Believer or Deceiver: Do Stats Mean We Should Be Trusting These “Hot” Starting Pitchers?

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

Strong stats are nice to see, but as we all know what we see on the surface doesn’t necessarily tell the entire story.  Should we be believing in these players or should we being extracting as much value as we think we can before cutting bait and moving on?  Let’s take a look at a few intriguing names and how we should proceed:

 

Vincent Velasquez – Philadelphia Phillies
After a rough start to the season (4 ER on 9 H and 2 BB over 2.2 IP in Atlanta) Velasquez has seemingly turned it around.  In his subsequent two starts he’s allowed a total of 2 ER on 8 H and 2 BB, striking out 13, over 12.2 innings.  Of course we have to take the matchups into account:

  • Miami Marlins – .598 OPS (worst in MLB)
  • Tampa Bay Rays – .650 OPS (seventh lowest in MLB)

These are two pitiful offenses, so it’s hard to get overly excited and try to declare that he’s figured it out (he owns a career 4.40 ERA over 274.0 innings after all).  That said he has changed his approach, at least a little bit, throwing fewer changeups (9.80% to 5.77%) and more curveballs (12.57% to 18.85%).  Of course his curveball has yielded a 4.08% Whiff% this season (6.29% in ’17) and opponents are hitting .500 against it.  It’s hard to call the change a positive.

In fact his SwStr% (9.9%) and O-Swing% (21.8%) hardly justify his impressive 9.98 K/9 and 2.35 BB/9.  Throw in the fact that he has yet to give up a home run, despite a 37.8% groundball rate (1.35 HR/9 for his career), and what exactly are we buying?  Things may look different due to two good starts against poor teams, but right now it’s hard to imagine him maintaining it.

Verdict – Deceiver

 

Ian Kennedy – Kansas City Royals
We’ve long viewed Kennedy as a potential streaming option, but hardly a starting pitcher who was going to make a true difference over the long haul.  Does three strong starts at the beginning of the season really change that outlook?  They have been impressive, with a 1.00 ERA and 1.06 WHIP, though how do these numbers play in your mind:

  • Control – 2.00 BB/9
  • Groundballs – 28.0%
  • Home Runs – 0.50 HR/9
  • Strand Rate – 96.6%

For a pitcher who owns a career 1.24 HR/9 (1.52 or higher each of the past three years) who is generating fewer groundballs than in the past, he hasn’t been burned by the long ball yet?  That alone would appear to make him a ticking time bomb.  Now throw in control that he won’t be able to maintain (3.05 career BB/9) and a strand rate that’s going to implode and the long-term outlook is bleak.

Selling him isn’t really an option, because no one is going to be willing to pay much.  Knowing the outlook and not getting infatuated is the real key.  Take advantage while you can, but be ready to cut bait and move on.

Verdict – Deceiver

Sources – Fangaphs, Brooks Baseball, MLB.com

Missed our Top 100 prospect rankings?  Make sure to check it out by clicking here.  

6 comments

  1. Barry says:

    This is off topic, however I was hoping you could offer your opinion. We are in a 12 team 6×6 OPS/QS league. There is a debate about dropping Wins as a pitching category and replacing it with Holds or K/9 to help bring relievers more into play next year. Any other category options you could offer or does one of the two already mentioned appeal to you more? Again, your thoughts are greatly appreciated.

    • Rotoprofessor says:

      Dropping W to go to HLD would really lessen the value of starting pitchers (IMO). I’m a “traditionalist” in a sense, as even though it’s frustrating I still lean towards keeping W as a category. K/9 would just be too similar to straight K

      • Kris says:

        A few years ago we dropped wins and switched to Quality Starts (QS), which at the time was a great way to increase the value of starting pitchers. Now a quality start has almost become as hard to get as a win with pitchers being pulled in the sixth inning more often than not before they reach the QS minimums.

        • Barry says:

          I appreciate the feedback fellas.

          • Josh says:

            If you’re looking for a way to bring more relievers into play, switching from saves to saves + holds has worked well for us. Closers become less valuable due to the increase in the amount of rosterable relievers but most in the league have agreed it was a positive change.

        • Bags says:

          I very much agree with the switch from W to QS, but in no way does it increase the value of relievers. We did this in my primary league and it much better represents the starting pitcher as the asset versus the value of the starting pitcher being on a good team who can back his start with runs.

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