In fantasy baseball, owners can often spends weeks or months preparing for the draft. Many will pore over websites and lists and spreadsheets and forums and magazines for hours upon hours to ensure they make the right choices. But once draft day comes and goes, what’s next?
As the saying goes, you can’t win your league during the draft. The moves owners make during the season are the ones that will determine who wins. The art to winning at fantasy baseball is being able to determine who should be added to a roster and should be bypassed. In order to do that, an owner needs to be able to tell if someone is for real or not.
This weekly column will focus on a few pitchers who have recently thrown their hats into the ring for consideration. These pitchers will be available in many leagues, and we’ll dig a little deeper to determine whether you should be picking these guys up or leaving them be.Editor's note: Get 50% off any MLB Premium Pass. Draft guide, cheat sheets, 200 days of DFS access, and over 20 premium tools. Dominate your leagues all year long! Sign Up Now!
Are You For Real? - Week 1 SP Surprises
Brandon Finnegan, Cincinnati Reds – 23 years old
2016 Stats: 172.0 IP, 3.98 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 145 K (7.59 K/9), 84 BB (4.40 BB/9)
April 5, 2017 vs. Philadelphia: 7.0 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.29 WHIP, 9 K (11.57 K/9), 1 BB (1.29 BB/9)
Brandon Finnegan isn’t a complete mystery and was a popular choice on deep sleeper lists, but as of today, he is still unowned in the majority of leagues. That won’t be the case for long.
Finnegan’s stats from 2016 don’t look very impressive. A sub-4.00 ERA is always attractive for a back-end starter, but someone with a bad WHIP, poor K/9 ratio, or a poor BB/9 ratio should be a turnoff for most owners. Finnegan has all of them! This is where it helps to focus on a smaller chunk of time.
Looking at Finnegan’s splits from last year, he had a 4.71 ERA in the first half compared to a 2.93 ERA in the second half. His K/9 jumped from 6.48 to 9.17, and his WHIP went from 1.41 to 1.29 as well. The credit for his improvement goes to the development of his changeup, a pitch that was worth just 3.5 runs above average in the first half and 6.2 runs above average in the second half. That growth led to improvement in his fastball’s value as well, and the result is an above-average starter. The question coming into 2017 was whether that improvement would stick.
Not only does it look like the improvement is here to stay, but there’s a chance that the 2017 version of Finnegan can be even better than anyone expected. Everyone was watching for whether Finnegan’s new-and-improved changeup was still working, and it was. It averaged 84.7 MPH on the day, and he threw it 18.2% of the time. This frequency was right in line with last August and September (18.1%), and while it was harder on average than it was during that time period last year (83.2 MPH), Finnegan brought a secret weapon to the table. A blazing fastball. Last year, Finnegan’s fastball averaged a healthy 91.7 MPH, but in his first start in 2017, it clocked in at an average of 94.0 MPH. This is all great news, but there are still reasons for owners to wait on making Finnegan a must-start.
Finnegan’s brilliant start against Philly included just about all the things that would point at regression on a larger scale. The Phillies’ BABIP was just .077. 100% of the runners that reached were stranded. 69.2% of balls put in play were on the ground. Only 37.5% of his pitches were in the strike zone. These are all numbers that will regress without question. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. However, when that regression occurs, those positives from before will hopefully be enough to keep it in check.
Brandon Finnegan is for real, but it is still early in his development. He is young, he has made meaningful changes in his arsenal and approach, and he has shown significant growth. He will still have some struggles and growing pains, but Finnegan should be owned in most leagues. He’s not a must-start yet, but he is headed in that direction.
Dylan Bundy, Baltimore Orioles – 24 years old
2016 Stats: 109.2 IP, 4.02 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 104 K (8.53 K/9), 42 BB (3.45 BB/9)
April 5, 2017 vs. Toronto: 7.0 IP, 1.29 ERA, 0.57 WHIP, 8 K (10.29 K/9), 0 BB (0.00 BB/9)
Dylan Bundy is a classic post-hype sleeper. Once a prized prospect, his regular injuries caused his development to be stunted until he finally was stuck in the majors in 2016 as he moved from short relief to eventual starter. 2017 is Bundy’s big chance to have a full season in the majors to showcase what he can do as a starter, assuming he can stay healthy.
