Are You For Real? Week 21 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 22 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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The Midwest Swing

Kyle Gibson, Minnesota Twins

2016 Stats (major league): 147.1 IP, 5.07 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 104 K (6.35 K/9), 55 BB (3.36 BB/9)

August 27, 2017 at Toronto Blue Jays: 6.2 IP, 2.70 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 7 K (9.45 K/9), 1 BB (1.35 BB/9)

Kyle Gibson is everything a fantasy owner wants to avoid in a starting pitcher. He consistently strikes out less than seven batters per nine innings, walks more than three batters per nine innings, has a career ERA of 4.77, a career WHIP of 1.45, and he plays for the Twins, a team that last made it to the playoffs in 2010. Besides the fact that he’s 6’6” tall, he’s not an above average pitcher in just about any way. However, Gibson’s been on a roll, and that necessitates looking at what he’s been doing right.

On August 27, Minnesota traveled to the Greater Whiter North to face the Blue Jehs. Gibson took the hill, and he pitched like a stud. Going 6 and 2/3 innings, Gibson only surrendered two earned runs and racked up seven strikeouts in the process. Seven hits and one walk led to an acceptable 1.20 WHIP. All-around, this was an excellent start and Gibson owners (the few that existed) had to be pleased. That said, any major league starter can have a single good start. The key is whether his success is sustainable, and that depends on his fastball.

To be successful in the majors, a starter needs some type of solid offspeed offering. It may be a slider, sinker, curve, or change-up, but no one can live by a fastball alone. Along that same line, very rarely can a pitcher survive without a decent fastball. That’s where Gibson’s career issues lie. Traditionally, Gibson’s fastball is…disappointing. It has little life, and while it sits in the low 90s, that’s not enough to make it a dependable pitch. This is why he often relies on his sinker instead. He throws it in the low 90s as well, and it gets driven into the ground regularly, leading to a high ground ball rate. For the season, Gibson’s carrying an elite 52% ground ball rate, but as his season stats show, that’s not enough to make him good.

However, Gibson’s recently been feeling extra confident in his fastball. That confidence is actually a key indicator for him because when he’s feeling that confidence, he throws his fastball more often. When he throws his fastball more often, he pitches better overall. In 2017, when Gibson throws his fastball more than 25% of the time during an outing, his ERA is just 3.62 and he’s never allowed more than three earned runs in an outing. While that’s not going to vault him into the top tier of pitchers everywhere, it is encouraging because he threw his fastball 28.7% of the time against Toronto. He also threw it more than 25% of the time in all three of the outings preceding his Canadian excursion. Over those four outings, he’s gone 2-1 with a 3.63 ERA and 9.67 K/9. Those aren’t elite numbers, but they’re certainly ownable in most leagues.

 

Verdict

Kyle Gibson is for real, but only for the moment. If it was June and he had posted a couple good starts in a row, he wouldn’t be a recommended buy because there’s no reason to think he’s going to continue to trust his fastball and it’s going to continue to perform for more than a few more weeks before hitters catch on and adjust. His history doesn’t support it. But it’s not June. It’s the very end of August, and most owners are either on the brink of the playoffs in their head-to-head leagues or making that final push in their roto leagues. Owners don’t need to care right now about whether Gibson will get figured out eventually because they only need him for a little while. With leagues on the line, desperate owners can at least look at Gibson’s short-term success and hope he’s able to keep it up a little while longer. It looks like he’s noticed it and going to stick to it as well.

 

Luke Weaver, St. Louis Cardinals

2017 Stats (Triple-A): 77.2 IP, 2.55 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 76 K (8.81 K/9), 19 BB (2.20 BB/9)

August 23, 2017 vs. San Diego Padres: 7.0 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.57 WHIP, 10 K (12.86 K/9), 1 BB (1.29 BB/9)

Luke Weaver is a 2014 first-round pick who has been hyped from the very beginning. Drafted by one of the most respected organizations, especially regarding pitchers, Weaver has been a regular on top-100 prospect lists. Even with all the hype, he’s lived up to it at every level. As a 21-year-old in 2015, Weaver posted a 1.62 ERA over 105 and 1/3 innings at Single-A. In 2016, he started the year at Double-A but was promoted after he had a 1.40 ERA in 77 innings. He got battered around at the major league level late in the year, but when he was sent to Triple-A to start 2017, he was right back to form. He brings average to above-average strikeout stuff and above-average control, and he’s pitching for a team that is famous for the pitching it’s developed. The kid has a lot of potential, and he looks ready to make the jump.

On August 23, Weaver welcomed the Padres to town. San Diego isn’t a tough assignment as they’re swing-happy and run-poor, but Weaver still handled them like a pro. He tossed seven shutout innings while striking out 10 and only allowing four baserunners. It was considered a spot start for Weaver since he’d actually filled a bullpen role the week before, but his performance should lock in the fifth starting spot for the foreseeable future.

One knock on Weaver is that he’s mostly a two-pitch pitcher so far. His fastball is strong and he’s got a solid change-up, but a dependable third pitch has eluded him until this point. However, he seems to be getting more comfortable with his curveball, and when it’s on, outings like this are the result. Batters whiffed on his curveball 23% of the time in this game, and when he’s mixing it well with his change-up, it can be a brutal combination of offspeed pitches.

 

Verdict

Luke Weaver is definitely the real deal, but expect some growing pains. The reality is that his curveball is still a work in progress, and he’s still mostly dependent on his fastball/change-up combination. The good news is that the combination has proven to work at every level, including the majors. Obviously, as big leaguers get more time to study and adjust, Weaver will have some rough patches. However, he still pitches for one of the best organizations for developing young arms, and he’s got a lot of talent to work with. Adam Wainwright isn’t due back for at least a couple weeks, and Weaver’s got plenty of innings left in his arm this season. He should (and probably is) owned in all dynasty and keeper leagues, and he’s a valuable target for redrafts that are just going into playoff season.

 

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