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Are You For Real? Surprising SP Starts from Week 8


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 lefties were on display this week, as we saw two strong outings from AL southpaws Jordan Montgomery and Justus Sheffield. And of course we're going to break down the most surprising start of the season to this point, Alec Mills's no-hitter over Milwaukee on Sunday.

Roster percentage is based on Yahoo leagues and is accurate as of 09/14/2020. 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: Get any full-season MLB Premium Pass for 50% off. Get access to our exclusive articles, rankings, projections, prospects coverage, 15 in-season lineup tools, daily expert DFS research, powerful Research Station, Lineup Optimizer and much more! Sign Up Now!

&nsbp;

Jordan Montgomery, New York Yankees

16% Owned

2020 Stats (prior to this start): 28.1 IP, 5.72 ERA, 4.73 FIP, 13.4% K-BB%

09/12 vs. BAL: 5.2 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 9 K

Montgomery was something of a popular sleeper candidate coming into the season, as the 27-year-old was set to pitch his first full season since undergoing Tommy John surgery back in 2018. Montgomery was effective for the Yankees in 2017, putting up a 3.88 ERA and 14.3% K-BB% in 29 starts before succumbing to injury.  Domingo German’s suspension solidified Montgomery’s role in the rotation, and the stars were aligned for another successful season in the Bronx. Things didn’t work out that way for Montgomery, who got pounded to the tune of a 5.72 ERA and 1.6 HR/9 through his first seven starts. However, Montgomery welcomed the struggling O’s in to town, and sliced up Baltimore’s lineup for a career-best nine strikeouts. With a powerful (on paper, at least) New York offense to support him, Montgomery may be the answer for those trying to eek out a few extra wins and strikeouts down the stretch, but just how useful can the big lefty be?

Montgomery has a deep five-pitch repertoire consisting of a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, curveball, changeup, and the occasional cutter. Montgomery’s 92.7 MPH fastball is a career-best, but still puts him around the league average. Even though Montgomery is throwing his fastball harder, opposing hitters don’t seem to mind, as batters are crushing his four-seamer for a .346 AVG and .538 SLG. The two-seamer hasn’t been much better, with opponents hitting .324 with a .486 SLG off the pitch thus far. This isn’t a new development for Montgomery, as both of his fastballs have always been clobbered, but it is cause for concern and caps his upside. Plenty of pitchers can get by with weak fastballs, but it makes them risky on a start-by-start basis. Montgomery’s own teammate Masahiro Tanaka is a perfect example of this. Tanaka’s fastball gets clobbered, but his command and secondary pitches are good enough for Tanaka to survive and thrive at times, but make him tough to trust. Montgomery must show he has capable enough secondary pitches if he wants to stick around with such a bad fastball.

Fortunately for Montgomery, he’s got two solid secondary pitches in his changeup and curveball. Both pitches have been effective in generating whiffs and soft contact. Batters are hitting .238 off Montgomery’s changeup and .161 off his curveball, and have an average exit velocity under 80 MPH on both pitches. These two pitches have allowed Montgomery to have overall 83.8 MPH average exit velocity against, the third best mark in the league (min. 100 batted ball events). Montgomery had a decent 87 MPH average exit velocity during his full season in 2017, but his current rate puts him in elite territory. Montgomery has been racking up the whiffs with both secondary pitches, with eight swinging strikes between the pair on Saturday. Montgomery’s curveball did the heavy-lifting for him against Baltimore, with Montgomery throwing it 31% of the time and getting six whiffs. Here’s an example from this start.

His curveball is not traditional, and is really more of a slurve than a true curveball. It’s always gotten better than average whiffs for Montgomery and he should be able to use this pitch to get decent strikeout numbers. Based on his track record, we shouldn’t expect Montgomery to maintain a strikeout rate above 9.0 K/9 and it’s unlikely that Montgomery will match or top the nine strikeout mark again this year. Over a four-game series with the Yankees, Baltimore scored three runs total and struck out 38 times, so Montgomery may have taken advantage of a weak lineup that had been overperfoming their true skill levels earlier in the year.

