To date, I have produced exclusively Hitting and, in the preseason, exclusively Outfield articles for this website. But today, for the first time, the Hitters Buy/Sell and the Pitchers Buy/Sell will be grouped together. I won’t spend any more time on the introduction— this article will be perhaps one of my longest to date.
To make up for lost time…
The Opus to Pitching
What Defines a Good Pitcher?
This section will cover a couple of methodologies I use to evaluate pitchers. It may be helpful as a supplement to my pitching analysis, particularly if you plan to follow this article as we move forward on a weekly basis. If you don’t care about the strategic/analytical/base stuff, you should be able to easily skip to the next heading where the player analysis begins.
The Arsenal — Listed first as it is perhaps the most important aspect of a Starting Pitching evaluation to me, the “arsenal,” “repertoire,” or however else you define the classification and diversity of pitches that a starter throws. For any basic pitching analysis, it is of the utmost importance to me that any pitcher is a “three-pitch Pitcher.” There are some who survive at the MLB level with little pitch diversity, but these players are few and far between, and in my experience it won’t hurt you too much to lean on the more well-built skill-base.
In terms of what makes a “different pitch,” I believe it is important to say that, for instance, a “4-Seam Fastball” and a “2-Seam Fastball” are not, in this context, classified as different pitches. If we broke down every pitch by every manipulatable variable, we would chasing our tail. A “different pitch” is something that gives the hitter a significantly different look, whether it be by pitch velocity or pitch action. The most typical mix would be a Fastball, a Breaking Ball, and an off-speed pitch/change-up. If a pitcher can throw one pitch of each classification effectively, that will be the quickest way that I will buy into a pitcher. And faking this— being successful AND throwing three successful pitches AND being a fluke— that is very rare.
Making a “Good Pitch” — Plenty of factors, for me usually found from a combination of resources like Baseball Savant (mlb.com), Fangraphs, and brooksbaseball.net can attribute to making a good pitch on paper. I’d like to first stress that, even more-so than with hitting, with pitching I believe it truly takes dedicated viewership. When I write a long profile on a pitcher, I typically watch every start first. An eye can take a while to mature, but here’s a few things you can look for right away: where is the catcher setting/the pitch finishing? Where is the pitch starting and where is it breaking? How are the hitters perceiving the pitch/do they and how much do they seem fooled? The latter is particularly important because a lot of what constitutes good pitching is simply convincing the hitter that something else is coming. Big league hitters can hit almost any pitch when they know what it is, but some of the worst swings you’ll see is when a hitter sees “FASTBALL” and then gets a Slider or a Change-Up.
Aside from that, Brooksbaseball is good for finding pitch specific data. Some data sets I use include: Groundball%, SLG%, Whiff%, Whiff/Swing%, and Usage%. Baseball Savant, specifically the Statcast Leaderboard and Statcast Search, can help with identifying “Spin Rates.” I’m not going to go further into Spin Rates here as it is a much longer discussion for an already-too-long article, but my basic analogy has always been that I like to think of Spin Rates as if they are part of the genetic heritage of the pitch. It certainly doesn’t hurt, and it can (Verlander) undeniably be a factor in success, but that also doesn’t mean that I’m classifying a high-spin fastball as a great pitch, even at high velocity, with no other detail.
Throwing Shade on ERA Predictors / Using their Components — This may be the only controversial opinion here. I don’t mind looking at FIP, xFIP, SIERA, and any other such metric, but in general I simply never use them. At best, I think what these metrics do is, if you have a good knowledge of how they’re calculated, is tell you a story about their components. For example, xFIP regresses HRs to a “league average” more-so than FIP. That is why if you sort by HR/9 or HR/FB on Fangraphs, the vast majority of those hitters with high-HR/9’s (Bundy, Mahle, Colon) have FIPs that are significantly higher than their xFIP (4.74/3.83, 5.27/4.10, 4.95/3.89). One thing you could take away from this though is that, if you use these predictors, you can choose the one that you want to apply to your situation based on if you think that the HRs are due to getting hit hard (FIP) or will regress due to poor luck (xFIP).
Other than to throw shade, the main point of this section is that it is the components of these metrics that I care the most about. The primary ones, which I usually grab from Fangraphs, include K/BB, GB%, and HR/FB% as well as HR/9.
Consistency / Repeatability / Command — To start, Command/Control in a way deserve their own section, but a fair amount of at least my analytical interpretation stacks “Command/Control” alongside “The Arsenal.” It doesn’t matter to me how good your pitches look if you don’t know where they are going, and so for this reason I wouldn’t give that high of Arsenal scores to those with poor control. At most I would say for a player like 2016 Blake Snell that he had incredible stuff and potential but needed to improve command. But this leads me into consistency.
