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Champ or Chump: Jalen Beeks & Miles Mikolas

While fantasy baseball owners would love to roster a rotation consisting entirely of Max Scherzers and Corey Klubers, it's not feasible if you're in a remotely competitive league. Breakouts help, but the true key to maintaining strong performances in the pitching categories is to stream effectively. Basically, that means starting streamers in favorable matchups while avoiding them otherwise.

That's much easier said than done, of course, especially if a streamer gets off to a breakout-type start. Miles Mikolas falls into that category so far in 2018, but his peripherals suggest that it won't last. Likewise, Red Sox prospect Jalen Beeks will probably be fine in his MLB debut against the lowly Tigers, but figures to struggle against the power-heavy lineups of the AL East.

Let's take a closer look at why these two may not be fantasy mainstays for the entire season.

Be sure to check all of our fantasy baseball lineup tools and weekly lineup resources:


The Fantasy Jury is Out

Jalen Beeks (LHP, BOS) - 16% Owned

It's possible you've never heard the name Beeks if you're not a prospect hound, but he's scheduled to make his MLB debut tonight against the Tigers. His minor league career has been pretty strong, but a couple of red flags suggest that he may struggle at first.

The scouting report on Beeks says that he throws 91-92mph with a deceptive motion and late life that helps his velocity play up. He uses a changeup as his primary secondary offering, with a new cutter and improving slider to compliment it. His raw stuff is good but not great, forcing him to rely on his deception if he wants to post big strikeout totals.

He wasn't deceiving anyone when he debuted in the High Minors for Double-A Portland in 2016. His 4.68 ERA over 65 1/3 IP was largely deserved according to his 4.37 xFIP. He walked too many guys (9.6% BB%) considering his pedestrian strikeout totals (19.2% K%) and allowed a ton of line drives (23.1% LD%) en route to a .330 BABIP against. He kept HR to a minimum (7% HR/FB), but posted a very low 33.7% GB% that could make homers a problem at higher levels.

Beeks returned to Double-A in 2017 and fared much better, posting a 2.19 ERA (and 3.39 xFIP) across 49 1/3 IP. He struck out way more batters (28.7% K%) at the expense of even more walks (10.9% BB%), flashing increased fantasy upside but more risk in the process. His LD% slid to 13.9%, allowing him to record a favorable .276 BABIP despite a much higher 50.4% GB%. LD% is not a sticky stat (especially in a sample this small), so luck probably helped that BABIP figure.

The Red Sox liked what they saw and gave Beeks 92 2/3 IP at Triple-A Pawtucket. The promotion saw Beeks regress toward league averages in all categories. His 24.1% K% remained stronger than his first taste of Double-A, but failed to reach the heights of his second stint. His 8.2% BB% was better, while his 18.8% LD% (and resulting .291 BABIP against) looked more sustainable moving forward. His GB% split the difference between his two extreme figures at Double-A, landing at 44.6%. The result was a 3.86 ERA and 3.63 xFIP that looks streamerish in fantasy.

Beeks returned to Triple-A this season armed with a brand new cutter as mentioned above. It seemed to work well for him, as his K% exploded (35.4%) while his BB% (6.2%) finally got out of the problematic range. The resulting 2.56 ERA and 2.37 xFIP made him look like a future stud, but several red flags lurk underneath those shiny numbers.

First, his GB% declined to 39.3% on the farm this season. Four out of the five ballparks in the AL East are offense-friendly, so fantasy owners should be leery of any arm with such a low GB% in the division.

Second, Beeks's .276 BABIP is probably unsustainable at the highest level. Pawtucket's stadium deflates BABIP, posting a ballpark factor of 0.876 for hits from 2014-2016. That is a significant factor, making the park as a whole favor pitchers (0.834 factor for runs scored) even while inflating HR totals (1.120). Fenway Park does not help a pitcher limit BABIP. According to FanGraphs 2017 ballpark factors, it actually does the exact opposite (103 1B, 112 2B, 103 3B). The ballpark switch could demand a big adjustment.

Likewise, Beeks's 18.9% LD% played a significant role in his low BABIP. Some pitchers can and do sustain marks in that area, but most cannot. If Beeks ends up in the latter category, big league hitters could knock him around.

