Since the trade deadline for most leagues has either already passed, or is about to, this series will now focus on pitchers 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 is owned in too many leagues.
All ownership data and stats are current as of 8/23/14.
The sports media seems to be revolving around Cleveland these days with LeBron’s return home and the Browns’ QB controversy. With all the hoopla, however, the Indians are getting left out. They have a couple young pitchers who could make good acquisitions for your fantasy team down the stretch. Learn all about Carlos Carrasco, T.J. House and more in the feature below!
Mike Fiers, Milwaukee Brewers
Owned in 56% of Fantrax leagues, 56% of Y! leagues, and 82% of ESPN leagues
The time for a Fiers article was 2 weeks ago, so I will not go too in-depth here. The bottom line is that the Brewers are currently leading their division and Mike Fiers is one of the hottest pitchers in the game. As long as he continues to perform, he will be in their rotation. He boasts a K/BB rate of 5.00 and has had past success at the major league level. Fiers needs to be universally owned until this carriage turns back into a pumpkin. If your leaguemates are asleep at the wheel and Fiers is still available, go get him.
Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland Indians
Owned in 29% of Fantrax leagues, 22% of Y! leagues and 23% of ESPN leagues.
Carlos Carrasco was mentioned by a fantasy baseball pundits such as Mike Podhorzer as a potential breakout fantasy ace before the season started. He was then knocked around in his first four starts and promptly demoted to the bullpen. Since that time, he has pitched extremely well and has earned his way back into the starting rotation, where he has also been terrific. Now it is time for owners to take a close look at whether or not they can make room for him on their teams.
Carrasco’s success in the bullpen should not surprise anybody. He was able to get his fastball up to 97 while working shorter stints and he relied much more on his nasty slider. As a result, he was able to get close to a strikeout an inning with a wOBA of just .253 and an ERA of 2.30. In other words, Carrasco was getting it done out of the pen. Since rejoining the rotation, the success has carried over. In his last three starts, Carrasco has struck out 17 batters in 18 innings with just 1 earned run allowed and a WHIP of .50.
Carrasco’s K rate as a starter is actually slightly higher than it was as a reliever (25% to 23.1%). I do not have a rational explanation for this, but owners can expect an above average K rate moving forward. Carrasco’s swinging strike rate of 12.2% fully supports his season K/9 rate of 8.57 as long he is able to continue to feature his slider.
One of the reason’s that Carrasco has been able to keep his WHIP so low this season has been a greatly improved BB rate. He is walking just 2.17 per nine, which translates to an outstanding K/BB rate of 3.95. Interestingly, Carrasco has been pretty good at limiting walks since 2010, but this season is by far his best work in that department. His first strike data indicates that we may see a little regression in the BB rate over the season’s final month, but owners can all but count on a strong K/BB rate above 3.00.
The other key to the low WHIP numbers is an impressive batted ball profile. Carrasco has always been good at both keeping the ball on the ground (51.2% career GB rate) and limiting line drives (17.8% career LD rate), but this season he has been downright stingy. He has allowed line drives at just a 13.4% clip and has induced grounders at 54%. Even though his 2014 BABIP of .267 is well below his career average, if he is able to keep his line drive and ground ball rates anywhere near where they are currently, then a BABIP below .270 is very reasonable. Since HRs have not really been an achilles heel for Carrasco either, his entire profile looks impressive.
Carrasco definitely has the skills to be a legitimate fantasy ace, but the question is whether or not his impressive skills will continue to translate as well as they have recently in a starting role. The peripheral numbers are absolutely amazing, so it is worth taking a flier on Carrasco in all formats, even shallow mixed leagues. There is high risk that Carrasco will not be as dominant over the long-term in a starting role, but the upside is simply too high to ignore.
Taijuan Walker, Seattle Mariners
Owned in 58% of Fantrax leagues, 20% of Y! leagues and 6% of ESPN leagues.
Taijuan Walker is universally owned in most dynasty and keeper formats, as he should be. Before the season started, many analysts (including me) were touting Walker as a fantasy sleeper in re-draft leagues. His season was derailed by injury before it ever really began. He made three uninspiring starts in June and July, but has spent most of 2014 either rehabbing or in AAA. Once rosters expand in September, he is likely to among those called up and his ownership rates will surely see a large spike. Is he worth adding today in redraft leagues?
The first issue is trying to determine exactly what Walker’s role will be. The top four in the Mariner’s rotation are essentially set in stone with King Felix, Iwakuma, the overachieving Chris Young, and James Paxton. Roenis Elias is currently manning the 5th spot, but the M’s plan to limit his workload down the stretch. There should be spot starts available for Walker and/or Erasmo Ramirez, if not a permanent rotation spot.
