Your American League Starting Pitcher Acquisition Targets

I have essentially stripped the terms “buy low” and “sell high” from my vocabulary, so I now prefer to call the former buy low guys acquisition targets. One would think that offering for a player off to a slow start would have to come at some sort of discount, even if a minor one. And since slow starts are usually just that and have little predictive value for the rest of the season, getting anyone at a discount to his pre-season value should yield a nice profit.

As usual, the easiest way to identify your targets is to calculate the difference between a pitcher’s ERA and SIERA and then sort. Those pitchers with SIERA marks most below their ERAs are typically your targets, though that’s not automatically the case. Often times a pitcher could be carrying an ERA over 7.00, but still sporting a 4.50 SIERA. Sure, he’s been unlucky, but he also hasn’t been very good either! So you still don’t want him on your team.

I have also excluded a couple of the elite names that still hold an ERA well above their SIERA, but are coming off strong outings that will make it much more difficult for you to acquire them.

Matt Shoemaker

K% BB% BABIP LOB% HR/FB ERA SIERA Diff
23.1% 5.2% 0.298 70.0% 21.7% 6.61 3.72 2.89

Shoemaker essentially came out of nowhere last year to enjoy a superb rookie season. And because he was already 27, it was easy to believe that his performance was a complete fluke, even though his peripherals supported his low 3.00 ERA. This year, his strikeout and walk rates are nearly identical, but he’s become an extreme fly ball pitcher. It’s why his SIERA has jumped from 3.19 to 3.72, despite a similar K%-BB%. What’s absolutely killing him is that HR/FB rate, which is made worse by that inflated fly ball rate. He’s allowing nearly three homers a game!

He’s lost a bit of velocity and with it some swinging strikes, but some of those have seemingly become called strikes. In looking at his strike rate breakdown on Baseball-Reference, both his strikeout and walk rates appear to at risk for regression. So that’s not a ringing endorsement for buying Shoemaker. But his fly ball rate will likely decline, his HR/FB rate will certainly drop and he’s not going to maintain an ERA above 6.00. I’m not sure he’ll be worth much above replacement in shallow mixed leagues, but he makes for a good target in AL-Only formats.

Clay Buchholz

K% BB% BABIP LOB% HR/FB ERA SIERA Diff
24.9% 7.5% 0.393 62.3% 9.4% 5.73 3.28 2.45

Buchholz is just one of the many struggling Red Sox starting pitchers at the moment. Colin Zarzycki discussed him last week and concluded that there was just no way that Buchholz’s ERA-xFIP gap would remain that large, making him a good target. I absolutely agree. Naturally, in the comments, there were typical theories thrown around supported by no real evidence, with everyone trying to justify why Buchholz simply stinks, despite the strong skills. Confirmation bias at its best!

His velocity is good, he’s getting lots of swinging strikes, throwing the highest rate of strikes of his career and inducing grounders. It’s the BABIP that’s killing him and bringing his LOB% down with it. I would be happy to own him even in shallow 12-team mixers at this point.

Carlos Carrasco

K% BB% BABIP LOB% HR/FB ERA SIERA Diff
27.8% 5.3% 0.371 66.2% 12.5% 4.84 2.68 2.16

Welcome to your ultimate buy low. We all know how incredible Carrasco was (after I sung his praises all 2014 pre-season!) during his ten game stretch back in the rotation to close out last season. But he was never any good before at the Major League level and ten starts is still a rather small sample size. So it was understandable that some fantasy players remained unconvinced. Now with a disappointing 4.84 ERA, it wouldn’t surprise me if Carrasco owners are questioning his performance now themselves. But his peripherals are nearly identical and his SIERA ranks fourth lowest in the American League and fifth in baseball. Everything from last year has been sustained, but its that darn BABIP issue rearing its ugly head again. Though the Indians defense is certainly improved (how can it not be after last year’s disaster?!), it’s still no good. And he’s somehow allowed an inflated line drive rate of 24.5%, which ain’t helping matters.

The poor defense didn’t hurt his results last year, as he posted a .274 BABIP. So I’m buying the elite skills and figuring he’ll turn things around in a hurry. He shouldn’t be that expensive to acquire and could pitch like an ace the rest of the way.

