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In fantasy baseball, owners can often spends weeks or months preparing for the draft. Many will pore over websites and lists and spreadsheets and forums and magazines for hours upon hours to ensure they make the right choices. But once draft day comes and goes, what’s next?

As the saying goes, you can’t win your league during the draft. The moves owners make during the season are the ones that will determine who wins. The art to winning at fantasy baseball is being able to determine who should be added to a roster and should be bypassed. In order to do that, an owner needs to be able to tell if someone is for real or not.

In week 12, this column will focus on some pitchers who have recently thrown their hats into the ring for consideration. These pitchers will be available in many leagues, and we’ll dig a little deeper to determine whether you should be picking these guys up or leaving them be.

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Department of Corrections

Jason Vargas, Kansas City Royals

2014 Stats (last full season): 187.0 IP, 3.71 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 128 K (6.16 K/9), 41 BB (1.97 BB/9)

June 24, 2017 versus Toronto: 7.0 IP, 2.57 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 2 K (2.57 K/9), 0 BB (0.00 BB/9)

This column is usually reserved for pitchers who are available in the majority of leagues, but Jason Vargas is a special case. He currently leads the majors in wins, and appropriately, he’s owned in 92% of Yahoo leagues. Those that own him should be trading him. Right now.

Vargas has been a bit of a miracle story this season. He’s 34 years old, he’s returning from Tommy John surgery, and prior to the surgery he was always a mediocre to slightly above average pitcher at best. He usually held almost no fantasy value due to a career strikeout rate of 5.90/9 prior to the surgery, and he was going to be pitching for a Kansas City Royals team that was expected to be in the last days of their World Series hangover/team implosion. The only tiny glimmer of hope related to Vargas was that in a cup of coffee with the big league club late last fall, he logged a 2.25 ERA and 11 strikeouts over 12 innings. Then 2017 rolled around, and suddenly, he’s pitching like he’s 10 years younger and an up-and-comer that the league wasn’t prepared for. It turned out, Vargas had a secret weapon.

It was strikeouts. Okay, the weapon was really only a secret because it was coming from him. Vargas had pitched in the majors in 12 different seasons, and he had only posted a strikeout rate above 7.00 once. That was as a 22-year-old rookie, and even then, it was only 7.21. Strikeouts are a new thing for Vargas, and his success in 2017 has been the result of adding strikeouts to his repertoire.

On June 24, Vargas hosted the Blue Jays. He was already coming off two straight quality starts, and he kept the streak going by holding Toronto to just two runs in seven innings. He allowed eight hits, and both runs were from solo home runs. Unfortunately, he only struck out two, but he walked no one and the damage was quite contained. Worse, even though he’s working on three straight quality starts, a more worrying trend has continued. In spring training, he averaged 87.81 MPH on his sinker. By April, that had dropped to 86.80. By May, it was down to 86.51. In June, it’s all the way down to 85.73. That’s over 2 MPH since spring training and over 1 MPH since the start of the regular season. It’s a consistent trend across all his pitches. His four-seamer has dropped from 87.66 in April to 85.31 in June. His curveball has dropped from 74.66 to 72.06. Simply put, Vargas is getting worn out.


Jason Vargas is nearing the end of a pretty good career. He’s always been for real, but not like this. The version of Vargas that has pitched in the first half of this season has been him at his best. Unfortunately, it’s short-lived. Vargas is coming off a 2016 season where he pitched a total of 32 innings across four different levels of professional baseball during rehab. In 2015, he threw 48 and 1/3 innings before succumbing to injury. He just doesn’t have the stamina to keep up the performance he had at the start of the season. As with all players, Vargas has reportedly been in the best shape of his life and his new mechanics are the secret to his success. Given another offseason of training, perhaps he can do it again next season. For now though, owners should be trying to cash in on Vargas’ incredible first half as soon as possible. As his pitches continue to slow down, he’s going to start getting hit hard. The correction is coming.


