Fantasy Baseball Advice: Digging Deep into Rookie Pitchers

Click here to read RotoBaller's fantasy baseball advice about rookie pitchers options going into week 11, highlighting Gerrit Cole, Tony Cingrani, Jose Fernandez and more

Chris Hawkins - RotoBaller

Gerrit Cole - It appears the word is out on Gerrit Cole (28%) who’s been added in over 33,000+ Yahoo leagues in the past 48 hours, but he’s still unowned in 80% of leagues. For those of you who haven’t heard, Wandy Rodriguez’s next start has been pushed back, and the Pirates are expected to bring up the 2011 1st round pick who was ranked as a preseason top 10 (Baseball America and MLB). Cole hasn’t been entirely dominating AAA displaying only a 6.1 K/9 and 2.87 ERA, but he has held opposing batters to a .573 OPS. You can’t “not count” starts, but it was an 8R, 5IP outing earlier in the season that has his ERA inflated almost a whole run, too. There’s always some concern anytime a player makes the jump to the big stage, but I would rather roll the dice on Cole right now in his first few starts than trot out a struggling Yovani Gallardo (84%) or Jeremy Hellickson (49%). If you’re in need of pitching help, Cole is definitely worth a roll of the dice.

Tony Cingrani - Another NL Central pitcher you should take a hard look at is Tony Cingrani (37%). With Johnny Cueto en route to the DL, Cingrani should step right back into the starting rotation in Cincinnati. In 6 starts earlier in the season, the 23 year-old southpaw effectively mixed his fastball, slider and change-up to post an impressive 11.2 K/9 over 33 IP. Obviously, the sample size is small and there will be more tape out on him as he faces teams again, but a 3.27 ERA and 1.03 WHIP are nothing to just write-off. His “luck stats” were all over the board which has his predictive ERA numbers inconclusive, but the 2 things I think most likely to drive his success will be his ability to maintain his strikeout rate and contain RHBs (particularly at home). With a K/9 of 14.1 at AAA this year and 11.8 in 228 minor league innings since 2011, there’s enough data to suggest he should be able to keep his strikeout rate strong to quite strong. Meanwhile, his 20% HR/FB rate and 45.5% FB rates seem like they should drop although Great American Ballpark is tops in the NL for promoting HRs to RHBs. Consequently perhaps, his worst split is RHB at home, RHBs have an OPS .350 higher than LHB, and RHB are responsible for all 7 HRs he’s given up. Still, I would gladly take Cingrani over more popularly owned pitchers like Dan Haren (66%), Jonathan Niese (54%), and Jason Hammel (45%).

Jose Fernandez - Staying in the NL and despite getting hit hard against Tampa at the end of May, it’s hard not to like what Jose Fernandez (50%) has done this year down in Miami. He was excellent last outing going 6 frames while allowing 6 baserunners, 1 ER and striking out 7. He hasn’t been particularly lucky or unlucky with most all metrics saying his 3.17 ERA is just about right. He’s demonstrating nice control with a BB rate of 9%, striking out better than a batter an inning and getting ahead of batters 66% of the time which is fantastic. You’d like to see a few more ground balls and a better swinging strike rate, but with his mid-to-upper 90’s velocity and being able to effectively mix a handful of pitches, he’s getting the job done with 6 QS in 12 starts (3 of those he’s missed on came due to pitching fewer than 6 frames). I may be crazy, and no offense to Placido Polanco in the 3-hole, but I think Miami’s offense will actually improve as they start to call up more of their minor league system (bummer about the Yelich injury). My biggest concern about Fernandez is he gets shut down early on as the Marlins won’t have much to play for, and he’s so young.

Zach Wheeler - Matt Harvey is obviously the big rookie name in Queens this year (although who saw that shellacking coming against the Marlins?), but Zach Wheeler (26%) shouldn’t be too much further behind in toeing the rubber at Shea. Wheeler hasn’t been overly impressive at AAA (3.84 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, .719 OPS, 1.2 HR/9 and 3.7 BB/9), but he is fanning better than a batter an inning. The Mets starting rotation has been far from dazzling this season, and with most teams calculating the Super Two “deadline” having already passed, it should just be a short matter of time before we see the top 15 preseason prospect (Baseball American and MLB).

Tyler Skaggs - In what was supposed to be a rookie pitcher showdown on Tuesday night in St. Louis, Tyler Skaggs (19% owned) and Michael Wacha (52%) both got knocked around at Busch Stadium. After watching the game, a couple things remain true. First, if you are going to leave balls over the middle of the plate like these two did, you’re going to get burned (stating the obvious). Second, while I expect very big things from both pitchers long-term, they will take their lumps some this year. Again, this should be a standard caveat with even the most hyped rookie pitchers. Both players turn just 22 in the next month, and management in both camps would have probably preferred to give them a little more seasoning in AAA. That said, injuries forced their hands. So what should fantasy managers expect going forward?

