The real deal? Unheralded hot startsby Mike Silver
May 03, 2012
Now that the door is closed on an eventful April, it’s time to recap the hot starts and decide who’s the real deal and who’s faking.
Edwin Jackson, Washington Nationals:
I really like what I’m seeing out of Jackson. Groundballs are up, O-Swing is up, contact percentages are way, way down, and he’s getting ahead in the count. Right now, he’s throwing like the perfect pitcher. To date, I’ve got his regressed line at a 2.105 ERA, 1.011 WHIP, and 10.978 K/9. Extrapolate that out through 200+ IP and you’re looking at a mind-boggling 10.93-point player in 12-team leagues—tops in fantasy.
Unfortunately, that won’t continue and if you can find someone to buy in, I’d take it. I see Jackson continuing on the way he has in the past, albeit with a BABIP that is a bit more under control than in years past.
Phony? Not quite. He won’t continue the incredible start, but he won’t disappoint you either. I think he could be a nice number three option, but I won’t trust him as a number two.
Projection: 3.417 ERA, 1.311 WHIP, 178.7 K, 12.52 W, 194.53 IP—1.866 points above average
Verdict: Not Real, but not Phony either. You should be fine if he’s your number three.
Lance Lynn, St. Louis Cardinals:
Here’s a guy I love. Lynn is having an absolutely stellar start to the year and it shows, as his regressed rates leave him as the second most valuable pitcher in fantasy (7.20 points above average), behind only Jackson, above. And, like Jackson, he’s doing everything right right now—from ground balls to whiffs, to control—if only these guys could induce some pop-ups!
Also like Jackson, he’s not “Real” but he’s not “Phony” either. Let’s face it, no one outside of Roy Halladay, Justin Verlander, and Clayton Kershaw are real to this extent.
Either way, I think Lynn is 2012’s Cory Luebke: a guy who posted good rates in the minors who just happened to hit another gear in the Show.
To date, he carries an expected 2.898 ERA, 1.149 WHIP, and 9.569 K/9. Going forward, he’s not this good, but he’ll make plenty of owners very, very happy.
At this point in the season, with Lynn being a rookie, I would want to play it safe. Slot him in as your fourth starter and be pleasantly surprised when he finishes the season as the most valuable pitcher on your staff.
Projection: 3.479 ERA, 1.302 WHIP, 14.74 W, 184.563 K, 182.56 IP -- 3.596 points above average
Verdict: He’s not an ace, but the breakout is real. Make him your number four SP and watch him produce like a number two.
Ranked sixth by my April regressed values, Hammel sticks out like a sore thumb. In five starts, he’s got a 1.97 ERA, 8.44 K/9, and a 3-1 record. On his career, he’s got a 4.87 ERA, 6.34 K/9, and a 37-46 record.
His BABIP is down 60 points, his groundball percentage is up 15 points, and his Z-Contact is down seven points.
I won’t pretend to know exactly what is causing this, but he’s been in the majors so long, it's tough for me to believe he’s all of a sudden hit another gear and morphed into a pure-K guy. If he’s still throwing like this in two more months, then I’ll tally myself among the believers. Until then, I’m going to cry hot streak.
Projection: 4.027 ERA, 1.432 WHIP, 12.61 W, 156.9 K, 185.47 IP—1.086 points below average
Verdict: Phony. Deal him if you can. Sixth starter or waiver fodder.
Derek Holland, Texas Rangers
Real. He’s figured it out.
Derek Holland burst on the scene a couple years back when his fastball velocity peaked into the mid-90s after a productive offseason.
Now, in 2012, it seems as though he may be taking that next step in his development. Sure, the ERA isn’t there yet (5.13 ERA), but that’s mostly due to a 60.9 strand rate. In fact, there’s really a lot to like here. Both his O-Contact and Z-Contact are way down, which portends to a big spike in strikeouts. Right now, his expected K/9 is a pretty sweet 8.974. I think he’ll settle in closer to 8.10-8.20.
