Toe the Rubber: Week 6

Hello and good morning everyone! This last week was a bit exciting! We saw a combined no-hitter in a place we were all told would be comparable to Coor’s Field. There were strikeouts galore from many pitchers. Eight pitchers tallied 15 or more k’s this past week, two of those guys only made one appearance (Paxton & Cole).

Trevor Cahill and James Shields had some outings that you’d shake your head at, for good reasons. Cahill struck out 12 batters in 6 innings of work. I wouldn’t get too worked up about that as it came at the expense of the Orioles. I’m not sure what’s going on in Baltimore, but at this point it looks like absolutely nothing. Cahill’s strikeouts are up through four starts, so that is worth monitoring. Shields began his start against the Twins with 6 no-hit innings before derailing a bit in the 7th. That may be worth noting as he’s pitched well against two good teams his last two times out (Twins & Cardinals), but please, don’t rush out to add him. He’s available in nearly 98% of leagues and he’s on a terrible team.

We can’t forget about the Matt Harvey saga. His days in New York were terminated at the end of last week because, to put it bluntly, he’s awful. The Mets gave him an out, take a trip to the minor to get his head right and game back on track, but he declined that. He’s now been traded to the Reds, which probably won’t help his woes as Great American Ballpark is as hitter-friendly as they get. What Harvey needs is to take a step back, regroup, and attack the game at a different angle. He’s not the power pitcher he was when he came into the game.

New Ace in the Bronx

Okay, so maybe the small headline for this section is a little misleading. Severino was an ace last season, but he was still overshadowed by others in the rotation. This season he seems to have grasped onto the reigns and is leading the team by virtue of his right arm.

Through seven starts Severino is working with a career best in ERA, WHIP, H/9, and BB/9. He’s also sporting a career best .236 BABIP, though I expect that number to regress, but nothing major that’ll effect other stats in dire amounts. Through his years in the minors Severino always had great control, only topping 3 BB/9 once. His current BB/9 of 2.3 is more than sustainable rest of season. Severino’s currently ERA sits at 2.11. If compared to last year’s ERA of 2.98, that is also something sustainable rest of season, though if it stays at 2.11 he’ll arguably be the Cy Young winner.

Severino is the definition of a power pitcher. He’s doing all this masterful work on only three pitches, fastball-slider-change. Batters know what he has, but his stuff is so unhittable even sitting fastball they can’t do anything with it. A HR/9 of 0.38 boost that sentiment. Severino is not only striking out more than 10 per 9, but he’s limiting hard contact when hitters do put the ball in play. Throw in the groundball rate of 51.8% and teams just aren’t going to get rallies started against this guy.

In the past years, as well as his outing against Boston this year, Severino gets himself into trouble when hitters start elevating the ball. As mentioned in the last paragraph, Severino has been a groundball pitcher throughout his career, whether it was in the minors or with the big-league club. Yes, he’s going to get roughed up a few times a year, that’s part of the game. There’s no way I don’t trot Severino out there for all of his 30+ starts this season.

We had Luis Severino as top 10 SP in our pre-season rankings for a reason. Right now, he’s showing us he should’ve been in the top 5. He’s definitely a “buy high” guy for me right now. If you can pry him away from his owner give it a shot. Top-tier pitching is much harder to replace than top-tier hitting.

Are the Skies Gray in Colorado?

On a personal level I’ve never bought in to Jon Gray that much. He’s been in the league for parts of four seasons now, he was a top 40 prospect in baseball three straight seasons, and he’s sported a career K/9 of 9.5, but he’s never caught my interest. That could be simply due to the fact he pitches in Colorado and nothing more. Let’s break down Gray a little and see if my lack of interest is warranted and should reflect on to you guys or if I’m way off.

As of writing this article, prior to his start against the Angels, Jon Gray sits at 3-4 with an ERA of 4.99, K/9 of 9.3 and a BB/9 of 2.27. The ERA number can be taken with a grain of salt because his FIP suggests he’s been much better than that (3.57). Part of that could be the .333 BABIP he’s working with, though his career BABIP is .329.

