“65 Mustangs” Is this for REAL??? Fish arms & other HOT starters (No, we’re NOT talking about a new kind of sushi here!)
Last week I wrote this piece on Starting Pitchers who are off to bad starts in 2014. My short list ended up being not so short, so I had to cut out about twenty SP to keep the article somewhat succinct. I’ve also spent the first 6 weeks of the season lamenting the rash of Tommy John Club Members, many of whom are from the large 2013/2014 Stud Kiddy Corps, and many more are 2 Time Tommy’s. Between those two series of events, I was thinking that we had a bad year for Starting Pitchers brewing.Then I started looking at the Starting Pitcher rankings on two very large Fantasy Baseball web sites (my usual starting point for such an article). I was jotting the names and key stats of pitchers who had ERA’s below 3.00 and Whips’s below 1.20, etc, and in 5 or 10 minutes I had filled an entire notebook page. (I realize many of you are wondering why I wrote this list instead of entering the data into Word or Access or some other database, and the simple answer is that I am an accountant in my day job and accountants still use pencils. Either that or I am old) The point is that there are a lot of pitchers out there, old pitchers, young pitchers, never before successful pitchers, rookie pitchers, Marlin’s pitchers, and pitchers coming back from injury,etc. who are pitching way over their heads, or at least far better than their prior MLB histories would suggest. The League ERA’s and WHIP’s have come way down the last 5 years or so (See reference #1 below for some interesting stats), so this may be just part of that “Era of the Pitcher” trend. This might explain why my best team, in my contracts league, has hit below the Mendoza Line for the last few weeks. Either that or I built a pretty lousy offense. (There I go dating myself again, for those too young to know, the Mendoza line is .200, or the lifetime batting average of one former slick fielding but poor hitting Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop)(Reference # 2). Luckily I am better at parsing lists now, so we’ll only talk about a few of these upstart pitchers. At the end of the list we’ll talk about the many interesting early season starts of Miami Marlins pitchers who are off to good starts. My esteemed colleague, Bryan Robinson, published this article on Friday discussing the early season exploits of the Marlins’ surprising bats, so it seemed fitting that I should include a similar rundown on those same Marlins’ surprising early season “Fish Arms”. And, that ain’t no Sushi.
Why are you surprised?
1. Johnny Cueto – CIN: (4-2) 1.250 ERA .708 WHIP 9GS ALL QS. His last game, Thursday, was a 9 Inning, 3 hit complete game shutout, his 2nd 9 IP, 3 hit shutout of the young season. Cueto has not given up more than 2 runs in any start so far this season. His K/9 is up 2.5 points over his career 7.2 to 9.7 and most of his other ratios are right in line with his career norms. The difference is that no one is getting any hits off of him and he’s missing a lot more bats. He just turned 28 and many have already forgotten that he was one of the best pitchers in the NL in 2012. He’s probably not quite this good, so I’d expect his ERA to add about another run, but if the k rates are real, and he stays healthy (god I hate saying that phrase) he is going to be in the running for the Cy Young once again. I missed him last season and I don’t have the luxury of owning him this season, but I did try. The price will certainly be too high now. Imagine where the Reds would be if Homer Bailey and Matt Latos were also healthy and pitching to their capabilities.
2. Jon Niese – NYM: (2-3) 2.54 ERA 1.155 WHIP 8GS 6 QS. Had he gone 1/3 more IP in his first game of the season he’d have 7 QS. In between he had a run of 4 starts where he never gave up more than 1 ER. This is your prototypical fly under the radar type of quality SP. He pitches for the Mets which hampers his run support, not to mention the quality of his medical support (In my opinion) and he does not have quite the skill set or star power of his injured team-mate Matt Harvey. But, unlike Mr. Harvey, he has the ability to walk up a mound and throw a game’s worth of quality pitches. Like Johnny Cueto, many forget that Niese was a pitcher on the rise prior to 2013 when injuries held him to 24 starts. But, in 2014, his key indicators are far better than his lifetime stats. (Well, after all, he is that magical age 27, a concept you know I fully believe in). HR/9 Lifetime: .9, 2014: .5. BB/9: Lifetime 2.8, 2014 2.2. K/BB Ratio: Lifetime 2.64, 2014 3.17. I’m 100% on board even if I didn’t actually draft him in most leagues, knowing he’d still be there for me to scoop up in May. I kept him in my contracts league though as I signed him for 5 years before the 2013 season.
