Having last week illuminated the situation with hitters, we now take a look at who’s been lucky and unlucky among pitchers. Our approach is the inverse of what we used last week. To find unlucky pitchers, we looked for guys who aren’t getting hit hard, but have high BABIPs and seem to be giving up a disproportionate amount of home runs relative to the number of fly balls hit off them. To find lucky guys, we turn it upside down.
We wish we had more useful information to report. It does you no good, for example, to know that Aaron Nola has been unlucky this season. Obviously, you’re not going to jettison him, and any of your co-owners who’s dumb enough to trade him at a discount now is dumb enough to have done so already. At the other end of the pecking order, while it’s no doubt important to the analytics departments of their respective teams to know that Wes Parsons and Nick Wittgren have been immoderately lucky, it’s of purely academic interest to you.
A couple of guys whom we aren’t, God knows, urging upon you, but whom you might want to keep in mind if it turns out they’re healthy and they show some signs of revival, are Tyler Anderson and Manny Banuelos. Anderson’s season has been wholly compromised by whatever’s wrong with his knee, and he’s now contemplating surgery. This very thing happened in 2017: Anderson was pretty bad, had knee surgery, and came back at the end of the season, pitching 22 2/3 innings with a 1.19 ERA, an 0.75 WHIP, and 18 strikeouts. We suggest, somewhat timidly, that history will repeat itself if it’s given the opportunity.
As to Banuelos….we’ve been fans of this constantly-injured guy for years, and have been waiting for him to get plugged into someone’s major-league starting rotation and show what he can do. The Yankees didn’t do it; the Braves didn’t really do it; the Dodgers didn’t do it; the Angels didn’t do it; but this year, the desperate-for-starters White Sox did. He began the season encouragingly enough (but for a few too many walks), and two weeks ago we actually picked him up as a free agent for one of our teams. Only the Providence that watches over all good men prevented us from plugging him into to our rotation. His three starts since then have produced an ERA above 15, and now he’s got a strained shoulder. We acknowledge that he looks like a different pitcher than he used to be, and not in a good way: he evidently can’t or won’t throw his changeup and curve effectively any more, and he’s not good enough to make it as a fastball/slider guy. Nonetheless, it’s not completely fanciful—though it’s close—to imagine that he turns things around and finds his way back to the rotation.
Merrill Kelly. Here’s one that might be more useful. Kelly is one of four ERA qualifiers (Sandy Alcantara, Dereck Rodriguez, and Jose Urena are the others) who show up in the bottom 20 of ERA, WHIP, and Strikeouts per 9. We note two things, however. First, if you assume he had the megrims or something during his nightmare outing against Tampa Bay on May 3rd, he’s at the lower end of midpack. Second, but for Nola he’s been the unluckiest pitcher among qualifiers, which means if his luck turns around maybe he’s in the middle of midpack. Plus, he pitches for a pretty good team, so he has won and should continue to win the games in which he pitches well. If you’re in a deepish league, someone’s probably already got him, but he’s owned in only 29% of CBS leagues, and we suspect a number of knowledgeable owners have jumped ship. If he’s available, we suggest grabbing him.
It pains us to tell you about the two starting pitchers who’ve been unduly lucky, and whom you may want to convert to jetsam. One of them is Brad Keller, and the reason it pains us is that we hate being wrong, and hate it even more when we do it in public, which we turn out to have been when in February we wrote a whole goddamn article in praise of Keller. Guess he’s not as good as we thought. Our self-esteem may never recover. Still, in Fantasy baseball—unlike in real life, where it always astonishes us how easy it is to get away with being egregiously wrong all the time—failure to confess error will cost you. So forgive us, Father, and we have done penance by dropping Keller where we could.
The other one is Sonny Gray, whom we’ve worshipped since his astonishing performance in a cage match against Justin Verlander in the 2013 ALDS. We acknowledge that he’s pitching better than he did last year, and his FIP puts him in the top 15. And, as the Cincinnati writers like to tell us, his 0-4 record is arguably attributable to a lack of run support. But Gray’s velocity is down, and he’s getting hit way harder than ever before, which means that low HR/FB rate is going to be hard to sustain. We wouldn’t drop him for just anyone, but if the choice is between Gray and Kelly, we’d probably take Kelly.
But Gray stands as unfortunate compared to Chris Paddack, who’s by far the luckiest starting pitcher we’ve seen since we started looking at this kind of thing four years ago. How you manage to have the highest hard-hit rate and the lowest BABIP among qualifiers, along with a bottom-20 HR/FB percentage. is mysterious to us. His average fly ball distance is nothing special, and the San Diego defense is good but not magical. We feel confident in asserting that this can’t last. It’s not that we think that Paddack is a bad or even a mediocre pitcher—his minor league record and his scouting reports are too good—and it’s not that we’d drop him if we had him. But we’d trade him at a discount.
And finally: We don’t know why you’d listen to what we have to say about closers and closer wannabees. We’re the guys who, in a memorable midseason article last year, disparaged both Kirby Yates and Blake Treinen. Nonethless, allow us to say similarly unkind things about Blake Parker. To the naked eye, he’s having a remarkable season: 1.20 ERA, scored upon in only two of fifteen appearances, zero inherited runners scored. But the stats say what they say, and what they say is that he doesn’t get strikeouts, he’s not especially good at avoiding fly balls, and his BABIP/Hard Hit mismatch rivals Paddack’s. This can’t go on, right? Of course, you’re not going to drop him, since his saves aren’t immediately replaceable in the free agent pool. But if you’ve got a vacant roster spot, you could do worse than getting Parker’s apparent backup Taylor Rogers, or maybe even our heartthrob Trevor May. When the (we think) inevitable fallout happens, any of the three could wind up with Parker’s job.
The Birchwood Brothers are two guys with the improbable surname of Smirlock. Michael, the younger brother, brings his skills as a former Professor of Economics to bear on baseball statistics. Dan, the older brother, brings his skills as a former college English professor and recently-retired lawyer to bear on his brother's delphic mutterings. They seek to delight and instruct. They tweet when the spirit moves them @birchwoodbroth2.