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K-BB% Risers: Five Undervalued Draft Targets

Before I dive into the purpose of this article, I would first like to introduce myself. My name is Michael Simione, also known as @SPStreamer, and this is my first article over here at RotoBaller. For those who don’t know me, my favorite aspect of baseball is, without a doubt, pitching. Most of my articles will be about pitchers and if you have any questions please feel free to reach out. I feel very lucky to be a part of the RotoBaller team and am extremely excited to see what the future holds!

K-BB% is one of the best metrics to use during the season and to measure a pitcher's performance. Simply put, the best pitchers have a high K-BB% because they strike out batters at a high rate and walk them at a low rate. In order to understand K-BB%, you have to understand K% and BB%. Luckily, they are very easy to calculate as you just divide the pitcher's strikeouts or walks by the total number of plate appearances. The way you get K-BB% is by subtracting K% from BB% and you get your K-BB% total. In this article, we will look at five pitchers who have increased their K-BB%. The table below shows each pitcher's K%, BB%, and K-BB% dating back to the second half of 2018.

 

Yu Darvish, Chicago Cubs

Yu Darvish had one of the biggest mid-season turn arounds in recent memory. In the first half of 2019, Darvish struggled with a 5.01 ERA, 5.31 FIP, and 14.8 K-BB%. But when the calendar turned to July he became a completely different pitcher, posting a 2.76 ERA, 2.83 FIP, and 35.6 K-BB%. There were a couple of factors as to how Darvish was able to do this and why it might be sustainable.

In the second half, Darvish had better command and control of his pitches. The first sign was his decrease in BB% as it went down from 11.70% to a whopping 2.20% (lowest of any pitcher in the second half). He did this by shortening his extension on his delivery, Darvish was trying to extend too far and it was resulting in a loss of control. For instance, when he made this mechanical change, his fastball’s ISO went from a .434 to .204 which shows a massive shift in control.

Darvish messed with his pitch mix quite a lot as he essentially throws five different pitches (four-seam fastball, sinker, changeup, slider, curve, cutter, and splitter), but he mainly changed the usage of his four-seam fastball and cutter. By lowering his fastball usage and upping his cutter usage, it resulted in Darvish having an overall lower wOBA (.320 vs .261) and Barrel% (8.6 vs 5.9).

With these changes, Yu Darvish finally became the pitcher we had all had hoped for. The main key to his success is his walk rate, as it has always been his Achilles heel (career 8.8 BB%). If Darvish keeps these changes heading into this season he could very well have a great 2020 campaign. With his current ADP of 66, there is plenty of room for value.

 

Lucas Giolito, Chicago White Sox

Lucas Giolito finally had the breakout season we were waiting for by pitching his way to a 3.41 ERA, 3.43 FIP, and 3.57 SIERA in 2019. He had one of the most rapid ascents of K-BB% from the second half of 2018 to the end of 2019. In the three halves of baseball, his K-BB% went from 10.30% to 20.60% and then to 29.10%. In the matter of a year and a half of baseball, it went up 18.80 percent! What is also impressive is his SwStr% also went from 9.6% in the second half of 2018 to 15.6% in the second half of 2019.

Giolito’s success stemmed from perseverance and velocity. The White Sox weren’t doing Giolito any favors, so he decided to get outside help, which was the best decision he ever made. He met up with his former high school pitching coach who changed his delivery and made it more efficient. Overall in 2018, his average fastball velocity sat at 92.8 MPH, but in 2019 it sat at an average of 94.6 MPH. The increased velocity completely morphed his fastball, as his walk rate went down and the pVAL went from -13.5 in 2018 to 20.5 in 2019.

With a now insane 12 MPH difference between his fastball and changeup, a domino effect happened as his changeup became a better pitch in 2019. Compared to 2018, his changeup had a better O-Swing%, SwStr%, BAA, and wRC+ against.

Giolito’s newfound fastball lead him to become one of the most improved starters in baseball by increasing his K% and lowering his BB%. It’s the heart and soul behind the dramatic turnaround from a 6.13 ERA in 2018 to a 3.41 ERA in 2019. Giolito’s current APD of 48 is right on par with where it should be and you should feel confident taking him as an SP2.

 

Luke Weaver, Arizona Diamondbacks

Luke Weaver was a popular bounce-back candidate in 2019 after his 2018 season let down (4.94 ERA and 4.20 K-BB%). After 12 starts in 2019, it seemed as if Luke Weaver was in full break out mode as he was dominating hitters leading him to a 2.94 ERA, 3.07 FIP, and a 21.30 K-BB%. Unfortunately, an injury to Luke Weaver’s pitching arm shortened his season.

The main force behind Weaver’s success was his change in pitch mix. In the second half of 2018, he featured a four-seam fastball, changeup, and curveball. The four-seam fastball and changeup were serviceable pitches but Weaver would pound the strike zone with his curveball and it posted terrible results. It let up a .294 batting average against with a .265 ISO, which means he had control but no command and hitters jumped all over it.

In the time he pitched in 2019 he decided to add a cutter to his pitch mix and lower his curveball and four-seam fastball usage. The cutter essentially replaced his curveball as his go-to pitch when it came to needing a strike, and it worked well. In 2019 the cutter posted a .263 batting average against with a .158 ISO. Adding this pitch was huge as it also improved his four-seam fastball, curveball, and changeup.

Between the second half of 2018 and his 2019 season, Weaver saw a dramatic rise in his K% and a slight drop in his BB%. When you see a dramatic difference in players K-BB% like this it always means good things are happening, especially when it was due to him adding a fourth pitch. His current ADP is at 194 and while some might be worried about his arm injury his price makes him well worth the buy.

 

Robbie Ray, Arizona Diamondbacks

Robbie Ray is one of the most fascinating pitchers in baseball. He has some of the best pitches in the game but when it comes to command and control he tends to struggle. Ray is one of the best strikeout pitchers in baseball as he had a K% of 31.4 in 2018 and 31.5 in 2019. To go with it, he also had an impressive SwStr% of 12.8 and 13.6. Unfortunately with those strikeout rates came a horrendous 13.3 and 11.2 BB%.

In 2019, Robbie Ray’s best month of baseball came in July, where he posted a 3.26 ERA and 28.0 K-BB%. That month was his lowest BB% in any month of the three halves we see in the table above. He noticeably upped his four-seam fastball usage to 50% which lowered his walk percentage to 7.2%. He seems to have the most control with his fastball as he pounded the zone 57.3% of the time with it in 2019. This might be the key to Ray dropping his walk percentage.

If Ray can continue to drop his walk rate and push his K-BB% up to around 28% he can become an elite pitcher in baseball. He maybe on his way because in the three halves we looked at above, it has dropped from 13.80% to 12.10% to 10.00%. Robbie Ray is currently going at pick 151 and he holds value at that spot, especially if you are looking for strikeouts.

 

Tyler Beede, San Francisco Giants

Tyler Beede is an interesting late-round pick in 2019. He has popped up recently because he is one of a handful of pitchers that had three pitches with a SwStr rate of 15.0% or higher (curveball, changeup, slider/cutter). This makes Beede very intriguing and even more so intriguing because of his increase in K-BB% between the first and second half of last year (7.30% to 16.40%).

Halfway through the season, Beede decided to add another pitch to his repertoire which, depending on the site, is classified as both a slider and a cutter. If you watch him throw this pitch, the confusion is understandable because at times it breaks diagonally like a slider while at times it has a late break across like a cutter. This pitch was monumental in Beede’s development as it hits all of the marks with a 35.8 O-Swing%, 38.0 Zone%, and 17.6 SwStr%. If that wasn’t enough to get you excited it also produced a .273 average against with a .345 BABIP, which means you can expect it to be even better next year.

With Beede’s new pitch, it’s no wonder he is becoming a popular sleeper pick for 2020. His current ADP of 373 will cost you nothing in drafts. Taking him as a late-round flier could benefit you greatly in the long run and be one of the reasons you win your fantasy league in 2020.

 

Conclusion

The best pitchers in baseball always have a high K-BB% and it is very important to scout out the pitchers that are creating more strikeouts while giving up fewer walks. While looking at K-BB% splits is important, make sure to do your due diligence and dive into a pitcher to see if there is a reasoning behind it. Look for velocity change, pitch mix change, or even a mechanical change. Thank you for reading and as always, feel free to reach out to me with any questions!

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Using xwOBA to Identify Breakout Pitchers

Heading into a new baseball season, fantasy owners are looking for any leg up on our competition. We turn over stones looking for any stat or training report that might suggest a breakout that few others can see coming. I’m not here to promise some groundbreaking stat, but I do believe that Expected Weighted On-base Average (xwOBA) can be useful when looking for hints as to how a player might perform.

xwOBA is calculated using exit velocity, launch angle and, Sprint Speed to evaluate the quality of contact that a batter makes or a pitcher gives up. While, as Craig Edwards effectively points out, it is not a predictive stat, it “can help explain how a pitcher has arrived at his runs-allowed total.” More specifically, when comparing xwOBA with wOBA, we can start to see if a pitcher earned the batted ball results he gave up or if the results were due to factors outside of his control. Essentially, did a pitcher deserve better numbers than he wound up with.

The following article will look at some of the pitchers who underperformed their xwOBA. By using the simple equation of [wOBA – xwOBA], we can find pitchers who had an xwOBA that was lower than his wOBA, suggesting that he should have statistically performed better based on the quality of contact made against him.

 

What Do You Expect?

As a point of comparison, some of the best starting pitchers in terms of their xwOBA last year were Gerrit Cole (.238 xwOBA), Justin Verlander (.249) Jacob deGrom (.253), and Max Scherzer (.254). For relievers, some leaders last year were Emilio Pagan (.221 xwOBA), Kirby Yates (.224), and Liam Hendriks (.229).

Below is a table of pitchers who faced at least 100 batters and are intriguing based on how they underperformed their expected results. Some of them are high-end arms who have the potential for a better 2020 season, some are players who have strong statistical numbers that could benefit from a new role, and others are players who could we are simply rolling the dice on in hopes that they become more fantasy relevant.

Player wOBA xwOBA Difference
Mitch Keller .392 .314 .078
Edwin Diaz .344 .277 .067
Darwinzon Hernandez .327 .263 .064
Justus Sheffield .376 .321 .055
Elieser Hernandez .340 .290 .050
Josh James .304 .263 .041
Blake Snell .301 .264 .037
Lucas Sims .302 .271 .031
Matthew Boyd .320 .297 .023
Noah Syndergaard .301 .280 .021

 

Blake Snell, Tampa Bay Rays

Locked-in SP1

I don’t think there are many people who are shying away from Snell in fantasy leagues, but after his Cy Young Award-winning season, injuries derailed his 2019 follow-up. While his overall numbers may not have been in line with last year’s leading fantasy aces, Snell’s expected stats suggest that he underperformed his overall ability. In fact, his .264 xwOBA is just behind Scherzer and was the 6th best number of all pitchers with at least 350 batters faced (Snell only faced 441 due to injury). His xBA was third-best at .205, as was his xSLG at .327, a whopping .064 points lower than the actual slugging percentage that he gave up last year.

We mentioned that expected stats aren’t predictive, but they are reliable year-to-year, so Snell’s consistency between 2019 and 2018 (.203 xBA, .340xSLG, and .273 xwOBA) suggests that he pitched just as well, if not better, last year and we should see something similar in 2020. With the Rays still putting a strong offense behind him, Snell should remain a safe SP1 in fantasy drafts, and I would draft him over guys like Shane Bieber and Stephen Strasburg, who are currently going ahead of him.

 

Edwin Diaz, New York Mets

Top-Five closer

Edwin Diaz was always likely to be a volatile fantasy asset; however, nobody could have expected last year's meltdown. A 5.59 ERA with a 4.51 FIP and a 1.38 WHIP caused many fantasy owners, and Mets fans, to freak out. Despite his BB% rising and his SwStr% decreasing, his final numbers were still well within his career range and the range of most strong relievers. His 17.8 SwStr% was a drop of 1.1 from 2018, but would have put him 4th in MLB if he had enough innings to qualify, and his 8.7% walk rate was a 2.6% increase, but still well below his 2017 numbers.

For all intents and purposes, it seems like Diaz just had a bad and unlucky season. His home run per nine innings rate was 2.33, which was one of the worst rates among relief pitchers and a ridiculous jump from his 0.61 rate in 2018. He also added to that a BABIP of .377, which was the second-worst in the league. All of that, plus the .067 difference in xwOBA and wOBA tells me that even in this nadir, he still was pitching better than his results. I fully expect a bounce-back to a top-five closer who I'd gladly take over Liam Hendricks, Ken Giles, and Will Smith - all who I've seen go above him in recent mock drafts.

 

Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets

Solid SP2 with high-end SP2 upside

Thor seems to pull people in every year with those long, flowing locks and triple-digit fastball. However, he rarely matched expectations when it’s all said and done. That’s something you can take advantage of. As early ADP indicates, the fantasy public is souring on Thor as the failed expectations become part of the larger narrative. Yet, his underlying skills remain strong. He’s .280 xwOBA was 16th among pitchers who faced a minimum of 350 batters, and he also ranked in the top 20 in the difference between actual slugging percentage and expected slugging percentage, with an XSLG of .366 what would have also put him 16th last season. Part of the explanation for Syndergaard’s poor performance in relation to his expected stats is that the New York Mets ranked second-worst in DRS and seventh-worst in UZR, which means he got no help from his defense.

There were also many reports that he lost a feel for the slider, possibly due to the change in the ball. Thor's slider dropped from a 7.8 Pitch Value (pVAL) to a 1.7 pVAL pitch, which helped his swinging strike percentage (SwStrk%) also drop 1.1 points to 12.5%. However, the ball is reportedly being switched back and could lead to improved results in Thor’s slider, which would then be paired with a change-up that saw a pVAL jump to up 6.8 from 1.4 in 2018. Thor is by no means a sure thing, but his upside is still high enough that I would take him over Yu Darvish, Zack Greinke, and Tyler Glasnow, who are all going before him.

 

Matthew Boyd, Detroit Tigers

Low-End SP3

Boyd’s .297 xwOBA would have put him 33rd in the league, which gives him some room for improvement; however, I’m not as bullish on Boyd as I am on some of the other guys on this list. Boyd’s success and failure last year was heavily tied to his fastball velocity, which jumped from 91.1 MPH on average in 2018 to 92.4 in 2019. That, however, is still below average fastball velocity, and the pitch had a 1.9 pVAL; although that’s an improvement from the -0.5 the year before, it doesn’t give me confidence that he has newfound, consistent success with it.

There is some intrigue in the fact that he saw a jump in SwStrk% from 10.2 to 14.0, which can partially be tied to his improvement in getting hitters to chase outside of the zone. He had a 4.6% jump in O-Swing%, and batters swung at Boyd’s 1550 pitches and missed on 484 of them (31.2%) which is above league average (24.9%). Although his slider was markedly worse in pVAL than it was in 2018, it still has above-average results and movement. Boyd’s slider moves, on average, five inches towards a right-handed batter and drops 46 inches, while the league average horizontal movement is six inches and 39 inches drop. Improvement in 2020 from Boyd is supported by a 3.88 xFIP and those aforementioned jumps from last year; however, I would be cautious of expecting consistent production throughout the whole season, which makes Boyd more of a high floor, low-end SP3 for me.

 

Josh James, Houston Astros

SP3 (if he gets a rotation spot)

Nothing beats a post-hype sleeper. In the middle of last Spring Training, everybody was all over Josh James. He seemed like the next stud to grace the mound for the Houston Astros. Then he suffered a quad injury in spring and began the year in the bullpen, featuring dynamic raw stuff and the potential upside of a dominant arm, only for him to get hurt again in July and be placed on the IL with a shoulder strain. His numbers dipped a bit in July while pitching through the injury, but his overall underlying metrics tell us that his year was likely better than many think. James' .264 xwOBA would put him right in line with Snell, Mike Clevinger, and Stephen Strasburg. He also limited contact to a .171 xBA and a .286 xSLG, despite registering a .374 SLG on the season. His 16.2% SwStr% was near elite and his xFIP of 3.77 paints a much rosier picture than his 4.70 actual ERA.

When you match the numbers under the hood with a fastball that he can run up over 100 MPH, and three positive pVAL pitches, including a slider that has elite spin and above-average horizontal movement and drop, all the pieces are there for a Josh James breakout. With Jose Urquidy and Brad Peacock currently slotted into the number four and five spots in the Astros' rotation, James is not an unrealistic option to slide ahead of them. Urquidy has no Major League success and Peacock's best years came in the bullpen, so if James is able to snag a spot from one of them, we could see the true breakout we all wanted last year.

 

Mitch Keller, Pittsburgh Pirates

SP4 with SP3 upside

As it stands right now, Keller appears set to begin the 2020 season in the Pirates rotation. Despite mediocre results in his MLB debut, Keller proved to be a dynamic prospect as he worked his way up through the Pittsburgh’s minor league system. He possesses a strong fastball with elite spin, which tops out at 98, and has elite spin on his curve, which leads to two inches more drop than the league average. He also throws a slider that recorded a 27% SwStrk% and a 50.5 O-Swing%. Since we know he possesses good raw stuff, the fact that no pitcher in baseball underperformed their xwOBA more than Keller immediately jumps out.

When you look closer, you can see a few major culprits. For starters, he allowed a .475 BABIP, despite finishing with a .324 mark in AAA and .366 in AAA the year before and also had a sub-60% LOB rate. Both of these indicate that Keller was particularly unlucky or hurt by poor defense, a scenario that’s supported by his 3.19 FIP and 3.47 xFIP last year. I’d expect an ERA in the high three's with good strikeout numbers, which makes him an intriguing arm to breakout without having to draft him all that high.

 

Lucas Sims, Cincinnati Reds

SP4 (if he gets a rotation spot)

Damn the Reds and their solid addition of Wade Miley. The veteran lefty gives the Reds four locked-in starters: Miley, Trevor Bauer, Luis Castillo, and Sonny Gray, which means Sims could either compete for the 5th spot in the rotation with oft-injured Anthony DeSclafani or be moved back to the bullpen. For the purposes of this endeavor, let’s assume he gets a crack at the starting job in the preseason; there is a decent amount to like. In addition to the noticeable difference in expected stats in the table above, Sims’ improvement last year was borne out by a 4.12 FIP in AAA and the highest K% of his career at 30% during Triple-A and 32.2% in the Majors. He also saw a 12% drop in hard contact rate from 2018 and a drop in his walk rate by 6%.

He has three solid offerings with a fastball that moves 10 inches towards a right-handed batter despite a league average horizontal movement of 7 inches, a slider that has a horizontal movement of 12 inches despite a league average of 6, and a curve that moves 2 inches more horizontally than major league average. The curve also had a pVAL of 5.5 last year, which would have been good for 15th best had he qualified with the right amount of innings thrown. His 14.9% SwStr% would have put him 10th in the league behind Lucas Giolito, which suggests that strikeout upside is real. If he wins the job, he could be dinged a bit by pitching in a hitter’s park, but I see a path to a sub-4.00 ERA with good strikeout numbers despite a high walk rate.

 

Justus Sheffield, Seattle Mariners

End-of-Draft Stash

Once an (over) hyped Yankees prospect, Sheffield posted a 5.50 ERA in 36 innings with Seattle last year but a more concerning 6.87 ERA in Triple-A. However, he dominated AA with a 2.19 ERA, which gave some people cause for optimism. After all, Sheffield is still only 23-years-old, and the large discrepancy in his expected OBA versus his wOBA gives us a reason to dive in again. While a .321 xwOBA seems high on the surface, it puts him in the same boat as Pablo Lopez, Caleb Smith, Robbie Ray, and Chase Anderson. His xBA last year was .245 which came in well below his actual BAA of .303, and the difference in his SLG allowed and xSLG was also a sizable .092. Part of that has to do with him only giving up 16.5% hard contact, but it also feels a little fluky.

Sheffield has strikeout upside with a strong 22% K% during his major league stint last year. He has a 93 MPH fastball that he can get up to 95, which is solid from the left side, and pairs with that a slider that drops two inches more than league average that he throws 35.7% of the time. However, his ceiling is currently limited by only being a two-pitch pitcher. He has some untapped upside to emerge as an SP4 in fantasy leagues, but that’s not the type of upside that you’ll be cursing yourself for missing out on if somebody swoops before the last rounds of the draft.

 

Elieser Hernandez, Miami Marlins

Waiver Wire Watch

The beauty of fantasy baseball is that something we find value in the unlikeliest of places. Coming into the year, many people thought the Miami Marlins would be a glorified minor league team, but we all took turns falling in love with Caleb Smith, Pablo Lopez, and Zac Gallen (until he was traded). Is it time to add Elieser Hernandez's name to that list? Not likely. However, his expected stats can put him on our list of pitchers to watch in the early weeks of the season.

He had an elite exit velocity against, which helped him to an xBA of only .209, sizably lower than his .242 final numbers. He also pitched to a .391 xSLG, which was a full .112 points below the actual slugging percentage he allowed. It was his age 24 season and only his second crack at the major, but he dropped walk % by 2.1 points and raised his K % by a whopping 8.2 points. His slider had a 7 pVAL and has almost double the league average horizontal movement. At the end of the day, he's not going to win you fantasy leagues, but he's a young pitcher with an above-average SwkStrk who induces soft fly balls in a pitcher's park. It's not going to be pretty, but there is a scenario where it is useful.

 

Darwinzon Hernandez, Boston Red Sox

Who Knows?

I have no idea where Hernandez pitches for the Red Sox this season, but his underlying metrics suggest that he needs to be mentioned on this list. He had the fifth-largest discrepancy between xwOBA and wOBA of any pitcher with over 100 plate appearances against, and his .159 xBA trailed only Josh Hader with the same qualifications. What's most impressive is that the average suppressing was done with both of his most frequently used pitches. His fastball registered a .154 xBA, .269 xwOBA, and.205 xSLG), which his slider finished with a .177 xBA,.240 xwOBA, and .277 xSLG. He had a solid 13.7 SwStrk% and saw his K% finish at 38.8% in his first big league stint.

He currently seems slotted to begin the year out of the bullpen, but the Red Sox are also trying to move David Price to clear salary cap, which could free up a rotation spot for the 23-year-old. If he stays in the bullpen, there is a chance that he could work himself into high-leverage situations and perhaps become useful in SV/HLD leagues. Spring Training will be big for him, but he has the tools to be a strong fantasy contributor.

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Madison Bumgarner to Diamondbacks - Fantasy Impact

The Arizona Diamondbacks signed three-time World Series champion Madison Bumgarner to a five-year, $85 million contract in the middle of December. This will be the first time in 11 seasons that Bumgarner will not take the hill for the San Francisco Giants, but instead will head the rotation of their division rivals.

The Diamondbacks finished the 2019 season with a decent 85-77 record. The Diamondbacks finished with the 12th-best ERA and have some intriguing younger arms, but lacked a true head of staff after trading Zack Greinke. This will be Bumgarner's role on the team, although he does have a lot of mileage on his arm, entering his 12th season at age 30.

How impactful can Bumgarner be with his new team and what does his change mean for his fantasy players? Taking a closer look at some of his advanced metrics can help us answer these questions.

 

Aging Ace, What's Left in the Tank?

MadBum has been one of baseball's premier workhorse starters over the past decade, bringing home World Series championships in 2010, 2012, and 2014 and taking home the World Series MVP award in 2014. Then came the infamous dirt bike injury in 2017 and the unlucky hand injury in 2018. There was concern in the fantasy community that Bumgarner would not be able to fully recover to the ace level he once was on. However, Bumgarner posted higher-end numbers in 2019, going 9-9 with a 3.90 ERA, an 8.80 K/9 rate, and a 1.86 BB/9 rate over 207 ⅔ innings pitched. This was certainly an encouraging sign, but what can his underlying stats tell us about his potential performance in 2020?

There were some good and not-so-good signs behind MadBum's peripherals. We'll start with the good. First, Bumgarner has never thrown all that hard, but he regained some of his fastball after really not having it in 2018 (fastball 91.4 MPH in 2019 vs 90.8 MPH in 2018, cutter 87.2 MPH in 2019 vs 85.5 MPH in 2018). Just as importantly, Bumgarner was able to get much more spin on his fastballs (87th percentile of baseball), leading to an increase in swinging-strike rate on both pitches (9.1% in 2019 vs 4.7% in 2018 for fastball, 13.5% in 2019 vs 11.8% in 2018 for cutter). The improved fastballs, in combination with his great curveball led to a noticeable bump in his strikeout rate (24.1% vs 19.8% in 2018), a respectable mark for a fantasy starter.

We'll now move to the not so good. Bumgarner's 2019 batted-ball profile is the biggest concern for his future success. We saw a potentially deadly duo of both an increase in hard-hit rate (41.4% vs 35.3%) and launch angle (17.4 degrees vs 12.6 degrees). The hard-hit rate is particularly concerning, as it was in the bottom 10 percent of baseball. The effects of his batted-ball profile were reflected in his 4.15 SIERA, which, while not awful, was not what fantasy players have come to expect from him (3.49 career SIERA). It certainly affected his ERA, which was a career-high for Bumgarner.

