Fantasy Baseball: Predicting Second Half Pitching Improvements and Regression
With the MLB All-Star Break behind us, and the first blockbuster trade of the season done, it's time to look to the second half… and also say goodbye to the baseball column. It's all football, all of the time, all of the way going forward. That's why I'm giving you some pitchers that should improve in the second half or regress down the stretch. I'll be focusing on the SOBB (StrikeOut percentage minus Base on Balls percentage) as the main metric to coincide with the difference between each pitcher's ERA and xFIP. It's the most predictive metric, and when you see the gap in ERA to xFIP alongside it, we can find future values and disappointments.
Jon Gray, COL – The Rockies sent Gray down to the minors, which shocked nearly everyone. Yes, Gray has an ugly 5.44 ERA, but the man has been a walking magnet for bad luck. In fact, he leads the league in xFIP-ERA at -2.61. The next closest is Matt Moore at -2.15. Unlike Moore though, Gray has a great 21.6 SOBB. On top of that, his .376 BABIP is part of the poor luck, and with a GB% of 47.3 and modest 34.4 Hard%, things should get better. Gray is back in the majors, and you'd be wise to stash him back on your team.
Robbie Ray, ARI – Ray has battled injuries this season, but he looks to be healthy after his stint on the DL. While Ray hasn't gone past six innings and did get roughed up by the Cardinals, the strikeouts are still there, and that Cards game was as unlucky as they come. They had a .500 BABIP for the game, and Ray's HR/FB rate was 28.6. Will Ray pitch like a Top 10 starter this year? That's highly unlikely. Can Ray get back to being a Top 25 starter with a 4.00-ish ERA and top-end strikeout numbers? Definitely. After all, he has 28 Ks in 20.2 IP since his return with an xFIP -1.45 lower than his ERA on the year.
Nick Pivetta, PHI – Pivetta took the next step in strikeout ability once he hit Triple-A, and it's that upside with mostly good control that carries the Fantasy appeal. Pivetta has actually pitched better than his 4.58 ERA would suggest, as the BABIP sits at 3.29 with a high home run rate for the second straight season. On the other hand, that's also the concern, as Pivetta is repeating his high BABIP and HR/FB marks. Fortunately, he's also increased his K% while decreasing his BB%, but he's still allowing too many quality hits with a very low 15.5 Soft%. Pivetta has already seen and been tagged by the Nationals four times, and has only three other poor starts: Braves, Cubs, Rockies. Just avoid the top-end offenses, and you should be good.
Nate Eovaldi, TB – We've been teased by Eovaldi before, especially because of his velocity, so many are reluctant to buy in, but Eovaldi does have value. The walk rate is extremely low (4.0%), giving him an 18.5 SOBB despite only a solid K%. The last thing on our minds is the shellacking by the Twins before the break, but at this level of pitcher, you're going to run into rough outings. Eovaldi is still good for more matchups than not.
Carlos Carrasco, CLE – If there is still a buy low window in your league, you better leap through before it's completely closed. Carrasco hasn't been his elite self this season, but a better second half is coming. Carrasco missed some time with an injury but appears ready to dominate after the break with 39 Ks in his last 26.2 innings. His 3.04 ERA during those six games (five starts) was actually higher than his FIP (1.98) and xFIP (2.35). In fact, his xFIP is -0.75 lower than his season ERA (4.12), reflecting some poor luck.
Reynaldo Lopez, CHW – How Lopez has a 3.91 ERA, I'll never know. Heck, look at his game log and tell me if that looks like a pitcher with a sub-4.00 ERA. I'll repeat something I said early this season when everyone was complaining about his having no wins with just six earned runs in his first five stats. Lopez's SOBB and xFIP should have you running for the hills. If you haven't moved on already due to his 5.35 ERA since June 15, I don't know what to tell you. During that stretch, he actually has a better SOBB… although it's still awful at 9.4. Lopez just isn't that good.
Frankie Montas, OAK – The A's always seem to produce pitchers out of this air, but Montas is not an Athletics pitcher in that mold. He's a former Red Sox, White Sox and Dodgers pitcher. Montas flashed some strikeout potential at times in the minors, but it often came with decreased control. This year, Montas may have a 3.35 ERA< but his xFIP is 4.55, the SOBB is terrible at 7.3 and Montas' HR/FB rate is extremely low for someone with a 47.5 Hard%. Move on before he ruins your ratios.
Jhoulys Chacin, MIL – If you've been reluctant to buy into the Chacin resurgence, I don't blame you. Chacin's xFIP is over a run higher than his ERA, as he's been lucky with a .267 BABIP and carries a weak 8.4 SOBB. Chacin has been able to keep the ball in the park, which has helped his success, as batters still make above-average quality contact. If you are in a league deep enough to roster Chacin, don't get aggressive; stick with him as a matchup play only.
Jon Lester, CHC – Now the worrisome names get interesting. Lester's xFIP is way up at 4.59 despite his 2.58 ERA. Why? First, his .253 BABIP is 43 points under his career average. Second, his strikeout rate has fallen to his lowest since 2008 (7.1 K/9), and the same is true of his 10.2 SOBB. Lester's LOB% is high, SwStr% low and Hard% at a career high. Sell Lester before it's too late.
Johnny Cueto, SF – As with Lester, Cueto's xFIP is much worse than his ERA (4.22 to 2.36) and again like Lester, Cueto's strikeout rate (14.4 SOBB), BABIP (.241) and LOB% (90.0) are all concerning. Cueto is actually pitching rather similar to how he did in 2017, and he carried a 4.52 ERA last year. As with Lester, it's time to sell high where you can.
Carlos Martinez, STL – Looking at CarMart's 3.08 ERA, owners might be feeling comfortable. However, more attentive owners have likely noticed that Martinez's strikeouts are down and walks are way up. His BABIP and LOB% are at his norm, but the home runs have decreased a great deal. What else has decreased is his fastball velocity, down to a 93.4 average after 95.3 or higher every year prior. That could be part of the reason behind his increased Hard%, large jump in BB% (11.7) and resulting low SOBB (10.0). Martinez has taken a step back this year, and it would be wise to shop him.
Main Image Credit: AP Photo/Alex Gallardo
Be the first to know
Want FREE Fantasy and Gaming Advice and Savings Delivered to your Inbox? Sign up for our Newsletter.