Through his first seven starts of this season most of his numbers are right on par with what they’ve been the last three seasons, roughly 400 innings. Some encouragement that can be found in that are the steady amount of strikeouts Gray gets as well as the number of groundballs he induces.

Looking at the “go to” numbers Gray profiles as a top 35 guy, but he hasn’t necessarily lived up to that at this point. Could it be his home/road splits? Gray has 65 starts in his career, 35 of those have been on the road. The eye-brow raiser here is his road ERA is only half a run better than his home ERA (4.21 to 4.76). With the profile Gray brings to the table you’d like to see that road ERA be a full run less, if not more. Gray has struck out more batters on the road (9.8 K/9 to 9.1), which is to be expected as pitches don’t break quite the same in higher altitude. When looking at his WHIP, whether home or away it doesn’t matter, it’s at 1.31 and 1.32.

As I said, all Gray’s numbers profile him to be better than he is. Looking at plate discipline numbers, Gray could just simply live in the strike zone too much. Through his career he’s been in the strike zone 47.7% of the time, which is above league average. He also doesn’t get hitters to chase outside of the zone too much, 29.3% for his career, slightly below league average.

I’ve touched in previous articles on valuing guys off the waiver wire a bit more than Gray and I stand by that. Yes, Gray has the stuff to be a top 35 arm, he just doesn’t put it together and all I can say to that is, Coor’s Field. He’s currently owned in 67% of leagues on ESPN, which is probably a bit high yet. If you’re an owner of Gray I don’t see an immediate reason to drop him, but if a better arm appears on the wire don’t think twice about it. He’s a good source of k’s in category and roto leagues, but he’s going to hurt your other ratios.

Where Does Weaver Belong?

Luke Weaver was a top 100 prospect in baseball prior to the 2017 season. This is after he made his debut during the 2016 season, notching 8 starts in 9 appearances. Last season he made 10 starts and came out of the bullpen 3 times. Weaver went on a 6-start streak from August 23 to September 20 where he showed why he was a top prospect in the Cardinals system as well as all of baseball. During his final two starts of the season the proverbial wheels fell off and his ERA went from 2.05 to 3.88, still very respectable for 23-year old arm.

Now that we have a little back story let’s take a look at this season. Weaver’s first three starts this season were good. Across those three starts he tallied 17.1 innings, only allowed 4 runs (2.08 ERA), and had a K/9 of 8.8 and a BB/9 of 2.6. His last four starts have been far from appealing. He’s only recorded two more outs in his last four starts than he did in his first three. Weaver has an ERA of 9.00, a K/9 of 7.5 and a BB/9 of 5. Through seven starts this year we’ve seen two different Luke Weaver’s. Which one is the one we can come to expect seeing on a start-to-start basis?

When looking at Weaver’s overall season numbers this year the only thing that really scares me is the BB/9 of 3.82. Being in the National League he can afford a bit of a higher walk rate, but you still can’t put guys no base without making them put the ball in play, bad things are going to happen. The ERA of 5.60 is a bit frightening to the naked eye but look a little further and you’ll see his FIP is 3.45 and his strand rate is only 60.2%. All three numbers mentioned (BB/9, ERA, strand rate) are things that can be easily corrected.

Throughout Weaver’s career his highest walk rate came during his brief stint at the end of the season with the Cardinals in 2016 (2.97). He’s never really had much of a control issue in his past. Looking back at all his stops in the minors, his strand rate has never been below 72%. Another sign that things will be corrected is the lack of hard contact. Weaver has a 0.51 HR/9 on the season, limiting hitters to soft/medium contact 71% of the time.

Right now, the third time through the order for Weaver is killing him. Whether that’s related to the new pitch he’s worked in that maybe isn’t quite working (slurveball) or something else, only hitters can tell us that. Aside from that, I’d stand pat with Weaver for the time being. If you’re not a Weaver owner look to buy low on him. There are enough underlying metrics that support Weaver being more like his first three starts, though to expect a low 2’s ERA is a little crazy. Weaver will likely profile as a low-to-mid 3’s ERA pitcher the rest of the way with a K/9 somewhere between the 9 and 10 mark.

