Are You For Real? Week 18 Pitcher Standouts

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As the saying goes, you can’t win your league during the draft. The waiver wire 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.

This column will focus on some pitchers who have recently thrown their hats into the ring for consideration. Below are some pitchers who performed well in Week 18, as we look towards the waiver wire for Week 19 and beyond.

These pitchers are 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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Remember When?

Hyun-Jin Ryu, Los Angeles Dodgers

2014 Stats (last healthy season): 152.0 IP, 3.38 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 139 K (8.23 K/9), 29 BB (1.72 BB/9)

August 6, 2017 at New York Mets: 7.0 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.14 WHIP, 8 K (10.29 K/9), 0 BB (0.00 BB/9)

Remember when Hyun-Jin Ryu was an unstoppable force? In 2013 and 2014, Ryu compiled a 28-15 record over 56 starts with a combined ERA of 3.17, combined WHIP of 1.20, and 293 strikeouts over 344 innings (7.67 K/9). He also only walked 2.04 batters per nine innings, far below the league average. The fact that Clayton Kershaw happened to occupy the rotation spot in front of him meant he’d never be the ace of the Dodgers staff, but he was one of the best #2 starters in the league. Then, the injuries happened. 2015 and 2016 were lost seasons as he first had surgery to repair a torn labrum and then surgery to debride his elbow. He looked like he might just go down as a flash in the pan, but miraculously, he returned to the Dodgers rotation in 2017.

On August 8, Ryu took the mound at Citi Field for the first time since May 21, 2014. He was coming off two good outings that he’d had since returning from the disabled list in late July, and he would be facing a bad Mets team. The setup proved to be perfect for Ryu. He threw a sparkling seven innings in which he only allowed a single baserunner, and he struck out eight along the way. And the key to his success was…Dallas Keuchel. In a way.

When Ryu started having shoulder pains in 2014, his slider usage plummeted from a high of 21% in July to just under 10% in September. Three years later, Ryu only uses his slider about 5% of the time. Instead, Ryu has begun throwing a cutter, and he’s been throwing it a lot. In May of this season, he threw it over 21% of the time. And that’s where Keuchel comes into play. Ryu told a South Korean reporter this spring that he added the cutter to his repertoire after watching videos of Keuchel while he was recovering. That cutter has been instrumental to Ryu’s return.

 

Verdict

Hyun-Jin Ryu is as real as it gets. He’s taking another star turn on the back of his newly crafted persona as a master of the cutter. His walk rate remains better than average, his strikeout rate is up to 8.74/9 for the season and 10.01 K/9 in his last seven starts, and the home run problems he had in his early starts (six homers allowed in his first three starts of 2017) have come back down to Earth as he’s only allowed six home runs in his last seven starts combined.

The only real concerns surrounding Ryu aren’t actually related to how he pitches. The first, and most obvious, concern is his health. However, something like that should best be ignored by owners making that final push for the win in 2017. Long-term concerns are for next spring. The second is his endurance. Ryu of old could throw 150+ innings in a season. The new Ryu threw all of 32 innings last year and zero the year before that. Though he’s only at 91 and 2/3 innings so far this season, fatigue could begin to rear its ugly, tired head. Lastly, as odd as it sounds, his organization could be an issue. The Dodgers are a juggernaut this year, but they’re also a crafty team who has made liberal use of the disabled list to allow them to cycle extra starting pitchers through their rotation. Ryu’s own DL stint in July was due to a bruised foot that never seemed to actually be debilitating, but it did seem to coincide with the team having more good starting pitchers than they needed. As the team heads into the playoff push, they may try to limit and manipulate Ryu’s starts to try to save him for the postseason. That could really hurt a fantasy owner.

 

Jordan Zimmermann, Detroit Tigers

2016 Stats: 105.1 IP, 4.87 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 66 K (5.64 K/9), 26 BB (2.22 BB/9)

August 2, 2017 at New York Yankees: 7.0 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 6 K (7.71 K/9), 0 BB (0.00 BB/9)

Remember when Jordan Zimmermann finished 7th in the Cy Young voting? And then 5th the very next year? In 2013 and 2014 (that sounds like a familiar time!), Zimmermann told all the haters to shove it and piled up 33 wins in 64 starts while maintaining a 2.96 ERA and only striking out 7.47 batters per nine innings. He combined an ultra-low 1.50 walk rate with a depressed HR/FB rate to beat the odds and perform like a star. Eventually, probability caught up to him and he started to come back down in 2015. A move to the American League in 2016 also coincided with a crash that left him with a 4.87 ERA in 105 and 1/3 innings, and in 2017, he’s been even worse.

However, on August 2, Zimmermann went to pitch at the bandbox that is houses Aaron Judge and the Minions. Instead of letting the dangerous lineup and setting get to him, Zimmermann perplexed the Bronx Bombers for seven innings and picked up his seventh win of the season. He struck out six and walked none while only allowing six hits throughout the day, and he did it with some unexpected craftiness. While Zimmermann has been almost entirely reliant on his combination of a fastball, curveball, and slider, he broke out a secret weapon for the Yanks. A change-up. Now, obviously most pitchers throw some variety of a change-up, but Zimmermann almost never throws his. On average, he throws it less than 5% of the time this season, and in previous years, it’s been as little as less than 0.5% of the time over the course of a whole season. However, against the Yankees, it showed its face 11.96% of the time. That was the highest number of change-ups he’s thrown in a single game since May 18, 2014, and the plan worked. The Yankees got zero hits off Zimmermann’s change-up all day.

 

Verdict

Unfortunately, Jordan Zimmermann is not the real deal. He’s not the version that pitched in 2013 and 2014. Instead, he’s become the epitome of someone who must have everything go perfectly for an outing to turn out well, and there are a lot of opportunities for things to go poorly. His velocity on his fastball has gone down nearly 2 MPH while his velocity on his offspeed pitches has gone up 3 MPH on his curveball and 1 MPH on his slider, which means that there’s less change in speed occurring when he throws different pitches. That allows hitters to time his pitches easier. While his walk rate is still below average (2.56), it’s nearly doubled from his heyday (1.31 in 2014). Meanwhile, his strikeout rate has dipped from 8.20 in 2014 to 6.26 in 2017, and his ground ball rate is the fourth worst in the majors amongst qualified starters.

All these factors don’t guarantee that Zimmermann will never be successful. They just mean that he needs them all to go right on any given day. Against the Yankees, they all went perfect. Against the Astros on July 28, they mostly went well, so he threw a quality start. Against the Twins the week before that, he gave up five earned in less than four innings. Zimmermann is a dog that bites people. Eventually, he’ll bite his owner.

 

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