Hot pitchers to buy and sell

As discussed in last week’s article, now is the time where we start to see some patterns form on some surprising players. The next logical step for us is to try to figure out who can maintain their current level of production, and who is going to come crashing back down to earth.

With pitchers, this can be especially tricky early on thanks to quality of competition playing such a big factor. Thankfully though, plate discipline stats are already stabilized and we should be able to gain information about the pitchers this season by digging into them.  So let’s get to it:

Jeff Samardzija

Shark had quite the path to the majors, not being a full-time starter until his age 27 season. He established himself as a dominant front of the rotation arm with the Cubs, who were able to flip him to the A’s in a deadline deal worth a king’s ransom. But after a rough season with the White Sox where we saw hitters light him up to a 4.96 ERA and watching his strikeouts drop to just 17.9%, questions loomed around him heading into 2016 with the Giants.

So far, that even year magic is working. His strikeouts are back (21.9%) as well as his run suppression (2.66 ERA and 2.77 FIP). What seems to be the difference maker is that he’s getting grounders again. Despite being a heavy ground ball pitcher his entire career, he dropped to just 39% with the Sox thanks to an inexplicable decision to almost stop throwing his sinker completely. Well, it’s returned with the Giants, and so has his success.

Buy as many shares of Shark as you can from people who are trying to sell off a hot start. He’s right in line with his career numbers once you dismiss 2015 as a fluke, because all evidence points to it being just that.

Drew Pomeranz

Another owner of a funky name, Pomeranz seemed destined for great things since being drafted and shooting up prospect leaderboards. But the tools have been more than his sum, as the only real success he’s had in his career so far is last season’s time spent almost exclusively out of the bullpen. That is, until this year’s 1.70 ERA and 28.3% strikeout rate.

The ERA immediately is worrisome when we consider other ERA estimators, which are more accurate in predicting long-term performance. His FIP, xFIP and SIERA read 2.95, 3.60, 3.72. While those aren’t necessarily bad, they are showing that his run suppression is hollow so far. His Left on Base percentage (LOB%) of 84.7% is also ridiculously lucky. All pitchers will trend towards the low 70’s, with only the elite staying in the high 70’s. Essentially, he’s stranding way more baserunners than the laws of probability allow him, and it will regress.

Part of the success comes from a huge increase in the knuckle curve, throwing it 41.7% of the time. It’s worked so far, but the movement on the pitch is average to below average. He’s also seeing an increase in strikeout percentage from 8.2% last year to 14.1% this season. Without any change in how it’s thrown or how it moves, it makes the likelihood of sustained success on the pitch minimal.

Pomeranz has a hollow ERA, and his best pitch right now looks like it’s ready to come back to reality. He may still have some upside as a back of rotation starter, but look to find someone who is trying to bite on him as a guy who is realizing his potential later in his career.



Tanner Roark

He came up and was really good, then pretty good, then awful, and now he’s apparently good again. Last year’s 4.38 ERA and 4.70 FIP were pretty terrible, especially when there was only one season prior with a FIP above 3.00. So this year’s marks of 2.89 and 3.26 seem like pretty large jumps back to his earlier success.

What we see early is a large jump in strikeouts: 22.4% of opposing hitters are striking out this year against compared to his career rate of 17.6%. Although with that comes an increase in walks – 9.3% this year compared to 5.7% for his career. Intuitively this comes with a decrease in strike zone percentage, a career low of 47.1%. But this number is almost the same as last year’s, and although he has declined pretty significantly since his debut, never has he decreased by more than a couple of percentage points.

We’re starting to see him mix in his changeup more, up to 10.6% from last year’s 6.9%. He has a career 16.1% whiff rate on the pitch, which makes it surprising why he hasn’t tried it more often. And to further fit this, his best performances have come with more changes mixed in the repertoire. So as long as he keeps the changeup in the arsenal, don’t worry about regression from Roark. He really is this good.

Danny Salazar

There is just so much to like about him, ever since he started tearing up the majors with his three pitch mix in 2013. But he’s had bumps and demotions since, until he seems to have redeemed himself with a strong campaign in 2015 that he hoped to build on in 2016.

So far he appears to, with a 2.32 ERA and 30.2% strikeout rate. But the runs look like they may start pouring in, as he’s getting lucky at stranding runners (83.0% LOB) and contact against from hitters (12.7% liners, and we know that everyone regresses to almost exactly 20%). The strikeouts’ staying power is also concerning, as his chase rate has fallen from 32.4% to 27.1%. Despite this his whiff rates are at a career best 13.0% (excluding his first 50 inning stint in the majors). Without a reason to explain this (no new pitches or strategy, same pitch movement, etc.) it’s hard to believe in this not falling back down.

Danny Salazar is a good pitcher, but he is not elite like we have seen so far. He’s an attractive sell high candidate, but only do so for the right price. He’s going to regress, but he will still be very good. Make sure you get correct value.

 

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James Krueger
James lives in Tampa, Florida and is often one of the 10,000 people you can see at Rays' home games. He's a huge fan of prospects, loves analyzing swing mechanics, and will eat a "Top 100" list for breakfast. Dynasty leagues are his forte, especially rebuilding teams; building a farm system is the best part.
James Krueger

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