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FANTASY BASEBALL 2017: Two guys who are mid-round Chris Sale & late-round Clayton Kershaw

FANTASY BASEBALL 2017: Two guys who are mid-round Chris Sale & late-round Clayton Kershaw

Relative to active players, Clayton Kershaw has no level comparison at this stage in his career. His contributions on the mound are so unparalleled one could get away with assuming he’s been performing an entire standard deviation better than any other hurler in the game since his arrival. With a league-leading 2.06 ERA, 2.60 xFIP, 67 xFIP-, and 23.8 K/BB ratio since 2011, his 42.8 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is almost a third higher than the second-best WAR recipient among starting pitchers in that time frame!!

All of this is meant to assure you that, no, the Kershaw apprentice I am about to cover is not going to produce an MVP-caliber campaign in just 150 innings pitched, or a K/BB ratio higher than about 95% of all relief pitchers in the same season. However, 2016 had said apprentice showing flashes of a particularly golden Kershaw season that should at least whet the appetite of those chasing a potential late-round ace.

Here’s what Kershaw accomplished in his 2012 season, which – for fun – is going to be the comparison point I will be using for Player “X”.

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Source: Fangraphs.com

 

Now, let’s take a look at Player “X”‘s numbers from this past baseball season.

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Source: Fangraphs.com

Notice any similarities? In 121 innings pitched, Player X managed to keep pace with a full season of (2012) Kershaw in regards to K/BB%, HR/9, and FIP-. He even bested his superior in FIP, leaning on a 48.1% groundball rate that justified his ability to control the home run ball – and also calls foul against those putrid BABIP and LOB% rates. He’s a late-round-instead-of-mid-round sleeper due to his injury woes (in four years of MLB service, his 121 innings pitched in 2016 is his career high), but amidst the skepticism lies a 28-year old in his physical prime, with a fastball that touches 100 miles per hour and a ridiculously scary cutter/slider hybrid – and in 2016, it looks like he may have put everything together.

With the suspense on high, I now present to you: Player X – James Paxton. 

 

Regardless of the outlook, he’s a guy I’m targeting in all leagues because his improvements a season ago were the product of a simplified delivery . Where he was all herky-jerky in the offing is where he has subtracted to achieve promising gains in velocity, which correlates with the increasing amount of success he experienced with his “slutter”. That pitch produced massive amounts of missed swings, as it accumulated 28% and 35% whiff rates in August and September of last year, respectively. As a result, he racked up an outstanding 11.7% swinging strike rate in general, which would’ve ranked 16th in baseball among all starting pitchers had he qualified.

However, the new delivery Paxton relied on in 2016 made the biggest difference in regard to his command. Between 2015 and 2016, his first-pitch strike rate shot up by almost nine percent, helping shave his walk rate by over five percentage points. In layman’s terms, his control went from Francisco Liriano to David Price in one whole year!

The sustainability of this level of performance hinges entirely on both the repeat-ability of his delivery and his own health; two factors that could fall squarely on its head right at the dawn of the 2017 season. So, Paxton should be, at best, a back-end member of your pitching staff in any league – but a draft pick nonetheless. Take him knowing the risks involved, but well aware of the upside he carries if everything falls in place at once.

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Before being traded to the Red Sox this offseason, Chris Sale was THE difference between a win or a loss for the Chicago White Sox every five days. Despite pitching in a homer-friendly ballpark behind the worst offense in the Majors according to WAR, Sale demonstrated a poise and longevity on the mound that extended past his unforeseen durability. As a result, he’s been a top-5 fantasy stalwart as a starter – but I can’t help but feel like he continually flies under the radar alongside the Kershaws and Scherzers of the world.

Therefore, Player “Y” seems like an incredibly appropriate sleeper comparison; he, too, was just about the only true saving grace in his ballclub a season ago, but he went relatively unnoticed in a year where rookie pitchers flooded fantasy baseball message boards and Kyle Hendricks nearly rode a Changeup and a World Series run to a Cy Young nod. Like with Kershaw-Paxton, we’re gonna start with two identical seasons and start with one from Sale’s career. This time, however, we’re going side-by-side with the 2016 performances of both starters.

