A look at team Colton & the Wolfman’s Tout Wars AL starting pitching staff highlights this week’s Week That Was.

As the second half begins, Team Colton & the Wolfman is battling, scratching and clawing to get back into the Tout Wars AL and LABR AL races in attempts to repeat and raise the trophy again.  With so little action in the short week that was, I thought it would be interesting and fun to take a look back at the pitching strategy and choices we made back in March at the Tout Wars auction table and wrote about right here in this space. 

Back in March, we wrote:  “Ace Starting Pitcher:  Gerrit Cole $35:   We made the decision to follow the same path as our title winning 2018 team.  Draft one ace (the A in SMART stands for Ace after all) and then cherry pick value.  Cole is an Ace’s Ace.  403 IP and 472K over the last two years scream Ace.  Plus, he has four (yes FOUR) pitches that achieve a swinging strike rate over 12%.  Oh, and he pitches for a good team so that win total should be secure.  [Note, FIP, says he was even a little bit better than his sub-3.00 ERA].”  Verdict:  Winner!  On the year, Cole has a 3.23 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and a whopping 183K in 122 IP.  The nine wins is not special but not too shabby (plus we have something like a 20 win lead on second place in that category anyway).

Back in March, we wrote: “Other Starting Pitchers:  Domingo Germán $4; Lance Lynn $1; Félix Peña $1; Brett Anderson $1; and Jordan Zimmermann $1:  The Yankees already have rotation injuries so German will get his chance.  German struck out 102 in 85 innings so he has proven his mid-90’s fastball, plus change and plus cutter get results.  Do not be alarmed by the 5.57 ERA as that is inflated by bad luck (62% strand rate) as the sub-4.00 xFIP attests.  If he gets 150 IP this year, we could have a 200K pitcher on our hands.  [Oh, and the 18K with just 2BB in 11 IP this spring ain’t too shabby].  Verdict:  Winner!  German boasts a 3.40 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 90K in 82IP and 11 wins.   I would say the profit on this $4 investment has been substantial.  [Note, given the lead in wins, we just traded German to get a haul that included closer Roberto Osuna .]

Back in March, we wrote: “As to Lance Lynn , we get it – Texas is not a great place to pitch.  However, neither was Yankee Stadium and Lynn posted a solid 3.34 xFIP and 25% K rate in the second half.  With Lynn, I put a lot of stock in those second half numbers as he missed all of 2016 with TJS and it is often the second year post-TJS that shows true colors.  More reason for optimism:  Lynn posted a 50% ground ball rate in 2018 (key to keeping the ball in the park in Texas) and had the highest infield fly ball rate of his career (meaning that when he elevated, he often did so at a proper plane).  Finally, he cut his walks in half after the break, meaning the season-long 1.53 WHIP should not chase you away.  Lynn will not challenge Cole for the role of staff ace but should well outproduce his almost free price tag.”  Verdict:  Winner.  Lynn has outproduced his $1 price tag by a huge margin.  On the year, Lynn has a 3.69 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 12 Wins and 134K in 122IP (oh, and the 2.85 FIP says he has been even better).

Back in March, we wrote: “As to Félix Peña , we were targeting him for the reserve round not day 1 rotation.  However, with the fragile Angels staff, Pena will get his starts.  Altering his pitch mix was successful late in the year as he threw fewer fastballs and more sinkers.  Over his final 60 IP, Pena registered 50K and just 14BB while pitching to a 3.60 ERA.  The season-long advanced metrics also show reason for optimism:  43% ground ball rate; 11% swinging strike rate; and a 62% first pitch strike rate.  [Also, I do not hate the 16K in 11IP this spring].   Verdict: Winner! Yes, he has pitched after an opener but so what?  On the year, Pena has an uninspiring 4.32 ERA but very pretty 1.13 WHIP, more than a K per inning and seven wins to boot.  Given the big jump in swinging strike rate (from 11 to 13.6%), more good things could be on the way.

Back in March we wrote: “As to Brett Anderson , we know he is fragile and that we will likely only get 100 IP (if that).  However, the A’s are good and have a good pen, so wins should be available.  Plus, whatever else you can say about Anderson, he does keep the ball on the ground as his 56% groundball rate from 2018 attests.  Other reasons for optimism – only 4 pitchers in the major leagues registered a higher chase rate than Anderson in the second half.  Will he be a $20 pitcher?  Heck no.  Can he earn $5 or even $7 in support of Cole?  Sure.”  Verdict:  Winner!  On the year, Anderson has a 3.86 ERA and 9 wins.  I will take that for $1 all day every day. 

Finally, as to Jordan Zimmermann , he was pretty effective in the first half of 2018 (3.71 ERA) before trying to pitch through core muscle tears.  If healthy, he could return to that level and win some games against weaker AL Central opponents.  After all, this is a 32 year-old pitcher who was very good from 2011-2016 and who posted his second best K rate since 2011 last year.  Again, he may not make it until May on our roster but there is upside.   Verdict:  Lost but we knew this was the weakest of the lot. 

Bottom line:  Careful study of pitcher’s advanced metrics, new situations, new pitches, health and other soft data can yield bargains and diamonds in the rough that enable more spending on big time hitting. 