 

A Move to Less-Friendly Confines

We have identified some flaws that could hurt Bumgarner in 2020; what part could a new home field play? Bumgarner has spent his career in one of baseball's most pitcher-friendly parks; Oracle Park was baseball's most pitcher-friendly park in 2019 per ESPN's park factors. While he is an excellent pitcher, it is easier to get away with a mediocre batted-ball profile when you have the field in your favor. The move to Chase Field would have been alarming a few years ago, but, with the installation of the humidor, the field slightly favored pitchers in 2019. The move won't be horrible for MadBum, but it is still a downgrade.

The good thing about the move is that Bumgarner will have a much-improved offense backing him up. The Giants had one of baseball's lowest OPS', compared to the Diamondbacks, who were in the top half of baseball in OPS. Further, the Diamondbacks scored almost a run more per game than the Giants. The bottom line is that the move for Bumgarner will be a slight downgrade in home-field advantage but an upgrade in terms of getting offensive run support and, hopefully, more win opportunities.

 

2020 Outlook

Currently, per NFBC draft data, Bumgarner is the 38th pitcher (starters and relievers) to come off of the board with an average draft position of about 117. This seems reasonable, as it slots him as about a number-three starter in 12-team leagues. Given his relatively high floor but downgraded ceiling, slotting Bumgarner into your fantasy rotation as a number three starter seems like an appropriate value.

While signs do point to some negative regression, Bumgarner has an excellent track record of pitching at least 200 innings when healthy with a strong ERA and decent strikeout numbers. He will certainly be a fantasy contributor and will benefit from being on a more competitive team this season. Given your pitching needs during your drafts, it would be reasonable to take MadBum as early as pick 100.

Overall, Bumgarner is slated to take a step back, but should still be a solid fantasy contributor. His batted-ball profile could punish him more in Chase Field than Oracle Park, but his new team should set him up to win more games in 202o. He should be targeted as a number-three starter in your fantasy rotation this season.

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Exit Velocity Pitching Leaders - Statcast 2019 Review

Ah, winter, the true dead zone of baseball coverage. The new champs have been crowned, vacation plans are made, the awards are being handed out and the winter meetings getting underway. Sounds like the perfect time to review some Statcast data in preparation of 2020 fantasy drafts.

Exit velocity has become one of the more commonly-known advanced metrics among the common fan and while it's mostly used for hitters, there's much to be learned by analyzing what pitchers are giving up the least hard contact as well. The batter typically has more say in how hard a ball is hit, but the pitchers below have shown a strong ability to limit hard contact over a large sample size.

To keep things focused on starters, we'll mostly be looking at a sample size of 129 pitchers that experienced at least 300 batted ball events (BBE) in 2019. The median exit velocity among those pitchers is 88.0 miles per hour which is the exact same as it was in 2018, so we have a consistent baseline to work with. To read about the exit velocity and barrel leaders among hitters, click here.

 

Ryan Yarbrough, Tampa Bay Rays

Atop the exit velocity leaderboard sits Ryan Yarbrough, who absolutely dominated the category in 2019. Yarbrough's 84.1 average exit velocity was a whopping 1.1 mile per hour better than the next closest pitcher, a big difference when you consider the range between the top and bottom pitcher is just 6.7 MPH. 2019 wasn't a fluke for Yarbrough either, he was 11th among pitchers in 2018 with an 85.5 average exit velocity so this is now two straight years and over 850 BBE where the 27-year-old lefty has been elite at allowing soft contact.

Yarbrough should be a popular breakout pick heading into 2020 as his 3.55 FIP was much better than his 4.13 ERA. He also improved in the second half of the season, upping his strikeout rate by four percent over the first half and pitched to a 3.79 ERA and sub-1 WHIP after the All-Star break. Yarbrough is a pitcher that can be drafted in the double-digit rounds but can make a big impact on your fantasy team.

 

Kyle Hendricks, Chicago Cubs

Kyle Hendricks was Mr. Consistency in 2019 as his 85.2 MPH average exit velocity was the same as it was in 2018. In fact, Hendricks has been among the most reliable pitchers in the game in this department for some time; he has finished eighth or better in average exit velocity every season dating back to 2016. Hendricks is among the most extreme contact pitchers in the game as he doesn't generate a ton of strikeouts or walks. He generally keeps the ball on the ground and has proven his extreme soft contact numbers aren't a fluke as he's been elite in the category four straight years.

Hendricks won't blow anyone away with a gaudy strikeout total, but he can still be a consistent, know-what-you're-getting starting pitcher that any fantasy manager would be happy to have as a middle-of-the-rotation starter that can be drafted in the middle rounds.

 

Brandon Woodruff, Milwaukee Brewers

Of all the pitchers atop the average exit velocity leaderboard, Brandon Woodruff is the one that seems to have the most actionable data. His 2.6 percent barrels per plate appearance was easily the best rate in the Majors, meaning he showed a strong ability to avoid the sweet-spot of the bat. Additionally, while his 85.6 MPH average exit velocity was sixth in the league, he was second in baseball in exit velocity on fly balls and line drives, something that is very important pitching in homer-friendly Miller Park.

Woodruff struck out 10.6 batters per nine innings last season and his 3.36 xFIP was better than his 3.62 ERA. Despite an average-looking 3.62 ERA, he is on the short-list for pitchers poised to have a breakout season in 2020.

 

Zack Wheeler, New York Mets

Wheeler has been in the news because of his $118 million deal with the Phillies. They must have already known that he was on the leaderboard in this category. His average exit velocity actually went up from 2018 to 2019 but he still finished 11th in the category after finishing fourth in 2018, so he's now put up back-to-back seasons being among the best at avoiding hard contact. Like Woodruff, Wheeler was also even better on balls in the air as his average exit velocity on fly balls and line drives ranked fifth in the league after being second in that department in 2018.

Wheeler was top-five in the Majors in hard contact rate and shows no reason he can't carry his success into the new year, especially since he stays in the same division. In addition to two years of positive Statcast data, Wheeler struck out a batter per inning last season and his 3.48 FIP was better than his 3.96 ERA. Wheeler should be in the SP3 mix come draft season with upside to finish much higher if he can put up close to the 195 1/3 innings he threw this past season.

 

Julio Urias, Los Angeles Dodgers

Julio Urias pitched mostly out of the bullpen last season and therefore doesn't quite make the 300 BBE threshold we've been using. However, it would be remiss not to mention the average exit velocity leader in this space. In 209 BBE, Urias allowed an average exit velocity of just 83.2 MPH, almost a full mile per hour better than Yarbrough who was already way ahead of the pack. Urias was the only pitcher with at least 200 BBE to allow fewer than 25 percent of them to be hit 95+ MPH.

Yes, pitching out of the bullpen is typically considered easier as pitchers can exert more force into each pitch, but Urias still had a great season by the Statcast metrics. Throw in a 26.1 percent strikeout rate and it's clear why Urias is considered a top pitching prospect. The pitching-rich Dodgers are always going to cycle through starting pitchers, but Urias should get his chance to start this season and when he does, he's a guy fantasy managers will want on their squad.

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Gerrit Cole To Yankees - Fantasy Impact

Cue up the Star Wars music, the Evil Empire landed their man. The biggest free agent of the MLB offseason is officially off the board, as first reported by Jon Heyman of MLB Network. Gerrit Cole and the New York Yankees are in agreement on a nine-year $324 million contract.

Cole's contract is the largest for a starting pitcher in MLB history, blowing away the seven-year $245 million contract Stephen Strasburg signed Monday to keep him in Washington. The deal is the fourth-largest in the Majors in terms of the total dollar amount, but Cole's $36 million AAV is the largest in baseball, narrowly edging out the $35.5 million per season Mike Trout earns with the Angels.

So, we know Christmas morning will be epic in the Cole household, but what can we expect from the ace in the Big Apple and what impact will it have on our fantasy teams?

 

Cole Mining

Two years ago, the notion that Cole would be the highest-paid pitcher in baseball was laughable. Not that Cole was a total scrub with the Pirates; he had a couple of 200 inning seasons and posted a 2.60 ERA in 2015 while making the All-Star team. He didn't get an All-Star nod the next two seasons, posting ERAs of 3.88 and 4.26 and striking out fewer than one batter per inning. He was a solid mid-rotation arm at that point but he wasn't living up to the hype that is associated with being the number one overall pick in the MLB Draft.

Houston saw something they liked in Cole and acquired the right-hander ahead of the 2018 season. Cole's career trajectory (and bank account) would never be the same as the Astros worked their magic on Cole, transforming him from a frustrating starter with upside into a legitimate ace and Cy Young contender.

Cole was spectacular in two seasons with the Astros, pitching over 200 innings each season with a sub-3 ERA and over 600 strikeouts total. 2019, in particular, was a historically dominant season where Cole won 20 games and pitched to a 2.50 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, and an insane 326 strikeouts in 212.1 innings, all career bests. He finished second in AL Cy Young voting to (now former) teammate Justin Verlander and was the second-most valuable player in fantasy according to aggregate rankings in traditional 5x5 rotisserie leagues. He wasn't done there, adding 36.1 innings of postseason baseball where he posted an impressive 1.72 ERA with a 0.87 WHIP and 47 more strikeouts.

Cole backed up those strong surface numbers with equally-impressive advanced stats. His 2.48 xFIP was the best in baseball, a full 0.4 runs lower than second-place Max Scherzer. His 2.62 SIERA was also best in the bigs and shows his ERA was right where it should be based on his skill.

The main thing Houston changed with Cole was relying more on his four-seam fastball and cutter while abandoning his sinker. Cole threw his four-seamer over 53 percent of the time in both seasons with Houston after using it just 42 percent of the time in 2017 with Pittsburgh. He also abandoned his sinker in favor of throwing his slider and cutter more often and the results speak for themselves.

Cole went from a pitcher with a 23-24 percent strikeout rate guy in Pittsburgh to the most dominant strikeout pitcher in baseball. Cole put up an elite 34.5 K% in 2018 before blowing that number out of the water with an obscene 39.9 percent mark in 2019. Cole's 13.82 K/9 was the best in baseball by a country mile and he did it with a walk rate below six percent.

When batters did make contact, it was often weak as Cole's 33.9 percent hard contact allowed was 12th best among qualified starters with his 87.3 percent average exit velocity being well above MLB average. Any way you slice it, Cole was elite over the past two seasons and now the Yankees are hoping it wasn't just "Astros Magic" that morphed him into a true ace.

 

2020 Outlook

So what can we expect from Cole in his new home besides more time spent in traffic?

To expect better, or even the same, results from the season Cole just put up is probably unrealistic and unfair, even for the standard Yankee fans hold for their big free-agent signings. Cole's BABIP and strand rate were both better than his career marks and while some of that can be explained by Cole simply being better than he'd been most of his career, they also could regress to the mean a little in 2020.

The good news for Cole is he could regress back to even his 2018 season and still be among the best starting pitchers in the game. He'll continue to post a strikeout rate well above 30 percent and should win plenty of games backed by a strong Yankees lineup. The gains he made in his pitching repertoire should carry over to New York so there's no reason to think he'll suddenly morph back into the pre-Houston version of himself. At age 29 with just under 2000 career innings pitched, he should have plenty of gas left in the tank. Cole is one of only a handful of starters we can project to have an ERA below three and a WHIP below one across 200 innings.

Yankee Stadium is a harder park to pitch in than Minute Maid Park, especially for right-handed pitchers. According to ESPN's park factors, Yankee Stadium has a 1.265 rating on home runs allowed, the second-highest behind only Coors Field in Denver. Houston is more of a neutral park with a deeper right field than Yankee Stadium's famous short porch that Cole will now have to contend with. While another ball or two may leave the yard pitching in Yankee Stadium, that's no reason to shy away from Cole.

Overall, there's no reason to suspect Cole won't be among the best starters in the game. He offers more strikeout upside than any other pitcher and we've already seen him be among the most valuable pitchers in fantasy, twice. The case can be made for Cole to be drafted as early as sixth overall in drafts this spring and those that want his services will have to spend a first-round pick to do so.

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SP Strikeout Risers: 2019 Season Review

For the last four seasons, MLB has seen an increase in strikeout rate (K%). Since 2015, K% has increased from 20.4% to 23.0%. We’ve also seen an increase in walk rates and a poorer league-wide ERA. Those trends can make it difficult to assess whether a pitcher is actually better at inducing swings and misses.

Despite that potential difficulty, K% is critical in evaluating a pitcher’s future success: as one half of K-BB%, and a significant component in a number of ERA predictors, strikeouts help explain changes in a player’s performance and indicate future performance.

Without further ado, here are 2019’s biggest K% risers:

 

Top Strikeout Risers (SP)

Player K% Change
Lucas Giolito 16.2%
Frankie Montas 10.9%
Mike Clevinger 8.3%
Elieser Hernandez 8.2%
Wilmer Font 7.9%
Sonny Gray 7.9%
Matthew Boyd 7.8%
Luke Weaver 6.6%
Homer Bailey 6.2%
Shane Bieber 5.9%
Luis Castillo 5.6%
Gerrit Cole 5.4%
Martin Perez 5.2%
Lance Lynn 5.1%
Andrew Heaney 4.9%

 

Lucas Giolito, Chicago White Sox
2018 K-Rate: 16.1%; 2019 K-Rate: 32.3%

It’s no surprise to see Giolito’s name at the top of this list. He was a late-round buy in most leagues, and his ascent to ace-status was directly paralleled by his K%. The increase in his K% was unrivaled this season, and it helped him to finish the season as SP13 in standard formats. His 32.3% strikeout rate was the fourth-highest among qualified starters with 228 total strikeouts. The improvement came from a combination of improved control and velocity, which forced batters to chase more frequently and induced more swinging strikes.

Frankie Montas, Oakland Athletics
2018 K-Rate: 15.2%; 2019 K-Rate: 26.1%

It’s hard to say exactly how much of Montas’ growth was tied to the PEDs, but we do know that he added a splitter, and he was just 25 years old entering last season. Montas has always thrown heat, so we should not dismiss his progress. In 2019, he threw fewer pitches in the zone than he has at any point in his career, and he did that while maintaining a 60.7% first-pitch strike rate and achieving the best O-Swing% (32.7%) and Swing% (49.1%) of his career. It’s possible that the PEDs allowed Montas to throw harder with less effort and thus improved his control, but it certainly seems like we’re talking about more development than that.

Mike Clevinger, Cleveland Indians
2018 K-Rate: 25.6%; 2019 K-Rate: 33.9%

On a certain level, this was the season that Mike Clevinger was supposed to have. By that, I mean that pre-season expectations were already sky-high for Clevinger proponents. After all, he finished 2018 with a 3.02 ERA and 169 Ks in 200 IP. In 2019, however, Clevinger’s strikeout rate shot up, and his 33.9% sits right between Max Scherzer’s 35.1% and Giolito’s 32.3%. Of course, Clevinger only threw 126 IP due to injuries, but on a certain level, that makes his strikeout rate even more impressive. The Cleveland righthander increased his fastball velocity to 95.5 MPH and his swinging-strike rate from 12.0% to 15.2%. Those changes combined with a lower BB%, and they forced batters into pitcher-friendly counts far more often than 2018.

Elieser Hernandez, Miami Marlins
2018 K-Rate: 15.9%; 2019 K-Rate: 24.1%

Inconsistency defined Hernandez’s 2019 season. He did pitch six games in relief, but in a surprise, he struck out batters more frequently when he was starting, so he’s on this list for having bumped his strikeout rate by 8.2%. Despite not being a high-velocity or high-whiff pitcher, Hernandez’s strikeout rate of 24.1% is much closer to the 25% he managed in the minors. Unfortunately, Hernandez struggled in the second half of the season, and those struggles directly correlated to his inability to earn strikeouts after the All-Star break. Notably, Hernandez’s O-Swing% seemed to fluctuate in similar patterns to his strikeouts and overall success. That pattern was definitely tied to his pitch use. The more Hernandez relied on his fastball, the more he tended to struggle. When he used his changeup and slider more frequently, he improved his O-Swing% and saw greater success. If he can rely less on his fastball, he’s a candidate to take a step forward in 2020.

Sonny Gray, Cincinnati Reds
2018 K-Rate: 21.1%; 2019 K-Rate: 29.0%

As MLB’s league-wide K% increased over the last three years, Gray’s personal rate stagnated during his time with the Yankees. Gray asserts that New York asked him to change his approach and to use his slider in more situations than he wanted. After arriving in Cincinnati, Gray used his curve more frequently and threw fewer fastballs. However, he actually threw more sliders than he did in either season with the Yankees. Interestingly, even though the Reds did less to push the pitch, Gray used it to generate 68% more swinging strikes than in 2018. If Gray is to be believed, the change was simply about how and when he was using the slider. If that change is lasting, Gray may well be a poor man’s Patrick Corbin.

Matthew Boyd, Detroit Tigers
2018 K-Rate: 22.4%; 2019 K-Rate: 30.2%

Boyd’s hot run at the start of the season garnered plenty of attention. The Detroit righty started throwing his best pitch, his slider, more and more. From March through July, Boyd used his slider 37.1% of the time. That peaked in July when he was throwing it at a rate of 41%. Unfortunately, he struggled in the second half, and there was a definite correlation to how much he was using his curve and slider during those months. In late July and early August, Boyd was throwing his slider almost as much as his fastball, and it appears that hitters responded by starting to wait for the slider. During his August and September, the ISO against Boyd’s slider spiked to .220 and .350 respectively. His K% dropped to 25.0 during those months, and his ERA jumped accordingly. It’s not clear where that leaves him. Certainly, the ability is there, and Boyd showed he’s capable of adjusting to how hitters approach him, but he may not be able to recapture the same level of strikeout success in 2020.

Luke Weaver, Arizona Diamondbacks
2018 K-Rate: 19.9%; 2019 K-Rate: 26.5%

Coming into 2019, we all knew what Luke Weaver was: a guy with two strong pitches and limited strikeout ability once the league had scouted him. During the 2018-2019 offseason, Weaver retooled his curveball and decided to bring back the cutter he used in 2016. The change allowed Weaver to be far more dynamic. Despite throwing his fastball and changeup less frequently, the pitches generated higher pVal scores (a volume-based metric). Weaver advanced in nearly every facet of batter-hitter contests: he set career bests in O-Swing% (30.2), Z-Swing (46.4), and SwStr% (10.4). Weaver’s final K total of 69 in 64.1 IP was modest because he spent most of the year recovering from a forearm strain and UCL strain, but 2019 gave plenty of reasons for optimism about the 26-year-old.

Homer Bailey, Free Agent
2018 K-Rate: 15.2%; 2019 K-Rate: 21.4%

The change in Bailey’s K% isn’t a revelation or personal overhaul as much as a return to health. The last time Homer Bailey had more than 30 starts in a season was 2013, when he was 27 and managed a K% of 23.4%. Bailey has lost two MPH since then, and his splitter has become his best pitch, but he looks like the same pitcher he was for the last two seasons, just with better health. If he’s healthy to start 2020, he’s worth a late-round flyer for next season. Managers shouldn’t rely on more than 100 IP from him. Steamer projects Bailey at 142 IP, but he’s averaged only 90.3 IP since 2014.

Shane Bieber, Cleveland Indians
2018 K-Rate: 24.3%; 2019 K-Rate: 30.2%

Which superlatives best describe Bieber’s season? Extraordinary? Exceptional? Electric? The Cleveland right-hander started his sophomore season as a promising arm who projected as a top-25 starter, and he now seems like a contender for next year’s Cy Young. Bieber’s K% surged to 30.2%, which was good enough for 10th among qualified leaders. In 2019, he threw all of his breaking pitches harder than the year before. Bieber also seems to have made it harder to distinguish between his slider and curve; the pair confounded hitters, and Bieber used the combination to achieve a 35% O-Swing% and a 14.0% SwSt%. Managers should see him as one of the more reliable arms in the early draft.

Luis Castillo, Cincinnati Reds
2018 K-Rate: 23.3%; 2019 K-Rate: 28.9%
Castillo might be the most interesting story of all the names here. In 2019, he dropped his fastball use to a mere 30% and increased his changeup to 32%. He was able to get away with that change because he still throws his sinker at 96 MPH and because he added movement to his changeup. The result was improvement across the board. Batters chased more pitches outside the zone, they watched more pitches inside the zone, and they swung and missed at a rate of 15.9% (4th best among qualified starters). Castillo’s inconsistency may scare off some owners, but the strikeout ability is real.

 

Honorable Mentions

Gerrit Cole, Free Agent
2018 K-Rate: 34.5%; 2019 K-Rate: 39.9%

The league’s best pitcher right now, striking out fools at a nearly 40% clip. Elite reliever K%, but seven innings at a time. Unreal.

Martin Perez, Free Agent
2018 K-Rate: 13.1%; 2019 K-Rate: 18.3%

Through June, he was averaging a 21.3 K% and a 3.74 FIP. Somehow only 28 years old and showing the best plate discipline numbers of his career. He’s worth a flier in deep leagues.

Lance Lynn, Texas Rangers
2018 K-Rate: 23.0%; 2019 K-Rate: 28.1%
At the age of 32, he increased his velocity for the second year in a row and set a career-high in strikeouts. I keep thinking about Charlie Morton.

Andrew Heaney, Los Angeles Angels
2018 K-Rate: 24.0%; 2019 K-Rate: 28.9%

Velocity seems back to 2016 levels, but he managed only 95.1 IP this year.

 

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2019 Season in Review - Shane Bieber

In each of the past three seasons, MLB has held a "Player's Weekend" where one of the promotions is players having the ability to wear a nickname on the back of their jersey. For both of his MLB seasons, Indians starting pitcher Shane Bieber has worn "Not Justin" on the back of his uniform. After the season he just put up, however, pretty soon teenage girls will need to buy tickets to see "Not Shane: Live In Concert" when attending a Justin Bieber show. I kid, of course, but Bieber, the pitcher, just put up a fantastic season launching himself into the fantasy ace conversation and shows no signs he can't replicate this type of season moving forward.

Bieber finished his sophomore campaign 15-8 with a 3.28 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and a whopping 259 strikeouts in 214.1 innings pitched.  He finished fourth in American League Cy Young voting and was voted the MVP of the All-Star game, albeit with a little hometown bias seeing as how the game was played in Cleveland. Bieber was a popular breakout candidate coming into the season, but even the most optimistic projections couldn't have predicted he'd be so dominant so quickly at the Major League level.

So what made Bieber so successful? And can he continue this level of dominance in 2020 and beyond?

 

A True Breakout

The advanced metrics behind his incredible season all point to yes. Bieber's strong 3.28 ERA was backed up by plenty of skill-based ERA metrics that suggest his ERA was right where it deserved to be. Bieber's 3.36 SIERA was fifth among all qualified starters and his 3.32 FIP and 3.23 xFIP were both top-15 in baseball. Whatever skill-based ERA metric you prefer, Bieber was great at it.

But it's not just the ERA that made Bieber such a fantasy asset this season. His 259 strikeouts were third in baseball behind only Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole of the Astros. Bieber racked up the strikeouts thanks to an elite 30.2 percent strikeout rate, one of only 10 starters to have a K% over 30 percent. On the other side of the spectrum, he posted a walk rate of just 4.7 percent to justify his sterling 1.05 WHIP.

All of these numbers suggest 2019 was no fluke for the 24-year-old righty and the improvements he made to his arsenal should lead to more great seasons to come.

The main difference between 2018 and 2019 for Bieber was less reliance on his average 93.4 MPH four-seam fastball and making improvements to his secondary offerings. In 2018, Bieber threw the heater over 57 percent of the time but cut that number back to 45 percent in 2019. Less turned out to be more for Bieber as batters hit just .226 against the four-seamer this season compared to .306 in 2018.

Scaling back on the fastball allowed Bieber to focus more on his wipeout slider that batters hit just .206 against this season. In fact, all of Bieber's offerings improved based on his weighted pitch values.

Weighted pitch values are an advanced metric that attempts to measure how many runs a pitcher allows per pitch, based on 100 pitches. Despite having a decent 2018, three of Bieber's four pitches finished the season with a negative pitch value. That changed dramatically this past season with three of the four being positive and even his changeup, improving from a -3.44 weighted value in 2018 to just -0.37 in 2019.

Everything Bieber showed us this past season screams improvement and given his youth and Cleveland's recent success developing young arms it's hard to see how anyone can doubt the numbers he put up in 2019 which brings us to the main question of how we should value Bieber going into 2020.

 

2020 Outlook

First of all, if you own Bieber in any kind of keeper or dynasty league, congratulations! You've got yourself one of the bright young arms in the game and you should hold him as long as league rules allow. But what about redraft? Bieber is still a step behind the Max Scherzer's and Jacob deGrom's of the world that get picked in the first or second round but he's not too far behind. Bieber should come into play starting in round three, especially if you start your team with two hitters.