Here’s an advanced look at what Sale’s 2016 looked like:

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Source: Fangraphs.com 

 

 

Now, Player “Y”:

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Source: Fangraphs.com

A gradually declining groundball rate and subsequent drops in whiff and swinging strike rates led to Sale having his first +1 HR/9 season of his career, but none of that mattered because he still produced a 5-Win (I.E. Cy Young-caliber) season off the heels of a career-high 3.58 ERA. Because he didn’t throw 226 innings like his superior, however, Player “Y” amassed just a 2.8 WAR mark in 179.2 innings pitched – but you wouldn’t know it if your only source of comparison were these two tables.

That 5-Win threshold is the upside possessed by Danny Duffy, the well-deserving recipient of a 5-year, $65 Million contract extension about a week ago. Before we dig a bit deeper into his fantasy value, let’s take a look at what he brings to the table:

Yep; he sure did break the Kansas City Royals single-game strikeout record for a starting pitcher! This was the pinnacle of what could have been a hardware-heavy campaign had Duffy pitched a full 34-35 starts with 200 innings – but, again, we must consider exactly how he’s reached this point.

Like Paxton, he (super-duperly) changed his delivery in 2016, opting to work exclusively from the stretch a-la Yu Darvish and Carlos Carrasco (the latter of which I’m sure one good friend of mine will appreciate seeing acknowledgments here). Again, like Paxton, this led to an uptick in velocity, and universally jaw-dropping increases in command. You think Paxton’s walk rate was bad? Duffy never posted a double-digit K/BB rate in his entire Major League career up until this point. You know what his K/BB% was last season? 20 percent!!

Add in the night-and-day difference in plate discipline-based peripherals, and what we – and millions of restless Royals fans – got in return for his advancements was a pitcher we didn’t see coming, but probably should have all along. Believe it or not, Duffy has a devastating slider AND changeup! By just simply finding the strikezone, his slider picked up a six percent jump in whiffs relative to his career usage, while the changeup induced swings and misses at a rate of 19.78 percent; eight percentage points higher than his career averages prior to 2016. The respective strikeout rates on both pitches last year? 41.1 and 30.1 percent! In regards to whiffs, Duffy virtually carries Sale’s slider, Marco Estrada‘s changeup, and Max Scherzer‘s fastball (fun fact: last season, both fastballs carried just a single percentage of disparity).

Until he finds a true groundball offering (his two-seamer, quite frankly, is a shit pitch that generates far more fly balls than anything else), home runs are going to be Duffy’s bugaboo, and unfortunately I can’t envision a season going forward where his Bronson Arroyo-esque HR/9 rate in 2016 will deflate to anything considerably lower. Also, the wheels fell off rather abruptly in September/October, during which he posted a 5.50 ERA and served up nine bombs (despite his xFIP sitting at a pretty 3.56 mark during that period). Endurance from Duffy is going to be a question mark going into 2017, as he bested his professional baseball career-high in innings pitched a year ago; Kansas City paid him like an ace, but there’s no guarantee he drops a top-20 campaign on us just yet. He’s also an injury risk in just about the same vein as Paxton, so there’s that, too.

Still, he’s the (slightly) healthier, more reliable option of the two lefties I’ve covered here, which makes him a much safer draft pick in either the middle rounds or that awkward phase in the draft where all elite names are off the board and owners begin to farm for key position depth in certain areas. That being said, I absolutely love everything about Duffy post-delivery change, and I personally wouldn’t mind reaching a little for his services on draft day. In leagues that include quality starts, strikeout-walk rates and/or innings pitched, I highly recommend that you do as well.

 

Other left-handed starters to consider on draft day (Some are recommended for deeper leagues):

Sean Manaea

Robbie Ray

Blake Snell

Daniel Norris

Matt Boyd

Julio Urias

–  Tyler Anderson 

Tyler Skaggs

 

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*Fantasy Baseball 2015* – September’s Drive To Survive: Starting Pitchers

*Fantasy Baseball 2015* – September’s Drive To Survive: Starting Pitchers

After spending a great portion of both the Spring and Summer without a functioning personal computer, I am finally back at school, and capable of writing up baseball posts again while I try and solve my laptop issue. I hope to keep you all informed on the comings and goings of the fantasy universe throughout the rest of the season, which hopefully includes a review of most, if not all, of the big names and sleepers of the 2015 campaign. 

