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Are You For Real? Surprising SP Starts (Week 23)


Welcome to our surprising starts series. Every week we’ll be going over a few surprising starting pitcher performances around the majors to determine whether these starts were smoke and mirrors or something more.

This week we saw a pair of veteran lefties put up some good starts against NL central opponents. We also saw a middling-prospect rookie strike out ten batters on Sunday.

Jason Vargas is on a month-long hot streak and shut down the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley. Wade Miley has pitched to a 2.18 ERA in 11 starts and kept the Reds to one run last week. Sean Reid-Foley made a spot start and struck out ten Marlins in Miami with an impressive arsenal.

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Jason Vargas, New York Mets

2018 Stats (prior to this start): 64.2 IP, 6.96 ERA, 5.48 FIP, 2.4 K/BB ratio

08/29 @ CHC: 5.1 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 K

Don’t look now, but Jason Vargas is on a bit of a hot streak. Over his last four starts he has a 1.99 ERA and 3.6 K/BB ratio, and in his last two starts Vargas has 14 strikeouts and one earned run allowed in 11.1 innings. Before this hot streak Vargas was sitting with an ERA near nine and it looked like his days as a dependable veteran arm were over. He’s begun to undo some of the damage he did earlier in the season, and while it would take a miracle for him to finish with good overall numbers performances like this can make a difference down the stretch.

This hot streak coincided with Vargas going away from his four-seam fastball and using his two-seamer more often. On its face this move doesn’t make much sense. Before this four-start stretch Vargas’s sinker was getting hammered for a .357 BA and .204 ISO against. If a pitcher had a pitch getting hit that hard you’d think he’d want to throw it less often, not increase usage. Well, his four-seamer was getting crushed for even more power with a .425 ISO and .275 BA against. Sounds like Vargas doesn’t have a good fastball either way. It’s no secret that Vargas is lacking in the velocity department. He averages 86.6 MPH with his fastball, third lowest among pitchers with at least 60 innings pitched. As well as poor velocity both of Vargas’s fastballs are truly unremarkable offerings in terms of movement and spin rate. Here’s an example of his two-seamer from this most recent start.

The batter didn’t swing, and that’s the best result Vargas can hope for with this pitch. Somehow the performance of his sinker has been one of biggest catalysts to Vargas’s success. Batters are hitting .278 with only two extra base hits against Vargas’s sinker over his past four starts. There doesn’t seem to be much reasoning for this turnaround other than a 50 point drop in BABIP.  The pitch does not have an exceptional groundball rate at 42.5%, and also has an above average 24% line drive rate against. The only good thing about Vargas’s two-seamer is that it can appear similar out of the hand to his changeup. The recent good performance of Vargas’s two-seam fastball is not sustainable and should not be relied on going forward.

While Vargas’s fastball leaves something to be desired, he does feature a pair of secondary pitches that looked solid between these last four starts. In his last two starts against the Nationals and Cubs Vargas got 26 swinging strikes and 14 strikeouts primarily with his curveball and changeup. The changeup has long been Vargas’s standout pitch. For a pitcher with an 86-87 MPH fastball to stick around for 13 seasons he kind of needs a standout offspeed pitch. For his career batters have .200 against the changeup with a 19.7% whiff rate, and over the last four starts batters have hit .182 with a 22% whiff rate. Vargas isn’t a big strikeout pitcher, but when the K’s do roll in they usually come by way of the changeup. Despite the horrendous results Vargas does have the highest strikeout rate (19.4%) and swinging strike rate (11%) of his career. He has improved at a rate higher than the leaguewide strikeout inflation, and it’s because of his changeup and curveball.

Vargas’s curveball has been another big part of his hot streak. It gained 1.5 inches of drop and the whiff rate rose from 11.8% to 19.7%.  Here is a comparison between a pitch from an earlier start and one from his most recent start.

