I am now taking a focused look at two pitchers each week. One feature will go under the hood and examine a commonly owned pitcher who is either struggling or exceeding expectations, while the other will look at an arm that falls under the 40% owned threshold. All of the analysis in this piece will be based on numbers through 7/5. If one of the featured pitchers makes a Sunday start (McHugh), I will post an update on how they pitched, but data from that start will not be reflected in this piece.
If you are looking at streaming options, be sure to check out Rob Adams’ Stream Team piece. His streamer article is the best I have seen, pretty much anywhere.
Alfredo Simon, Cincinnati Reds
Alfredo Simon’s success to this point has been quite remarkable. He has posted quality starts in 15 out of his 17 turns and he has a sparkling 2.78 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. Many people have continued to write off Simon’s success as flukey, but it is time to take a close look and try to figure out why he has been this successful.
Simon throws his fastball nearly 60% of the time and he has an average velocity of 93.8 on the pitch. He likes to mix in a sinker, a cutter and an occasional slider. The cutter has been a pitch that he has gone to with increasing regularity after first introducing it in 2011. Simon is known for a deceptive delivery that keeps hitters off-balance, but he lacks swing and miss stuff and relies on generating weak contact to get batters out. Interestingly, Simon also has a pretty neutral career splits. He has a career wOBA of .324 vs. lefties and .326 against righties.
Ks and BBs
Limiting walks is Simon’s greatest strength. Simon has walked only 5.9% of the batters he has faced thus far, for a BB/9 of 2.13. He does a decent job getting ahead in the count with a 61.7 first strike percentage that is slightly above his career average, and he also gets hitters to chase outside the zone with late movement on his pitches.
Simon’s biggest weakness might be his lack of Ks. He is striking out 15.1% of batters faced for a K/9 of just 5.48. His 8.5% swinging strike rate indicates that he might be capable of generating a few more punchouts, but Simon has never been a big strikeout guy. Even as a reliever, Simon’s best MLB K/9 was 7.67. He is capable of getting a few more, but don’t count on much more than 6 Ks per 9.
Batted Ball Profile
Simon is able to induce an above average ground ball rate thanks to his sinker and his 4 seam fastball. Simon’s HR/FB ratio sits at 12.6%. These 2014 numbers appear to be right in line with his career averages.
Strand Rates and BABIP
In looking at the numbers, Simon’s BABIP of .233 and his 84% strand rate definitely appear unsustainable. Simon’s ERA indicators are all above 4.00, and these numbers are the reason that you hear many experts discounting Simon’s success.
Although Simon pitched out of the bullpen in 2013, his numbers were very similar to what we have seen thus far. In 2013, he had a 2.87, a 1.07 WHIP and enjoyed a BABIP of .236. While it is true that reliever/starters almost always see a rise in ERA and WHIP when moving to the rotation, it is important to note that last season is when Simon began using the cutter more frequently.
While it is highly unlikely that Simon finishes the season with anything close to the numbers he has posted thus far, it is important not to discount his achievements too much. Simon’s remarkable consistency may indicate that he is capable of beating those ERA indicators.
According to Rick Sutcliffe, the 3 keys for a pitcher to enjoy sustained success are velocity, deception and late movement. Simon has all 3 of these traits. We are very quick to write him off because of the low K rate and the high xFIP, but we have seen enough innings from Simon to suggest that this is no small sample fluke. He is better than his ERA indicators. While he does not get many Ks, he is able to generate more weak contact than most pitchers, and therefore beat the numbers.
As for Simon’s fantasy value, it will depend on league format. In K/9 leagues, guys like Simon hurt an owner’s K rate so much that it can cancel out the ERA/WHIP benefit. In weekly leagues, or leagues without innings caps, however, I expect Simon to be a valuable asset in the second half.
Going forward, look for Simon to post an ERA in the low to mid 3s with a WHIP around 1.20. If you can deal him as a top 40 SP, then go ahead and do it. If not, you may be better off enjoying the ride. Since most industry people expect Simon to fall apart, it might prove difficult to trade him for the type of return you would need.