Getting Better With Age:
3. Kyle Lohse – MIL – (5-1) 2.88 ERA 1.129 WHIP 9 GS, 8 QS.(One more IP and it would have been 9 QS) We’ve seen this movie before, no? This guy is an enigma. He’s been in the majors for 14 years and is 35. Hard to believe I know, especially when you consider he was barely even usable in fantasy for the first 11 of those seasons. I can remember when Lohse would come out of the gate cruising and everyone would grab him. Then, the inevitable crash and burn would come around Memorial Day and he’d be the most dropped player. A quick look at his splits shows that from 2008 to 2010 Lohse’s ERA was at least a run higher in the 2nd half than the first. It would have been a bigger gap if Memorial Day was the midpoint, so his 1st half ERA’s were also inflated by bad June’s making the total gap seem smaller than it really was. Then, in 2011 something happened. Was it the St Louis pitching mojo? Fairy Dust? Maybe Lohse just finally learned how to pitch at the age of 32. He didn’t have a dominant 96mph arm when he was young, so his progression was slow and steady. He was also durable starting at least 30 games in 9 of the 12 seasons after his rookie season. He’s still not dominant so his margin for error is pretty small, but here are two of Kyle Lohse’s key career improvements: BB/9 in 2014 2.0 vs 2.5 lifetime, K/9 7.0 in 2014 vs 5.7 lifetime for a K/BB in 2014 of 3.54 vs his lifetime 2.29 mark. That is huge, as are the odds that Lohse is a different pitcher then he was for most of his career. Unless you are in a dynasty league, Lohse’s age should not matter at all. Ride the old donkey as long as he is dealing. I own him on at least half my teams and have not been tempted to drop him yet. Well, after all, it is almost Memorial Day already, but I don’t think Lohse looks at calendars any more. (Quick Note: Lohse has not given up more than 3 runs in any of his 9 starts so far, and gave up 3 in less than half of them He is one of the big reasons the Brewers are off to such a good start in 2014. And, can you believe that K-Rod has 17 saves now? I can. Closers Close)
4. Jason Vargas – KC – (4-1) 3.00 ERA 1.117 WHIP 9 GS 7 QS. Vargas has made the Royals look brilliant for signing him to what looked like a disaster of an overpaid 4 year contract this pre-season when he gave up 6 runs in his first 5 2014 starts…..combined. I’m in a couple of deep 16 team H to H leagues and I jumped on that wagon pretty early on. I’ve always rooted for Jason as it seemed he got no run support in Seattle all those years, or even last season in Anaheim, plus he just seems like a regular nice guy. I mean just look at his picture. He’s been in the Bigs for 9 years already but he is only 31, which means if he finally found the magic dust he did it 4 years sooner than Kyle Lohse. Hey, the theory is that lefty’s take far longer to develop and he may be just that type of lefty. In 2014, his 3.00 ERA is a whole run lower than his lifetime ERA of 4.22. His Ace level 1.117 WHIP is down from a lifetime mediocre 1.307, but here is an interesting stat. His K rates are no different then the rest of his career, and his BB/9 rate is down 1 whole walk per 9 from 2.7 lifetime to 1.7 in 2014, but that translates to a K/BB ratio of 3.64 which is nearly twice his lifetime 2.18 rate. Throw strikes, trust your stuff and good things happen. I’ll admit though that I almost dropped him from this article, not to mention my teams, when his 6th and 7th games of the season resulted in 12 earned runs. But, he only walked 2 batters in those games combined, so what happened? 21 hits and 3 HR happened. But then he followed those two up with 2 more QS, one a 7 inning, 3 hit, no walk, no HR shutout and completely redeemed himself. This shows that he is still not a dominant ACE, so don’t go out and trade 30 HR for him, but if you own him, keep running him out there, and if he is on the wire, you should be using him. I am.