Bieber is on the fast track to becoming one of the safest SP1s in fantasy. All pitchers carry inherent injury risk, that's just the nature of the position, but Bieber seems as equipped as anyone to handle a full starter's workload. His 214.1 innings this past season were the second-most in the majors and he threw 194.1 innings between the majors and minors in 2018. Cleveland has a reputation for letting their starters go deep into games with Bieber and other starters like Trevor Bauer regularly throwing around 120 pitches. He threw three complete games last season, two shutouts, and had 11 starts with at least nine strikeouts.

His arm is as strong as anyone and he's as safe a bet as anyone to throw 200-plus innings again in 2020. He should be able to do that with a low-3 ERA and another impressive strikeout total. Draft Bieber with confidence as your SP1 and enjoy watching one of the next great American League pitchers dominate lineups like the Tigers and Royals with regularity.




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2019 Season in Review - Trevor Bauer

Trevor Bauer disappointed fantasy managers everywhere in 2019 after a dominant 2018 campaign where he finished sixth in AL Cy Young voting. Setting career-bests with a 2.21 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and 221 strikeouts in 175.1 IP (30.8% K%), the 28-year-old entered the 2019 draft season as a top-10 pitcher with an ADP of 31. His results were far from what anyone expected, including his own team, as the Cleveland Indians were forced to deal Bauer away to the National League at the deadline.

While the switch in leagues may seem like a drastic change on the surface, the reality was it was only a 250-mile move down the highway to play for the Cincinnati Reds. The change in scenery failed to make a difference with Bauer's already slumping season, however, as he finished the year with an 11-13 record, 4.48 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and a 27.8% K-rate. The end result was a far cry from his Cy Young-candidate numbers the year before.

When we dive into Bauer's stats from this past season, we see a lot of similarities from 2018 and beyond that make him one of the top strikeout arms in the game. On the flip side, it appears batters made an adjustment to the former All-Star and capitalized on his pitching tendencies to help him allow the second-most runs in the entire league. Let's take a look at where it all went wrong for Bauer in 2019.

 

Bauer Outage?

The most egregious area where Bauer lacked was in his inability to keep the ball in the park. After finishing the 2018 campaign with a 0.46 HR/9, he entered the 2019 season with a career 0.98 mark, a figure that catapulted to 1.44 last season. That was bad enough for a bottom-15 number in all of baseball. His HR/FB paralleled these numbers by soaring up nearly 10% from 6.2% in 2018 to 15.3% in 2019 after coming into the year with an 11.0% lifetime mark. We knew some negative regression would happen in these areas going into the season, but nowhere near these catastrophic levels.

So, where do we lay the blame for this home run vulnerability? The obvious place to look is at his uptick in fly balls allowed (28.2% FB%), which hit a six-year high after three-straight years with numbers at 23% or below. It wasn't purely the fact that Bauer gave up more balls in the air than normal that caused the 34-homer outburst; it was the way hitters attacked his fastball.

Bauer has a six-pitch arsenal, but the 20 long balls given up last year on his four-seamer would make you think otherwise. Opposing batters targeted this delivery early and often by swatting seven homers on the first pitch of an at-bat, and another seven on the second offering. Bauer leans heavily on his 94.8 MPH heater to get ahead in the count early with a 45.6% usage to begin an AB. His cutter was his next favored first pitch offering with a 22.2% usage, so batters had a strong inkling a breaking ball wasn't coming.

With a wipeout slider and a devastating curveball, it's no wonder hitters attacked Bauer more often early in their ABs. Whether or not he adjusts his approach next year to rectify these mistakes remains to be seen, but his staggering HR stats should pull back closer to the mean in 2020.

 

Bauer-ful Arm

Bauer's K-rate may have declined 3% from 2018 to 2019, but it wasn't enough to push him out of the league's top-five in strikeout totals. A career-high 213.0 innings pitched last season aided the former third-overall pick to reach 253 punchouts in his time split between the two leagues.

Despite his four-seamer getting hit harder than ever, it made batters swing-and-miss more often with a 21.7% Whiff%, the highest mark of his career. He paired his gas with a slider to sit down right-handers (44.1% Whiff%) and a curveball to finish lefties (32.1% Whiff%), both elite-level marks. These deliveries led to a near 6% increase from 2018 in batters whiffing on balls out of the zone (56.2% O-Contact%), the problem was they swung more often when it was going to be a strike.

When hitters saw the fastball in the zone, they took advantage of it with a 69.5% Swing%, up from a 61.7% mark in 2018. Contrary to these numbers, opponents took Bauer's slider for a strike more often with a 57.1% Swing% in the zone, a massive 18.8% drop from the season before.

Bauer's .272 BA against his four-seamer versus his .177 BA off his breaking balls is a telling tale of why batters chose to be aggressive early. Opponents sat fastball and destroyed it in 2019, but when he was able to get ahead in two-strike counts, he made no mistake by putting them away with his breaking pitches.

 

2020 Outlook

After Bauer sealed his fate by launching the game ball over the center-field fence instead of handing it over to manager Terry Francona, his landing spot at hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark was less than ideal. While it's true that he struggled more with the Reds in his two-month sample (6.39 ERA/1.35 WHIP), he actually fared well at GAB with a 3.55 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP in five starts.

Seeing his HR/9 balloon from 1.26 with the Indians to 1.92 with Cincinnati also carries some red flags. 2019 was his first season throwing more than 190 innings, and the first time in three seasons he eclipsed 177 IP. Perhaps his late-season home run susceptibility can be chalked up to fatigue or just a lack of focus on a non-contending team. Whatever the reason, Bauer has still shown an incredible ability to strike batters out and that skill doesn't appear to be faltering.

The 28-year-old will have to adapt to hitters in 2020 as they adjusted to him after his impressive 2018 campaign. He will have to throw more breaking balls earlier in counts next season to keep batters honest and not cheat on his four-seamer. Like most pitchers, Bauer is at his best when he's ahead in the count, and he'll be able to sneak his fastball by batters while they're guessing what's coming on a two-strike pitch. Positive regression will be on Bauer's side next season for a change as he'll undoubtedly look to rebound heading into his contract year.

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2019 Season in Review - Blake Snell

Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell had an excellent 2019 season for someone that was considered to be a bust. Sure, the 2018 AL Cy Young award winner didn't live up to his 28th overall average draft position, but he wasn't the one who said to draft him that high... Throw in some time missed with an elbow injury and Snell has become an afterthought in the discussion of elite American League starters.

Snell's stat line from this past season isn't pretty. He went 6-8 with a 4.29 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, and 147 strikeouts. None of those numbers scream "fantasy ace" which is what he was drafted to be. However, if we take a look under the hood, Snell's skill-based numbers were actually remarkably similar to his 2018 season, making him a potential steal on draft day 2020.

So why the discrepancy between his 2018 and 2019 numbers? A lot of it boils down to an elbow injury that caused him to miss about two months and also some good old-fashioned bad baseball luck.

 

What Goes Up, Must Come Down

The elbow injury isn't something that can be predicted and should not affect him into next season. Snell underwent arthroscopic surgery to remove bone chips from his pitching elbow in late July. He recovered from that injury and make a few short appearances at the end of the season. He also started Game 3 of the ALDS vs Houston and threw 58 pitches the day before coming in for a two-out save in Game 4, so it's clear that fantasy managers don't need to worry about his elbow more than any typical starter.

The luck factor of his game, however, is where we can really see that his skill level is right where it's always been.

Before we proceed, let's make one thing clear. Snell is not as good as he was in 2018. He's also not as bad as he was in 2019. His skill-based metrics put him right in the middle of those two outlier seasons and are right up there with some of the best pitchers in the game. Among pitchers that threw at least 100 innings, Snell was 10th in the Majors with a 3.31 xFIP and 12th with a 3.56 SIERA. Both of those numbers are significantly better than his 4.29 ERA, which itself was inflated thanks to one start where he gave up six runs in a third of an inning. Toss out that one obvious clunker and his ERA is a much more respectable 3.79.

Throw in Snell's 3.32 FIP and all of the skill-based indicators suggest his ERA should have been much better than it was. In fact, Snell had the fifth-biggest gap between FIP and ERA suggesting he's due for positive regression moving forward. The regression seems even more obvious when you break down his batted ball data.

 

The Hard Facts

In 2018, Snell gave up 18.1 percent soft contact, 46.1 percent medium contact, and 35.7 percent hard contact.

In 2019, those numbers change to 18.6 percent hard contact, 46.6 percent medium contact, and 34.8 percent hard contact.

Sure, he gave up a few more line drives and pulled balls in 2019 than he did in 2018, but overall his batted ball profile is as consistent as you'll find in the bigs. The main differences in his two seasons come down to two key stats that are largely out of the pitcher's control: BABIP and HR/FB rate.

Snell was one of the unluckiest pitchers in baseball when it comes to batting average on balls in play (BABIP). His .343 BABIP against was the third-worst number in the Majors and over 100 points higher than the .241 figure batters hit against him in 2018. This caused his batting average against to shoot up from an elite .176 in 2018 all the way up to .240 in 2019. As we already examined, Snell's batted balls against were virtually the same as his Cy Young season so could things really be as simple as more balls falling in for hits?

That very well may be the case when we look at his home run to fly ball rate (HR/FB). Snell's HR/FB rate wasn't egregiously higher than league average this season, but it was almost five percent higher than his 2018 mark, a massive difference when talking about a one-season sample size.

More batters on base and more fly balls leaving the yard is generally not a recipe for pitching success. Add that on top of the fact Snell was a bit lucky in the BABIP and HR/FB rate departments in 2018 and you've got a third-round draft bust.

Based on what we've seen from Snell so far in his Major League career, expect him to bounce back in a big way in 2020. We've already seen his floor this past season, and even in a disappointing season, he put up 147 strikeouts in 107 innings. His 33.3 percent strikeout rate is among the best in the Majors. His 17.7 percent swinging-strike rate, one of the best predictive metrics for strikeout success, was by far the best in baseball. The strikeouts will be there for Snell and the rest of his numbers should bounce back in a big way. Pencil Snell in for ~12 wins to go along with a low-3.00 ERA and a ton of strikeouts.

This is an elite pitcher entering the prime of his career, coming off a down season. Treat Snell like a must-start fantasy ace that can be drafted a round or two behind what he cost this season.

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Statcast Pitcher Studs and Duds - wOBA-xwOBA Difference for Week 26

Welcome back to RotoBaller’s pitchers Statcast studs and duds article series for the final week of fantasy baseball! Each week we will select an advanced stat, choose two studs and two duds, and analyze what those stats could mean for future fantasy output.

We have sadly reached the end of the season, so I thought it would be interesting to go back to a metric that I used earlier in the season for it's predictive nature; wOBA-xwOBA. Now that the season is all but over, we can take a look at who ultimately outperformed and underachieved compared to what was expected of them.

Pitchers should perform towards their expected metrics over the course of the season, but it doesn't always line up that way. Identifying players who did not align with their expected metrics should be a fun (or frustrating) way to cap off the fantasy season. So without further ado, let's get started on the last week's article!

 

wOBA - xwOBA Difference Studs

For reference, the league-average wOBA against is .324 and the xwOBA is .318 (difference of .006). All stats current as of Monday, September 23, courtesy of BaseballSavant.com.

 

Matthew Boyd - Detroit Tigers

wOBA: .324, xwOBA: .298, Difference: .026

Our first wOBA-xwOBA stud caused quite the ruckus at the beginning of the season due to his hot start and high strikeout numbers. The strikeouts turned out to be legit, as Matthew Boyd has maintained an impressive 30.5% K rate over 181 1/3 innings pitched this season. The other metrics maybe not so much, as his 4.57 ERA and 1.22 WHIP have been mediocre at best. All that being said, the difference between his wOBA and expected wOBA suggests that he has been quite unlucky and should have had a solid wOBA compared to the rest of the league. Let's see if we can pinpoint where the bad luck came in for Boyd.

The interesting thing here is that nothing really stands out as a culprit. Boyd's 1.22 WHIP and 6.4% walk rate are both respectable and in line with his career numbers (1.32 and 7.4%). Further, his .304 BABIP is only slightly higher than his career .296. Looking into his batted-ball profile, his 18.5-degree launch angle is pretty high, but his 88.7-MPH average exit velocity and 35.6% hard-hit rate are middle-of-the-road.

The clear positives of Boyd's season have been his insane K rate (thanks to his filthy slider) and his SIERA; his 3.59 SIERA indicates that he has gotten quite unlucky based on his batted-ball results. The ultimate takeaway here is that, while he should have actually seen better results, Boyd helped out fantasy owners all season long due to his high strikeout numbers. While his current team doesn't help his value, he has shown that he can be relied on as a fantasy asset.

 

Noah Syndergaard - New York Mets

wOBA: .302, xwOBA: .279, Difference: .023

Our second wOBA-xwOBA stud has been a fantasy stud for several seasons but could only muster average numbers in 2019 despite having an above-average wOBA. Noah Syndergaard has gone 10-8 with a 4.22 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and 24.1% K rate. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, they almost certainly overpaid for him in single-season leagues. However, for those who have him in keeper or dynasty leagues, his xwOBA gives hope that he can rebound next season. Let's take a further dive into Thor's 2019 season. 

Like Boyd, Syndergaard presents somewhat of a puzzling case. His WHIP and walk rate (6.2%) were respectable and his .308 BABIP was actually slightly lower than his .313 career mark. His batted-ball profile was quite good; his average exit velocity (86.6 MPH) and hard-hit rate (31.9%) are both in the top 17% of baseball. Further, all of his expected stats (batting average, slugging percentage, wOBA) were above average, increasing the evidence for bad luck.

Like the Mets' season overall, things didn't go quite as planned for Thor this season. The good thing is that he showed many signs of still being a higher-end pitcher. I would expect some positive regression for Syndergaard next season and, hopefully, he can give fantasy owners more of what they had hoped for.

 

wOBA - xwOBA Difference Duds

For reference, the league-average wOBA against is .324 and the xwOBA is .318 (difference of .006). All stats current as of Monday, September 23, courtesy of BaseballSavant.com.

 

Mike Soroka - Atlanta Braves

wOBA: .270, xwOBA: .304, Difference: -.034

Our first wOBA-xwOBA dud has been excellent this season and is just 22 years old. Mike Soroka has gone 13-4 with an impressive 2.60 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and 19.9% K rate while pitching to contact. However, his xwOBA, while still quite good, is significantly higher than his actual wOBA. Should fantasy players be worried about negative regression for Soroka next season?

Fortunately, it seems like Soroka's pitching style will allow him to continue to succeed at the big-league level. He relies heavily on his sinker (45.2% usage) and pitches to contact, but has solid control (1.09 WHIP, 5.7% walk rate). Further, his batted-ball profile has the makings of a successful groundball pitcher. Soroka has avoided hard contact (87.2-MPH average exit velocity, 37.9% hard-hit rate) while doing an excellent job of keeping the ball on the ground (5.4-degree launch angle).

The big negative is Soroka's SIERA. His 4.30 SIERA is almost two runs higher than his ERA. While I do feel that is is not realistic to expect a 2.60 ERA from Soroka next season, I also feel that his batted-ball profile is one that will lead to success. Therefore, I am going to overlook his SIERA and say that Soroka will be a higher-end fantasy option next season and for seasons to come in keeper/dynasty leagues.

 

Yonny Chirinos - Tampa Bay Rays

wOBA: .287 , xwOBA: .316 , Difference: -.029

Our second wOBA-xwOBA dud has served time both as a starter and a "follower" this season, finding success at both. Yonny Chirinos has gone 9-5 with a 3.67 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and 22.1% K rate over 127 2/3 IP this season. He has been highly useful in fantasy, but does his relatively higher xwOBA suggest that he may regress next season?

Like Soroka, Chirinos relies heavily on his sinker (55.1% usage). However, his stats under the hood do not look as shiny. Chirinos' batted-ball profile isn't bad (87.6-MPH average exit velocity, 33.8% hard-hit rate), but his 10.9-degree launch angle is a little high for someone who relies on thier sinker so much. Further, his .252 BABIP is much lower than his .272 career mark. The Rays are one of baseball's better defensive teams, but that alone does not explain his BABIP. As such, I would be more inclined to believe his 4.21 SIERA.

Overall, Chirinos has been great this season and holds extra fantasy value given his relief pitcher eligibility. However, there is compelling evidence to suggest that he has gotten lucky this season. While he will still be valuable next season, I would not be surprised to see his ERA slide closer to 4.00 in 2020.

 

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Strikeout Rate Risers and Fallers - Buy or Sell for Week 26

Welcome back to the strikeout rate risers and fallers series for Week 26! Each week we will take a look at two K% risers and two fallers, analyze what is behind those changes, and then decide if they are actionable. A pitcher can best control their fate by generating swings and misses, so this exercise holds particular importance for fantasy value. Understanding strikeout trends and the stats behind them can help you sort through all the noise and determine which pitchers are legit and which pitchers should be avoided.

The players in this article were chosen using RotoBaller’s K% Risers and Fallers premium Tool. This tool identifies players who are surging and falling in strikeout percentage over the last 30 days. The goal of this tool is to help you find pitchers who are showing improving or declining K%.

We have reached the final week of the fantasy playoffs, so every lineup choice this week is extremely important. I will discuss two interesting strikeout rate risers and two fallers to help you with your tough decisions this week, whether you are competing for a title or are getting in a few last rounds of daily fantasy. Let's get started on the last K Rate Risers and Fallers article of the season! It's been a pleasure providing you with insights throughout the season and I hope you made some good moves from them!

Strikeout Rate Risers

All stats current as of Sunday, September 2

Yu Darvish - Chicago Cubs

Season K%: 31%, Last 30 Days: 40.2%

Our first K rate riser topped this article last week and has improved even more since then. Yu Darvish has really picked things up lately, posting an insane 40.2% K rate over the last 30 days. However, Darvish's season ERA is now at 4.02, which isn't awful but isn't great. Given his early struggles, do owners have anything to worry about for his final week of the regular season? 

The bottom line is that Darvish has pitched extremely well lately. His 1.73 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, and 2.38 SIERA over his last four starts show that he still has the talent to be a higher-end fantasy starter. To tie it all together, Darvish's strikeout numbers in those games have been seven, seven, 14, 13. Finally, Darvish pitched a solid game last night, going 8 1/3 innings with three runs allowed and 12 strikeouts.   

Darvish has always been a strikeout pitcher, but his batted-ball profile and command were questionable at times earlier in the season. Now, however, it seems like Darvish has things clicking and is on a hot streak. He will take on the Cardinals again at home this week and hopefully will be able to replicate his success.

Eduardo Rodriguez - Boston Red Sox

Season K%: 24.8%, Last 30 Days: 33.3%

Our second K rate riser has put together a solid season throughout, posting a 3.53 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 24.8% K rate. Eduardo Rodriguez has had some control issues this season but has managed to put it all together overall and has an impressive 33.3% K rate over the last 30 days. Is there anything to worry about for E Rod this week?

Simply put, Rodriguez has pitched insanely well lately. He has a minuscule 1.19 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in his last six starts. Further, he has demonstrated his skill by excelling against tough matchups. Rodriguez's last four strikeout numbers are as follows: eight against the Twins, nine against the Yankees, 12 at the Phillies, and 10 against the Giants. 

All in all, Rodriguez is catching fire at exactly the right time. At this point, it doesn't matter who he's facing. E Rod will be at Texas this week and would be in my lineup for sure.

 

Strikeout Rate Fallers

All stats current as of Sunday, September 22

 

Jose Quintana - Chicago Cubs

Season K%: 20.6%, Last 30 Days: 14.3%

Our first K rate faller has never been much of a strikeout pitcher, but has been a fantasy asset in the past. This season, however, Jose Quintana has been merely mediocre. Even worse, his K rate has fallen to a poor 14.3% over the last 30 days. Is Quintana worth starting this week with so much on the line?

To cut to the chase, Quintana has been awful lately. He has posted an 8.49 ERA and 1.97 WHIP over his last six starts. His control has been all over the place, resulting in a low K rate and a massive .375 BABIP over that time. There isn't a ton to analyze here, Quintana just hasn't pitched well at all.

Quintana will face a tough matchup at the Cardinals this week and I would stay far away from him. His performance of late gives me no confidence that he can help fantasy teams win a fantasy title.

 

Jeff Samardzija - San Francisco Giants

Season K%: 18.9%, Last 30 Days: 10.1%

Our second K rate faller has been a fantasy staple in the past and seems to be reliving his glory days. Jeff Samardzija has compiled a 3.64 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and 18.9% K rate this season but has only managed a 10.1% K rate over the last 30 days. Could Samardzija help fantasy teams this final week?    

Samardzija's numbers over the last 30 days have been conflicting. His WHIP (1.09) and BABIP (.202) have been stellar. However, his 4.04 ERA is mediocre. It seems like Shark has gotten a bit unlucky over his last six starts; his 1.77 HR/9 rate suggests that he has pitched well enough but has gotten bitten by the long ball while his K rate has plummeted, despite decent control.

Samardzija has a mediocre matchup this week against the Rockies. I feel like he could be a 50-50 start this week. He is a safer play in points leagues over roto leagues, but I could see fantasy players going either way on him.

 

K-Rate Risers and Fallers - Premium Tool

Identifying top strikeout rate risers and fallers for each week can help you spot the best pickups before your competition. RotoBaller's Premium K-Rate Risers and Fallers tool has you covered every day. As thoughtful fantasy baseball players, we won't lead you astray. This tool will soon be active once we have a large enough sample size in the season to be considered reliable.

This type of data is available as part of our Premium MLB Subscription. Don't settle for basic stats and surface-level advice from other sites. RotoBaller brings you advanced statistics and professional analysis that you need to win your fantasy leagues and DFS games, because we're ballers just like you. We are your secret weapon!

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Starters WAR Studs and Duds: Week 25

Welcome back to RotoBaller’s pitchers advanced stats and StatCast studs and duds article series! Each week we will select an advanced stat, choose two studs and two duds, and analyze what those stats could mean for future fantasy output. At this point in the season, I will focus on an all-encompassing stat for starting pitchers; wins above replacement (WAR).

WAR is an interesting metric that was developed as an attempt to measure a player's relative value compared to a replacement-level player, or a readily-available player (think free agent). The calculation is rather complicated and is broken down with further explanation here for those who are interested.

I will take a look at two players with an impressive WAR and two with a disappointing WAR to see which pitchers have been reliable and which have been difficult to trust. For reference, the highest WAR among qualified starters is Gerrit Cole's 6.5. I will take a look at some interesting names to help fantasy players make tough decisions about who to start with a fantasy title on the line.  

 

WAR Studs 

All stats current as of 9/16/19

 

Lance Lynn - Texas Rangers

(14-10, 3.72 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 6.2 WAR)

Our first WAR stud has had a solid season and has a WAR higher than many better-known fantasy names. Lance Lynn has rebounded after a poor 2018 season, posting solid numbers across the board. Let's take a look under the hood and see how Lynn has found his success.  

The first thing that stands out has been Lynn's solid control. His 1.25 WHIP is much more in line with his career 1.31 mark than 2018's 1.51. Consequently, his batted-ball profile has been great. Lynn's 87.2-MPH average exit velocity and 33.1% hard-hit rate are both in the top 30% of baseball and he has kept the ball on the ground for the most part with a launch angle of 13 degrees.

The second thing that stands out has been Lynn's strikeout numbers. Lynn has made his way into my Strikeout Rate Risers article several times and has a 27.1% K rate with an 12.3% swinging-strike rate. Lynn relies mostly on fastballs (51.6% four-seamer, 16.8% sinker, 15.2% cutter), but has been able to get swings and misses thanks to the movement he has gotten on those pitches. Specifically, the spin rates on his fastball and cutter are in the top 10% of baseball. His movement combined with a high level of control has allowed Lynn to miss bats as well as avoid hard contact.

Lynn has been a standout fantasy option but faces a tough Astros matchup on the road this week. I could understand if fantasy owners did not want to risk it by benching him, but, given how much he has helped teams all season, I would not have a problem starting him this week.

 

Noah Syndergaard - New York Mets

(10-8, 4.15 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 4.2 WAR)

Our second WAR stud has not provided what fantasy owners were hoping for this season but still has a high WAR. Noah Syndergaard has a mediocre 4.15 ERA and a 24.2% K rate this season; however, his WAR indicates that he has been one of the most valuable starters. Let's take a look at how these conflicting numbers can exist. 

The main thing that is helping Syndergaard is his FIP. His 3.53 FIP is much better than his ERA, indicating that he has gotten unlucky. This jives with his batted-ball profile; Thor's average exit velocity and hard-hit rate are both in the top 15% of baseball and he has kept the ball on the ground with a 9.4-degree launch angle. His SIERA doesn't quite back all of this up though. His 4.07 SIERA suggests that, despite his batted-ball profile, his results have been what they should be.