You’d be amazed how quickly perspectives could change in September. Division leads could evaporate into heated dogfights between rivals jostling for position, supposed “aces” of staffs could collapse and fall victim to the fatigue of the stretch run, and everyday players’ groin strains or hamstring ailments, usually requiring brief 5-15 day stints on the bench or in Minor League rehab, could shelve them for the rest of the year. These unfortunate occurrences have the potential to be death to a Major League squad, and surprisingly enough they’ve become a natural part of the game. Anything could happen, and anything does happen quite a lot in baseball during those final 30-35 days of the season.

The worst part is realizing that these circumstances play a substantial role in the complexion of your fantasy team. All the hard work you may have put in to your pitching staff in order to get your foot in the door of the postseason could be vanished by terms as haunting as “innings limit” or “skipped starts.” Teams who fall apart and lose their ways could damage the confidence of their star players, thus leading to individual cold stretches that just so happen to have spurred right when your matchups began to count more than ever. Moreover, these developments, as I’ve already hinted, usually never reach a solution at this point of the baseball season. Half of your entire roster can consist of players who carried your team all year long, and are having as difficult a time staying on the field as they are producing to their expected level of output. And I haven’t even mentioned the impact September call-ups could lay in the aftermath of all this.

If you’re not in the playoffs for your current fantasy baseball league, this probably isn’t the article for you. Quite a few no-names are expected to pop up throughout this post, with the focus falling squarely on helping competing owners get a competitive edge in any feasible way possible. Those who are out of it are either scoping out players they can’t wait to draft next season, or deciding who their flex is going to be this Sunday in fantasy football. If you believe that you fall into said categories, very little here will interest you. As for the rest, I am prepared to drop the insight you’ll need to bring the fantasy title home.

Today’s post covers pitchers, mostly starters, who are available in a wide variety of ESPN leagues (no more than 40% owned,) and carrying the upside necessary to make a positive difference in your roster. Be mindful of the fact that I will be referring to general peripherals more often than I usually feel comfortable with (like ERA, WHIP, and strikeouts, instead of batted ball and plate discipline data,) considering that there are only two weeks left in the baseball season, and individual performance can swing greatly on a day-to-day basis.

Drew Smyly, Tampa Bay Rays (39.9%)

Take a moment to imagine what getting six months and 200 innings out of Drew Smyly could do for your fantasy team. Acquired from the Tigers last season in the then-blockbuster David Price trade, the 26-year old left-hander has rode the Rays’ insistence to consistently pitch up in the strikezone to the tune of a 2.74 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and +9 K/9 in over 100 innings pitched for the Rays. If I so happened to extrapolate his 2015 numbers into a full, injury-free campaign, he’d rank just past the top-15 for qualified starting pitchers! To sum it all up – Smyly has absolutely dazzled since moving to Tampa, and the adjustments he’s made to his pitch sequencing and location has paid off across the board, resulting in the makings of a dark horse ace both in real life and fantasy baseball. Even with his complete inability to keep the ball on the ground (32.9% FB rate would rank 4th lowest among all starting pitchers if he qualified) and even more alarming inability to keep the ball in the yard (16.2% HR/FB and 1.82 HR/9 rates,) Smyly has put together a solid 3.64 ERA and 1.18 WHIP to go along with an elite 10.27 K/9 and 21.3% K-BB rate this season. It’s amazing how incredibly under owned he still is (though a lot of that has to do with his returning from a shoulder tear that almost cost him the entire campaign,) but such unfortunate mishaps have allowed him to quietly emerge as the perfect lighting-in-a-bottle waiver wire add while the getting’s still good. Just remember that his flyball tendencies leave the door wide open for a potential 4-inning, 7-earned run shellacking.

