Are You For Real? Week 20 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 20, as we look towards the waiver wire for Week 21 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.

Editor's Note: Our friends at RT Sports have best ball leagues with no in-season management. Just draft your team, and that's it! Use your phone for this casual draft by getting emails or texts when you're on the clock. Sign Up Now!

 

Old Enough To Rent A Car

Jose Ureña, Miami Marlins

2016 Stats (major league): 83.2 IP, 6.13 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 58 K (6.24 K/9), 29 BB (3.12 BB/9)

August 16, 2017 vs. San Francisco Giants: 5.0 IP, 0.00 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, 2 K (3.60 K/9), 1 BB (1.80 BB/9)

Jose Ureña has been a fringe prospect for years. Four years ago, he barely squeaked into lists of Miami’s top-ten prospects, and he made steady progress through their minor league system from season to season. However, he never really attracted any attention as a potential star. His mid-90s fastball was always rated as having good velocity, but it didn’t have the movement necessary to make it an out pitch. A strong changeup worked as a decent counterbalance, but his slider was also mediocre, so it wasn’t even clear if he’d have the arsenal necessary to make it as a starter. Once he got his chance in the bigs, he proved all that analysis right. Initially coming up at 23 years of age, he slogged through nine starts and 11 relief appearances on his way to a 5.25 ERA and 1.59 WHIP. He logged a terrible 4.09 K/9 strikeout rate, and his walk rate rose to 3.65, the highest of his professional career, because major league hitters weren’t fooled by his stuff. 2016 brought a lot of the same as he split time between Triple-A and the majors, posting a 3.17 ERA in the minors and a 6.13 ERA in the majors. Now 25 years old, he entered 2017 with concerns that he may just be a Quad-A pitcher, someone who is good at Triple-A and bad at the major league level.

On August 16, Ureña faced off against the Giants. He was coming off a string of solid starts including two quality starts in his last three outings. Facing the weak San Francisco offense (3rd fewest runs scored in MLB) was just what the doctor ordered to help extend his streak of good starts. Ureña only went five innings, but they were free of runs. He did allow seven hits and one walk while only striking out two, but it’s hard to argue with a shutout performance, and he snagged his 11th win in the process. 11 wins is nothing to sneeze at!

The problem with Ureña’s 11 wins is that he’s still the same mediocre pitcher under the hood. He’s carrying a beautiful 3.61 ERA on the season, and that win total is no joke, but he’s depending on fortune more than fortitude to get there. The reasons for Ureña’s success are why wins have fallen out of favor in analyzing future performance amongst starting pitchers versus more analytical statistics such as FIP and xFIP.

First, he doesn’t go very deep into games. He’s only gone past the sixth inning once this season, and while that’s great for conserving his arm, it means he’s needed his bullpen and offense to carry him. That leads to the second reason. Regarding the offensive side, he’s tied for sixth in the league amongst starters in the amount of run support he receives per outing, averaging six runs in his favor per appearance. While that’s awesome, it’s also not sustainable. Once his run support goes back to a more normal level, his expected chance of getting a win each time out will take a hit. Third, his strand rate is at 77.8% this season and 85.6% since July 31 (his last four outings). That’s even more unsustainable, and don’t forget that his last four outings happen to be the nice streak he’s on recently.

 

Verdict

Not only is Jose Ureña not for real, it’s still not even clear that he should be anything more than a back-of-the-rotation starter at best. He still has a strikeout rate far below average (6.06/9), a walk rate that’s worse than average (3.10/9), his pitches aren’t drawing more swinging strikes (8.3%, worse than 2016), and he actually leads the MLB in hit-by-pitches. He’s simply lucked into a sky-high strand rate, better run support than almost anyone in the game, and a couple poor offenses recently. As stated before, FIP and xFIP are better predictors of the future than current win totals. Ureña's FIP is 4.91 and his xFIP is an even worse 5.39. Those aren't indicative of a bright future.

 

Jon Gray, Colorado Rockies

2016 Stats: 168.0 IP, 4.61 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 185 K (9.91 K/9), 59 BB (3.16 BB/9)

August 16, 2017 vs. Atlanta Braves: 6.0 IP, 3.00 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 6 K (9.00 K/9), 2 BB (3.33 BB/9)

Jon Gray has been groomed to be Colorado’s ace for years, and when a handicap is applied for the fact that he pitches half his games in Coors Field, he’s starting to live up to the hype. While huge expectations have been placed on Gray ever since he was drafted third overall in 2013, he’s always gotten showered with praise from scouts while his stats haven’t really been up to par. Whether it be when he was carrying a 4.33 ERA in Triple-A Albuquerque before his first call-up or when he was finishing his first full season in the majors with a 4.61 ERA, he’s always been more potential than performance. However, in 2017, considerably more substance has arrived.

Gray welcomed the Braves to the launching pad in Denver on August 16, and he handled them well. He scattered two runs and five hits over six innings, logging an easy quality start and giving his vaunted offense a chance to win the game. They did, and it brought his record up to 5-2 in his injury-shortened season (he missed time from mid-April to the end of June due to a broken foot). The performance was another in a string of good outings, and Gray looks like he’s fitting right into his position as the rotation’s ace.

 

Verdict

Jon Gray is definitely for real. The kid is a bona fide ace, but he’s still growing into the role. For example, his season stats of an ERA of 4.74 and a 1.48 WHIP don’t look like an ace on the surface, but delving into them a little shows great potential there. First, if you remove just his worst outing of the season, his ERA drops over a full run to 3.71. Second, his season-long performance shows that it isn’t just a fluke to refer to him as an ace.

In his 12 starts this season, Gray has allowed more than three runs in just three outings (25%), and he’s only allowed three earned runs in two other starts (58% of outings with less than three earned runs). For comparison, Chris Sale has allowed more than three runs in six of his 25 starts (24%) and less than three earned runs in 15 starts (60%). Zack Greinke is also at 24% and 60%. That’s not bad company to be hanging out with, especially when his Coors Field handicap is applied. Coors produces 1.32 runs when compared to a neutral park, most in the league. Second most is Chase Field in Arizona, Greinke’s home park, and it’s only at 1.17. Fenway, Sale’s stadium, plays neutrally in 2017 at exactly 1.00. Yet Gray is able to have comparable run control to the other aces. Not bad for someone who's still just 25 years old.

 

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