The real deal? Unheralded hot starts

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.

Jason Hammel:

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.

What gives?

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.

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Comments

  1. Mike Silver said...

    Real good question.

    It’s hard to get a real bead on Jackson because he’s experiencing a spike in production in his 10th taste of the bigs. Usually, guys have it figured out by now—or they never will. On the other hand, its not uncommon to see a sharp rise in performance from late-blooming pitchers in their late 20s.

    I think you know what you’re getting in Jackson (and this year you’ll get a little more), while Samardzija is more of a lottery ticket. That said, I think Samardzija has already landed the first three numbers on your ticket and is likely a winner.

    If I’m picking, I want Samardzija (but that’s because I’ve always loved chasing potential) but not 1-for-1 in a trade for Jackson. Jackson should be worth more than Sammy on the open market because he’s a more established pitcher and you can convince someone else that Sammy is just a flash in the pan.

    At the end of the season, however, I’m going to want Samardzija.

  2. Mike Silver said...

    I’d say Scherzer. I’ve never been a fan and I think he’s very overrated. That said, I think you try to package him in a 2-for-1 deal, then use the open roster spot to grab Bass. If you get no bites, go ahead and cut him.

  3. Edgardo said...

    This is an impressive list, and I hate but can’t help but ask for one more: Tigers’ Drew Smyly

  4. G said...

    How can you be all in on Bass (not caring about where the Ks came from) but dump Hammel (not caring enough to even figure out where increased Ks and GBs are coming from).

    Hammel added a sinker to his rep and relies heavily on his 2 seamer this year, as opposed to a 4 seamer in past years.  He worked with the same guy who turned Doug Fister into an ace in Seattle (but who didn’t bloom until he switched teams… to Detroit).  That same coach is now the O’s pitching coach, and he thinks Hammel is this year’s Fister.

    I think Hammel is even better, but won’t get as many wins because of the team and division. You’re waaaay off on this one. Hammel will be the best pitcher on this list when the year is over.

  5. Mike Silver said...

    @G

    For the Hammel and Bass comments, the “I don’t know what’s causing this” and “I don’t care where the Ks are from” was about writing for affect. Pure statistical analysis leads to incredibly dry writing, so I tried to spice it up a bit. I have trouble reading my own pieces sometimes when the only things that are discussed are the raw statistics.

    Since you bring it up, though, I’ll go into a little more depth on what I saw in Hammel.

    He’s made huge strides from basically out of nowhere, and isn’t young (turns 30 in September) with a career 90.7 Z-Contact percentage and 45.6 career GB%. Those numbers this year are now 83.6 Z-Contact and 61.2 GB% (not to mention a 5.5% drop in Z-Swing).

    Where did that change come from?

    He’s upped the usage of his two-seamer substantially (no, there’s no sinkers there), dropped the 4-seamer usage, upped the SL and dropped down on the change.

    A rise in GB% like that is enormous, and, statistically speaking, I have only noticed any significant gains in GB% from the use of a sinker (and nothing in the neighborhood of 10-15%). If Fangraphs.com qualified his pitches as sinkers, I could plug that into the model and give him credit for it. Unfortunately, what he’s throwing are two-seamers, which don’t have nearly the same GB correlation that sinkers do. He gets some credit for an improved GB%, but not to 61%. Even if they were sinkers, he wouldn’t get that much credit.

    As for the Z-Contact improvement, you can take something from his increased slider usage, but it is basically the same pitch as last season. The four-seamer movement is interesting, but he’s using it far less.

    Beyond all this, we’re still talking about an exceptional, which does count for something. For that he was given some credit in the Z-Contact and GB department. Unfortunately, even then, he still graded out at below average.

    If it’s any comfort, he’s about a point and a half better than my preseason ranking of him, but he still falls short.

    As for Bass, I’m again writing for effect. In terms of plate discipline, he is basically the same pitcher as he was last season. Both seasons pointed to a pitcher who could register 8Ks per nine. Last season, he didn’t do it. This season, he is living up to it and looks to continue that trend.

    As for Bass versus Hammel, trusting the turnaround of Bass (a guy who has shown the indicators before but not the results) is a much better idea than trusting the turnaround of Hammel. Hammel’s numbers are way, way out of whack from his previous career numbers, and its a much bigger leap of faith to think that he can keep it up. He could keep it up, but I need to see more before I trust it.

  6. Edgardo said...

    So, no love for Drew Smyly? He had a couple of good outings against strong offenses. I would love to hear your take on his performance. Is it sustainable? Is Bass a better bet?

  7. Mike Silver said...

    @Eduardo.

    Didn’t mean to leave you out there.

    I do like what I see out of Smyly. I think he’s got the goods to be an above average fantasy hurler.

    Right now, he’s missing a lot of bats, which is good. However, what’s holding him back is the balance between his Zone percentage and O-Swing percentage. A .458 Zone percentage is just far too low for a guy with a .274 O-Swing percentage. That is going to inflate his walk totals and give him a high WHIP and higher than desirable ERA.

    Even at his current plate discipline levels, I still think he can produce in the 0.00-0.20 points above average range. If he can improve that O-Swing and/or Zone percentage, he can move to the 1.00 point range.

  8. Dingbat said...

    Sandoval saved me the trouble of cutting Scherzer by going on the DL.  How considerate of him! 

    One note about E-Jax—I noticed at fangraphs that he’s got an O-Contact% of 39.6%, well below the next-best mark (Shaun Marcum at 47.1%) and ridiculously below the league-average mark of 67.0%.  I’m not sure if this figure includes last night’s start, so he may already have regressed, but is this kind of thing even remotely sustainable? 

    Even more interesting, when I tried to see if other pitchers have maintained that kind of low O-Contact% over an entire season, I found a notable league-wide upward trend in O-Contact% since 2002.  It looks like a systematic change in how Pitch F/X records the zone, with more pitches being classified as out-of-zone over time.  It makes it hard to do a legitimate comparison of certain stats across different years.

  9. Toffer said...

    Any thoughts on Jarrod Parker? Who would you prefer for this year Parker or Samardzija? Thanks for any thoughts.

  10. BigBart said...

    6×6 (5×5 w/obp & apps)
    13 team keeper (approx 9 bench/team)

    Would you drop Homer Bailey for Detwiler or Smyly?

    Speculative saves in Wood, Dolis, Fuentes, or even Parnell also avail. Nabbed Cishek few nights before latest Bell implosion.

  11. batpig said...

    Can you explain (or is there a link to an article where you have done so already) the process of how you create those “regressed” lines?

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