I mentioned in an earlier post that a pitcher’s overall statistics matter less and less as we enter September. Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Marco Estrada, deterring owners with his 4.49 ERA, could be a legitimate top-45 starter for the rest of the season, fueled by his 7.25 K/BB ratio after the All-Star Break. (He should already be owned in most leagues anyway, given his 1.20 WHIP and 8.2 K/9, but that’s not the point.) There will always be free-agent alternatives, even to supposed aces such as the struggling Adam Wainwright of St. Louis, that can help your team down the home stretch.
(Note: I would never drop Wainwright in any context, nor would I bench him. But if I had someone like who struggled all year, such as the New York Yankees’ CC Sabathia, I would consider benching him to stream someone such as Estrada. Again, I digress.)
Here are three sneaky late-season pitcher pick-ups, ranked from my favorite to least favorite.
Tyson Ross, SD (12.3% ESPN ownership)
Ross continues to chug along. His ESPN ownership has been cut in half because of two starts that, honestly, were not even that bad (12-1/3 IP, 5.83 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 8.8 K/9). His strikeout rate on the season stands at 8.6 K/9 across 96-1/3 innings, and although his sub-3.00 ERA won’t last forever, his 1.19 WHIP is good enough to help anyone down the stretch, and he’ll likely pick up another two or three wins along the way.
Brett Oberholtzer, HOU (4.5% ESPN ownership)
If you need help with WHIP and not strikeouts, take a chance on Oberholtzer. He plays for a terrible team, yes, but he’s already racked up four wins in six starts (nine appearances). Oberholtzer was never overly dominant in the minors, and he never made any top-100 prospect lists, but he refuses to walk batters, a trait I like in any pitcher. Again, his 5.6 K/9 is not the most appealing thing in the world, but limiting baserunners will help win ballgames no matter who you play for.
Danny Duffy, KC (19.3% ESPN ownership)
Duffy is the antithesis of Oberholtzer (which isn’t a bad thing). Once a rated prospect, Duffy dominated the minors until he debuted in 2011, when he promptly started to lose all control, seeing his BB/9 ratio balloon from less than three walks-per-nine to almost four and a half. But he’s back from Tommy John surgery, and he has recovered most of his minor-league strikeout rate that made him so effective (currently 9.5 K/9). His walk rate is still a point of concern, but his strikeouts and wins will be valuable, especially if he can continue to limit the damage.
If you’re still waiting for Sabathia or R.A. Dickey to come around, stop. I’d rather take a gamble on someone who likely won’t do any worse than a flailing name-brand starter but has the upside to be a stalwart addition to your rotation.
Bonus coverage: The Philadelphia Phillies recently signed Cuban defector Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez to a three-year, $12 million deal. He was originally slated to sign a six-year, $50-million(ish) contract before concerns arose about the health of his elbow. There isn’t a ton of information about the guy, but consider Major League Baseball’s two most recent Cuban imports.
Oakland Athletics outfielder Yoenis Cespedes finished second in the American League Rookie of the Year voting last year and was signed on a four-year, $36 million deal ($9 million per year). Los Angeles Dodgers phenom Yasiel Puig is a National League ROY candidate, and he signed a six-year, $36 million deal ($6 million) per year).
Although Gonzalez’s contract equates to only $4 million per year, his original contract would have been at least $8 million per year on average, in the ranks of Cespedes and Puig. Maybe it’s foolish to hop on the bandwagon based on this nugget of information alone, but considering a player’s salary is predicated upon expected performance value, I’m sold. I don’t know in which round I would draft him next year or how much I would pay for him in an auction draft, but I’d take a low-round flier on him and maybe gamble $6 or so. And if he rears his head in the MLB come mid-September, I’ll take a look.
Apologies for the lull between posts. I’ve been entertaining friends and family in my adopted city of Portland, Ore. for the past week — while mourning the fact I will likely miss the playoffs in my head-to-head league because of a tiebreaker. More like a heartbreaker.
I’ll get back to more quantitative analysis in the coming days. For now, here’s more quick stuff.
Brandon Beachy, ATL
For playoff contenders, abandon ship (unless you’ve got space on the DL or you’re in a dynasty league). The guy has been filthy throughout his professional career, so some offseason rest will likely do him some good. Potential top-30 pitcher next year, and that’s being modest.
