Hail Mary Pitchers – Underpeformers

A couple weeks ago I shared my Hail Mary infield, a group of infielders you should consider collecting on a struggling team in the hopes that you hit it big with them returning to form. The idea is that you can also get them at a discount, thus a surge to their talent level would net a huge payoff. Today I’m going to hit the mound and discuss the Hail Mary pitchers. Pitching can deliver a bigger payoff in most cases. League standings will dictate which side you’re better off attacking, but a big pitching run can pay huge dividends in relatively short order.

Four of the five hitting categories are counting stats so the accumulation to make a move can be more of a slow burn. Additionally, the one rate stat (usually AVG or OBP) doesn’t usually move too quickly once we get around this point in the season as the ABs/PAs start to pile up. A single exemplary performance from a hitter – even something like 5-for-5 with a homer and six RBIs – rarely has the impact that one huge start does and once start stringing them together, movement comes quickly.

I have three different categories for Hail Mary pitchers: Underperformers, Young Unknowns, and Buy-Highs. The Underperformers are pretty self-explanatory (actually, I’m sure all three category titles give you a great idea of what they’re about), it’s the guys who are really struggling against expectations, but have the skills and/or the track record that suggests a comeback is not only possible, but even likely in many cases. These guys will be your discounted assets. You should be able to turn the few star assets you do have into multiple Underperformers.

The Young Unknowns are the shiny new toys who are having some success this year, but carry risk due to a lack of track record. That volatility could definitely burn you, but when you’re in Hail Mary mode, that upside is desirable enough to take on the risk. These guys won’t necessarily come cheaply because they aren’t failing, but they will usually still be cheaper than what a peak version of him with a track record would cost.

Danny Salazar had his clock cleaned Tuesday night by the Tigers, but he was in the midst of a six-start run of 3.03 ERA with 39 Ks in 35.7 IP and even after the ugliness against the Tigers, he 99 Ks in 77.7 IP this year. He had a 3.27 ERA in his first five starts of the season with 48 Ks in 33 IP. Then a 4.7 IP/5 ER roadbump. You’re buying Salazar for a Hail Mary team in hopes that he can curb the roadbumps in the second half, avoid that Shellacking.

The final group is the Buy-Highs. Again, self-explanatory name, but these aren’t just any buy-highs. Max Scherzer isn’t a wise investment for this plan. Everyone expects him to continue dominating, so he’s going to cost an absolute mint to acquire. In a Hail Mary situation, you need to invest in buy-highs who are on teams where the owner doesn’t necessarily believe this new level and wants to sell out before what he or she perceives as a forthcoming crash.

Underperformers

Carlos Carrasco, CLE – Carrasco’s brilliant 2014 run earned him a lot of spring training praise as he shot up draft boards and wound up as a top 30 drafted pitcher by the time draft season was over. Some were spending upwards of a top 75 pick and they’re no doubt underwhelmed by his 4.35 ERA through 80.7 innings. But there are reasons for optimism.

Carrasco’s excellent strikeout and walk rates from last year are intact at 26% and 5%, respectively. His swinging strike rate has dipped a bit, but honestly it’s gone from elite (13.4%, fourth in MLB last year) to great (12.1%, tied with Matt Harvey at 12th in MLB).

The groundball rate has dipped substantially from 53% to 47%, but that was more of an added benefit than a necessity for his success. Plus, it appears to be a recent change, likely in response to the wobbly defense behind him. Through his first nine games he had a 49% rate including a 50% or higher rate in seven of the nine starts. In his last five starts he has just a 43% groundball rate, reaching 50% just once.

The additions of Francisco Lindor and Giovanny Urshela should encourage Carrasco to start utilizing the groundball again. We’ve seen how hot he can get (1.30 ERA in 10 starts to close ’14) and the skills are here for another huge run. I don’t think you have to give an eighth-round caliber player to get Carrasco at this point.

Jeff Samardzija, CWS – A 4.31 ERA in his last eight outings isn’t going to overwhelm you with optimism, but 15 of the 27 ER he has allowed in that run came in two ugly games (consecutively on June 2nd and 5th). He had a 1.96 ERA in three starts before those two games and a 3.00 ERA in the three starts since those two outings, both losses. He has gone 7+ IP in seven of the eight, too. All told he has a 21% strikeout rate and 5.4 K:BB ratio in the 56.3 IP.

He opened the run with a 7% swinging strike rate, but since then he hasn’t fallen below 10% and has regularly posted elite marks: 7%, 19%, 11%, 11%, 14%, 10%, 14%, and 14%. His 13% rate is good for 21st in MLB since the start of this run (May 17th). It’s actually the seventh-highest total when accounting for ties (Chris Sale leading at 20%).

Also consider: Anibal Sanchez, DET – The window might be closing on acquiring him at a sharp discount with a 2.15 ERA in his last five starts with a 0.95 WHIP and 2.9 K:BB ratio in 37.7 IP, but he does still have a 4.59 ERA. If he keeps the ball in the yard, he’s going to be very successful. He was baseball’s best ball-in-the-yard keeper from 2013-14.

Julio Teheran, ATL – Teheran was excellent in 2013-14 and had the skills to support it or at least something that said he was very good if not quite the 3.03 ERA we saw in 406.7 IP. Lefties have absolutely mauled him this year with a .927 OPS, up from .687 last year. It’s the heat failing him.

His fastballs (four- and two-seamers) are allowing a 1.025 OPS to lefties this year, up from .789 last year. He’s just catching too much of the plate with the pitches. His fastballs in the middle third of the zone are yielding a 1.244 OPS. He might consider the inner third even more with his fastballs to lefties as they’ve managed just a .574 OPS on those pitches over the last two seasons, including a .368 this year. That’s in 20 PA, though, far fewer than the 59 PA on the outer third.

Well, this piece is running much longer than I expected and I’m headed on a mini-vacation for a couple days, so I’ll cut it here at the Underperformers and then bring you the Young Unknowns and Buy-Highs tomorrow Monday (…someone forgot what day it was yesterday).

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Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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Peter 2
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Peter 2

I traded for Carrasco last week and am feeling pretty good about it. Thinking about making a play for Jon Lester. How do you feel about him, as far as underperformers go?

(7 category league: IP, W, SV, ERA, K/9, BB/9, H/9)