding years, DET has no reason to start the service clocks of RHPs Casey Mize (8-1, 1.41/0.,76, 87 K in 89.1 IP at Double-A) or Matt Manning (5-3, 2.14/0.93, 88 K in 71 IP at Double-A). Beau Burrows hasn’t looked sharp (0-2, 5.32/1.35, 26 K in 23.2 IP at Triple-A), and Franklin Perez is still in High-A (and on the injured list at that).

If they do decide to make a rotation change, Norris still has a decent chance to stick. I’m sure the first to go will be Carpenter, a journeyman who was thrown into the breach because of the rotation injuries, and has provided a 7.89/1.56 rack so far with just 19 Ks in almost 30 innings. Farmer profiles as the swingman/spot starter he has been this season. And there are persistent rumors that Boyd is on the trading block.

But even if he keeps his role, Norris is a risky proposition. According to online reports, he was picked up in week 10 in about 30% of mixed leagues, so there is a little wisdom of the crowds at play. I just hope he turns out to be ... well, Masterful and maybe even Notes-worthy.

Postscript: In his first game on my roster, Norris faced the Royals in KC. He got through five innings, with 2 ER (a 3.60 ERA for the start), 6 Ks and 2 walks. Of course, he didn’t get the win, as DET’s own offense mustered only two runs, and Norris left the game tied. But on balance. I’ll take this start.


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