How Is This Happening?
I've only said it about 1,629 times, and I've continued to write about it recently in Bonds, Ruth and Bautista? Sometimes, things occur that defy explanation. I could sit here and spend the next 13 weeks writing a massive compendium of a work detailing how this doesn't make sense, or how that can't possibly continue. More times than not I'm going to be right, but of course no one is 100 percent correct, not me, not historical track records, or even the numbers themselves (hello Jose Bautista).
Still, I remain undaunted.
I'm going to hit on a handful of hurlers that I think are pretty much sure bets to regress as the season moves forward. Before I list the actual hurlers I'd suggest you familiarize yourself with my thought process as to why the soon to be mentioned hurlers will be unable to remain on their current paths to greatness.
The easiest way to understand where I'm coming from is to give Which Pitchers Should I Target? a read. In that piece I lay out the basics which, simply put, say to target pitchers with a K/9 rate of 6.50 and a BB/9 mark of 3.30 or lower. Of course pitchers can have success not hitting both of those levels (let me be clear there are always pitchers who succeed without hitting both those targets), especially those that are ground ball hurlers, but it's a nice general rule to go by when assembling a fantasy rotation. In addition, keep in mind that starting pitchers only contribute in four of the five traditional categories, so even if the guy has a “good” season, if he only strikes out 120 batters he really doesn't help your squad that much.
With that, here are a handful of pitchers who it would be wise to deal now if you are in a mixed league before their seasons go from great to merely average (some of the names listed should be obvious, but based on the questions I get every day, it doesn't seem like everyone is in agreement).
Note: xFIP is a measure that normalizes home run rates and tells you what a pitchers actual ERA should be based upon the factors that are in his control.
Nick Blackburn: 3.20 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 4.87 K/9, 2.78 BB/9, 3.85 xFIP Blackburn normally throws strikes, but he simply doesn't miss any bats. He has offset that issue by inducing a career best 53 percent of batted balls toward the infield grass (career 47 percent). However, he's giving up more liners than he has the last three years and his walk rate is also a career worst. Get out quick.
Zack Britton: 2.35 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 4.85 K/9, 2.91 BB/9, 3.80 xFIP Doing an even better job than Blackburn inducing grounders (56 percent), this rookie has been terrific. Still, there's little other than his impressive ground ball rate to really like here. Given that fact, and that even in a best case scenario that the team could limit his innings late in the year, it would be wise to see if someone would give you starter #2 value for a guy who really is a #4 at best.
Jair Jurrjens: 1.56 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 5.15 K/9, 1.40 BB/9, 2.73 xFIP You know he isn't Greg Maddux so a regression is coming. The question is – how much? Here is what I see. He's got the worst K-rate of his career, more than a full batter below his career mark. His walk rate is fantastic, but this is a guy who has for each of the past four years posted a mark of at least 3.14. Is he really going to cut that in half? His HR/9 rate is half of normal. His left on base percentage is 86 percent. For his career it's 74.4. He does have a strong 1.59 GB/FB ratio, but that doesn't make up for everything else.
Kyle Lohse: 2.06 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 4.96 K/9, 1.70 BB/9, 3.61 xFIP Unlike others on this list, Lohse has an extensive history of a decade of major league work. Beyond the obvious, things like never posting an ERA under 3.78 or a WHIP better than 1.27 in any season, are the following points. His K-rate is the 2nd worst of his 11 year career. He's BB-rate is a full batter below his career mark. His HR/9 mark is literally a third of normal (0.36 compared to 1.11). His BABIP is .080 points below his career rate. His 80 percent LOB mark is 10 percentage points clear of his career rate. Oh, and his GB/FB ratio of 1.29 is only slightly better than his career 1.13 rate. You're playing with fire if you continue to handle Lohse.
Charlie Morton: 2.61 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 4.79 K/9, 4.21 BB/9, 3.89 xFIP He looks like Roy Halladay with his revamped delivery and he has generated a rather amazing 62.5 percent ground ball rate leading to a stupendous 3.43 GB/FB ratio. I don't think he can keep up that rate, but even if it falls to 2.43 he should be able to have real world success. Still, he's just not a solid fantasy option in mixed leagues. He never strikes anyone out, walks more batters than the big league average, and though his line drive rate is the same as always, his BABIP is .262, a mere .047 points lower than normal. Oh, and don't get me started on his 80 percent LOB mark which is only 15 percentage points better than his career rate.
Josh Tomlin: 2.41 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 4.53 K/9, 1.51 BB/9, 4.25 xFIP Unlike others on this list who have had a lot of success because they have kept the ball on the ground, Tomlin has been nothing other than average in that category. In fact, he's been worse than big league average with a 37 percent ground ball rate leading to a a terrible 0.89 GB/FB mark (the league average is usually about 1.10). So how has he had success? Sheer luck. He rarely misses a bat, and when the ball does hit the wood, he's been about the luckiest cat on the planet. Though his line drive rate is nearly 22 percent, his BABIP is .175. You remember that the big league averages are 19-20 and .300 right? That means Tomlin is giving up more line drives than average but that he is somehow holding batters to a hit rate that is only 2/3 of normal. There is on way that trend will remain intact the rest of the season.
By Ray Flowers
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The co-host of The Drive on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (Sirius 210, XM 87: Mon-Fri 7-10 PM EDT), Ray also hosts his own show Sunday night (7-10 PM EDT). Ray has spent years squirreled away studying the inner workings of the fantasy game to the detriment of his personal life. Specializing in baseball, football and hockey, some consider him an expert in all three.
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