Believe it or Not: The Sequel

In last week’s Beleive it or Not I took a look at some starting pitchers who had strong finish to the 2015 season and what that could mean  for their 2016 seasons. This time I am flipping it around and taking a look at a few well-known names that had, well, let’s just say a less than stellar finishes to the 2015 seasons. Were those down performances indicative of what we can expect in 2016?

Believe It Or Not

Johnny Cueto, Giants – When the Royals made the move to bring Cueto into their rotation, they thought they had solidified themselves as a strong contender for the American League pennant. Now sure, they did win the American League pennant and, as it happened, the World Series as well, but how much of that was due to Cueto joining the Royals’ rotation? When the Royals got Cueto, he was 7-6 with a 2.62 ERA, a .93 WHIP and a K/9 of 8.27 – what was not to love for KC? Those are fantastic numbers, but those numbers were not what the Royals would get down the stretch, oh, no, no, no. In 13 starts as a Royal, Cueto went 4-7 with a 4.76 ERA, a 1.45 WHIP and a K/9 of (gulp) 6.20. Should the Royals have seen this coming? Some regression was sure to come since Cueto came to them with an xFIP in the mid-threes, and there of course would be adjustments to the American League, but an ERA close to five?! His FIP in KC seem to point to an ERA around four being a reasonable expectation, but even that is not what the crowned ones thought they were getting. So what happened?

Cueto is type of pitcher that has constantly outperformed the FIP data, generally posting ERA’s around a run lower than what the advanced statistics would tend to project. While his stuff and such is much, much different, the discrepancies between actual ERA and what the data tells us his ERA should be, kind of reminds me of Jered Weaver. Again, completely different pitchers, but will Cueto start to regress more towards what his FIP has told us to expect over the past few seasons? I mean, from a fantasy standpoint, do we really care about his FIP data? OK, somewhat, but the actual 5×5 numbers are what you care about more. Lucky or not, good numbers will get you a fantasy championships. So the question remains, are the good numbers a thing of the past for Cueto?

Cueto did not change much as far as pitch selection or velocities when he moved to KC, so maybe it was mostly just adjusting to the league. Three of Cueto’s last four starts were quality, and the one that wasn’t saw him throw five innings and allow just one lone run. Cueto’s postseason was up and down though, mixing two fairly bad starts with two gems, including a complete game in his last start. The fact is, this rough finish with KC could drop his draft value (currently the 22nd pitcher off the board on average), but let’s remember the team name next to Cueto’s at the start of this – San Francisco Giants. Not only does Cueto get to return to the National League, but he gets to do so with a team that plays in one of the most pitcher friendly parks around. While I don’t quite expect his 2015 Reds numbers, I think he will post numbers closer to them than to his numbers whilst with Kansas City. Look for an ERA in the low threes and a K/9 back around eight, which makes Cueto, at the very least, an SP2.

Derek Holland, Rangers – After a somewhat promising 2013, injuries limited Holland to just five starts in 2014, but in those five starts Holland sported a sub-two ERA, a 1.05 WHIP and a 2.19 FIP. Sample size was small, but promising nonetheless. Injuries quickly cut into Holland’s 2015 season as well, as he would only toss one inning before August. Holland’s first four starts were fairly solid as he went 3-0, allowing just seven earned runs in over 29.1 innings. Everything was just hunky dory and Holland was sure to become a hot commodity in the fantasy baseball world, that is until the wheels kind of started to fall off.

First off, I think it bears mentioning that in those four starts, Holland had a FIP of 3.71 so that ERA was a bit deceiving, but even so, what happened next was somewhat out of nowhere. Over Holland’s last six starts he had an ERA over six with a FIP slightly lower than that. There did not seem to be any fundamental changes in Holland’s pitch selection or plan of attack, but for whatever reason he was giving up more hard hit balls in those last six starts than he had previously done. While I was never really “in” on Holland, I never thought he was a pitcher that would post an ERA over five. On the other hand, I don’t think Holland is a pitcher that will post an ERA below three, either. A K/9 in the low to mid-sevens combined with a ground ball rate around 40% doesn’t make Holland a pitcher I want on any of my rosters. I think you can get some good streams out of Holland, but on the whole, look for an ERA in the high threes, with maybe a slightly above average K-rate. Overall, I would say don’t even bank on those 2013 numbers from Holland returning other than in flashes.

Ian Kennedy, Royals – Ian Kennedy is an interesting pitcher when it comes to fantasy. He keeps getting drafted, but over the last 4 years he has only delivered an ERA under 4.0 once.  That was in 2014 when he garnered 13 wins (if you’re into that sort of thing) and sported a serviceable 3.63 ERA, while striking out a little more than a batter per inning. Through May of last season Kennedy was very up and down, making him more stream worthy than someone you’d want to own. But in June things seemed to click as Kennedy rattled off 11 consecutive starts where he allowed no more than three earned runs in any one start. Then after giving up four earned in that 12th start, he did not allow more than two earned runs over his next five. Ownership levels were high, and many wondered if this was actually 2011 where Kennedy put up a sub-three ERA with Arizona. Ian then slogged his way to the finish, allowing four or more runs in his next four games before finishing the seasons with a quality start. So which Ian Kennedy will show up in 2016?

The one thing I really like about Ian Kennedy is strikeouts, in that he will get you your fair share of them. This is probably the main reason his ADP in NFBC drafts is about 80 oslots higher than the aforementioned Derek Holland. Strikeouts can be the great equalizer, but they are not the end all – be all, no matter how much I may make it seem that way. Kennedy can be frustrating, that is for darned sure, but I still kind of like taking a late round flier on him. Overall if you look at his 2015, he pitched well slightly more often than not, and his 3.61 SIERA is somewhat promising. I am not quite sure how the switch to the American League will factor in here, but I still like Kennedy for decent K totals and an ERA in the mid to high threes which is perfectly fine for the back-end of your fantasy rotation. Don’t let the slow finish dissuade you too much. Kennedy is still ownable, and should be drafted in the later rounds.


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Will Emerson

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Affectionately know by close friends as Willie Moe, Will is back living in Boston after brief, 11 year stint, in upstate New York. Will loves numbers and baseball, so it is no surprise that he has been addicted to fantasy baseball for over two decades. That’s right, Will was playing fantasy baseball since before the internet was providing up to the minute stats and standings, and you had to get your hands inky checking box scores in the newspaper.