Pitching has been kind of weird this year. We are still definitely in a pitcher’s era. There has been a slight decline in strikeout rate for starters from 19.4% to 19.2%, but it’s still historically high. Meanwhile, starter walk rate across the league has held at 7%. ERA is back up over 4.00 (just slightly at 4.03) after last year’s 3.82 mark, something the league hasn’t come close to since 1992’s mark of 3.85 for starters.
The overwhelming pitching depth from recent years finally started to change the valuations in the fantasy game and now the collective fantasy world is feeling kind of burned. After all, there are only 25 pitchers with a sub-3.00 ERA (at least 50 IP). We had 33 such pitchers through this point last year. A total of 77 were at 4.00 or better at this time last year, a figure that is down to 68 so far this year.
It feels like we have seen more inconsistency from pitchers this year, too, going from seven shutout innings to seven earned in three innings and back to six strong the very next outing. And with that, it can be even more nerve-wracking to pull arms off the wire for a week or two at a time. I’ve got some names who are worth trusting a bit more than that. The fact is the volatility might still be there, but as long as we’re getting more good than bad, we’ll be OK.
I incidentally gave one out Tuesday when I wrote up Charlie Morton. His roster rates jumped after seven shutout innings on Tuesday night. He went from 25% to 54% at ESPN, 24% to 32% at Yahoo!, and 50% to 54% at CBS. Here are a few more to consider if you need some help.
Mat Latos, MIA (36% ESPN, 47% Yahoo!, 57% CBS)
When you hit the DL with a 6.12 ERA through nine starts, you better be an unquestioned stud or you’ll find yourself on a lot of waiver wires. That was the case for Latos as a pair drubbings (11 ER in 8.3 IP) added nearly a run and a half to his ledger. After a three week layoff, Latos returned with his best outing of the year and looked a lot like the guy we got used to seeing in San Diego and then Cincinnati prior to 2014.
He dropped seven strong innings on the Rockies with one run allowed on four hits and two walks, notching a season-high 11 strikeouts. Even accounting for his 5.3 IP/6 ER dud against Arizona right before he hit the DL, his 5.44 ERA paints a scarier picture than reality. The Atlanta Braves have essentially been the difference between the Latos we’re used to (3.34 ERA in 952 IP through 2014) and the Latos we’ve seen this year:
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With the 11 strikeouts against Colorado last time out, he’s now at a 22% strikeout rate which matches his career mark. His 8% walk rate is a touch over his 7% career mark and the 6% we’ve seen the last two years, but is inflated by his five-walk game at Washington on May 5th. Since then in four starts he has a 4% walk rate and 25% strikeout rate.
Perhaps the best part of that Rockies outing was the fact that his fastball was averaging 93.8 MPH, easily a season-high and in line with his pre-2014 velocity. One of the biggest concerns about Latos this year was the velo drop from last year. On the whole it is up slightly from 91.86 to 91.94, but if he can pitch at the 93-94 level regularly the rest of the way, then he could be a true force for the Marlins and your fantasy team. I think he will be solid at worst. Plus, the Marlins don’t see Atlanta again until early-August.
Anthony DeSclafani, CIN (29%, 25%, 56%)
DeSclafani started out as the toast of the National League with an ERA of just 1.04 by the end of April (four starts). Four starts later, he was at 3.80 and starting to hit waiver wires. A maddening control issue was present in each of his first four May starts and his strikeouts were really inconsistent in that run: 5, 1, 5, and 2. Lefties were the big problem for the 25-year old righty.
Through eight starts, he had a .945/.408 lefty/righty split in OPS. It wasn’t just his changeup, either. Nothing was working against left-handers. The fastball (.967 OPS), changeup (.931), and slider (.875) were all being beaten around the yard by lefties. Over his last five starts, DeSclafani has managed a 2.76 ERA thanks in large part to his 180-reversal against left-handers.
He’s holding them to a .408 OPS in the five starts (82 PA) with all three pitches seeing sharp turnarounds. The fastball is holding the lefty opposition to a .510 OPS with a strong 8% swinging strike rate (average is about 6%). The changeup hasn’t been generating as many swings-and-misses, but the performance has been near flawless.
Lefties are 0-for-11 with a walk against his changeup in these last five starts. Eno repeatedly mentioned how he liked the foundation for DeSclafani’s changeup and that backing is being justified lately. Meanwhile, the slider has become a huge weapon for him. It has yielded just a .412 OPS with a 21% swinging strike rate against lefties over these last five starts.
It’s clear that DeSclafani is still very much learning on the job which suggests more volatility may be on the way, but the tools are there for success and we’ve now seen two extended runs (as extended as you can get when chopping up 13 starts) off success (first 4, last 5). If he can avoid the 6-7 ER thrashing when he isn’t right, a mid-3.00s ERA – maybe a little higher than the 3.36 he’s currently sporting – is very much in play.
Kyle Hendricks, CHC (18%, 19%, 59%)
Hendricks made an impression in 80.3 innings last year when he posted a 2.46 ERA and 1.08 WHIP for the Cubs. His weak 15% strikeout rate limited his upside, but a high groundball rate offset some of the concern with that much contact. He had a 21% K rate in the minors, but he didn’t have great stuff beyond a strong changeup. In fact, he works 88-90 MPH from the right side and the change is the only thing close to a swing-and-miss pitch in his arsenal.
