SP Surprises: Tillman, Hill, Nola, Tomlin

There’s a reason most pundits will insist you focus on hitting first for your fantasy team. Every season new players emerge to provide fantasy value, but it’s far more common with pitchers, and this year is no exception.  Let’s take a look at some early surprises – four starting pitchers who are within the top-50 players for standard roto leagues.

Chris Tillman

He’s certainly seen his share of ups and downs in his career, and 2016 seems to be an up year. Tillman is sporting a BABIP in line with his career norm, but his strand rate is higher than usual, and he has a career low HR/FB ratio that helps keep his ERA under 3.00. His strand rate also gets a boost from a career best K/9 of 8.9. A career best swinging strike rate implies he’s making true gains there by throwing his slider twice as often as before, but it’s coming at the cost of throwing more pitches out of the zone, increasing his BB/9.

Overall I’m optimistic he’ll be good for the rest of the season, but not this good. If you can sell high, do so. Otherwise, he’s a decent mid-rotation piece who may reach 200 IP for just the third time in his career.

Rich Hill

Hill has turned that small sample size from 2015 into an effective first two months in 2016. There are a few reasons for caution. First, a strand rate over 80% seems bound to fall, although he managed to keep it that high as a reliever. After a 1.6 BB/9 in his 4 starts from 2015, he’s up to 3.3 in 2016, which is acceptable but rather high in today’s pitching-rich era. There’s also the question of durability, because he’s already reached his highest IP total in the last seven seasons.

That said, I’d be happy to continue using him until he hits the DL. His K/9 is still strong at 10.1, and his WHIP is above average with a BABIP near league norms. A ground ball tilt and those strikeout numbers should keep him from exploding into awful at a moment’s notice.

The risk averse should consider moving him while he’s hot, but those who want a good performance backed up by a strong skill set can keep putting him in the lineup and hoping for health.



Aaron Nola

Nola was a well-known prospect who had a solid rookie season in 2015. As of 2016 he’s part of the biggest surprise in baseball, with the Phillies fighting for a wildcard spot early in the season. So should we expect him to fall back to earth this year? If anything, there’s room for improvement.

His strand rate is a little low due to a slightly high HR/FB rate of 13%, but he has a high GB%, so the fly balls aren’t so often that they’ll do a lot of damage. Some fantasy managers may assume his BABIP is a bit lucky and will regress, but given his ground ball ways, I feel confident he can maintain his current level and keep up his fantastic WHIP. If that’s not enough, his K/9 (9.6) and BB/9 (1.7) are in elite territory. This is a strong skill set driving his success, not luck.

There’s a reason he has 7 quality starts in just 9 games, and he’ll continue to rack up value this season. It may be too late to get in on his phenomenal 2016, but I’d go the extra buck to acquire him if possible.

Josh Tomlin

Jim Finch briefly addressed Tomlin in his waiver wire report last week, but he’s posted two very strong starts since then, and so he bears further scrutiny. He does give up more homers than you’d like, and despite the improved FB%, gopheritis will continue to be a risk. His walk rate is even better than Nola’s, and he seems capable of posting a BABIP below the league average, giving him the potential for a truly elite WHIP. He’s only thrown under 6 innings twice this year, and he’s given up more than three earned runs twice as well. I use him in a league that subs QS for W, and he’s been better in the last month.

That said, I’m still wary about Tomlin for a whole season of use. His K/9 has dropped for two straight seasons to 6.4, and so has his average fastball velocity. He’s not meant to overpower hitters, but aside from his reluctance to throw balls, it means a lot of his game is out of his control. You can count on his WHIP, but every other roto category could stay this good — or get as bad as 2014.

Tomlin is a high risk, medium reward guy depending on your format. If he cost you a buck like he did for me, then go ahead and use him until he struggles. Otherwise, I wouldn’t overpay to acquire him from another manager.

 

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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.