Ian Kennedy, San Diego Padres (34.9%)

No other starting pitcher in baseball this season has been more polarizing in overall performance than Ian Kennedy. He ranks 20th in the Majors in K/9 with a 9.04 clip, but has matched that with the second-worst HR/9 rate among qualified starting pitchers (1.66.) The result of such remarkably different statistical outliers is an ugly 4.29 ERA, a decidedly average 1.27 WHIP, and a meager win total of 8, cementing his 2015 campaign as a near-massive disappointment to owners who paid too much to acquire him on draft day in the first place. However, if you ever take a moment to look deeper into Kennedy’s exploits you’ll notice that he’s turned a bit of a corner since the All-Star Break. His 3.58 second-half ERA (3.58 xFIP) and 1.21 WHIP has resembled that of a top-30 starting pitcher, especially when you consider his +10 K/9 in that span. However, the homers and walks have been a problem for him all season long, and his last three starts (coming right after a stretch where he racked up 60 K’s and allowed more than three earned runs just once in his previous eight starts) have been collectively putrid. These are all factors you must consider if you’re willing to take a leap of faith on Kennedy the rest of the year, as his batted ball profile and propensity to strikeout a whole lot of hitters suggest that, even with the improved second-half numbers, he’s a roll of the dice every time out. Can he continue to pitch like the 3.58 xFIP starting pitcher he’s been for the final two weeks of the season? Or will the home runs and walks eat him up and spit him alive? Those in NL-Only leagues have no excuse not to add him for his upside, but in deeper mixed leagues Kennedy could very well be the difference between a championship or a waste of a six-month investment.

Wei-Yin Chen, Baltimore Orioles (37.7%)

The last thing Wei-Yin Chen will compel you to do is awe in astonishment when he’s on the mound. He’s as boring a fantasy starter as they come, but in many ways that’s a great thing. In 20 of his 29 starts this season, Chen has gone at least six innings, with 12 of those involving seven or more frames of work. An even more impressive stat than those follows: 23 of Chen’s 29 starts have seen him pitch at least five innings without allowing more than three earned runs, and in 18 of them he didn’t give up any more than two. Of course, this consistency has been the only net positive to his performance (hence the low ownership rate,) as his league-average 19.3 K percentage and sky-high 1.40 HR/9 rate have helped labeled him as no more than a streaming option in most leagues. If you’re pitching-desperate, however, you can’t afford to let those deficiencies scare you into taking a flier. With only two more weeks left in the season, Chen is a safe bet to continue being as steady as they come.

Kris Medlen, Kansas City Royals (29.9%)

Don’t pick up Kris Medlen expecting him to go all 2012 second-half on the American League, as the Royals are very much content on limiting his pitch count start-to-start, and Medlen doesn’t strike out nearly as many batters now as he did back then. I’m suggesting you do so for his steady, no-nonsense approach to a ballgame; the kind that harkens back to the good ol’ days where 6+ K/9 guys can have plenty success in the Majors just for trusting their defense and forbidding walks. A 53.4% groundball rate and a mid-2 BB/9 add coal to the fire, while helping accentuate Medlen’s appeal as a “reach for the stars” grab, especially in knee-deep mixed leagues. Again, I can’t stress enough how anemic his strikeout totals will be, and like practically every other starter I’ve mentioned so far, home runs appear to be a bugaboo you’ll have to live with, as his 0.92 HR/9 indicates. Still, I like Medlen’s approach a whole lot; he understands the importance of cutting his fastball inside and out to both righties and lefties and enforces that into his pitching style (which is, again, inviting a wealth of contact) as a means to work efficiently and to his pitch limit. Another thing I like about him is his rock solid 25.3% Hard-hit percentage, suggesting that his stuff plays everywhere when his two-seam fastball is REALLY sinking.

Rick Porcello, Boston Red Sox (26.3%)

One of the primary culprits for Rick Porcello‘s god-awful performance this season was his pitch sequencing, in which he convinced himself to throw more four-seam fastballs up in the zone while focusing less on his patented sinker. The results of such are all over his surface stats, and there’s absolutely nothing he can do at this point of the season to pull this campaign anything close to fantasy-relevant. But since returning from a triceps injury late last month, Rick Porcello has strung together four quality starts, all of which resulted in him throwing no fewer than seven innings and allowing no more than three earned runs. With a 34/8 K-BB ratio and 3.06 ERA in his five starts following his exodus from the Disabled List, you’d have no other choice but to believe he’s scrapped his newfound pitching habits. Ask any sabermetrician about such and they’ll confirm it, as Porcello’s sinker usage rate has skyrocketed to its highest clip in years. The groundballs are back in steady form, and the strikeouts have come for him without his ERA taking a hit. Porcello has recently looked like every bit the starting pitcher Boston pursued in the offseason, and although he can’t possibly carry your pitching staff on his own, he definitely deserves to be on it right now.