It has been an interesting season for Syndergaard, which has made thing frustrating for fantasy owners. He has allowed at least four runs in three of his last four starts and has to go to Coors Field this week. It would be a very tough decision to sit him this week, but I wouldn't blame owners for doing so.  

 

WAR Duds

All stats current as of 9/16/19

 

Wade Miley - Houston Astros

(14-5, 3.71 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 1.9 WAR)

Our first WAR dud has a lowly WAR despite being a huge fantasy contributor. Wade Miley has completely restarted his career with the development of his cutter and has been contributing on a competitive Astros team. His numbers have regressed a bit over the course of the season, but he still has only the 49th-highest WAR among qualified starting pitchers. Should this fact impact fantasy owners' decisions on whether to start him or not for the final few weeks? 

Let me quickly reassure those that have Miley; he may not be the sexiest fantasy option as we all know, but he has been a solid pitcher this season. I will first point out the aspects of Miley's game that may contribute to his low WAR. First, he has not pitched all that deep into games. Miley has averaged roughly 5 1/3 innings per start, which isn't awful but isn't great. Second, he has had relatively low strikeout numbers. The switch to the cutter has helped him immensely but is not conducive to striking out hitters. His 19.9% strikeout rate isn't poor, but it is hard to rack up strikeouts when you throw an 87-MPH cutter 47% of the time.

The biggest factor in Miley's low WAR has been his high FIP (4.42). This stat, along with his SIERA (4.76), suggests that Miley is overachieving and may be benefitting from his team's defense rather than his actual skills. However, there is conflicting evidence to support Miley's performance. His batted-ball profile has been strong this season (87-MPH average exit velocity, 32.1% hard-hit- rate, 7.8-degree launch angle).

Miley had thrown a few poor games recently but rebounded nicely in his last start. He will face a Mike Trout-less Angels this week; given his overall season performance, I would be starting Miley.

 

Yu Darvish - Chicago Cubs

(6-6, 3.97 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 2.0 WAR)

Our second WAR dud had a slow start to the season but has been providing more of what fantasy owners have expected lately. Yu Darvish now has respectable stats, but his WAR sits below many other starters. Should this matter down the stretch?

The bottom line is that Darvish has pitched extremely well lately. His 2.01 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, and 2.52 SIERA over his last five starts indicate that everything is clicking. Further, nothing really stands out in his season stats. He has managed to last about 5 2/3 innings per start, which isn't great but isn't awful. Further, his batted-ball profile has been slightly below average on the season. However, everything else has looked fine, especially of late.   

Darvish has figured things out and he looks like a higher-end fantasy asset once again. He has a two-start week, taking on the Reds in a decent matchup and the Cardinals in a tougher one. Regardless, I would not hesitate to use Darvish this week, despite his WAR.

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Are You For Real? Surprising SP Starts from Week 25

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).

We're looking at two sides of the same game this week. Johnny Cueto has had a nice pair of starts in his return from Tommy John surgery, while Elieser Hernandez carved up Cueto's Giants on Sunday for nine strikeouts.

Ownership is based on Yahoo leagues and is accurate as of 09/16/2019. The goal of this article is to look at pitchers widely available that could be useful in fantasy, whether they have been recently added by a ton of teams or are still sitting on waivers.

Elieser Hernandez, Miami Marlins

8% Owned

2019 Stats (prior to this start): 77.1 IP, 5.24 ERA, 5.76 FIP, 15.3% K-BB%

09/15 @ SF: 5 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 9 K

At first glance, Hernandez looks like nothing more than a roster filler for one of baseball’s worst teams, but the young right-hander came to play on Sunday. He posted a career-high nine strikeouts over five innings, and his only blemish was a solo home run to Mauricio Dubon. While Hernandez’s surface stats and underlying metrics don’t look too impressive, the Miami hurler has made a few tweaks to his game that are at least worth a look.

Hernandez wields a rather basic three-pitch arsenal, with a mediocre 90.6 MPH four-seamer, a slider, and a changeup. The slider has been his best this season, and Hernandez has made huge strides with his breaking ball that aren’t obvious given his poor overall results. Hernandez has reinvented the pitch to be a slower, more sweeping slider. He lost seven inches of drop but gained five inches of break and 200 RPM on his spin rate. He’s also been able to command the pitch better, keeping it away from right-handed batters and off the plate with more consistency. Below is a Brooks Baseball heatmap comparison of Hernandez’s slider location between 2018 (top) and 2019 (bottom).

The results on Hernandez’s slider have been much better as well, as batters have mustered a meager .152 AVG and 81.4 MPH average exit velocity against the pitch. Hernandez’s swinging strike rate has improved to 17.7%, a 3% jump from last season, despite his chase rate sitting at an underwhelming 27.9%, a 5% drop from last season. His increase in break and spin have allowed made the zone-contact rate on Hernandez’s slider plummet from 89.7% in 2018 to 69.8% in 2019. Owners may wonder how Hernandez has managed to increase his strikeout rate 8% despite no noticeable improvements in results, and the answer is a reworked slider that excels at inducing whiffs.

Now that we know how Hernandez improved his strikeout rate, we’re stuck with the mystery of why the heck nothing else has improved? Only Hernandez and Drew Smyly have the unique combination of a K/9 above 9.0 and a FIP above 5.50. A poor fastball is the culprit in Hernandez’s case. His four-seamer putters in at about 90.6 MPH on average, and batters have destroyed the pitch for a .297 AVG and .581 SLG. Hernandez has definitely been a little unlucky with the pitch, as Statcast projects a .251 xBA and .448 xSLG against his fastball. His 4.44 SIERA is by far the most favorable of the ERA estimators for Hernandez as well, but we should be hesitant before buying into these metrics for Hernandez. Sure, his fastball may have a .336 BABIP against, but the pitch also has an 89% zone rate and 21% line drive rate against. Those numbers are not conducive to positive batted ball results, and even with an inflated fastball BABIP Hernandez still has a .263 BABIP against overall. On the bright side, Hernandez averaged 91.4 MPH with his fastball in this start and got nine swinging strikes with the pitch. It would be easier to peg Hernandez as a pitcher to watch and see whether these velocity gains stick, but with the season nearing a close, owners are probably better off avoiding this type of risk.

Verdict:

Hernandez reinvented his slider to great success, but his fastball performance has been too atrocious this season to warrant using him in mixed leagues. Perhaps Hernandez could be a 2020 deep sleeper if his velocity gains are permanent, but there isn’t enough time for him to make an impact this season.

Johnny Cueto, San Francisco Giants

50% Owned

09/10 vs. PIT: 5 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K
09/15 vs. MIA: 5 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 2 K

Cueto has put up two scoreless starts in his first two outings since returning from Tommy John surgery, and while those starts came against two of the worst offenses in baseball, the familiar face has certainly garnered fantasy interest in these final weeks. Prior to having surgery, it looked like the 33-year-old Cueto was exiting his prime. He put up a 4.52 ERA in 2017, and while his 3.23 ERA in 2018 looks like an improvement, his 4.71 was an even farther step backwards. Of course, it’s hard to know how much of his performance over both of those seasons was impacted by his UCL injury, because Cueto’s dip in velocity and performance coincided with the time period where we expect a traditional age-related decline. The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle, but the question for Cueto isn’t what caused his diminished performance, but whether he can return to fantasy relevance.

The most encouraging thing for Cueto is increased fastball velocity compared to 2018. Cueto was firing his four-seamer at just 89.4 MPH last season, but he averaged 91.6 MPH in his first start back and 90.9 MPH in his second start. Obviously, we can’t expect Cueto to ever regain his peak velocity, but he’d be a much better position for success if he can keep his velocity above 91 MPH. He averaged 91.5 MPH with his fastball in 2016 and posted a 2.73 ERA, 2.96 FIP, and 4.40 K/BB ratio. Of course, there’s more driving Cueto’s potential success or failure than his velocity. He’d never been a velocity-focused pitcher anyway, taking a more rounded approach.

If one was being especially critical, they could classify prime Cueto as a highly successful junkballer. Cueto used his deep five-pitch arsenal and variety of throwing motions to keep batters guessing, and Cueto sustained great results despite average stuff. Cueto’s changeup was his closest thing to a dominant pitch during his prime, and Cueto has an 18.4% SwStr rate and .212 AVG against with the pitch all time. He’s only thrown 31 changeups this season, but Cueto does have similar drop and spin with his curveball this season compared to years past. He has lost a few inches of break, but this is far too small a sample size to judge whether this loss in movement is permanent. Cueto’s .091 AVG against and 22.6% SwStr rate with the pitch are encouraging, and should Cueto maintain results within this range the changeup should continue to be a plus pitch for the veteran.

Outside of the changeup, Cueto’s arsenal looks suspect. His slider has lost six inches of drop over the years, and outside of his changeup none of Cueto’s pitches have a SwStr rate above 5.4%. This is the problem with a pitcher who gets by despite underwhelming stuff. When injuries and father time comes after him, he can’t transition into a crafty veteran. He spent his prime pitching like a crafty veteran, and now there’s nowhere to go. Cueto’s ownership has already shot up to 50% thanks to two scoreless starts and his name value, but this is one owners should ignore on waivers. His final two starts are in Atlanta and against the Dodgers. Hopefully, you’re opponent jumps on the familiar face and spotless ERA, because there is more bad than good in this profile these days.

Verdict:

Cueto’s changeup is still strong, but the rest of his arsenal lags far behind. He doesn’t have the stuff to replicate past results, and his craftiness will only get him so far at age 33. His next two matchups are against the Braves and Dodgers, two opponents who are a little more formidable than the Pirates and Marlins. This is one to pass over for the final two weeks.

 

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Strikeout Rate Risers and Fallers - Buy or Sell for Week 25

Welcome back to the strikeout rate risers and fallers series for Week 25! Each week we will take a look at two K% risers and two fallers, analyze what is behind those changes, and then decide if they are actionable. A pitcher can best control their fate by generating swings and misses, so this exercise holds particular importance for fantasy value. Understanding strikeout trends and the stats behind them can help you sort through all the noise and determine which pitchers are legit and which pitchers should be avoided.

The players in this article were chosen using RotoBaller’s K% Risers and Fallers premium Tool. This tool identifies players who are surging and falling in strikeout percentage over the last 30 days. The goal of this tool is to help you find pitchers who are showing improving or declining K%.

The fantasy playoffs are well underway with only a few weeks left! As you all know, picking and choosing your pitching matchups carefully is essential at this time. I will discuss two interesting strikeout rate risers and two fallers to hopefully help you with your tough decisions this week. Some of these names are repeats from recent weeks because they still raise questions around whether they should be started.

Strikeout Rate Risers

All stats current as of Sunday, September 15

 

Yu Darvish - Chicago Cubs

Season K%: 30.3%, Last 30 Days: 38.3%

Our first K rate riser had a slow start to the season but has been providing more of what fantasy owners have expected lately. The one constant for Yu Darvish this season, however, has been his K rate; his season mark is at 30.3% and that number has been an insane 38.3% over the last 30 days. Darvish's season ERA is now just below 4.00 (3.97), so do owners have anything to worry about for the final few weeks? 

The bottom line is that Darvish has pitched extremely well lately. His 2.01 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, and 2.52 SIERA over his last five starts indicate that everything is clicking. Consequently, he has racked up at least seven strikeouts in each of those starts, including 14 in his last start at the Padres.   

Darvish has always been a strikeout pitcher, but his batted-ball profile and command were questionable at times earlier in the season. Those issues seem to have figured themselves out and Darvish looks like a higher-end fantasy asset once again. He has a two-start week, taking on the Reds in a decent matchup and the Cardinals in a tougher one. Regardless, I would not hesitate to use Darvish this week.

Eric Lauer - San Diego Padres

Season K%: 20.0%, Last 30 Days: 25.9%

Our second K rate riser has been a subpar starter this season but has offered higher strikeout upside lately. Eric Lauer hasn't offered a ton of strikeout upside this season but has a respectable 25.9% K rate over the last 30 days. He is currently available in 81% of leagues, so could Lauer be a useful streamer for the fantasy playoffs?

Unfortunately, Lauer hasn't done enough to make him a trustworthy add. His strikeout numbers over his last five starts were bolstered by an eight-strikeout and a nine-strikeout performance; he only had 11 strikeouts in his other three starts. Aside from that, Lauer posted a 4.81 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, and a 4.59 SIERA over those starts, which don't inspire confidence.

Lauer hasn't pitched well for most of the season and his matchup against the Diamondbacks isn't great. He should not be trusted in the fantasy playoffs with just a couple weeks left.    

 

 

Strikeout Rate Fallers

All stats current as of Sunday, September 15

 

Zack Wheeler - New York Mets

Season K%: 22.9%, Last 30 Days: 14.7%

Well, here we are again. This is Zack Wheeler's fourth straight week on this list. He has pitched better lately overall, but the K rate is still quite low. What's the verdict on Wheeler for this week?

The good news is that Wheeler's woes seem to be behind him. The strikeout numbers of late may still be low, but Wheeler has now strung together four straight starts with just one run allowed. His most recent start was a seven-inning gem against a tough Dodgers matchup with nine strikeouts. We all know Wheeler's upside, so, given his recent performance, it seems like the worries have subsided. Wheeler is on a hot streak at the right time.

Wheeler will be at the Reds this week, a decent matchup. I feel confident in starting him this week, the first time in a while. He seems to be finding his rhythm and fantasy owners should play the hot hand (or arm in this case).

 

Mike Minor - Texas Rangers

Season K%: 23.6%, Last 30 Days: 16.8%

Our second K rate dud is a veteran who is putting forth an excellent season to this point. Mike Minor has performed extremely well in 2019 despite pitching his home games in hitter-friendly Globe Life Park, posting a 13-9 record with a 3.33 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, and a 23.6% K rate through 189 2/3 IP. However, he has struggled lately, posting a 4.99 ERA and a poor 16.8% K rate over the last 30 days. He has been a huge asset for owners this season, but should they leave him on their benches now?

Minor has not been able to find his command lately (1.34 WHIP) and it has affected his ERA and his batted-ball profile (5.15 SIERA). He has been inconsistent, allowing five combined earned runs in three starts and 17 in his other three. His strikeout numbers have of course suffered, but the more worrisome thing is his diminished performance overall.

Minor has a tough matchup at Oakland this week, a team that scored seven runs off him in his last start. While Minor has been great for most of the season, I would not be willing to rely on him in his next start with a fantasy title on the line.

 

K-Rate Risers and Fallers - Premium Tool

Identifying top strikeout rate risers and fallers for each week can help you spot the best pickups before your competition. RotoBaller's Premium K-Rate Risers and Fallers tool has you covered every day. As thoughtful fantasy baseball players, we won't lead you astray. This tool will soon be active once we have a large enough sample size in the season to be considered reliable.

This type of data is available as part of our Premium MLB Subscription. Don't settle for basic stats and surface-level advice from other sites. RotoBaller brings you advanced statistics and professional analysis that you need to win your fantasy leagues and DFS games, because we're ballers just like you. We are your secret weapon!

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Gauging Trust Levels in Cubs’ Starting Pitchers

The Chicago Cubs are currently sitting at 78-68 and in a tie for the second wild-card spot with the Milwaukee Brewers. They're two games ahead of the New York Mets, while the Arizona Diamondbacks and Philadelphia Phillies are still hanging around at 2.5 and 3.5 games back, respectively. With just 16 games remaining, the Cubs will be treating every game as a must-win in an effort to secure a playoff berth.

A significant chunk of the Cubs’ playoff chances rests on the performance of the starting pitching staff, comprised of Jose Quintana, Kyle Hendricks, Yu Darvish, and Jon Lester. We’re going to take a look at these Cubbies and determine the trust levels you should have in them down the stretch in the fantasy baseball playoffs.

Cubs' Remaining Schedule: Pirates, Reds, Cardinals, @Pirates, @Cardinals

 

Jose Quintana

Jose Quintana has had a decent season, holding a 13-8 record with a 4.15 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and a 143/43 K/BB ratio over 157 and 1/3 innings pitched in 2019. He has a 21.2% strikeout rate, 8.7% swinging-strike rate, 1.1 HR/9, and a solid 6.0% barrels/batted ball event rate this season. He’s also 9-2 with a 4.41 ERA over his last 15 starts as he’s been piling up the wins.

Quintana's recent form has been unappealing, though, to say the least. He has allowed four earned runs or more in three of his last four starts, and just got crushed by the San Diego Padres in a three-inning, four-earned run beatdown. He concerningly only recorded one strikeout and hasn't completed six innings in four straight starts.

Trust Level: 6/10

Jose Quintana’s awful recent form and lack of strikeout-upside make him an unappealing play in the fantasy playoffs, though he's worth a shot if you're chasing wins.

 

Kyle Hendricks

Kyle Hendricks has been a steady, if not exciting, starting pitcher option in 2019. He’s 10-9 on the year, with a 3.33 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and 137/31 K/BB ratio over 159 and 2/3 innings pitched. He has limited his walks (1.7 BB/9) and hard contact (5.4% barrels/batted ball event) and ranks in the top-10 in average exit velocity allowed (86.6 MPH). His 20.9% strikeout percentage won’t blow anyone away and takes his fantasy appeal down a bit, but his solid ERA and decent record keep him in the conversation.

Hendricks is 2-1 over his last seven starts, compiling a 4.12 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and a 30/6 K/BB ratio over 39 and 1/3 innings pitched.

Trust Level: 7/10

Hendricks is a starting pitcher who you can trust in the fantasy playoffs, but don’t expect him to suddenly morph into a strikeout-heavy pitcher. He’ll help in the ERA and WHIP categories, and he’ll be a decent candidate for a win or two.

 

Yu Darvish

Don’t let Yu Darvish’s record of 6-6 in 2019 fool you - he’s a useful starting pitcher to employ in the fantasy playoffs. He racks up the strikeouts at an impressive 29.2% clip, and his 13.1% swinging-strike rate, 94.1 MPH average fastball velocity, and 204/55 K/BB ratio in 2019 all stand out as impressive metrics.

However, truth be told, there’s some risk involved with starting Yu Darvish. He’s walked too many batters (3.0 BB/9) and allowed too many homers (1.8 HR/9) and barrels (7.9% barrels/batted ball event) on the season. Darvish has quietly been on a bit of a roll lately, going 3-1 with a 2.55 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, and a 63/4 K/BB ratio over his last seven starts (42 1/3 inning pitched). He fanned 14 over six innings in a win over the San Diego Padres in his latest start.

Trust Level: 7.5/10

Darvish’s strikeout-rate is elite (11th best in the MLB), and that’s the main reason you’re starting him in the fantasy playoffs. He’s in great form, but is still giving up too many walks (and homers) and will be facing a few teams that have crushed him this season. Darvish is a guy you have to plug into lineups, but his trust level is a little lower than it normally would be due to those factors.

 

Jon Lester

Jon Lester, a veteran in his 14th season in the big leagues, is not having a great season. His surface numbers are less than ideal with a 12-10 record, 4.51 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, and a 154/49 K/BB ratio over 155 and 2/3 innings pitched. Digging deeper, Lester is recording a career-high with his 1.4 HR/9, 35.6% hard-hit rate, 88 MPH average exit velocity, and 8.1% barrel rate. His ERA is the highest it has been since 2012 and his WHIP is his highest since 2007.

To throw some salt in the wound, Lester has been in terrible form. He’s 3-3 with a 6.63 ERA, 1.85 WHIP, and a 38/22 K/BB over 36 and 2/3 innings pitched in his last seven starts.

Trust Level: 4/10

Lester is very difficult to trust in the fantasy playoffs, as his subpar metrics and awful recent form are clear red flags that are hard to look past.

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Pitcher Advanced Metrics Studs and Duds: WHIP for Week 24

Welcome back to RotoBaller’s pitchers Statcast and advanced metrics studs and duds article series! Each week we will select an advanced stat, choose two risers and two fallers, and analyze what those stats could mean for future fantasy output. With the fantasy playoffs upon us, I will write about a broader stat that can influence other aspects of a pitcher's game: walks and hits per inning pitched, or WHIP.

While WHIP is more of a general stat, it ties into many other more advanced stats. WHIP is of course made up of walks and hits, so it is important to examine both walk rate as well as BABIP in tandem. Generally speaking, pitchers with higher WHIPs have worse command and are therefore more in danger of poor starts.

At this point in the season, nitty-gritty stats aren't quite as helpful as a general picture of how a pitcher is performing, hence my choice of stat for the week. Let's take a look at some pitchers' WHIPs in hopes of better-understanding how they may perform in their last few starts of the season!

 

WHIP Studs

All stats current as of Monday, September 9, courtesy of fangraphs.com.

 

Jack Flaherty - St. Louis Cardinals

(10-7, 2.99 ERA, 1.03 WHIP) 

Our first WHIP stud started the season as a promising young starter yet did not provide what owners were hoping for. However, Jack Flaherty has rebounded throughout the course of the season and now owns a 2.99 ERA and 1.03 WHIP, one of the lowest among qualified starters. Let's take a deeper look at Flaherty's WHIP and how he has found success.

Flaherty checks off all the boxes behind his WHIP that support his success. First, he has kept his walk rate in check at a respectable 7.3%. Second, he has managed a solid .253 BABIP, which is in line with his .260 career mark. Finally, his batted-ball profile supports his BABIP; his average exit velocity (86.4 MPH) and hard-hit rate (32%) are in the top 14 and 19 percent of pitchers. Couple that with a high-end strikeout rate and you have all the makings of a fantasy star.    

Flaherty has been great for most of the season, thanks to his solid control. He has been a huge fantasy asset this season and should remain in owners' lineups for all matchups down the stretch.

 

Sonny Gray - Cincinnati Reds

(10-6, 2.75 ERA, 1.10 WHIP)

Our second WHIP stud has had quite the rebound season. Sonny Gray was awful last season with the Yankees but is having a career season in many ways with the Reds, posting a stellar 2.75 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and a career-high 28.5% strikeout rate. Gray has been able to keep his WHIP low for a good portion of his career thanks to his groundball style of pitching, but how has he made such a quick turnaround from 2018?

Gray's 9.4% walk rate isn't awful, but it isn't why his WHIP is so low. The main contributor seems to be his .261 BABIP, which is a good deal lower than his career .281 mark. It's interesting that his BABIP has been so solid given his move to a hitter-friendly ballpark. However, his low BABIP is backed up by his batted-ball profile, as both his average exit velocity and hard-hit rate are in the top 28 percent of baseball. 

Gray has managed to find great success all season long and should continue to find it this week at the Mariners. Like Flaherty, he should be a no-brainer start for the rest of the season. 

 

WHIP Duds

All stats current as of Monday, September 9, courtesy of fangraphs.com.

 

Dakota Hudson - St. Louis Cardinals

(15-6, 3.40 ERA, 1.41 WHIP)

Our first WHIP dud is a teammate of Flaherty and has also performed well this season despite being young. Dakota Hudson has been a solid piece in the Cardinals' rotation throughout the season, in spite of having one of the highest WHIPs among qualified starters. Should this concern fantasy owners as we enter the later rounds of the playoffs?

Hudson's walk rate isn't the culprit behind his high WHIP; his 10.5% isn't great, but isn't terrible. His .279 BABIP is also manageable, although his 4.98 SIERA suggests that he has gotten lucky throughout the season. His average exit velocity (88.7 MPH) and hard-hit rate (38.9%) are both below league average. What saves him is his extremely-low launch angle at 2.9 degrees. Hudson is a sinker-ball pitcher and has done it well, hence his strong peripherals.

Hudson's peripheral stats are solid, but his underlying numbers send mixed signals. The good news is that he has kept the ball on the ground, limiting the damage of the hits he gives up. The bad news is that he will be on the road against the Rockies this week, where it is quite difficult to keep the ball out of the air. Despite his performance this season, I would be afraid to start him this week.

Eduardo Rodriguez - Boston Red Sox

(17-5, 3.81 ERA, 1.36 WHIP)

Our second hard-hit rate stud has put together a solid season overall, posting a 3.81 ERA and 23% strikeout rate. The one sore spot that stands out for Rodriguez is his high WHIP. Should this concern owners down the stretch?

Rodriguez's walk 9% walk rate is not the culprit for his high WHIP. He also has an excellent batted-ball profile, with both his average exit velocity and hard-hit rate in the top eight percent of baseball. The perpetrator seems to be his elevated .311 BABIP compared to a .297 career mark. It seems as though E. Rod is getting unlucky on balls in play, which, while certainly unfortunate, is a more-welcome explanation than him pitching poorly. 

Rodriguez has been pretty reliable for most of the season and gets a two-start week. He will have to face the Yankees and Phillies on the road, which are both tough matchups. However, I would be willing to trust him despite his WHIP issues. 

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Are You For Real? Surprising SP Starts from Week 24

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 interesting NL West hurlers. Unheralded lefty Alex Young dominated the Reds on Saturday for eight scoreless, while righty Dinelson Lamet turned in another solid performance in his return from Tommy John Surgery.

