Since the trade deadline for most leagues has either already passed, or is about to, this series will now focus on pitcher whose ownership percentages do not correspond with their ability level. Most of the pitchers featured here will be potential free agent pick ups, but occasionally I may feature a pitcher who may be owned in too many leagues.
Ownership data is current as of 8/2/14
Hot Free Agents
Justin Masterson, St. Louis Cardinals
Masterson is owned in 46% of Y! leagues, 28% of ESPN leagues and 64% of Fantrax leagues.
Masterson has been pretty terrible this year, but he has seen his ownership rates spike up again since returning from the DL and being traded to the Cardinals. We will take a look at the peripheral data in an effort to determine whether or not owners are overreacting to the NL move. Remember, miracle worker Dave Duncan is no longer the pitching coach in St. Louis.
Masterson pitched like a fantasy ace in 2013, but he has been dreadful this season to the tune of a 5.63 ERA and a 1.65 WHIP. His K/9 is still decent (8.39), but keep in mind that only translates to a K rate of 20.3%. When pitchers allow as many base runners as Masterson has, their K/9 generally looks a little more attractive than it really is. Because he faces more batters per inning than the average pitcher, he also has more opportunities to earn Ks.
The excessively high WHIP is due to two main factors. A large velocity drop from 93 down to 90.5 has made Masterson’s fastball easier to hit and poor command has led to more walks. Masterson has walked 5.11/9 so far this season. It could be that he was pitching hurt and that he will regain both velocity and control now that he has given the knee a chance to heal, but he sure did not look sharp in his St. Louis debut on Saturday, August 2nd.
Masterson has yielded a rather ridiculous BABIP of .351 so far this year. He is currently inducing batters to hit grounders at an eye-popping rate of 59.6%. Since he is moving from one of the worst defensive infields to one of the best, the Cardinals should be able to gobble up more grounders than his teammates in Cleveland did. The trouble is that even with an improved defense behind him, those grounders tend to result in base hits much more often than fly balls. Masterson allows far too many base runners because of all the walks.
If you want to read about Masterson’s potential for rebound in more detail, check out this link by Nicholas Minnix.
I am keeping my eye on Masterson, but I am simply not ready to make the add yet. If it means that he returns to form and I miss the boat, so be it. His BABIP should certainly come down in St Louis, but unless he shows that his velocity is back up over 92 MPH and that he can command his pitches better, I am letting somebody else take the plunge. A 1.64 K/BB rate just doesn’t cut it in your average mixed league. If you do own Masterson, make sure that you keep him on your bench until you get some evidence that he is healthy.
Matt Shoemaker, Los Angeles Angels
Shoemaker is owned in 14% of Y! leagues, 14% of ESPN leagues and 40% of Fantrax leagues.
Matt Shoemaker was not on many peoples’ fantasy radar before the season started, but he has shown impressive ability to generate Ks while avoiding walks. His overall numbers aren’t eye-popping (4.09 ERA, 1.24 WHIP), but the peripherals look pretty strong. For that reason, mixed league owners in need of pitching help need to take a close look.
Shoemaker’s minor league numbers are far from impressive. His K rate was not anywhere near a strikeout an inning since he was in rookie ball, and his ERA and WHIP numbers from AAA are flat-out scary. Granted, he did pitch in the hitter friendly PCL, but it is still rare to see an unheralded prospect do this well in the majors despite being pretty mediocre in the minors.
Regardless of what happened down on the farm, it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that a K/BB ratio of 5.20 can be good for fantasy owners. Shoemaker has leaned on his slider and split-change to help generate a K/9 of 8.63 (23.2%) while still maintaining a walk rate of 1.66/9. His overall swinging strike rate of 10.9% indicates that there is nothing flukey about the major league strikeout spike.
The only real knock on Shoemaker is that he gives up quite a bit of hard contact. His HR/9 has been over 1 at almost every minor league stop and it currently sits at 1.22 this season. He also gives up more than his share of line drives (22.8%) so his .323 BABIP may not come down much over the final two months of the season. Shoemaker’s mediocre fastball is the main culprit here, but the potential for high K totals and a low WHIP make up for the ERA risk.
Over the past month, Shoemaker has been excellent with a 3.29 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. He also has 18 Ks against 0 BBs over his last 4 starts. This hot stretch has resulted in many owners making the add, but he is not owned in nearly as many leagues as he should be. I just grabbed him in two leagues where I need the extra innings, and I recommend that you do the same.
As a final aside, new Shoemaker owners need to be aware of his home/road splits. Obviously we are dealing with a small sample size here, but his home ERA is 2.84, while his road ERA is a whopping 6.16. I would not condone automatically using Shoemaker when he starts away from home, unless he has a friendly matchup.
