Can You Still Trust These Starting Pitchers?

Falling into a rut with your decisions can be deadly as the fantasy season comes to a close, particularly with pitchers and when you choose to start them. Depending on the starter and the team they’re facing, as well as your own categorical needs, matchups that might have been must-starts in July could sit in a gray area in September.

With that in mind, we’re going to take a look at starting pitchers who were in the top-50 for the first half but have fallen out since the break. And instead of just looking at drops in just fantasy categories, we’ll use total value and see where the drops have come and whether you should trust them as we come down the final championship stretch.

A few notes about calculated values:

  • As you can’t use date ranges with our auction calculator, I calculated my own values using a standard z-score methodology. One difference is that values were made using only starting pitchers, scored using wins, strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP.
  • In addition to ERA and WHIP, I’ve also included “xERA” and “xWHIP” but these are not expected values, rather they are the ratios weighted to the number of innings pitched.  A 3.50 ERA over 200 IP is better than a 3.50 ERA over 100 IP and a 2.25 ERA over 120 IP is better than a 2.00 ERA over 90 IP. Basically, xERA and xWHIP put these values on the same scale, allowing us to judge ratios on a 1-to-1 basis, regardless of innings pitched.

 

Kevin Gausman

1st Half (SP 2): 115 IP – 9 W – 133 SO – 1.73 ERA (252 xERA) – 0.82 WHIP (46 xWHIP)

2nd Half (SP 50): 49 IP – 4 W – 59 SO – 4.56 ERA (-16 xERA) – 1.44 WHIP (-9 xWHIP)

With a 4.56 ERA in the second half, Gausman has been a lot dicier but a 3.90 FIP at least speaks a little better of the increase. Of more concern to me is the dip in strikeouts, losing four points from his K%, five points from CSW%, and 2.5 points from SwStr%.

Not to get all spin-vestigation on you but I do find it interesting that Gausman’s slider, which is only used 6% of the time but has a 50% PutAway% (the highest of his four pitches), has seen a dramatic drop in spin rate since peaking on June 5:

 

Brandon Woodruff

1st Half (SP 4): 115 IP – 7 W – 129 SO – 2.06 ERA (211 xERA) – 0.82 WHIP (46 xWHIP)

2nd Half (SP 47): 49 IP – 2 W – 62 SO – 3.42 ERA (40 xERA) – 1.30 WHIP (-2 xWHIP)

Woodruff’s fantasy value may have suffered but I’m not convinced it’s talent-related. A 3.42 FIP and .337 wOBA on contact (.262 xwOBAcon) in the first half spoke to his excellent ratios likely coming up, while only picking up two wins (though pitching well enough to earn more) put a big drag on his overall value. But his strikeout rate has stayed steady and he’s posted a 14.4% SwStr% in the second half that is up from an 11.9% SwStr% in the first half.

While the fantasy goodness for Gausman and Woodruff has diminished greatly in the second half, both are good enough that you’re unlikely to sit either, especially as they are currently lined up for a fairly cushy schedule the rest of the way.

Woodruff lines up for @ CLE, vs CHC, vs NYM, @ STL, while Gausman is on track to finish @ CHC, vs ATL,  @ SD, vs ARI. You might be in a position where you don’t have a choice but I’m not rushing to start the latter versus Atlanta, who has the sixth-highest wOBA vs RHP in the second half, with a K% that’s in the bottom-10.

 

Freddy Peralta

1st Half (SP 7): 98 IP – 7 W – 135 SO – 2.39 ERA (151 xERA) – 0.82 WHIP (32 xWHIP)

2nd Half (SP 72): 25 IP – 2 W – 33 SO – 3.91 ERA (8 xERA) – 1.30 WHIP (0 xWHIP)

Everything from his previous IP highs, to the Brewers telling us since last offseason that their starters would be limited, was screaming to trade Peralta, if so able. So, hopefully, you did! Because between two two-innings outings and a dubious trip to the IL for “shoulder inflammation”, Peralta has only reached 25 IP in the second half. And I wouldn’t expect that usage to creep up as the Brewers gear up for a playoff run.

It’s hard to take much from such a small sample but while his ERA has jumped up, Peralta’s 2.50 FIP in the second half is actually down from a 3.24 FIP in the first half. And his strikeout rate has dropped nearly five points but his CSW% and SwStr% have both stayed steady and a 30.3% K% in the second half isn’t exactly bad.

But regardless of talent or opponent, I’d find it really hard to start Peralta for the rest of the season, as the chances of him getting regular innings seem to be low. If you’re in a position where you are only looking for ratios, then sure. But it’s wise to look elsewhere if you’re needing a starter’s workload.