Curveball from 8/2 vs. ATL

And one from 08/29 @ CHC

It’s only a one pitch to one pitch comparison, but the extra drop is noticeable. The pitch against Atlanta has a big rainbow curve but stays at the knees in the zone for Ozzie Albies. The pitch averages only 73.6 MPH and that particular pitch was 72 MPH, giving the batter plenty of time to react to a pitch like that. The latter pitch against Chicago was down in the dirt, giving Kyle Schwarber no chance on full count. Vargas’s curveball had been a mediocre offering this season, but over the past four starts it has rivaled his changeup in terms of strikeout potential.

Verdict:

At the end of the day Vargas is an unexciting veteran who is at-best a streamer against weak lineups. He is similar to Seattle’s Wade LeBlanc. Both are mid-thirties lefties with two of the slowest fastballs in the majors and get by with deception and an above average changeup. While LeBlanc has a much better ERA at 3.71 compared to Vargas’s 6.56, the gap between advanced ERA predictors is much smaller. LeBlanc has a 4.44 xFIP and 4.28 SIERA, while Vargas has a 4.62 xFIP  and 4.53 SIERA. Not a negligible difference, but not such a vast gap either. Both
Vargas and LeBlanc are desperation streamers in favorable matchups, but neither one inspires much confidence.

 
Wade Miley, Milwaukee Brewers

2018 Stats (prior to this start): 50.1 IP, 2.32 ERA, 3.99 FIP, 1.6 K/BB ratio

08/30 @ CIN: 7.1 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K

Look at Miley’s overall ERA and he hardly qualifies as a surprising starter. He has a 2.18 ERA on the season is the sixth lowest among pitchers that have made at least ten starts. The only pitchers better than him are bona fide aces such as Aaron Nola, Jacob deGrom, Chris Sale, Blake Snell, and everyone’s favorite ace Clay Buchholz. Unlike Vargas, Miley’s good performance can’t simply be called a hot streak. His entire season has been surprisingly good, and he hasn’t allowed more than three runs in a single start. No one seems to trust it, since he is only 17% owned in Yahoo leagues despite two months of elite run prevention. There is good reason for this skepticism. Miley hasn’t posted an ERA below five since 2015 and hasn’t had an ERA below four since 2013. Last season was especially bad, as Miley made 32 starts for Baltimore and had a 5.32 BB/9 and 1.43 HR/9 while averaging under five innings per start. He just wasn’t on fantasy radars other than a target stacking against in a DFS setting.

Miley has made a big change to his pitching style this season, going away from his subpar fastball and ramping up his cutter usage. Miley began throwing a cutter in late July last season, and it helped him post a 2.60 ERA in August 2017, though that success was short-lived as Miley turned around and got hammered in September 2017 for a 9.74 ERA. The cutter has been a godsend for Miley this season, and batters are only hitting .167 with an .056 ISO against the pitch. It’s not a big strikeout pitch with just an 8.6% whiff rate, but Miley’s cutter excels at inducing weak contact. It has an 84.8 MPH average exit velocity against and 36.4% infield flyball rate. Miley’s cutter is allowing him to find success in an untraditional manner.

One of Miley’s strengths over the season has been inducing infield flyballs, as he has a career high 10.6% IFFB rate. That’s not an outstanding number relative to the rest of the league, in fact it’s only a few tenths above league average, but it’s a big improvement for Miley. It’s also help curb the home run issue that plagued Miley over the previous two seasons before 2018. Compared to 2017 Miley’s xSLG lowered by over 50 points to .391 and his xwOBA lowered 40 points to .321. Again, those aren’t exceptional numbers, but they put him around league average. Over the last few seasons Miley has been significantly below league average in nearly every measured statistic, so league average is a step up all things considered.

Even if we want to consider Miley league average, it took a blessing straight from the Baseball Gods for him to pitch this well. A 6.4% HR/FB ratio is keeping the ball in the yard, and while his cutter has helped him lower that number a 6.4% ratio is not sustainable, especially while Miller Park is his home ballpark. A .269 BABIP is keeping runners off the bases, and an 80.2% strand rate is keeping the runners that do reach from scoring. Among starting pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched Miley has the second largest negative gap between his ERA (2.18) and FIP (3.73) after Carlos Rodon. He also has an atrocious 4.79 SIERA. Do you know how many starters (min. 50 innings) have a SIERA of at least 4.50 and an ERA below 2.50? One. Wade Miley stands alone in his good fortune. Take away his 2.18 ERA and there isn’t much encouraging here. His cutter is a step in the right direction and may allow Miley to stick around the majors for a few more years, but it’s playoff time in fantasy leagues. Pitchers with these peripherals shan’t be trusted when fantasy seasons are on the line.

