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April 24, 2013

Fantasy Freestyle

Moar Payshints

by Paul Sporer

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Three weeks ago, I issued a general message of extreme patience with early-season numbers that are sure to anger and frustrate when they don’t go as expected (WHY CAN’T ALL OF MY GUYS HAVE A 0.50 ERA ALREADY?????). I spoke about some April strugglers from last year and. well, you can look at it via that link if you didn’t catch it the first time. The thing about patience is that it requires repetition of message and upkeep especially now that we have 20-25 innings of work to freak out over, so today, I’m going to talk you off the ledge on some specific pitchers about whom you shouldn’t be worried one bit.

Chris Sale (1-2, 4.50 ERA, 1.15 WHIP)

We’ll start off easy as only you super-panickers are concerned about him. He has four starts this season and only his trip to Cleveland has prevented him from looking like the ace of 2012. He made a big mistake to Mark Reynolds that resulted in a grand slam, which sealed his fate on a short day and terrible outing. He ended up going just 4 1/3, allowing eight runs on eight hits and two walks with three strikeouts. His other three starts have seen him throw 21 2/3 innings with a 2.07 ERA and 0.92 WHIP in addition to a sparkling 24 percent strikeout rate and five percent walk rate. There is a good chance that Sale, who averaged as the 64th pick off the board, is your ace and you are a bit bummed by a mid-4.00s ERA, but you needn’t worry at all.

Cole Hamels (0-3, 5.40 ERA, 1.33 WHIP)

“Oh noes, a 5.40 ERA??? Now we’ve got someone to worry about!!1!1!one!”

Nope. Sure don’t. Hamels was unquestionably brilliant last year, but he did have some poor outings, as any pitcher will over the course of a six-month season. He had three outings where he allowed five runs or more, but the first wasn’t until June 2, when he already had 70 1/3 innings of 2.43 ERA work under his belt. He had his second just two starts later. pushing his ERA from that 2.43 mark to 3.34 in just 18 2/3 innings. He closed with 126 1/3 innings of 2.85 ERA ball.

This year, he has bunched some of his allotted rough starts right at the outset of the season. His first two starts saw him allow 13 runs in just 10 2/3 innings. He even allowed three homers in his season debut. He has gotten progressively better in his subsequent three outings, including a gem on Tuesday night, where he went eight innings and allowed just two runs on seven hits and a walk. His last three starts have yielded a 2.57 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 23 percent strikeout rate, and seven percent walk rate. Vintage Hamels. I have no concern about Hamels’ long-term outlook, and if the ugly composite ERA and WHIP offer any shred of a discount in your league, jump on it. Meanwhile, if he’s on your team, breathe easy.

Ian Kennedy (1-2, 5.47 ERA, 1.38 WHIP)

Kennedy isn’t quite on the level of our first two studs, so he may be causing a bit more panic among those relying on him this season. He had a breakout 2011 season when he went 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA and 1.09 WHIP over 222 innings. He was excellent that season with the big change coming in his home runs allowed, which came down to 0.8 HR/9 that year after a career 1.1 rate coming into the season. That rate jumped back to 1.2 in 2012, causing his ERA to hit 4.02 in 208 1/3 innings. He opened the season with a gem against the Cardinals (two earned runs in seven innings with eight strikeouts and a walk), but has been unimpressive results-wise since then: 6.62 ERA and 1.58 WHIP in 17 2/3 innings.

While none of the three starts have been particularly impressive, the outing against the Dodgers has really skewed the work, as he allowed six earned in just 5 2/3 frames on 10 hits and four walks. A baseline quality start and four earned in six over the other two isn’t exactly award-winning, but I still think we have one nasty apple inflicting a lot of damage on the tiny little four-start bunch. You wouldn’t drool over the numbers on his other three starts—4.26 ERA and 1.05 WHIP—but the 24 percent strikeout and seven percent walk rates are incredible.

We are already super-parsing data sets that aren’t large enough to warrant parsing, but when you are dealing with a four-to-five-game sample, it behooves you to look at things start-by-start if you do plan on making wholesale judgments that lead to moves on your roster, either benching someone or trading them because you are unhappy. Not only would I insist that you stick by Kennedy if you already have him, but I suggest you inquire about getting him if he’s not on your team, because there may be a discount opportunity available. Despite a solid three-year track record, he doesn’t have a ton of name value and you might catch someone making a mistake.

David Price (0-2, 5.52 ERA, 1.42 WHIP)

Let’s close with the best of the bunch. Price is another guy who threw on Tuesday night and though I didn’t get to see it, he appears to have been cruising throughout the evening as he only logged 99 pitches through eight-plus (he pitched to Robinson Cano in the ninth), giving up two runs on his own and the third when Fernando Rodney allowed Cano to score in a rough outing for him. As with Sale, the Cleveland Indians did a number on Price (no wonder they are third in offense against lefties), popping him for eight runs in just five innings. Unlike Sale, he has another rough outing on his ledger, forming an on-off runs-allowed pattern through his first five outings: two, eight, one, five, and three.

Here is all you need to know about your reigning AL Cy Young: 20 percent strikeout rate, five percent walk rate. In fact, that doesn’t even do it justice, as he has been markedly better at 24 percent and 2.6 percent, respectively over his last three starts (20 of 31 innings). One bad outing can severely skew a pitcher’s numbers, but when you throw in a second rough go in such a short sample, it will really muddy the water. This can lead to bad decision making. I’ve had more than one Twitter question about trading Price at discount rates. Don’t do that. If you have any inkling to move him, you really should ignore it, but if you’re set on it, then charge full price.

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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