 

Yu Darvish

1st Half (SP 17): 105 IP – 7 W – 125 SO – 3.09 ERA (88 xERA) – 1.00 WHIP (24 xWHIP)

2nd Half (SP 91): 41 IP – 1 W – 49 SO – 3.91 ERA (-79 xERA) – 1.20 WHIP (3 xWHIP)

Woof. Darvish has been a mess this summer and it’s hard to find positives in the former fantasy ace’s second half, as he’s gone 1-6, with a 6.15 ERA (4.68 FIP). But he did look great on Wednesday night, albeit against an Angels team that has been the worst team in baseball against RHP in the second half, posting just a .283 wOBA, with a 25.0% K%.

Looking back through his bad stretch, there are a few bright spots in Darvish’s statcast numbers, as the actual results have degraded significantly more than his expected ones. Batters had a .280 wOBA and .364 wOBA (on contact) against Darvish in the first half, which has jumped to a .334 wOBA and .445 wOBAcon in the second half. But a .276 xwOBA and .358 xwOBAcon from the first half has actually dropped to a .251 xwOBA and .320 xwOBAcon in the second half.

Considering how dramatically his spin rates dropped across the board following MLB’s crackdown on grip enhancers, it seems likely that Darvish had to make some changes. But as the summer has gone on, those rates have started to creep back up:

While I’m confident in this being more of a blip than a drop in talent, his remaining schedule doesn’t do Darvish any favors. He currently lines up to finish the season with starts on the road against the Giants, Cardinals, and Dodgers, with a home matchup against Atlanta.

 

Kyle Gibson

1st Half (SP 27): 102 IP – 6 W – 98 SO – 2.29 ERA (44 xERA) – 1.07 WHIP (16 xWHIP)

2nd Half (SP 95): 53 IP – 4 W – 51 SO – 5.23 ERA (-86 xERA) – 1.50 WHIP (-13 xWHIP)

For those who love to gamble and have always hated rhymes and/or reason, there’s always Kyle Gibson, who after reeling off back-to-back impressive outings against Arizona and San Diego (14 IP, 2 W, 1 ER) got absolutely rocked in a “safe” start against the Marlins, allowing 8 ER in 5.1 IP.

In 19 of his starts, Gibson has allowed two earned runs or less and in five starts he’s allowed five earned runs or more. That doesn’t seem like a bad balance but keep in mind that Gibson’s paltry strikeout rate makes his value extra reliant on his ratios and picking up the win.

While an eight-inning gem is always on the table, a more realistic ceiling is in the 5-6 IP range, with 0-2 ER, and 4-5 K. Which is a fine line and one that fantasy players will generally be fine with for any given start over the course of a season. But the stakes are higher in September and that ceiling seems a lot lower when balanced against the downside blowups that Gibson occasionally trots out.

With an upcoming soft schedule, you’ll get at least a few more chances to spin Gibson’s chamber, as he’s currently lined up for @ MIL, vs CHC, @ NYM, vs PIT, and @ ATL to finish out the season. If my calculations are correct, that looks like two gems versus Milwaukee and Atlanta, with two blowups against the Cubs and Pirates. Because science.

 

Zack Greinke

1st Half (SP 32): 115 IP – 8 W – 85 SO – 3.59 ERA (39 xERA) – 1.12 WHIP (12 xWHIP)

2nd Half (SP 73): 44.1 IP – 3 W – 25 SO – 3.86 ERA (16 xERA) – 1.24 WHIP (1 xWHIP)

Greinke has still been a top-75 starter in the second half and besides a strikeout rate that has dropped from an 18.5% K% to a 13.4%, everything looks somewhat familiar. Well, I mean, there is that pesky 5.35 FIP and a home-run rate that has risen from 1.25 HR/9 to 1.83 HR/9. But a lot of that rise in dongs is driven by a four home-run outing against the Giants on July 31, so we should be good, yeah?

But my concern with Greinke is the same as with any low-K pitcher; you’re riding a knife’s edge on value when everything is wrapped up in ratios and wins. Backed by Houston’s offense, wins are usually going to be on the table but if the ratios go up you’re left holding a bag with just a win and maybe a strikeout or two. No, that’s not an exaggeration, as Greinke now has a total of just three strikeouts in his past three starts (16 IP).

And while the numbers have been fine in the second half, keep in mind that Greinke has done it against one of the softest schedules possible. Of his eight starts in the second half, he’s faced the Royals (29th in wOBA vs RHP in the second half) and Rangers (27th) twice each, as well as Cleveland (23rd) and the Angels (30th).

M-O-O-N spells soft.





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My buddy Stuart Redman said thanks for this post.