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Are You For Real? Surprising SP Starts from Week 5


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).

The young guns were on display this week, and we are going to break down three right-handers all 25 or younger who put up surprising starts this week. We'll look at someone we have a lot of hype for this year (Triston McKenzie), someone we had a lot of hype for last year (Corbin Burnes), and someone who's never had much hype at all (Logan Webb).

Ownership is based on Yahoo leagues and is accurate as of 08/24/2020. 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!

 

Triston McKenzie, Cleveland Indians

49% Rostered

2018 Stats (Double-A): 90.2 IP, 2.68 ERA, 3.62 FIP, 16.3% K-BB%

08/22/20 vs. CLE: 6 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 10 K

There is always a humungous amount of hype when a top pitching prospect gets the call, and this hype rocket is headed straight for the moon after McKenzie carved up the Detroit Tigers for ten strikeouts on Saturday. It’s hard not to be excited after watching this start, as McKenzie showed us why he was such a highly regarded prospect in the first place. McKenzie is a four-pitch pitcher, with  a mid-90s heater, a plus curveball, a solid changeup, and a recently-developed slider. McKenzie showcased all four pitches in this one to great success, so just how good can the young right-hander be?

McKenzie’s fastball does not light up the radar gun like many top pitching prospects, especially right-handed pitching prospects. He was averaging 94.6 MPH in this one and touched 97 MPH, which is a little harder than advertised. His velocity was pleasantly surprising, but even more impressive about McKenzie’s fastball is the spin rate. He generated 2432 RPM with the fastball in this start, which would put him among the top-25 in fastball RPM among qualified starting pitchers if he qualified. This type of spin, along with McKenzie’s long arms helping get the ball to the plate from a shorter distance (seriously, check out this guy’s wingspan) should allow his fastball to play above its velocity. Here's one of the better examples from this outing.


Even a future hall-of-famer can't catch up to this high fastball

It was true in this outing, as Detroit hitters were behind McKenzie’s heat all day. McKenzie got eight swinging strikes on 46 fastballs in this start, and while I don’t expect him to maintain a 17.4% SwStr rate over a long period of time, he could maintain an above average whiff rate with the pitch.

Outside of the fastball McKenzie has a pretty well-rounded repertoire for a pitcher his age, and he was getting whiffs with all three secondary pitches in this start. I've taken one of each offering from this start and created a video sample below, so if you missed the start or want to get another look here's your chance.

Poor Miggy was taken to school again by the kid, this time on a sweeping slider


The batter didn't swing, but this was a good curveball that was almost in the perfect spot

McKenzie's changeup was most effective outside the zone. He left a couple over the plate that got barreled up. The solo homer he surrendered came on a mislocated changeup.

He used his curveball effectively against both right- and left-handed batters, and had his changeup to neutralize lefties and the slider for righties. None these pitches have outstanding movement compared to league average, but all are slightly above average. McKenzie doesn’t have one killer pitch, but every pitch in this repertoire is effective and should allow McKenzie to be productive at the major league level and generate decent strikeout numbers.

There’s a lot to like about McKenzie’s first start, and he’s definitely worth a shot in all formats. Obviously, young starters can be volatile and inconsistent, but McKenzie looked quite polished in his first start, especially since he hadn’t pitched in a game since 2018. The biggest question surrounding his value right now is staying power in Cleveland’s rotation. If Cleveland ever decides to welcome Mike Clevinger and Zach Plesac back, there might not be room for McKenzie in the rotation. It’s hard to know what the future holds for Plesac and Clevinger after their controversy, but if McKenzie continues to pitch well they’ll have a hard time sending him back down.

Verdict: McKenzie has been the most impressive of all top pitching prospects recalled thus far, and deserves to be added in every league. The stuff is good-not-great, but a well-rounded arsenal of plus pitches should allow McKenzie to thrive.

