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Are You For Real? Surprising Fantasy Baseball Pitcher Starts From DJ Herz and Hunter Brown

DJ Herz - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Draft Sleepers, Waiver Wire Pickups

Welcome back to "Are You For Real?", a weekly column where we take starting pitchers who had surprisingly good starts over the past week and put them under the microscope to determine whether they're legit or just smoke and mirrors.

We've got two interesting young arms to deep dive into this week. First, for the deep league players we'll take a look at Nats rookie DJ Herz's dominant outing against Miami. Then, for the shallow league players is a breakdown of the recent hot stretch from Astros' righty Hunter Brown.

Roster percentages are taken from Yahoo! and are accurate as of June 17.

Be sure to check all of our fantasy baseball lineup tools and weekly lineup resources:


DJ Herz, Washington Nationals -- 8% Rostered

2024 Stats (prior to this start): 8.1 IP, 6.48 ERA, 4.58 FIP, 7.3% K-BB%
6/15 vs. MIA: 6 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 13 K

Herz was electric on Saturday, mowing down the Marlins for six innings of one-hit ball en route to his first career victory. The 13 strikeouts also represent a professional high for Herz, who had never struck out 13 at any level prior to Saturday. Herz has some prospect pedigree, and he’s finally getting an opportunity with Trevor Williams on the shelf. Can Herz be a fantasy asset, or was this just a strong performance against a weak opponent?

Originally an eighth-round pick by the Cubs back in 2019, Herz was traded to the Nationals at the 2023 deadline in exchange for Jeimer Candelario. Herz came into the season as the 12th-ranked Nationals prospect per MLB Pipeline, with Herz projecting as a back-end rotation piece thanks to his fastball-changeup combo. In total, Herz throws four pitches: a four-seam fastball, a changeup, a cutter, and a slider.

Herz may have a four-pitch arsenal, but he’s best known for one pitch, and that’s his changeup. A high-spin, 82 mph offering, Herz’s changeup boasts exceptional movement and has proven to be a weapon against right-handed hitters. Here’s an example from this start.

The pitch has exceptional vertical movement, allowing it to act as a breaking ball for Herz. Batters have struggled mightily with this pitch. Opponents are hitting just .118 off Herz’s changeup, along with a .118 SLG and .105 wOBA. Herz has a solid 13.2% swinging strike rate with the pitch, and he earned six of his 21 (21!) whiffs with his changeup in this start.

It’s been about more than strikeouts for Herz, who has allowed an 85.9 mph average exit velocity and a 30-degree average launch angle against his changeup this season. That means he’s inducing weak flyballs, which are low-probability hits and should lead to a low BABIP against. It’s too small of a sample size for things to be normalized and he’ll likely experience regression on the .167 BABIP against his changeup thus far, but this is a good pitch that Herz should find success with at the major league level.

Herz’s changeup is his best pitch, but he got plenty done with his fastball in this one as well. Herz got 13 swinging strikes with his fastball alone in this one. He excelled by keeping the fastball away from righties. Here’s a look at his fastball heatmap from this start (bottom) compared to his previous two starts (top).

He kept the fastball up and away and it worked for him. Not only did he earn a healthy number of whiffs with the pitch, but Herz induced favorable contact as well. Herz has an ugly 94.2 mph average exit velocity against his fastball, but he also has a 27-degree average launch angle and a .163 xBA against.

These results are nice, but on paper, Herz’s fastball isn’t anything special. He averages 93.1 mph and 2,302 RPM, giving him average spin and below-average velocity. The 13 whiffs Herz earned with this pitch says more about the Marlins lineup than it does about the quality of Herz’s fastball.

What about the rest of his arsenal? Herz was criticized as a prospect for being a two-pitch pitcher, and he’s attempted to develop a cutter and slider to complement his fastball-changeup combo. He only threw three sliders in this one, so we’ll focus on the cutter. Herz used it 10% of the time and earned one whiff with the pitch. On the year opponents are hitting .286 against the pitch with a .714 SLG and .458 wOBA, but Herz has a .193 xBA, .357 xSLG, and .292 xwOBA against his cutter this season. A low-spin, 86 mph offering, Herz’s cutter is best characterized by its plus horizontal movement. Herz’s cutter might have the potential to be a solid third pitch, but we need to see more consistent usage and better outcomes before we can trust it.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Herz’s performance wasn’t the one hit allowed, zero runs surrendered, or the 13 strikeouts. Maybe it was the zero walks issued. Walks have been a major problem for Herz at the minor-league level. He had a 7.25 BB/9 at Triple-A prior to his promotion, and his walk rates were routinely above 14% as a minor leaguer. That just isn’t tenable for a major leaguer. Herz issued five walks combined in his first two starts, and the Marlins have the second-lowest walk rate against left-handed pitchers this season at a meager 5.5%. It seems more and more like this start was Herz taking advantage of a weak opponent rather than Herz turning a corner.


