by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
We all know that fantasy owners can overreact to small sample sizes, and that’s where the savvy owner should be trying to take advantage. Which starting pitchers are prime targets for fantasy owners? Who should be turning it around in short order? Let’s take a look at two potential options:
Jon Gray – Colorado Rockies
There always is risk when investing in Colorado starting pitchers, due to the Coors Field factor, though there was hope that Gray could overcome that this season. That should add to a buying opportunity, as he has gotten off to a terrible start over his first four outings, with a 6.23 ERA and 1.52 WHIP. With three of his four starts coming on the road, his home ballpark doesn’t appear to be the issue (though he allowed 2 of his 3 HR in his lone home start).
It’s interesting when you look at the three skills we generally focus on:
- Strikeouts – 9.55 K/9
- Control – 2.08 BB/9
- Groundballs – 39.4%
Gray owns a 44.9% career groundball rate and he hasn’t changed his pitch mix in the early going. It’s easy to expect the groundball rate to improve (and it was dragged down significantly by his last outing against Washington, when he posted a 17.6% mark), and as it is his 1.25 HR/9 isn’t a significant issue.
The problem here has clearly been luck related, as he owns a .385 BABIP and 63.8% strand rate. Of course a 31.8% line drive rate would seem to indicate that the issue isn’t “luck” at all, though most of the damage has come against his secondary pitches. It’s possible he’s simply still rounding into form, and things should improve before long.
Verdict – Well worth buying
Jon Lester – Chicago Cubs
It’s been a slow start for Lester, who has struggled in two of this three outings and amassed a 4.40 ERA over 14.1 innings. It’s interesting that he’s generating more groundballs (56.5%), though it’s an extremely small sample size, while he’s struggled in the other two skills we focus on:
- Strikeouts – 6.91 K/9
- Control – 4.40 BB/9
He currently is sporting what would be a career best SwStr% (11.3%) and O-Swing% (34.6%), so you would think he would improve in both of those areas. The real question is if he can improve his production on his “Hard” pitches, as opponents appear to be teeing off on them (AVG/SLG):
- Fourseam – .304/.609
- Sinker – .444/.556
- Cutter – .500/.625
Those numbers are obviously highly concerning, and with a 4.18 ERA in September being his best ERA of the second half of ’17 things look that much worse.
The underlying number still offer promise, and he hasn’t shown a decrease in velocity. That would appear ti indicate that he should be able to turn things around, and as he starts improving both his strikeout and walk rates the other results should follow. It’s easy to get frustrated by the slow start, but take advantage of that.
Verdict – Well worth buying
Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball
Missed our Top 100 prospect rankings? Make sure to check it out by clicking here.