If you’re noting a greater sense of urgency in this week’s Two Good Starts, Two Bad Starts, that’s because it features a pair of pitchers set to make their next starts in mere hours upon publication of this piece. Many owners will have likely been anticipating Kevin Gausman’s Tuesday night start, as he is among the most-added pitchers in ESPN and CBS leagues. After a mediocre Braves debut back on Aug. 4, Gausman responded with two much better starts. While that may have been reason enough to pick him up, is it reason enough to start him right away?
Fantasy owners have not been holding Jose Berrios‘ two-game slump against him, as the vast majority of his owners (at least in CBS and Fantrax leagues) have him active — quite likely for his scheduled two-start week. An analysis into his recent starts will help us to see if that looks like the right call.
Two Good Starts: Kevin Gausman
|Aug 10||vs. MIL||8||6||1||1||0||8|
|Aug 15||vs. MIA||6||4||2||2||2||2|
Setting the Stage: Gausman’s average fastball velocity is down about 1 mph from where it was this time last season, but statistically, he is not much different than the pitcher we had seen over the previous three seasons with the Orioles. The 2018 version of Gausman has assembled a statistical profile that is especially reminiscent of his 2015 and 2016 seasons, in which he posted matching 4.10 FIPs and almost-matching 3.80 and 3.77 xFIPs. After years of anticipating a breakout from the former fourth-overall pick, Gausman has settled into a predictable year-to-year pattern of ERAs hovering around 4.00 with strikeout rates that are close to the major league average.
What’s Different: So, just as we think we can safely assume what to expect from Gausman, has a change of leagues and scenery created an opportunity for him to start anew? He loses the DH and gets a much easier division where he won’t have to face a top 10 offense (in terms of wOBA). Gausman has also used the occasion to alter his pitch mix slightly. as he is using his splitter less and bumping up his changeup rate from 2.8 percent with the Orioles to 15.1 percent in three starts with the Braves.
Two AL teams he certainly won’t miss are the Rays and Tigers, who combined to tally 40 hits over 28.2 innings against him this season. They rank among the top eight teams in Z-Swing%, and Gausman is merely average (85.3 percent Z-Contact%) when it comes to deterring contact on pitches in the strike zone. Over his last 10 starts, he has actually been worse than average with an 88.8 percent Z-Contact%, so it might behoove him to face teams with a low Z-Swing%.
So take a wild guess about what type of matchup Gausman got in his two most recent starts. The Brewers and Marlins rank 25th and 26th, respectively, in Z-Swing%, and they combined to give Gausman a whopping 22.4 percent called strike rate. The Brewers miss a lot when they do swing, and their 10 whiffs against Gausman helped him to notch eight strikeouts. The Marlins are a better contact-hitting team, and despite freezing up on strikes 19 times, they struck out only twice.
Recommendation: Tuesday night’s outing will be an important piece to add to the Gausman puzzle. The Pirates rank ninth in Z-Swing%, so they’re not prone to let strikes sail by, and their collective 10.3 percent swinging strike rate is in the middle of the pack. If Gausman does well, he should be used for his next start, should his turn come up next against the Marlins this Sunday. However, if he gets pushed back to Aug. 28, he will face the dreaded, aggressive Rays. In any event, owners thinking about starting Gausman against the Pirates should resist the temptation and just watch the game to see how he fares.
Two Bad Starts: Jose Berrios
|Aug 9||at CLE||4||4||4||4||6||5|
|Aug 15||vs. PIT||3.2||7||4||3||2||4|
Setting the Stage: After a bumpy April and early May, Berrios had settled in to build a 3.06 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 26.7 percent strikeout rate over a 15-start and 100-inning span. Only four of those starts failed to meet the quality start criteria, so Berrios’ back-to-back poor starts represent a departure from his recent pattern of consistency.
What’s Different: There is no obvious common link running through these two bad starts. Against the Indians, everything went wrong. Given that Berrios walked six batters (five unintentionally), it is no surprise he threw only 25 of his 97 pitches (25.8 percent) in the strike zone. That did not prevent Cleveland hitters from making hard contact on 7 of 11 hit balls, and pulling eight of those hit balls.
In his most recent start against the Pirates, Berrios might have simply gotten BABIPed. Hitters actually went 6 for 13 on balls in play, but based on Baseball Savant’s .310 xBA for Berrios in that start, he should have given up one or two fewer base hits. Taking away the least likely hit — Colin Moran’s second inning single (14 percent hit probability) — removes a hit and an unearned run from Berrios’ line, so it doesn’t improve it by much. Still, nothing in his batted ball or plate discipline profile stood out as problematic, especially when viewed in tandem with his stats from the Cleveland start.
Recommendation: Berrios should be safe to start on Tuesday night, especially since he gets a break with a matchup against the White Sox. If there is a lesson in perusing his last two starts, it’s that the Indians are a tough opponent (and you already knew that). As is stands right now, Berrios will miss them when the Twins travel to Cleveland for their Aug. 28-30 series. Aside from a potential September start against the Yankees, owners should feel confident about starting Berrios over the remainder of the season.
Al Melchior has been writing about Fantasy baseball and sim games since 2000, and his work has appeared at CBSSports.com, BaseballHQ, Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster and FanRagSports. He has also participated in Tout Wars' mixed auction league since 2013. You can follow Al on Twitter @almelchiorbb and find more of his work at almelchior.com.