Ownership is based on Yahoo leagues and is accurate as of 09/09/2019. The goal of this article is to look at pitchers widely available that could be useful in fantasy, whether they have been recently added by a ton of teams or are still sitting on waivers.

Alex Young, Arizona Diamondbacks

31% Owned

2019 Stats (prior to this start): 58.2 IP, 3.84 ERA, 4.66 FIP, 11.6% K-BB%

09/07 @ CIN: 8 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 12 K

Coming into this start, Young had a respectable 3.84 ERA, but poor underlying numbers kept savvy fantasy owners away. Young made many of us rethink that decision on Saturday, with a dominant 12-strikeout performance over the Reds. Young gets it done with a five-pitch arsenal, with a two- and four-seam fastball, a changeup, a cutter, and a curveball. While Young’s arsenal is certainly rich with options for the left-hander, I'm going to zero in on a few of his offerings.

Young’s fastball putters in at an unimpressive 89 MPH, and doesn’t stand out in terms of movement or spin either. Young’s four-seam fastball does have one outstanding attribute, and that’s a 29-degree average launch angle. Batters have a 65% flyball rate against Young’s four-seamer, along with a 46.2% infield flyball rate. Pitchers who induce infield flyballs at such a rate can often outperform their underlying metrics, such as FIP, xFIP, and SIERA, because infield flyballs almost always produce outs, yet are treated as negative outcomes by defense-independent metrics. An infield flyball is essentially a defense-independent outcome, as even the average beer league softball player could corral a big-league popup. Marco Estrada epitomized this pitching style during his peak, and Estrada routinely outperformed his sabermetric numbers. Young’s current infield flyball numbers dwarf Estrada’s best years, but with just 66.2 major league innings under his belt, it’s far to early to judge whether Young can sustain these results. Any results are uncertain with such a small sample, but batted ball metrics are especially volatile since they take hundreds of data points to normalize. For now, we can confidently say that Young is displaying a skill conducive to positive batted ball results and going forward may excel at inducing infield flyballs. These results could allow Young to survive despite his poor velocity, though owners should be wary of the .591 SLG and .388 xwOBA against his four-seamer.

Moving past the fastballs, Young has three secondary pitches, all of which he throws about 20% of the time. While they may get equal representation in his pitch mix, the curveball stands out both in results and measurables. Batters are hitting a mere .133 with zero extra-base hits against Young’s curveball this season, and Young has a monster 21% SwStr and 44.8% chase rate with the pitch. Young’s curveball is thrown a little harder and sharper than one might expect given his fastball velocity. Here’s an example from this start.

It’s not the big, looping curveball that’s so common among soft-tossing lefties. Young’s curveball is more of a slurve, and that’s a big reason for his elevated strikeout numbers with the pitch. It’s also why Young’s curveball is ranked among the lowest in horizontal movement. He doesn’t get the big Rich Hill-esque rainbow curve with the pitch, and that’s not his intention. The pitch compares closer to that of Young’s teammate, Robbie Ray. Young doesn’t have Ray’s velocity or slider, so he won’t approach Ray’s strikeout numbers, but Young’s 7.83 K/9 certainly has room to grow.

Admittedly, Alex Young was a pitcher I initially overlooked thanks to his poor velocity, underwhelming peripherals, and questionable minor league track record. Normally, I avoid incorporating personal league anecdotes into my writing, but last weekend my home league team was eliminated because I chose to stream Steven Brault, a pitcher I covered in this series recently, over Young. Rather than do the deep research, I let my biases against Young and pitchers of his archetype (soft-tossing lefties with no pedigree) make the decision for me. Now I’m doing all the research anyway while my team gears up for a deep run in the consolation bracket. We’re 24 gosh-darn weeks into the season, football has started, and I got lazy. Had I Champions don’t get lazy; champions grind out every day. Had I done the research, I would’ve noticed these trends, along with Cincinnati’s 90 wRC+ and 24% strikeout rate over the last 30 days. If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re fighting for a championship, and chances are you do quality research in addition to consuming in-depth fantasy sports articles. If that’s the case, I wish you luck and recommend adding Alex Young to help you get there. He not only has intriguing skills, but if the D-backs rotation sticks as is, Young will face the Mets this week, the Marlins next week, and finish with two starts against the Cardinals and Padres in the final week of the season. With that schedule, Young could be a solid contributor to a championship contender.

Verdict:

Young may look like a weak tossing lefty, but he excels at inducing infield flyballs and possesses a plus curveball. Young is worth an add for those in need down the stretch.

Dinelson Lamet, San Diego Padres

31% Owned

2019 Stats (prior to this start): 51 IP, 4.24 ERA, 4.04 FIP, 21.7% K-BB%

09/06 vs. COL: 6 IP, 6 H, 3 R (1 ER), 1 BB, 4 K

A popular 2018 breakout candidate, Lamet’s career path was derailed by a pesky torn UCL. He quietly made his return in early July, and his performance this season has looked even better than his performance in 2017. Despite suffering one of baseball’s most notorious injuries, Lamet has a better strikeout rate, better walk rate, better home run, and better SIERA now that he did two years ago when he was being hyped up as the next great strikeout pitcher. In fact, there’s reason to believe that Lamet can maintain the gains he’s made this season.

The most eye-popping metric from Lamet this season is his increased fastball velocity. He’s dialed up the heat, averaging 96 MPH with his four-seam fastball, a full MPH faster than it was pre-surgery. The answer is obvious, isn’t it? Lamet, like all pitchers, is throwing harder because of the Tommy John Surgery. The procedure makes the tendon practically bionic. Well, before rushing your teenage son off to the nearest Ortho to lock-in that baseball scholarship, check out this study from Jiang and Leland. The study compared 41 MLB pitchers who underwent Tommy John Surgery to a matching group that did not have surgery over a four year period, and found no significant velocity or performance differences between the groups. The reason could be increased strength and conditioning for Lamet as a result of rehabilitation, but the surgery wouldn’t be a direct cause. Other than marginal changes in release point, increased strength is the best explanation for this velocity increase, and quite frankly it’s the best we need. Lamet is throwing harder and getting more strikeouts, and that alone has me interested in him.

Along with his new-and-improved fastball, Lamet still possesses a slider that can carve up opposing hitters better than Jason Vorhees can carve up promiscuous teenagers (hey, it’s Friday the 13th this week, gimme a break). Batters have eeked out a meager .118 batting average against the pitch, while Lamet has put up a 23% SwStr rate with the pitch. That’s all well and good, but there’s still a giant elephant in the room with Lamet, and that’s his limited arsenal. He’s a two-pitch pitcher, a Chris Archer in the making. Pitch tracking software makes it look like Lamet hasn’t fixed that problem, sans Statcast metrics. There’s some peculiar in Lamet’s Statcast profile, and it’s a mysterious curveball.

Lamet has never thrown a curveball in the big leagues before, and the pitch Statcast is calling a curveball looks to be a variation of Lamet’s slider. This pitch has similar drop compared to Lamet’s slider, but has double the horizontal break. Like with Alex Young, this pitch is more of a slurve than a true curveball, and it may be tracked as either a curveball or slider depending on which pitch-tracking you use. Regardless of its categorization, Lamet may have found his solution to the two-pitch problem. The results have been incredible, as Lamet increased his already awesome strikeout rate to an elite 30.1% If considering whether to add Lamet, ask yourself, this, would I add James Paxton? If James Paxton was a free agent in your league, right now, would you add him? Because Lamet’s numbers are nearly identical to Paxton’s numbers, though Lamet does have a better home run rate. Obviously, Paxton has factors such as longevity and track record that catapult his value far ahead of Lamet, but pitchers with a 30% strikeout rate don’t grow on trees. Lamet could really help owners make up ground in strikeouts over the final month, and deserves to have his ownership rate doubled.

Verdict:

Not only do I like Lamet as an add for right now, but he’s also on my watchlist for a 2020 breakout. I shudder to see where this hype train will be come March next season. This is an elite strikeout pitcher sitting out there in nearly 70% of leagues. Add him already. Drop these over-owned veterans like Mike Fiers, Jon Lester, and Rick freaking Porcello and pick up Lamet.

 

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Strikeout Rate Risers and Fallers - Buy or Sell for Week 24

Welcome back to the strikeout rate risers and fallers series for Week 24! Each week we will take a look at two K% risers and two fallers, analyze what is behind those changes, and then decide if they are actionable. A pitcher can best control their fate by generating swings and misses, so this exercise holds particular importance for fantasy value. Understanding strikeout trends and the stats behind them can help you sort through all the noise and determine which pitchers are legit and which pitchers should be avoided.

The players in this article were chosen using RotoBaller’s K% Risers and Fallers premium Tool. This tool identifies players who are surging and falling in strikeout percentage over the last 30 days. The goal of this tool is to help you find pitchers who are showing improving or declining K%.

If you are reading this then you are likely still in the hunt for a fantasy title, congratulations! As you all know, picking and choosing your pitching matchups carefully is essential at this time. I will discuss two interesting strikeout rate risers and two fallers to hopefully help you make some tough decisions this week!

Strikeout Rate Risers

All stats current as of Sunday, September 8

 

J.A. Happ - New York Yankees

Season K%: 19.7%, Last 30 Days: 26.2%

Our first K rate riser has been a fantasy disappointment overall. J.A. Happ's first full season in New York has not gone well, as he has posted a 5.10 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 19.7% K rate. However, his K rate has gone up to a solid 26.2% over the last 30 days. Is his recent increase enough to keep him in your lineups this week with a fantasy title on the line?

Happ has pitched better over the last 30 days, but he has still been inconsistent. He has a 4.60 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and 4.78 SIERA over his last six starts. His command has been better, which likely has helped his K rate. However, his SIERA matches his season batted-ball profile; Happ has gotten hit hard all season long (exit velocity is in the bottom 28 percent of baseball). Further, he relied on his fastball even more than usual in the month of August (55.8%), which won't really help his strikeouts given his low velocity.

In sum, I wouldn't generally be all that excited to start Happ despite his recent K rate uptick. However, he faces a nice matchup at the Tigers, which, coupled with the fact that Happ hasn't allowed an earned run in his last two starts, would give me enough reason to give him the start this week.    

 

Max Fried - Atlanta Braves

Season K%: 25.1%, Last 30 Days: 31.1%

Our second K rate riser has been a useful fantasy option this season pitching on a strong team. Max Fried has gone 16-4 with a 3.86 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, and 25.1% strikeout rate in 149 1/3 innings pitched this season. He has pitched even better lately, compiling a 3.15 ERA with an impressive 31.1% K rate in his last 30 days, but he is also a young pitcher without a ton of experience. Should fantasy owners feel comfortable relying on him down the stretch?

Fried's recent ERA looks good, as does his 3.02 SIERA, but he was inconsistent in those six starts. He allowed one combined earned run against the Twins, Mets, and Nationals but then allowed eight earned runs against the Mets, Dodgers, and White Sox. The one thing that has remained consistent has been Fried's use of his curveball and slider, which have both been strong swing-and-miss pitches (15% and 15.7% swinging-strike rates, respectively).  

Despite his inconsistencies, Fried has pitched well lately. His next starts will be tough at the Phillies and at the Nationals, but, given that he has two starts and has found recent success, I would start him this week.

 

Strikeout Rate Fallers

All stats current as of Sunday, September 8

 

Zack Wheeler - New York Mets

Season K%: 22.9%, Last 30 Days: 10.9%

I wrote about our first K rate faller for the last two weeks, saying that I was hesitant to start him given his recent performance. Once again, Zack Wheeler proved me wrong, pitching five innings of one-run ball with three strikeouts at the Nationals. However, his K rate over the last 30 days is still at a very low 10.9%, so should fantasy owners have the same concerns they did last week?

Much is the same as last week in terms of Wheeler's overall performance the last 30 days. His ERA has been ok at 3.86, but everything else has not been promising. Wheeler has a poor K rate, a 1.63 WHIP, and a 5.75 SIERA. These numbers echo his season-long marks, which have been disappointing.

Wheeler will face two matchups this week, against the Diamondbacks and against the Dodgers. The first matchup is fine, but the second gives me pause. At this point, given that he has a two-start week, I would start Wheeler, but would not be surprised to see him blow up in his second start.

 

Cole Hamels - Chicago Cubs

Season K%: 22.2%, Last 30 Days: 16.5%

Our second K rate faller has pitched well overall this season, but he has gotten lit up lately. Cole Hamels has posted an 8.53 ERA with a 16.5% K rate over the last 30 days. Hamels has been a huge fantasy asset over the years, so can fantasy owners turn away from him now? 

The main issue for Hamels lately has been his lack of command. His 2.17 WHIP has prevented him from pitching into the sixth inning in four of his last six starts. Consequently, his strikeout numbers have also suffered. Simply summed up, things have not been clicking for Hamels.

Hamels faces a decent matchup this week at the Padres, but one more three-inning start with five earned runs allowed and two strikeouts won't cut it this week. I would not be starting him this week unless I was desperate for starts.

 

K-Rate Risers and Fallers - Premium Tool

Identifying top strikeout rate risers and fallers for each week can help you spot the best pickups before your competition. RotoBaller's Premium K-Rate Risers and Fallers tool has you covered every day. As thoughtful fantasy baseball players, we won't lead you astray. This tool will soon be active once we have a large enough sample size in the season to be considered reliable.

This type of data is available as part of our Premium MLB Subscription. Don't settle for basic stats and surface-level advice from other sites. RotoBaller brings you advanced statistics and professional analysis that you need to win your fantasy leagues and DFS games, because we're ballers just like you. We are your secret weapon!

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Two-Start Pitcher Streamers for Week 24

Everyone's excited for football season. Except for me. As a Bears fan, this year has gotten off to a rough start. But enough about football. You're here to see who to add for Week 24.

Anthony DeSclafani started off Week 22 strong with eight strikeouts over seven scoreless innings against Miami, but his second outing got pushed back into Week 23. Because of that, the best two-start pitcher out of the Week 22 column ended up being Steven Brault, who was 1-0 with six strikeouts and a 3.18 ERA over 11 1/3 innings. As for the frontrunner in Week 23, we saw strong performances from Dylan Cease who had 11 strikeouts while allowing four runs in 6 2/3 innings, and Tanner Roark who had six strikeouts over 6 2/3 scoreless innings. But the surprise from Week 23 has to be my lottery pick, Drew Smyly. I thought he could do well in his matchups, but he did even better than I expected as he allowed one run in 5 1/3 innings while striking out eight in his first start of the week.

There's quite a few risky picks this week, but there's plenty of value to be found in this column. Let's dive in.

 

Week 24 Streamers - Under 50% Owned

Zac Gallen, ARI - 57% owned

Probable opponents: @ NYM, vs CIN

I know he's above the threshold for this column, but this will probably be the last time this year Gallen is this close to 50 percent ownership. Since coming over to Arizona at the trade deadline, Gallen has posted a 2.25 EA across six starts and he has recorded at least six strikeouts in all but one of those outings. And in his last start, he took a no-hitter into the seventh inning and ended the night allowing one hit and one walk with eight strikeouts over seven scoreless innings.

He'll open up this week against the Mets, who are averaging 5.7 runs and 7.0 strikeouts over their last 10 games while hitting .275. Gallen had a solid outing earlier this year against the Mets when he allowed two runs over five innings while striking out five, and he will also benefit from New York's home-road splits as they are hitting slightly worse at home (.249 average, .758 OPS) than on the road (.265, .770). For his second start, Gallen will return to Arizona to take on the struggling Cincinnati Reds who are averaging 3.6 runs and 10.2 strikeouts while hitting .195 over their last 10 games. Gallen will also get an added bonus from the Reds' splits, as they are hitting worse against right-handed starters (.242) than lefties (.258) and they are hitting worse on the road (.239) than at home (.253).

The Mets matchup will be Gallen's toughest outing of the week, but he looks primed for a great fantasy week. Gallen has been nothing short of dominant, and owners who pick him up as a streaming option this week should consider hanging onto him for the rest of the season.

 

Jordan Lyles, MIL - 36% owned

Probable opponents: @ MIA, @ STL

Prior to being traded to the Brewers, Lyles was 5-7 with a 5.36 ERA over 17 starts for Pittsburgh. Since the trade, Lyles has pitched significantly better as he has posted a 5-1 record with a 2.56 ERA over seven starts and in his last three starts, Lyles is 3-0  with a 1.53 ERA and 16 strikeouts over 17 2/3 innings.

Lyles will get an easy start to the week when he travels to Miami to take on the Marlins. Miami is averaging 3.5 runs and 10.4 strikeouts while hitting .209 over their last 10 games, and they are hitting worse against right-handed starters (.235, .657 OPS) than against lefties (.250, .691). After starting off the weak with a soft matchup, Lyles will have a tougher time in his second start when he faces off against the Cardinals. St. Louis is averaging 5.6 runs and 7.2 strikeouts over their last 10 games, and in their last matchup against Lyles they lit him up for eight runs — five earned — over 1 2/3 innings in his last start with the Pirates. That being said, Lyles did pitch well in his first start against St. Louis this season, allowing one run over six innings while striking out six.

It's a "one good start, one bad start" scenario for Lyles in Week 24. The Miami start should be a great fantasy day for Lyles, and based on his recent track record it seems that he could pitch well enough against the Cardinals. If Gallen is already owned in your league, Lyles has to be the next pitcher you target.

Week 24 Streamers - Under 25% Owned

Ivan Nova, CHW - 27% owned

Probable opponents: vs KCR, @ CLE

Nova has struggled in his last two outings, but prior to that he had been riding a streak of solid fantasy outings. During that streak, Nova had posted a 0.94 ERA while going 5-1 across seven starts — including two complete games. He'll start off the week against Kansas City, as they've heated up over their last 10 games by averaging 5.4 runs and 7.8 strikeouts per game. While that seems like cause to avoid Nova, the Royals are hitting worse against right-handed starters (.245, .705 OPS) than lefties (.247, .717) and they're hitting worse on the road (.235, .701) than at home (.255, .715). In his second start, Nova will have a rematch with Cleveland after getting lit up for six runs over 4 1/3 innings in his last outing. Despite that rough outing, the potential is there for Nova to have a solid start as Cleveland is averaging 4.4 runs and 9.8 strikeouts while hitting .236 over their last 10 games.

Starting Nova this week is definitely a risky pickup, but the pieces seem to be in place for him to have a solid bounce-back week. Owners should take a look at the other pitchers in this column first, but if they've been added then Nova should be a solid fall-back plan.

Merrill Kelly, ARI - 17% owned

Probable opponents: @ NYM, vs CIN

Another Arizona pitcher makes this week's column as Kelly enters Week 24 coming off his best start in over a month as he tossed seven scoreless innings with nine strikeouts against the Padres. Kelly has been very inconsistent throughout this season, but he has shown some signs of improvement over his last six starts, as he has recorded four starts allowing three or fewer runs and has averaged over five strikeouts per game.

Kelly will benefit from the same righty-lefty and home-road splits against the Mets and Reds that Gallen will have this week. He's a risky play because of his inconsistency, but if you like the fantasy matchups against New York and Cincinnati and Gallen is already owned, Kelly should be a decent value this week.

Logan Webb, SFG - 15% owned

Probable opponents: vs PIT, vs MIA

Webb was tagged for eight runs — seven earned — over just 2 2/3 innings his last time out against St. Louis. Before then however, Webb had pitched well in his first three career starts as he posted a 3.52 ERA with 16 strikeouts over 15 1/3 innings. He'll try to get back on track against Pittsburgh in his first start of the week, but it will be an uphill battle as the Pirates are averaging 6.7 runs and 7.3 strikeouts while hitting .313 over their last 10 games. If Webb can post an average outing against the Pirates, owners will be rewarded with a great outing against Miami. He'll get the same lefty-righty splits benefit that Lyles will have in his start against the Marlins, plus Webb will get the added bonus of Miami's struggles hitting on the road (.234, .657) versus at home (.244, .675).

Much like Lyles, Webb has one good start and one bad start this week. Owners should definitely try to target Lyles first over Webb, but if he gets picked up before you can add him, Webb should be a decent fill-in.

 

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Are You For Real? Surprising SP Starts from Week 23

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 the return of a former rotation mainstay in Sean Manaea, and at a rotation afterthought in Steven Brault. Both lefties put up solid starts over the Labor Day weekend and could be useful during the final month.

Ownership is based on Yahoo leagues and is accurate as of 09/02/2019. The goal of this article is to look at pitchers widely available that could be useful in fantasy, whether they have been recently added by a ton of teams or are still sitting on waivers.

 

Sean Manaea, Oakland Athletics

39% Owned

09/01 @ NYY: 5 IP, 1 H 0 ER, 3 BB, 5 K

Sean Manaea made his first big league start of the season on Sunday, and only allowed one hit over five innings in Yankee Stadium. Naturally, this good start has sparked interest in the big lefty, and Manaea’s ownership has skyrocketed to nearly 40%. Manaea was looking like a 2018 breakout before suffering a torn shoulder labrum, as Manaea posted a 3.65 ERA and 3.38 K/BB in 27 starts. Manaea got it done with a three-pitch repertoire of a four-seam fastball, slider, and changeup. He incorporated all three into this start against the Yankees, but the real question is whether these pitches are still as good as they were pre-surgery.

First, let’s start with the fastball. Manaea averaged 91 MPH with his fastball in this start, which is half a mile below his career average, but half a mile above his velocity last season. Manaea did hit 94.6 on the gun, which is a solid indicator that the surgery did not have a big impact on his velocity. Manaea has never been known for lighting up the radar gun, but it’s good to see Manaea maintain his previous velocity numbers. He threw his fastball 70.7% of the time in this start, which is 13% higher than his career mark. It’s impossible to tell whether this is a new trend for Manaea or just him easing his way back into big-league play, but increased fastball usage would not be a welcome change for Manaea. He’s always had the most success with his secondary pitches, and the performance of his slider and changeup will tell us the most about how Manaea can fare coming back from surgery.

The fact that Manaea only threw eight changeups is a little disconcerting, seeing as the changeup has been his go-to secondary pitch throughout his career. He usually only throws the pitch against right-handed hitters, and the Yankees started six righties in this game, so one has to wonder why Manaea didn’t use the pitch more often. Manaea’s velocity was a bit down on his changeup, which is a little worrisome, but the real issue is the reduction in movement with the pitch. Manaea’s spin rate was up 300 RPM in this start, and he lost about two inches of drop and break with the pitch compared to last season. It was only eight pitches, and this was only his first start of the year, but this suggests Manaea either didn’t have a feel for the pitch or can’t obtain the same movement with the pitch yet. Either way, I’m skeptical that Manaea can sustain success without his changeup at its peak. It’s his best pitch, and his performance hinges on it.

The good news for Manaea is that he had comparable movement with his slider in this start compared to last season. Manaea’s slider is below league average in terms of movement and strikeouts, but seeing him maintain his past movement is encouraging for Manaea’s recovery. Manaea still has hurdles to overcome, but he could be a solid streamer for the remainder of the year. His pitch mix is worth monitoring, as is his changeup performance. He may also face longevity concerns as the Athletics ease him back into action.

Verdict:

Manaea didn’t have his best pitch, the changeup, at full strength in this one. He’ll have trouble maintain this type of success without his changeup, but it’s hard to gauge whether he will regain previous movement this season. Manaea could be used as a streamer, but based on how his ownership level has risen, owners are expecting a little more out of him based on name value. Use him in soft matchups, but don’t expect to get peak Sean Manaea this season.

Steven Brault, Pittsburgh Pirates

2019 Stats (prior to this start): 88.2 IP, 4.06 ERA, 4.22 FIP, 9.3% K-BB%

09/01 @ COL: 6.1 IP, 4 H, 2 R (1 ER), 2 BB, 5 K

Brault has quietly been pitching well as of late, posting a 3.41 ERA, 3.74 FIP, and 3.0 K/BB ratio in the second half. It’s easy to overlook someone doing well in Pittsburgh these days, but it’s a lot less easy to ignore when that pitcher does well in Coors Field. Brault got it done with three pitches in this one, his four-seamer, his two-seamer, and his slider. Brault only threw five sliders, so he was working almost exclusively off fastballs in this start. It’s an odd approach from Brault, as he doesn’t exactly blow anyone away with his heater, but this approach could have its merits for a pitcher like Brault.

Brault has increased in sinker usage in the second half, up to 24%, but his fastball usage was way up in this start. Brault may have leaned off his secondary pitches in this start because breaking balls have less movement at high altitude. However, Brault has had a few other starts with fastball usage above 85%, including his eight-strikeout performance against the Cubs on 08/17. He’s also seen an increase in fastball velocity throughout August, averaging 92.7 MPH with his four-seamer. Brault was above 93 MPH in this start against the Rockies, and he was above 93 MPH in his start against the Cubs. Brault has gotten better results with his four-seam fastball as his fastball velocity has risen. In the first half, batters hit .272 with a .449 SLG against Brault’s fastball, but are hitting .219 with a .406 SLG since August 1. This could merely be because Brault’s BABIP against has fallen over 50 points in August, but his improvements can at least be somewhat attributed to an increase in velocity.