Tyler Duffey, Minnesota Twins (21.6%)

The last of the starting pitchers I’m going to discuss ad nauseam, Tyler Duffey has surprised with his emergence into fantasy radars. Since his callup last month, Duffey has gone at least six innings in five starts, racking up seven or more strikeouts in all of them. Despite walking a whole lot of guys already (18 free passes in only 45.2 innings,) he’s managed to only allow three homers while maintaining a mid-8 K/9. Those on the fence about gambling with Duffey should also be aware of the fact that he’s only gotten better over the last couple of weeks; the right-hander has allowed only three earned runs with a 22/4 K-BB ratio in that span. The Twins’ high-powered offense could definitely provide Duffey with a couple more wins as the season winds down, and so long as he keeps up this forward momentum he’ll also help win a championship in a vast majority of deep and AL-Only leagues.

Other starting pitchers worth considering:

Jake Peavy, San Francisco Giants (22.3%,) Kyle Gibson, Minnesota Twins (21.5%,) Cody Anderson, Cleveland Indians (17.2%,) Jerad Eickhoff, Philadelphia Phillies (8.9%,) Jhoulys Chacin, Arizona Diamondbacks (5.6%)  

 

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*Fantasy Baseball 2015* – The Giants’ Starting Rotation: Madison Bumgarner and the Sons of League-Average

*Fantasy Baseball 2015* – The Giants’ Starting Rotation: Madison Bumgarner and the Sons of League-Average

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Yes, the San Francisco Giants were indeed the World Series Champions of 2014. It puts the possibility of a “dynasty ” mantra in perspective, and almost certainly cements the organization as the single greatest franchise of the current decade. But quite honestly, they needed a guardian angel and a whole lot of luck to win it all this time, and thanks to Madison Bumgarner’s historically breathtaking postseason performance, the championship parade took one more trip back to the Bay area. I’m sure those of you who watched the majority of San Francisco’s recent playoff run still remember the sheer, unnerving presence that Mad Bum so effortlessly demonstrated. If not, or if you didn’t even get the opportunity to experience the greatness of his seven postseason starts, here’s a simple statistical overview for your viewing pleasure:

52.2 innings pitched, 4-1, 1.03 ERA, 0.64 WHIP, 45 Ks, 1.03 BB/9, 4.79 H/9 (.143 opp. BAA), 0.51 HR/9, 2 CGs (both shutouts)

All of which equates to one of the greatest individual playoff efforts by a starting pitcher in modern-day Major League Baseball history. The numbers indicate a man who knew no limits, tapped into the deepest extents of his God-given potential, and did whatever (and I mean whatever) it took to will his team to win. In 2014, Mad Bum carried his team on his back. He manned the ship that contested the most vigorous and tenacious of adversaries, and rode the cool waves of victory. He established himself as the leading commander, prepared his team for battle–scratch that, all out war, with the best teams in the league, and came out without so much as a mark. We could relive this past October, and the Pirates, Nationals, Cardinals and Royals could all play Bumgarner again with the hindsight of what’s coming, and they’d still lose. Suffice to say, no one stood a chance once the calendar flipped on September 30th. It’s that simple. I don’t need to look back at his complete game shutout at Pittsburgh in the Wild Card game, or his unbelievable five innings of relief at Kansas City in game 7, to be convinced of such. Curt Schilling may still be the king of the single-postseason performance, but this was something I had the honor, the privilege, and the gift of God’s blessing to experience from beginning to end. It was a manifestation of all the things that have drawn me into expanding my appreciation of baseball, and a constant reminder of why I fell in love with the sport in the first place. I say the following as a die-hard Yankees fan: Never before have I’ve witnessed something so magical, so special, so poetic on a baseball diamond. What Bumgarner accomplished here will pass the test of time, and I will ensure that my children and my children’s children will acknowledge and understand the astonishment I experienced by seeing it all on live television.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I can finally talk about Mad Bum from a fantasy perspective. News flash: he’s still pretty damn good.