Verdict: Montgomery has all the tools of a four starter in the majors with a ceiling as a three, which makes him a streamable option in the right matchup. His next outing is against Boston, and while the Red Sox have a bad record, they do have with a .796 OPS and 111 wRC+ against left-handed pitching this season. That’s not a great spot for a bad fastball pitcher like Montgomery. Sure, he had a good start this time, but it was just two starts earlier that Montgomery failed to make it out of the first inning against Tampa Bay.

&nsbp;

Justus Sheffield, Seattle Mariners

28% Rostered

2020 Stats (prior to this start): 37.1 IP, 4.34 ERA, 3.15 FIP, 13.8% K-BB%

09/12 @ ARI: 7.0 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 7 K

Once considered among the top left-handed pitching prospects in baseball, Sheffield’s star has faded since coming to Seattle as the centerpiece of the package that brought James Paxton to New York. Sheffield took his lumps in 2019, posting a 5.50 ERA and 4.71 FIP in 36 MLB innings. As if that wasn't bad enough, in 55 innings at Triple-A Sheffield was pounded for a 6.87 ERA, 7.18 FIP, 1.96 HR/9, and 1.17 K:BB ratio. Yeah, there were some crazy offensive numbers in the PCL last year, but these numbers are hideous any way you spin it. Two years ago a strong start from Sheffield would have ignited a massive hype train, but now it barely registers among fantasy baseball managers. Sheffield is still just 24 and has fewer than 100 MLB innings under his belt, so he has plenty of room to grow as a pitcher.

Sheffield uses a three pitch mix, relying on a fastball, slider, and changeup. The slider was his most touted pitch as a prospect, but scouts also raved about his sinking fastball, projecting that Sheffield could use it to regularly induce groundballs. His changeup is the weakest of the three pitches, and Sheffield uses it almost exclusively against right-handed batters when the slider would be less effective. Sheffield did make a change with his heater this season, ditching the four-seamer for a true two-seamer. That change hasn’t been revolutionary to Sheffield’s game from a results perspective, but it has helped him limit power. Batters had a .507 SLG against Sheffield’s fastball last season, but have a .378 SLG against his sinker this year. It’s worth noting that the xSLG (.460 in 2019, .451 in 2020) are nearly identical, so it remains to be seen if this improvement will stick. He’s been rather fortunate with just a 5.3% HR/FB ratio, but Sheffield also excelled at limiting longballs as a minor leaguer prior to 2019, so it’s certainly possible that he can maintain a solid home run rate in the majors, especially pitching half his games in the friendly confines of T-Mobile Park.

The most impressive piece to Sheffield’s arsenal is his slider, which batters have flailed at for a .180 AVG and .197 SLG this season, along with a 14.2% SwStr rate, by far his best on his three primary pitches. A 14.2% SwStr rate falls short of elite territory for a  slider, but with sharp, sweeping break and an above average spin rate this pitch can make any left-handed batter look foolish. Here’s one of his best from this start.

You might look at that pitch and wonder how Sheffield only has a 22.2% strikeout rate on the year. Well, remember how I said Sheffield’s slider can make any left-handed batter look foolish? Unfortunately for Sheffield, sometimes major league teams use right-handed batters too. With Sheffield relying so much on his slider to get whiffs, he has suffered from quite large platoon splits. As a big leaguer Sheffield has held righties to a .173 AVG and .270 wOBA, but righties have crushed him for a .303 AVG and .348 wOBA. It’s a relatively small sample size as Sheffield has just 82 career innings in the majors, but with his pitching style it’s easy to predict wide platoon splits.

Sheffield can fix his platoon splits one of three ways: Better fastball command, better slider command, or developing the changeup into a true strong third pitch instead of a weak alternative for his slider. Ideally, he’d do all three, but that’s a tall order even over an entire offseason. If he could do one and cut back on the walks it would work wonders for his consistency and long-term viability as a starter. It was just two years ago where Sheffield was among the most prized pitching prospects in baseball, and he makes for a sneaky post-hype sleeper heading into 2021. For this year, Sheffield should be viewed similarly to Jordan Montgomery. The two have different pitching styles, but your willingness to use them depends on matchup and personal situation, because both are far from must-start right now.