 

Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee Brewers

51% Rostered

2020 Stats (prior to this start): 21 IP, 3.00 ERA, 3.28 FIP, 17.2% K-BB%

08/23/2020 @ PIT: 5.1 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 7 K

A popular breakout candidate last season, Burnes was astonishingly awful in 32 appearances last season. He posted an 8.82 ERA and served up 17 longballs in just 49 innings. What’s even more bizarre about that statistic is that home runs have never been an issue for Burnes. Outside of 2019 Burnes has only surrendered 16 home runs total between all levels in 319.1 innings. Because his 38.6% HR/FB rate was absurdly bad, many ERA predictors suggests that Burnes had not only pitched better than his actual ERA, but significantly better. No other pitcher has ever had an ERA over eight (8.82) and an xFIP and SIERA under four (3.37 xFIP, 3.55 SIERA) besides Burnes in 2019 (min. 40 IP). Well, now Burnes is back with a vengeance, carving up opposing lineups with a 33% strikeout rate. Juicy as that may be, owners are understandably worried that Burnes will drop an atom bomb on their ratios. Let’s dive into the turbulent right-hander and see if he’s really turned a corner.

If you are familiar with Burnes, you probably know that he boasts an amazing slider. It’s been the jewel of his repertoire for some time now, and it had performed well this season. Really well, in fact, as opposing batters haven’t been able to muster a single hit against the pitch. He also has a monster 26% SwStr rate and 30.8% chase rate with his slider. Wanna see something cool? Check out the slider he threw on Sunday to Kevin Newman.

 

Even though it’s in the zone, it’s nearly impossible for a right-handed batter to hit that pitch. Burnes is rarely in the zone with this pitch, with just 22.2% of his sliders catching the strikezone. The slider alone is good enough where Burnes could be an effective pitcher, but this young man has so much more to offer.

Going into play Monday only one qualified pitcher has a better fastball spin rate than Burnes, and that was Cy Young favorite Trevor Bauer. Burnes combines his elite spin with plus velocity for a pitch that can be truly marvelous to watch at times. The one below is a perfect example.

 

That’s a fastball. A fastball. 97 MPH at letters with a 99th percentile spin rate. Don’t feel bad Cole Tucker, the Babe himself would’ve swung right through it too. On paper, Burnes fastball should be among the league’s best, and overall his fastball has an above average 10.6% SwStr rate, but the problems come when batters manage to make contact.

Batters have a .273 AVG and .485 SLG against the pitch, but an even worse .366 xBA and .719 xSLG off Burnes’s fastball. It’s getting smoked for a 93.4 MPH average exit velocity. With metrics like this, it’s easy to see where Burnes’s home run issues came from, as 13 of the 17 bombs he gave up last year came off the fastball. Burnes may have been extremely unfortunate with home runs last season, but he is quite fortunate to have just a 4.5% HR/FB ratio this year. His 4.10 xFIP is higher in 2020 than it was in 2019 despite his ERA being more than five runs lower. The HR/FB ratio coupled with a .259 BABIP suggest that Burnes has been on the right side of the luck factor thus far, especially considering his bloated 14.7% walk rate.

Corbin Burnes’s stuff is undeniably good. We only cracked open the slider and fastball, but he’s got five pretty good pitches. His curveball has been every bit as good as his slider. Batters have zero hits against it on 49 pitches with an .030 xBA and 65.5 MPH average exit velocity. Not to mention it also has an elite spin rate at 2970 RPM. He also has a changeup and debuted a brand new cutter, both of which have swinging strike rates above 16% and opponent batting averages below .200. With all these high-quality options Burnes should have no problem racking up strikeouts, but maintaining stellar ratios is another story.

As previously mentioned, Burnes’s fastball gets crushed when batters make contact. And they don’t have to worry if they can’t make contact, because there is a pretty good chance Burnes will issue them a free ticket to first anyway. It’s so hard to look at Burnes and not see an ace, but he is still raw even at the age of 25. I still want exposure to him because the stuff is so good and the strikeout potential is sky-high, but mind the WHIP and ERA with Burnes. Maybe someday Burnes can put it all together and reach his full potential, but for now I would hesitate to use him against strong lineups.

Verdict: Burnes’s raw stuff is awesome, and his arsenal is chalked full of pitches that can generate consistent strikeouts. A bloated 14.7% walk rate and 90.8 MPH average exit velocity against will cap his upside, as Burnes is likely to post a high WHIP, and many of those runners will come around to score. Love the potential, but he’s not all there quite yet. He should be used against weak and neutral lineups, but avoid against powerhouses.

