Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening — whichever is applicable to you. Twenty-five years ago yours truly was in the midst of his teen years. The transition from baseball card trading junkie to lovelorn teen proved difficult. It turns out the market for a “Husky” size teen with a Crispin Glover schnoz was limited. For what I lacked in boyish good looks, I attempted to make up for in charm. Never the one to fear conversation, I would go up and talk to anyone. The overwhelming majority of these conversations would quickly be extinguished with a “Get lost you loser!”. If love was scored on the first impression, a 120 Loss season would have certainly been in play.
The pursuit of love has changed over the years. A Google search and a match.com account will have you one click away from a group of singles in your area. The drawing card to these sites is the sales pitch of compatibility. Simply input things that interest you and the match making machines produce names with similar interest. I’m not sure how successful these matchmaking services are, but if the advertisement dollars are any indication, their success rates have fared much better than those of my teen years.
For Fantasy Baseball, finding similar skill sets can be a rewarding venture. Perhaps no position lends itself to this better than Starting Pitching. At any given time MLB will have 150 different SP. Between injuries and ineffectiveness, at least 50 more SP will surface at some point throughout the season. With roughly 200+ starters you’re going to see many similar skill sets because lets face it – there’s only so many ways one can pitch.
The GAWK system takes into account the types of pitching profiles that I feel can lead to success. Keep the ball on the ground, limit self-induced trouble, and strike out a batter when needed. If you look at SP solely from a skills perspective you begin to identify potential breakouts – should certain things go their way. Last week we reviewed the Top 75 SP in ADP using my GAWK in hopes of avoiding potential pitfalls. This week I’m targeting ten potential value plays outside of the Top 100 SP in NFBC drafts.
Tyler Anderson, Rockies(102) – Anderson posted plus rates in both GB% (50.9) and BB/9 (2.20) in 114.1 innings last season. He isn’t likely to be a K per IP guy, but his 7.79 K/9 was league average for a SP and would appear repeatable based on minor league track record. The BABIP effects of Coors adds a level of risk in his GB rate, but last season Anderson managed a flat 3.00 ERA in 78 home innings. The skill set Anderson possesses is very comparable to that of Johnny Cueto, Kyle Hendricks and Michael Fulmer.
Mike Leake, Cardinals (103) – The recipe for Mike Leake did not change last season. His K/9 was well below league average while both his control and GB% could be viewed as elite. Oddly enough, each of those marks were above his career averages. Naturally, Leake went on to post his career worst ERA of 4.69 after three consecutive seasons of 3.70 or below. The Cardinals defense behind Leake is concerning, but if those K gains hold another sub 4.00 ERA season should be expected. I’m not expecting at top-50 breakout, but to find 180 quality innings beyond the Top 100 is a rarity.
Michael Wacha, Cardinals (106) – When you post an ERA north of 5.00 and looked destined to be a bullpen arm, your ADP begins to sour. Alex Reyes lost season leaves no doubt that Wacha will enter the season in the rotation once again. Prior to last year, Wacha had been one of those Matt Cain types who continued to outpitch his peripherals. Naturally, the xFIP gods were out to get their revenge last season as Wacha posted an xFIP a full run lower than his ERA. At 25 I’d find it hard to believe that Wacha’s career is mirroring that of Matt Cain. Could the 2016 struggles be due to the 74 IP increase from 2014 to 2015 or could we just chalk it up to bad luck?
Wacha’s GAWK numbers were in line with his career marks, but a career low LOB% and career high BABIP did him no favors. Wacha’s, No Negative GAWK profile, is right in line with Gerrit Cole, JA Happ, and Adam Wainwright. Combine the safeness of the profile with his youth and I could certainly see a scenario where Wacha is among the Top 30 SP next season.
Josh Tomlin, Indians (109) – Prior to last season Jordan Zimmerman and Hisashi Iwakuma were in the conversation for t0p-30 SP options. Neither offered much in the K department, but the excellent control limited extensive damage. At 32 it would be unwise to expect that level of production from Tomlin, but with a little luck, the possibility exist. Tomlin’s 1.03 BB/9 was the best rate among ERA qualifiers last season. Should Tomlin’s K rate approach the 7.81 mark of 2015 or 8.13 of 2014 you could be looking at a repeat of the 3.02 ERA of 2015 or the 3.16 xFIP of 2014.
