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August 7, 2013

Sporer Report

Seven Starting Pitchers on the Rise

by Paul Sporer

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Can you believe the season is four months old? As excited as I am to see how the races play out both in the MLB standings and in my fantasy leagues, I’m definitely a little bummed that we only have two months of regular seasons games left. Enough bellyaching, though, we have pennants to chase down.

We just finished another great month that saw all sorts of interesting performances, and I want to highlight seven pitchers who were particularly sharp during the month-plus*, as you may have missed their recent surges, especially if you are only looking at their season-long numbers. They need to be on your radar whether you’re entering the trade market or scanning the free-agent pool in a shallower league. They are ranked in order of how much I like them the rest of the way.

(*I’ve included games through Tuesday night to account for the All-Star break)

1. Wade Miley, ARI – Miley threw a second straight gem against the Rays, owners of MLB’s top wRC+ against lefties at 120, on Tuesday pushing his ERA down to 1.54 over his last seven starts. His season has actually broken down into three interesting sections so far:

  • First seven starts: 2.93 ERA in 43 innings
  • Next four starts: 9.14 ERA in 21 2/3 innings
  • Last 12 starts: 2.34 ERA in 77 innings

I wish I had answers to the “what the hell happened in those middle four?” question, but it seems like just a bout of poor play spurred by too many missed pitches that led to six home runs (2.5 HR/9). Lately, he is actually looking better than the 2012 Miley, and the Diamondbacks now have two big lefties atop their rotation.

2. Ivan Nova, NYY – Like Miley, Nova’s good work hasn’t just been confined to the July 1-August 6 timeframe that we are looking at, as he threw 12 1/3 strong innings of work in June just after returning from the disabled list. He hasn’t allowed more than three earned in a single outing during this seven-game stretch, during which he has a 2.15 ERA and 1.01 WHIP. In our confined timeline, he has gone seven or more innings in five starts including outings against BAL, TEX, and TB. He has also logged 37 strikeouts in those 38 innings. Run support will be an issue in the Bronx, but he appears to be putting it all together in his third full season. Of our entire group, I think only Nova isn’t saddled with a deceiving ERA so he isn’t necessarily sneaking up on anyone, but I had to highlight his recent great work.

3. Felix Doubront, BOS – Doubront is chopping his ERA down and he’s almost to a point where a quick glance at his season total won’t be misleading, but I think his 3.56 still doesn’t show how great he’s been for nearly three months now. In just our July to early-August timeframe, he has a 2.09 ERA in 38 2/3 innings, but if you go back to mid-May you see that he hasn’t allowed more than three earned in any of his last 15 starts, posting a 2.55 ERA in that time and essentially picking up the slack left by Jon Lester, who lost his effectiveness right around mid-May. I was a year early on the 25-year-old lefty, as I rostered Doubront just about everywhere a year ago, but thankfully I’ve cashed in on his recent success in a few spots this year (because y’all really care about my team).

4. Rick Porcello, DET – Porcello may well be friends with Jhonny Peralta, but I think he might secretly be okay with his 50-game suspension for PEDs with relation to the Biogenesis mess. The ban opens the door for newly acquired Jose Iglesias to take over at shortstop and put his brilliant glovework on display. Porcello is an elite ground-ball artist with climbing rates yearly since 2010 up to this year 57 percent clip. Porcello has yet to enjoy the fruits of Iglesias’s shortstopping labor, but he will be building a 1.87 ERA and 1.16 WHIP over his last five starts spanning 33 2/3 innings.

He has a 4-0 record in that time, too. Of course, three of them have come against the White Sox, but any discount I would make for that strength of schedule factor gets tacked right back on with the defensive improvement from Peralta to Iglesias. In fact, the entire Tigers staff gets a boost with the move. They have the fourth-highest ground-ball rate and fourth-highest BABIP in MLB.

5. Jose Quintana, CWS – Our third lefty on the list, Quintana has really impressed me of late. He has a 2.58 ERA over his last seven starts spanning 45 1/3 innings of work, and while he is just 3-1 thanks to an inept White Sox offense, he has supplemented his value with a surge in strikeouts. He has 43 in that timeframe, good for a 23 percent rate that is much higher than his 16.6 percent career mark. Everyone knows about ace Chris Sale, but the Quintana and Hector Santiago give the White Sox a trio of reliable lefties who offer tons of value despite playing for a 41-69 team. While Quintana’s recent surge is particularly impressive, it’s also worth noting that he’s avoided the total implosion pretty much all year having given up more than four earned just once this year (5 ER on April 5 vs. Seattle).

6. Samuel Deduno, MIN – Deduno has a 3.00 ERA in his last six starts, but the 1.31 WHIP suggests some caution. He’s just giving up too many walks right now with a 12 percent rate in that time (up from 9.6 percent mark for the season), but teams aren’t making him pay for it, as he’s been able to strand runners at a 79 percent clip. He’s shown a penchant for wiggling out of trouble as a big leaguer with a 78 percent career mark, but I’d rather rely on a skill of keeping runners off the bases than a knack for stranding them there. Deduno and our last guy are a cut below the others, but both are very intriguing and have the skills to improve upon their primary deficiencies. For now, I’m still only spot-starting Deduno in cozy spots, but if he gets his walks under control, then he could be an everywhere starter by season’s end.

7. Joe Kelly, STL – After spending most of June in the bullpen, Kelly joined the rotation on July 6 and has displayed more of the quality work we saw from him last year putting up a 1.86 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 29 innings of work. His stuff is better than his 13 percent strikeout rate in that time, but we’ve only seen a 17 percent from him during his career and that includes 29 of his 51 appearances coming from the bullpen. However, he’s proven himself an adequate spot-starter in the past, especially if you are set in strikeouts. His supporting cast adds to his win probability, too.

Paul Sporer is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Paul's other articles. You can contact Paul by clicking here

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