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Are You For Real? Surprising SP Starts from Week 13


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).

This week we are looking at two right-handers in the eastern time zone. Joe Musgrove got off to a great start, then imploded, and now put up a dominant start against the Padres last week. The unheralded Austin Voth got some attention with a solid start against the hot-hitting Atlanta Braves on Sunday.

Ownership is based on Yahoo leagues and is accurate as of 06/24/2019. 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!

 

Austin Voth, Washington Nationals

0% Owned

2019 Stats (Triple-A): 61.1 IP, 4.40 ERA, 3.77 FIP, 19.8% K-BB%

06/23 vs. ATL: 6 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 7 K

Voth was making a spot start for Washington, but with this performance he’s earned himself at least one more turn in the rotation for the Nationals. They demoted the underperforming Erick Fedde in favor of Voth, and Voth gave them good reason to with this outing. He was throwing fire in this game, averaging 94 MPH and touching 96 with his four-seam fastball. He mixed in a curveball as his primary breaking ball in this outing, with the occasional cutter and changeup.

Voth only threw 12 major league innings last season, but he only averaged 91.4 MPH with the pitch. That means his 94 MPH fastball was a huge jump, and Voth got the results to go along with his velocity boost. Voth racked up 12 swinging strikes with the pitch, which gives him a 18.3% SwStr rate, far above the league average on fastballs. He not only got a good amount of strikeouts, but when hitters did make contact they did it straight up. Batters had a 32-degree average launch angle against this pitch, and a 75% flyball rate. While increased flyballs get us all hot and bothered about hitters, a flyball pitcher will generally allow fewer hits than a groundball pitcher. Flyballs will always have a lower BABIP than groundballs by nature, because a flyball than doesn’t go over the fence or find a gap is usually caught. We don’t necessarily need to fear a flyball-heavy pitcher like Voth, because it could lead to fewer hits and baserunners.

The flyballs did hurt him in this start, as Voth gave up two home runs and a double. These extra-base hits were all by elite hitters, but Voth will be facing elite hitters with regularity while pitching in the NL East. Nationals Park is also an above average hitter’s park for home runs, with a 1.2 HR factor (per ESPN park factors). These factors should make owners hesitant to use him at home, in hitter-friendly ballparks, or against high-powered offenses. Luckily, Voth has mostly shown good control in the minors and shouldn’t allow too many hits, keeping the damage low on his home runs. A pitcher can get away with a high home run rate if he limits baserunners, which Voth should have the ability to do based on the profile. It’s a scary proposition for a pitcher with a bad or absent track record like Voth, and given that this was only one start, Voth is only a recommended add in deeper leagues. In standard mixed leagues he’s a pitcher to watch, but not a must-add and certainly not worth blowing any reasonable amount of FAAB on Voth.

Verdict:

Voth upped his fastball velocity significantly compared to last season, and it should correlate to increased strikeouts and fewer baserunners allowed. Beware of home runs and extra-base hits, as Voth was giving up a lot of flyballs in this start. Ultimately, one start is too small of a sample size to make definitive judgements. He is worth a speculative add in deeper leagues, and he’s a pitcher to keep an eye on in standard leagues.

 

Joe Musgrove, Pittsburgh Pirates

38% owned

2019 Stats (prior to this start): 4.87 ERA, 3.83 FIP, 11.8% K-BB%

06/21 vs. SD: 7 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 8 K

Musgrove was looking like a big-time breakout during the first month of the season, posting a 1.54 ERA with a 4.43 K/BB ratio in 35 innings. His breakout quickly turned into a breakdown, as Musgrove got hammered in May for an 8.10 ERA and was dropped in mass by fantasy owners. Even with the pitiful results, there is a lot to like about Musgrove’s profile. The 26-year-old righty has one of the deepest arsenals in the game. He boasts two fastballs, a four-seamer and a two-seamer, he has three breaking balls, and has a changeup he uses frequently. Does this make Musgrove a jack of all trades and master of none? Not exactly, as there is plenty of value in each of these pitches.

Let’s start with Musgrove’s stable of breaking balls. The slider is his most used breaker at 23.1%, and there’s good reason for that. Musgrove has a 19.8% SwStr rate with his slider, and batters chase the pitch 41.7% of the time. Even when hitters make contact they struggle, as batters are hitting just .169 with a .174 xBA and .221 xwOBA. He ramped up his slider usage big time in this start at 37%, which is a great sign for Musgrove’s success. He was using the pitch over 30% of the time during his hot April, but lowered his usage in May and June, which saw him struggle. It would be an oversimplification to say that Musgrove will find success if he increases his slider usage, but it would be a step in the right direction. The slider is his best pitch, and Musgrove needs to incorporate it heavily into his pitch mix.

Along with the slider, Musgrove has gotten pretty good results with both his curveball and changeup. His changeup has an 18.8% SwStr against and a 49.4% chase rate, and his 16.7% SwStr and 41.1% chase rate. Batters have struggled against both pitches, with a BA and xBA below .250 and an xwOBA below .270. This gives him three good breaking balls, which is two more than pitcher needs to be successful in the majors. So, what’s the problem then? Why did Musgrove go through such a rough patch through May and into June? The answer seems to lie in increase cutter and sinker usage.

In May Musgrove began using his cutter and sinker more often, which looks to have been a bad move. His sinker has been destroyed by opponents for a .313 AVG and .396 SLG against, and the expected stats are even worse. Sure, the pitch has a 66% groundball rate, but Musgrove has been drowning in baserunners since so many of these groundballs were sneaking through. The Pirates infield defense has been below average thus far, with a negative DRS at every position besides second base. With few exceptions, the sinker is a dying pitch, and Musgrove isn’t good enough or in a position to be an exception. His cutter, on the other hand, just doesn’t stack up compared his other secondary pitch. It has a meager 6.2% SwStr rate and a 93.8% zone contact rate. This pitch is simply outclassed by his slider, changeup, and curveball, and there is no reason to use it other than as a show-me pitch.

With a restricted pitch mix Musgrove should be able to find a workable middle ground between his unsustainable 1.54 ERA April, and his catastrophic 8.10 ERA May. His biggest flaw outside of pitch mix is his weak four-seam fastball. Clocking in at a league average 92 MPH, batters have punished his four-seamer for a .293 AVG and .576 SLG. He also has a higher walk rate than strikeout rate with the pitch, which is especially disturbing for a supposed control artist like Musgrove. His poor fastball will limit his upside, but there is still a lot to like about Musgrove’s profile. The full breakout isn’t here yet, but he’s moving back towards usable territory. Owners should be hesitant to use him in tough matchups due to the blowup potential, but he’s worth watching and adding in deeper leagues.

 Verdict:

The key to success for Musgrove will be utilizing his deep arsenal of breaking balls, and limiting fastball exposure when possible. Pitchers like this can be quite volatile, but can also pay off pretty well when things go right. Musgrove doesn’t deserve our unconditional trust by any means, but he definitely has an interesting profile with lots of upside. Use in softer matchups until he can string together a few good starts in a row to rebuild trust.

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