Bumgarner’s 2014 regular season was a marked improvement over his 2013 campaign, which is almost like saying that Giancarlo Stanton’s 2014 was a marked improvement over his other career year back in 2011. He didn’t have much to prove going in, but still found ways to turn heads and become an even better pitcher. Let’s look at some more numbers and bullet points, since there’s nothing I love more than numbers and bullet points:

-With an awesome 46.8% zone, and 66.7% first pitch strike percentage, Bumgarner almost cut down his BB rate by 3% in 2014. That’s a full walk-per-nine less than his previous rate back in 2013!

-Bumgarner also struck out more batters, and did so at a more immediate pace. 2014 was the first season in which Mad Bum finished with 200+ strikeouts and a 9+ K/9, resulting in his first ever qualified, sub-3 xFIP (2.99)

-Although an embarrassment of bad luck tainted his home performance in 2014 (4.03 ERA, .336 BABIP, 69% strand rate), Bumgarner almost struck out an even 10 batters-per-nine with a 20.2% K/BB rate at AT&T Park, suggesting that things by the Bay will probably be a bit more favorable for him this coming season.

-With 18 wins and a 2.98 ERA in 2014, Mad Bum now ranks 6th among all starting pitchers with 60 wins since the 2011 season. He also ranks 7th in ERA (3.08) among starting pitchers with at least 700 innings pitched in that span.

When it comes to baseball, both real life and fantasy, I’m a numbers guy. And this is some sexy shit we got going on here. If you weren’t convinced that Madison Bumgarner is as much of an ace as Felix Hernandez, or Chris Sale, or Max Scherzer, you sure as hell are now. He’s not only pitched up to par with some of the best of the game over the last four years, he’s consistently etched himself further up the fantasy totem pole with increasing success. At 25 years old, he even carries some of the most upside of any top-10 starting pitcher, and with over 200 innings pitched on average since 2011, is perhaps the safest arm in most leagues north of Clayton Kershaw.

…Now let’s talk about the other guys in this Giants rotation.

It’s no secret that Bumgarner’s otherworldly playoff performance transcended this Giants ballclub into becoming world champions, even when you compare it to the clutch hitting provided from all the Buster Poseys and Pablo Sandovals of the world. However, it’s also no secret that his aging mound-mates nearly helped give that World Series trophy away. Here’s how awful the rest of the Giants’ starters were this past October:

Ryan Vogelsong: 12.1 innings pitched, 6.59 ERA, 1.79 WHIP, 5.8 K/9,  11.7 hits allowed/9

Jake Peavy: 16 innings pitched, 6.19 ERA, 1.68 WHIP, 3.9 K/9, 0.89 K/BB ratio

Tim Hudson: 21 innings pitched, 4.29 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 6.85 K/9, 9.0 hits allowed/9

Allow me to put this into perspective. Where Mad Bum amassed well over 50 postseason innings on his lonesome, these three gentlemen barely scraped past 49 frames of work combined. Bumgarner’s 45 strikeouts are over a full third more than all three of them put together. Lastly, it would have taken Bumgarner over twice as many innings pitched during the postseason to compile the same exact amount of aggregate hits and walks allowed from his fellow teammates had he continued to perform at his playoff pace (in other words, starting from Bumgarner’s 52nd inning pitched relative to the combined 49th inning pitched from the rest of the rotation, he would need to throw for over 50 more innings to allow the same amount of baserunners.) Suffice to say: Peavy, Hudson and Vogelsong won–not earned–their World Series rings, and Bumgarner put them in their fingers.

But how exactly do the playoffs factor into how one should see these three starting pitchers in the upcoming regular season? I certainly know one way…

Ryan Vogelsong’s 2014 Postseason record: 0-0

Jake Peavy’s 2014 Postseason record: 0-2

Tim Hudson’s 2014 Postseason record: 0-1

Notice that one little thing these guys all have in common here? A combined zero wins, covering a span of innings shorter than their lone ace, with four less victories in comparison. The reasoning behind this lack of triumph was undoubtedly their glaring inability to pitch deep into ballgames, which is perhaps the most vital necessity for pitch-to-contact starters to even catch a sniff of fantasy relevance.