&nbap;

Logan Webb, San Francisco Giants

4% Rostered

2020 Stats (prior to this start): 20.1 IP, 3.54 ERA, 3.93 FIP, 7.5% K-BB%

08/21 vs. ARI: 7 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 8 K

With all the top pitching prospects getting the call this year, it’s easy for a guy like Logan Webb to fly under the radar. While Webb has garnered little mainstream attention, the 23-year-old righty was considered San Francisco’s top pitching prospect coming into the year. Admittedly, San Francisco’s farm system is thin on pitching talent, but Webb has been completely off the fantasy radar in all but the deepest of leagues. That may begin to change after this impressive start, as Webb fired seven strong innings of two-run ball on Friday, striking out eight Diamondbacks en route to his first quality start and second win of the season.

Webb gets it done with a five-pitch arsenal, consisting of a four-seamer, two-seamer, slider, changeup, and curveball. Webb’s fastball isn’t particularly overpowering, but he has averaged 93.8 MPH with it this season, putting him a full MPH above league average for a starter. It was the biggest swing-and-miss pitch for him against Arizona, as he netted six of his 11 whiffs with the heater in this start.

Owners shouldn’t expect these fastball strikeouts to continue, as Webb’s fastball only has a 7.2% SwStr rate on the year. He’s thrown 166 pitches, which means half of those swinging strikes came in one game. Webb’s fastball also has below average spin and movement. Webb has done a pretty good job of keeping the ball up in the zone where batters will tend to whiff at it, but it’s too early to call that a repeatable skill. It also requires precise command from the pitcher, and Webb has been shown to struggle with command both as a big leaguer and in the minors. It would be hard to envision Webb maintaining an above average whiff rate with his fastball, which will seriously restrict his ability to get strikeouts.

So, maybe the fastball isn’t the pitch for Webb to put up those juicy strikeout numbers. Most pitchers use their secondary stuff to secure punchouts, and if Webb can generate plus strikeout numbers it will be with his curveball. Or is it a slider? The two most notable advanced statistic websites disagree on which, as it’s classified as a slider on Baseball Savant, but as a curveball on FanGraphs.

So which is it? Let’s hear it from the man himself, who told the Mercury News the changes he made during the offseason, “With my curveball, you guys called it a slider, but now it’s actually a slider,” Webb said with a laugh. “It actually is called like a ‘sweeper slider’ now. I’ve been working on that for awhile (sic) now” (Source).

We’ll call it a slider because that’s what the big guy calls it, but it’s really more of a slurve in the truest sense. It’s hard and sweeping, coming in at 81.8 MPH and with 12.2 inches of horizontal break. The pitch has gained 2.5 inches of break, so Webb’s offseason work paid off. The results have been there thus far as well, since batters have hit just .214 with a .220 wOBA against the pitch thus far. Between this pitch, an already established changeup, and above average fastball velocity, the pieces could all be here for Webb.

There is one giant red flag with Webb, and that’s his meager 7.6% SwStr rate on his slider. A swinging strike rate below 10% on a breaking ball is pitiful, and with 9% overall swinging strike rate Webb may be the rare pitcher to have a higher overall SwStr rate than the SwStr rate on his breaker. He is doing something interesting things, and I’m definitely adding Webb to my watchlist, but he’ll need to do a little more before reaching mixed league viability.

Verdict: The strikeout numbers seem unsustainable, and Webb doesn’t have enough positive qualities yet to use him in a mixed league. He is someone worth watching, as the young righthander is actively developing his stuff.