Verdict: For the first time in his big league career, Sheffield is showing some promise that he can live up to the immense hype he had as a prospect. Still, he’s tough to trust in playoff time, and only usable against weak opponents. As it would line up now Sheffield’s next start comes home against San Diego, a team with a 109 wRC+ and .777 OPS against lefties this season. I’d avoid that one, but his final start against Oakland is intriguing. The A’s are playoff-bound, but only have a .714 OPS against left-handed pitchers, along with a 26.8% K rate versus southpaws, second-highest in the league. Oakland will also be without Matt Chapman and possibly without lefty-masher Chad Pinder, making that start even more enticing. He’s a sneaky championship streamer in that one.

&nsbp;

Alec Mills, Chicago Cubs

28% Rostered

2020 Stats (prior tot this start): 43.2 IP, 4.74 ERA, 5.22 FIP, 9.9% K-BB%

09/13/20 @ MIL: 9.0 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 5 K

Sure, Alex Mills threw a no-hitter, but did you know he has a .000 BABIP over his last nine innings? Yeesh, talk about good luck. In all seriousness, Mills etched his name into the record book on Sunday tossing the 16th no-hitter in Chicago Cubs history and becoming Chicago’s second favorite Sunday arm behind comeback artist Mitch Trubisky. Mills has sort-of filled the Mike Montgomery role for Chicago over the past few years, bouncing between long relief and the rotation as needed, but with a no-no to his name and a 3.85 ERA over his MLB career, the Cubs may have stumbled onto something special with the unheralded righty.

As a 22nd round pick by Kansas City in 2012, it’s safe to say that Mills had little prospect pedigree. He did make it on to some Chicago Cubs prospect lists a few years ago after coming over from KC, but Chicago’s farm system had been severely depleted by win-now trades at that point and says more about the Cubs’ prospects at the time than Mills. In short, Mills had no where near the hype of a Justus Sheffield or Jordan Montgomery, and many scouts thought he’d be lucky to hang around in a big league bullpen for a few years.

Mills works with a five-pitch repertoire with a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, changeup, curveball, and slider. He fires in his fastball at a modest 90 MPH, and opposing hitters have sent it back even harder, as Mills’s four-seamer has a 90.6 MPH average exit velocity against this season. His four-seamer may have a .250 AVG and .450 SLG against, but a .313 xBA and .621 xSLG foretell heartache in his future with this heater. His best pitch has been the changeup, which has held batters to a .147 AVG and .324 SLG this season, along with an 18.6% SwStr rate. An argument could be made for his slider being his best pitch, as batters have mustered just a .111 AVG, .111 SLG and have a 13.2% SwStr rate against the pitch this year, but Mills has only used it 9.4% of the time this season and only 5% of the time in his no-hitter, so Mills clearly views the pitch as a tertiary option. It’s the changeup that appears to be the key to Mills’s success.

What makes Mills’s changeup so special? Well, there are two things. First,  Mills has had about nine MPH of velocity separation between his fastball and changeup this season. Among the 260 pitchers who have thrown at least 250 total pitches and thrown both a fastball and changeup, the average velocity separation between fastball and changeup this year is 7.67. Some of the largest positive outliers are pitchers like Dylan Cease and Devin Williams, who average better than 97 and 96 MPH on their fastballs respectively. Mills simply can’t compete with that, but settles into a positive zone with guys like Kyle Hendricks, Dallas Keuchel, and Zach Davies. Those are Mills’s people, the guys he should one day hope to become. They all average around nine MPH of separation between their fastball and changeup despite poor fastball velocity. Like any metric, velocity separation isn’t an absolute indicator of success, but it helps with deception, which is Mills’s only hope of generating whiffs.

The second thing that makes Mills’s changeup special is above average movement, both horizontal and vertical. Here’s an early example from this start.

It doesn’t take much to get Keston Hiura to whiff, but Mills embarrasses the young second baseman with a changeup at his shins. This movement allows Mills to use the pitch as his primary offspeed offering against both lefties and righties. Mills has obviously been better against right-handed batters with a .159 AVG and .238 wOBA for his career, but he’s held his own against lefties with a .259 AVG and .344 wOBA all time. Those aren’t great numbers, but he can survive with those platoon splits.