So naturally there was some skepticism when he was toting an improved strikeout rate (up to 17%) despite just a 4% swinging strike rate – even lower than his 8% from 2014. However, over his last six starts, he has a 9.6% SwStr rate, dropping lower than 9% just once yielding a 24% strikeout rate in the 37.7 innings of work. He has fanned exactly seven batters in four of the six starts.
Even if this recent SwStr rate is legitimate, it still doesn’t necessary back a 24% strikeout rate, but if Hendricks can just be at or north of 18-19%, he is much easier to roster, especially with that 50% groundball rate. The trade-off for the improved strikeout rate seems to be his endurance. He averaged just over six innings last year in his 13 starts, but is sitting around 5.7 innings per start through 12 this year. That’s a trade-off I’m willing to make even at the cost of some ERA volatility given the shorter outings.
Chris Young, KC (40%, 59%, 60%)
One of the great things about baseball is the different venues allow for different skill sets to flourish if in that right setting. Young has been for each of the last two years with Seattle and Kansas City. Both teams highlight his strengths and protect against his weaknesses. KC might be the single best fit of all given both their park and that amazing outfield defense. Cameron did a great job of deep-diving Young and his art of weak contact here.
Yovani Gallardo, TEX (39%, 44%, 77%)
The transformation of Gallardo has robbed some of his fantasy value (the loss of strikeouts), but you’d have thought it was completely zeroed out the way he was treated during draft season. He was the 94th starting pitcher off the board on average and didn’t have better than a 271 ADP at any of the outlets used.
Without his strikeout-per-inning stuff, Gallardo is no longer sought after as a mid-rotation starter for mixed league fantasy teams, but instead of dropping down to a streamer for mixed leagues or a solid AL-only arm, he was basically forgotten. So far his first tour of the AL has been a success. His strikeout and walk rates are basically carbon copies of last year’s, but he turned up the groundball rate another notch to 55% – a career-best. He’s also limited hard contact at a rate (25% Hard%) we haven’t seen since 2011 (24%).
Globe Life Park in Arlington no longer plays as a fiercely hitter-friendly park. In fact, when it comes to home runs, it actually favors pitchers, especially against right-handed hitters. They have an 89 park factor on homers over the last three years. Homers were an issue for Gallardo last year, especially at home.
Miller Park substantially boosts homers for all hitters and Gallardo had a 1.4 HR/9 there last year. His new digs have aided him to a 0.4 HR/9 in 44.3 innings and brought him back into focus as a viable fantasy arm in all formats.
Jesse Hahn, OAK (18%, 34%, 57%)
Hahn has already taken us on a bit of a wild ride through 13 starts. He opened with a 2.86 ERA through four starts, but modest supporting skills said that was a stone-cold fluke and it took all of one start to bring him back to earth. He stood at a 4.33 ERA through five and essentially held there for four starts, emerging with a 4.43 through eight starts. A shutout against Detroit in his ninth start has spurred a strong four out of five during which he has posted a 2.51 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in 32.3 innings.
Zero strikeouts in one of those five games really depresses the output (18 in 32.3 IP), but even lifting that 0 in 3.7 IP outing doesn’t leave much of a strikeout rate to get excited about at 16%. Hahn managed a 23% rate in 73.3 innings with the Padres last year which gives hope for a future strikeout boost. Even if you remove the pitcher-as-batter strikeouts from the equation, he still had a 22% mark last year.
He has dropped his rate substantially against both righties and lefties, but it’s the former that has really cratered, going from 25% to just 15% this year. The biggest change has been the curveball. First off, he’s using it a lot less against right-handers from 29% to 18% and when paired with a colossal drop in K% off the curve from 44% to 18%, all of a sudden we’re looking at 49 total strikeouts in four more innings than he had last year when he notched 70 Ks.
The sinker seems to have become a primary focus as weak contact has overtaken the strikeout in his profile. Hahn has a 52% groundball rate and his Hard% has dropped from 31% to 25%, the 17th-best mark in baseball among qualified starters. Hahn has also seen a sharp drop in his walk rate from 11% to 6% and I’m sure that is also related to the drop in strikeouts.
The curve was great at generating strikeouts last year, but it also had a 7% walk rate. This year, the strikeout rate for the curve has dipped from 40% to 22% overall, but the walk rate is down at 2%. The heaters are the driving force with the walk rate, though. The zone percentage for his four-seamer has jumped from 45% to 51% driving a dip in walk rate from 17% to 9%.
So it’s a work in progress overall for Hahn as he tries to combine the positive elements he’s shown since coming up last year while cutting down on negatives, like his walk rate. And why wouldn’t it be a work in progress? The 25-year old skipped Triple-A when he debuted last year and he logged just 163.3 innings in the minors thanks to injuries that limited him on almost a yearly basis. The fact that he’s having this much success so fast is impressive and speaks well for his future development. There is a lot to like here.