If you’re looking for a starter to stream or if you’re trying to find some value in some sort of salary cap daily format, here are three guys I like to begin with and like even more given their matchups in the opening week.
A.J. Griffin, Oakland Athletics – 4/4 home to Seattle
Griffin was solid in an 82.1 inning debut last season. He posted a 3.06 ERA and 1.13 WHIP with a strikeout rate around league average (19.1%) and above average control (5.7%). He might have a bit of upside in the strikeout rate as his swinging strike rate was above average. But because Griffin doesn’t have a huge fastball, I’d expect any improvement to be fairly small. But a league average strikeout rate can go along with an above average pitcher when the pitcher has some other skills as Griffin does.
The big three skills as far as run prevention goes are probably the ability to get batters out without any help via the strikeout, the ability to limit free passes and the ability to limit hard contact and extra base hits. As mentioned, Griffin’s walk rate was above average last year, and he displayed great control throughout the minors. Check that box. And Griffin showed an ability to limit the hard contact in the small sample last year with a .114 ISO allowed. Only 15 starters with 100+ innings last year had an ISO allowed that low or lower. Check that box, too.
It can be dangerous to do comps, but Griffin basically strikes me as the new Brandon McCarthy. Their strikeout and walk skills appear to be similar, and they don’t rely on an elite groundball percentage to induce the weak contact. Instead, McCarthy used to and Griffin will rely on the big ballpark in Oakland.
My colleague, David Wiers (@davidwiers), wrote the FG+ blurb on Griffin and had this to say: “Sometimes a fly ball pitcher lands in the perfect situation: a park that plays big and that has more grass in the foul territory than most National Parks. Griffin is the perfect spot starter at home or against weaker lineups.”
Griffin will make his first start of the season in such a situation. He’ll pitch in that favorable home park against an improved, but still not formidable, Seattle lineup.
Dillon Gee, New York Mets – 4/4 home to San Diego
My love for Dillon Gee is well documented. In fact, you can see my professions of affection here, here, and here. To summarize all those links, among pitchers with 100+ IP last season, Gee ranked very highly in some important categories like K%-BB%, SwStr% and GB%. Much of his success was a result of Gee using his slider both more often and more effectively. I think he’s in for a big year, and he’s my biggest sleeper. Hopefully that call gets off to a good start on Thursday when Gee faces the Padres, aka the team that finished 23rd in wOBA last season.
Jake Arrieta, Baltimore Orioles – 4/5 home to Minnesota
Among starters with 100+ IP last season, Arrieta had the largest negative gap between his ERA and his FIP…..by a country mile. Arrieta had an ERA of 6.20 and an FIP of 4.05 for a difference of 2.15. The next biggest gap was a “scant” 1.30 difference. A 57.3% strand rate was the main culprit for the gap, and there’s just no way he’s that unlucky with men on base again. In fact, Arrieta’s strand rate was the second lowest in the last ten years among pitchers who threw 100+ IP in a season. Only 15 pitchers in the last decade (including Arrieta) have had a strand rate below 61% in a season, and Arrieta is the only one of them to have an xFIP below 4.00 in that season (Arrieta’s was 3.65). Maybe Arrieta has some problems from the stretch; I’m not saying he’s going to bounce back to league average as far as strand rate is concerned. But it would be almost impossible for it to be so low again.
It should also be noted that Arrieta made significant strides with his strikeout and walks skills. His K% jumped up above league average (22%), and his BB% fell from about 11% all the way to 7.1%. Moreover, his velocity ticked upwards and his fastball and curveball were much more effective. There’s a lot of upside here, and thankfully Arrieta won a job out of camp and will get a chance to realize it. He’ll start off with a nice matchup on Friday at home against the Twins.