Brault’s best strikeout pitch has always been his slider, so it’s surprising to see that his slider usage decreased by 2% over the last month. His usage may have decreased slightly, but his slider effectiveness has increased dramatically. Brault’s whiff rate has improved by 8% up to 23%, and opponent batting average fell 90 points down to .167 with zero extra-base hits. Brault has gained an inch and a half of break and two inches of drop with the pitch over this stretch as well. He began using the pitch as his out pitch against right-handed hitters in favor of his changeup. His strikeout numbers haven’t jumped as much as I would expect given these changes, in fact, they haven’t jumped at all. Brault is still living in that 19% range. If these slider improvements stick then Brault’s strikeout rate should eventually climb, but it’s hard for him to pile up the punchouts with 75% fastball usage.

I’m interested in what Brault’s doing, but the upside isn’t quite here to risk using him outside of deep leagues. He’s on a bad team and has a sub-20% strikeout rate. He could help with ratios, but based on his track record we cannot rely on Brault for ratios based on one month of work. I’m more intrigued with him as a sleeper for next season, especially if these slider gains hold, but I think Brault has a little more growing to do before he becomes a reliable starter. He’s a usable streamer for now.

Verdict:

Brault has both improved his fastball velocity and slider movement, which has correlated in improved results. Unfortunately, a good chunk of those results appears to be BABIP-driven. The potential for more strikeouts is here, but Brault hasn’t quite reached his peak yet. With just a month left in the season, he may not reach his peak at all this year. Still, he can be streamed in the right matchup.

 

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Statcast Pitcher Studs and Duds: Hard-Hit Rate for Week 23

Welcome back to RotoBaller’s pitchers Statcast studs and duds article series! Each week we will select an advanced stat, choose two risers and two fallers, and analyze what those stats could mean for future fantasy output. I wrote about this stat in week 18 and it is one that can help indicate overall pitcher performance; that stat is hard-hit rate.

Hard-hit rate is defined as a ball hit at least 95 MPH. The reasoning behind that mark can be found here. It is important to note that exit velocity is a better stat for hitters than pitchers because hitters have a greater influence on the measure. That being said, hard-hit rate (and batted-ball profile overall) is very important for pitchers. Generally speaking, pitchers don’t want to give up hard contact as it improves the hitter’s chance of getting a hit.

The fantasy playoffs are upon us and each start is very important. Getting hit hard increases the chance of a poor start, so it is important to identify who has avoided hard contact. Let's get going identifying two hard-hit studs and two hard-hit duds!

 

Hard-Hit Rate Studs

All stats current as of Monday, September 2, courtesy of Baseballsavant.com.

 

Anibal Sanchez - Washington Nationals

(8-6, 3.80 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 27.1% hard-hit rate) 

Our first hard-hit rate stud, despite his age, has put together his second consecutive strong season and currently has the lowest hard-hit rate among pitchers with at least 400 batted-ball events. 35-year-old Anibal Sanchez has a 3.80 ERA and 1.32 WHIP with a mere 27.1% hard-hit rate. Let's see how the veteran has found his success. 

Sanchez presents a bit of a puzzling case here. His batted-ball profile has been excellent overall as it was last season (86.3-MPH average exit velocity, 14.5-degree launch angle). However, Sanchez's arsenal is nothing special; he doesn't throw hard (fastball velocity is in the bottom seven percent of baseball) and his offspeed pitches don't have a ton of spin on them. He does throw a cutter, split-finger fastball, and sinker, yet his launch angle is not that of a groundball pitcher. Finally, his 1.32 WHIP and 8.8% walk rate do not indicate that he has had pinpoint command, which you would think would be needed to avoid hard contact without great pitches.

Sanchez currently has a 5.05 SIERA, which makes things even more puzzling. However, at this point in the season, I think he will continue to outperform his SIERA. He will face a surging Mets offense this week, but, given his performance all season long, I would be starting him.

 

Eduardo Rodriguez - Boston Red Sox

(16-5, 3.97 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 28.4% hard-hit rate)

Our second hard-hit rate stud has put together a solid season throughout, posting a 3.97 ERA, 28.4% hard-hit rate, and 22.8% strikeout rate. Eduardo Rodriguez has had some control issues this season but has pitched much better over the past 30 days with a 2.78 ERA, all the while avoiding hard contact. Let's take a look at E Rod's performance.

While his control has been poor at times, he has managed to post decent strikeout numbers and has avoided damaging contact (28.4% hard-hit rate, 85.7-MPH average exit velocity, 8.5-degree launch angle). His 2.78 ERA of late has been solid, but his 1.35 WHIP and 4.87 SIERA indicate that he has outperformed himself and has gotten lucky.

Like Sanchez, Rodriguez has shown some conflicting signs throughout the season. However, given the upside he has shown and the strong team he pitches on, I would continue to rely on him this week, even against a tough Twins matchup. 

 

Hard-Hit Rate Duds

All stats current as of Monday, September 2, courtesy of Baseballsavant.com.

 

Shane Bieber - Cleveland Indians

(12-7, 3.278 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 44% hard-hit rate)

My battle trying to understand this pitcher continues. Shane Bieber has been fantastic this season in terms of his peripherals and strikeout numbers. However, he also has a bunch of not-so-great underlying stats, including his hard-hit rate; Bieber's 44% mark is fifth-highest among pitchers with at least 400 batted-ball events. Given all the positives, should fantasy owners even think of questioning sitting him in the playoffs?

The concerns I have voiced throughout the season regarding Bieber still hold true. His pitch arsenal in itself isn't all that impressive; his fastball sits at 93.1 MPH and his slider and curveball don't have a ton on spin on them. Despite this, he has managed a strong 31% strikeout rate. I still haven't been able to find a good explanation for this, but feel like this should continue given its track record.

Further, Bieber had managed to keep his ERA and WHIP down despite a poor batted-ball profile. He has gotten hit quite hard this season (90.4-MPH exit velocity, 11.8-degree launch angle). Even more puzzling is his 3.30 SIERA, which measures a pitcher's individual performance with batted-ball profile in mind.

I am done questioning Bieber. He has been great despite contradictory underlying stats and fantasy owners have gotten to the playoffs because of him. He'll face the White Sox this week, who have been hitting well lately, but I consider him to be matchup-proof for the rest of the season.

 

Madison Bumgarner - San Francisco Giants

(9-8, 3.62 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 41.1% hard-hit rate)

Our second hard-hit rate dud is a veteran who has been a fantasy staple for many seasons and is still getting it done. Madison Bumgarner has been solid for the Giants this season, particularly in the second half of the season. However, his hard-hit rate is in the bottom 13 percent of the league. Is this something that fantasy owners should be worried about down the stretch?

There isn't a ton of analysis to be done here; simply put, Bumgarner has been one of baseball's best pitchers for a long time and can be trusted, especially when it matters most. His command has been there (1.09 WHIP, 5.1% walk rate), his velocity has bounced back some since last season (91.4-MPH fastball), and he has continued to rack up strikeouts (24.9% strikeout rate). His batted-ball profile isn't great, but he pitches his home games in one of the best pitcher-friendly parks, which helps mitigate the results.

Overall, MadBum is a fantasy player that always provides in the clutch. He'll face the Cardinals on the road this week, a mediocre matchup, but I would never consider sitting him if I owned him. 

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Strikeout Rate Risers and Fallers - Buy or Sell for Week 23

Welcome back to the strikeout rate risers and fallers series for Week 23! Each week we will take a look at two K% risers and two fallers, analyze what is behind those changes, and then decide if they are actionable. A pitcher can best control their fate by generating swings and misses, so this exercise holds particular importance for fantasy value. Understanding strikeout trends and the stats behind them can help you sort through all the noise and determine which pitchers are legit and which pitchers should be avoided.

The players in this article were chosen using RotoBaller’s K% Risers and Fallers premium Tool. This tool identifies players who are surging and falling in strikeout percentage over the last 30 days. The goal of this tool is to help you find pitchers who are showing improving or declining K%.

Most leagues are now into the fantasy playoffs, so every start counts. To benefit fantasy players the most at this time, I will write this article a little differently than I have done for most of the season. I will discuss two strikeout rate risers who are not widely owned and may be potential streaming options; I will then discuss two strikeout rate fallers who are widely owned and may be potential sits in their starts this week. Trends are helpful over the course of the season, but fantasy owners are only worried about the next week at this time, so let's get going!

Strikeout Rate Risers

All stats current as of Sunday, September 1

 

Jordan Zimmermann - Detroit Tigers

Season K%: 17.1%, Last 30 Days: 25%

Our first K rate riser has actually been fantasy irrelevant for most of the season. Jordan Zimmermann has a poor 6.24 ERA and 1.42 WHIP on the season. However, he has been much better over the past 30 days (3.27 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, 25% K rate). Zimmermann is currently owned in just three percent of Yahoo leagues; could he be a sneaky pickup for next week?

Zimmermann found success in August by switching up his pitch usage. He actually used his slider more than his fastball (31.9% vs 27.8%), the first month that he has done so. Hopefully this trend will continue, as Zimmermann allowed a .233 batting average with the pitch and saw an uptick in strikeouts. He also managed to avoid hard contact, thanks in part to his improved control.  He allowed a mere .211 BABIP in August and had a solid 3.54 SIERA.   

It looks like signs are pointing up for Zimmermann and he has a two-start week, making him even more intriguing. His matchups are tough (against the Twins, at the A's), but he pitched well in his last three starts which were tough (at the Rays, at the Astros, against the Indians). While I certainly wouldn't consider it ideal, I think that Zimmermann could be streamed this week in points leagues for those willing to look past his season stats.     

 

Mike Montgomery - Kansas City Royals

Season K%: 18.4%, Last 30 Days: 25.8%

Our second K rate riser has been fantasy relevant in the past and could be useful this upcoming week. Mike Montgomery has a mediocre 4.66 ERA and 1.57 WHIP this season, but has been much better lately, posting a 2.45 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 25.8% K rate over the last 30 days. At 18-percent ownership, could he too be a useful streamer?     

While his numbers overall have indeed been better, Montgomery's K rate is bloated thanks to a 12-strikeout performance against the Tigers. Montgomery took advantage of a solid matchup, but this was not the only reason his numbers look better. Montgomery has mixed his pitches well all season, but he relied mostly on his cutter in August, which he generated a .115 batting average against and has managed a 14% swinging-strike rate with on the season. He also relied more on his changeup, which has also been a good swing-and-miss pitch (13% swinging-strike rate).

Montgomery seems to be firing on all cylinders right now and has a great matchup against the Tigers this week. He dominated them in his last start against them as mentioned above, so I would have no problem picking him up and using him in both points and roto leagues this week.

 

Strikeout Rate Fallers

All stats current as of Sunday, September 1

 

Zack Wheeler- New York Mets

Season K%: 23.2%, Last 30 Days: 14.4%

I wrote about our first K rate faller last week, saying that I was hesitant to start him given his recent performance. Zack Wheeler actually turned in a strong start against the Phillies, pitching six innings of one-run ball with four strikeouts. However, his K rate over the last 30 days is still at a poor 14.4%, so should fantasy owners have the same concerns they did last week?

Much is the same as last week in terms of Wheeler's overall performance the last 30 days. His ERA has been good at 3.41, but everything else has not been promising. Wheeler has a poor K rate, a 1.41 WHIP, and a 5.25 SIERA. These numbers echo his season-long marks, which have been disappointing.

Wheeler will face another tough matchup at the Nationals this week and, like last week, I wouldn't feel great starting him. I would understand owners starting him given his potential, especially in points leagues, but would hesitate to start him in roto leagues depending on where teams are in terms of standings.

 

Caleb Smith - Miami Marlins

Season K%: 28.7%, Last 30 Days: 20.5%

Our second K rate faller also made this article last week given his recent struggles. I had said that Caleb Smith had been inconsistent lately but suggested starting him given his two-start week. This turned out to be a big mistake, as Smith allowed 11 earned runs in those starts. Even worse, his K rate has continued to fall over the past 30 days to a pedestrian 20.5%. Smith has been a useful fantasy option for most of the season, so should fantasy owners trust him this week? 

The drop in strikeout rate lately can still be attributed to inconsistent command.  Smith has allowed 11 home runs and 16 walks in his last six starts. His strikeout rate isn't awful by any means, but he'll need to find his command again to be successful, regardless of who he faces.

Smith's recent performance certainly does not inspire confidence, but he does face a strong matchup against the Royals. In this instance, I would go with the matchup and Smith's upside and start him, despite his recent struggles.

 

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Two-Start Pitcher Streamers for Week 23

With rosters expanding this week, we will get the chance to see a lot of interesting fantasy option popping up throughout the league. So keep an eye out next week for some newcomers to potentially make this list.

In the meantime though it's time for our weekly recap. There's no doubt as to who the Week 21 winning pick was, as Dakota Hudson went 2-0 with 12 2/3 scoreless innings and nine strikeouts against the Brewers and the Rockies. As for Week 22, Anthony DeSclafani is the frontrunner from that column after earning the win with seven shutout innings and eight strikeouts against the Marlins.

Let's take a look now at this week's two-start streamers as we kick off the month of September.

 

Week 23 Streamers - Under 50% Owned

Aaron Civale, CLE - 49% owned

Probable opponents: vs CHW, @ MIN

Don't let the 2-3 record fool you, Civale has been a force to be reckoned with for the Indians over the last month. Over six outings, he has a 1.96 ERA and five quality starts while striking out 30 in 36 2/3 innings of work.In his last start, Civale allowed two runs over seven innings while striking out five against the Tigers.

He'll start off the week at home against the White Sox, who have averaged 4.0 runs and 9.8 strikeouts per game over their last 10 games. Civale will also have the benefit of Chicago's struggles against right-handed starters, as the White Sox are hitting .246 with a .670 OPS against right-handed starters as opposed to a .273 average and .777 OPS against left-handed starters. His second start will be the tough matchup of the week, as the Twins have averaged 7.6 runs and 10.5 strikeouts while hitting .286 over their last 10 games. Civale has already faced Minnesota once this year, limiting the Twins to just one run over six innings with five strikeouts, and much like Chicago, the Twins have also hit worse against right-handed starters (.268, .829 OPS) than against lefties (.285, .886).

Civale will have a good matchup against the White Sox, and a coin-toss matchup against the Twins. That Minnesota start will be the deciding factor for most owners this week as to whether they will pick him up or not, My money says that Civale should keep the Twins' offense in check this week and will end up as one of the top — if not the top — option from this week's column.

Tanner Roark, OAK - 39% owned

Probable opponents: vs LAA, vs DET

Roark had struggled in his last month with Cincinnati prior to the trade deadline, but since joining Oakland he has been pitching much better. In five starts with the Athletics, Roark is 2-1 with a 3.30 ERA and 27 strikeouts over 30 innings.

He opens up the week against the Angels, as he makes his second start of the year against them. His last time out, Roark allowed one earned run over 5 1/3 innings while striking out six Angels, but he did not factor into the decision in that game. The Angels will enter the game having averaged 4.3 runs and 8.8 strikeouts while hitting .221 over their last 10 games, and they are hitting slightly worse on the road (.250 average, .743 OPS) than at home (.254, .781). Roark will follow up this start with a matchup against Detroit, as the Tigers are averaging 4.1 runs and 11.0 strikeouts per game while hitting .252 over their last 10 games. The Tigers are also hitting significantly worse against right-handed starters (.229, .659) than lefties (.267, .761), which should benefit Roark.

Roark has to be the next target for owners if Civale is already picked up this week. Civale has slightly higher upside, but a pair of soft opponents this week makes Roark a solid option in most leagues.

Week 23 Streamers - Under 25% Owned

Dylan Cease, CHW - 14% owned

Probable opponents: @ CLE, vs LAA

After getting rocked to the tune of eight runs in two innings his last time out against the Twins, Cease will look to rebound this week against the Indians and the Angels. He'll open the week on the road in Cleveland, as he faces an Indians offense that has averaged 4.1 runs and 7.1 strikeouts over their last 10 games. Cease will also benefit from Cleveland's batting splits, as they are hitting worse against right-handed starters (.246, .739) than against lefties (.262, .804). After Cleveland, Cease will return home to face the Angels, who lit him up for five runs over five innings in his last start against them. That being said, Cease should still benefit from the Angels' recent struggles at the plate as well as the home-road splits that Roark will benefit from.

Cease has been pitching a little rough lately, but this week has the potential to be a bounceback week against Cleveland and Los Angeles. Owners should pick up Cease if they're looking for strikeouts and willing to risk a slightly elevated ERA this week.

Mitch Keller, PIT - 10% owned

Probable opponents: vs MIA, vs STL

Much like Cease, Keller enters this week looking to rebound after a rough time out in his last start. Keller lasted only four innings against Philadelphia, allowing eight runs on 11 hits, but he also had eight strikeouts against the Phillies. He'll have a great matchup to get back on track for his first start of the week, as he faces the Marlins at home. Miami is averaging 4.5 runs and 10.7 strikeouts while hitting .228 over their last 10 games, On top of that, the Marlins are hitting 22 points worse against right-handed starters than lefties, and they are hitting 13 points worse on the road than at home. After Miami though, Keller will face a difficult start against the Cardinals, who are averaging 6.6 runs and 6.7 strikeouts over their last 10 games.

This is your "One good start, one bad start" pitcher of the week. Keller should have a great outing against Miami, and while he might take a slight hit to ERA against the Cardinals, he should provide enough strikeout value to make up for it. Between Keller and Cease in Week 23, target Keller first and Cease second based solely on upside from the Marlins start.

Drew Smyly, PHI - 5% owned

Probable opponents: @ CIN, @ NYM

I'm going to be completely honest — Smyly is a desperation, lottery ticket option for this week. He's struggled over his last four starts with a 6.75 ERA, but he does have 18 strikeouts in 20 innings of work over that span. Smyly will start off the week against the Reds, who have averaged 4.0 runs and 9.7 strikeouts while hitting .233 over their last 10 games. He'll then face off against the Mets, who are also averaging 4.0 runs over their last 10 games while averaging 7.5 strikeouts and hitting .243 in that span. Smyly should also benefit from New York's home road splits, as they are hitting 14 points worse at home than on the road.

Like I said, Smyly is a lottery pick that should be available in virtually every league. He's not going to single-handedly win your league this week, but he should provide a solid boost that could help make the difference. Target Smyly last out of the guys on this list, but if you need someone he's in line to help you out for Week 23.

 

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Rest-Of-Season Starting Pitcher Rankings (September Update)

With the MLB regular season winding down, we begin to close in on the final stretch of your fantasy baseball championship run. We've collected some of the brightest baseball minds here at Rotoballer to deliver you our rest-of-season rankings analysis to help you secure your league title. Now that fantasy football is nearly in full swing, take advantage of distracted managers in your league by staying active on the waiver wire and staying on top of trending hitters.

Starting pitchers have been the bane of fantasy owners' existence this year. Whether you side with Justin Verlander or not, it's obvious that offense as a whole, especially home runs, are up. That's been bad news for many SP that were drafted in the first few rounds. If you are still in the thick of the race in your mixed roto league, it's critical to find the right pitchers to trust so your ratios don't tank.

Throw those preseason ADPs out along with any preconceived notion of how these players were going to perform - we've taken into account injuries, team context, Statcast metrics, and gameplay observations in order to provide you with the most current rankings possible. Check out our fantasy baseball rankings dashboard for the very latest rankings which are continually updated. Without any more delay, let's break down the 2019 SP rest-of-season rankings for September.

 

Updated SP Ranks - 5x5 Mixed Leagues (September)

In case you missed it, our very own "Big Pick Nick" Mariano was named the #1 overall most accurate industry expert ranker for the 2018 season. You can follow his ranks all season long. Win big with RotoBaller in 2019! 

Ranking Tier Player Position Nick Nick G Riley
1 1 Justin Verlander SP 5 4 5
2 1 Gerrit Cole SP 6 6 6
3 1 Jacob deGrom SP 13 10 10
4 2 Walker Buehler SP 17 20 16
5 2 Luis Castillo SP 29 28 30
6 2 Clayton Kershaw SP 31 26 33
7 2 Hyun-Jin Ryu SP 23 46 26
8 2 Max Scherzer SP 47 29 22
9 2 Zack Greinke SP 28 41 29
10 2 Stephen Strasburg SP 32 27 43
11 2 Shane Bieber SP 45 25 38
12 3 Charlie Morton SP 37 37 36
13 3 Mike Clevinger SP 42 49 65
14 3 Patrick Corbin SP 52 63 59
15 3 Aaron Nola SP 41 51 94
16 3 Jack Flaherty SP 71 39 103
17 3 Lucas Giolito SP 69 77 88
18 3 Domingo German SP 77 74 89
19 4 Mike Soroka SP 111 86 50
20 4 Trevor Bauer SP 103 94 63
21 4 Jose Berrios SP 101 83 77
22 4 Noah Syndergaard SP 83 99 90
23 4 Madison Bumgarner SP 98 97 80
24 4 Lance Lynn SP 89 82 109
25 4 Yu Darvish SP 66 114 117
26 4 Sonny Gray SP 113 87 98
27 4 James Paxton SP 94 112 101
28 4 Mike Minor SP 119 91 97
29 5 Caleb Smith SP 133 95 84
30 5 Matthew Boyd SP 95 92 142
31 5 Masahiro Tanaka SP 112 115 115
32 5 Kyle Hendricks SP 137 88 129
33 5 Kenta Maeda SP 131 126 112
34 5 Zack Wheeler SP 144 142 116
35 5 Cole Hamels SP 141 171 111
36 5 Max Fried SP 147 147 161
37 5 Mike Fiers SP 189 129 138
38 5 German Marquez SP 151 143 171
39 5 Robbie Ray SP 201 148 118
40 6 Ryan Yarbrough SP 148 146 176
41 6 Wade Miley SP 153 141 179
42 6 Jake Odorizzi SP 210 156 123
43 6 Eduardo Rodriguez SP 166 177 148
44 6 Chris Paddack SP 202 182 114
45 6 Marcus Stroman SP 184 184 157
46 6 Zac Gallen SP 160 188 187
47 6 Andrew Heaney SP 161 205 #N/A
48 6 David Price SP 139 181 265
49 6 Miles Mikolas SP 194 178 213
50 6 Ian Kennedy SP 182 176 250
51 6 Jose Quintana SP 179 189 245
52 6 Dinelson Lamet SP 186 172 275
53 6 Cal Quantrill SP 270 163 #N/A
54 6 Zach Plesac SP 218 208 224
55 6 Joey Lucchesi SP 294 194 165
56 7 Joe Musgrove SP 212 206 236
57 7 Michael Pineda SP 245 199 217
58 7 Jeff Samardzija SP 303 207 167
59 7 Diego Castillo RP/SP 219 236 #N/A
60 7 Dallas Keuchel SP 309 231 149
61 7 Anibal Sanchez SP 272 193 229
62 7 John Gant SP 223 240 #N/A
63 7 Julio Teheran SP 244 218 241
64 7 Aaron Sanchez SP 226 251 #N/A
65 7 Chris Bassitt SP 317 160 #N/A
66 7 Colin Poche SP 237 241 #N/A
67 7 John Means SP 256 229 235
68 8 Kyle Gibson SP 322 211 195
69 8 Jon Lester SP 340 #N/A 152
70 8 Giovanny Gallegos SP 238 246 289
71 8 Brendan McKay SP/1B 265 266 243
72 8 Dakota Hudson SP 261 261 #N/A
73 8 Dustin May SP 311 268 206
74 8 Reynaldo Lopez SP 267 260 #N/A
75 8 Blake Snell SP 290 255 256
76 8 Brandon Woodruff SP #N/A 267 #N/A
77 8 Jose Urena SP 269 #N/A #N/A
78 9 Jose Suarez SP 275 #N/A #N/A
79 9 Merrill Kelly SP 338 #N/A 220
80 9 Corey Kluber SP 297 288 262
81 9 Anthony DeSclafani SP 308 269 #N/A
82 9 Steven Matz SP 310 285 278
83 9 J.A. Happ SP 316 #N/A 266
84 9 Dylan Cease SP 287 #N/A 299
85 9 Carlos Carrasco SP 332 256 #N/A
86 9 Homer Bailey SP 296 296 #N/A
87 9 Yonny Chirinos SP 301 293 #N/A
88 10 Alex Wood SP 323 273 #N/A
89 10 Chase Anderson SP 299 #N/A #N/A
90 10 Joe Ross SP 300 #N/A #N/A
91 10 Jakob Junis SP 306 #N/A #N/A
92 10 Jordan Lyles SP 307 #N/A #N/A
93 10 Amir Garrett SP 315 #N/A #N/A
94 10 Brad Keller SP 337 294 #N/A
95 10 Sandy Alcantara SP 319 #N/A #N/A
96 10 Trevor Richards SP 408 292 264
97 10 Marco Gonzales SP 325 #N/A #N/A
98 10 Vince Velasquez SP 327 #N/A #N/A
99 10 Jordan Yamamoto SP 328 #N/A #N/A
100 10 Adam Conley SP/RP 329 #N/A #N/A
101 10 Tyler Beede SP 330 #N/A #N/A
102 10 Tanner Roark SP 422 242 #N/A
103 11 Chris Archer SP 389 #N/A 288
104 11 Asher Wojciechowski SP 341 #N/A #N/A
105 11 Julio Urias SP 391 #N/A 296
106 11 Nathan Eovaldi SP 419 #N/A 279
107 11 Pablo Lopez SP 351 #N/A #N/A
108 11 Mitch Keller SP 423 #N/A 284
109 11 Matt Strahm RP/SP 354 #N/A #N/A
110 11 Rick Porcello SP 355 #N/A #N/A
111 11 Trevor Williams SP 357 #N/A #N/A
112 11 Zach Davies SP 361 #N/A #N/A
113 11 Mike Leake SP 363 #N/A #N/A
114 11 Tony Gonsolin SP 372 #N/A #N/A
115 11 Sean Manaea SP 388 #N/A #N/A
116 11 Ivan Nova SP 392 #N/A #N/A
117 11 Elieser Hernandez SP/RP 395 #N/A #N/A
118 11 Jake Arrieta SP 397 #N/A #N/A
119 11 Kevin Gausman SP 401 #N/A #N/A
120 11 Framber Valdez SP 403 #N/A #N/A
121 11 Drew Smyly SP 406 #N/A #N/A
122 12 Adam Wainwright SP 407 #N/A #N/A
123 12 CC Sabathia SP 409 #N/A #N/A
124 12 Mike Montgomery SP/RP 410 #N/A #N/A
125 12 Yusei Kikuchi SP 413 #N/A #N/A
126 12 Mike Foltynewicz SP 414 #N/A #N/A
127 12 Gio Gonzalez SP 416 #N/A #N/A
128 12 Eric Lauer SP 417 #N/A #N/A
129 12 Zach Eflin SP 418 #N/A #N/A
130 12 Andrew Cashner SP 421 #N/A #N/A
131 12 Martin Perez SP 424 #N/A #N/A
132 12 Drew Pomeranz SP 425 #N/A #N/A
133 12 Luis Severino SP 426 #N/A #N/A
134 12 Jesus Luzardo SP 427 #N/A #N/A
135 12 Spencer Turnbull SP 428 #N/A #N/A
136 12 Jose Urquidy SP 429 #N/A #N/A
137 12 Dylan Bundy SP 430 #N/A #N/A

 

Rankings Analysis - Top Tiers

Tier One

Justin Verlander continues to be impossibly good at age 36, with a 2.77 ERA and 35% K-rate over 179 innings. But Verlander is somehow getting better as the season goes on, going 5-1 with a 2.25 ERA and 43.7% K-rate since the All-Star break. And then there's Gerrit Cole, who has a 2.25 ERA since the break and a 39.7% K-rate that's second only to his teammate Verlander. Cole has now struck out double-digit batters in six of his last nine starts and is in the midst of one the great contract-year performances in sports history. Listen to Teddy KGB and pay that man his mo-ney.
Here's the simplest way to explain why the Astros are the prohibitive World Series favorites; in a seven-game series, Verlander and Cole will start at least four of the games…Good luck, everyone!

