August 27, 2013
Five to Watch
Positive Regression Candidates
When it comes to starting pitching, my philosophy has long been “it’s always available.” Even when it comes to deep/dynasty leagues where the talent is scarce, finding pitching depth isn’t as difficult as it might seem. With that in mind, we turn our spotlight to five pitchers who have struggled—to varying extents—in 2013, but who have the ability, history, and peripheral statistics to pique our interest. Note that, unsurprisingly, two of these pitchers appeared in the Starting Pitchers section of BP’s Mid-Season Outliers, which should be a good source if you’re looking for anyone beyond the five mentioned in this article.
Jeremy Hellickson, Rays
Despite the 5.00+ ERA, Hellickson’s FIP sit sat a career best 4.11. He’s seen an uptick in strikeout rate (18.2 percent in ‘13 from 16.7 percent in ‘12) and a downturn in walk rate (6.3 percent in ‘13 from 8 percent in ‘12), and improving in those two areas generally foreshadows better numbers overall. We could look to his batted ball data, but even there, we see improvement in his numbers. His line-drive rate is down, and while his fly-ball rate has increased marginally, his HR/FB is down. His infield-fly percentage is up as well, which would normally manifest itself in a lower BABIP, and therein lies the true culprit. Or one of them, anyway. His BABIP has seen a 45-point spike, and while his previous profiles wouldn’t necessarily beget the low BABIP he had been receiving, this might be a bit of an overcorrection for Hellickson.
The other area where he’s been hurt badly is his LOB percentage. His 68 percent clip is a bit below the league average but well below his career average of 78 percent. While that career average might be seen as unsustainable, a drop to five percentage points below the league average probably isn’t something we should anticipate going forward either. Another reason to buy a bounce back? While we generally try to separate pitchers from their defense, it’s worth noting that the Rays are generally one of the best defensive teams in the league, so some of Hellickson’s “luck” might be by design.
When it comes to valuation, it’s hard to gauge where Hellickson checks in. He’s someone we had begun to trust to just be...different. While the numbers may not have made sense, they made sense for him. Just when we begin to trust, our world gets turned on it’s head, but that’s baseball for you. Perhaps proving my own naivete, I would rank Hellickson similarly to where he was ranked entering 2013, relying on his progression as a pitcher and a return to the luck he had experienced thus far in his career.
Edwin Jackson, Cubs
Jackson has one of the larger discrepancies between his ERA (5.00) and his FIP (3.58), and that alone should get your value-senses tingling. Add in the fact that he’s generating ground balls at 52.5 percent (1.92 GB/FB rate), and limiting home runs (0.69 HR/9) and this appears to more a case of bad luck for a consistently-inconsistent-but-talented starter. His K% has dipped to just under 18 percent from 21 percent in 2012, but he’s right in line with his career rate, and posted a similar FIP in 2011 when he had almost identical walk and strikeout rates. To top it all off, Jackon’s LOB rate is a dismal 61 percent. Compare that to his career 70.5 percent clip, or even better, to the league average 72 percent rate, and all signs point to better surface stats for Jackson in 2014.
Always a guy that has been available, if not in free agency, then cheaply in trade, Jackson has the ability to provide league average or better statistics in bulk innings. That’s not something that should be overlooked when building depth on one’s pitching staff in deep leagues. He’s someone to target in 14-team leagues or deeper, and a solid FA/stream option in shallower leagues.
Ian Kennedy, Padres
We’ve seen PETCO lead to fantasy value for such luminaries as Eric Stults, Tim Stauffer, Jason Marquis and others. Kennedy currently has more talent than any of those named had when they joined the Padres and should be able to take advantage of his situation at least as well as they did. I wouldn’t go so far as to recommend him in 10-12 team leagues, but anything deeper and he should warrant serious consideration as a bounce-back candidate.
Lance Lynn, Cardinals
While he’s a known commodity, and a highly thought of one at that, Lynn might still be undervalued. He’s currently sporting a 3.20 FIP and a well above average 22% strikeout rate that is actually down from 2012’s 24 percent. His walk rate is basically the same, and while he doesn’t carry the same groundball rate as some of the others mentioned on this list, he’s done a stellar job of keeping the ball in the park throughout his career. While his HR/FB is four percentage points lower than it was last year, a small regression in that area wouldn’t sink the overall improvements he should see based on his peripheral stats.
While much of my focus tends to shade towards deeper leagues, Lynn is the type of guy who should be targeted in all leagues and will likely be had at the cheapest prices in 10-12 team leagues.
Edinson Volquez, Padres
First of all, Volquez will make approximately half his starts in the pitcher’s paradise that is PETCO park. While he’s managed to squander that massive advantage this year, we shouldn’t necessarily assume he’ll do so again next year. Add to that a healthy ground-ball rate of 48 percent (1.63 GB/FB) and a solid league-average 10.4 percent HR/FB, and there’s no reason that Volquez should be working with such a brutal ERA. While his strikeout rate declined a jarring four percentage points from 2012 to 2013, his BB percentage dropped 1.5 percentage points, which, in theory, would balance the decline in strikeouts, at least a bit. The drop in strikeout rate is worrisome certainly, but if anything I would anticipate a return to his career rate, near 21 percent, (from 17.6 percent in 2013) as well as a corresponding bump in his walk rate.
So, what does that leave us with? A starter inconsistent enough in his career to be vastly undervalued, coming off the worst surface stats of his career, pitching in the best pitcher’s park one could hope for, who should see an increase in strikeouts compared to 2012. I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t mind buying at a discount. Once again, Volquez is a deep league value buy only who won’t be of much use in 14-team leagues or shallower.