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Are You For Real? Surprising SP Starts from Week 20


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).

We've got a pair of interesting AL hurlers on the slate this week. Jakob Junis put up a pair of good starts against the Red Sox and Tigers, while Ryan Yarbrough was one out from going the distance in a scoreless outing against the Mariners.

Ownership is based on Yahoo leagues and is accurate as of 08/12/2019. 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!

 

Jakob Junis, Kansas City Royals

24% Owned

2019 Stats (Prior to these starts): 132.1 IP, 5.03 ERA, 4.89 FIP, 13.6% K-BB%

08/06 @ BOS: 6 IP, 7 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K
08/11 @ DET: 6 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 6 K

Junis was dominant last week, showing up big twice on the road for a pair of rare and precious wins for Kansas City. Since he first broke onto the scene in 2017, Junis has been known for his two-pitch pitching style, using his fastball and slider almost exclusively. It’s not a true two-pitch style, as Junis does use both a two-seam and four-seam fastball, but he lacks a second breaking ball to go along with his slider. With a career 1.56 HR/9 and 4.66 FIP this approach has given Junis plenty of trouble during his young career. With these last two starts, it’s fair to ask whether Junis has turned a corner.

What we’d expect to see from a Junis breakout would be the development of a third pitch. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened for Junis. He threw exactly one changeup in his last start against Detroit. The lack of changeup usage makes sense, as Junis doesn’t use the pitch against same-handed batters, but without the introduction of another third pitch, there isn’t any added depth to this arsenal. Without an additional dimension, this is a rather shallow repertoire that leaves us grasping for answers as to how Junis has been pitching better.

The most glaring change that Junis has made over these last few starts was upping his fastball usage. Junis had been around a 45/45/10 split between his fastball, slider, and changeup, but he’s thrown his fastballs over 60% of the time in his last two starts. Since that’s the biggest change we can see in Junis’s approach, we could suppose this is the reason for his success, but that’s a tough sell in my view. Junis’s fastballs have been toasted this season, with opponents hitting .339 with a .637 SLG against his four-seamer, and .339 with a .504 SLG against his sinker. He didn’t improve his velocity or movement over these last two starts, so his success seems more the result of a near 90% LOB rate than anything else. There aren’t any significant changes here for Junis to ascend beyond streamer status.

Verdict:

No third pitch and no discernable changes to his existing repertoire makes this recent success questionable. We’re in a critical point in the season, so don’t put your ratios on the line with Junis.

 

Ryan Yarbrough, Tampa Bay Rays

56% Owned

2019 Stats (Prior to this start): 90 IP, 3.90 ERA, 3.56 FIP, 16.1% K-BB%

08/11 @ SEA: 8.2 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 8 K

Yarbrough went deep in his most recent start, going a career-high 8.2 innings in a dominant performance against the Mariners. His second half has been great as well, with Yarbrough posting a 1.78 ERA in 35.1 innings along with a monster 22.3% K-BB%. Yarborough had made an interesting shift in his approach over the course of the season, and he looks to be reaping the benefits.

As the season has progressed, so has Yarbrough. After a disastrous April where he posted an 8.10 ERA, Yarbrough has rebounded to the tune of a 2.95 ERA and 3.28 FIP since May 1. His success has coincided with a fundamental change in approach. Yarbrough has begun throwing his cutter as his primary fastball, and it has worked wonders for him. Yarbrough has eliminated his platoon splits, as righties are hitting just .210 against him this season compared to .262 last year. Right-handed batters are hitting a mere .172 against the cutter with a .097 ISO. Yarbrough’s biggest problems last season came from poor platoon splits, and with his new cutter-heavy style he’s got two separate approaches to take against both sides of the plate. He’ll use primarily the cutter and change against righties, and the four-seamer and slider against lefties. It’s only been about two months since he began this shift, but this is exactly the type of thing to look for in a pitcher when judging whether his improvements are legitimate.

The biggest criticism against Yarbrough at this point would be a lack of strikeout upside. His slider has just a 13.8% SwStr and a meager 22.3% chase rate, both underwhelming numbers for the pitch. His changeup has been a bit better, with a 16.4% SwStr and 46.3% chase rate, but owners should not expect him to maintain a 9.0 K/9 or better. Instead, Yarbrough will get by with his elite 84.2 MPH average exit velocity against. Other than his fastball, batters have an average exit velocity below 83 MPH against all of Yarbrough’s pitches. Combine that type of contact management with a 3.4% BB rate, and we can forgive a below-average strikeout rate in this case. Yarbrough’s gains look sustainable over the long term, and it will be difficult to find any reliable starting pitchers in mid-August. Owners should definitely be looking to hop aboard this train.

Verdict:

He won't put up flashy strikeout numbers, but a shift in approach against righties should pave the way for success for Yarbrough. He's a reliable pitcher that can be had in nearly half of leagues.

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