6 Second Half Surging Starters

A group of guys who’ve shown some improvement lately and could have more success on the horizon. Note to my deep league managers, this group is mostly available in shallower formats (all are sub-50% on FantasyPros, which blends Yahoo! and ESPN).

Jeff Samardzija | San Francisco Giants

The Shark has rediscovered his teeth this year. After an injury-riddled 10-start lost season in 2018, Samardzija was an afterthought in 2019 drafts going in the 20th round or later. He got off to a fast start in April (2.53 ERA), but then saw his HR issues return in May and June (1.9 HR/9), posting a 5.75 ERA and winding up on waiver wires across the fantasy community.

Since then, he’s gone back to the workhorse mid-rotation gem that made him popular from 2012 through 2017. He has a 1.95 ERA and 0.81 WHIP in eight starts, going at least six innings in six of them and only once allowing more than 2 ER. He’s allowed just six homers (1.1 HR/9), only one of which included a runner on base, and he’s had an even home-road split so it’s not just the HR-suppressive Oracle Park aiding him.

The schedule does favor him going forward, facing just one team in the top 10 of wOBA against righties: at ARI, at CHC, SD, and STL. While his 21% K rate isn’t special, his volume of innings buffs his strikeout total as he’s fanned fewer than five just twice in the aforementioned 8-start run.

Ryan Yarbrough | Tampa Bay Rays

The preeminent bulk innings guy enjoyed a standout 2018 season that included 16 wins and solid ratios (3.91 ERA/1.29 WHIP) in 147.3 innings. He came into 2019 in a similar role, but three shellackings (5+ ER) and a dud in San Francisco (3 IP/4 ER) left him with a 5.59 ERA through mid-June (48.3 IP). His poor fastball was particularly problematic, netting a -4.4 pitch value in that time.

He has put together a brilliant 1.61 ERA and 0.74 WHIP over his last 50.3 innings, striking out 44 batters against just four walks. Part of that has been a shift from his fastball to his cutter. He wasn’t really using the fastball a lot during the early season run at just a 34% usage rate, but since June 18th it’s down to just 20% while his cutter usage has surged from 28% to 43%. Less has been more with the heater, as it has netted a 2.5 pitch value in the 50.3 inning sample despite the scant usage.

Meanwhile, his cutter has been the best in baseball by pitch value during this time at 7.4 (Yu Darvish at 4.8 is 2nd). Yarbrough is still in the hybrid role, but honestly his fantasy value is higher in the bulk innings role. He has added value in that role for those in H2H leagues with start caps, but he’s worth rostering regardless of role, especially with his upcoming probable schedule. He should start or follow against Detroit, Baltimore, Houston and then Baltimore again if he stays on his current track.

Steven Matz | New York Mets

Matz took a 4.95 ERA into July, but a pair of meltdowns in Philadelphia totaling 13 ER in 4.3 IP did a lot of the damage. He had a 3.69 ERA in his other 14 starts (75.7 IP) along with 77 strikeouts. Nevertheless, he had just a couple relief outings before the All-Star break as the Mets gave him a chance to figure some things out heading into the second half with the possibility of reentering the rotation.

In his five second half starts, he has a 3.38 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and 18% K-BB rate over 29.3 innings, including a shutout against Pittsburgh (but also a 3.7 IP/5 ER shellacking in the very next start). The schedule has been very favorable with a trip to Minnesota being the only difficult outing (despite Pittsburgh getting him that second time around) in the quintet. It gets more difficult starting this week with a trip to Atlanta. From there he gets Cleveland, Atlanta again, and then a trip to Philadelphia. Only Atlanta is a top 10 team in wOBA against lefties on the season, but Cleveland’s revitalized offense has rocketed them to 5th since July 1st.

Chris Bassitt | Oakland Athletics

While Bassitt wasn’t exactly bad before the break, his nine starts in the run up to the Midsummer Classic saw him post a 6.00 ERA and 1.47 WHIP which was a far cry from his excellent 1.93 ERA/0.92 WHIP in his first five starts. He struck out 38 batters and had a 23% K-BB rate in that time, lending some credence to the unexpected breakthrough. The sharp regression in his subsequent nine starts landed him on waiver wires all over the place, but his second half rebound has once again made him a popular pick.

The underlying success hasn’t been as strong as the start of his season, but he has put up a 2.00 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and 23% K rate in 36 IP since the break. Unlike so many pitchers finding new levels of success these days, Bassitt has actually focused on his fastball as a key component behind his improvements. His 93.4 mph velocity is a career-best and 1.4 mph higher than last year while his 16.6 pitch value is 6th among 84 pitchers with at least 110 innings. He does draw the Astros this weekend, but then a juicy trio against the Giants, at the Royals, and Angels.

Jakob Junis | Kansas City Royals

Junis’ success or failure is pretty easy to track as it’s so heavily related to his home run suppression. Seven multi-homer outings in his first 19 starts fueled a 5.33 ERA and a 1.7 HR/9, but he’s tightened up a bit since the All-Star break allowing a more palatable 1.2 rate, en route to a 3.32 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 38 innings. He also has four wins in the six starts, despite being stuck on a 43-76 Royals team. He’s gone at least six innings in each of the starts, too.

Junis faces the Mets, Indians, and A’s over his next three, which isn’t an easy slate and his ability to keep the fastball in the yard will drive his success. Maybe focus on the home starts (1.2 HR/9) and if you do skip out on the home start against Oakland, be ready to jump back in for a start against Detroit and then a trip to Miami to open September.

Cal Quantrill | San Diego Padres

Quantrill has only allowed three earned runs twice this year, but both happened within his first six starts, leaving him with a 5.23 ERA. He was sent to the bullpen after that and spent the rest of June there. Since being reinserted into the rotation in July (with one bulk inning appearance), he has posted a 1.62 ERA and 0.90 WHIP over 33.3 innings. His 15% K-BB rate doesn’t support that kind of success, but the two-time Top 100 prospect is starting to show why he was so well-regarded as a minor leaguer. The upcoming schedule will test him substantially with the Rays, Reds, and Dodgers slated for him with a trip to San Francisco representing an oasis at the end of the month.

Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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Somebody else pointed this out in the comments of another piece, but Matz’s nice run has coincided with a nice bump in velo. At the start of the year he was sitting 92.5 or so, however he started building velo in June and has been 94+ in every start since the AS Break. I’m out on Matz after having been burned once too often the last couple years, but maybe the guy is just finally getting healthy and pitching pain-free for the 1st time in a long time. . . .