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Whether it's injuries, bye-week blues, or simply poor performance, we've got the waiver-wire cure...but it just might cost you! Alongside our famous waiver wire pickups list and our weekly waiver wire columns by position, this column focuses on suggested waiver wire bidding percentages for fantasy football owners in leagues using a Free Agent Budget (FAB). In... Read More


Waiver Wire Express - Week 7 Lightning Round

Week 6 was relatively healthy and had no coronavirus delays, so let's just take a moment to bask in that. That said, we still saw Miles Sanders (knee) and Zach Ertz (ankle) go down, while Mark Ingram (ankle) has a bye to get healthy. Week 7 byes are Baltimore, Indianapolis, Miami, and Minnesota. Let's get... Read More


Running Back Waiver Wire Pickups - Week 7

Fantasy GMs are to be commended for rising to the unique challenges that have unfolded during this regular season. Injuries to critical players is an unwelcome reality that occurs every year. This is also the case for backs that were expected to operate as RB1s, but have been relegated to committees. However, this season has... Read More


Wide Receiver Waiver Wire Pickups - Week 7

Six weeks of NFL football are behind us, aside from a pair of Monday games, including a late afternoon game between the Bills and the Chiefs. In terms of wide receiver production this week, we didn't have the huge breakouts like we had in Week 5. Chase Claypool didn't score four touchdowns. In fact, only... Read More


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Dissecting Contact Quality In Search Of Fantasy Bargains

Of the 1,015 hitters sampled(1) between 2015 and 2019, there were only 14 instances of hitters making more productive contact against pitches outside of the strike zone than against pitches inside of the strike zone based on xwOBAcon. Based on the same sample, the average hitter was a whopping .116 points better against pitches inside... Read More


Daily MLB Injury Roundup for October 23rd, 2020

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 23rd, 2020. Only players on teams that are scheduled to play today will appear below... Read More


Lineup Order Risers and Fallers: AL West 2020 Review

It’s the offseason and there are about to be a bunch of moving parts. This allows for speculation in terms of players gaining or losing playing time, moving up or down a batting order and much more. The idea here is to highlight some lineup situations for each team and some potential winners or losers... Read More


2021 1st & 2nd Year Players with James Anderson - Benched with Bubba (Episode 317)

Bubba (@bdentrek) is joined by James Anderson (@RealJRAnderson) on episode 317. The guys will go over 30+ first and second-year players. They will discuss their current ADP's in the 2 Early Mocks, what to expect of the players in 2021, and much more. They also go over some listener questions, compare Juan Soto to Mike... Read More


Daily MLB Injury Roundup for October 21st, 2020

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 21st, 2020. Only players on teams that are scheduled to play today will appear below... Read More


Daily MLB Injury Roundup for October 20th, 2020

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 20th, 2020. Only players on teams that are scheduled to play today will appear below... Read More


Bubba and Bat Flip 54: 2 Early Mocks APD Player Debates - Benched with Bubba (Episode 316)

Bubba (@bdentrek) is joined by Bat Flip Crazy (@BatFlipCrazy) to take a deeper look at the 2 Early Mocks ADP. They go over some of the positions and look at players with similar ADPs and debate. Going around the diamond discussing some players people are high on and some they are down on with a... Read More


Daily MLB Injury Roundup for October 18th, 2020

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 18th, 2020. Only players on teams that are scheduled to play today will appear below... Read More


Daily MLB Injury Roundup for October 17th, 2020

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 17th, 2020. Only players on teams that are scheduled to play today will appear below... Read More


2021 Early Mock ADP Values & Reaches: WPC+ Videocast

Pierre Camus and Nicklaus Gaut prepare for the 2021 fantasy baseball season with a look at early mock draft results from the RotoBaller Expert mock. Like and subscribe to the RotoBaller channel on Youtube to get all our latest podcasts and catch us on iTunes and BlogTalkRadio as well! Be sure to also tune into RotoBaller... Read More


Statcast Season Review: 2020 Barrel Leaders (Hitters)

The 2020 MLB season will always be one for the record books, even if everything that took place will have multiple asterisks attached to it. Evaluating Statcast numbers is a nice way to find hot and cold hitters, as well as underachievers and overachievers. Now that the regular season is over, let's reflect on the... Read More


Daily MLB Injury Roundup for October 16th, 2020

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 16th, 2020. Only players on teams that are scheduled to play today will appear below... Read More


Daily MLB Injury Roundup for October 15th, 2020

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 15th, 2020. Only players on teams that are scheduled to play today will appear below... Read More


Daily MLB Injury Roundup for October 14th, 2020

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