Herz’s changeup looks like a plus pitch that should earn him plenty of whiffs and strikeouts going forward. Unfortunately, there isn’t much to like about Herz outside of his changeup. His fastball is below average on paper and seems to have overperformed in this game, and his cutter and slider are largely nonfactors in his approach. Herz also struggles with control and can’t be trusted to have too many more zero-walk outings. There is some upside here as we saw on Saturday, however, this start seems more like Herz taking advantage of a bad lineup than Herz turning a corner. It’s too dicey to trust Herz following this start. He’s a streamer in standard mixed leagues at best.


Hunter Brown, Houston Astros -- 65% Rostered

2024 Stats (prior to this start): 61.1 IP, 5.58 ERA, 4.86 FIP, 14% K-BB%
6/14 vs. DET: 7 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 9 K

Brown was dominant again Friday, putting up his second consecutive scoreless outing and second straight victory with seven shutout innings against Detroit. It’s been a tale of two seasons for Brown, who had an 8.89 ERA through his first seven starts, but now has a 2.41 ERA over his last seven starts. Who is the real Hunter Brown? Did he make tangible changes to go along with improved results, or will he fade back into the pitcher we saw toward the beginning of the season?

A fifth-round pick by the Astros back in 2019, Brown rose through the prospect ranks by improving his game in the minor leagues. He wasn’t a big prospect on a national level, but he was considered one of the better prospects in Houston’s system as recently as last year. Brown was the top-ranked Astros prospect by Fangraphs in 2023, though he struggled with his first full season in the majors, putting up a 5.09 ERA in 155.2 innings last year. Brown works with a five-pitch mix, consisting of a four-seam fastball, sinker, changeup, slider, curveball, and cutter. A cursory look at Brown’s pitch mix data would have one thinking he relies heavily on his four-seamer and curveball, but things have been trending in another direction for Brown during his hot streak.

There are a few noteworthy changes Brown made to his pitch mix during his hot streak, but perhaps the most stark would be his increase in sinker usage. Through his first seven starts, Brown only used his sinker 1.44% of the time, but his usage has increased to 14.77% over his last seven starts. The sinker has served him well, as opponents are hitting just .158 against the pitch with a .211 SLG during that stretch. A 95.1 mph offering, Brown’s sinker has specialized in inducing weak contact.

The average exit velocity against Brown’s sinker is an astonishing 73.1 mph, with a four-degree average launch angle. You know what that means? Weak groundballs, and lots of ‘em. Brown has a 65% groundball rate with his sinker this season, and he has a 58% groundball rate over his last seven starts, a 13.1% improvement. Brown has been a solid groundball pitcher over the course of his professional career, but his increased sinker usage seems to have taken him to another level. Whether he can maintain this over a longer period of time remains to be seen, however, this is an encouraging change to see.

Another pitch Brown has begun featuring more heavily is his cutter, which was his most used pitch in this start against the Tigers. Brown threw his cutter 35% of the time in this one and earned eight of his 15 whiffs with the pitch. Despite his struggles this season, opposing batters have not been able to square up Brown’s cutter. Opponents are hitting .170 against the pitch with a .298 SLG and .247 wOBA. Most impressive, Brown has an 84.5 mph average exit velocity against and a -9.0 degree average launch angle against. Yes, -9.0, you read that correctly. Brown has a 77.4% groundball rate with this pitch, meaning it’s been nigh impossible for hitters to elevate. Brown’s cutter usage rate is up four percent during his current hot streak, and he should continue to be a groundball machine should he continue to rely on this pitch.

The increased sinker and cutter usage is great, but Brown still has a 5.00 ERA. Can we really trust him? The biggest issue for Brown has been the quality of his four-seam fastball, which has been pulverized by opponents this season. Batters are hitting .327 with a .594 SLG and a .425 wOBA off Brown’s four-seamer this season. On the bright side, the expected stats are a little more favorable at a .250 xBA, .405 xSLG, and .320 xwOBA. BABIP killed Brown during his struggles, as he had a .440 BABIP against over his first seven starts and still has a .433 BABIP with his four-seamer on the year.

A 95.4 mph offering, Brown’s four-seamer is characterized by low spin and average movement, making it an average pitch at best despite plus velocity. Brown’s four-seam usage has dipped by 11% over his last seven starts, and it really took a backseat in this start with just 15.6% usage. Brown has a 21-degree average launch angle against with his four-seamer, which is incongruent with the rest of his game. He’s found success by keeping the ball on the ground, and his four-seamer hasn’t been able to do that consistently.


Brown has made some tangible changes to his pitch mix, and those efforts are paying dividends for him. He’s excelled with his sinker and cutter, keeping the ball on the ground at a 58% rate over his last seven starts, a mark that would be third-highest among qualified pitchers. Pair that groundball rate with a 25.6% strikeout rate and you’ve got a fine fantasy contributor. It looks like Brown is past his early season hiccups and could be a 3.50 to 4.00 ERA pitcher with a solid strikeout rate going forward. If he was dropped in your league, consider picking him up.

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