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Most Added

Walker Buehler, SP/RP, Dodgers                +34.5% to 57.2%

Michael Soroka, SP, Braves                          +29.4% to 33.7%

Miles Mikolas, SP, Cardinals                         +25.3% to 68.4%

Sean Newcomb, SP, Braves                          +25.1% to 45.5%

Caleb Smith, SP, Marlins                                +24.2% to 29.2%

A common denominator on all these guys is their relative inexperience in the big leagues. Apart from Mikolas, they can all be thrown into the “prospect” pool. Mikolas could be considered a prospect if it weren’t for the previous work he had in the MLB before going overseas to resurrect his career.

Buehler and Soroka are both great arms, but how great they’ll be on the fantasy level is somewhat a mystery. They both seem to be sticking in their teams starting rotation, but the length they’re allowed to pitch isn’t going to be real deep. Buehler went 6 the last time he was out, but that seems like the most he’ll pitch in one outing. Soroka got roughed up by the Giants, but it was only his second start. He, like Buehler, will probably be limited to 6-inning outings at best. Both pitchers could be great stashes in deep leagues, but at this point they might only be streamer-worthy in shallower leagues.

In the complete opposite direction of the last two, Mikolas has gone 7 innings in his last four outings and with a start coming up Thursday against San Diego I’d expect that number to stretch to five. He’s a pitch-to-contact kind of guy (K/9 of 6.9), but he’s not getting hit hard. He’s available in over 30% of leagues on ESPN, so if that’s your platform and he’s out there snatch him up. I’d rather have Mikolas than guys like Chase Anderson and Michael Fulmer.

Sean Newcomb seems to be the definition of “what have you done for me lately” in the fantasy baseball world. He’s coming off a superb outing in Queens, which is a cause for the jump in ownership. At 45% owned he’s vastly undervalued. He’s had two outings allowing 4+ runs and his walks have been a bit on the high side, but that’s nothing new. Newcomb has starts at Tampa Bay, which you’ll miss if you add him after reading this, and at Miami this week. He’s more under-owned then Marcus Stroman and Chad Bettis. I do think Stroman rebounds, but at this time Newcomb should be owned more than both of those guys.

Caleb Smith seems to be a beneficiary of analytics. After his bombing in New York the Marlins personnel broke down his spin rate information to him and that has worked wonders. Over his last three starts he’s only walked 2 batters while striking out 26. If you’ve got roster space, it’s worth the risk to add Smith now. His uptick in strikeouts and decline in walks suggest he’s onto something big. Here’s another stat for you, only Max Scherzer has more swings and misses on pitches in the strike zone than Smith. When you’re compared to Scherzer in anything you know your stuff is good. He’s definitely more valuable than Odorizzi and Tyler Chatwood. (I had Chatwood as a sleeper, that looks like a mistake)

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Lines of the Week

Buehler/Cingrani/Garcia/Liberatore @ Padres: 9 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 5 BB, 13 K, WIN

James Paxton @ Blue Jays: 9 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 7 K, WIN

Gerrit Cole @ D’Backs: 9 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 16 K, WIN

Luis Severino @ Astros: 9 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 10 K, WIN

Max Scherzer vs Phillies: 6.1 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 15 K, ND

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After today you won’t hear from me for roughly a month. I’ll be giving monthly roundups on pitching. Segments might be a little different, touching on my pitchers of the month, giving you info on the duds of the month also. If you’ve got questions, I’ll still take them anytime! Submit your takes on who you think should be the pitchers of the month for May as the month ends. I’m always looking to engage with readers and baseball fans. You can reach me on Twitter @KennyGarvey. Have a great month of May! We’ll catch you at the beginning of June to break down all of May’s action!

Kenny Garvey

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I'm from eastern Iowa, yes there are more things than just corn here. I'm a baseball nerd. If there's a game televised you can bet I've got it on! Family and baseball keep me sane. Fantasy baseball far outweighs fantasy football, no doubt about it!

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