AL SP Mid/Bottom Tier Notes

So we’re now three to four starts in as our sample size gradually increases. Of course, it’s still way too small to have that much meaning. However, we could still dive as deeply as possible and look at underlying skills like F-Strike% and SwStk% because those stabilize more quickly than the surface stats. I still advise completely ignoring ERA and focusing on the peripherals. Anyway, here are some notes on some of the mid tier and bottom tier guys.

So I turned on the Orioles/Blue Jays game on earlier (I’m writing this on Wednesday night) and noticed that Jason Hammel just threw a fastball at 94 miles per hour. I know Hammel isn’t a flamethrower, so I was pleasantly surprised. I then remembered seeing him on free agency in one of my leagues and noting his strong strikeout rate. I then decided to dig deeper and sure enough, found that his average fastball is at its highest velocity ever, sitting at 93.5 MPH. Not only that, but he has increased his slider usage from the mid to high teens in previous years to over 25%. What has that resulted in? A 10.6% SwStk% and 26 strikeouts in 26 innings with just 8 walks.

Not only that, but Hammel is also inducing a ton of ground balls. He has always had a ground ball tilt, but he has taken it to a new level so far this year. This is the type of hot start that is actually supported by real changes such as increased velocity and a shift in pitch mix. He has been pretty solid before, so it’s not like he’s some scrub coming out of nowhere. He’s a free agent in one of my 12-team mixed leagues, and he could very well be in yours. Small sample caveats still apply, but he’s an early breakout candidate right now.

A breakout for Ivan Nova, actually supported by his skills this time? With a 20/2 K/BB ratio in 19.0 innings and a 2.75 SIERA, some may think yes. But, looking deeper, we find a SwStk% just as poor as last year and well below the league average. We also see a F-Strike% below last year’s mark and right at the league average. Seems to me that he has been the ultimate benefactor of great sequencing, because absolutely nothing in his stats right now can explain how his strikeout rate is so high and walk rate so low. Given last year’s fortunate ERA and 16 wins, he is quite a fantastic sell high guy.

Just because this is amusing, threes are wild for Derek Lowe. He currently sports a 3.00 ERA, 3.00 K/9 and 3.00 BB/9. Man, AND a .333 BABIP! Ahh, and he has three wins. Okay, that’s the end of the Derek Lowe analysis for today. No, he should not sniff your fantasy team.

What the heck is up with Brandon Morrow? After sorting AL SPs by strikeout rate, he was near the bottom and on page two! Has he ever struck out just 12 batters over any 26.2 inning stretch in his career? A virtual high-five for anyone who wants to do the research (I don’t actually know how aside from looking manually). I guess the only good news is that his control has improved again, though that is likely short lived as his F-Strike% is terrible and at a career low. Amazingly, he’s actually been lucky for a change, as his ERA now sits more than a full run below his SIERA. The luck gods are laughing at us right now.

Anyway, his fastball velocity is down a tick from last year, but just 0.2 miles per hour from 2010, so it doesn’t seem to really be an issue. His SwStk% has plummeted to just 6.6%, after sitting at or above 11% the last two seasons and never falling below 10.1%. So his low strikeout rate has been no fluke, he’s simply not making anyone whiff. I would love to be able to tell you why, but I’ve got nothing. Have to assume it’s just small sample size weirdness, but who knows.

Aside from great fortune, the primary driver of Matt Harrison’s early success is a ground ball rate surge. Always above league average, it has jumped to an elite level above 60%. With nearly the same pitch mix as he has always thrown though, this looks to be a fluke. His SwStk% is up and it has finally exceeded the league average, which suggests his strikeout rate should rise. However, his fastball velocity is down, so his strikeout rate direction is a little more difficult to pinpoint. Last year, he was very lucky to have posted a 3.39 ERA and it’s doubtful he’ll be able to repeat that 7.1% HR/FB ratio, so I don’t expect him to earn much mixed league value, if any at all. With that said, he has decent enough skills to post a high 3.00 ERA and generate some value in AL-Only leagues.

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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11 years ago

At least Morrow’s been able to induce more GIDPs?

Idk what to think of the Jays’ pitching staff. Seems like they’re all inducing a lot of ground balls lately (1st in majors GB% by a good margin)

They also have a the lowest FB% but their HR/FB rate is the highest. (3rd most HRs given up in the majors)

11 years ago
Reply to  Dan

The high HR/FB is probably a small sample size issues since they have allowed so few FBs and its still early in the season. I have watched/attended most of the Jays games this season and the number of ground balls induced is incredible (definitely noticeable). I wonder if the Jays have asked their starters to focus on using a pitch selection that induces more grounders (don’t have time to check right now). However, this appears to have come at the cost of Ks. Romero, Morrow and Alaverz all have decreased K/9 and increased GB%. Drabek’s GB% is up but so is his K/9 but he is a completely different pitcher this year, so I don’t he is a useful comparison. This strategy could work for the Jays with their solid infield defense but I wonder how much of decrease in Ks can be offset by an increased GB% before it begins to hurt you! Can someone more savvy than I do this study?