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Are You For Real? Surprising SP Starts from Week 2


Welcome back to "Are You For Real?" Each week, we look at lower-owned starting pitchers who have performed unexpectedly well in their last outing(s).

This week we're looking at a pair of pitchers who disappointed after signing big contracts, but both have shown a little something extra during their first couple starts of the season. Tyler Chatwood has looked like a Cy Young candidate for Chicago, while Yusei Kikuchi dominated the Athletics over the weekend.

Ownership is based on Yahoo leagues and is accurate as of 08/03/2020. The goal of this article is to look at pitchers who are either still widely available or were hot waiver wire pickups after good starts, and to analyze whether they're a flash-in-the-pan or if there's any staying power.

Editor's Note: Love the strategy of season-long fantasy sports? Live for the short term gratification of DFS? Try Weekly Fantasy Sports on OwnersBox - a new weekly DFS platform. Sign up today for a FREE $50 Deposit Match. Offer expires Thursday night! Sign Up Now!

 

Tyler Chatwood, Chicago Cubs

63% Owned

2019 Stats: 76.2 IP, 3.76 ERA, 4.28 FIP, 11.4% k-bb%

08/01/20 vs. PIT: 6.2 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 11 K

Chatwood was a popular breakout candidate two years ago when he inked a 3-year, $38 million dollar deal with the Cubs. Many believed a ticket out of Colorado would help Chatwood thrive, and his 3.18 road ERA during his tenure with the Rockies help strengthen the case. Admittedly, this writer was always skeptical of the Chatwood hype. His xFIP was actually better at Coors Field than away from it, and his pitiful 6.5 K/9 and 1.6 K/BB ratio didn’t show much room for upside. He floundered in the rotation and soon became an overpaid middle reliever, but as the Cubs’ pitching options thinned out this offseason Chatwood found himself back as a starter and is pitching better than we’ve ever seen him. So what, if anything, has changed to help Chatwood transform?

One thing that jumps out about Chatwood are the changes in his pitch mix. Chatwood has a deep arsenal, consisting of a four-seam, two-seam, and cut fastball. He also throws a curveball and the occasional changeup. In his first two starts Chatwood has drastically reduced his four-seam fastball usage. His career usage is 31.2%, but this season he’s thrown the pitch just 8.9% of the time, and threw only four four-seamers in his start against Pittsburgh. This is probably in Chatwood’s best interest, as batters have hit his fastball well historically, with a .272 AVG and .156 ISO against it all time. He’s supplemented the reduction in fastballs with an increase in cutter usage. The cutter is the gem of Chatwood’s repertoire, as batters have just a .182 AVG and .116 ISO against the pitch, along with a 14.5% SwStr rate. Chatwood looks to be taking the route of Patrick Corbin, Matthew Boyd, and many other pitchers, in that he’s leaning on his best pitch to find success. He is throwing the pitch 27.2% of the time, which doesn’t approach the levels of Corbin and his slider, but it’s still the most Chatwood has ever used it.

The improvements go beyond simple usage, as Chatwood is throwing his cutter better than ever as well. Below are a few graphs charting the progress he's made over time.

 

Chatwood's gained over an inch of break on his cutter in 2020

Chatwood is also throwing his cutter harder than ever before, an impressive feat at 30 years old.

While this is encouraging to see, it’s important to remember how small of a sample size we’re dealing with right now. Chatwood has only thrown 49 cutters thus far, which isn’t nearly enough to draw definitive conclusions from yet. Really, this entire season won’t be enough to draw definitive conclusions from, so it’ll be extra important for us to monitor trends like this one to get the jump on who’s real and who’s a fluke. Thus far, Chatwood is looking mostly real.