Marco Estrada, MIL
Is this the same Marco Estrada who humiliated me earlier this year? Part of me wonders if he only likes to turn it on after the All-Star Break. Take a look at his post-ASB numbers the past two years:
2012: 3.40 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 88 K (9.1 K/9), only 7 HR allowed in 15 starts
2013: 1.88 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, 21 K (7.9 K/9), only 3 BB allowed in 4 starts
I’m being a bit facetious, because Estrada was quietly good for the entirety of 2012, but he was plagued by the long ball and poor control in the first half of this year. Aside from the flashy ratios, the three walks across 24 innings is particularly pleasing, reassuring, what-have-you. As Papa Roach once eloquently sang, “The scars remind us that the past is real” — and the scars Estrada gave me this year (further deepened every time I remember I watched Hisashi Iwakuma sit in free agency for three starts before getting signed) make it hard for me to trust him immediately. But, again, if I’m a contender, I’m on board. If his amazing post-Break K/BB ratio continues into 2014, I’m buying again.
Dan Haren, WAS
I’m sold on the bounceback… but I’m not, ya know? Haren has been very hittable this year, serving up a ton of home runs, and that trend has continued through the All-Star Break. However, since the Break, he has posted a 2.74 ERA and 0.87 WHIP in seven starts — certainly hard to ignore. But his BAbip is also .225, more than 100 points lower than his first-half mark, meaning his sudden turnaround is kind of a fluke.
Ultimately, fluctuations in HR/FB rates are largely a product of good or bad luck, and Haren’s 2013 rate is the highest of his career, as was his BAbip heading into the Break. His K/BB rate is one of the highest of his career, comparable to his All-Star/Cy Young contender days, and his strikeout rate is the best it has been since 2010. If the Washington Nationals can put 2013 in the past next year, I could see Haren bouncing back quite nicely if he can maintain his progress.
Carlos Martinez, STL
The scouts love him, but he was sent down again by the Cardinals. He may not help much this year, so don’t count on it. I’m wary of his walk rate becoming something unmanageable at the major league level, but his ability to induce outs as well as his high strikeout rate should help suppress any issues his walk rate may cause.
Danny Salazar, CLE
Salazar has become a rather underwhelming option after taking the league by storm in his first handful of starts. As Chris Towers of CBSSports.com noted, the Indians have been very strict with Salazar’s innings. Unless he is incredibly efficient, he won’t eat enough innings to be truly effective — he won’t strike out as many guys, and he may not even reach the five-inning mark needed to qualify for a win more frequently than not, just like has he has done twice in his last three starts. He’s a fashionable option now, but his leash is very short.
Oh yeah, and…
Matt Harvey, NYM
Yikes. Rarely have I muttered an expletive out loud while reading a text message — and I don’t even own him. This has surely freaked out a lot of owners, and I don’t have much solace to offer. He’ll be back next year? The Mets may actually be a force to be reckoned with in 2014?
Let’s look at the big picture, though. If you’re in a standard rotisserie league, you have about 320 innings (of 1,600) left to throw. You’re a contender with a 3.502 ERA and 1.180 WHIP with 1,200 strikeouts. So let’s say Harvey would have thrown another seven or eight starts — say, 48 innings — before season’s end. Here’s how Harvey would affect your numbers:
Before Harvey’s injury (1280 IP): 3.502 ERA, 1.180 WHIP, 1200 K (8.44 K/9)
If Harvey was healthy (1328 IP): 3.456 ERA, 1.171 WHIP, 1251 K (8.48 K/9)
See, we’re so deep into the season that Harvey’s rest-of-season projected impact (based on his current stats) is greatly diluted — only for certain teams in certain leagues will an improvement of half a run earn you multiple points in the standings. And given how few starts pitchers have left, someone who lost Harvey may even have something to gain by playing the hot hand of someone with a 0.708 WHIP over his last seven starts (Haren) or a 7.88 K/9 since coming off the DL (Estrada).
In head-to-head leagues, the story is a little different, but no so much. It is less about the big picture, like in rotisserie, as it is about the current week. It relies much more heavily on small sample sizes, and that’s what the end of the regular season truly is. Quit crying and ride a hot hand. You’ll be OK, trust me!