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In this sentence, I’m introducing the following internet fantasy baseball piece about five starting pitchers in the American League who are of personal interest to me at this moment, live from Arizona.

Kevin Gausman, BAL

Improvement isn’t always linear, which is an important concept to keep in mind with this former top prospect. Gausman has a very, very good changeup and a very good fastball (these are scouting terms). This we know, this we’ve seen. But what about that lack of a third pitch? How many starting pitchers truly succeed with just two pitches, even if those two pitches are near elite? How much is a lack of a quality third offering hurting Gausman?

Per Brooks Baseball, here’s how many sliders Gausman threw per month last season:

Here’s said sliders represented as a percentage of total pitches thrown:

The whiff rate for said sliders:

And the batting average against Gausman’s sliders:

These stats tell us that Gausman doesn’t use his slider a ton, and when he does, he’s frequently burned for it. As good as his other pitches are, the slider is crucial for him, as a good one gives him a swing-and-miss option against right-handed hitters. Gausman may be able to succeed with his fastball/changeup combo, but it’s doubtful he’ll thrive.

The good news from a scouting standpoint is the slider still flashes plus at times, and it was projected as a weapon for Gausman as a prospect. And *if* it clicks for Gausman, he’s a decent bet to live up to the top-of-the-rotation-type arm many projected him to be in the minors thanks to the efficacy of his other pitchers.

Gausman’s slider clicking is a big if and he’s not a safe option, but there’s not a ton of investment required here either. And again, the improvement here doesn’t have to be, and probably won’t be, incremental: think Julio Teheran. He’s got an ADP of 75 among starters, which makes sense in some regards, but I’d generally rather gamble on his upside than settle on guys like R.A. Dickey, Ervin Santana, or Drew Hutchison, all of whom are being taken before the LSU product.

Jesse Hahn, OAK
Much of this article will focus on statistical analysis. This will be something different. Here’s what three scouts and Jeff Quinton have to say about Hahn:

Jordan Gorosh: “It’s going to be hard for him to throw over 150 innings this year because he’s never thrown more than 110 in a season. The track record of RHP who have thrown 90% fastball/curveball since 2008 who’ve put up better than a 100 ERA+ are Jose Fernandez, Ben Sheets, A.J. Burnett, Josh Beckett, etc. All four of those guys have hammers. He has a 73 mph 12-6. He needs a third pitch.”

Craig Goldstein: “Without contradicting Jordan, Drew Pomeranz experienced success in the Coliseum last year, and he’s a fastball/curveball guy with worse versions of what Hahn throws (shrug gesture). From a fantasy perspective, Hahn’s success isn’t as contingent on a third pitch as it is his home park.”

Tucker Blair: “My brain stopped working 20 minutes ago, to be perfectly honest.”

Jeff Quinton: “His last name is dominated by one letter.”

Hahn’s ADP is at 114 among starters, per FantasyPros.com, so feel free to roll the dice, but don’t expect a savior. Also, go to spring training with your friends next year.

Rick Porcello, BOS

Porcello finished as the 48th best fantasy starter in the game last year. He posted a career-best ERA of 3.43, a career-best BB% of 4.9, a career-best 15 wins, and a career-low WHIP of 1.23. These are all very good things, and it’s reasonable to think that at 26 years old (yes, he’s still just 26), Porcello is hitting his stride. However, while Porcello may be a better pitcher now than he was a few years ago, forecasting him as a top-50 fantasy starter moving forward is a dangerous proposition.

Porcello only struck out 129 batters last season, and while his 3.43 ERA was his career-best mark, it’s not a terribly impressive number for this era (“link to my piece,” says Craig). Can he win 15 games again in front of a potent Boston offense and a decent infield defense? Sure. But his groundball rate fell last season, which isn’t a good sign for a sinkerball pitcher headed to a homer-friendly park, his BABIP was a career-low .298, and his line-drive rate allowed was actually higher in 2014 than in 2013. If the ERA gets even a little worse or he misses out on a few wins, he’s going to drop in a hurry.

His ADP this season is down at 62 among starting pitchers, so drafters are clearly already projecting some regression. But taking Porcello ahead of guys like Shelby Miller, John Lackey, Brandon McCarthy and Danny Salazar in a redraft league doesn’t make much sense to me. Porcello’s upside is quite limited, his downside is significant and you’re sort of paying a premium for his 2015 breakout right now. If he falls to you, you don’t need to actively avoid him. But if he’s your fifth starter, you might be in trouble. Great perma-stubble, though.

Jose Quintana, CHW

I don’t think I realized how sneaky good Quintana is until I wrote about him in my book this offseason. The 26-year-old finished with 4.5 WARP last season, pitching 200 innings for the second consecutive year while lowering his ERA to 3.32 and striking out 178 batters. Quintana only nabbed nine wins, which dropped him to just the 55th-best fantasy starter in 2014, but all of his other fantasy stats paint a very promising picture for his value moving forward.

Quintana threw fewer cutters and sliders and more changeups and curveballs last season, using sequencing and good command to help him post career-best marks in strikeout rate, walk rate, homer rate and ERA. His FIP was down at 2.81, and while his 0.45 HR/9 is probably unsustainable in the Cell, everything else about his profile suggests he’s just a very good pitcher who’s hit his stride. We now have 500-plus innings of evidence that he doesn’t give out many walks or a ton of homers, and while the ceiling isn’t super high here, Quintana did experience a modest uptick in velocity last year.

Quintana has an ADP of 51 among starting pitchers and 182 overall. That’s several rounds behind guys like Jered Weaver, Andrew Cashner, and Ian Kennedy, and only Weaver was demonstrably more valuable last season. There might not be a lot of ceiling left for Quintana, but there’s really no reason to think he’s going to take a step back either, especially since he should be in line for more wins in 2015. In a 12-team league, I think he’s a strong SP4.

Jered Weaver, LAA

We’re like 18 months away from Weaver losing in one of those “how hard can you throw” booths at a county fair. His average fastball velocity fell to 86.3 mph last year, with his average changeup down to 77.5 mph. To be sure, this isn’t a guy who’s ever succeeded based on velocity, and the drop isn’t as big a deal for him as it is for, say, Justin Verlander. But it’s still not a positive, and there’s going to come a turning point at which Weaver ceases to be able to outperform his FIP to a dramatic extent, as he’s done for four years now.

Weaver finished as fantasy’s 32nd-best pitcher last year, thanks in large part to his 18 wins and an acceptable 3.59 ERA. As noted with Porcello, though, that ERA isn’t as impressive today as it would’ve been a few years ago. Weaver’s 169 strikeouts were his highest total since 2011, as were his 213 1/3 innings pitched, on a related note, and I can’t think of a reason he’s particularly likely to hit either mark again in 2015 based on his age and injury history.

When he’s healthy he’s still pretty decent, but do you really want to bank on Weaver being healthy and do you really want to see how low his velo can go before the bubble bursts? His OBP of 42 is fair, but I think it’s at the high end of where you want to take him. He’s going ahead of Andrew Cashner, Mat Latos, and Chris Archer in drafts right now, and that’s a tough pill to swallow.

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Michael
3/17
Terrific stuff, Ben.
BenC22
3/17
Thanks!