Ace Analysis: Playoff Edition #1

Ace Analysis TLance Site LogoSince roto leagues are wrapping up and head to head leagues are about to start playoffs, this column will again shift focus. There is no such thing as a long-term add at this point, because most starters will have just four turns remaining. Every decision from now until the end of the year is about maximizing value one day or one week at a time. The potential cost of dropping a player gets reduced the closer we get to the end, so don’t be afraid to pull the plug on any player on the bottom half of your roster if you can gain a short-term advantage.

This article will take a quick look at a few starters who have been pitching well lately, and then determine whether or not you should consider them for spot duty during the stretch run. Keep in mind, all of the pitchers analyzed here are widely available, but they also come with a lot of risk.  For additional pitching options, be sure to check out Will Emerson’s Field of Streams.

All stats and ownership data are current as of 9/6/14.

Miguel Gonzalez, Baltimore Orioles
Owned in 26% of Fantrax leagues, 12% of Y! leagues and 8% of ESPN leagues.

Miguel Gonzalez continues to post decent numbers while being largely ignored by the fantasy community. He currently sports a 3.38 ERA, pitches for the division leading Orioles and has made four consecutive quality starts, the last of which was a four hit shutout. Should owners trust Gonzalez for his upcoming two start week?

Normally, I would exercise caution when dealing with AL East matchups against division foes Boston and New York. The thing is, neither offense has been all that great this season. The Yankees are 18th in wOBA against RHPs while the Red Sox are just 20th. In other words, the matchups are not nearly as prohibitive as you might expect. Gonzalez has made two starts against the Yankees already this year and one against the Sox. All three outings were quality starts as he racked up 14 Ks with a 2.45 ERA and a 1.045 WHIP over 22 innings.

The matchups appear to be positive and Gonzalez has had recent success against the two clubs he is facing, so he is a must start, right? Not so fast. Gonzalez’s peripheral stats indicate that he has been extremely fortunate this year. His K/9 is only 2.26, he has a crazy 84% strand rate and his BABIP is a relatively low and possibly flukey .273. Gonzalez has been able to produce an ERA below what the ERA indicators suggest in all three of his major league seasons, but any time a pitcher’s ERA is more than a full run below his xFIP as Gonzalez is, I get a little nervous recommending them.

I would certainly start Gonzalez in most points formats without hesitation, but I can only give him a full endorsement in category based leagues if ratios are not a primary concern. Owners attempting to overwhelm opponents with a large number of innings should be looking for pitchers just like Gonzalez. It is likely that Gonzalez has an ERA correction in one of his next two turns, but the probability of a win in at least one of his starts could make up for it depending on the owner’s specific needs.

Vidal Nuno, Arizona Diamondbacks
Owned in 15% of Fantrax leagues, 4% of Y! leagues and 3% of ESPN leagues.

Vidal Nuno has pitched extremely well of late, going seven innings or more with two or fewer earned runs in each of his last four starts. Despite the string of success, he is remarkably still searching for his first win since being traded to the Diamondbacks in July. Nuno had some big home run problems when he pitched for the Yankees, so his season ERA still looks a little rough, but he is pitching well enough to be considered in deeper leagues.

This week Nuno has a dream matchup against the Padres who have been the most inept team in the majors this season with a dreadful .271 wOBA against lefties. Nuno was extremely sharp two weeks ago in his matchup against these Padres, as he only allowed 2 hits, 2 walks and 2 runs over 7.1 innings. Although the season splits show that Nuno has pitched worse at home than he has on the road this season, the bulk of the damage was done at Yankee stadium. Nuno has actually pitched quite well at Chase Field.

The matchup certainly looks good, so the next question is whether or not Nuno has the stuff to capitalize on the opportunity. Nuno does a nice job of limiting walks (2.46 per 9) and he gets his share of strikeouts also (7.01 per nine). He is a fly ball pitcher, so while HRs have always been his achilles heel, he does enjoy a better than average BABIP.