MLB: Washington Nationals at San Francisco Giants

Remember that as I take a few steps back and briefly evaluate each individual’s regular season. Starting with Vogelsong, primarily because he wound up pitching a bit better than his standard stats would suggest (4.00 ERA, 3.85 FIP, 3.96 xFIP). Unfortunately, his advanced stats hardly do much of anything to support that notion; his SIERA stood at 3.98 and  ERA- was a mildly league-average 117. And because Vogelsong didn’t even pitch over 6 innings a start (5.75, to be more accurate), his 7.36 K/9 will help no one on a weekly, single-start basis. Even if you try your hardest to be optimistic and picture him as a rent-a-two-starter, he simply does not pitch deep enough into games to provide any meaningful impact to your fantasy team – especially when you factor in the pedestrian earned-run peripherals. For whatever reason, the Giants signed him to a one-year contract extension, which is the exact type of commitment you may want to avoid with him before, during, and after your fantasy baseball draft (which also includes NL-only leagues, too).

Tim Hudson is in many ways (besides K rate) the polar opposite of Ryan Vogelsong, in that he induces most of his BIP (ball in play) outs on the ground, and limits walks to a bare minimum. Those two factors did all they possibly could to keep Hudson’s peripherals right at his end-of-season ERA total, which was a solid 3.57. But not everything was all sunshine and rainbows for him last season, and his terrible second-half (4.73 ERA) brought him crashing down to earth. Still, he pitched rather well overall in 2014, but his fantasy value at this point is so latent on picking up wins that simply preventing slightly fewer runs than the league average provides more of a cosmetic advantage to one’s pitching staff than an competitive one. In 31 starts this past year, Hudson only won 9 games. This is after averaging 12.5 wins with the Braves in his 9-season stint in Atlanta (keep in mind, that stat also includes his injury-riddled 2009 campaign, where he only started 7 games). While the move to the Bay will undoubtedly help him maintain slightly above-average peripherals, this now Panda-less offense might not do him any favors in regards to run support; a huge blow for those aiming to bid on Hudson late in their fantasy drafts. Single-digit victories just won’t compensate for his obscure contribution to strikeouts, and since he only averaged 6 innings per start in 2014, Hudson will most likely be at his most valuable in deep 12-14 team mixers or NL-only leagues. A 3.60-3.75 ERA and 1.15-1.20 WHIP isn’t completely out of reach for him this season, but even if the 39-year old could pull it off with his health intact, that’s not much better than what you could get from most viable weekly streaming options.

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The brightest spot in the Giants rotation not named Madison Bumgarner last season was definitely Jake Peavy. Coming off a mediocre stretch in Beantown, The 33-year old pitched exceptionally well with San Francisco, posting a 2.17 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 3.41 K/BB ratio. For two whole months, the dude was dealing, and owners seeking a playoff push jumped on the bandwagon in a heartbeat. But that’s the thing about Peavy’s impressive run: in the grand scheme of it all, it was really just a hot streak. So, is 2015 time to hop off the bandwagon? Peavy’s advanced stats say so, but not to the extent in which he’ll be totally invaluable this year. First off, you can thank his atrocious postseason for demonstrating that his good luck was eventually poised to run out, since his regular season xFIP with the Giants was nearly twice as high as his actual ERA. His homerun problems were predictably lessened with the move to AT&T Park, but his flyball rates actually shot up at the same time, so the rate at which it dropped is inconceivable. It’s almost impossible to neglect Peavy’s inability to induce grounders, and his spectacularly low 0.34 HR/9 rate will quickly become a thing of the past if he doesn’t learn how to normalize his flyball tendencies. Where Peavy’s season outlook gets interesting is with his glaring decrease in walks. A 3.3 BB/9 rate in 20 GS with the Red Sox transformed into an awesome 1.9 BB/9 clip in 12 GS with San Fran last year. It’s a serious positive that’ll help him hold down a decent ERA and WHIP, if he could indeed limit the walks for an entire season. Still, Peavy’s fantasy production has taken a considerable hit over the years because his strikeout rate continues to fall, and although he proved he can still be durable enough to throw for over 200 innings, he’s heading another year closer to his age 35-40 campaigns, with his general health becoming a major concern (only 3 seasons of 25+ starts since 2008). Like Hudson, you could do much better in standard mixed or NL-only leagues to round out your starting rotation, but again, these two are so consistently average they could be reliable streaming options whenever they’re pitching at home.