Projection: 3.677 ERA, 1.354 WHIP, 187.68 K, 16.05 W, 206.6 IP, 8.175 K/9—1.890 points above average
Verdict: For the first time in his career, Holland is the real deal. Trade for him now and he’ll cost you almost nothing.
Anthony Bass, San Diego Padres:
Real—and probably the only guy on his list who is available to 80+ percent of THT readers. I’m placing a waiver claim tonight on Bass in a league where I just lost teammate Cory Luebke. He’ll join a rotation that’s as young as they come (Stephen Strasburg, Brandon Beachy, Chris Sale, Jonathon Niese, Lance Lynn; Michael Pineda and Luebke lost to injury). And no, I’m not sweating in the least bit, even though I only have three drafted pitchers left.
Back to Bass.
I don’t know where he Ks came from. I don’t know where the ground balls came from. And honestly, I don’t really care. I don’t have an explanation for why he struck out only 4.5 per nine innings last year with regressed rates in the 8.0 K/9 range, but I won’t ask too many questions. I really need a starter. His plate discipline characteristics are right in line with the ~50 innings he threw last year and, even pulling back his O-Contact rate, he still should be able to strike out eight per nine.
There’s a lot to like here and he’ll come at next to nothing (as long as you don’t have to trade for him).
I’m expecting big things out of Bass—relatively. He’s probably going to cost me about $2 and should have no problem being an above average player. Like Lynn, I’ll place him in a low-pressure role and be pleasantly surprised when the year’s over.
Projection: 3.539 ERA, 1.319 WHIP, 12.62 W, 182.54 K, 205.592 IP, 7.990 K/9—1.059 points above average
Verdict: Real. Place him in a role where you don’t have to lean on him and watch the stats pile up.
Ross Detwiler, Washington Nationals
Another Nats hurler showing some stuff, Detwiler is a former sixth overall pick whom Nationals fans have been waiting on for quite some time. Though he posted a 3.00 ERA last year, he really wasn’t all that good.
This year has been different, however. He won’t be an ace, as his 1.64 ERA suggests, but he should be a solidly average pitcher through the rest of the season. He seems like a poor man’s Jonathon Niese in that he doesn’t have any single overwhelming attribute, but he is solid across the board.
Projection: 3.751 ERA, 1.304 WHIP, 11.47 W, 144.186 K, 182.1 IP—0.073 points above average
Verdict: Real and will finish the season as your third-best starter.
Jeff Samardzija, Chicago Cubs
Maybe it was because he gave up a future as a superstar ide receiver to zig-zag to and from minor league cities across the Midwest. Maybe it was the way he inked a signing bonus far above that of a fifth-round pick. Maybe it was because he was so underwhelming for so long at the major league level.
Whatever the reason, I’ve always had trouble taking Jeff Samardzija seriously when it comes to evaluating him as a baseball prospect. I think there are many others out there who can agree with me.
That all changes this year. As John Kruk likes to say, he’s not an athlete, “he’s a ballplayer,” and I’m now willing to view him as such.
The ingredients are all there for a big-time breakout. The groundballs are up, he’s generating whiffs, and hitters are chasing out of the zone. I just wish it didn’t take me this long to notice, because he’s off the waiver wire in my most important league—gone to my biggest fantasy rival.
The O-Swing is going to come down a lot, but that won’t be much of a road block. Samardzija finishes the season as your third best pitcher and all that for the price of a waiver wire pick. Now, if only he played on a team that could score some runs.
Projection: 3.573 ERA, 1.278 WHIP, 11.58 W, 190.26 K, 201.87 IP, 8.48 K/9—1.482 points above average
Verdict: Real. Time is running out to add him.
Returning from a brief hiatus, Mike is excited to be back at THT.
Mike's former writing homes include FireBrandAL.com and StatSpeak.net, while his content has appeared on Fangraphs.com, ESPN.com, and others. A lifelong Red Sox fan native to New York, Mike loves to blend baseball and statistical analysis.
Feel free to email him at mjasilver AT gmail DOT com.
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