Collin McHugh, Houston Astros
McHugh is owned in 36% of Y! leagues and 25% of ESPN leagues.
Back in mid May, I featured Collin McHugh for the Aces in the Hole series. At that point, my recommendation was that if McHugh was able to keep his K rate over 25% and avoid the longball, that he should be owned in pretty much all mixed leagues. Well, almost 2 months later, we have enough data to take a closer look and see how McHugh has been doing. Although he has only won 4 games, his ERA is a tidy 3.22 with a WHIP of 1.09. Can he keep it up?
McHugh has a low 90s fastball that is not exactly a dominant pitch, but his average velocity has increased by about 1.5 MPH. McHugh’s bread and butter is the breaking stuff. He throws a slider almost 25% of the time and it grades out as a positive pitch with a swinging strike rate of almost 15%. His curve is even better with a swinging K rate of 17%. McHugh uses the curve about 23% of the time and he does a great job commanding it and keeping it low in the zone despite a ton of movement.
Ks and BBs
McHugh walks too many batters. He has a BB/9 of 3.56, which is slightly higher than his career average. Recently, walks have really become an issue as he has issued 17 free passes in his last 28.1 innings.
These walks however, become more acceptable when you look at the K rates. McHugh is striking out 27.6% of the batters he faces for a ridiculous K/9 of 10.23. Despite a relatively high walk total, Mchugh’s K/BB rate sits at 2.87 and his K%-BB% is an awesome 18%. These strikeout numbers are almost unheard of for SPs. McHugh ranks right below early round studs like Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and David Price. That is some pretty exclusive company.
Perhaps what is most impressive about McHugh’s strikeout numbers is the fact that it looks sustainable. While he has never achieved a K rate this high at any level, the swinging strike rates on his secondary pitches definitely support a K/9 well over 9. Unless hitters start to figure out that curve, McHugh will be among the K/9 leaders at season’s end.
Batted Ball Profile
McHugh has a slight fly ball tilt to his batted ball profile. Both his fly ball and ground ball rates sitting between 39 and 40% and he has a line drive rate of 21.5%. Based on this data, it appears that his .242 BABIP is unsustainable. Some ERA and WHIP regression needs to be expected over the season’s second half as more of those line drives find holes.
During his previous MLB cameos, McHugh had lots of HR trouble with a HR/FB rate over 18%. This season, it is down to a much more manageable 10.5%. This 2014 number seems to be in line with McHugh’s minor league data. While there is always a chance that we see a spike in HRs if McHugh starts having trouble with his command, I think it is more likely that he is able to keep a neutral HR/9 that hovers around 1.
Over his last 5 starts, McHugh has struggled to an 0-4 record. Over that span, his ERA has been 4.45 and he has posted a WHIP of 1.31. The Ks have still been plentiful with 35 in 28.1 innings. While these numbers aren’t terrible, they have caused a few owners to jump ship. I am certainly worried about the 5 HRs and the 17 walks issued during that stretch, but McHugh has been good enough that his owners need to stay patient with him through a rough patch like this one.
McHugh had a rough go against the Angels in more ways than one. While the final numbers were not terrible, (4 IP, 4 H, 2 BB, 2 ER, 4K) they were not great either. McHugh was able to dodge the long ball today, but he did walk two more batters before getting lifted with a fingernail avulsion after the 4th. The injury is not serious, but weekly league owners might want to bench him next week just in case.
Collin McHugh is not a fantasy ace. He does not pitch deep into games and his peripheral stats suggest that his ERA and WHIP will go up in the near future. Still though, his strikeout rate is comparable to aces that usually get drafted in the top 4 rounds every year. Factor in that he is capable of delivering neutral ERA and WHIP numbers from here on out, and I can’t understand why McHugh is unowned in so many leagues. If your league is one where owners have overreacted, go and grab him. He is good enough to be on fantasy rosters the rest of the way.
I wanted to analyze Jess Hahn this week as my commonly available pitcher, but his ownership numbers have jumped so quickly that he no longer falls under the 40% threshold. As always, if you have a recommendation on a pitcher you want me to look at, hit me up in the comments. Thanks for reading!