What makes me hesitant about Mills isn’t just the poor fastball velocity, but it’s that his changeup isn’t good enough to overcome that fastball. Plenty of pitchers, such as Masahiro Tanaka and Dylan Bundy, have gotten by with a bad fastball, but those pitchers have an elite breaking ball. Kyle Hendricks has been the wizard of weak contact, while Dallas Keuchel the king of grounders. All of those pitchers do one thing exceptionally well to overcome their fastball. Mills doesn’t have that. He has a good changeup, a decent groundball rate, and limits hard contact pretty well, but all of those skills are far from elite. It would be interesting to see Mills use his slider more often, as it’s performed well and has above average break, but he only throws it about 10% of the time. Batters have a .061 AVG and a 14.8% SwStr rate against his slider all time, but it’s his least thrown pitch. A left-handed batter has never gotten a hit off his slider in the major leagues. Seriously, not once. 50 pitches thrown, zero base hits. Surely the Cubs’ coaching staff and analytics team knows about these statistics, so there must be a good reason why he’s not throwing much, but from where I’m sitting I can’t figure it out.

Going into this breakdown I was ready to dismiss Mills as lucky, and in many ways he was extremely lucky in this start. The Brewers put ten balls in play with an xBA of .300 or higher, the highest being a lineout by Jedd Gyorko in the second that screamed off his bat at 102.1 MPH and travelled 388 feet, good for an .810 xBA, but landed safely in the glove of Ian Happ standing on the centerfield warning track. But hey, if no one got lucky then we’d never have no hitters. Mills has been pretty lucky this season quite frankly, with a .211 BABIP helping him to a 3.93 ERA, but his 5.00 SIERA and 2.18 K/BB ratio are concerning. It’s almost silly to say I want to see more a pitcher throws a no hitter, but I do want to see more from Mills. I want to see him increase his slider and changeup usage so he’s less reliant on his fastball. That probably won’t happen this season, which make him another situational streamer. I wouldn’t be too keen on starting him after a 114-pitch outing either, especially against his next opponent, the powerful Minnesota Twins. After that one he’s lined up to face the Pirates in Pittsburgh, a matchup I’d consider.

Verdict: While the unheralded ex-swingman may not look like much on the radar gun, he’s got a pair of strong secondary pitches in his changeup and slider. It would be nice to see him use the changeup and slider more often, but we’ll likely have to wait until 2021 to see a change like that. For now, he’s a matchup dependent streamer. The no-hitter may have other owners overrating him, so don’t forget he had a 4.74 ERA prior to this start, and has allowed four or more runs in four of nine starts this season. He also has a pitiful 17.5% strikeout rate on the season, which makes the ceiling pretty low on days where he allows hits.



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Below you will find all of RotoBaller's fantasy football rankings, tiers, player news and stats for Week 7 of the 2020 NFL season. Our Ranking Wizard displays our staff's rankings for various league formats, all in one easy place. Here's what you'll find: Weekly PPR Rankings Weekly Half-PPR Rankings Weekly Standard Rankings Dynasty League Rankings  ... Read More


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The fantasy trade market is always a fun one to evaluate. Articles like this are essentially glorified "Who's Hot and Who's Not" pieces but the tables are turned to where sometimes, you want to trade for those that are cold and trade away those hot. Now, six weeks into the season, we have several big-name players underperforming... Read More


Re-Evaluating the Rookie Running Back Class of 2020

We're six weeks into the 2020 NFL season and are starting to get some good ideas of what usage patterns are looking like. Which means we probably have enough data now to start to re-evaluate where certain players stand in relation to other players. For example, we've got a better idea of how this year's... Read More


WR/CB Matchups to Target and Avoid - Week 7

The CB Matchup Chart has been a helpful resource all season, specifically in Week 6. Last week's article was predictive in forecasting boom games for Julio Jones, Justin Jefferson, and Christian Kirk. It also predicted let-downs from Robby Anderson, Cooper Kupp, and Mike Evans. This week's chart will give the most accurate landscape of CB matchups yet,... Read More