With the recent setback of Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy getting destroyed the other night, I’m more bullish on Skaggs sticking around for 2013. He was ranked as a preseason top 15 prospect by Baseball America and MLB, and he’s actually had quite a bit more success at the MLB level than at AAA (5.23 ERA and 1.37 WHIP) even despite Tuesday night’s outing. I like the 9.5 K/9 and 3.4 K/BB he showed in the minors, but he’s had 4 outings (including 3 at AAA) where he’s yielded 5 or more ERs. Those are numbers that can kill you in a H2H league and which make him a risky bet.

Update: Skaggs didn't pitch great last night as he gave up 5 runs, 8 hits and 3 BBs with 4 Ks in 5 IPs.  He's a big time talent, but will surely have some growing pains along the way as he adjusts to MLB hitters and pitching in Arizona.

Michael Wacha - I wrote at length about Wacha last week, so I won’t go into much depth here although it’s only fair to note the encore to his first outing didn’t go quite as planned. That said, we’re talking about a guy with good velocity, a good differential in switching speeds and a great offense behind him. The biggest worry I have about Wacha is he may be feeling undue pressure to perform, because that’s the only way he’ll stick around once the Cardinals rotation returns to health.

I’m keeping both these guys around in anything deeper than 12-14 teams, but I’m not mortgaging anything big to acquire their services given there are some growing pains ahead and questions regarding their stability to stay in the rotation.


Of the players listed, here’s how I would rank them for 2013 impact (with respect to talent, opportunity and innings limits):

Tier 1

  1. Cingrani – most MLB ready and has shown some success already, better bullpen and better offense; and
  2. Fernandez - what he’s done so far has been good, and I think the Miami offense will improve, but at age 20 and with little to play for, I think he gets shut down pretty early.

If you wanted to flip these two, I wouldn't argue much.


Tier 2

  1. Wacha - although a rotation spot is no guarantee, he edges out Skaggs with slightly more developed stuff;
  2. Cole – great prospect, and I think management would like for him to stick in Pittsburgh; and
  3. Skaggs – loads of talent but been very inconsistent.


Tier 3

  1. Wheeler – rotation spot not a lock and hasn’t been dominant in AAA.


Warrior 1 or Downward Dog – What to do with YoGa?

Yovani Gallardo - Referenced above as struggling which is putting it nicely, one of the more disappointing pitchers this year has been Yovani Gallardo whose ownership still sits at 85% despite a 4-6 record, 5.25 ERA and 1.49 WHIP – Yikes! Drafted by most heading into the season as at least a top 30, if not top 25 pitcher, it’s been a rough start for this Brewer. So the question becomes is he a buy-low or are owners better to stay away. Unfortunately for those of us who hold YoGa right now, the underlying numbers paint a picture that mostly supports what his top layer stats say.

Velocity – Down; Swinging strike rate – Down; K rate – Down; Contact rates – Up; Strand rate and BABIP – Both not too far from the league averages so you can’t count on much regression either way; Flyball rate – Down! Except that it’s just been offset with an increase in his line drive rate; Brewers’ offensive output – 21st in runs scored.

Okay, you get the idea. I was going to go into more detail, but at some point enough negatives don’t need much explanation. Depending on league depth, he’s likely viewed as “too good to cut”, but I would have a hard time trotting him out there right now except in the best of matchups. My advice is you probably can’t get anyone to bite at even 75 cents on the dollar today, but as soon as he turns in his next good start which has to happen eventually, I would test the market to at least see what I could get.


Closing Thoughts

Luke Gregerson - I wrote about Gregerson earlier in the week taking over 9th inning duties for Street. While I don’t think he’s going to be the second coming of Trevor Hoffman in San Diego, he should be owned in more than just 42% of leagues.  In 5 appearances since the beginning of June, Gregerson has pitched 6 innings allowing 1R, 6H, 1BB, and 6Ks with a win and 2 saves. Street missed over a month last year with an injury similar to this calf strain, so Gregerson should have plenty of opportunities to contribute to your team until at least July.

Same goes for Rex Brothers (37% owned) who in 4 appearances in June has 4IP, 0R, 6 baserunners and 4Ks with 1 save (although 3 walks last not wasn't ideal). While I expect some regression and Betancourt to return before long, if saves are even remotely competitive in your league, there’s no reason either of these two should be available in over half of leagues

For any fantasy specific questions, feel free to email me, or follow me on Twitter @Roto_Hawk. Until next time, Dominate.