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Are You For Real? Surprising SP Starts from Week 12


Welcome back to "Are You For Real?" Each week, we look at lower-owned starting pitchers who have performed unexpectedly well in their last outing(s).

It's a youth movement this week, as we look at three pitchers 25 or younger who've put up solid numbers over the last week. We're looking at two young Miami righties in Jordan Yamamoto and Pablo Lopez, and then hopping over to Houston to look at lefty Framber Valdez.

Ownership is based on Yahoo leagues and is accurate as of 06/17/2019. The goal of this article is to look at pitchers widely available that could be useful in fantasy, whether they have been recently added by a ton of teams or are still sitting on waivers.

Editor's Note: Get any full-season MLB Premium Pass for 50% off, with exclusive access to our season-long articles, 15 in-season lineup tools and over 200 days of expert DFS research/tools. Sign Up Now!

 

Jordan Yamamoto, Miami Marlins

22% Owned

2019 Stats (Triple-A): 65.1 IP, 3.58 ERA, 4.14 FIP, 14.4% K-BB%

06/12 vs. STL: 7 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 5 K

Yamamoto, that’s fun to say. But is he fun to own? The 23-year-old dazzled in his MLB debut, shutting down the Cardinals while putting his deep arsenal of pitches on display for the crowd of 7,000 in Miami. An unheralded righty out of Hawaii, Yamamoto was originally acquired by the Marlins in the Christian Yelich trade. Due to his size (6’0” 185 LB), and underwhelming velocity (91 MPH fastball), Yamamoto was ranked as the 17th-best prospect in a weak Miami farm system. Many scouts profiled him as a fifth starter at best, and a career minor leaguer at worst. With one good start under his belt, it’s worth diving into Yamamoto’s start to see if there’s anything to be excited about.

Yamamoto used five different pitches in this start, with a 91.8 MPH four-seamer as his main fastball and an 87 MPH cutter as his main secondary pitch. He also used a slider, changeup, curveball, and two-seamer at times during this start. Only two of those pitches (the slider and the cutter), induced at least one swinging strike, and Yamamoto only had six swinging strikes total.  While he only threw eight sliders, the pitch looked like his best strikeout offering. His slider is a little unusual, as Yamamoto throws it much slower than the league average but the horizontal movement on his slider is significantly above league average. Here are a few examples from this start.

The pitch isn’t quite a slurve, but it’s slower and loopier than the typical hard and fast slider we see from big-time strikeout pitchers like Chris Sale, for example.

Speaking of big-time strikeout pitchers, it’s unlikely that Yamamoto has the capability to become one. Short right-handers with low velocity don’t typically profile as strikeout pitchers, to begin with, and Yamamoto doesn’t seem to have a killer pitch that will allow him to rack up strikeouts. Cutter pitchers aren’t known for strikeouts, either, and Yamamoto doesn’t have the velocity that will let his secondary pitches play up. He’s had decent strikeout rates in the lower minors, but I’m skeptical whether this stuff can fool major league hitters consistently. It’s best not to expect more than a league average strikeout rate from Yamamoto. Given the ballpark, and his minor league track record of home run and walk suppression, Yamamoto could make up for a strikeout deficiency with good ratios. Don’t blow your FAAB on him, but he’s not a bad stash if you’ve got the room.

Verdict:

Yamamoto doesn’t look like much, but he offers a deep arsenal and pitches in a favorable environment. He won’t get many wins, and the strikeout numbers might underwhelm, but Yamamoto might be a solid source of ratios and quality starts while he’s in the rotation. Jose Urena is on the 60-day IL, so Yamamoto only needs to outperform Elieser Hernandez to keep his rotation spot, which shouldn’t be too hard to achieve.

 

Framber Valdez, Houston Astros

45% Owned

2019 Stats (bullpen): 26 IP, 3.12 ERA, 3.67 FIP, 7.2% K-BB%

06/08 vs. BAL: 7 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 7 K
06/15 vs. TOR: 6 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 8 K

Whether it be veterans like Brad Peacock and Collin McHugh, or prospects like Josh James and Forrest Whitley, Houston pitchers are often the subject of fantasy hype trains. Yet, Valdez has flown under-the-radar until recently. The 25-year-old lefty posted a 2.19 ERA in 37 innings last season, but 15.6% walk rate and 4.65 FIP likely scared owners and the Astros away, which is why Valdez had been pitching out of the bullpen until a few weeks ago. Valdez’s pitching style is centered around his sinker, which he throws at 92.4 MPH and uses about 40% of the time. He also throws a four-seamer, which has been averaging over 95 MPH in his last two starts, but he’s only thrown 15 four-seamers combined between those two starts. A curveball is his primary breaking ball, as Valdez throws it 34% of the time. He throws a show-me changeup as well, but may start using the pitch more as he transitions from the bullpen to the rotation.