The Kids are alright:
5. Julio Teheran – Atl – (2-3) 2.20 ERA .962 WHIP 9 GS 8 QS. Ok, so you already knew he’d be good so you drafted him early, far earlier then I would have. I mean, heck he is only 23 with 1 good season under his belt. Well, ok, so you were right. He did not give up more than 2 ER in 7 of his 1st 8 starts. If it were not for the aforementioned Johnny Cueto he’d have Cy Young written all over him. So, what is the problem? Well, in start number 9 on Wednesday, he gave up 4 earned runs on 7 hits and 5 walks in only 3.1 Innings. Oooops, I bet next we’ll hear that he has an appointment with Dr James Andrews and we’ll see him in 2015 sometime, along with Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy et al. Ok, so maybe I am exaggerating. Maybe not. Do you feel lucky? The latest rash of young SP ending up needing TJ surgery just confirms my own long-standing policy of A. Not ever drafting a SP until at least round 3, and B. Even then it will have to be an established ace. I don’t own Teheran this season. If you do, I hope he does just fine, or if not, I hope you have a plan B.
6. Sonny Gray – Oak – (5-1) 2.10 ERA 1.117 WHIP 9 GS 9 QS. Ok, sorry i was so negative there. Here is a ray of Sonshine for you (No pun intended, well, sure it was) The A’s have their own rash of TJ victims, like the Braves, but they also have a knack for finding quality arms under every rock. A few weeks from now and this article would have had to make room for Drew Pomerantz too. So, unlike most of these other pitchers, Gray’s strikeout and walk rates are worse than his rookie season in 2013. His rates were unsustainable last season, so they corrected a bit in 2014. Why then is he having so much success? He’s not allowing anyone to hit the ball. In every game but one this season he has allowed fewer hits than innings pitched. 46 hits in 61 innings pitched. Do you know how good that is? Luck, right? I don’t know about that. His GB/FB ratio improved to 1.35 from 1.1 and his BABIP is at .258, down from .276. To me that sounds like he is getting batters to put less quality wood on the ball rather than just dumb luck. I just wish I owned him in more than one of my leagues. Sonny Gray, and easy name to remember, and you should.
7. Jesse Chavez – Oak – (3-1) 2.44 ERA 1.006 WHIP 8 GS, 6 QS. Yup, you read that right, he is the same 30-year-old Jesse Chavez that has been a mediocre reliever for the better part of the past decade. The rash of injuries to the Oakland staff necessitated his inclusion in the rotation. Why is he on this list? He is nearly 100% owned in ESPN and Fantrax, and has an 8.9 K/9 rate and a 2.1 BB/9 rate to go with the other-wordly ratios above. The question should not be why, but how? His lifetime ERA is 4.93 and his WHIP is 1.383. I think we have a guy pitching way over his head here and getting lucky. His 2.1 BB/9 rate is 1.1 lower then his lifetime rate, his 8.91 K/9 is 1 k higher than lifetime, and his 4.25 K/BB is 2 whole points higher than lifetime. Finally, his BaBip is .255 vs a lifetime .301. If you already own him ride the wave, but have a plan B for when it crests.
8. Dillon Gee – NYM – (3-1) 2.73 ERA 1.063 WHIP 8 GS 7 QS. I like Dillon Gee. His recent oblique strain was really a sad moment for me, though not quite on the level of Fernandez this season or Gee’s team-mate Harvey last season. But Gee was never supposed to be this good either. He even tossed an 8 inning shut out on May 2nd, which was hopefully not his oblique culprit. All of Gee’s peripherals are right in line with his career averages, leaving just 2 reasons for his age 28 renaissance. First, his Babip is at .227 vs a lifetime .283. That is a huge difference, so there is some luck, but I also think he had turned the corner as a much smarter pitcher and could carve himself out a nice career, but he can’t afford to miss much time, and oblique’s can be tricky. But, Gee, I’m pulling for ya.
9. Willie Peralta – Mil – (4-2) 2.05 ERA 1.101 WHIP 8 GS 7 QS. There was never a doubt that Wily was a good pitcher, but this good? He keeps on rolling too as he has not even tossed one clunker yet among his 8 starts. But, some signs he is in over his head: A 1.7 BB/9 rate vs a lifetime 3.2 BB/9, leading to a 3.9 K/BB rate vs a lifetime 2.03 K/BB. His BaBip is also quite low compared to last season at .269 vs nearly .300 last year. There is no reason to drop him but I would not go out and trade 30 HR for him either. He is another cog in the resurgent Brewers rotation and it may be contagious.