Whether or not Walker is able to hold down one of those spots will depend on his performance.
Although Walker remains one of the elite pitching prospects in all of baseball, the M’s are still very much in the thick of the race for the second wild card spot. Their playoff aspirations will take priority over Walker’s development, so he will need to pitch much better than he has to be a fantasy asset. Walker currently sports an ERA of 4.57 in AAA after being touched up for 8 earned runs in his last start. His FIP sits at a whopping 5.28 and he has had serious trouble with the long ball, allowing 1.61 HRs per nine.
While his ERA was better during his three major league starts, his peripheral numbers were quite poor. He allowed 13 BBs over just 15 innings but was miraculously able to escape with an ERA of just 3.60. The sample size is so small that it makes little sense to over analyze BABIP numbers, but he did have some pretty amazing luck over that span. Walker’s BABIP against was just .200, despite allowing a line drive rate of over 27%.
Taijuan Walker is talented enough to go on a run at any moment, but he really is not pitching well enough right now to inspire much confidence for owners in redraft leagues. There are certainly worse ways to use a roster spot, but I just don’t see this as an investment likely to pay off. My best advice is to let someone else take the plunge now, and then reconsider Walker late in your 2015 drafts.
Tsuyoshi Wada, Chicago Cubs
Owned in 39.4% of Fantrax leagues, 9% of Y! leagues and 7.8% of ESPN leagues.
Tsuyoshi Wada is the latest of the growing group of Japanese hurlers to encounter better than expected big league success. He was called up following the mega-deal with the A’s and has pitched very well. Wada currently owns an ERA of 2.75 with a WHIP of 1.17 and has allowed two earned runs or fewer in 5 consecutive starts. He is beginning to appear on mixed league radar screens as a result.
Like many of his Japanese cohorts, Wada’s game is built around excellent control and a deceptive delivery. He has walked just 2.29 per nine, which is right in line with his minor league numbers. Wada is also around league average when it comes to generating Ks (7.55 K/9) so he brings a ratio friendly K/BB rate of 3.30 to the table. With a swinging strike rate of 10.3% and a AAA K/9 of 9.50, there is even some potential for modest gains in the K category.
There really is not anything special about Wada’s batted ball profile. He gives up fly balls at a slightly above average rate, but has done a pretty good job of avoiding HRs both with the Cubs and in the minors. LD rates are slightly above average and his GB rate is below average. Wada’s BABIP of .283 seems pretty close to what one would expect from a pitcher with his tendencies. While there is not any exciting data here, there really is not much to scare a potential owner away either.
Wada is the definition of solid. He is not going to beat himself with walks and he is unafraid to trust the defense behind him. His ERA will surely regress a little between now and the end of the season, but he should continue to be an asset in the WHIP category. I would feel pretty good about using Wada as a streamer option in shallow mixed leagues and holding on to him in deeper formats. He is like a poor man’s Iwakuma.
Deep League Special
T.J. House, Cleveland Indians
Owned in 8% of Fantrax leagues, 1% of Y! leagues and less than 1% of ESPN leagues.
T.J. House has a lot of things going for him that could make him a solid addition for deep league owners. His numbers are borderline right now, but the peripheral stats indicate that better times could be ahead for the young lefty.
House’s rotation spot seems secure for the time being and he has pitched pretty well lately. While the 1.49 WHIP is not exactly what owners are looking for, House’s 3.80 ERA will play just fine. He has allowed 3 earned runs or fewer in his past 8 starts.
House is a master at keeping the ball on the ground. His ground ball rated for the season sits at an impressive 60.8% with corresponding line drive rates of 20.3% and a fly ball rate of 18.9%. Ground ball pitchers sometimes fall victim to a high BABIP, but House’s .338 mark seems a bit unlucky. He has also been touched up by the long ball quite frequently despite the microscopic FB rate. Although his HR/FB rate has come down after a terrible start, it still sits at 17.1%. Despite the HR issues, all of the reliable ERA indicators for House sit lower than his 3.80 ERA, so there is reason to hope that he will be even better down the stretch.
House does not get a ton of strikeouts (6.65 K/9) but he does a pretty nice job limiting walks (2.71 BB/9). The corresponding 2.45 K/BB ratio is better than most pitchers with comparable ownership numbers. With some better BABIP luck, House could get that WHIP down closer to 1.30 moving forward.
The biggest knock on House is that he is is not able to go deep into games. He has completed the 6th inning only 5 times in 12 starts, and he has never made it through the 7th. All things considered though, House seems like a bargain for owners in deep formats. His ratios aren’t likely to hurt you too much and the Indians offense can hopefully provide enough support to get him a couple more wins.