Any pitcher with a low BABIP and a low walk rate is going to be an asset in the WHIP category. The obvious concern is whether or not he can avoid the costly HR. Against the punchless Padres, I think it is a pretty good bet that he can.

I would not be terribly excited about using Nuno in points leagues, but if I needed a spot starter likely to provide positive ratios in a category league, Nuno is as good a bet as any you will find on the free agent list this week. As an added bonus, Nuno is in line for two starts during semi-final week.

T.J. House, Cleveland Indians
Owned in 14% of Fantrax leagues, 2% of Y! leagues, and less than 1% of ESPN leagues.

T.J. House is one of my favorite under the radar waiver wire pitchers. I wrote about him here a couple of weeks ago, so if you want more in-depth analysis, click on the link.

House has actually shown improved control lately, so in addition to the elite 61.3% GB rate, he now owns a 3.10 K/BB ratio on the season. The WHIP is really high still, but that is more due to poor batted ball luck than to House’s skills. I really like his chances to help a team’s ratios down the stretch.

This week’s matchup against Minnesota is fairly neutral. They sit in the middle of the wOBA ranks at 15th with a .129 iso and a 20.6% K rate against lefties. While I would not necessarily seek the Twins out in a streamer matchup, I would not be afraid of them either. This looks like a pretty good spot to use House for deep league owners.

Tom Koehler, Miami Marlins
Owned in 53% of Fantrax leagues, 17% of Y! leagues and 6% of ESPN leagues.

Tom Koehler has two attractive looking starts next week and has pitched pretty well lately, so we will take a closer look and see if he is someone weekly league owners can pin their hopes on in the fantasy playoffs.

Koehler is coming off of a ten strikeout game against the Mets and he has made four consecutive quality starts. His strikeouts are up this season compared to past years, but his K/BB ratio is still a mediocre 2.19. Koehler’s batted ball profile is right near league average across the board and his ERA indicators have hovered near 4.00 for his entire career. There is nothing in Koehler’s profile for owners to get excited about, but he is a solid major league pitcher with two starts. That alone makes him worthy of discussion in this piece.

Koehler is an interesting case because he is a right-handed pitcher with reverse platoon splits (meaning right-handed hitters typically fare better against him than lefties). For that reason, I am not sure it makes sense to get too detailed with opponent split data, so we will look at the two opponents he faces in more general terms. Koehler’s two starts are both on the road against Milwaukee and Philadelphia.

The Phillies are obviously a tasty matchup for any pitcher and Koehler has already been very successful against them in two starts this year. I those two starts, he has posted an ERA of 1.50 and a WHIP of .92 over 12 innings. Clearly, anyone would want to use Koehler in this spot. The trouble is that the Brewers matchup does not look nearly as good. Milwaukee’s lineup is loaded with right-handed power and Koehler’s lone start against them this year was one of his worst turns of the season. In it, he gave up 7 earned runs in just 5 innings.

The other important factor to consider here is that Koehler has been pretty dreadful on the road this season. His road ERA is more than two full runs higher than his home ERA. SInce both his starts this week are away from home, that is yet another wrinkle to consider.

There are definitely worse two start options out there, but owners need to be aware of the risks before blindly turning to Koehler. That Brewers matchup is every bit as bad as the Phillies one is good.

Trevor Bauer, Cleveland Indians
Owned in 56% of Fantrax leagues, 14% OF Y! leagues and 6% of ESPN leagues

Trevor Bauer has teased us all with some up and down performances, but he has been more up than down recently. He also has two starts in the upcoming week against Minnesota and Detroit.

Bauer has the stuff of a future fantasy ace with an impressive K rate (8.61/per 9), but he is still learning how to command his pitches and to get hitters out at the major league level. It is the high walk rate that really makes me nervous though. While his overall results have been pretty good in his last three starts (1-0, 4 total ERs), he has walked 12 batters over that stretch. Opposing hitters have just failed to come up with timely hits to make him pay.