Bundy’s stats from 2016 aren’t terribly impressive either, and he doesn’t have a magic cut-off date where he adopted some new pitch or philosophy that suddenly resulted in improvement. Bundy looked the part of a talented rookie who struggled. His intriguing K-rate of 9.04 as a starter looks pretty, but he was also plagued by an above average walk rate of 3.77 and an egregious HR/FB rate of 18.1% which would have been the third worst in the league if he had pitched enough innings to qualify. However, with the air of potential and the attraction of that elite K/9, owners were still curious about him coming into 2017.
His first start of the season couldn’t have gone much better. Facing a quality opponent, Bundy allowed just one run over seven innings while striking out eight. He didn’t walk anyone, and he was in the zone with 53.5% of his pitches, well above average. To top it off, he reintroduced his cutter after not using it at all in 2016. He threw it almost 30% of the time, and it worked as the perfect complement to his fastball with a difference of 6.6 MPH between the two pitches. Batters also swung and missed at an astounding 17.2% of pitches he threw. That’s better than anyone’s average last season.
Obviously, there were plenty of things that fell Bundy’s way too. When hitters did make contact, it was usually hard. 70.6% of the balls put in play against Bundy were either line drives or fly balls, but the Blue Jays only hit .235 on balls in play. That’s a dangerous game to play. And while drawing a swinging strike on 17.2% of pitches is incredible, it’s also not a dependable number. That’s a considerably higher percentage than any starter averaged last season. That number will regress.
Dylan Bundy is definitely a for real talent. Owners should pick him up because if he’s finally found the right combination, he can be golden. However, he could be prone to the gopher ball, and as his newly reintroduced cutter makes the rounds, hitters could get wise to it. Also, owners can’t ignore Bundy’s health problems of the past. On top of constantly being hurt, Bundy chose not to use his cutter at all last season for health reasons. Reintroducing it could simply lead right back to him getting hurt again. Either way, Bundy should be on your roster for the time being.
Amir Garrett, Cincinnati Reds – 24 years old
2016 Stats: (Triple-A) 67.2 IP, 3.46 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 54 K (7.18 K/9), 31 BB (4.12 BB/9)
April 7, 2017 vs. St. Louis: 6.0 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, 4 K (6.00 K/9), 2 BB (3.00 BB/9)
Amir Garrett is a big lefty who is taking advantage of the full rebuild the Reds are undergoing. The Reds have been aggressive about letting prospects get the chance to learn at the major league level, and Garrett is the current pride of their pitching prospects. After a decent showing in Triple-A last season, Garrett was tagged with a chance to see what he can do at the top level. Friday, he got his first taste of the bigs.
Garrett looked impressive in his first outing, and there were a lot of nice takeaways. He shut out the Cardinals for six innings. That’s a huge accomplishment. He’s made it to the show, and he showed potential to be a solid pitcher moving forward. His fastball averaged 91.2 MPH while his slider was a solid out pitch, and coming from a big lefty, that can be a brutal combination in time. Unfortunately, that’s about the end of the good news.
His strikeout rate was low and wasn’t impressive at Triple-A last season, and his walk rate was high and was even higher at Triple-A. Only 33.3% of the balls put in play were on the ground, his BABIP was just .133 and will undergo a correction, and 100% of his runners were left on base. He also only coaxed swinging strikes on 7.7% of the pitches he threw, which is well below league-average.
Currently, Amir Garrett is not for real - at least not yet. That’s not to say there isn’t potential, but too much about his performance on Friday points at good fortune for owners to invest at this point. Add in that his home field is very hitter-friendly and his team is likely to struggle to consistently put runs on the board, and Garrett really isn’t someone most owners should be interested in at this point.