Being able to repeat everything you do, particularly in your motions on the mound, is everything to most pitchers. Sure like almost everything on this list, there are going to be exceptions to rules, but most pitchers need to be able to develop in particular a routine and an on-mound routine that helps to create consistency. And to spin to fantasy, your fringe pitchers aren’t going to start in the worst match-ups. What you need is guys who aren’t going to kill themselves against the Miami Marlins or the Chicago White Sox. If your guys have their highest ERAs against the ‘Stros, Yankees, and Red Sox, you’ll end up having better numbers in fantasy than they had on the back of their baseball card.
Now to Players…
In terms of his Arsenal, Caleb Smith’s Fastball velocity may not jump out on the screen, but only two lefties (Paxton, Snell) have elite velocity in baseball. Smith’s has hovered around the top 5 amongst all starting LHPs in the MLB. And this Fastball is his only remote problem pitch thus far in 2018, as it is giving up a .469 SLG. His Change-Up and Slider though are dominating in that metric (.208 SLG and .106 SLG respectively), the former a pitch he is using more and more often and with confidence.
Many will knock Smith’s consistency, but since a rough start to the season, and a conversation with management about confidence to throw in the zone, Smith’s BB/9 and WHIP have actually been much better than many would expect. In his last 7 starts Caleb Smith has a 2.4 BB/9 and a 0.86 WHIP. The knocks of him allowing “too many baserunners” could obviously end up being warranted, but it hasn’t been true during his hot stretch. Earlier on in the year I compared him to Robbie Ray. He might be better.
Bundy is one of the hardest SPs to grade right now because he fails in only one area but does so very drastically: consistency. Aside from a three start stretch this season, Dylan Bundy has been utterly phenomenal. Even in his last start, 6 IP, 3 ER, and 6 Ks with 0 BBs is far from the worst thing to see from a pitcher in a hitter’s park. In those three poor starts, Dylan Bundy’s Fastball surrendered 6 HRs, a .500 BA, and a 1.375 SLG. In his other starts, that number was down under .400.
What I love about Bundy is that his arsenal is everything you want in an Ace. Maybe his fastball is missing a few MPH when it sits at 92, but his Slider might be the best pitch in baseball, if not one of the best. His Curve and Change are both average at worst pitches. It just comes down to that fastball. In long term formats, I’m absolutely buying Bundy as a guy with true top-15 potential long-term, and in redraft, I’m hoping those three starts of throwing 89 and getting hammered were simply a mechanical issue.
This section will be short. I was pleasantly surprised recently when going over Newcomb’s recent game log, and seeing the improvements he seems to have made in his command. However, I’m being a bit more patient with this one. Newcomb’s heel turn has been pretty sudden for a guy who has always struggled with control, and unlike the preferred profile as listed above, Newcomb’s bad match-ups figure to be less predictable, as he will be his own worst enemy.
Verdict: Hold— Potentially Sell High / Seek an Overpay
Junis’ inclusion is more based on a desire to cover some of the topics in the above analytics. Junis is the quintessential two-pitch pitcher. He throws his 4 or 2 Seam Fastball 53.21% of the time and his Slider 40.19% of the time. This doesn’t mean that Junis is doomed to be a bad pitcher, that he has to change to be good, or that I believe he won’t be successful this year.
What is does mean is that, in my opinion, Junis’ profile is a little harder to lean-on. Judging by Ownership%’s, Junis is one of the more owned SPs in all of fantasy baseball. And, with match-ups against Tigers and White Sox likely still to come, he may fulfill that potential. I’d prefer to take a shot on someone else, like the following pitcher, and if I can get significant trade value for a two-pitch pitcher, I take it.
And make sure to manage your Start/Sits based on potential platoon advantages in line-ups if you do have Junis. Difficult lefty line-ups are likely to cause the most problems statistically.
There’s not a specific reason to not like Rick Porcello or what he’s doing right now— and it is easy to draw comparisons to a season in which he won the Cy Young. But, and I’ve said this from the very first blurb I wrote about Porcello in my Top 250, Porcello is a damn Yo-Yo. There is no rhyme or reason to his season-to-season numbers. I’m not saying I expect him to be awful by any means, but comparatively Porcello is far more owned and appears to carry far more value than I personally would give him. And, coming off of three good starts, it’s easy to ignore the 10 ERs he gave in the previous two.
I produce a Top 250 prior to each season, and out of the 74 SPs I ranked, the final two I deemed worth a slot (aside from then Free Agents Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn…ew) were Mengden and the following player, Dan Straily. Watching Mengden, he seems to be living up to some of those expectations from that initial blurb. My specific comment at the time was that Mengden’s Fastball gave up the damage, but he threw three other pitches (Curve, Slider, Change) and that these pitches seemed good. It would come down to keeping hitters off the fastball.