Alex Wood, Dodgers (111) – If only a rotation spot existed. Wood currently appears to be serving as the 7th SP and rosterresource.com has him ticketed for the Minors to begin 2017. Wood features both a plus K/9 and GB rate. That skill set is very similar to that of Hamels and Arrieta from last season. Wood, however, didn’t have any issues with the free pass. He already has two seasons of a rotation workload under his belt, and those totals weight heavily into his career ERA of 3.35. I see no reason to believe Alex Wood could not become a top-30-40 SP should injuries lead him into a rotation spot.
Clay Buchholz, Phillies (113) – Buchholz was among GAWK’s most coveted SP last season. Not exactly the ringing endorsement I was in search of. If you take last season’s numbers only into consideration, Buchholz would not be deemed appealing to GAWK as all three numbers posted well below league average. My hope for Buchholz may be dwindling, but I still have a light on for the potential breakout. In the three seasons prior to 2016, Buchholz GAWK profile would have featured no negatives over that timeframe. With a move to the NL, I expect improvements in both K/9 and BB/9. If both totals manage to get to league average I believe you’re looking at a SP firmly among the top-75 for 2017.
Matt Boyd, Tigers (117) – At 26 Boyd was a bit of a late bloomer. Last season Boyd featured league average K/9 and BB/9 with a lackluster 38% GB rate. That lackluster skill set combined with poor results won’t make anyone rush out to pick up Boyd, but could we have something? Boyd features a minor league track record of success at every level with the exception of a 10 start stint at AA in 2014. Boyd also managed to improve his K/9, BB/9 and GB% between his 12 starts in 2015 and his 18 in 2016. Could more growth be expected? Even if Boyd manages to hold onto the growth from 2016 you’re looking at a player with a similar skillset to Ian Kennedy. While Kennedy has managed some rather abysmal seasons, he has produced a couple where plus value was netted.
Patrick Corbin, Diamondbacks (130) – After missing the majority of 2015 Corbin was a “sleeper” target by many in 2016. In 155.2 innings, Corbin managed to pitch to a 5.15 ERA. His K rate declined as did his BB/9 which more than doubled from his short 2015 campaign. Could Corbin’s failure simply be that of a SP who wasn’t ready to handle the workload increase from 2015 into 2016. If Corbin can ratchet the walk and strikeout totals back to accustomed numbers, he would fall into the same grouping as Tyler Anderson. With any significant growth, you could be looking at another top-30 SP hopeful.
Tyler Duffey, Twins (167) – Like Alex Wood, Duffey appears to be one of the odd men out in the Twins rotation search. It’s not hard to fault the Twins; a 6.43 ERA in 26 starts hardly offers much encouragement. However, from a skill standpoint, Duffey seemed to deserve better. His 7.71 K/9 makes him Nolan Ryan compared to most young Twins arms. His 2.17 BB/9 is very solid and nearly a full BB/9 below his 2015 total. Combine a league average GB rate and you’re looking at a player with the same skill sets as Jose Quintana, Sean Manaea, Rick Porcello and Zach Greinke among others.
Wade Miley, Orioles (170) – From 2012-2014 Wade Miley had a nice little run with the Diamondbacks. Over that span, he averaged 199 innings per season and posted an ERA below 3.60 on two of the three years. Three years and two teams later Miley still offers much of the same skills. His K/9 rates slightly below league average, while both his BB/9 and GB rates are both favorable in comparison to league average. As the years have passed the BABIP has continued to increase, all the while the LOB% is in a three-year decline as his GB rate. Though the numbers may be in decline, they still rate as an acceptable skills mix.
Say what you want about the Wins statistic but the reality is, the stat counts just the same as K’s or ERA. The Orioles should continue to be able to offer some run support. The bullpen will continue to be good, and I see no reason this group of overachievers won’t continue to do just that. Chris Tillman’s skill set is much less desirable than Miley’s. With the benefit of a favorable BABIP, LOB%, and a drop in HR allowed, Tillman managed to go 16-6 last season – tied for the 6th most wins in all of baseball. With favorable breaks could Miley not do exactly that? Like Duffey, Miley’s skill set is right there with some of the “safer” SP options among the 2nd SP Tier.
As February quickly comes to a close, not one of these players projects as top-50 SP options. Oddly enough, each and every one of them offers the exact same skill set as another player that does. That’s the thing with true breakouts; they never come from where you would expect them. With pitching, the difference in a 4.00 ERA and 3.50 is nothing more than a spike in strand rate or a decrease in BABIP. Investing in skill sets that have been proven to work is a much safer strategy than relying on what the player did last season to repeat itself.
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