This is the time of the season in which Fantasy owners and major league managers tend to play with the margins. If you own(ed) Rick Porcello or Phillip Humber, clearly it’s time to head in a new direction. Or you picked up Patrick Corbin two starts ago and you wonder if it will last. These are pitchers who were (are) on the margins and we have to decide if they have the potential to stay on the page all season.
Thankfully, we are Scratching the Surface to figure out which pitchers are the real deal and which are just faking it. Imagine these “fringe starters” were rock stars: Are they Bon Jovi or Milli Vanilli? (Wait, you’ve never heard of Milli Vanilli? I’ll wait while you Google it……… Okay, you got it now? You see, they were faking it the whole time…..)
Examining several fourth- and fifth-starter types whose season-long roles were not certain this month, we want to see how they are stacking up compared to last year’s performance, using several statistical measures. We won’t list every fifth starter, because we know that Jeremy Hefner, for example, will not and should not be on a Fantasy staff, even if three Mets starters go down long-term. We’re talking about pitchers who could (or should) be mainstays in the rotation for a while.
Here are some of the measurements we used, with a brief explanation if you’re not familiar with their sabermetric applications:
- BABIP – Batting Average of Balls in Play. This is the batting average of balls put into play – it does not count strikeouts, walks, homeruns and other results that don’t include the ball being put into play. League average tends to fluctuate just above or below .295
- GB% — This is the percentage of all batted balls (including home runs) that are groundballs. League average was 45.1 percent in 2012 and is 44.3 percent thus far in 2013;
- LOB% — The percentage of base runners allowed by a pitcher who are stranded on base. League average was 72.5 last season and is 72.9 so far in 2013;
- SwStrk% — The percentage of pitches thrown that result in swinging strikes by the batter. League average was 9.1 percent in 2012 and is 9.3 percent in 2013.
So let’s play…..Bon Jovi or Milli Vanilli:
Looking at Corbin, I’d say he’s Bon Jovi, but he won’t continue to be nearly this good. Last year he struck out more batters and walked fewer. His BABIP was even a bit unlucky last year, so he should have probably had an ERA closer to 4.00. If he can bring down his walks (his BABIP will rise, dramatically) he has a shot at a 3.75 ERA. He might be a sell-high candidate right now because if he ends up at 3.75 overall, it will be a bit rocky on the way.
Haren is Bon Jovi and will return to form, but he’s a B-side Bon Jovi song – one you wouldn’t want to hear in concert. His 4.33 ERA from a year ago is about what you should expect, assuming his groundball rate normalizes this season. But his BABIP will fall and his LOB% will rise to level him out, but the question is: Do you want a pitcher on that level?
*Indicates minor league numbers (larger sample size)
Miller is a legit Bon Jovi, but see Corbin, Patrick. Miller’s BABIP will go up, but his LOB% is much closer to normal than Corbin’s, and he strikes out many more hitters and is walking fewer. If he keeps his control at that level, and throws groundballs, he might be a 3.50 ERA threat.
This is a tough one to call. We might call him Bon Vanilli. What the chart doesn’t show you is a big improvement on his K/9 and BB/9 numbers, which weren’t fully supported with a 4.79 ERA; his slightly high BABIP was partly to blame. His BABIP (and WHIP) should rise soon, but he can offset a huge spike by throwing more groundballs. He’s the first above average SwStrk% pitcher we’ve charted here so far (in 2012), so if he pitches as he did in 2012, he’s a 4.00 ERA/1.25 WHIP Bon Jovi.
Here’s our first legit Milli Vanilli. With control like this, it doesn’t matter that you strike out 11 batters per nine innings – you’re only going to last five frames anyway. He has been a bit unlucky and should get some more groundballs, but this is not a legit skillset. He might actually have more value if the Red Sox moved him to middle relief – he might miss some bats and get 4Ks in a couple of innings.
*Denotes minor league stats
Teheran has been one of the most discussed young arms this spring; but then again people talked about Milli Vanilli years ago too. Nothing about his difficult 2012 excites us; they are playing with his mechanics on the big league level and he’s not fooling anyone in The Show. Each of those factors would cause us to stay way – all of them combined make us wish we had Jason Marquis instead. Clear Milli Vanilli territory here.
What a strange set of stats. Let’s start with identical K/BB rates – yes, he’s walked exactly the same amount of hitters as he’s fanned. And his GB% and LOB% are almost identical also – that’s crazy. He’s clearly not missing bats, but he’s throwing groundballs. His ERA is actually lower this season. We think there is something here – if he can find his control. On a bad team, he will likely get a chance to work it all out in the rotation. Keep an eye on Milli Jovi.
We’re going to call him Milli Vanilli, but it’s close. Maybe he could open for Bon Jovi. We would call him legit if his K/9 rate were above 7.0. Otherwise, we almost never trust a pitcher with low K rates not named Tim Hudson. He’s got good control, throws a lot of groundballs, is missing a few more bats, but he’s probably stranding a few extra runners so far. Expect that ERA to rise, but the question is will it be 4.01 or 4.51?
Pardon me for speculating here. I know Jim Leyland has been busy working on his bullpen situation, but after Porcello’s historically bad start (and overall performance), combined with Smyly’s well above average 2013 thus far, it’s shocking that he has not been given a rotation spot. I grabbed him two weeks ago in two different leagues and I’m happy to wait. The only thing here that should get worse is his LOB%, and not by much. He is a legit number three or four starter, forget a fifth starter. After an impressive rookie year, he should have been written in the rotation in ink. Can you tell I think he’s Bon Jovi? On a steel horse he rides, I would bet. Go claim him. Now.
More of a Springsteen fan than Bon Jovi? Want Tom to analyze other starters in a future column? Or are you tired of people bashing the genius of Milli Vanilli? Complain to Tom on Twitter: @TomMcFeeley or via email: t.mcfeeley (at) rotoexperts (dot) com.