Fastforward to today, and Mengden’s 4-Seam Fastball still is giving up a .500+ SLG%, but he’s also using a 2-Seam Fastball more and more effectively, and more importantly, he’s keeping hitters off the fastball by mixing pitches. This weakness I believe will persist in Mengden’s profile, but saying a pitcher has a flaw is essentially saying there’s reasons he won’t be an ace. Plus, playing in Oakland should cancel out some of those hard hit balls.
One of the most unowned names on this list, Straily let me down in his last start against San Diego, but as a whole has been decent on the season, posting a 3.69 ERA. Straily’s overall Ks are low, but since his first two starts from injury (8 IP, 3 Ks) his K/9 has been much more respectable (23.2 IPs, 20 Ks).
Why I always talk up Straily is that he is borderline elite at one of the most underrated aspects of pitching: generating the pop-up. The pop-up is as harmless as a strikeout, but very few would realize that Straily’s K’s and Elite-Pop-Ups would be as effective as a pitcher with better Ks and few pop-ups. This won’t come to fruition in terms of fantasy value in the strikeout category obviously, but it should allow Straily to perform well in terms of ERA and I believe he is a very solid, back-end fantasy starter who is available in virtually every league. And, if he were to get traded to a contender, could potentially be a could source of Wins as well.
Disc.: This outlook will be short due to the depth of the above.
Anyone who followed my offseason articles knows I wasn’t the highest on Matt Olson. And, while to date that opinion hasn’t been too shabby, I’ve actually liked a lot of what I’ve seen in Matt Olson.
My concerns with Olson had nothing to do with the power, they had to do with projecting his BABIP and what that could do to his Batting Average. While his home runs are down, and maybe because of this, his BABIP profile has actually been pretty darn spectacular thus far in 2018, and he’s not just earning his .300 BABIP, but I think he could actually do a bit better. His Hard% to Soft% ratio is elite (51+% to under-8%). His LD% is strong. He’s not popping-up at all (1.7%). And, he’s even spreading the ball to all fields effectively (37.4% Pull%, 26.6% Oppo%).
I’ve actually gotten higher on Matt Olson since the season started, as I think the power will come.
Questions persist about if Nimmo will keep his playing time. That question just physically cannot persist, even on the Mets, if he continues to play like he is right now. He’s leading the team in OPS by about .200 points. He is 3rd in baseball behind Trout and Betts in wRC+ as of the writing of this article. His wOBA is 5th. His OBP is 4th.
Maybe those things don’t stay up, but Nimmo his hitting homers, stealing bases, getting on base, and scoring runs. He’s the best player on the Mets AND he’s younger than Michael Conforto.
Final Hitter Notes:
Shopping the Youngsters
I’ve talked about it in seemingly every article, but young prospect players have a high variability in both outcomes and value. A player like Austin Meadows, with his over .400 BA, could easily be highly sought after by a fantasy owner. I’m willing to hold onto this players and hope they reach their upside, but I also believe that it is worth scanning the league to find a deal that can provide a more likely avenue for success. I’d also like to point out that, as stated in my preseason-top 250, I am not as certain in Greg Bird’s success as an MLB player. I’m not saying what he IS or IS NOT, but he struggled with high-heat last year and has, at least in my opinion, far from proven that his hit tool is such that he should be seen as a great guarantee to even stay in an MLB line-up. Especially one with such great playoff demands. I’m not saying to not buy into Bird, but he’s all ceiling and no floor, and should be priced as such.
Players Being Dropped
A few of baseballs most dropped players I’m willing to take a flier on if they become available in my leagues. Ryon Healy is the second most dropped player (non-injury or DFA’d division). I don’t think he’s special, but I do think he’s a good ballplayer in a good line-up. Trey Mancini and David Peralta were, at least recently, the lead-off hitters for their respective teams. Peralta’s slump has taken the position from him, but I believe in the talent enough to think he gets it back, and Mancini is better I believe than what he’s shown to date, and he as well should be able to stick at the top of the line-up if he straightens it out.
That’s all for this one. Next week we’ll probably settle in to a shorter and more consistent format.
Also, for fans of my Preseason Top 250, I’ve begun the research for my midseason list. At latest it would be out by the ASB, but I’m trying to finish it before the end of June. We’ll see how it goes.
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join host Cole Freel and Kyle Amore live on Sunday June 3rd, 2018 from 8-9:30pm EST for episode #123 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. We will discuss the latest information in the world of fantasy baseball.