Kevin’s Picks and Passes on Touted SP

I’ve searched the interwebs for other articles that tout certain starters for the 2015. Here are my own thoughts on these players, and whether I agree or disagree with the authors. The link to the original article is in the player name.

Kevin Gausman

The article talks about his “impeccable command” and a 1.7 BB/9 at some point in his career? But I have no idea where he got that number, considering his MLB BB/9 has been well above that (even when looking at half seasons). Baseball Reference has his 2013 minors BB/9 at 1.5, which is great, but we all know that often goes up with each level a player is promoted, and his BB/9 in his two MLB seasons is 2.5 and then 3.0. These are still solid, and he was consistent all of 2014, but I’m not ready to pencil him in as the next Iwakuma or Hughes. His K/9 as a starter in 2014 wasn’t as good as it was as a reliever in 2013, but he did improve in the second half. The author says a possible “mid to late round” pick, but I’d still stay in the late rounds for redraft leagues. In shallow leagues, PASS. In deep leagues, PICK.

Gerrit Cole

Sabermetrics can be dangerous if you don’t know how to use them. Take BABIP. The MLB average is generally around .300, for hitters and pitchers. However, some players’ personal average can be consistently lower or higher, based on their traits (GB pitcher, slow running hitter, etc.). That being said, this comment from the author is misleading.

“As a sophomore, his record was 11-5, but he carried an inflated 3.65 ERA, partly because of a .311 BABIP, but hitters can’t get lucky forever.”

A .311 BABIP is really not outrageous, and 11 points above the average will not have much of a direct impact on ERA. Case in point: Cole’s BABIP was .308 in his rookie season, 3 points lower, but his ERA was 3.22. The change in BABIP is not responsible for that difference. The biggest reasons his ERA went up was due to an increase in HR/FB (8.1% to 9.4%) combined with an increase in fly balls (26% to 32%). After two seasons Cole’s ground ball rate and BABIP have been consistent, so there’s no reason to expect his BABIP to be “likely to fall” as the author says.

What will help predict future greatness are things like a strong swinging strike rate, a high first pitch percentage, and as a result a rise in K/9. His walk rate is strong as well, and he keeps half the balls on the ground. The author was wrong regarding why he predicted a breakout, but the end result is certainly possible. PICK.

Drew Smyly

I like Smyly, and he’s certainly serviceable. However, calling him a sleeper or a breakout candidate doesn’t work for me.

“He won’t sustain that ace production over a full campaign, but he’s a strong candidate to finish 2015 as a top-50 starter, which is better than it sounds considering the glutton of high-quality arms. With a 90 mph fastball and no superstar pedigree from his developmental days, Smyly can easily get lost in the sea of gaudy young talent.”

Not everyone has to throw 95+, but a 90 mph fastball isn’t amazing. That’s probably why he upped the use of his curveball in 2014. His K/9 looks like it went up in the second half according to FanGraphs and how they break it down, but if you take April to June (16 G, 13 GS) and then compare it to July to his shutdown (12 GS), it was pretty steady: 7.7 to 7.9. It’s a nice strikeout rate, but what’s more important to me is the change in walk rate during that span, from 3.1 to 1.9. What also worries me is that he ends up with quite a few balls in the air, either by line drive or fly ball. His HR/FB and HR/9 aren’t bad, but they’re not good, either, and with that many fly balls, there’s some added risk here. His .278 BABIP could indicate some WHIP luck. He’s a nice pitcher, but I don’t know that I’d put him in the top-50. He’s a back-end piece, but I may not be drafting him based on his ADP, and I wouldn’t call him a sleeper. PASS unless you’re in a deep league.

Kyle Hendricks

I’m a Cubs fan, and I think Hendricks will make a great #4 starter for Chicago. However, in the fantasy world he’s far from ideal, and I disagree with the author’s take that he’s a good sleeper candidate. Yes, he posted a great 2.46 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP. Yes, he keeps the ball more on the ground and limits home runs, at least in his short rookie campaign. However, fantasy teams really need to look at strikeouts, and he’s sorely lacking. He doesn’t have an average fastball over 90, and his swinging strike rate isn’t high, which is why his K/9 was only 5.3. In 2014 fantasy managers criticized Tanner Roark (6.3 K/9) and Doug Fister (5.4). I’ll also point you to Mark Buehrle and Jeremy Guthrie as low K/9 and low BB/9 guys. Hendricks’ upside is quite limited unless he improves his strikeouts or has a lucky season. His strand rate and BABIP indicate a bit of luck in 2014, and though he may prove capable of holding those numbers for his career, it’s not certain at this point and adds to his risk. PASS.

Brett Anderson

This is going to be short, because all I have to do is point to his health. Unless you’re in round 30 in a 18-team league, you don’t want to draft a guy who hasn’t started in more than 8 games the last three seasons. Chronically hurt players don’t get suddenly healthy, and therefore they shouldn’t be considered sleepers. He may get lucky and reach 20 GS, but I’m not counting on it. Also, to say that he did well in Coors because he had a 3.54 ERA in 4 starts isn’t all that impressive. The league-wide ERA is on the decline, and four starts is not a significant sample. What is significant is that he had 10 of his 13 walks in those 4 starts at home, for a 1.62 WHIP. That doesn’t sound like someone who has solved Coors Field to me. PASS.

Kevin Jebens

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Fantasy baseball player since 2000; winning leagues ranging from 12-team H2H to 18-team experts 5x5. Has written for various baseball blogs, including the 2013 Bleed Cubbie Blue Annual.