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Are You For Real? Surprising SP Starts from Week 3


Welcome to our Surprising Starts series, where every week we look at lower-owned starting pitchers who have performed unexpectedly well in their last outing(s).

This week we're looking at a trio of NL West hurlers, each of whom once had relatively high expectations at one point in their career but have now been discarded by the fantasy community. Luke Weaver struck out eight Padres on Friday, while Drew Pomeranz and Jeff Samardzija both turned in solid outings against the Rockies.

Ownership is based on Yahoo leagues and is accurate as of 04/08/2019. 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!

 

Luke Weaver, Arizona Diamondbacks

23% Owned

2018 Stats: 136.1 IP, 4.95 ERA, 4.53 SIERA, 11% K-BB%

04/12 vs. SD: 6.1 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 8 K

Weaver was a fantasy darling heading into 2018 after an impressive rookie showing the year before, but he let down fantasy owners in a big way with a near 5.00 ERA and 1.50 WHIP. His stock plummeted heading into drafts this year, and he is barely being rostered in Yahoo leagues at under 25% owned. The thing is, Weaver is only 25 years old and still has the same talent he had two years ago, it’s just that scorned fantasy owners want to forget about the pain he caused.

Weaver is still primarily a fastball-changeup pitcher, but has phased out his curveball in favor of a cutter for 2019. The changeup is still the best strikeout pitch for Weaver, who notched seven of his ten swinging strikes with the changeup in this game. Ineffectiveness with his changeup is what gave Weaver trouble last season. He lost movement and gained spin (unlike fastballs and breaking balls, less spin is better for changeups) with his changeup. Batters hit .271 with a .199 ISO against the pitch compared to a .200 AVG and .050 ISO in 2017.

Without his changeup Weaver cannot be an effective starter, and thus far his changeup has looked a lot better this season compared to last. Here is a comparison of two changeups, one from 2018 and one from this most recent start.

04/12 vs. SD:

2018 w/ St. Louis

 

I cherry-picked a particularly bad changeup from Weaver’s worst start in 2018, but the difference is clear. Weaver is getting more drop on his changeup and less spin. There’s no reason to think this pitch cannot return to his 2017 form.

Speaking of 2017 form, Weaver got lots of people excited after posting a 3.88 ERA, 10.74 K/9, and 3.29 SIERA in 60.1 innings as a 23-year-old. Unrealistic expectations were placed upon Weaver after that year, and not only did he not meet them, but he crashed and burned in spectacular fashion. While his changeup is looking good once again, it’s hard to envision Weaver reaching his 2017 numbers ever again.

His strikeout rate seemed inflated because Weaver only had a 9.6% SwStr rate that season, and he is basically a two-pitch pitcher. His curveball got absolutely crushed in 2018 to the tune of a .329 AVG and .260 ISO. He’s phasing out his curveball usage in favor of a cutter this year, and the cutter has been effective with a .200 AVG against, but it’s far too small a sample size to make judgements yet. Here’s an example from this most recent start.

It’s not exactly Mariano Rivera’s cutter, but it could be a solid third pitch with some development. I don’t think this is the pitch that will let Weaver transcend to the next level or anything, but it might be more effective than his curveball. If anything it makes Weaver more interesting to watch over his next few starts. His ownership didn’t jump after this start; in fact it fell about 7% for some reason, meaning he could be added on the cheap as an under-the-radar flier. We don’t have to go all-in on Weaver, but it doesn’t hurt to pick him up and see where it goes.

Verdict:

Weaver’s changeup looks to be back, though it’s too early to make complete judgements on him. Don’t expect a 2017 repeat, but don’t expect a 2018 repeat either. He could be a decent source of ratios and strikeouts in Arizona, and is under-owned at just 23% in Yahoo leagues.

 

Drew Pomeranz, San Francisco Giants

3% Owned

2018 Stats: 74 IP, 6.08 ERA, 5.10 SIERA, 6.4% K-BB%

04/12 vs. COL:  5 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 5 K

Once an incredibly effective starter for San Diego and Boston, injuries have derailed Pomeranz’s career and caused him to put up a 6.08 ERA last season. He was searching for a second chance this offseason, and the rebuilding Giants took a flier on the 30-year-old lefty, and it’s about the best scenario for Pomeranz right now. A better team would’ve wanted to use him out of the bullpen, but Pomeranz has a guaranteed starter’s spot in San Francisco and gets to pitch his home games in the best pitcher’s park in baseball.

Those familiar with Drew Pomeranz know the deal, he’s a fastball-curveball guy, throwing a four-seamer and two-seamer, and those are basically the only two pitches he throws. He’s used a cutter at times, but he’s only thrown it eight times in 2019. It’s all about the fastball and curveball for Pomeranz.

