As an avid Fantasy Baseball team owner, writer and prognosticator I feel there is nothing more fun than making predictions and then seeing how they play out. The writers at Major League Fantasy Sports made our pre-season predictions here, and I may refer to a couple of those guys I predicted big things for in April. I don’t give up easy, so I’m still saddled up on a few of these guys, as bold as that may be. My fellow writers Bryan Robinson (hitters) and Ben Bruno (buy/sell) also give up some 2nd half Bold Predictions this week. And if you want to take a Bold Long View, Bryan Luhrs makes some predictions on minor leaguers you may see in the Futures Game next week.
The key word here is “Bold”. I’m not talking about easy predictions, such as James Shields will probably have a better 2nd half then his 1st half was, or CC Sabathia sadly will not contribute anything useful to fantasy teams this season. Those are not bold. I’m thinking about something a little more bold, something your league mates and some of you readers may even laugh at. I’ve learned one of the most important aspects of any league championship is the ability to take some risks and have them pan out. As I always say, you are not going to draft a top 10 player at every position, but you must be able to find players ready or able to play beyond their draft position or trade value. So, here are some pitchers that I think will help a few teams contend for a title this season. They may not be the ace that anchors your staff, but these guys might just put up some similar numbers that will help your ratios and counting stats more than was expected this season. You may still be able to get them fairly inexpensively if you act fast as some are already turning the corner.
UP – JOSE QUINTANA, CWS – Jose is one of my breakout picks from April. I liked what I saw last season both in production and durability. I’ve talked to many people who don’t even realize he pitched 200 innings in 2013, his first season as a full time MLB starting pitcher. He only has 5 wins for the lowly White Sox, even though he has 14 Quality Starts out of 18, so he may still be flying under the radar, but he is quietly on pace for 200 strikeouts this season without walking a lot of batters. His ERA (3.20) & K/BB ratio (3.13) have improved each of his 3 seasons in the majors with no change in walk rates. He is doing the two things that impact a pitcher’s success the most, striking out more batters and allowing less of the hit balls to leave the yard. He has cut both his HR/9 and HR/Fly Ball rates exactly in half from his first two MLB seasons. For that reason, other than 3 clunkers, he has not allowed more than 3 runs in any other game. Amazingly, this 26 year old is only owned in 23.6% of ESPN leagues, but that is up 16% in the last week, so hurry.
My 2nd half predictions: 90% ownership. 100 k’s, 3.00 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, another 14 QS.
UP – PHIL HUGHES, MIN – I really thought Phil had turned the corner this season and have spoken about him plenty the last few months. He has hit a pretty bad bump in the road the last two weeks giving up 5,5 & 7 runs in his last 3 games tempting me to change my 2nd half prediction. But I won’t just yet. Hughes was drafted as an 18 year old in the 1st round of the 2004 draft and he was in the majors by age 20. I think it has taken him a while to mature into the pitcher he is now and getting out of NY only helped. He started this season 27 years old (turned 28 last week) and I think he is now the pitcher Yankee fans expected they would get years ago. The big difference is that he is just not walking anyone, period. His .90 BB/9 leads the AL, and combined with his unchanged near 8.0 K/Rate gives him a whopping 8.5 K/BB. What is interesting, and gives me even more confidence is that his BaBip is a career high .333 showing that there is even some bad luck in there. Hughes is only 42.9% owned in ESPN standard leagues, admittedly down from 80% two weeks ago. Pick him up.
My 2nd half predictions: Near 100 k’s, 3.40 ERA, 1.12 WHIP.
DOWN – RICK PORCELLO, DET – I realize he is only 25. I realize he had a lot of hype, promise and talent when he was drafted in the 1st round as an 18 year old in 2007 and hit the majors with less than a year in the minors. He has held his own considering all that, but I don’t think he is this good, at least not yet. Nearly all his peripherals are in line with his brief career so far, with a little improvement in GB/FB ratio which is important for a guy who does not strike out a lot of batters(5.2 K/9). But his Babip is a very low .266 vs a career number of about .320. Has he improved? Surely, he has more command and has learned more ways to get guys out as he has matured, and he probably has even more improvement coming in the next few years. However, he is on pace to go 22-8 with an ERA (3.12) more than a run lower than lifetime and a WHIP (1.125) at least .20 better than his career. I don’t think he is THAT good yet.