As one would expect based on the profile, Valdez induces groundballs at an above average rate. He has a 59% groundball rate this season and had a 70% groundball rate in 2018. Both his sinker and curveball have groundball rates above 60%, and his sinker has an average launch angle against of -3 degrees. It would be reasonable to expect Valdez stay near the league lead in groundball rate, as the only qualified pitcher with a better groundball rate than him right now is Dakota Hudson. A Dakota Hudson-like output is a decent baseline for Valdez, but unlike Hudson there looks to be room for strikeout upside with Valdez.

Valdez’s curveball has taken big leaps this season, as he’s gained both vertical and horizontal movement with the pitch. That’s results in an 8% leap in swinging strike rate, up to 20.4%, and a 6% increase in chase rate at 34%. Hitters have struggled to hit the pitch as well, mustering a meager .083 AVG and .188 SLG against Valdez’s curveball. With just 191 pitches thrown this season we’re dealing with a relatively small sample size, but Valdez’s curveball has the marks of a legitimate shut down pitch. It induces strikeouts, groundballs, and weak contact; there isn’t much more one can hope for with this pitch.

The biggest concerns for Valdez are a limited repertoire (two fastballs and a curveball) and some rather fortunate luck on batted balls. Valdez has a .269 BABIP against and 10% HR/FB ratio. His low BABIP and home run rates can be explained by his above-average ground-ball rate, but owners should be hesitant to rely on a pitcher to overperform on BABIP over a long period of time. Valdez has had periods of extremely high BABIPs against in the minors, and low-dominance, high groundball pitchers like him tend to live and die by BABIP. There’s still plenty to like about Valdez, but prospective owners should be aware that he’s overperformed thus far. He won’t necessarily regress all the way to a 4.10 SIERA, but he won’t maintain a 2.73 ERA either.

Verdict:

With an elite groundball rate and improvements to his curveball, Valdez has a winning combination of pitches that can help him become a successful starter. His limited arsenal and good fortune should keep expectations realistic, but Valdez is worth taking a shot on in most formats.

 

Pablo Lopez, Miami Marlins

34% Owned

2019 Stats (prior to this start): 69.2 IP, 4.26 ERA, 3.64 FIP, 18.1% K-BB%

06/15 vs. PIT: 7 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 4 K

Lopez is rolling right now, with four straight quality starts for Miami. His production seems to have flown under the radar, as he’s still available in nearly two-thirds of Yahoo leagues. Lopez has a four-pitch arsenal, a four-seam fastball, a sinker, a changeup, and a curveball. During his quality start streak, Lopez has phased out the sinker, throwing just 13 sinkers total between his last four starts. He’s instead begun relying on his four-seamer more often and has increased usage on both of his secondary pitches.

Lopez’s strikeout rate has gone up over his last few starts, and that’s because he’s increased his breaking ball usage. The changeup has been Lopez’s best strikeout pitch, with a 19% SwStr rate and insane 50% chase rate. Both the drop and break on Lopez’s changeup are significantly above league average, and he’s induced groundballs at a 60% clip with the pitch. His changeup was effective in 2018, but Lopez wasn’t featuring it much last season compared to now. Overall, Lopez has increased his changeup usage by 4% from 19% to 23%, but he’s used the pitch 30% of the time over his last four starts. This is the type of move Lopez needed to make if he wanted to achieve sustainable success, and it looks like Lopez is moving in the right direction to become a reliable major league pitcher.

Even with his newfound success, it would be hard to see Lopez elevate beyond a third or fourth starter. With this arsenal, a high strikeout rate seems unattainable. Lopez’s curveball has a modest 10.7% SwStr rate and 25.8% chase rate. It also has below average drop for a curveball and has been pulverized by left-handed hitters for a .308 AVG and .462 SLG this season. Lopez has big platoon splits, with lefties hitting nearly 100 points higher and a wOBA more than 70 points higher when compared to righties. One would expect his excellent changeup to help him neutralize left-handed hitters, but with only two usable pitches against lefties, Lopez has struggled with opposite-handed batters throughout the season, and they’ve still crushed his curveball during this hot streak. There is potential for a solid starter here, but don’t hold your breath for him to take the ace leap, it'll probably never come.

Verdict:

A good four-seamer, a great changeup, and a passable curveball. That’s enough to get by as an above average starter. This isn’t a superstar in the making, but he’s someone who’s trustworthy in most matchups. With the current state of pitching, Lopez is available in far too many leagues. He’s owned in fewer leagues than Yusei Kikuchi and Mike Fiers, for crying out loud. Lopez is a recommended add in all but the shallowest of formats.

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