We’re getting into the meaty part of the season now. Things are starting to warm up and pretty soon there will be less excuses for slow starts. Uncharacteristically hot and cold starts will merit further investigation and won’t be able to be simply dismissed as small sample magic. Below are three well-known southpaws that are worth trying to sell high on.
Lester is a brand name. He’s been awesome for a really long time and is on a team that figures to be pretty good. He’s only a year removed from being a legit fantasy ace. Many drafted him with the hope of Lester returning to that level. On the surface, it looks like he has. If you dig deeper, there are definitely some warts that make it worth seeing what his value is on the open market.
Lester has a sparkly 2.66 ERA and has gone 3-1 so far on the year. The K rate is way down and the walks are up. His 19.2% K rate is the worst it’s been in 6 years. His unsightly 10.6% walk rate is the worst it’s been since his rookie year. He’s got a less than two to one strikeout to walk rate. His ground ball rate is also down almost 10% from his career average to 37.6%. The .266 BABIP that he’s allowing is 51 points lower than his career average and his LOB or “strand rate” is 7 points higher at 81.5%. He’s allowing more hard contact (34%) than he ever has and is 34 years old and averaging a career low 91.5 MPH on his fastball.
I would be working hard to deal Lester. Usually I preach making sure that you get the right deal and not sell just to sell. Things looks really bad for Lester now if there isn’t an explanation. His FIP and SIERA suggest that his ERA should be a full 2 runs worse. Lester has been good so far and has both brand value and the advantage of being a Cub. I would try to charge like he’s a top 20 pitcher but would potentially take less if you’re up against a savvy owner. I’d advise moving quickly on this.
Another Lefty who has been immensely valuable to owners in the past. Dallas Keuchel can be a flat-out nuisance to batters when he’s on. He throws nasty low pitches that dive out of the zone and befuddle batters even though he doesn’t throw particularly hard. He’s been decent so far this year but has not returned to Cy Keuchel status. He is very likely the worst pitcher on his own staff, which is not actually an insult. That’s just how good everyone else has been.
There’s a few things that concern me a bit about Keuchel. First of all, his SIERA and FIP both suggest that his 3.53 ERA is a bit lucky. They suggest he should be closer to a 4.00 ERA. His BABIP is 39 points lower than his career average and his strand rate is 6 points higher than his career average. This all suggests he’s been a bit lucky. His K rate stinks and means he’s likely overrated in roto leagues. He’s striking out a mere 6.53 batters per nine and the 17.5% K rate seems to back that up.
What really worries me about Keuchel is that his ground ball rate has gone way down. You may look and see a 56.6% and think that’s great. It would be, for any other pitcher. 56.6% is down over 10 points from last year. A lot of these balls in play have turned into fly balls, which is part of why his HR/9 has skyrocketed to 1.41. I’m not sure this is unlucky given how much of a high-wire act Keuchel pulls off considering he barely averages 90 MPH on his fastball. I think the raise in fly balls has led to the raise in homers even if the 20% HR/FB rate is a bit higher than his career norms.
I don’t think Keuchel is as scary as Lester based on the peripherals. I do think his name value likely outweighs the productions he’s going to give you barring a skills change. Playing for the Astros should also inflate his value just like the Cubs do for Lester. I think he’s more of a top 40-50 option in points leagues and worse than that in roto given the lack of Ks. If someone in your league will pay you top 25-30 prices for Keuchel then I would take it without hesitating.
This one may seem like a hot take but hear me out. I know he’s the best pitcher of this generation and that he’s one of the best pitchers ever. That’s awesome and hats off to the guy. But for this year, I think it might be time to sell Kershaw or at least send some feelers out to see what you can get.
Kershaw’s velocity was down almost two full ticks before going on the DL. Biceps tendonitis could explain this or maybe not. His swinging strike rate is 11.7% which is solid but almost 3 points worse than last year. His overall K rate is down to 26.5%, which again is pretty damn good but not Kershaw good- not over 30% like it was for many years. Even his walk rate has crept up a point to 5.5%. He does seem like he’s been a bit unlucky with his 19.4% HR/FB rate. It’s more than double his 8.1% career rate but it’s not too much worse than the 15.9% rate that he posted last year. His FIP and SIERA also suggest that his ERA is somewhere between .5 and a full run lucky. Kershaw also has an obscene 89.6% strand rate, which will definitely regress. Oh yeah, he’s also on the DL for the third time in four years.
I’m not saying to give Kershaw away. Definitely don’t do that. Even though Kershaw has been pretty good so far this year, he hasn’t been KERSHAW. From watching him, it looks like his command is a bit off and that’s why I think he’s given up some more bombs this year. That could explain why it happened last year as well. Command is the reason he’s so great. There are plenty of pitchers with nastier stuff than him but Kershaw could always put the ball exactly where he wanted it. There’s a chance he comes back healthy and he’s back to where he once was. I hope so but would bet against it at this point. There’s a lot of innings on that arm and he’s been hurt a good bit the past four years.
I’m not sure exactly where I would rank Kershaw at this point, but I know it would be outside my top six or seven. I think it’s worth seeing if there’s anyone who still views Kershaw as the number one arm. I think I would take any deal where he’s valued like a top 5 SP, even in a points league. There are still plenty of believers out there and many more who think the Dodgers are gaming the DL again.