I am now taking a focused look at two pitchers each week. One feature will go under the hood and examine a commonly owned pitcher who is either struggling or exceeding expectations, while the other will look at an arm that falls under the 40% owned threshold. All of the analysis in this piece will be based on numbers through 7/13. If one of the featured pitchers makes a Sunday start, I will post an update on how they pitched, but data from that start will not be reflected in this piece.
Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies
Cliff Lee has been one of the most consistent pitchers in MLB over the past few years, but he will turn 36 in August and he is coming off of an elbow injury. This feature is intended to help owners decide whether or not they should be buyers or sellers, and what they should expect moving forward.
Ks and BBs
Much of Lee’s success as a fantasy ace has been due to his ability to limit baserunners. Without going too into too much detail with the numbers, Cliff Lee is the best in the business when it comes to limiting walks. His BB/9 has not been above 1.29 since 2011. This is why Lee is consistently able to keep his WHIP near 1.00.
While his K/BB rate will always be immaculate, the Ks have slipped a little. Before getting hurt, Lee was only striking out 21.1% of hitters he faced. This number is right in line with his career average, but it is significantly lower than the 25% rate he has maintained the last three years.
Lee’s fastball velocity has dipped below 90 after holding steady around 91 MPH the last few seasons. With it, his swinging strike rate is also trending down. In April and May, he only got hitters to swing and miss 8.1% of the time, supporting the notion that Lee’s skills may have declined a little. It could be that Lee was pitching hurt early in the year and that we will see a rebound upon his return, or we could be looking at one of the first signs that all those innings are starting to catch up to him.
Batted Ball Profile
Lee’s batted ball profile is pretty ordinary. Early in his career, he was a fly ball pitcher, but he has become more neutral in recent years. In the small sample from 2014, his ground ball rate would actually represent a career high 49.1%, while his fly ball rate would be a career low 29.7%.
Lee’s BABIP usually sits right near the league average rate of .300. In the early going, his .341 BABIP was bordering on ridiculous, so owners should expect a better WHIP moving forward.
Elbow injuries are always scary for pitchers, but Lee’s flexor pronator strain is not anywhere near as worrisome as UCL damage. Lee has already made 2 rehab starts and is scheduled for a third and final rehab start today. He is expected to rejoin the Phillies rotation on the 19th if all goes well. Lee certainly carries more injury risk than he ever has before, but given his history, owners should have a reasonable expectation that he can finish the season.
The Phillies will definitely be sellers at the deadline, and Cliff Lee is a player likely to be dealt. This should be a little scary. Back in 2010, Lee posted a 3.98 ERA over 15 starts with the Texas Rangers. Since he is a guy who gives up a decent number of fly balls and line drives, his numbers might regress more significantly in a hitter’s park than other aces would. While most of Lee’s potential suitors don’t look too scary, fear of the unknown always needs to be considered. A trade to the right destination could actually help Lee’s overall fantasy appeal, but a deal to a place like Toronto could cause Cliff Lee’s numbers to look very ordinary.
Cliff Lee is really tough to value right now because of all the uncertainty. My expectation for the rest of the season is that he produces on a level similar to Hisashi Iwakuma. I think the K regression is real, but his pinpoint control will still allow him to pitch deep into games and help fantasy owners in ERA and WHIP. His days of being a frontline fantasy starter, however, could be coming to an end unless he is able to get back near a K per inning. While it is possible that we see a rebound in Lee’s K rate when he returns, I am not holding my breath.
This uncertainty creates a rather unique opportunity. Some owners will recognize Cliff Lee as a name brand stud, and may still be willing to pay top dollar to acquire his services since his return appears eminent. If you shop Lee around, you may be able to get a pitching desperate owner to pay close to draft day value for him. Often times a return from the DL can open a sell high window. If I could get 4th round value in return, then the price would be right for me to move him.
On the flip side, some Lee owners might be ready to move him at a discount if they are afraid of his elbow issues or a trade to the AL. There may be some buying opportunities out there too. If I were trading for him, I would not pay for more than a strong SP3, even though I think he has the ability to be better a lot better than that. There is still a good deal of risk here.
Drew Pomeranz, Oakland Athletics
Pomeranz is owned in 17% of Y! leagues and 8% of ESPN leagues.
This feature is a special request from our reader walleyworld. Pomeranz is on the recovery trail after breaking a bone in his non-pitching hand when he punched a chair after a rough outing. Before getting hurt, he was off to a nice start to the season with a 2.91 ERA and 1.24 WHIP, but the recent trade casts doubt on what his role will be moving forward. This piece will attempt to gauge Pomeranz’s value for the rest of the season.
Pomeranz is a lefty who relies almost exclusively on two pitches. He throws his fastball nearly 75% of the time and he throws the curveball 24% with a sporadically used changeup mixed in. Both pitches are solid offerings, but his inability to develop a third pitch could affect his chances to stick in the rotation long-term. His fastball generates a pretty good strikeout rate and the curve is used to induce grounders.
Ks and BBs
Pomeranz has struggled with his control at the major league level. He falls behind in the count too often, as evidenced by his 52.2% first pitch strike rate. He has walked 10.1% of the batters he has faced thus far for a BB/9 of 3.73.
Pomeranz’s K rate has also been somewhat mediocre. So far this year, he has struck out 21.1%, for a K/9 of 7.76 and a K/BB of 2.09. His swinging strike rate is below 8% and he has not really produced an elite K rate since he pitched in the low minors. He is fairly average when it comes to strikeouts. Personally, I am not a fan pitchers with K/BB rates as low as this.
Batted Ball Profile
Pomeranz has a slight ground ball tilt, mostly because of the curveball. So far this season, a low BABIP of .260 has been a large factor in his low ERA and WHIP numbers. It is hard to tell exactly what to expect here, because his BABIP numbers were highly inflated in Colorado. Still though, there is not much in the batted ball data to suggest that his current BABIP is sustainable. All of Pomeranz’s ERA indicators sit close to 4.0.
Pomeranz’s broken hand should not have an impact on his performance the rest of the way. The fracture was in his non-pitching hand, so there are no long-term concerns. He made his first rehab start on Saturday and pitched quite well, striking out 7 batters in 4 innings while yielding only 1 run and walking none.
The mega deal with the Cubs leaves the A’s with tremendous pitching depth. There are 4 no brainers who will remain in the rotation for as long as they remain healthy. Samardzija, Hammel, Gray, and Kazmir are in. Jesse Chavez has pitched very well all year and should be able to hold onto the 5th spot. Tommy Milone, who has won his last 6 decisions would be next in line if someone were to go down. Pomeranz is currently expected to remain in AAA even after he has completed his rehab assignment.
Drew Pomeranz is a solid pitcher, but he may be best suited for bullpen work given his limited repertoire. He will need multiple injuries if he is to get back into the rotation, so that is highly unlikely. If you play in a league where relief pitchers with SP eligibility are valuable commodities, then Pomeranz could be helpful down the road. Otherwise, he can safely be dropped in redraft leagues.
In dynasty leagues, owners may want to consider using Pomeranz’s hot start and impending return from the DL as a chance to sell. I just don’t see the skillset needed to be a fantasy ace. He has upside, so he should not be dropped in deep keeper leagues, but the 25-year-old has the look of a pitcher who is unlikely to live up to the hype unless he improves his walk rate and develops a reliable third pitch.