A Trio of Young AL Starting Pitcher Debuts

As we continue to get closer to September, the real fun begins. While rosters haven’t expanded just yet, injuries and ineffectiveness have motivated teams to give their youngsters an opportunity. And that means a wealth of new names have been appearing in your free agent pool and will keep doing so. Let’s take a gander at three of those new names and decide if they are worth gambling on.

Trevor May | MIN

May made his MLB debut last Saturday and it wasn’t pretty. Sure, he could have allowed even more runs, but I can’t imagine anything worse for a young pitcher’s confidence than walking seven of the 15 opposing batters. He followed up that first start with a relief appearance a couple of days later and he walked another two batters then, but at least that game’s walk rate was just 18%. That counts as improvement! A couple of months ago, Scott Strandberg discussed May’s improved fastball command in the minors as a key to his early-season success. It’s fair to say that it was missing in his debut outing.

The one piece of good news is that his change-up has been excellent over a tiny sample of 26 pitches, generating a SwStk% of 19.2%, while all balls hit into play on the pitch were grounders. That’s pretty much a perfect pitch — either the batter swings and misses or he makes contact and hits a ground ball. Of course, the results on his other pitches have been terrible. May has struggled with his control throughout his minor league career, so we can’t expect the light bulb to suddenly go on and improvement to happen overnight. But with generally excellent strikeout rates in the minors and the change-up looking like a real plus pitch, there is potential here for some AL-Only value for those willing to roll the dice. He’ll probably be real inconsistent though, so be ready to take the clunkers with the gems.

Anthony Ranaudo | BOS

After the Red Sox cleaned house, they realized that they still had to run a pitcher out there every game to start for them. That led to Ranaudo’s promotion and his results after two starts have been rather unimpressive. He has struck out just three of 52 batters faced and walked five of them. He also leaned on his fastball far too often during his first start (78%), which provides some of the explanation for the low strikeouts and measly 2.2% SwStk%. Even in the minors, his SwStk% was below the league average, which doesn’t provide much optimism for fantasy owners.

Ranaudo did make Marc Hulet’s top Red Sox prospects list over the off-season, but ranked outside the top 10, as Hulet noted Ranaudo’s ceiling being that of just a number three starter. With unexciting minor league results, merely average fastball velocity and secondary pitches that fail to stand out, he’s easy to pass on in fantasy leagues.

Allen Webster | BOS

I was a big fan of Allen Webster heading into this season. He was coming off a dominant Triple-A campaign, as he struck out nearly 27% of batters faced, he averaged 94 mph with his fastball during his time with the Red Sox, he generated a fantastic 12.5% SwStk% overall, and his change-up was insane, inducing swinging strikes at a nearly 25% rate, while also getting grounders 59% of the time.

But a lot has changed in 2014 — his strikeout rate dipped precipitously during his second tour of Triple-A and his fastball velocity is down a mile and a half from last year. He suddenly can’t throw strikes and has walked 20% of the batters he has faced with the Sox, compared to punching out just 12.3% of them. He’s throwing his slider a bit more and change-up less, which is odd given how good his change-up is, but the slider is actually sporting a higher SwStk% than the change-up at the moment. Both pitches have actually been above average at inducing swings and misses.

So what’s the problem? He’s throwing his fastball more often and his whiff rate on his four-seamer has plunged. The velocity loss may have a lot to do with that. Between the velocity decline and inability to throw strikes, you have to wonder if he’s completely healthy. With a good slider and change-up, he already has two plus pitches to work with, so the seeds are there to become an interesting and exciting fantasy asset. But this version of Webster makes me more nervous than intrigued.

We hoped you liked reading A Trio of Young AL Starting Pitcher Debuts by Mike Podhorzer!

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Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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3 pitchers to not pick up.