Legit or Luck: Happ, Kennedy, Fowler, Trumbo

There are plenty of hot starts from star players this year, and there are always a few new faces that have a great month and then fall flat. But what about the veterans who have a history of being solid, but now they’re seemingly overperforming? Do any of the metrics back up this new level, or are they bound to return to where they’ve been for most of their careers? Let’s take a look.

JA Happ

Happ burst onto the scene last season, with an ERA under 2.00 in his last 11 starts. Everyone assumed he wouldn’t hold up in 2016, but he’s picked up where he left off, posting a 2.05 ERA in his first 7 starts, along with a very solid WHIP. Does three months of consecutive success mean he’s figured it out?

Unfortunately, not really. He’s sporting the best strand rate of his career, along with one of his lowest BABIP. Despite a slight uptick in GB% over the last few years, his LD% is still over 20%, so the BABIP will correct. Perhaps most worrisome is the complete lack of strikeouts; his K/9 went from 11.4 during his hot September 2015 to just 5.6 in 2016. His swinging strike rate, first pitch strike, and velocity haven’t changed that much, so it seems more likely the end of his 2015 season was a fluke K/9 spike. Even if he bounces back to his career rate, it’s not elite. The luck factors in his profile weigh on his game, and he didn’t maintain the one “skill” bump from last season to counteract them. I can see Happ finally being a solid, rosterable starting pitcher after years of struggles, but he’s not a #2 or even #3 SP moving forward.

Ian Kennedy

Kennedy’s skills and metrics have been somewhat steady for years, but he often has wildly varying surface stats and end results. With the hot start in 2016, is he finally doing something different? Has he broken through and raised his value to a #2 SP?

Like many early hot streaks, it pains me to say that I’m not sold on the new Kennedy, despite my love for him and the Royals. The obvious places to look for luck, BABIP and strand rate, are the best of his career and indicate things will fall back to earth. Regarding his strikeout ability, he put up a K/9 just above 8.0 for three years, then spiked up to 9.0 for 2014-15, and is now back down to 8.3. He may be able to find that 9.0 again, but it’s no guarantee. What worries me the most, however, is that Kennedy’s worst ERAs in recent years have been a direct result of gopheritis and HR/FB spikes. This season he’s keeping things in check so far, which is good news. The bad news is that he’s suddenly sporting a FB% that’s 7% higher than the previous three seasons. If his HR/FB does rise just a little, when he is giving up far more fly balls on top of that, then the ERA is bound to find its way back over 4.00. He still has good value, but the threat of a ballooning ERA is real, so you’re better off selling high than hoping he can repeat his career year in 2011.



Dexter Fowler

I’m a Cubs fan, and Dexter Fowler is a good piece of the reason why they’re off to such an amazing start. Orioles fans are crying to themselves that they lost out, and Fowler’s 1.000 OPS is salt in the wound right now. But can we expect the breakout to continue?

It’s a mixed bag here. The obvious culprit is an unsustainable BABIP that’s bound to fall, even though his career level is well above the major league average. As such, by the end of the season, he’s more likely to be under .290 than over it. However, that’s the only critical point I can make. He’s walking at a career best, and with him being in the groove and having a solid lineup behind him, I don’t expect him to slow. He’s also making a lot of hard contact, at the best rate of his career, which helps explain a higher LD% than the previous two seasons and the higher BABIP. The power is steady, though his FB% is a bit low, so he won’t likely repeat his 17 HR from 2015. His speed is still intact, and as long as he’s healthy, another 18+ stolen bases is possible. In OBP leagues he won’t lose any value over the season, but standard 5×5 do have to anticipate a lower BA. That said, everything else in his game is solid, so with health he’ll keep providing you value.

Mark Trumbo

After posting 30 home runs twice in a row, Trumbo had an injury-shortened season, and though he bounced back in 2015, it wasn’t an amazing year. Now he’s rushing out of the gate with 9 home runs, which is only 1 less than he hit during all of the first half of 2015. Can he keep it up?

There’s reason to be optimistic here. Like Fowler, Trumbo is benefiting from an early BABIP boost, but that doesn’t mean he’ll drop all the way back to .230 like he hit in 2013-14. He proved in 2015 that with a league average BABIP he can hit .260, and his career BA of .253 will be his floor for the season. The fact that his hard hit rate is a career best and he’s sporting a high (for him) LD% means I’ll take the over on .260.

But what we really care about is the power. His HR/FB is a robust 24% right now, and most people are apt to assume it’ll fall quite a bit, but I think he can hold pretty steady. He managed a 21% HR/FB ratio as recently as 2012-13, and given he dealt with injuries in 2014, a drop in power can be excused. In 2015 his HR/FB matched the previous year, but when you look at his half-season splits, he improved as the season went on, from 12% to 17%. The fact that he was working back to his previous level means he’s truly a 30 home run threat again. He has even eked out a few more fly balls this season, likely sacrificing some contact rate to do so, but in today’s game that power is the most important factor. I have no problem trading for Trumbo at this point, because even if he cools a bit, he’ll still hit 20 home runs over the rest of the year.

 

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Kevin Jebens
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.