Verdict:

There are positives here, but what Miley is doing isn’t repeatable to the extent of his current 2.18 ERA or an ERA below four. Don’t trust Miley in a playoff or crunch time setting. His 4.79 SIERA this season isn’t that much lower than his 5.07 SIERA from his awful 2017 season.

 
Sean Reid-Foley, Toronto Blue Jays

2018 Stats (prior to this start): 9.1 IP, 8.68 ERA, 8.73 FIP, 1.5 K/BB ratio

09/02 @ MIA: 7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 10 K

Reid-Foley was shelled hard in his first two starts, and after two weeks in the minors Toronto recalled him to face the Marlins on Sunday. Reid-Foley responded by utterly dominating Miami’s lineup, fanning ten batters with 16 swinging strikes. Coming into the season Reid-Foley was ranked as the tenth best prospect and third best pitcher in Toronto’s system. He was seen as a back-end rotation arm with the potential to become a number three. After a poor Double-A debut in 2017 Reid-Foley dominated both Double-A and Triple-A this season. He had a combined 150 strikeouts in 129.2 innings along with a 3.26 ERA. That strong showing earned him the initial call up, and the Blue Jays’ need for arms gave him the opportunity to stick around for this outing.

Reid-Foley has a four-pitch arsenal, anchored by a 94.3 MPH four-seamer that can touch 97. His best breaking ball is his slider, an 84 MPH breaker with deep vertical drop. He also throws a curveball and changeup a combined 20% of the time, but the fastball-slider was the killer combo for Reid-Foley on Sunday. In total he got 16 whiffs, eight from his fastball and eight from his slider. Here is one of Reid-Foley’s fastballs from this start.

And here’s a slider.

These pitches are not from the same at-bat, but they paint the picture of a nice combination that can get strikeouts. The fastball has late movement that can make it tricky to hit, while the slider’s drop allows it to fool hitters. Reid-Foley has a strong history of strikeouts all throughout the minors, and with his stuff those strikeouts may translate to the majors.

His bad stats are primarily the result of a shelling at the hands of the New York Yankees. The Bronx Bombers hit him for three homers and six earned runs in 4.1 innings back on August 18. Home runs weren’t a problem for Reid-Foley in the minors other than his bad Double-A performance in 2017. At every other level Reid-Foley never allowed more than 0.6 HR/9, but at Double-A in 2017 he allowed 1.49 HR/9. For now we can consider the 2.2 HR/9 in three starts an aberration for Reid-Foley. Walks, however, have been an issue for Reid-Foley throughout his minor league career. When his professional career first began Reid-Foley was walking over 14% of the batters he faced. He has improved on that number, but is still walking around 9% of batters. Walks will likely be a problem for him for the remainder of the season.

Young pitchers with strikeout upside but walk issues are a common archetype in major league baseball, and these are the type of pitchers that, once things come together, can really blow up. Look at pitchers like Blake Snell, Trevor Bauer, and Mike Foltynewicz. Obviously Reid-Foley is nowhere near that level and won’t reach that level any time soon, but there is intriguing talent in this arm.

Verdict:

Even though this came against the lowly Marlins, Reid-Foley’s stuff looks legit. He has big strikeout upside, though he’ll probably run into walk issues and problems with pitch efficiency. He also does not have a guaranteed spot in the Blue Jays rotation. He could (and probably should) get a chance to show what he’s got, as he’s a bigger part of Toronto’s long term plans than Marco Estrada or Sam Gaviglio. An interesting dynasty arm, but his redraft value is questionable as he doesn’t have a set role. If he gets another crack at starting he is in streamer consideration depending on the matchup.

 

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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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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