10. Jose Fernandez – Miami – (4-2) 2.44 ERA .948 WHIP 12.2 K/9 (not a misprint) 5.78 K/BB. Cy Very Young will have to wait until 2016 when he will be 23. Enough said.
11. Nathan Eovaldi -Miami (2-2) 3.62 ERA 1.226 WHIP 9 GS, 6 QS. He was a highly touted rookie in the Dodgers system for years who came to Miami in the Hanley Ramirez trade. The huge difference this season is that his BB/9 rate has gone from 5.2 in 2011 to 3.3 in 2012 & 2013 and now in 2014 it is 2.0. His K/9 has also gone from about 6.0 all the way to 8.6 in the same period of time. This season in 5 of his starts he has given up 2 runs or less and in his first six games he gave up 1 HR total and between 0 and 2 walks. His last 2 games were “clunkers” in which he gave up 2HR, walked 6 and gave up 16 hits in 9 IP, giving up 8 runs in a no decision and a loss. Those and one game in April (4 ER) are his only non quality starts in 8 GS. In a 6 year minor league career that began when he was 18 he maintained a K/9 of 7.4 and a HR/9 of an unbelievable .30, but a BB/9 of 3.6. So, he’s never given up HR’s, always had fairly good K rates, but now he is walking 2 less batters per 9, which stands to reason considering he is now 24 years old. Hard to believe he was born in the 90’s. There may be some more growing pains but I’m buying.
12. Henderson Alvarez – Miami – (2-3) 3.62 ERA 1.427 WHIP 9 GS 3 QS Talk about an enigma. This is a pitcher I have never taken seriously. I’ve never owned him and honestly don’t even remember ever spot starting him. But, while he only has 3 QS among his 9 2014 games started, believe it or not, 2 of them are 9 inning complete game shutouts. To confuse things even more, he has shown improvement in his K-Rate going 5.8 K/9 vs his career average of 4.7 K/9, however, he is also sporting a BaBip of .335 vs an already high lifetime mark of .291. I’d keep an eye on him though. His shutouts were against the lowly weak hitting Seattle Mariners and the NY Mets. So, he is a guy I might feel good starting against the Astros or Padres, but not vs the Rockies in Denver.
13. Tom Koehler – Miami (3-3) 2.57 ERA 1.143 WHIP 8 GS 6 QS. In 3 of his 6 2014 QS, including his 2 most recent, he has pitched 22 shutout innings, and only gave up 2 runs each in the other 3. Early front-runner for Cy Young?? Must be that magic age 27, right? Raised in the Bronx so he was born tough? Like the rest of the Miami staff, passing around the Jose Fernandez magic juice? How about none of the above? Koehler has the exact same K and BB rates he had in 2013 when he had an ERA of 4.50 and a WHIP of 1.357 ,and the same scary 1-1 GB/FB rates as well. His 6 year minor league career sported a 3.71 ERA and a 1.346 WHIP and that same 2.0 K/BB ratio he has now. With an 8.5 H/9 rate and that walk rate this is a guy who is no stranger to crowded bases. So, what gives? He’s only given up 34 hits in 49 Innings pitched for a BAA of .195 vs a 2013 BAA of .261. Did he learn the Mo Cutter? No, his Babip of .214 is nearly 100 points less than 2013’s .295. This guy’s luck will run out soon, and you don’t want to own him the day the wheels fall off.
14 & 15. Honorable Mention to Marlins Jacob Turner and Kevin Slowey. These guys will certainly get a bump in games started with the Fernandez injury. Turner is a soft tosser who has been in the league 4 years already but is only 22. There is still room and time for improvement though he will never be an ace. Slowey, 30, is also a soft tosser who has already tasted some success, once winning 14 games for the Twins. Neither appears to be fantasy relevant at this point but could make for some good match-up plays and streamers. Keep an eye on them as the talent is there.
So, remember, in Fantasy Baseball as anywhere else in life, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. But if something has always been good, it will likely come back to that. Most things revert back to the mean and baseball stats are no different. If anything they are more that way than most other things in life. So, enjoy the rest of your season and I hope the pitchers you drafted carry you to where you want to go and all your spot starts pitch like Henderson Alvarez in his 2 shutouts, except of course when you play against me. See ya next week when we will undertake the painful process of discussing the rash of recent Tommy John surgeries and how it is affecting our team’s attempts at fielding competitive fantasy rotations.