Rounding out the 2015 Giants’ rotation are Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, and Yusmiero Petit. If two of the three were to max out their production over the season, chances are they’d finish with the same exact numbers as their fellow teammates. That, again, comes out to decidedly league-average output. Glancing over the basic statistics for Matt Cain’s glory years (2009-2012), I’m left with the impression that he’ll be overrated around the time fantasy drafts truly begin, with his relatively suck-y 2013 and injury-plagued 2014 seen as outliers. All you need to know about him is that his 7-year peripherals recently match that of Peavy’s, just with a little bit more Ks and a little bit less walks. His ERA over the last couple of seasons has finally caught up to his xFIP after falling a full run behind over the last 5 or 6 seasons, and it’ll cling to him like a leech from here on out. Avoid and let someone else take him, in my opinion.

Ditto for Lincecum, though you probably know better than to take the risk at this point. His skill set has simply deteriorated since his last fantasy relevant performance in 2011, and in 2014 nearly all of his standard and advance stats indicated career-highs and career-lows of the worst kind. Despite the solid groundball rate (47.3%),  Lincecum did little else to perform well last year, with his BB rate still hovering around 9% (correlating to about 3.6 BB/9), and his strikeout rate dipping below 20%. There’s not a doubt in my mind that he’s been incredibly unlucky in recent years (4.77 ERA, 3.89 SIERRA since 2012), so maybe, just maybe, he’ll have better results in 2015. I’m not counting on it, though, because his 135 ERA- over the last three seasons entails that he’s been pretty bad regardless.

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Yusmiero Petit is a curious case, because above all stats and numbers, he’s proven to be a really, really solid fantasy starting pitcher/reliever, The problem is that, thanks to Bruce Bochy’s “big picture” style of managerial decisions, we have yet to see him put his brief stints of success together for a season with any more than 110 innings pitched. That absolutely has to change this year, though I suspect Bruce Bochy to once again insert him in the ballclub’s rotation plans as the swingman. Even if he hardly reaches the century mark in frames, you owe it to yourself to stash him everywhere in the event that this relatively fragile starting five collapses due to injuries. Behold more statistics, as his numbers from both last season and the season before are breathtaking:

2013: 8.81 K/9, 2.06 BB/9, 3.56 ERA (2.86 FIP), 1.20 WHIP

2014: 10.23 K/9, 1.69 BB/9, 3.69 ERA (2.78 FIP), 1.02 WHIP

On a basis of per-start production, he’s the only guy in this rotation who comes even remotely close to the production of staff ace Bumgarner. At times, he’s proven to be even better, like that time he threw retired a Major-League record 46 consecutive batters (albeit with some of his work coming out of the bullpen). If Bochy played fantasy baseball, he’d definitely gamble on letting Petit get a crack at 30 starts; who the hell wouldn’t?? But like I said before, Petit getting regular starts remains a possibility throughout the course of the new season, so eyes must be peeled – this is top-15 starter upside waiting to get put to work.

Final Thoughts:

What we have here in San Francisco is a starting rotation spearheaded by one of the most underrated fantasy aces in the game right now, followed by a collection of aging, league-average right-handers lacking the skills necessary to remain fantasy relevant. That doesn’t mean there’s no purpose at all in investing in Hudson, or Peavy, or Cain, or Lincecum; you just can’t rely on them to help your team on a regular basis. Each of these four gentlemen are matchup options at these points of their careers, and with Yusmiero Petit’s ridiculous strikeout ability waiting in the reigns, one can only hope that the Giants move some of these arms so that he could get a chance to start some ballgames. I can’t stress enough how tempting it must be for some to wanna take a chance on these guys, with the spacious AT&T Park as their home, but then you’d never be able to see the forest for the trees. For a team that just won the World Series with this pitching staff, there will no doubt be people out there who will sniff the kool-aid on draft day. Unless Madison Bumgarner can start 162 games, it’s probably in your best interests to cherry pick another team’s starting five.

 

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