The problem with having a transcendent year like the one that Mets starter Jacob deGrom had in 2018, is that anything but a repeat-performance is seen as disappointing. deGrom may not be as dominant as he was last year but he’s pretty close, posting a 31.9% K-rate that’s virtually identical and a 15.7% swinging-strike rate that’s actually increased by a half-point. And his 2.56 ERA might be almost a run higher than last year’s ridiculous 1.70 ERA, but it’s still a 2.56 ERA and 1.04 WHIP over 162 innings. So, no complaining allowed.

Tier Two

Welcome to the party, pal! After spending two years as an “ace-in-waiting”, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Walker Buehler is waiting no more after a dominant 2019 thus far. Buehler has only gotten better since his impressive rookie campaign, increasing his strikeout-rate by two points, while shaving two-points from his walk-rate and posting double-digit strikeouts in four games this season, including a 15 K shutout against the Padres on August 3. Ascend, young ace. Ascend.

In a tier full of the old-guard, it might be a 26-year-old Luis Castillo who’s one of the best of the bunch for the remainder of 2019. Over 154 innings this year, Castillo is 12-5 with a 3.04 ERA with 179 strikeouts. Castillo remains held back by a 9.7% walk-rate, but improvements may already be here; he has a 4.0% walk-rate in his nine starts since the beginning of July while keeping his K-rate steady.

Injury concerns are the only reasons that Max Scherzer is slumming it in Tier 2, instead of taking his rightful place near the top. Having spent nearly 50 days on the injured list this year, Scherzer finally returned on August 22 to pitch four innings ( and 71 pitches), allowing one run and striking out three. While there were no reported setbacks, Scherzer has said that he’s not out of the woods yet and will likely not be throwing with maximum effort in order to avoid reinjuring himself. Danger Will Robinson. Danger.

Looks like I’m the low-man on Dodger pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu but it’s not talent or performance that lands him in this tier, as his 12 wins, 2.00 ERA and 0.98 WHIP say that he obviously belongs higher. But this time of year, it’s less about what you’ve done, and more about what lies ahead. And that might be more rest for Ryu, as his 152 2/3 innings are the most for the 32-year-old leftie since 2014. With his worst performances of the year coming in his last two starts, in which he gave up a total of 11 runs in 10 innings – allowing five home runs – Dodger management could be very careful in managing his health and innings as September rolls around.

We’re all on the same page with rooting for Cleveland’s Shane Bieber to challenge Justin to a Highlander-style fight to the death, right? If there can only be one Bieber, then hopefully the one who has an 11.0 K/9 and 3.23 ERA over 175 innings will win. After an impressive rookie campaign, Bieber now has a 30.1 % K-rate on the season which is a six-point increase over 2018’s mark, while pitching the third-most innings in baseball in 2019.

Tier Three

Cleveland’s Mike Clevinger started the year off in spectacular fashion, going 1-0 in his first two starts with 22 strikeouts in 12 innings. But then injuries cost him over two months, and after allowing 12 earned runs in his first two starts back, the world seemed to forget about the breakout that was promised by his dominant start to 2019. But since those two bad starts, Clevinger has been all that was promised and more, going 8-0 over his last 10 starts, with a 2.11 ERA and 34.6% K-rate over 60 innings. If not for the early-season injuries, we could very well be placing him in the same conversation with Walker Buehler and Luis Castillo.

It’s been an up-and-down season for Philadelphia ace Aaron Nola, with his owners spending much of the first half of the season wondering what exactly was wrong, be it injuries or stuff. Through his first 15 starts, Nola was 6-1 with a 25.1% K-rate but had an unsightly 4.89 ERA and 10% walk-rate. But Nola seems to have turned a corner since the middle of June and is now 6-3 through his last 13 starts, with a 2.27 ERA, 28.4% K-rate, and 7.6% walk-rate.

Welcome to the official Jack Flaherty Hype Train section! And judging by our rankings, it’s clear to see that I’m the conductor. Why is Flaherty’s 3.32 ERA and 28.7% K-rate (which are almost identical to Flaherty’s marks in 2018) deserved of a hype train? Wasn’t Flaherty pretty bad after entering the season as a favorite to make the leap to Ace? Well, a 4.90 ERA in his first 17 starts wasn’t exactly good but Flaherty at least kept his strikeout stuff, posting a 26.4% K-rate over his first 90 innings pitched. But in his last nine starts, Flaherty hasn’t just turned a corner…He’s lapping a lot of the field. Since July 7, Flaherty is 6-1 and earned his only loss giving up only one earned run in seven innings against the Giants. In these last 56 innings, Flaherty has 70 strikeouts and a 0.80 ERA that's best in the majors over that period, crushing Jacob deGrom’s measly 1.04 ERA. It may have taken two-thirds of the season, but it’s now time to lay Jack and let the hype wash over you.

 

Rankings Analysis - Middle Tiers

Tiers Four

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Because this ranking for Cincinnati ne Cleveland pitcher Trevor Bauer might actually be too high, given his recent performances. Bauer started off the season fine, posting a 2.45 ERA through his first seven starts in April. But May didn’t bring flowers for Bauer, only horrors, as the Twitter commando has been on a swift decline ever since the calendar flipped. In 22 starts since (which includes a mid-season trade), Bauer has a 5.00 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, and even threw a ball over the centerfield fence in a fit of rage. Not a great trifecta. And after giving up 18 ER in his last 11 innings, Bauer owners have to wonder what exactly they are in store for during September.

Another year for Mets starter Noah Syndergaard, and another year of a declining strikeout rate, with Thor’s 23.8% K-rate far from his peak of 29.3% in 2016. But while the avalanche of strikeouts hasn’t come back, Syndergaard has quietly been very effective since the All-Star break, going 3-2 over 54 innings, with a 1.82 ERA and 0.98 WHIP, along with a 9.11 K/9 that doesn’t exactly make him Brett Anderson.

Tier Five

When you play for the worst team in baseball, it’s easy to be overlooked. Enter, Matthew Boyd. The 28-year-old leftie has certainly had his problems this year, posting a 4.47 ERA over 159 innings for the hapless Detroit Tigers. But Boyd has unlocked his filthiest stuff this year, with a career-high 31.1% K-rate that’s backed by a 14.3% swinging-strike rate that’s the eighth-highest in all of baseball. Boyd, oh Boyd…That’s nasty.

As a St. Louis native, I can’t tell you how odd it is to be the only one of us that’s championing a Cub. Especially a boring old Cub like pitcher Kyle Hendricks. But Hendricks is a great example of a player being valuable in fantasy by being above-average across the board, as opposed to having one or two standout skills. Would anyone like to guess where Hendricks ranks on Yahoo’s Player Rater? I can’t read your mind, but I have to assume that no one was guessing #79. And definitely, no would guess that Yahoo projects him as the #53 player by year’s end. The #53 player, not the #53 pitcher. Since the beginning of May, Hendricks has a 2.75 ERA over 118 innings, with 98 strikeouts and a 0.95 WHIP. Boring? Yes. But are those ratios extremely valuable in an innings-eater like Hendricks? Also, yes.

 

Tier Six

Want to know a secret? I wanted to put Dinelson Lamet a lot higher than #172 but I’m going to try and keep my expectations in check… just for this year. Before being taken down by the nefarious Tommy John, Lamet was a popular breakout pick entering the 2018 season, carrying elite velocity and strikeout ability, with the 28.7% K-rate to prove it. And now that he’s fully recovered in 2019, Lamet has been even better than he was in 2017, posting a 30.1% K-rate and 3.83 xFIP through his first nine starts back. I’ll keep the hype in check for the remainder of 2019 but all bets are off in 2020.

 

Rankings Analysis - Lower Tiers

Tier Seven

I suppose we should talk about Chris Bassitt, considering that I'm clearly the only one who is a believer in the 30-year-old right-hander. Like a worse version of Kyle Hendricks earlier, Bassitt doesn't strike fear into any one category with his numbers but is rather a pitcher whose fantasy whole is greater than the sum of his mediocre parts. Bassitt is now 9-5 on the year, with a 3.59 ERA and 117 strikeouts in his 125 innings pitched, good for #134 on the current Yahoo Player Rater. And for the near future, Bassitt has a few plus-matchups on the likely horizon, facing Kansas City(twice) and Detroit in his next five starts.

Tier Eight and lower

Hey! Who let Anthony DeSclafani on here? Oh wait, looks like I did, seeing I'm the only one of we three who ranked him in the top-300. But I certainly don't like him all the time, because the key to getting value out of Disco Tony is knowing when to use him, as he is a man of extremes. In 25 starts this year, DeSclafani has allowed one run or less 12 times (including his last two starts)...And four runs or more in six of those 25 starts. So if you're confident in choosing your spots, DeSclafani could be a boon down the stretch, especially considering his upcoming schedule, as the right-hander goes to Miami on August 28, followed by three starts against Philadelphia and Arizona(twice).

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Pitcher Studs and Duds - BABIP for Week 22

Welcome back to RotoBaller’s pitchers risers and fallers article series! Each week we will select an advanced stat, choose two risers and two fallers, and analyze what those stats could mean for future fantasy output. I have written about this stat several times in various capacities this season, but it is worth revisiting now that we have much more data and clear trends. That stat is BABIP, or batting average on balls in play.

BABIP is rooted in three main components: defense, luck, and talent. Two of these three pieces are out of players' control, so BABIP can cause deviations between expected and reported outcomes. By looking at pitchers with higher or lower BABIPs compared to their career marks, we can identify players who are more likely to see regression the rest of the season.

Given how far we are into the season, it is more likely that trends in stats will reflect what a pitcher's final season stat mark will be. Therefore, it is important to consider whether a pitcher has gotten lucky or unlucky overall as you decide whether or not to start him in a potential playoff week. Let's take a look at two BABIP studs and two duds with an emphasis on those pitchers' next starts.

 

BABIP Studs

All stats current as of Monday, August 26.

Mike Fiers - Oakland Athletics

(2019 BABIP: .241, career BABIP: .282)

Our first BABIP stud has been a huge surprise this season in terms of his overall success. Veteran Mike Fiers is having his second-straight solid season, going 12-3 with a 3.46 ERA and 1.13 WHIP over 158 2/3 innings pitched. Even more impressive is his .241 BABIP, which is much lower than his .282 career mark. Could Fiers actually be a guy who could help carry teams to a fantasy championship?

Fiers has pitched quite well in August, compiling a 3.00 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in four tough starts against the Cardinals, Astros, and Yankees and at the hot White Sox. However, there are several main things that Fiers has enjoyed outside of his skills that have helped him. The first is his home park. Oakland Coliseum is one of baseball's most pitcher-friendly parks given its deep outfield and massive foul territory, so Fiers has a big advantage in that regard. Further, his recent 4.43 SIERA in that time matches his bloated season-long 5.23 SIERA, which suggests that luck has been on his side in addition to his home field.

Overall, Fiers has pitched quite well but makes me nervous given his perceived actual skill. He doesn't offer high strikeout upside and seems to have gotten by on luck and a favorable park. He does have two starts this week, but I would only be willing to start him at the Royals and not at the Yankees. If you own him and play with weekly rosters, I would only be willing to start him if the rest of your pitchers' matchups are strong.

 

 

Kenta Maeda - Los Angeles Dodgers

(2019 BABIP: .253, career BABIP: .283)

Our second BABIP stud has quietly put together another decent season to this point. Kenta Maeda has gone 8-8 with a 4.13 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and 26.8% strikeout rate in 133 IP. He currently has one of baseball's best BABIPs among qualified starters, but that mark was at .228 last month when I wrote about him. Regression has hit him some already, and while he has still pitched well overall, should fantasy owners be worried?   

Fortunately, most of the positives I found in Maeda's game last month still hold true. The main thing that stands out has been Maeda's amazing batted-ball profile. He has done a great job limiting hard contact (85.2-MPH average exit velocity, 28.8% hard-hit rate, 14.4-degree launch angle), which has helped keep his BABIP down. He also has the benefit of pitching his home games in pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium. Finally, while Maeda's 4.43 ERA in August has been lackluster, his 3.25 SIERA supports that his batted-ball profile has been legitimate.

In sum, Maeda has still pitched well and is a fantasy asset for the playoffs. He gets a nice two-start slate this week at the Padres and Diamondbacks. I would not be worried as a fantasy owner using Maeda this week or the rest of the season.

 

 

 

BABIP Duds

All stats current as of Monday, August 26.

Max Fried - Atlanta Braves

(2019 BABIP: .345, career BABIP: .340)

Our first BABIP dud has been a useful fantasy option this season despite posting a very high BABIP. Max Fried has gone 14-4 with a 4.03 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, and 23.7% strikeout rate in 136 1/3 IP this season. He has pitched much better lately, compiling a 3.29 ERA in August, but he is also a young pitcher without a ton of experience. Should fantasy owners feel comfortable relying on him down the stretch?

Fried's August ERA looks good, as does his 3.69 SIERA, but he was inconsistent in those five starts. He allowed two combined runs against the Reds, Twins, and Mets but then allowed eight runs against the Mets and Dodgers. In a way, August was a nice representation of his whole season, showing skill at times but also showing a lack of command. His batted-ball profile has been below-average both in terms of exit velocity and hard-hit rate, so it makes sense that his BABIP would be high.  

I would be a little nervous about Fried down the stretch. It seems like Fried could equally pitch a dud or a gem each week. His next matchup is a deceptively tough one against the White Sox. I would probably start him in a points league but would have to check the standings before starting him in a roto league.

 

 

Lance Lynn - Texas Rangers

(2019 BABIP: .332, career BABIP: .306)

Our second BABIP dud has actually been a nice fantasy value this season. Lance Lynn has been solid this season, going 14-9 with a 3.85 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and 27.4% strikeout rate in 170 2/3 IP. However, his .332 BABIP is currently one of baseball's highest among qualified starters. This has been the case all season, yet Lynn has continued to pitch well. Could this finally catch up to him now?

It is important to note that Lynn has always had higher BABIPs and is now pitching his home games in hitter-friendly Globe Life Park. As such, it is not all that surprising to see his BABIP jump even higher despite him pitching well.

Lynn has indeed pitched quite well this season. His last five starts, however, have been mediocre. His 3.95 ERA  and 28% strikeout rate are ok, but his 1.42 WHIP and 4.40 SIERA are not. The bottom line is that Lynn has an above-average batted-ball profile all season, which has helped him pitch well despite his BABIP. Both his exit velocity and hard-hit rate have been in the top 30 percent of pitchers and he has added strikeouts as well.

Lynn has made things work all season long and has offered more than enough upside to make him worth trusting. He gets a decent matchup against the Mariners at home this week and I would be starting him in that matchup, as well as the rest of his matchups this season.

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Are You For Real? Surprising SP Starts from Week 22

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).

It's almost time for September call ups, which means it's the perfect time to analyze a pair of highly touted pitching prospects. This week we're breaking down recent outings from Pittsburgh's Mitch Keller and Texas's Kolby Allard. Both have had some hype around them over the last two years, with Keller being considered by some as a the best pitching prospect in baseball. Each are certainly worth a look as we head towards the final month.

Ownership is based on Yahoo leagues and is accurate as of 08/26/2019. The goal of this article is to look at pitchers widely available that could be useful in fantasy, whether they have been recently added by a ton of teams or are still sitting on waivers.

 

Mitch Keller, Pittsburgh Pirates

10% Owned

2019 Stats (prior to this start): 21.1 IP, 8.86 ERA, 4.34 FIP, 13.3% K-BB%

08/23 vs. CIN: 6 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 9 K

Keller has been one of the hottest pitching prospects in baseball for the last few seasons, but he got absolutely hammered during his first taste of the big leagues. Giving up six runs in each of his first two starts. Keller was so bad he couldn’t even last on the Pirates’ roster. But, with nothing left to lose, Pittsburgh gave him another opportunity to show what he’s got. Keller was so-so in his first two starts, but he dominated the Reds last Friday for a career-high nine strikeouts along with a whopping 19 swinging strikes. Between Keller’s prospect pedigree and outstanding performance, he’s one of the most intriguing pitchers out there in most leagues.

As a prospect, Keller was known for his mid-nineties fastball and plus curveball. Those two pitches made many scouts believe Keller was capable of producing the desirable combination of a high strikeout rate and high groundball rate. Keller was able to maintain a groundball rate around 45% and a strikeout rate around 25% through most levels of the minors, so the analysis of scouts held true until Keller reached the majors. Keller’s fastball hasn’t had as much sink as advertised, and he has just a 35% groundball rate in 27.1 innings. Obviously, that sample size is far too small to make definitive judgements, but batters have been able to square up Keller’s fastball rather well this season. With a 50% line drive rate and 21-degree average launch angle against, it’s no surprise that Keller’s fastball has a .559 BABIP against. Someone may look at Keller’s .438 BABIP against and call him unlucky, and it’s true that BABIP can be an indicator of good or bad luck for a pitcher, but the leaguewide BABIP on line drives is .680. Keller’s been more fortunate on his line drives than most, but he’s giving up 4% more line drives than the average major league pitcher, so his “good luck” evens out since line drives are by far the most likely batted ball to go for a hit. Keller did get an extra quarter-inch of sink on his fastball in this most recent start, and also located it much better. Here’s a comparison of his fastball heatmaps from this start (top) to his other starts (bottom).

He reduced his mid-zone and low-and-away locations, which are where most of the line drives come from. Again, we’re digging deep on a small sample size, but this analysis should make you think twice before seeing his .438 BABIP and sounding the bad luck alarm. This also helps give context for his horrid early-season performances, as Keller was throwing a fastball that was hard and straight and easy to hit. It’s hard to say whether this start will be the turning point in terms of his fastball performance and results, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Keller’s fastball performance was encouraging, but his fastball was a mere side dish compared to his slider in this start. Keller used his fastball 30.8% of the time, and notched 10 of his 19 swinging strikes with the pitch. Keller also added an inch of drop on his slider in this start, improving on his already above-average slider movement. Here’s a look at a few of his sliders from this start.

 

Animated GIF

Animated GIF

It’s hard to tell whether Keller was just on with the slider in this start, or if his gains with the pitch are sustainable. One thing is for sure, I want to be on board this hype train, whether it falls off a bridge or chugs full speed towards Titletown (which is, and always will be, Green Bay, WI).  Keller could easily revert back into a dumpster fire on the mound, but I’m eager to take a shot on an elite prospect who’s finally flashed some of his enormous upside. At just 10% ownership, most others don’t feel the same way. Maybe Keller won’t pop, but this is a low-risk, high-reward player to add heading into the final month. Drop these over-owned veterans like J.A. Happ and Rick Porcello and take a shot with Keller.

Verdict:

A top pitching prospect throws a gem and barely anyone notices. Guess that’s baseball in Pittsburgh these days. Keller’s worth a speculative add in most formats.

 

Kolby Allard, Texas Rangers

4% Owned

2019 Stats (prior to this start): 15 IP, 6.60 ERA, 3.88 FIP, 10.1% K-BB%

08/24 @ CWS: 6.1 IP, 6 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 8 K

Allard was flipped to Texas for reliever Chris Martin in an under-the-radar deadline deal, and while moving to Globe Life Park is obviously tough for Allard, he has a much easier path to a rotation spot with the Rangers as well. Allard took a beating in his only home start, allowing seven runs (six earned) against the Angels on August 19. Outside of that game, Allard has shown some encouraging signs, and his most recent start in Chicago has been the best thus far. Allard gets it done primarily with his fastball-cutter combo, while using his changeup on occasion and his curveball even less than his change.

Allard’s fastball sits at an unimpressive 92.5-93 MPH, and is below average in both movement and spin. There is one saving grace Allard has had with his heater, and that’s his infield flyball rate. Allard is inducing infield flyballs 30% of the time, which have helped him maintain a stellar 4.8% HR/FB ratio. Obviously, that rate would be unsustainable over a long period of time, but Allard has always excelled and limiting the long ball as a prospect. His ability to keep the ball in the yard should help make up for his other fastball deficiencies, and limit the impact of Globe Life Park. While it’s been a small sample size for Allard this season, his minor league track record suggests this home run suppression is a repeatable skill and something that he can be relied on to deliver, as much as a 22-year-old rookie can be relied on for anything.

The cutter is Allard’s best secondary pitch, as he’s notched a 13.8% swinging strike rate with the pitch, along with six of his nine swinging strikes in this start against Chicago. Not only is the cutter Allard’s best strikeout pitch, but it’s also his best groundball pitch. Batters have a 55.6% groundball rate against the pitch, which has led to a .207 BA and .188 xBA against with this pitch. Allard has just slightly above average movement with his cutter, but it’s still his best pitch and a plus breaking ball capable of producing solid results.

Unlike with Mitch Keller, there isn’t quite enough here to make me want to hop on the Kolby Allard hype train. He’s certainly useful in the right situation, such as a road start against the White Sox, who have a 25% K rate against lefties this season, but it would be tough to trust Allard in tough matchups. Use him as a streamer or a deep league speculative add, but don’t go all-in on Allard.

Verdict:

A top pitching prospect throws a gem and barely anyone notices. Guess that’s baseball in Texas these days. Unlike with Mitch Keller, there is less upside with Allard and therefore less reason to add him. He’s usable as a streamer or deep league pickup, but he’s not as exciting as a breakout candidate.

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Strikeout Rate Risers and Fallers - Buy or Sell for Week 22

Welcome back to the strikeout rate risers and fallers series for Week 22! Each week we will take a look at two K% risers and two fallers, analyze what is behind those changes, and then decide if they are actionable. A pitcher can best control their fate by generating swings and misses, so this exercise holds particular importance for fantasy value. Understanding strikeout trends and the stats behind them can help you sort through all the noise and determine which pitchers are legit and which pitchers should be avoided.

