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 7/19. 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.
Zack Wheeler, New York Mets
Wheeler is part of the Mets’ triumvirate destined to dominate the fantasy world for the next decade. While he has received plenty of hype from the fantasy community, his production has not been very consistent. A recent hot stretch has Wheeler jumping up many mid-season ranking lists, but can he be counted on for the rest of this season, or is he more of a long-term upside play?
Zach Wheeler has tremendous upside with 4 plus pitches (fastball, slider, curve, change). His mid 90s fastball along with a full arsenal of breaking pitches has scouts drooling over his long-term potential. If he can ever sort out his command issues, he will be a bona fide front line ace.
Wheeler averaged better than a strikeout per inning throughout his minor league career and has a K/9 of 8.16 over 208 big league innings (8.72 this year). His 9.2 % swinging strike rate is indicative of a pitcher who will continue to strike batters out at an above average rate, if not an elite one.
Batted Ball Profile
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Wheeler’s skill set is his ability to keep the ball on the ground. This season, he has induced grounders on 54.1% of all balls put in play with a corresponding fly ball rate of just 26.4%. Not surprisingly, Wheeler has been able to parlay his league average HR/FB rate into a well above average HR/9 of .58. His HR/9 is right in line with the minor league numbers.
One side effect of the low FB rate is a higher than average BABIP and lots of singles. This is part of the reason that his WHIP is higher than most fantasy relevant pitchers.
The major issue with Zack Wheeler has always been his control. Not only does he have trouble locating pitches in the zone from time to time, but his walk rate has always been too high. This year, he is issuing 3.82 BBs/9 (10% of batters faced). His resulting K/BB is just 2.28 despite a rather impressive strikeout rate.
Wheeler does not get ahead of hitters consistently enough with a first strike percentage of 56.6%. He also has a hard time staying in the zone. His pitches finish in the zone just 43.3% of the time.
Last 5 Starts
Wheeler has been quite impressive in his last 5 outings. He has allowed 1 ER or less in 4 of his last 5. Of course, the one start where he did not have his best stuff he was shelled for 6 runs in 2 innings. Despite the excellent overall numbers, Wheeler has allowed 12 BBs against 26 Ks in his last 30.1 innings. In other words, not much has changed with regards to his approach.
Wheeler had another good outing on Sunday, giving up just 1 earned run in 6 innings while taking a no decision. The run came on a solo HR from Yasmani Grandal, but the Padres did manage 8 hits against Wheeler. The most encouraging news from this start is that Wheeler got 7 strikeouts, but only walked 1 hitter.
Wheeler has the natural stuff to attack hitters, but he does not have a very good approach right now. He tries to nibble too much and he goes after the strikeout instead of trusting his infielders to make plays behind him. Until he is able to get the BB rate under control, he will be a fantasy tease.
The long term potential is definitely there, but Wheeler looks to be a couple of years away from being the fantasy ace that owners are hoping he will develop into. If I owned him in a redraft league, I would use this hot stretch to sell high. If I owned him in a keeper, I would not trade him unless another owner blew me away.
Chris Young, Seattle Mariners
Young is owned in 37% of Y! leagues, 32% of ESPN leagues and 60% of Fantrax leagues.
I have pretty much ignored Chris Young all season long because his peripheral stats just don’t look very good. We are more than halfway through July, however, and Young has an ERA of 3.15 and a WHIP of 1.10. I simply can’t ignore him any longer. It is time to see why he has been so successful.
Young stands a full 6’10” and he relies almost exclusively on a fastball and slider. The “heater” averages just under 85 MPH, but it tends to get on hitters pretty quickly because Young is able to release the ball so close to home with his lanky frame. He has some vertical rise on his fastball and likes to work up in the zone, but hitters have a difficult time barreling him up most of the time.
Ks and BBs
Chris Young has an appalling K/BB ratio of just 1.66. He walks over 3 batters per 9 innings and he strikes out just over 5. That stat alone may be enough for owners in K/9 leagues to walk the other way, but if you can handle the lack of Ks, then stay with me on this.
Batted Ball Profile
Young is an extreme fly ball pitcher with a fly ball rate approaching 60%. As a result, he will give up his fair share of HRs, but he has a career BABIP of just .248. While the 2014 BABIP of .206 is a little ridiculous, it isn’t completely unsustainable. This season, he has been generating infield flies at a rate of 13.4%, which is actually significantly below his career average.
Despite all the fly balls, Young only allows 1.29 HR/9. While this number is slightly above average, it is pretty impressive considering that he throws an 85 MPH fastball and he likes to work up in the zone. Young’s 2014 HR/FB ratio is at 8%, which is equal to his career average.
If you look at Young’s xFIP (5.38), you might get scared away, but he has a history of beating his ERA indicators. Over the course of his career, Chris Young’s ERA has been over a full run lower than his xFIP.
Young took a no decision on Sunday and he had a rather bizarre outing. He allowed 3 ERs over 6 innings with two of them coming on solo homers. The odd part was that he gave up 10 hits and struck out 7 batters. The hit total matched a season high and the Ks were 1 off another season high.
I am not expecting Chris Young to keep this up all season, but I do think he can be a useful matchup play. He is best used at home, against teams with a lot of righties in the lineup and against teams that hit a lot of fly balls. Any start where Chris Young’s opposition meets two of those three characteristics is worth a stream.
For the rest of the season, I expect an ERA near 4 with a WHIP around 1.20. While he is not likely to finish as a top 50 SP, he is as safe a bet as anybody to out pitch the peripheral stats.