The curveball really hasn’t been that good from a results perspective for Pomeranz, as batters are hitting .308 against the pitch thus far. However, he’s only given up two extra-base hits thus far, a pair of doubles, and has been rather unlucky with the pitch. Pomeranz’s curveball has a .215 AVG against and a -6-degree average launch angle against. It’s too early for these numbers to normalize yet, but this is a positive sign, especially since batters hit .380 with a 91 MPH average exit velocity against the curve last year. His curveball also has gained about an inch of drop and 1000 RPM compared to last season, and if Pomeranz is now healthy it would make sense that he’s executing better with the curveball.

The biggest problem with Pomeranz is that he doesn’t offer much depth. He hasn’t gone past five innings yet, and with his injury history and limited repertoire, it’s easy to see why the Giants don’t trust him to go past five yet. Pomeranz is also quite inefficient with his pitches. He can struggle to find the zone at times, which is evident by his 10% career walk rate. We know Pomeranz is going to walk batters, which means a high WHIP, and shortened outings, and lesser chances at a win, and higher pitch counts…the point is there are plenty of flaws in this profile. He could be an effective starter with strikeout upside, but he’s not a must-have player. He’s fine to stream, especially at home, but don’t expect a full-blown resurgence.

Verdict:

Pomeranz is usable, but he’s not back, at least not to his 2016-17 form. He should be a good source of ERA and strikeouts, but expect a high WHIP due to his egregious walk rate, and don’t expect many wins thanks to his short leash and the quality of his supporting cast. Stream him in a good matchup, but don’t spend any FAAB on him.

 

Jeff Samardzija, San Francisco Giants

8% Owned

2018 Stats: 44.2 IP, 6.25 ERA, 5.96 SIERA, 1.9% K-BB%

04/11 vs. COL: 7 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 7 K

Samardzija had an awful, injury plagued 2018 campaign, and most fantasy owners left the 34-year-old for dead this draft season. He was going around the last round, if at all, in standard mixed leagues. It’s easy to see why Samardzija was being discarded, but prior to 2018 Samardzija had five straight seasons with more than 200 innings pitched and never had a SIERA above 4.18 during that time.

The upside for Samardzija is pretty low, at his best he’s something of a Rick Porcello-type, but with three solid starts to open the season one has to wonder if Samardzija is back. At his best Samardzija got it done with a deep six pitch arsenal. He has a four-seam and two-seam fastball, a slider, a cutter, a curveball, and a splitter. He primarily uses the fastballs, slider, and cutter, but will mix in the other two pitches at times.

Unlike the other two pitchers covered in this article, Samardzija doesn’t have one killer pitch. Luke Weaver, for example, can throw a changeup that really catches your attention. Samardzija doesn’t really have a pitch like that. His slider has probably been his best pitch, as batters have a .225 AVG and .152 ISO against the pitch all time. Samardzija has just a 13.2% SwStr rate with that pitch over his career, which is below average for a slider.

He did notch seven swinging strikes with the pitch in this start out of his 14 total, but overall this slider isn’t spectacular. His splitter has been his best strikeout pitch. It’s an effective offering against lefties and with two strikes, but he doesn’t throw it frequently enough to rack up big strikeout totals. He had a 24.2% strikeout rate two years ago, but don’t bank on that returning. He should be better than 7 K/9, but probably won’t reach 9 K/9.

The writeup on Samardzija is relatively brief compared to the other two pitchers, but that’s because he really isn’t doing much differently. In is case, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If Samardzija is healthy, there’s no reason to think he can’t be a productive, volume-heavy pitcher again. He’s kind of boring, and that shows in his 8% ownership rate despite a 1.62 ERA through three starts. However, for those that hate cycling between volatile waiver wire pitchers from week-to-week, Samardzija might be the perfect add.

He’s hard to trust on the road in hitter-friendly ballparks; he’s allowed at least 1.2 HR/9 in three of the last four seasons, but at home there isn’t much risk is using Samardzija. He won’t come by many wins in San Francisco, but in quality starts leagues he is the type of pitcher that can go six or more innings consistently. Is Jeff Samardzija going to win someone their league? Probably not, but he might be someone you add in April and hang onto all season.

Verdict:

Samardzija isn’t a sexy pitching prospect with a 98 MPH fastball or wicked hook, but he could return to former glory if he stays healthy. 2018 was an aberration, and it’s easy to be afraid of a 34-year-old who had injury issues, but the risk seems low with adding Samardzija. He shouldn’t be trusted in tough matchups on the road yet, but if you’re looking for back-end stability Samardzija could be the answer.

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