Bauer also tends to give up a lot of hard hit balls. While his HR/9 is a very respectable .83, his 25% line drive rate along with 3.82 BB/9 more or less ensure that he will be a drain on the WHIP category. The strikeouts are nice, but they can come at a high cost to the other ratios with Bauer.

As for the matchups, they really are not very good. The Twins have fared well against right-handed pitchers, ranking 9th with a wOBA of .319 and a somewhat surprising ISO of .138. If they were the best team that Bauer faced, I would be nervous, but his second start comes in Detroit. Detroit is ranked 4th in wOBA against righties (.327) and they have an impressively low 18.6% K rate also.

If I have not sufficiently scared you yet, know that Bauer has made a total of five starts against these two clubs already this season. Over 28.2 innings, he has allowed a whopping total of 19 earned runs and only made two quality starts in that span (both of which he allowed 3 runs in 6 innings pitched).

If you are chasing Ks here, then good luck to you. In any other situation though, I would advise you to leave Bauer to your opponent.

Drew Hutchison, Toronto Blue Jays
Owned in 50.1% of Fantrax leagues, 17% of Y! leagues and 6% of ESPN leagues.

Drew Hutchison is extremely talented, but he has had an up and down campaign this year. One night, he can be absolutely untouchable against one of the premier lineups in baseball, and the next he can get lit up by the little sisters of the poor. I could review some stats and numbers on his season for you, but I think is a waste of time in this particular instance, so we will go right to the matchup data.

The Cubs may be the ideal team for your pitcher to face at the moment. They are 25th in the majors in wOBA against righties, but they have lost Starlin Castro for the remainder of the season and their cornerstone player, Anthony Rizzo, is out indefinitely also. They strike out 23% of the time against righties (second worst rate in the league) and without their two best hitters their lineup is filled with inexperienced rookies and mediocre veterans. .

Starting Hutchison would be a pretty big gamble, but he has a higher probability of pitching a gem than anybody else you will find on the free agent list. The problem is that he is equally likely to get rocked. If I had a head to head matchup against a team loaded with premium SPs and I was a heavy underdog in ERA and WHIP, I would consider using Hutchison in a swing for the fences type move. In most situations though, the risk may be too great.

Tyler Matzek, Colorado Rockies
Owned in 14% of Fantrax leagues, 2% of Y! leagues and 1% of ESPN leagues.

Former elite prospect Tyler Matzek has been off the charts lately with two awesome starts in his last two turns. The latest was a three hit shutout against the Padres that has deep league owners taking notice. Can Matzek be trusted in another enticing matchup with the Mets?

Matzek has always had the stuff to succeed, but he has been held back by command issues. His current BB rate of 3.24/9 is by far the lowest he has had in his professional career, so it is possible he has turned a corner there. Still though, he has been unable to generate many swings and misses at the big league level and his K/BB rate is an unimpressive 1.94. He does a pretty good job keeping the ball on the ground, so if he is ever able to get the walks under control he has the stuff to be fantasy relevant, even with Coors Field as his home park.

As for his matchup this week, the Mets are 28th in wOBA against lefties with a weak ISO of .102 and the second worst K rate in the league (23.9%). Since the game will be held in the pitching friendly confines of Citi Field, Matzek has a pretty good chance to keep his strong run going. Matzek’s road ERA is almost a run and a half lower than his ERA at home.

I have a hard time trusting a young pitcher with control issues at this time of the season, but it would be difficult to find a better matchup for the suddenly red-hot Matzek. If you need to catch lightning in a bottle, this may be where you can find it.

Tommy Landseadel

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Tommy is also known as tlance on the CBS and Sports Hoopla message boards. He has been playing fantasy baseball for 16 years in many different format types and looks forward to helping you with your fantasy baseball questions! You can now follow me on Twitter @tlandseadel