Believe It or Not

Don’t worry, I am sure Ripley is okay with me snagging his catchphrase for the title of this piece. The reasoning behind the title is because we are about to take a look at some starting pitchers that finished 2015 on a high note and determine whether or not we should buy-in. It happens all the time, right? A player having a tough go of things all of a sudden, sometimes out of nowhere it seems, turn “it” on to finish the season strong. The question that then presents itself is “what, if any, of this goodness will carry over into the following season?” Well, luckily I am here to try and help you get the answer to that very question surrounding several starting pitchers.

Believe ItOr Not

 

J.A. Happ, Blue Jays – Happ went from a Field of Streams regular to being regularly rostered. That tends to happen when you post a 1.85 ERA and 1.02 WHIP over your last eleven starts. Only six starters posted a lower ERA than Happ over the last month of the 2015 season and his ERA over that time period was just .05 higher than one Mr. Clayton Kershaw. That is some nice company to be in, folks. Now I don’t think anyone is headed into their 2016 draft rooms expecting Happ to put up Kershaw type numbers in 2016, but is Happ above being just another streamer option?

First thing’s first, the sample size. Eleven starts is not a lot to go on, but it ain’t nothin’ neither. In his first 20 starts of 2015, J.A. Happ was more like J.A. Happ-less. Happ sported an ERA over four and a WHIP of 1.41. As you can imagine, he was not very widely owned in standard fantasy leagues. That’s when he was shipped away to Pittsburgh where he was placed in the very capable hands of Ray Searage – who has been a pitcher whisperer of sorts for the Pirates. Happ gave up four runs in his first start with the Pirates, but over the next ten he allowed more than two runs just once. Once! The numbers Happ posted while with the Pirates were great and far better than Happ’s career numbers. Maybe not all the credit goes to Searage, as the Pirates do a great job of scouting and making defensive shifts that most assuredly help their pitching staff, but he deserves some. Another plus for Happ is that left field in the ‘Burgh is where balls go to die and is one of the tougher places for balls to leave the yard. That is super beneficial to southpaws like Happ as it will allow for a few more mistakes.

Not only is Happ no longer in Pittsburgh, but he is no longer in the National League; now back in the familiar surroundings of Toronto. Sure we have Interleague play all over the place now, but the majority of Happ’s starts are currently slated to be against teams in the senior circuit. That’s not a good start. Add in the fact that Toronto tends to be more hitter friendly and you’ve got strike two. But, there is a possibility that Happ could take what he learned from Searage and still be quality, right? Well, the thing is, most of the advanced statistics didn’t change much, except for a significant increase in K/9. Where the balls were hit and how hard they were hit stayed relatively the same. One thing I did notic is Happ cut down on his offspeed pitches and threw his two-seamer far less, relying mostly on the four-seamer. This might explain the increase in Ks, but as I mentioned the batted ball data did not change much. Is fanning a batter or two more a game worth almost a three run drop in ERA? Probably not. Makes me think that the defensive shifts and fielding in Pittsburgh had quite a bit more to do with Happ’s strong finish than just Ray Searage’s fine tutelage. All in all, it’s possible that the K numbers stay a bit higher than his career norms, but I think the ERA and WHIP will regress back closer to his previous numbers, making him more of a Field of Streams regular than a roster regular.

Ervin Santana, Twins – Big Erv has always had flashes of fantasy goodness and I, myself,  have had an up and down relationship with the Twins hurler. Be that as it may, there is no denying Santana was electric down the stretch in 2015, posting a September ERA below two. But is it realistic to expect that sort of performance in 2016? No, probably not, and to be fair, I don’t think anyone is expecting that level of pitching from Big Erv in 2016 either. Santana was up and down, and when he was down – he was way down, with an ERA over seven in August. The biggest change I saw from July/August to September/October is that he increased his ground ball rate by six percentage points and his K-rate by about seven or so percentage points. Increased ks and grounders? Now you’re speaking my language. Of course, both rates he posted in that last month (plus) of the season were above his career average, and just from the data it doesn’t seem like much about his approach changed. I don’t see a 1.88 ERA happening in 2016, but nor do I see an ERA over seven. Look for him to drop somewhere in the middle with an ERA around the mid-to-high threes, a WHIP around 1.25 and a K/9 close to seven. For 2016, I foresee Santana being a viable streaming option here and there, but his full-time ownership days are most likely done.

Jake Peavy, Giants –  Seems like déjà vu all over again, doesn’t it? Well, it is if you were reading my piece before the start of last season where I lauded Peavy as a relatively undrafted starter that would be widely owned come season’s end. That didn’t exactly happen, but injuries can be to blame for a lot of that, and Peavy was hovering around 50% ownership if I recall correctly. Here’s a little excerpt from what I wrote last March regarding Peavy:

Let’s start with the numbers 2.17 and 3.03. Those were Peavy’s ERA and FIP after joining the Giants last season.” 

Okay, those numbers were not quite as good once Jake returned from the DL, but he did manage 3.15 and 3.81 in those departments. If we finagle the parameters though, you will see that Peavy’s ERA over his last eight starts was 2.59. However, that is when we get to the FIP. Although Peavy’s ERA was top-notch, his FIP over those eight starts was 3.65 and his xFIP sat at 4.43. Not to mention the BABIP against Peavy was ridiculously low at .218. Throw in a mediocre ground ball rate and a K/9 under six and I am instantly turned off. Of course, as we know, FIP only gives us an idea of what probably should be happening, but pitchers can outshine those. I don’t see Peavy being draftable in standard mixed leagues right now, and expect a very streaky season from him. The good news is, that will most certainly make Jakey boy a Field of Streams regular.   

Rich Hill, Athletics – Mr. Hill is on here because of just four quality starts for the Red Sox to finish 2015. That sample size is generally not large enough for us to extrapolate real firm, conclusive, data, but I think it is worth exploring. Being basically a 36 years young journeyman, who was in the independent leagues early on in 2015, and had not made a major league start in about six years doesn’t exactly make it seem like he has magically just figured things out. That doesn’t necessarily mean he has no fantasy value in 2016. His name would not even appear here if there were not some small glimmer of hope, somewhere, for fantasy goodness in 2016. So, going back to those four 2015 starts. All four starts were quality as he notched a 1.55 ERA with a 2.27 FIP, 0.66 WHIP and a K/9 over 11. Those numbers happening over a full season may be a bit of a pipe dream, but I don’t think I’d put it past Richie to be an above average SP this upcoming season. One thing to note, is that Hill drastically improved his control in the September call up, which was previously one of his biggest detractors. Still this is a small sample size and Hill is gonna be 36 on Opening Day annnnddd Hill has only thrown more than 57.2 innings in a major league season once. While there may be questions on how many innings Hill can go, I still think he will be a fantastic late round flier. Pitching in Oakland is a nice bonus, but even so, I think an ERA in the mid-threes and a K/9 close to nine is very possible. Quite frankly, you could do a lot worse towards the end of your drafts, right? As you get to the later rounds, I really like Hill’s potential more than many other late SP options and I would be quite willing to take a flier on the southpaw late in my drafts.

Hope this has helped prepare you a bit more for your upcoming drafts and you have a better idea of what to believe….or not.

 

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Will Emerson

Will Emerson

Affectionately know by close friends as Willie Moe, Will is back living in Boston after brief, 11 year stint, in upstate New York. Will loves numbers and baseball, so it is no surprise that he has been addicted to fantasy baseball for over two decades. That’s right, Will was playing fantasy baseball since before the internet was providing up to the minute stats and standings, and you had to get your hands inky checking box scores in the newspaper.
Will Emerson

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