Choose Your Penultimate(ish) Starters Wisely

We’ll only have 10 days of the regular season left after this weekend, with one normal week and one bizzaro halfy. Roto leagues get to scrape every last scrap of stat but for those in head-to-head leagues, this week might be it. One last week to rule them all.

Let’s keep giving you all the stats you need to whittle down these final oh-so-important choices, whether you’re searching for a particular category, or just need a solid outing. Over the past few months, we’ve looked at how to best evaluate matchups for left-handers, and right-handers, and how to mix in the changes in hitting environments. And how to pick who to keep, cut, or start when late-season strategies start coming into play in September. But in the championship weeks, everything becomes that much more magnified and we need all the tools you can get.

There’s no time to waste, let’s get right into it. The following charts contain the 181 starters currently listed on the Probable Pitchers section from Roster Resource, with opponent ranks in various categories, according to pitcher handedness faced. Ranks are given for two periods; April through July 31 and since August 1.

Ok, that’s a whole lotta numbers, tiny Elvis, but it’s also a nice way to do a quick check-in on what kind of matchup starters are generally walking into. But let’s get the razor out and do some trimming, honing in on players with good matchups and who are available in ~50% (or less) of leagues.

Using a very loose methodology (IE. looking for a bunch of red), here are 14 starters who, on paper, have some of the softer matchups this upcoming week:

Soft opponents on paper might not mean much if you’re rolling with junky arms, so now we need to see how our starters from above have been performing themselves.

Here they are (along with their opponent’s rank in wOBA by handedness) in a variety of categories for two periods – the second period is the last 30 days, and the first is everything before:

Ahh, paper strikes back, with a sea of red saying some of these pitchers should be written off, out of hand, regardless of how inept their opponent may seem. But desperate times might call for desperate streams and you, my intrepid reader, know that we can at least try to stack the paper odds in our favor by also looking at pitch mixes and team success against them.

Here are our same 14 starters, this time with usage rates and values for their pitch mix, again split into two periods:

And to add the final piece, here is how each of their opponents has performed against the different pitch types, again according to pitcher handedness:

A few notes:

Eric Lauer, MIL (vs MIA)

Lauer had mostly settled in before hitting a double whammy a few weeks ago, going on the IL with elbow discomfort following a seven-run shelling at Coors Field on September 7th. Coming off to face Miami is about as soft of a landing as one could hope for, as Miami is 30th in wOBA vs LHP, and has been so all season. Miami is also 29th in wOBA on contact and 30th in K%.

His four-seamer has been much improved, both over the last 30 days and also comparing half to half, with the wOBAcon against it dropping from a .422 wOBAcon in the first half, to a .299 wOBAcon in the second half. Miami, on the other hand, has struggled with left-handed four-seamers, ranking 29th in wOBA, SwStr%, and Whiff%.

José Quintana, STL (vs PIT)

Ahh, the José Quintana revenge game you didn’t know you needed. Quintana has rolled to an improbable 3.16 ERA (3.09 FIP) on the back of his improved four-seamer and curveball, with the pitch values on both coming in even higher for the past month. But the increased success clearly hasn’t come from more strikeouts, as Quintana has posted just a 19.8% K% and 10.5% SwStr% overall, with his four-seamer dropping from a 13.7% SwStr% in the first half to a 9.3% SwStr% in the second half, while the SwStr% for the curveball has stayed steady by half but is down two points from 2021.

However, what the two pitches have done, is get way more chases. The chase rate for Quintana’s curveball is up over five points from 2021 (steady by half this season), while his four-seamer is up over nine points from last year and increased another two points in the second half compared to the first. And while more chases haven’t led to more whiffs, it has led to far less damage. Batters posted a .522 wOBAcon against Quintana’s four-seamer in 2021 but have dropped to a .312 wOBAcon in 2022, going from .382 in the first half, to an absolutely elite .222 wOBAcon (.285 xwOBAcon) in the second half. And the damage drop against his curveball is nearly as dramatic, going from a .459 wOBAcon in 2021 to a .326 wOBAcon in the first half, and a .240 wOBAcon in the second half.

Dylan Bundy, MIN (@ DET)

For those who live their life a quarter-mile at a time, a late-September stream of my sweet Dylan is like mainlining NOS straight into your eyeball. I mean, what’s not to love about chasing a ceiling that’s around five innings, three strikeouts, and maybe a win? And honestly, 3 K is probably pushing it considering how badly Bundy is leaking whiffs – in the second half, his slider has dropped over six points in SwStr% and 10 points in Whiff%, while his changeup has dropped eight points in the former, and 14 points in the latter.

But every start against the lowly Tigers simply must be considered. And Detroit is particularly bad against four-seamers, sliders, and changeups from right-handed pitchers, so perhaps Bundy can plug those leaks for a start. This is a classic “stoppable force vs a moveable object” – pick your poison. Or, maybe, don’t take poison. You know, because it’s poison?

Braxton Garrett, MIA (@ MIL)

This is quite the love connection, as it perfectly marries two of my favorite subjects – the sneaky goodness of Braxton Garrett and the sneaky ineptness of Milwaukee vs LHP.

Returning earlier than expected from an oblique injury, Garrett was fine in his return from the IL, allowing 2 ER over 4.2 IP in a no-decision against the Rangers, striking out four batters, and allowing two hits and two walks. But while Texas has been a top-10 offense vs LHP (7th in wOBA, 11th in xwOBA), Milwaukee is most certainly not (24th in wOBA and xwOBA, 28th in K%).

To be fair, the Brewers have been rather good against left-handed sliders, which is Garrett’s money pitch and the one that has taken him to new heights in 2022. But he’s also got a decent curveball (MIL: 26th in wOBA, 30th in xwOBA, 29th in SwStr%) and has leaned more on his sinker in the second half, against which the Brewers have been fairly terrible, ranking 30th in wOBA and 29th in xwOBA.

Bailey Ober, MIN (@ DET)

Ober has looked sharp in his two starts since returning from the IL, going 0-1 in two no decisions, with a 2.70 ERA and 1.00 WHIP over 10 IP, with eight strikeouts that are made more impressive by how stingy on whiffs his two opponents (CLE, KC) are.

However, the only thing his next opponent is stingy with is running up the score on starters, as the Tigers vs RHP rank 30th in wOBA, 30th in xwOBA, 29th in wOBAcon, 28th in xwOBAcon, 28th in K%, and 29th in SwStr%. And Detroit spreads that bad out across the pitch types, with virtually only their whiff rates against changeups coming in as anything but the bottom of the barrel.

**Super Double Bonus Charts**

Team Ranks by Pitch Type:

Pitch Mix and Values (April – July 31, August 1 – present):

Have a great weekend!

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11 days ago

Thanks again for this article, I love how you keep updating it as we move through the season. One nit – Lauer is a LHP…so is the table wrong, or is there a typo in the Lauer blurb?

Regardless, I think MIA is terrible against both RHP and LHP.

That said, Lauer actually came off the IL last night and had some trouble – 2.2 IP, 5 hits, 3 BB, 3 K, 2 ER (66 pitches, 36 strikes). Is the rust shaken off now, or should we be wary of a poor outing against the Marlins as maybe he came off the IL a bit early to help the Brewers push for the playoffs?