Scott Feldman, Cincinnati Reds

2016 Stats (mostly in relief): 77.0 IP, 3.97 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 56 K (6.55 K/9), 19 BB (2.22 BB/9)

June 25, 2017 at Washington: 7.0 IP, 2.57 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 5 K (6.43 K/9), 2 BB (2.57 BB/9)

Scott Feldman made his name as a mediocre to below average starter with the Rangers from 2005 to 2012. He then got signed to a one-year deal with the Cubs and after a strong first half of one season, he was the centerpiece of a trade to the Orioles. In exchange, the Cubs were willing to take a couple lame ducks off Baltimore’s roster and get some international bonus cash. Unfortunately for the Orioles, Feldman went back to being below average while the lame ducks were named Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop. A Cy Young award and a World Series win later (for the other half of the trade), Feldman is now pitching for the Reds.

Recently, Feldman has started pitching pretty well again. He’s got quality starts in three of his last four outings, and on June 25, he put the Nationals in their place. Everyone knows Washington chokes in the playoffs, but they’re an excellent regular season team and have the fifth best record in baseball. Someone like Feldman holding them to just two earned runs over seven innings is worth examining. Feldman struck out five on the day while allowing seven hits and two walks, but the strikeouts are the real selling point. With those five, that gives Feldman 21 Ks in his last 25 innings pitched. That’s pretty notable for a guy with a career average strikeout rate of just 5.68. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much the end of the good news.

Feldman’s recent run of success is far more dependent on his ability to draw ground balls than his ability to strike hitters out. The correlation is actually really impressive. In his last 10 games, Feldman has coaxed a ground ball rate of 47% or more in six of them. In those same 10 games, Feldman has held his opponent to two runs or fewer in six games as well. It’s a perfect match. The problem is that in the other four games where he had a worse ground ball rate, Feldman gave up four or more runs every single time. He also never pitched more than five innings in those outings.


Scott Feldman hasn’t found the fountain of youth, and his current streak is nothing but smoke and mirrors. Feldman really isn’t a good pitcher. He’s simply going to live in infamy as the piece that the Orioles got in exchange for a future Cy Young award winner that led the Cubs out of the darkness after more than a century without a championship. So at least he’ll be remembered?


Sean Newcomb, Atlanta Braves

2016 Stats (Triple-A): 140.0 IP, 3.86 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 152 K (9.77 K/9), 71 BB (4.56 BB/9)

June 21, 2017 versus San Francisco: 6.0 IP, 1.50 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, 3 K (4.50 K/9), 1 BB (1.50 BB/9)

Sean Newcomb is the centerpiece of the Andrelton Simmons trade, and he is a real big piece. The 24-year-old is 6’5” and weighs 255 pounds, and he was considered a steal for Atlanta. With a mid-90s fastball and two plus breaking pitches, Newcomb possesses superior strikeout stuff in the minors. However, like with all prospects, the question was whether he’d be able to perform in the big leagues. So far, he’s carrying an ERA under 2.00 in three starts, so a lot of people are hopping on the wagon.

On June 21, Newcomb welcomed the Giants to town. While his offense would let him down once again and force him into not getting a decision, Newcomb did his part. He held San Francisco to just one earned run on three hits and one walk over six innings. The only weak spot of the day was that he only struck out three. Overall, for a rookie making just the third start of his career, it was a great showing.

Newcomb’s been struggling to put guys away with strikeouts, only racking up three in each of his last two outings, but it’s not because of his stuff. It appears to be because of his pitch selection. Newcomb’s offspeed pitches have been beastly in general. His curveball has drawn a whiff 17.7% of the time he’s thrown it, and his slider has gotten more effective with each game. That said, he just doesn’t seem very confident in those pitches on two-strike counts so far. Of the 93 times he’s thrown a pitch with two strikes on a hitter, he’s thrown a fastball 58% of the time. While 10 of those situations have been on full counts, that still means that he’s thrown a fastball 53% of the time when he had two strikes on a batter and it wasn’t a full count. Of those two-strike fastballs, only four have been swung at and missed.


Sean Newcomb certainly has a lot of pieces that indicate he’s the real deal. However, he’s still a rookie who has some shortcomings. Most pressing is his lack of strikeouts. He’s got a fortunate strand rate, he’s got a depressed BABIP, he’s striking out less guys than the average pitcher, and he’s walking quite a few hitters. Those things point at a correction coming. He’s not going to keep that pretty sub-2.00 ERA for long if those things continue. However, that’s the short-term prognosis. Long-term, if Newcomb can settle in and get more comfortable throwing his breaking pitches on two-strike counts, keep his walks under control (5.15/9 in Triple-A this season), and get a hint of offensive support from his ballclub, he could prove to be total package.

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