The offseason has officially ended with spring training in full force, which can only mean that the BP Fantasy Team is returning to our in-season writing schedule. That means the return of my weekly column, The Buyer’s Guide, which profiles a specific player each week in hopes of dishing out some buy-hold-or-sell advice to fantasy owners.
Here’s how this works:
Each week, I select a player and break down some trends and/or changes that could change our collective fantasy valuation of that player. It could be a discussion of a new pitch, or a swing change, or a significant change in a hitter’s batted-ball profile, or a hitter’s weakness that is getting exploited at the plate. Sometimes other BP contributors will pitch in to offer sage advice. Sometimes you’re stuck with me. In the end, though, I offer my “professional” opinion as to whether fantasy owners should buy, hold, or sell.
I will kick off the 2015 campaign with a piece on New York’s Michael Pineda; however, in the future, your contributions are crucial. This column is designed to help you optimize your fantasy success, so I need to know who you’re thinking of buying and selling. Which player do you have questions about? Which player are you targeting in a trade and wondering if that’s an intelligent decision? Drop a line in the comments, email me, or tweet me (@JP_Breen). I’ll select one of the players you suggest and profile them each week.
Anyway, enough housekeeping stuff. On to the baseball stuff. Let’s do this.
Michael Pineda burst onto the baseball scene in 2011 with a dazzling 3.03 ERA prior to the All-Star break as a mere 22-year-old rookie. He tailed off down the stretch and was traded from Seattle to the Bronx Bombers before ultimately needing shoulder surgery to repair his labrum. It cost him two whole seasons and relegated him to “afterthought status” before returning in 2014 and posting a sterling 1.89 ERA and 2.71 FIP in 13 starts.
It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, though. His average velocity was down almost two miles per hour from what it was in 2011 and his strikeout rate dropped from 9.11 K/9 to just 6.96 K/9. The right-hander also suffered a lat injury that sidelined him for another 99 days. Thus, the run prevention on the mound was attractive and makes one wonder if he could be dominant over the course of a whole year, but a lot percolates under the surface that could scare someone away.
At this point, I should note that the injury concern will remain with Pineda. He hasn’t proven that he can handle a full season’s workload without wearing down or without succumbing to injury. If injury risks aren’t your cup of tea, I suggest slapping a “sell” tag on Pineda and moving on down the road; however, I’d perhaps counter with the notion that pitchers are inherently injury risks and we’re just talking about a matter of degree. I’m comfortable taking a gamble on a pitcher with a checkered injury past if I feel the upside is tangible—hell, that’s why I drafted Brett Anderson for 245 consecutive seasons. (Not that drafting Anderson ever worked out well for me, mind you.)
The two other main concerns from 2014 were his decreased velocity and the pedestrian strikeout rate. In his last spring training outing, scouts had his fastball sitting at 95 mph. That’s precisely what he averaged in 2011, according to Brooks Baseball. Last year, Pineda averaged 93 mph with his fastball. If his velocity can revert to 2011 levels, that’s obviously a positive omen for future success.
The strikeouts, on the other hand, are a bit trickier to deal with. His 6.96 K/9 ranked below the league-average for starters (7.36 K/9) and pulled down his overall fantasy value. The low WHIP that accompanies a stingy walk rate is great, as is the run prevention, but top-30 starters generally must offer above-average production across the board. Very few guys can accomplish what Doug Fister did a year ago.
Digging deeper into his plate discipline statistics, though, it quickly becomes apparent that Pineda could have massive upside in the strikeout category. Despite a below-average 6.96 K/9, the right-hander also induced swings on 35.7 percent of pitches outside the zone and had a swinging-strike rate of 11.2 percent. Both of those are considerably above average for starters.
Only 10 starters (min. 70 innings) got more swings at pitches outside the zone than Pineda last year. His O-Swing% was higher than Corey Kluber, Johnny Cueto, and Felix Hernandez. Only 13 starters had a better swinging-strike rate than Pineda. His SwStr% was better than Stephen Strasburg and Madison Bumgarner. In fact, no starting pitcher (min. 70 IP) with a top-45 swinging-strike rate had a lower strikeout rate.
His strikeout rate screams for an uptick next year, perhaps a significant one. And if the strikeouts do come, he’s a contributor across the board and a potential top-20 starter. Over a full season with a strikeout rate at or above average, he possesses the potential to be what Jordan Zimmermann was a year ago—which was an easy top-20 starter.
Buyer’s Advice: BUY
The specter of injury will always haunt Pineda until he can prove his durability, but injury risks can be overlooked in fantasy if the upside is there. Currently, Pineda is being drafted as the 38th-overall pitcher, according to NFBC. FantasyPros’ composite ADP has him as low as 49th. I believe the strikeouts will come in 2015. The likelihood that he can post another disappointing strikeout rate, missing the bats the way he can, is small. Thus, I say that you should take the gamble, take the talent, and hope he can remain healthy enough to start 25-plus games. If he can, he’s a potential top-20 starter, and the surplus value would be huge.