My 2nd half predictions: ERA closer to 4.00 ERA, WHIP closer to 1.25, another 10 QS.
UP – HOMER BAILEY, CIN – Anyone who reads me knows that this was my Boy for 2014. Bailey has improved all the important pitching metrics, stats and ratios consistently over the last several years. He started this season at 27 years old and I really thought this was the season he would put it all together. I still think that, it just took a few months to get here. Homer suffered through a BaBip of well over .300 during the first two months of the season. All his other numbers looked fine and there were no injury worries. It was just one of those frustrating things after investing so much in him this Spring. His season slowly began turning around in late May and early June, but his last two starts have been gems. He pitched a 9 inning shutout his last start of June and followed it up with 8 innings of 3 hit 1 run ball yesterday, albeit with an uncharacteristically high 4 walks. He is 99% owned now after falling to about 75% in early May. If you pick him up it will be 100% again.
My 2nd half predictions: 3.35 ERA 10 Wins and 100 K’s. Not quite the top 10 SP I envisioned but awfully close.
UP – MATT GARZA, MIL – Many people either did not expect a lot from Matt or didn’t know what to expect. Even now he is only owned in 67% of ESPN Standard Leagues, but he is a big reason the Brewers have one of the best records in Baseball. In 2011, at the age of 27 of course, Matt put it all together. He posted his best walk and k rates of his career, nearly cut his HR rates in half and shaved nearly a whole run off of his ERA while posting just under 200 K’s in 200 IP in his 4th season as a full time MLB SP. Injuries derailed his ability to take the next step at that point and he entered 2014 after a fairly mediocre 2013 recovery season. Yesterday he pitched a 2 hit shutout with 9 K’s against a Reds squad that has most of its hitters healthy now. In his last 12 starts he has only given up more than 3 runs twice and has never given up more than 5 in a game in 2014. Most of his ratios and peripherals are right in line with his breakout season, but for one. He has cut his HR/9 and HR/FB rates both in half in 2014. Maybe the change in venue helped that some but I think he is the healthiest he has been since that 2011 season and is ready to pick up where he left off.
My 2nd half predictions: 3.35 ERA 10 Wins and 100 K’s. Yes, that is the same as my Homer Bailey prediction.
SCARY – JON NIESE, NYM – Jon Niese started the season 27 years old and has steadily improved all his important pitching metric, stat and ratios consistently over the last several years. Sounds just like Homer Bailey too, no? But there are two big differences. 1. Niese has been quietly pitching great for 3 months now, with improved command and an ERA under 3.00 it seemed he was on a roll. In fact, in 17 starts he has yet to give up more than 3 runs even once and is only owned in 32.4% of ESPN Standard Leagues, down from 44% yesterday. 2. He is likely going to be put on the DL today with a nonspecific Met-itis. He was hit in the ribs/back with a liner yesterday and removed from the game. But now the Mets are saying he has a shoulder issue and his velocity is down 3 mph over his last few years. Niese reportedly does not agree with the decision. Met-itis. All I can do is wait and see what happens, and keep my fingers crossed it is not something major.
My Pre-Injury 2nd half predictions: 2.85 ERA 8 Wins and a 1.18 WHIP. We’ll see, but I predict he will pick up where he left off in two weeks and I stand by those numbers above.
UP – REX BROTHERS, COL – I picked him pre-season to be the Colorado Closer by Memorial Day, then by 4th of July. I can’t back down now, I just don’t know whether Hawkins breaks down or gets traded, but:
My 2nd half predictions: Closer by the Trade Deadline.
My suggestion is to spend the rest of this week looking at under-owned pitchers that you think have this kind of turn around in them. As the season wears on, pitchers will get hurt, shut down, demoted, traded, etc. You will need inexpensive pitchers to come in and replace them if you hope to compete into late September. If you are in my leagues though, you won’t get these guys, I own them all already. Talk to you next week when I present my AL All Star pitching staff. Enjoy the rest of your holiday weekend.