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Are You For Real? Surprising SP Starts from Week 9


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 a pair of young right-handers, Griffin Canning of the Angels and Dakota Hudson of the Cardinals.

Ownership is based on Yahoo leagues and is accurate as of 5/27/2019. 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!

 

Griffin Canning, Los Angeles Angels

31% Owned

2018 Stats (Triple-A): 59 IP, 5.49 ERA, 4.22 FIP, 16.1% K-BB%

05/24 vs. TEX: 5 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 K

Canning has turned in a few impressive starts since being promoted to the majors, and with the current state of Anaheim’s rotation he could certainly earn a permanent role. Canning was the top pitching prospect for the Angels, coming into the season and the second overall behind Jo Adell. With a deep and effective repertoire, it’s easy to see why Canning was so highly regarded. Canning’s main three pitches are a 93.2 MPH four-seamer, an 88 MPH slider, and an 81.6 MPH curveball. He throws the occasional changeup, but it’s mostly about the fastball  and two breaking balls for Canning. The breaking balls have been his key to success, and he’s been able to rack up strikeouts with each pitch.

First let’s breakdown Canning’s slider, as it’s been his best strikeout pitch, but hasn’t been very effective from a results perspective. Opposing batters are hitting .308 against the pitch, but hitters have just an .039 ISO and 27% SwStr rate. Canning has the best swinging strike rate with his slider among all major league starters (min. 100 sliders thrown). Much of the success betters have had against Canning’s slider has been bad luck on batted balls, especially since he has maintained a 65% groundball rate with the pitch. Once that bloated .400 BABIP on his slider normalizes, it will look like one of the game’s best. What makes the pitch so special is the elite amount of drop Canning gets with it, making it tough for same-handed batters to hit, and nigh impossible to square up. It’s still a small sample size for Canning, but he’s put up some monster plate discipline metrics with his slider. He has a 45.2% contact rate and a 37.5% chase rate with his slider. This pitch should keep Canning’s strikeout rate above league average by a healthy margin.

Now, for his other breaking ball, the curve. Cannning’s curveball is his pitch to get lefties out, and it’s worked well for him thus far. Batters are hitting .125 with an .063 ISO against Canning’s curve, and it has an astounding -11-degree average launch angle against. That’s the lowest this writer can personally remember seeing on any pitch from any pitcher, granted he’s only thrown 99 curveballs this year. That has translated into a 70% groundball rate and a 10% flyball rate, and those flyballs have all been infield flyballs. Canning has rather drastic reverse splits (lefties are hitting just .140 against him) and it’s because of his curveball.  Between the curveball and the slider Canning seems to have an effective breaking ball for batters on each side, which is huge for a young pitcher. With these two pitches Canning could be in line for long term success.

His biggest fault thus far has been home runs, as Canning has served up five bombs in five starts this season. All but one of the home runs Canning has allowed have come off his fastball, and batters have a 90.7 MPH average exit velocity against the fastball. Three of those came in one outing at Baltimore, and Canning never had home run issues in the minor leagues, so it stands to reason that his 1.71 HR/9 will fall going forward. Much like the BABIP against Canning’s slider, this home run issue seems likely to normalize over a longer period of time.

Verdict:

It’s too early to declare Canning a breakout, but there is a lot to like about what the young righty has done in his first five starts. Two good breaking balls and above average heat are a recipe for success at the big league level. If Canning is still out there, consider picking him up as a back-end starter with upside.

 

Dakota Hudson, St. Louis Cardinals

7% Owned

2018 Stats (bullpen): 27.1 IP, 2.63 ERA, 3.86 FIP, 0.8% K-BB%

05/25 vs. ATL: 6.1 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 2 K

Hudson has quietly been churning out quality starts this season, and his last outing against Atlanta marks his third straight quality start. Hudson’s never been one to do it with strikeouts; he has a career 6.36 K/9 in the majors and never had a K/9 greater than 7.01 in the minors. He’s also struggled with control at times, with a career 4.69 BB/9. And his home run rate has been high this season, at 1.52 HR/9. So what, then, is making Hudson pitch well? That’s a good question, and the answer is ostensibly his 93.6 MPH sinker, the one that’s allowed Hudson to have a major league high 61.8% groundball rate. But just how good does a good groundball alone make him?

Whenever a pitcher with a groundball rate this high comes along, the gut reaction is to compare him to Dallas Keuchel. Keuchel is one of the often touted exceptions to the strikeouts are king rule, but what must be pointed out in a Dallas Keuchel/Dakota Hudson comparison, besides them both having geographically-inspired first names, is that Keuchel had (has? he’s not retired, after all) a dominant slider that kept his strikeout rate around a respectable level and contributed to his groundball prowess. Hudson has a decent slider, but it's nowhere near what Keuchel had at his peak. Keuchel also paired his groundball rate with elite control, something Hudson decidedly does not possess. Limiting walks is important for groundball pitchers, because groundball pitchers tend to allow more singles than pitchers with flyball tendencies. While flyballs are all the rage among hip millennials like Josh Bell, a batter is more likely to get a hit with a groundball. Those hits will either be a single, or if the batter is lucky, a double down the line. So, a low-strikeout, groundball-heavy pitcher like Hudson will probably have a higher than average BABIP. If he’s adding walks on top of that, big trouble awaits.

Home runs have also been an issue for Hudson, but unlike his poor control and low strikeout rate, this problems seems likely to normalize. Hudson was elite at home run suppression in the minors, allowing eight total among his minor league career. Somehow, he’s already allowed nine in 53.1 innings this season. Maybe it’s the juiced ball, maybe it’s better competition, or maybe it’s just plain bad luck, but one should expect Hudson’s 23.7% HR/FB ratio to regress towards league average. That would put his ERA around his 4.45 xFIP, which is slightly higher than his current 4.22 ERA. That really isn’t too exciting, especially since Hudson brings a high WHIP along with it and virtually no strikeout upside. The risk far outweighs the reward with Hudson.

Verdict:

No strikeouts, no control, no thanks. An elite groundball rate can only take you so far, just ask Brad Keller or Clayton Richard. Why risk your ratios for the ceiling of six innings, two runs, three strikeouts? Pass.

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