CC Sabathia

K% BB% BABIP LOB% HR/FB ERA SIERA Diff
20.0% 5.3% 0.338 68.2% 16.0% 5.20 3.70 1.50

I recommended buying Sabathia last week after I was encouraged by vastly improved velocity in his most recent outing. And while his next start was strong from a skills perspective and even resulted in his first win, his velocity was back to where it had been previously. Awww maaan. I’m not sure why that one outing he averaged nearly 91 mph, but I would suggest that he does whatever he did before the game again! Was it a gigantic bowl of pasta? A 128 oz glass of Gatorade? 1,000 biceps curls? In nearly the same number of innings, the start to his 2015 looks a lot like his 2014 that was cut short by injury. Oddly, for those arguing that he’s more hittable and gets hit harder, his line drive rate is just 16.5%, which is well below his career average and the league average. I don’t know if he’ll earn a whole lot of shallow mixed league value, but he should come cheaply in AL-Only leagues (unless you’re trying to steal him from me).

Anibal Sanchez

K% BB% BABIP LOB% HR/FB ERA SIERA Diff
20.1% 6.5% 0.289 60.9% 10.9% 5.44 4.01 1.43

I debated whether or not to include him here given a SIERA that sits just above 4.00. I decided to do it because he’s throwing a higher rate of strikes than ever before, his strike types are all in line, and he posted nearly identical peripherals last year, yet escaped with a 3.43 ERA. Surprisingly, it’s not an inflated BABIP or HR/FB rate that’s doing in Sanchez, but rather an inability to strand runners. It’s not a problem he has suffered from throughout his career as his career mark is basically league average. So I have to think that’s going to rebound. And since his fly ball rate has crept above 40% to notch a career high mark, you have to also assume that declines, which will pull his SIERA below 4.00.

Sanchez has a track record of strong performance, but also has an injury history. That makes him a risk, but given combined with his slow start, could make him surprisingly cheap for you to acquire.

We hoped you liked reading Your American League Starting Pitcher Acquisition Targets by Mike Podhorzer!

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Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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Mike W.
Guest
Mike W.

Interesting article. As a Carrasco owner in a number of leagues, I am encouraged to hear you see better days coming for him.

Regarding Buchholz, would Trevor Bauer be too much to give up for him?

FeslenR
Guest
FeslenR

yes, Bauer would be too much, he’s not great, but much more reliable than Buchholz. That said, if you can find a “lesser” player to deal for him, I’d probably consider it.

I am wagering picking up Clay from my waiver wires, but I like to hold onto Mike Leake and Bauer (two ‘weakest’ pitchers in my staff). I wonder if he’d be worth streaming against the Ms?

Green Mountain Boy
Guest
Green Mountain Boy

Buccholz is a head case with runners on base, especially when they’re on first and second is unoccupied. He’ll throw over time after time after time, then he takes another 25+ seconds to deliver to the plate. All of this seems to make him lose focus on the batter. If you’re trading for him hoping that his LOB% will go up and his ERA down, all I can say is good luck.

Dravecky
Guest
Dravecky

His career LOB% is 71%, right in line with league averages, so…

fothead
Guest
fothead

Seem to me a one-for-one trade involving the same position is sure to net a loss or you’d have a hard time doing it.

How do you explain to an owner why you’d wanna deal a better player for a lesser one at the same position? Different positions you can always talk team needs, strategic direction etc, but for the same position?

Kinda would make the Buchholz dig a little deeper to try and find what you’re seeing, no? Anytime I get offered a trade like that I assume I may be missing something, and look into it, usually finding I was.

This is where the thinly veiled two-for-two works better. You’d likely have to involve an exchange of hitters that appears you’re getting the edge there so the trade appears more fair. Your giving up a pitching edge for a hitting edge. Even though you know you may be getting the better pitcher too.

Tramps Like Us
Guest
Tramps Like Us

I dealt Jimmy Nelson straight up for Jesse Hahn before the season started. More to your point, I was not required to “explain why I’d wanna deal a better player for a lesser one at the same position.” Nor did my opposing number subject me to HIS opinions about the offer. It was strictly a challenge trade. And it’s a helluva lot easier to trade with owners who don’t find it necessary to add their own spin and comments in a feeble attempt to sell a deal. What opinion is less sincere than that of a fantasy owner blathering on about why a trade is so good for me? Give owners some credit and fight the urge to condescend. Verbiage accompanying offers don’t help, and often hurt.