Oh, August, the month of sunsetting fantasy seasons. It seems like only yesterday we were introduced to the 2013 campaign, watching waiver wire seedlings with names like Patrick Corbin, Starling Marte and Felix Doubront blossom into productive fantasy talents. Now, we’re hitting the stretch run, and with playoff hopes on the line, we’re more desperate than ever to catch fire on the wire, to dig up this year’s Kris Medlen in our pursuit of postseason magic.
I’m not sure either of the next two names can deliver on that scale, but this week we’ll look at two arms that have been thrust into new situations and, hopefully, ample opportunity to prove their fantasy mettle.
Bud Norris | Baltimore Orioles | SP | 22 percent Yahoo ownership; 16 percent ESPN; 57 percent CBS
YTD: 132 IP / 3.89 ERA / 6.7 K/9 / 3.1 BB/9 with 7 wins
ZiPS updated: 188 IP / 4.08 ERA / 7 K/9 / 3.2 BB/9 with 10 wins
Ah, good old Bud Norris, a mainstay of waiver wire dreams for the better part of four years now. After all, guys with a lifetime 8.4 K/9 typically aren’t hanging around the scrap heap, but that’s where many a fantasy owner has found Norris, thanks to a lifetime 4.32 ERA and a tendency to get bitten by the gopher ball.
Now that he’s on a team that wins more than once a week, however, his value certainly has climbed and perhaps offered him a shot to take the next step from fringe fantasy starter to mixed-league hoss.
Regrettably, the strikeout numbers are down significantly for the 28-year-old so far in 2013, as his sub-7.0 K/9 hasn’t made him much more valuable in that category than Rick Porcello. It’s not his fastball velocity’s fault, which remains in line with his career norms, but a spike in his contact percentage and a 9.5 percent swinging strike rate that marks not just a career low, but the continuance of a five-year downward trend.
Has Norris been trying to pitch to contact? His first-strike and overall strike percentages are at career highs and go along nicely with a strong walk rate, but despite an average line-drive clip, he’s still allowing better than a hit per inning, which has resulted in a mediocre 1.39 WHIP. Overall, he’s dealing with a .312 BABIP, which is by no means out of bounds but could stand to drop a tad.
But if the BABIP stands to decrease, his home-run rate might see a spike in his new ballpark. For one thing, a flyball pitcher with a lifetime 1.13 HR/9 rate has benefited from a soft 7.9 HR/FB rate so far this year, easily the best of his career and responsible for pushing his xFIP to 4.41.
And while Minute Maid Park was never a great fit for Norris, Camden Yards isn’t going to do him any favors in suppressing home runs, either, especially when his flyball percentage is the highest it’s been since his rookie year. Now pitching in an AL East that features two of the top three teams in RC+ (Red Sox and Rays), Norris’ ERA certainly could jump above 4.00 by the time 2013 comes to a close.
Still, wins are wins, and for Norris and his strikeout potential, that absolutely gives him increased value. Although he pitched well in his Baltimore debut Thursday (six innings, eight strikeouts, two earned runs), that was against the pitiful Astros lineup, and he still coughed up two longballs. We’ll see what the future brings for Norris now that he’s on a contender, but I’d say his value has only received a modest uptick after the trade deadline.
Recommendation: Norris is useful with a start against the Padres in Week 19, but he remains just a deeper mixed-league option for the time being.
Tyler Thornburg | Milwaukee Brewers | 1 percent Yahoo ownership; 0 percent ESPN; 7 percent CBS
YTD: 24.1 IP / 2.22 ERA / 6.3 K/9 / 3 BB/9 / 1 win
ZiPS updated: 54 IP / 3.78 ERA / 7.1 K/9 / 3.8 BB/9 / 2 wins
A quick look at Thornburg’s 2013 Triple-A stats—0-9 record, 5.79 ERA, 1.59 WHIP—suggest that the Brewers right-hander doesn’t belong in the major leagues, much less part of the team’s starting rotation. But now that Yovani Gallardo is down with a strained hamstring, the 24-year-old is picking up starts and likely stands to make a few more down the stretch.
About those stats. Yeah, they’re ugly, even for the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. But Thornburg does own a career 10.3 K/9 in the minor leagues, has largely kept the walks in check, and was considered one of the best Brewers prospects not too long ago.
Since arriving in The Show last year, Thornburg has put up some solid numbers in 46.1 innings split between the rotation and the bullpen—3.30 ERA, 7.2 K/9, 2.9 BB/9—though he’s also posted a ridiculous 91.3 percent strand rate, which will land with a thud in the near future.
Speaking of Thornburg’s future, the club has not yet decided whether he’ll make his mark as a starter or reliever, so it’s quite possible he will find himself back in the pen before August is over. But he looked sharp in his first start of the season last week, a six-inning shutout performance against the lowly Cubs.
One start alone won’t solidify him as a starter for the rest of the year, but he’ll get a shot at the Giants tonight and stands to pick up another start later in the week against the Mariners.
That’s two mediocre offenses for a guy who’s pitched well in his seven appearances thus far, so assuming Yovani’s hamstring doesn’t magically heal—or that the Brewers won’t rush back their ace considering his dreadful season and the fact that the team has nothing to play for in 2013—Thornburg, despite his rawness, is someone to watch as a potential depth starter as the fantasy season draws to a close.
Recommendation: Thornburg is an intriguing NL-only starter for Week 19.