Regression is clearly going to come for Chatwood, as his 90$% LOB rate and .250 BABIP are both wholly unsustainable for any extended period of time, especially since his most used pitch, the sinker, has a .323 xBA (.250 BA) and .619 xSLG (.313 SLG). Opposing hitters have also smoked him for a 41.7% hard hit rate against, which would be the highest percentage of his career. That number is uncharacteristic for Chatwood, as he’s normally done an excellent job of limiting hard contact in his career.  Chatwood is still a great pitcher to take a chance on, especially in today’s pitching landscape, but know that his current performance is not sustainable.

Verdict: Chatwood has increased his cutter usage and quality, which has led to newfound dominance for the right-hander. He won’t maintain a 0.71 ERA or 31.9% K-BB%, but Chatwood looks to have made legitimate improvements and is worth adding in all leagues.

 

Yusei Kikuchi, Seattle Mariners

5% Owned

2019 Stats: 161.2 IP, 5.46 ERA, 5.71 FIP, 9.2% K-BB%

08/01/20 vs. OAK: 6 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1BB, 9 K

Kikuchi had a rough go during his first major league season, leaving many to wonder whether the former NPB ace had what it takes to pitch in the big leagues. He went largely ignored in fantasy drafts, but the 29-year-old southpaw has garnered some interest after putting up a dominant performance on Saturday against Oakland. The nine strikeouts were the second-most in his career, and it was only the second time Kikuchi started a game and did not allow a run to cross the plate (min. 2 IP). Kikuchi had a few good starts last season and always managed to fall back into bad habits, but can the Japanese left-hander finally find some consistency?

Kikuchi’s early season success shares traits with that of Tyler Chatwood, in that Kikuchi has heavily featured a cutter during his first two starts. Unlike Chatwood, the cutter is a new pitch for Kikuchi. Last year Kikuchi primarily relied on his slider and curveball as secondary pitches, but this cutter looks like a completely new weapon for him. It’s much harder than his slider, averaging 92.8 MPH, and also has more drop than the slider.

The sharp break and above average velocity should make the pitch more effective against right-handed batters, which is great since righties clobbered him for a .304 BA and .545 SLG last season. Through his first two starts righties have hit .250 with a .286 SLG against him. What’s perhaps most impressive about his cutter in such a small sample size is the .060 xBA, versus the .139 actual BA. The pitch has been dominant, and according to Statcast it should’ve performed even better.

The cutter is the main reason to be interested in Kikuchi, but it’s also worth noting that he’s greatly increased his fastball velocity. Kikuchi is averaging 95.5 MPH on the gun this season, which makes him the hardest-throwing left-handed starter in the majors as of writing this. He’s also gained over 150 RPM on spin rate, and his .211 xBA on the fastball suggests the pitch should perform much better than it did last year, when batters hit .326 with a  .622 SLG off Kikuchi’s four-seamer. Between the increased fastball velocity and brand new cutter, there’s a lot to like about Kikuchi.

Verdict: A fancy new cutter and an increase in fastball velocity have Kikuchi looking like an entirely new pitcher. He’s only thrown 9.2 innings, so we need to be careful not to overreact, especially since Kikuchi’s final numbers were atrocious last year, but Kikuchi is worth at least taking a chance on in 12+ team leagues. He’s out there in 95% of leagues, so check your waiver wire, as he can be had for free in most cases.



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RotoBaller has assembled a list of daily MLB injury updates to help you prepare both your seasonal and daily fantasy baseball (DFS) lineups, every day of the MLB season. Below is our updated list of injured MLB players for October 14th, 2020. Only players on teams that are scheduled to play today will appear below... Read More


Bubba and Bat Flip 53: 2 Early Mocks APD Trends & More - Benched with Bubba (Episode 315)

Bubba (@bdentrek) is joined by Bat Flip Crazy (@BatFlipCrazy) to take a deeper look at the 2 Early Mocks ADP. They dig into trends, some interesting risers/fallers, and much more. They also go over some listener questions at the end to keep the Fantasy Baseball information coming even in the offseason. Be sure to subscribe... Read More