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Are You For Real? Surprising SP Starts from Week 23


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 the return of a former rotation mainstay in Sean Manaea, and at a rotation afterthought in Steven Brault. Both lefties put up solid starts over the Labor Day weekend and could be useful during the final month.

Ownership is based on Yahoo leagues and is accurate as of 09/02/2019. 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!

 

Sean Manaea, Oakland Athletics

39% Owned

09/01 @ NYY: 5 IP, 1 H 0 ER, 3 BB, 5 K

Sean Manaea made his first big league start of the season on Sunday, and only allowed one hit over five innings in Yankee Stadium. Naturally, this good start has sparked interest in the big lefty, and Manaea’s ownership has skyrocketed to nearly 40%. Manaea was looking like a 2018 breakout before suffering a torn shoulder labrum, as Manaea posted a 3.65 ERA and 3.38 K/BB in 27 starts. Manaea got it done with a three-pitch repertoire of a four-seam fastball, slider, and changeup. He incorporated all three into this start against the Yankees, but the real question is whether these pitches are still as good as they were pre-surgery.

First, let’s start with the fastball. Manaea averaged 91 MPH with his fastball in this start, which is half a mile below his career average, but half a mile above his velocity last season. Manaea did hit 94.6 on the gun, which is a solid indicator that the surgery did not have a big impact on his velocity. Manaea has never been known for lighting up the radar gun, but it’s good to see Manaea maintain his previous velocity numbers. He threw his fastball 70.7% of the time in this start, which is 13% higher than his career mark. It’s impossible to tell whether this is a new trend for Manaea or just him easing his way back into big-league play, but increased fastball usage would not be a welcome change for Manaea. He’s always had the most success with his secondary pitches, and the performance of his slider and changeup will tell us the most about how Manaea can fare coming back from surgery.

The fact that Manaea only threw eight changeups is a little disconcerting, seeing as the changeup has been his go-to secondary pitch throughout his career. He usually only throws the pitch against right-handed hitters, and the Yankees started six righties in this game, so one has to wonder why Manaea didn’t use the pitch more often. Manaea’s velocity was a bit down on his changeup, which is a little worrisome, but the real issue is the reduction in movement with the pitch. Manaea’s spin rate was up 300 RPM in this start, and he lost about two inches of drop and break with the pitch compared to last season. It was only eight pitches, and this was only his first start of the year, but this suggests Manaea either didn’t have a feel for the pitch or can’t obtain the same movement with the pitch yet. Either way, I’m skeptical that Manaea can sustain success without his changeup at its peak. It’s his best pitch, and his performance hinges on it.

The good news for Manaea is that he had comparable movement with his slider in this start compared to last season. Manaea’s slider is below league average in terms of movement and strikeouts, but seeing him maintain his past movement is encouraging for Manaea’s recovery. Manaea still has hurdles to overcome, but he could be a solid streamer for the remainder of the year. His pitch mix is worth monitoring, as is his changeup performance. He may also face longevity concerns as the Athletics ease him back into action.

Verdict:

Manaea didn’t have his best pitch, the changeup, at full strength in this one. He’ll have trouble maintain this type of success without his changeup, but it’s hard to gauge whether he will regain previous movement this season. Manaea could be used as a streamer, but based on how his ownership level has risen, owners are expecting a little more out of him based on name value. Use him in soft matchups, but don’t expect to get peak Sean Manaea this season.

Steven Brault, Pittsburgh Pirates

2019 Stats (prior to this start): 88.2 IP, 4.06 ERA, 4.22 FIP, 9.3% K-BB%

09/01 @ COL: 6.1 IP, 4 H, 2 R (1 ER), 2 BB, 5 K

Brault has quietly been pitching well as of late, posting a 3.41 ERA, 3.74 FIP, and 3.0 K/BB ratio in the second half. It’s easy to overlook someone doing well in Pittsburgh these days, but it’s a lot less easy to ignore when that pitcher does well in Coors Field. Brault got it done with three pitches in this one, his four-seamer, his two-seamer, and his slider. Brault only threw five sliders, so he was working almost exclusively off fastballs in this start. It’s an odd approach from Brault, as he doesn’t exactly blow anyone away with his heater, but this approach could have its merits for a pitcher like Brault.

Brault has increased in sinker usage in the second half, up to 24%, but his fastball usage was way up in this start. Brault may have leaned off his secondary pitches in this start because breaking balls have less movement at high altitude. However, Brault has had a few other starts with fastball usage above 85%, including his eight-strikeout performance against the Cubs on 08/17. He’s also seen an increase in fastball velocity throughout August, averaging 92.7 MPH with his four-seamer. Brault was above 93 MPH in this start against the Rockies, and he was above 93 MPH in his start against the Cubs. Brault has gotten better results with his four-seam fastball as his fastball velocity has risen. In the first half, batters hit .272 with a .449 SLG against Brault’s fastball, but are hitting .219 with a .406 SLG since August 1. This could merely be because Brault’s BABIP against has fallen over 50 points in August, but his improvements can at least be somewhat attributed to an increase in velocity.

Brault’s best strikeout pitch has always been his slider, so it’s surprising to see that his slider usage decreased by 2% over the last month. His usage may have decreased slightly, but his slider effectiveness has increased dramatically. Brault’s whiff rate has improved by 8% up to 23%, and opponent batting average fell 90 points down to .167 with zero extra-base hits. Brault has gained an inch and a half of break and two inches of drop with the pitch over this stretch as well. He began using the pitch as his out pitch against right-handed hitters in favor of his changeup. His strikeout numbers haven’t jumped as much as I would expect given these changes, in fact, they haven’t jumped at all. Brault is still living in that 19% range. If these slider improvements stick then Brault’s strikeout rate should eventually climb, but it’s hard for him to pile up the punchouts with 75% fastball usage.

I’m interested in what Brault’s doing, but the upside isn’t quite here to risk using him outside of deep leagues. He’s on a bad team and has a sub-20% strikeout rate. He could help with ratios, but based on his track record we cannot rely on Brault for ratios based on one month of work. I’m more intrigued with him as a sleeper for next season, especially if these slider gains hold, but I think Brault has a little more growing to do before he becomes a reliable starter. He’s a usable streamer for now.

Verdict:

Brault has both improved his fastball velocity and slider movement, which has correlated in improved results. Unfortunately, a good chunk of those results appears to be BABIP-driven. The potential for more strikeouts is here, but Brault hasn’t quite reached his peak yet. With just a month left in the season, he may not reach his peak at all this year. Still, he can be streamed in the right matchup.

 

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