The players in this article were chosen using RotoBaller’s K% Risers and Fallers premium Tool. This tool identifies players who are surging and falling in strikeout percentage over the last 30 days. The goal of this tool is to help you find pitchers who are showing improving or declining K%.

We are now close to the fantasy playoffs and some of you may even be in them now, so it is more important than ever to pay attention to how players on your teams are trending. Every start counts, so choosing whether or not to send a pitcher out or keep them on your bench is key. Let's take a look at two starters who have been better in terms of strikeouts and two who have been worse. The focus here will be on these pitcher's next immediate starts.

Strikeout Rate Risers

All stats current as of Sunday, August 25

 

Yu Darvish - Chicago Cubs

Season K%: 29.2%, Last 30 Days: 37.6%

Our first K rate riser has had a sub-par season but has given more of what fantasy players expect of him lately. Yu Darvish has posted a 3.99 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, and an impressive 37.6% strikeout rate over his last five starts. However, his next start will be against the hot Mets on the road. Can fantasy owners trust him in this matchup?

The bottom line is that Darvish has pitched well lately and his underlying numbers are even stronger than his peripherals. His 2.27 SIERA over those five starts is even more impressive than his respectable ERA. Darvish has stepped it up, as most of these starts were not against easy matchups (at the Cardinals, against the Brewers, at the Reds, at the Phillies, against the Giants). His command has been on point, allowing his good pitch arsenal to be even more effective.   

The Mets have been one of baseball's hottest offenses in August, but the evidence shows that Darvish's recent performances have been legit. Unless fantasy owners have a deep bench of starting pitchers, I would be inclined to trot him out there in points leagues and, depending on current rankings, in roto leagues as well.   

 

Lucas Giolito - Chicago White Sox

Season K%: 31.8%, Last 30 Days: 38%

Our second K rate riser has come into form as a legitimate starter this season and has done even better lately. Lucas Giolito has really helped fantasy teams this season, going 14-6 with a 3.20 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and a 31.8% strikeout rate. That mark has jumped to an elite 38% over the last 30 days. Should owners have any doubts in Giolito in the last month of the season?     

Things have been clicking for both Giolito as well as the White Sox's offense, which helps him even more. Giolito has posted double-digit strikeouts in each of his last three starts. He has also posted a 3.46 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 2.95 SIERA over the last 30 days. Even more impressive, he has managed this success despite having a .316 BABIP over those starts, which is significantly higher than his season .285 mark.

Giolito will next face a tough matchup in the Twins at home. However, his last start was against the Twins on the road, in which he pitched a complete-game, three-hit shutout with 12 strikeouts. I would be starting Giolito in all of his matchups for the rest of the season.

 

Strikeout Rate Fallers

All stats current as of Sunday, August 25

 

Zack Wheeler- New York Mets

Season K%: 23.6%, Last 30 Days: 16.8%

Our first K rate faller had a lot of hype going into the season but hasn't quite lived up to it. Zack Wheeler has posted a 4.46 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, and 23.6% K rate this season. His strikeout numbers have fallen to a mediocre 16.8% over the last 30 days. Is Wheeler a liability heading into the fantasy playoffs?

Wheeler has actually pitched better in his last six starts despite the lower strikeout numbers. He has posted a 3.72 ERA and 1.27 WHIP. However, his 4.82 SIERA suggests that he has outperformed himself and his lower strikeout numbers suggest that. I would be inclined to believe the numbers that echo his season-long marks.

Wheeler will face a tough Phillies matchup in his next start and I wouldn't feel great starting him. It would be a tough call sitting him given what everyone knows he can do, but, based on how he's performed this season, I would be hesitant to start him Friday if my matchup was close in points and would not start him in roto leagues.

 

Caleb Smith - Miami Marlins

Season K%: 29.1%, Last 30 Days: 23.3%

Our second K rate faller has been a strong strikeout pitcher for most of the season and a nice fantasy option as well. However, Caleb Smith has struggled over the last 30 days, posting a 5.53 ERA and 1.34 WHIP. Should fantasy owners question using him down the stretch?

The drop in strikeout rate lately can likely be attributed to inconsistent command. In his last five starts Smith allowed a combined two earned runs in two of those starts and 15 in the other three. The high WHIP and walk rate (10.8%) support this. The 23.3% K rate during that time is still respectable, but everything else has been lackluster overall.

The debate over whether to trust Smith this week or not becomes simpler given that he is scheduled to make two starts. He is scheduled to get the Reds and Nationals, the first of which is a decent matchup and the second a tough one with the Nationals hitting very well in August. Regardless, I would roll the dice with Smith given his overall season performance. Pitchers have their ups and downs and, hopefully, Smith will have his stuff this week.

 

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Two-Start Pitcher Streamers for Week 22

Prepare yourself for a rookie heavy column this week, as three of the five starters listed here still have rookie eligibility.

But first a quick recap. I managed to have the absolute worst luck in Week 20, as every single pitcher in that column had their starts moved around and as a result had only one start in that week. That being said, Ivan Nova was the clear frontrunner from the bunch after tossing a complete-game shutout against the Astros. As for Week 21, Dakota Hudson is out in front now after throwing 6 2/3 scoreless innings against the Brewers with seven strikeouts.

Now that that's out of the way, let's take a look at this week's streaming options.

 

Week 22 Streamers - Under 50% Owned

Cal Quantrill, SDP - 51% owned

Probable opponents: vs LAD, @ SFG

Quantrill has been riding a hot streak over his last seven games, going 4-2 in that span with a 1.79 ERA and 34 strikeouts over 40 1/3 innings. In his last outing against Cincinnati, Quantrill allowed three runs over six innings while tying his career-high with nine strikeouts.

He'll open up the week at home against the Dodgers, as he faces off against Los Angeles for the second time this year. Earlier this month Quantrill earned the loss after allowing four runs — two earned — with three strikeouts over five innings against the Dodgers. He's likely in for another challenging start, as the Dodgers are averaging 5.5 runs per game and hitting .254 over their last 10 games. Despite that, Quantrill could still be in for decent value as the Dodgers are averaging 9.5 strikeouts over their last 10 games and they are also hitting slightly worse on the road (.252 average, .808 OPS) than at home (.266, .824). After Los Angeles, Quantrill will travel up the California coast to take on the Giants for the third time this season. In his first two starts against San Francisco, Quantrill is 1-0 with a 3.72 ERA and eight strikeouts over 9 2/3 innings. That being said, the Giants have also been on a tear on offense as they are averaging 6.1 runs while hitting .281 over their last 10 games, but they are also averaging 8.7 strikeouts per game in that span. And on top of that, the Giants are actually hitting worse at home (.228 average, .658 OPS) than on the road (.255, .763).

This will be a tough week for Quantrill as he faces a couple of high-scoring offenses. He should be able to provide solid strikeout potential however, and if he can keep the Dodgers and Giants' offenses in check he could end up as one of the better streaming options in Week 22.

Dustin May, LAD - 28% owned

Probable opponents: @ SDP, @ ARI

Three starts into his major league career and May has already shown he can be an effective streaming option in fantasy. May is 1-1 with a 2.65 ERA and 15 strikeouts over 17 innings against the Padres, Cardinals and Marlins, but he earned a loss in his last appearance out of the bullpen where he allowed four runs over two innings against the Braves.

May's first start of the week will come against the Padres, against whom he earned his first loss in his first career start after allowing four runs — three earned — over 5 2/3 innings. He should fare better in this rematch though, as the Padres are averaging 3.5 runs and 10.1 strikeouts while hitting .222 over their last 10 games. After San Diego, May will head on the road once again to take on the Diamondbacks for the first time in his career. This has the potential to be another good start for May, as Arizona is averaging 4.3 runs and 7.4 strikeouts over their last 10 games while hitting .219. On top of that, the Diamondbacks are hitting significantly worse against right-handed starters (.248 average, .753 OPS) than against left-handers (.276, .816).

While he has fewer starts under his belt than Quantrill, May could end up outperforming him in Week 22 going up against a pair of weaker offenses. Quantrill has the slight edge on strikeout potential, but May should be the safer bet for ERA.

 

Week 22 Streamers - Under 25% Owned

Anthony DeSclafani, CIN - 24% owned

Probable opponents: @ MIA, @ STL

While DeSclafani has been inconsistent in the ERA department this season, he has been providing plenty of strikeout value with a 9.2 K/9 over 128 2/3 innings. He'll start off the week in Miami, as he comes off back-to-back outings allowing just one run over five or more innings against the Pirates and the Cardinals. The Marlins should provide a good matchup for DeSclafani, because despite the fact they are averaging 4.9 runs per game over their last 10 games, Miami is also averaging 9.1 strikeouts in that span and they are hitting worse against right-handed starters (.237 average, .657 OPS) than left-handers (.257, .699). After Miami, DeSclafani will take on the Cardinals for the sixth time this year in what should be another good start for him. Over five starts against St. Louis, DeSclafani is 2-1 with a 2.42 ERA and 31 strikeouts over 26 innings.

Out of the three guys in the "Under 25%" section this week, DeSclafani might be the best of the bunch for Week 22. He's got solid strikeout potential, and with his success against St. Louis this season he might be the safest bet out of the entire column this week.

Sandy Alcantara, MIA - 10% owned

Probable opponents: vs CIN, @ WAS

After a rough stretch of starts in July, Alcantara has settled down and has put together his best month of the season. Over four starts in August, Alcantara has posted a 2.36 ERA with 19 strikeouts over 26 2/3 innings of work against Atlanta, New York and Colorado. He'll start off Week 22 against the Reds, who are averaging 3.4 runs and 9.3 strikeouts per game while hitting .252 over their last 10 games. While Alcantara will likely have a good outing against Cincinnati, it's his start against Washington that will be cause for some concern for owners. Over their last 10 games, the Nationals are averaging an absurd 9.7 runs per game while hitting .331 in that span. Not only that, but Alcantara has already faced them three times this year and has gone 0-3 with a 6.48 ERA against Washington.

Alcantara is this week's "One good start, one bad start" choice. That start against the Reds should be a good fantasy outing for him, but the combination of the Nationals' red-hot offense plus Alcantara's poor performance against them will give owners some pause. If you're willing to risk the hit to your ERA, Alcantara should be a good strikeout potential only choice for Week 22.

Steven Brault, PIT - 6% owned

Probable opponents: @ PHI, @ COL

Despite the recent struggles Pittsburgh has gone through, Brault has been one of the better pitchers in the Pirates' rotation over the last month. Over his last four starts, Brault has posted a 3.52 ERA and 8.2 K/9 over 23 innings despite going 0-2 in that span. He'll start off Week 22 against the Phillies, who have averaged 6.3 runs and 9.8 strikeouts over their last 10 games to go 7-3 in that span. Brault should get a slight benefit from Philadelphia's batting splits though, as the Phillies are hitting slightly worse against left-handed starters than right-handed starters (.244 vs .247) and they are striking out at a slightly higher rate against southpaws (23.5 percent vs 22.5 percent). In his second start of the week, Brault will face a Colorado offense which is averaging 5.3 runs and 7.7 strikeouts over their last 10 games. He should once again benefit from the Rockies splits, as they are hitting worse against left-handed starters than right-handers (.264 vs .270) and striking out at a significantly higher rate against lefties than righties (26.4 percent vs 21.8 percent).

Owners should look for another solid week of value from Brault against the Phillies and the Rockies. DeSclafani still stands out as the best choice from this section, but Brault should absolutely be the second choice from this group, and conveniently he's available in virtually every league.

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Are You For Real? Surprising SP Starts from Week 21

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 two rookies. A domestic (Adrian Houser), and an import (Yusei Kikuchi). Both have put him some interesting results as of late and deserve a deep dive to see if they're worth adding down the stretch.

Ownership is based on Yahoo leagues and is accurate as of 08/12/2019. The goal of this article is to look at pitchers widely available that could be useful in fantasy, whether they have been recently added by a ton of teams or are still sitting on waivers.

 

Adrian Houser, Milwaukee Brewers

16% Owned

2019 Stats (prior to these starts): 63.2 IP, 4.24 ERA, 4.40 FIP, 15.6% K-BB%

08/10 vs. TEX: 6 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 10 K
08/16 @ WSH: 7 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 K

Houser may occasionally throw up his lunch on the mound, but he’s also been throwing up zeros over some dominant innings over his last two starts. Houser has allowed just two runs combined over his last 13 innings, along with 14 strikeouts. Houser once had a little bit of prospect pedigree, having come over to Milwaukee as part of the deal that sent Carlos Gomez to Houston. That pedigree faded as Houser struggled in the high minors, but he’s finally flashing some upside in 2019. Houser boasts a deep five-pitch arsenal, highlighted by a 95 MPH four-seamer. He also throws a two-seam fastball, a curveball, a changeup, and a brand new slider.

Houser has ramped up his slider usage as of late, throwing the pitch 19% of the time over his last three starts, an increase of 7.5%. Well, there’s our answer. He increased his slider usage, and now he’s good. Now we can move on to more important things, like Jason Vargas’s recent hot streak…

Alright, fine, there’s more depth to Houser’s performance than that. Guess we’ll have to table Jason Vargas for now. Or I can sum it up in one sentence. Don’t add Jason Vargas. Now, back to Houser. Houser’s slider is not only a brand new pitch, but he’s been throwing it more often, which has coincided with his hot streak. Normally, that’s how pitchers take the next step. But, in Houser’s case, the slider’s performance just doesn’t stack up. The pitch has below average movement and spin, and batters are hitting .375 against the pitch this season. The pitch has performed even worse as Houser’s increased his usage. Over his last three starts, batters are hitting .400 against Houser’s slider, and the whiff rate has fallen 4%, to a measly 11.4%. Houser is succeeding in spite of his new slider, rather than because of it.

The real key to Houser’s success has been his fastballs. Batters have struggled against both his four-seamer and sinker. Opponents are hitting .186 with a .194 xBA and 88.7 MPH average exit velocity against Houser’s four-seamer, and are hitting .242 with a .203 xBA and 82.9 MPH average exit velocity against his sinker. Houser’s sinker lives up to the pitch’s reputation as a groundball pitch, as batters have an average launch angle of -5 degrees against his sinker along with a 75% groundball rate. The success of this pitch makes me believe most in Houser’s 3.71 xFIP as an ERA estimate, because Houser’s 20.8% HR/FB ratio seems abnormally high based on his ability to induce groundballs. Houser also has a wide gap between his xSLG (.342) and actual SLG (.418), which gives us even more reason to buy into a forthcoming reduction in power numbers against him.

Houser profiles as an above-average ground-ball pitcher with good contact management skills. His strikeout numbers seem a bit juiced by his 10-strikeout game against the Rangers. That game was a little fluky, as Houser notched 13 of his 18 swinging strikes with either his four-seam or two-seam fastball. Owners shouldn’t expect results like that to be sustainable over time. If we subtracted that game from his totals, Houser would have an 8.1 K/9 as a starter. That’s a respectable number, especially considering his groundball abilities, but nothing special. Houser still has value depending on the matchup or week ahead. I wouldn’t rush to grab him, but I wouldn’t be afraid to use him either.

Verdict:

Elite groundball numbers and sinker performance make Houser a viable starter. His secondary arsenal lags behind his fastballs, and therefore Houser’s strikeout potential is limited. He’s a viable streamer or two-start option, and certainly worth adding in an NL-only league.

Yusei Kikuchi, Seattle Mariners

31% Owned

2019 Stats (prior to this start): 126.1 IP, 5.56 ERA, 6.00 FIP, 9.4% K-BB%

08/18 @ TOR: 9 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 K

Many were excited to see Kikuchi come from Japan to the majors, but after posting a 4.94 ERA in the first half, Kikuchi probably spent his All-Star break pricing out flights to Tokyo. Things had only been getting worse for Kikuchi, as he’s posted a 5.84 ERA since the break. Even with some rather ugly numbers, Kikuchi has put up solid numbers in two of his last three starts. He struck out eight Padres over five innings on August 7, and fired a CGSO Sunday in Toronto. Sandwiched between that was a five run stinker against the worst offense in baseball, the Tigers. It is starts like that which have made Kikuchi so frustrating to predict. Seriously, who gives up five runs to the Tigers? Even with poor outings like that tarnishing his record, a CGSO is such a rarity these days that Kikuchi’s performance demands our attention.

Kikuchi’s arsenal is about as basic as a mid-20s woman who drinks White Claw. He has a four-seam fastball that clocks in at 92.5 MPH, a slider, a curveball, and a changeup. The slider and changeup have been the best two pitches for Kikuchi. He has a whiff rate above 24% on each pitch, along with an opposing BA below .240. Kikuchi has been increasing his slider usage over these last two starts, having thrown the pitch 33.3% of the time in his last start. He’s been throwing the pitch over 30% of the time over his last six starts, but with mixed results. He has a 5.73 ERA over that stretch, but he’s either given up five runs or more, or two runs or fewer. There’s been no middle ground for Kikuchi, even though he’s begun using his best pitch more often. His strikeout rate has risen to 7.37 K/9, which is a 0.5 K/9 improvement, but still woefully underwhelming. And these are the results he’s getting by leaning on his best pitch. The rest of his repertoire leaves much to be desired.

Kikuchi’s fastball has been smoked this season for a .324 BA and 89.9 MPH average exit velocity against, and his curveball has been even worse. Batters are hitting .323 with a .361 xBA and .629 SLG against Kikuchi’s curveball in 2019. Even with increased slider usage, the fastball and curveball make up approximately 60% of Kikuchi’s pitch mix. How does a starter get away with throwing meatballs 60% of the time? He doesn’t. That’s why Kikuchi has a 5.19 ERA and 5.72 FIP on year. He hasn’t been getting away with using these pitches, and he can’t exactly phase out his fastball, so that means we should keep our hands off Kikuchi in standard leagues.

Verdict:

Based on his history of roller coaster performances, imbalanced arsenal, and lack of big strikeout upside, Kikuchi simply doesn’t seem worth the risk. It’s more likely he’ll be chased by the fifth inning than go for seven strong. If one was desperate they could use Kikuchi in a pinch, but he has even struggled in what should be easy matchups this season. This start isn’t enough to sway my opinion of him, especially during this crucial time of the season.

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Two-Start Pitcher Streamers for Week 21

We're getting closer and closer to the fantasy playoffs. That means these two-start streamers will be in high demand now more than ever, and owners will need to take care with who they choose.

All that out of the way, Week 19 was a big whiff. I already mentioned last week that two of the guys from the Week 19 column went on the IL shortly after publication. Well as it turns out Daniel Norris was the only pitcher that week to make both of his starts, and, well...it wasn't great. Out of the one-start pitchers that week, Dylan Cease was the best choice after allowing two runs over five innings with six strikeouts to get the win over Detroit. As for Week 20 we already have a couple of strong front-runners. Dillon Peters earned the win in a quality start against Pittsburgh, allowing two runs over six innings with six strikeouts. Meanwhile, Ivan Nova earned a complete-game win over Houston, allowing one unearned run on four hits with three strikeouts.

As the wise warthog Pumbaa once said, "You've got to put your behind in your past." Let's move on from last week and take a look at who to stream in Week 21.

 

Week 21 Streamers - Under 50% Owned

Marco Gonzales, SEA - 49% owned

Probable opponents: @ TBR, vs TOR

This isn't Gonzales' first time on this list, which makes sense as he's been arguably one of the top streaming options in fantasy this season. He has recorded a quality start in five of his last seven outings, while posting a 3-3 record and 3.97 ERA in that span. In his last time out, Gonzales took the loss despite allowing three runs over six innings with six strikeouts.

He'll open up the week with a rematch against Tampa Bay after tying his season-high with nine strikeouts against the Rays earlier this month while allowing just two runs over 6 1/3 innings. Gonzales should be in line for a similar performance in Week 21, as the Rays are averaging 4.0 runs and 7.7 strikeouts over their last 10 games while hitting .239. After traveling to Tampa Bay, Gonzales will return home to take on the Blue Jays for what will likely be a more challenging start. Toronto is averaging 6.1 runs over their last 10 games while hitting .253, but they are also averaging 10.0 strikeouts per game in that span. Add on the fact that the Blue Jays are striking out at a higher rate against left-handed starters (26.7 percent) than against right-handers (23.2 percent), and Gonzales could still have decent value against Toronto.

It's the classic conundrum of one good start against one iffy start for Gonzales this week. Gonzales has been a solid starter throughout the season, but he has had some rough outings sprinkled throughout and Toronto has the potential to be a rough start. All that being said, I'm still putting my money on Gonzales to do well this week and he should be one of the top streamers to target.

Zach Davies, MIL - 29% owned

Probable opponents: @ STL, vs ARI

Davies makes his return to the Brewers rotation after a stint on the Injured List and will be in line for a two-start week for Milwaukee. While he struggled in his last three outings before going on the IL to the tune of an 11.77 ERA over 13 innings, prior to that Davies was 8-2 with a 2.79 ERA and 68 strikeouts over 109 2/3 innings.

Starting off Week 21, Davies will head on the road to take on the Cardinals, who are averaging 4.4 runs and 9.1 strikeouts over their last 10 games while hitting .245 in that span. The matchup looks even better when you realize that 24 of the 44 runs the Cardinals have scored over their last 10 games all came in just two games. Davies has also already faced the Cardinals in St. Louis once this year, although owners will hope he does better than his prior performance in which he allowed two runs with four strikeouts over 4 2/3 innings. In his second start of the week, Davies will return to Milwaukee to face the Diamondbacks, who have averaged 5.2 runs and hit .268 over their last 10 games while going 5-5 in that span. Like with St. Louis, Davies has already faced Arizona once this year, allowing just one run over seven innings to earn his eighth win of the year. Davies should also get a boost in value as the Diamondbacks have hit worse against right-handed starters (.251 average, .761 OPS) than against lefties (.277, . 815).

Davies isn't a high-strikeout pitcher, but he should provide a boost to any team in ERA and wins. Gonzales should be the first pitcher to target from this section, but Davies will be a solid second-choice for owners who miss out on Gonzales.

 

Week 21 Streamers - Under 25% Owned

Dakota Hudson, STL - 26% owned

Probable opponents: vs MIL, vs COL

After a rough three-start stretch, Hudson bounced back in his last outing to earn the win and the quality start over the Royals as he struck out four batters over six scoreless innings. Hudson has recorded quality starts in three of his last seven outings with 29 strikeouts in 35 innings, and he'll look to continue that production in his first matchup against Milwaukee since April. Despite allowing nine earned runs in two starts against the Brewers this year, it should be a solid matchup for Hudson as Milwaukee is currently averaging 4.4 runs and 9.9 strikeouts over their last 10 games. Hudson will then have a near identical matchup in his second outing against Colorado, as the Rockies are averaging 4.5 runs and 7.9 strikeouts over their last 10 games.

Both of these starts will come at home, which should be a boost for Hudson as he has better numbers in St. Louis (3.60 ERA, 1.517 WHIP) than on the road (4.01, 1.589). Hudson has at least five strikeouts in five of his last eight starts, and owners should expect solid fantasy value out of him this week as one of the safer options in the "Under 25%" group.

Kyle Freeland, COL - 16% owned

Probable opponents: vs CIN, vs MIL

It seems that there's always one guy who shows up on this list for strikeout potential and strikeout potential alone, and this week it's Freeland. In three of his last six starts Freeland has recorded at least five strikeouts, and over he has 14 strikeouts over his last 17 innings of work. He'll start off the week against the Reds, who are averaging 5.1 runs over their last 10 games but are also averaging 7.8 strikeouts in that span. Freeland will then face off against Milwaukee, who as we mentioned before are averaging nearly 10 strikeouts a game over their last 10 games.

Like I said, if you're looking at Freeland this week you're looking for only strikeouts from him. He's pitching at home for both starts, and with the way the Reds' offense is going, Freeland will likely have a bloated ERA. But if you're willing to punt ERA this week, Freeland should be a good option if everyone else on this list has already been claimed.

Kolby Allard, TEX - 3% owned

Probable opponents: vs LAA, @ CHW

OK, I know he's only made two starts this year, but I have a good feeling about Allard this week. Allard was racking up the strikeouts with an 8.3 K/9 in Triple-A, and he has 12 strikeouts over his first 10 innings of the season. He'll start off the week against the Angels, who have averaged 5.1 runs over their last 10 games. While that may be cause for hesitation with a rookie pitcher on the mound, the Angels have also averaged 10.0 strikeouts per game in that span, plus they are hitting worse against left-handed starters (.238 average, .747 OPS) than against right-handers (.259, .769). In his second start of the week, Allard will take on the White Sox, who are averaging 5.0 runs over their last 10 games but are also striking out at a high clip with 8.3 strikeouts per game in that span.

This is a high-risk, high-reward player. Allard will be making career starts No. 4 and 5 this week, and he has never face the Angels or the White Sox before. Both teams have been putting up high-scoring performances over the last two weeks, but I believe that Allard will be the best guy to choose in the "Under 25%" group, and he has a real shot at being the best pick of the entire column.

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