Deep League Specials
Hector Santiago, Los Angeles Angels
Santiago is owned in 6% of Y! leagues, 1% of ESPN leagues and 22% of Fantrax leagues.
Hector Santiago will be reinserted into the starting rotation now that Tyler Skaggs is heading back to the DL. This may be a short-term window for fantasy owners, but he has pitched well recently and could pay dividends for owners in deeper leagues.
Santiago is a fly ball pitcher with a fly ball rate of 51.1% this season, and 44.8% for his career. Despite all the fly balls allowed, he has done a pretty good job limiting home runs. He currently has a HR/FB rate of just 6.9%, so some regression needs to be expected moving forward, but he is capable of keeping his HR/9 near his career rate of 1.04 despite allowing so many balls to be launched skyward.
The best news is that with fly balls, comes a low BABIP. Santiago has been able to maintain a solid WHIP of .124 this season (1.12 over the last 30 days) thanks in part to a current BABIP of .276. This number appears quite sustainable, if not too high.
The other factor in Santiago’s low WHIP is a greatly improved walk rate. He is only walking 9% of batters faced in compared to a career rate of 10.9%. While a walk rate of 9% is far from ideal, it has allowed Santiago to get his K/BB well over 2 (2.37) for the first time in his major league career.
As for the strikeouts, Santiago has always been able to get his fair share of Ks despite mediocre swinging strike rates. This season, his swinging strike rate is down to just 7.3%, yet he has still been able to strike out 21.3% of the batters he has faced, resulting in a K/9 of 8.09. He is able to generate a lot of called strikes with his sinker, but his K rate still seems too high to me. Santiago has been able to produce similar rates in the past, but with a slight dip in velocity, his raw stuff does not seem quite as good as it was when he first came up.
In looking at his plate discipline data, it is difficult to see why Santiago has such a strong K/BB rate this year. His first strike percentage is just 53.5%, which is significantly below his career average. He is not getting many hitters to chase outside the strike zone either. He is working himself into hitters counts, yet still managing to produce a career low BB rate. I think we are likely to see some regression in both the K and BB rates over the last two months of the season.
Santiago is not quite as good as his numbers currently look, but he does have a starting gig on a winning ball club for the time being. If an SP with an ERA near 4, a WHIP near 1.30 and a K/9 of about 7.5 will help your team moving forward, than Hector Santiago could be your solution for the next few weeks.
Miguel Gonzalez, Baltimore Orioles
Gonzalez is owned in 8% of Y! leagues, 7% of ESPN leagues and 29% of Fantrax leagues.
Miguel Gonzalez has pitched very well over the past month, and his ownership levels have risen substantially. He is still available in most mixed leagues, but anyone who is able to put up an ERA of 2.60 with a 1.15 WHIP over a month-long span starts to get some attention from fantasy owners.
The trouble with Miguel Gonzalez is that the numbers simply do not support his recent hot streak. For the season, Gonzalez has a K/9 of 6.35. Over the past 30 days, his K/9 has been only 4.67. While Gonzalez has never been known as a strikeout pitcher, the fact that his best month of the season has come with substantially fewer strikeouts is somewhat concerning.
Overall, Gonzalez is able to generate a decent amount of swings and misses (7.7%), so his K rate could be a little higher, but he has not yet found a way to get consistent strikeout totals at the big league level. His walk rate is not terrible, but to be more than a risky matchup play, I would want to see a K/BB rate over 2.5. The fact that Gonzalez walks roughly 3 batters per 9 innings combined with a below average K rate means that he would need some strong batted ball skills in order to have long-term success.
One thing that jumps out right away is that Gonzalez gives up a ton of HRs (1.59/9 in 2014, 1.31/9 career), but has generally been able to keep his ERA below all of his ERA indicators by virtue of high strand rates. This season, Gonzalez is stranding 81.9% of his baserunners. Remarkably, that number has been even higher over his recent hot stretch. Gonzalez also continues to allow HRs at a high rate, yet he has somehow been able to skate around them with minimal damage to the ERA.
Miguel Gonzalez is not a pitcher who I can recommend at this time. He is not likely to be a real asset in any fantasy category once the strand rate starts regressing back to the mean. His luck will run out and more of the long balls will happen with men on base. If he allows a couple more 3 run bombs like the one he gave up to Robinson Cano this past Saturday, we will see his ERA rise closer to 4.5, where it should be. Anybody who owns Miguel Gonzalez, needs to consider getting out before he does permanent damage to your ratios.