Pivot Plays and Post-Waiver Pickups - Week 7

Things are starting to get difficult for fantasy football managers. Indianapolis, Minnesota, Miami and Baltimore all have the week off, so fantasy managers are already playing shorthanded. Fielding a full lineup is going to be tough as it is if you have a few injuries. If one of your key guys is listed as questionable... Read More


Week 7 Stream Team - Shallow and Deep-League Pickups

Welcome to Week 7 of the NFL season. Each week we will be providing streamer advice for all of those who need it, which is pretty much anyone and everyone. Streaming players with the best matchups each week as well as during your stud's bye weeks is an integral part of winning a fantasy championship... Read More


Lies, Damned Lies, and Fantasy Football Statistics (Week 7)

The more data we get as the season goes on, the better equipped we are to interpret matchups and make informed decisions. Then Week 6 comes along and blows it all to hell. The unpredictability of sports is what keeps us intrigued, as frustrating as it may be at times. Numbers are supposedly to be... Read More


The King's Week 7 Fantasy Football Lineup Rankings (Premium Content)

Welcome back, RotoBallers!  Below you will find my Week 7 fantasy football lineup rankings. The ranks are available in PPR, Half PPR and Standard formats. They will be updated as needed, so make sure to check back for the latest versions. Skill Position analysis is primarily based on the PPR ranks. The rankings are powered by... Read More


Slow Starters Ready to Break Out in Fantasy?

We are now more than a third of the way into the fantasy football season and a seemingly clearer picture is available across the landscape. After a pandemic-shortened offseason and lack of preseason exposure, there were plenty of worries headed into the first month specifically. Thus far, one of the most prevalent topics with regards... Read More


Fantasy Football Warning Signals for Week 7

The warning signals get brighter by the week since we have more data to work from. The larger the sample size the easier it is for us to connect the dots from the latest trends. Football is a game of small samples and many variables, making it one of the hardest sports to predict. How... Read More


How to Value Clyde Edwards-Helaire with Le'Veon Bell in KC

Clyde Edwards-Helaire or Jonathan Taylor? Coming into the season this was the biggest question for fantasy GMs, both dynasty managers who were thinking long-term and redraft managers who wanted to know who would be better for this season. There were many different theories and believe me when I say, both sides thought they were 100%... Read More


NextGen Stats - Quarterback Breakdowns and Takeaways

It's been a month since the last time we took a look at our beloved quarterbacks. Numbers are numbers, and numbers don't lie. You can twist them, but looking at them objectively, numbers say that no matter what, rushing the ball is almost always a worse option than passing it in today's game. That's why... Read More


Fantasy Football Risers and Fallers - Week 7

Whether due to their own play, the play of others, or injuries, players' stock increases and decreases on a weekly basis. Perhaps more than any other, the NFL is a league that experiences ups and downs at a rapid pace. With only 16 games, there’s little room for error and seemingly endless opportunities for improvement.... Read More


Coaching Matters: Offenses That Will Improve From Week 6

This series continues into its sixth week of where I dive into offensive areas that will improve or decline based on coaching in order to glean insight as to fantasy football value. In Week 6, we saw performances such as Ryan Tannehill throwing for 364 passing yards, the Houston Texans running backs combining for 66 rushing yards, and the New... Read More


Tape Tells All: D'Andre Swift's Week 6 Performance

Welcome to another edition of Tape Tells All. I've been thinking of rebranding as just TAPE. All-Caps like that. Probably wouldn't be a good idea for SEO purposes, right? Anyways, this week we'll be discussing Detroit Lions rookie running back D'Andre Swift. Swift set a lot of career highs this week, with bests in carries... Read More


Week 7 Waiver Wire Pickups & Adds

Week 6 was like the 2020 of fantasy football weeks. All those great matchups meant nothing, those studs let you down, and your bench likely went crazy. The good news is that we didn't have any season-ending injuries to running backs or games canceled due to COVID, so in retrospect maybe we shouldn't complain. The... Read More


FAB Bidding - Week 7 Waiver Wire Targets

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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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


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Daily MLB Injury Roundup for October 21st, 2020

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Daily MLB Injury Roundup for October 20th, 2020

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

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Daily MLB Injury Roundup for October 18th, 2020

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