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Are You For Real? Surprising SP Starts from Week 18


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're looking at everyone's favorite waiver wire options, boring veterans! Anibal Sanchez has been dealing for Washington over the last three months, and is still available in over half of Yahoo leagues. Gio Gonzalez was back with a vengeance last week, strikeout out nine Cubs over 6.1 innings on Friday.

Ownership is based on Yahoo leagues and is accurate as of 07/29/2019. 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. Exclusive access to our Draft Kit, premium rankings, projections, player outlooks, top prospects, dynasty rankings, 15 in-season lineup tools, and over 200 days of expert DFS research. Sign Up Now!

 

Gio Gonzalez, Milwaukee Brewers

11% Owned

2019 Stats (prior to this start): 35 IP, 3.60 ERA, 3.37 FIP, 11.3% K-BB%

07/26 vs. CHC: 6.1 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 9 K

With Gonzalez’s numbers, he doesn’t fit the bill of the traditional “surprising start”, but the unassuming veteran has battled injuries and stigma all season, keeping his ownership levels low. Gonzalez’s approach has changed slightly this season. The crafty left-hander has been fighting declining velocity for years now, and he looks to have finally found a reasonable way to combat his physical shortcomings. Gonzalez has been forgoing his fastball in favor of a secondary pitch, and not the one you’d think.

In his prime, Gio Gonzalez was known for a wicked curveball that buckled hitters at the knees. His curveball still has some life left in it, but Gonalez has turned to another pitch in the twilight of his career, the changeup. In past seasons Gonzalez used his changeup exclusively against opposite-handed batters. For his career, Gonzalez has thrown his changeup to lefties 3% of the time, but this season he’s thrown it 21% of the time against lefties. He’s also bumped up his changeup usage to a career-high 29.6% of the time overall. The changeup has long been Gonzalez’s best strikeout pitch, and he induced seven swinging strikes with it (19 total) in his most recent start against the Cubs. The pitch was on for Gonzalez in that start, as he was getting about two additional inches of break compared to his season average. The pitch was downright wicked at times. Here’s an example of one of Gonzalez’s best from this start.

See that late break as the pitch reaches the plate? If Gonzalez could do that every time he’d be awesome. Heck, if he could do it two-thirds of the time he’d be pretty darn good. The problem is, he hasn’t been doing that with any kind of consistency. As previously stated, Gonzalez was getting two extra inches of break. Those two inches separate him from slightly above league average to top 10% in curveball movement.

A performance like this creates quite a conundrum in player evaluation. On one hand, Gonzalez was legitimately pitching well and deserved the results he got. On the other hand, it’s hard to trust he’ll do it again, especially when it comes to a bland veteran like this. If Gonzalez could maintain this changeup movement, he’d likely be a viable mixed league option for the final two months. If not, then he’s firmly in streamer territory. While this writer’s personal team management style leans conservative, there isn’t a problem with jumping on this train as the calendar flips to August, especially for teams fighting for playoff spots. Unlike some other waiver wire pitchers, the risk seems relatively low. Gonzalez’s worst start this season is allowing four earned over 4.1 innings to the Twins. While not good, that won’t wreck your week either. As long as Gonzalez’s shoulder is healthy, which it sounds like it is, this is a low-cost, low-risk chance to take. He costs nothing to add and if he’s easy to cut loose if he fizzles out. Gonzalez is a sneaky add that could contribute for a month or longer.

Verdict:

It’s hard to believe in Gonzalez racking up nine strikeouts with regularity, but his changeup had a little extra on it in this start, and Gonzalez has begun using his changeup nearly 30% of the time this season. That should help boost his strikeout numbers, and with most owners ignoring the veteran, Gonzalez can be had for free as a low-risk dart throw. Pick him up and keep an eye on his changeup usage, movement, and results. If he reverts back to early-season numbers, cut him loose and pick up another lotto ticket.

 

Anibal Sanchez, Washington Nationals

42% Owned

2019 Stats (Prior to this start): 94.2 IP, 3.80 ERA, 4.74 FIP, 10.3% K-BB%

07/26 vs. LAD: 7 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K

Only in 2019, when the average major league starter has a 4.51 ERA, do we get excited about a good start from Anibal Sanchez. That may be overly harsh, as Sanchez actually has a 2.58 ERA since May 1. It comes with a 4.41 FIP and 13.4% K-BB%, but a 2.58 ERA over 69.2 innings is nothing to ignore. How does Sanchez do it, exactly? Here’s a hint, it’s not from his fastball. At just 90.2 MPH Sanchez’s fastball putters by as the seventh-slowest heater among right-handed starters (min. 100 IP). Knowing his fastball didn’t cut it anymore, Sanchez added a new wrinkle to his game in 2018, an 87 MPH cutter that may have literally saved his career.

It wasn’t long ago that Sanchez was considered one of the league’s worst starting pitchers. Sanchez was giving up home runs before it was cool, allowing an astounding 1.8 HR/9 between 2015-2017. It’s a wonder that he even got another chance, but Atlanta gave him a shot in 2018 and Sanchez rewarded them by posting a 2.83 ERA in 136.2 innings. It was that season where Sanchez began ramping up his cutter usage. He was throwing the pitch under 10% of the time prior to last season, but his cutter usage spiked up to 22.5% in 2018. It’s up to 27.6% this season, and that should correlate to success for Sanchez. Batters struggle to make solid contact against this pitch, with a .188 AVG and 85.5 MPH average exit velocity against the pitch. Sanchez has the fourth-best vertical movement on his cutter (min. 200 pitches thrown), and he induces a 20-degree average launch angle. Those metrics translate to a 32.5% infield flyball rate and .214 xBA with the cutter. Sanchez’s cutter will never be a big strikeout pitch (7.9% SwStr rate this season), but it’s helped him become one of those mythical contact management pitchers.

Even with his improved cutter, there’s still a lot to dislike about Sanchez. Batters have feasted on his curveball to the tune of a .385 AVG and .692 SLG. Sanchez doesn’t throw his curveball as often these days, but with results that bad one must wonder whether Sanchez should ever throw a curveball again. His fastball has been a continued source of pain as well, with opposing batters posting a .294 ISO against the pitch this season. Outside of his cutter, Sanchez’s changeup is the only other above-average pitch in his arsenal. Batters are hitting .235 with an 18.7% SwStr rate against the pitch this season, but have also hit five home runs off the pitch. That being said, two good pitches is more than a lot of starting major league pitchers have these days. As long as owners understand and recognize Sanchez’s flaws (poor fastball, occasional home run issues, below-average strikeout rate) he’s a fine back-end rotation piece.

Verdict:

This isn’t the same Anibal Sanchez that was successful with Miami a decade ago, nor is it the same Anibal Sanchez that got blasted out of Detroit two years ago. Now he’s a cutter heavy contact management pitcher. He won’t win anyone their league, but he’ll probably be an underrated fifth starter for a playoff team. It’s hard to shake the “ew Anibal Sanchez” feeling, which is why his ownership remains below 50% despite two months of domination. If you can get over the negatives associated with this name, you can add a decent pitcher. Like with Gio Gonzalez, don’t be scared to cut him loose if things head south.

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