Finally, of course, it would not be the Week that Was without the musings of the baron of the bottom of the page!  Schultz says: “With the week that was dominated by the All-Star Break, which holds no roto-value whatsoever, Schultz relies on the fact that the well-proven axiom that "people like lists" remains a viable journalistic crutch. In that vein, The Week That Was presents the mid-season (i.e. shortened version) ALL-SCHULTZ TEAMS by presenting the 2019 PREMATURE VICTORY LAP TEAM. Everyone on this team either started the season in the minors or was so far off everyone's radar that they might have well been in the minors. Four months later, they are helping roto-owners chase a title.

C:  Mitch Garver (MIN): With all the pre-season talk about Williams Astudillo and his remarkable ability to make contact with anything thrown in his direction, the prevailing wisdom was that the Twins catching situation would be a platoon between the rotund Astudillo and the pedestrian Jason Castro . Emblematic of the surprising Twins, Garver has lived up to his potential in 2019, forcing his way into the lineup by hitting 14 HRs and hitting a notable .294.

1B:  Pete Alonso (NYM): It would be inaccurate to say that Alonso was off everyone’s radar but the Mets seemed uncertain as to whether the Polar Bear would be their starting first baseman. With McGwire like quickness, the 2019 Home Run Derby Champion and presumptive NL Rookie of the Year has already cemented his spot as a solid source of power.

2B:  Tommy La Stella (LAA): It has reached the point where no story that comes out of Anaheim strains credulity. So, of course, when a 30-year-old career .264 hitter with 10 career home runs hits .300 with 16 home runs in the first half, it barely registers, unless you defied logic and gambled that his quick start wasn’t a fluke.

SS:  Fernando Tatis, Jr. (SD): With every former MLB star’s son making the starting lineup in Toronto, it’s the son of the man whose only claim to fame is hitting two grand slams in the same inning that made the biggest splash. Tatis Jr.’s .329 14 HR, 33 RBI, 46 R, 14 SB first half is even more impressive when you take into account the weeks he missed with a hamstring injury.

3B:  Gio Urshela (NYY): Cast off from the Indians and Blue Jays, the slick-fielding third baseman discovered his hitting stroke upon being sprinkled with Yankee dust. Rescuing the Bronx Bombers from suffering an Andujar sized hole at the hot corner, his surprising .298, 7 HR, 39 RBI first half likely helped many roto-teams that needed to fill a similar-sized gap in their lineup.

OF:  Scott Kingery (PHI): Last year was supposed to be the coming-out party for the highly touted prospect, whose versatility would garner him much-coveted, multi-position eligibility. To call Kingery’s 2018 disappointing would be a grievous understatement and it tempered, if not eliminated, all expectations for 2019. Truly getting the call in late May, Kingery took his first steps towards becoming a five-category contributor.

OF:  Bryan Reynolds (PIT): No one would blame you for not paying attention to anything transpiring in Pittsburgh besides Josh Bell , even if they are technically in the pennant hunt. What you would be missing is the emergence of the former Vanderbilt star as a bone fide hitting machine. Exhibited modest power, his .333 would place him third in the majors if he had 64 more at-bats.

OF:  Austin Riley (ATL): After crushing minor league pitching, Riley hardly slowed down once he hit the big leagues, turning a temporary visit into a permanent left field gig. His 16 first-half homers (31, if you include the minors) aren’t a fluke and provided a wonderful return on investment to those who foresaw that Riley wasn’t returning to Gwinnett any time soon.

SP:  John Means (BALT): Go figure, the team prompting discussions over historical ineptitude boasts one of the most promising young pitchers in its starting rotation. Anyone who took a flyer on an unheralded hurler with no indicia of roto-productivity has benefitted from a 2.94 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 73 Ks and 7 of the Orioles 28 wins.

SP:  Lucas Giolito (CHW): The ostensible centerpiece of the deal that sent Adam Eaton to Washington, roto-pundits long ago wrote off Giolito as the prospect that refused to prosper. When he started the season with a 5.32 ERA and 1.44 WHIP after 5 starts, it wasn’t even considered disappointing. The switch flipped in early May and Giolito has been one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball (except when facing the Cubs). His 3.15 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 120 Ks and 11 wins have surely been surprising aid to a fortunate roto-owner’s rotation.

SP:  Mike Soroka (ATL): With all eyes on Touki Toussaint and Max Fried , Soroka’s recall from the minors and emergence as a modern-day Greg Maddux went under the radar. While not overpowering, his 2.42 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 9 wins were a fine salve in a year that has seen ERAs and WHIPs skyrocket to untenable heights.

RP:  Luke Jackson (ATL): All the pre-season talk about the fading relevance of the closer and the prevailing belief that every team without a stud-closer would go with a committee turned out to be much ado about nothing. Atlanta tried going with Jackson, who promptly pitched his way out the job, blowing as many saves as he earned. The Braves tried going with Arodys Vizcaíno and A.J. Minter before returning to Jackson, who has responded by notching 9 of his 16 saves in the last month and a half.

U:  Yordan Alvarez (HOU): It would be unfair to create a team of the omitted and overlooked and not include Alvarez. With all the hype surrounding Kyle Tucker , it was somewhat surprising that the Astros promoted the surging Cuban to the bigs. He isn’t going back soon as his .349, 9 HR, 28 RBI outburst in 86 at-bats make him worthy of clogging up the utility spot.”

Response:  None other than to say I always look forward to the “All-Schultz” team entries.