Beeks has upside, and the Tigers are a soft opponent. He's a solid streamer tonight. However, he's not guaranteed anything beyond this start even if it goes well. Any owner who invests a considerable amount of FAAB or waiver wire priority to roster him for the long term in a redraft league is likely to be disappointed.

Verdict: Champ (vs. DET), Chump otherwise

Miles Mikolas (SP, STL) - 86% Owned

To say that Mikolas has performed well since returning to the United States from Japan would be a massive understatement. He boasts a 6-1 record with a 2.49 ERA over 77 1/3 IP with the Cardinals. However, his low K% (18.5%) and 3.39 xFIP suggest that he's not as good as he's looked. Trusting him as a must-start option is probably not a great idea moving forward.

There are three "luck stats" generally used to determine whether a pitcher's performance is sustainable. The first is BABIP, and Mikolas has a favorable .267 mark. The second is HR/FB, and Mikolas has a slightly better than average 10.5% mark. The third is strand rate, and Mikolas has a favorable 79.6% mark.

It's theoretically possible for Micholas's peripherals to catch up to his performance, but his repertoire doesn't support it. He features a five-pitch mix: fastball, slider, curve, sinker, and change. His heater is generating a 9.1% SwStr% on a 61.6% Zone%, but it relies on a well above average chase rate (35.3%) that is extremely unusual for a vanilla fastball. Its spin rate is average (2,315 RPM), so it doesn't have exceptional life to make its production to date believable.

Mikolas's slider is his best pitch by SwStr% (15.1%), and he can throw it for a strike when needed (49.6% Zone%). Unfortunately, hitters seldom chase it outside the strike zone (32.5% chase rate), preventing it from becoming a true put away pitch. Its 60.9% GB% helps Mikolas at power-friendly venues, at least.

Mikolas's curve is comparable to an average fastball. It's usually a strike (56.6% Zone%), doesn't get chased (28.4% chase rate), and induces a "meh" amount of whiffs (8.2%). It's not horrible, but it doesn't seem to do much more that his fastball, either.

The 36.8% chase rate on Mikolas's sinker is actually the highest in his arsenal, but it's still terrible at generating whiffs (3% SwStr%). Its Zone% (61.6%) is identical to his 4-seamer's, and it generates a lot of worm killers (52.3% GB%).

Finally, his change is nothing more than a show-me pitch. Its 9% SwStr% is okay, but the combination of a 38.8% Zone% and 29.3% chase rate means it mostly puts Mikolas behind in the count. Mikolas hasn't been behind in the count that often (2.8% BB% for the season), so he's not using this pitch that much.

If Mikolas can't generate the Ks his ERA would seem to demand, maybe something else is responsible for his success. For example, his .267 BABIP could be the result of his batted ball profile or an exceptional defense behind him. His 23.6% LD% against doesn't support the notion that he's great at limiting line drives, while his 10.5% IFFB% doesn't matter that much when paired with a 25.9% FB%. If anything, his 50.5% GB% would be expected to give him a higher BABIP.

The Cardinals play good defense, but not good enough to support what Mikolas is doing. Their outfielders have combined for five Outs Above Average on the season. That may not seem great, but it ranks seventh in the league. Their infielders are largely strong, as Kolten Wong has been worth eight Defensive Runs Saved at 2B, the Matt Carpenter/Jedd Gyorko timeshare at 3B has been worth 13, and Paul DeJong produced two before he got hurt. Yairo Munoz has really struggled at short though (-4 DRS in 93 innings), and 1B Jose Martinez is a disaster (-8).

If you think Mikolas is helping his cause with either his own glove or contact management ability, think again. He has -1 DRS this season, making him approximately an average defensive pitcher. On the contact quality side, his 92.2mph average airborne exit velocity allowed, 82.4mph on grounders, and 6.7% rate of Brls/BBE are all close to the league average. He's not getting lit up, but he's nothing special either.

Baseball Savant's xStats say that Mikolas's xBA is .251 (.234 actual mark) while his xSLG is .425 (.352). He can probably be projected to beat his xStats slightly by virtue of the Cardinals defense, but he's still not as good as his surface stats might indicate.

In short, Mikolas's BABIP is likely to increase while his strand rate is likely to decrease. He's a fine streamer, but use him against talented offenses at your own peril.

Verdict: Chump


More 2018 Player Outlooks


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