The dreaded Monday of All-Star week is rapidly approaching. You know, that day each year when you realize how completely addicted you are to fantasy baseball. There are no lineups to set, no games to watch, and no box scores to scour, and you realize that you don’t have a life outside of fantasy baseball. Don’t worry, we get how you fell, which is why the Fantasy Assembly will give you a brief reprieve on this dreaded day by releasing our mid-season rankings.
And since teams haven’t yet released their probable starters for the games following all-star week, I’m unable to provide you with a Week 16 Stream Team feature. In place of my regular feature, I’ll therefore provide you with a brief teaser of our rankings by taking a closer look at four pitchers — Rick Porcello, Alex Cobb, Mike Minor, and Garrett Richards — who I had ranked significantly higher or lower than the other writers here at the Fantasy Assembly. Upon closer examination, there are a few pitchers I would move in my rankings, but I’m sticking with my guns on a few others.
Be sure to let me know how you rank these players in the comments section.
I ranked Rick Porcello more than 30 spots lower than any other writer on the Fantasy Assembly team, which was the most drastic difference of any pitcher we ranked. While Porcello has an outstanding 11 wins and a usable 1.18 WHIP and 3.53 ERA, his 5.13 K/9 is the third worst among qualified starters in all of baseball. But it’s not like anyone is counting on Porcello for strikeouts. If you’re using Porcello, it’s because you believe he can maintain his ratios and pick up wins while pitching for one of the best teams in baseball. I just don’t think he can do that.
Porcello’s fastball velocity is down from last year, he’ inducing less swinging strikes, and he’s giving up more line drives. When I look at his profile, there’s nothing skill related that gets me excited. So where has his improvement come from? He’s gotten by to this point thanks to a 74.0 LOB% that is nearly five points better than his career average and a BABIP that is more than 30 points below his career norm. Porcello is currently ranked 141st on Yahoo’s Player Rater, and he has needed to have luck on his side to pull that off. If there’s a manager in your league who believes Porcello is going to continue on this path, I would sell in a heartbeat. If not, I believe you can cut Porcello and get better production streaming pitchers. My top streaming recommendations for the month of June went 16-3 with a 2.33 ERA, a 1.15 WHIP, and 6.2 K/9. Porcello isn’t going to match those numbers in the second half, so I don’t think he should be owned. I’m sticking with my guns here — Rick Porcello should not be owned in mixed 12 team leagues.
Alex Cobb vs Mike Minor
Alex Cobb and Mike Minor present an interesting point of comparison because I have Cobb ranked about 30 spots lower than our composite rankings and I am the only Fantasy Assembly writer to rank Minor higher than Cobb.
With regards to Cobb, I get the feeling some of his value is being derived from last year’s 2.76 ERA, a number which was aided by a very fortuitous 81.4% LOB. I think some of his value is also coming from the fact that he’s a great young pitcher. If I was the general manager of a Major League team, I’d prefer Cobb to Minor without question. But we are only concerned with stats and Minor has the advantage of pitching on a better team as well as the advantage of pitching in the worst hitting division in baseball.
When I look at pitching profiles, the first thing I always look at are strikeout and walk rates, and Minor has a slight edge here. While Minor was a bit of a finesse pitcher last season, he still managed a better K-BB% than Cobb. This season, Minor continues to have the lower walk rates but he has also surpassed Cobb with regards to strikeout rates.
In addition to strikeout and walk rates, I also place a lot of weight on potential injury risk and arm fatigue when ranking pitchers, something which becomes even more crucial if you play in H2H leagues with a playoff format. Worries about Masahiro Tanaka’s arm fatigue and injury risk is the reason I had Tanaka ranked the second lowest of any writer on our staff prior to his UCL tear, and it’s another reason that I prefer Minor to Cobb. Cobb has only thrown more than 140 innings twice in his career and he has never topped 175 innings. Minor, on the other hand, logged 179.1 innings in 2012 and 204.2 innings last season. Both pitchers have spent time on the disabled list already this season, but I think Cobb is more likely to find himself there again. Again, the edge goes to Minor.
When comparing Minor and Cobb, there’s really only one statistic that draws me towards Cobb, and admittedly, it’s an important one: Cobb has an elite 15.2% line drive rate whereas Minor has an atrocious 24.8% rate. These rates certainly contribute to Cobb’s 1.15 WHIP and Minor’s 1.45 WHIP, but when you consider that Cobb is an extreme ground ball pitcher, it seems his 38 point advantage in BABIP versus Minor is still rather fortunate. Minor also improved upon his line drive rate recently as he has posted a 20.7 LD% over his first three starts in the month of July.
At the end of the day, both of these pitchers should help your fantasy team down the stretch, and they should probably be ranked within the same tier. While I’d like to hedge my bet here by knocking Minor down a few rungs in my rankings and raising Cobb up a bit, at the end of the day I still prefer Minor. He’s had better strikeout and walk rates, he’s logged more innings with a clean bill of health, he pitches for a the better team, and he faces weaker competition. In my opinion, that’s enough to overcome his poor line drive rate so far this season.
I ranked Garrett Richards higher than any other writer on the Fantasy Assembly team and I am the only writer to have him ranked among my top 20 starting pitchers in my rest of season rankings. Of 95 qualified starting pitchers, Richards has the fastest average fastball velocity and his fastball, according to Fangraph’s pitch value, is the fourth best in baseball. He also has a lethal slider, also ranked fourth best among starters, and although he doesn’t throw it often, he has a plus-value curve ball. Not surprisingly, having two elite pitches has helped Richards post fantastic numbers across the stat sheets. He is one of only 16 qualified starters averaging more than a strikeout per inning, he has the 22nd best K-BB% in baseball, and he has the 8th lowest FIP. Throw in that Richards’ strikeout and walk rates have been improving as the season goes along and it seems to me that we have a pitcher who has figured things out. And in case your worried that the league is going to figure Richards out, it’s worth noting that his strikeout and walk rates have been steadily improving each month of the season.
There’s really only one thing I worry about when it comes to Richards, and that’s arm fatigue. Richards threw 142 innings in 2010, 154 innings in 2011, 148 innings in 2012, and 145 innings in 2013. He’s already thrown 116.1 innings in 2014. This is a major red flag, but there are at least some positive signs. For example, in Richards last four starts, he has posted his four highest average fastball velocities so far this season. He is also pitches for a team that will be vying for a playoff spot and which should do whatever they can to keep him on the mound for the entire season. have zero doubts at this time about his ability, and there’s enough here to convince me to take a chance on his arm. I’m keeping Richards in my top 20, but I’m a bit nervous about doing so.