Champ or Chump: Mike Clevinger and Rich Hill

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It is time to start making fantasy baseball moves based on your league's standings page, not absolute value. If your situation dictates that you need to hunt Wins, you're in for a difficult task. They are notoriously unpredictable, forcing you to rely on quantity over quality (if possible) or otherwise seek arms on strong clubs.

Pitchers on the Indians and Dodgers are reasonable bets to win some ballgames, so their staffs deserve closer scrutiny. You probably don't want to torpedo all of your other pitching stats in your hunt, however, so make sure you are still rostering decent arms. Let's take a closer look at Mike Clevinger and Rich Hill to see if they fit the bill.

Ownership rates provided are from Yahoo leagues.

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The Fantasy Jury is Out

Mike Clevinger (SP, CLE) 43% Owned

Clevinger has gone 4-3 with a 3.33 ERA in 2017, though the underlying 4.21 xFIP is less encouraging. The discrepancy is primarily the result of an extremely favorable BABIP (.237) that appears completely unsustainable. Clevinger's 28.4% K% is very desirable in fantasy, so let's see if we can find a reason for Clevinger to sustain his current performance.

Clevinger ran favorable BABIPs in the high minors, posting a .272 mark in 158 IP at Double-A in 2015 and a .293 figure over 93 IP at Triple-A last year. Both seasons benefited from an impressive pop-up rate, as Clevinger paired a 25.9% IFFB% with a 40.1% FB% at Double-A and a 20.4% IFFB% with a 40.8% FB% at Triple-A. Clevinger has been a fly ball arm this year with a FB% of 39.5%, but his IFFB% is only 6.1%. This pop-up past gives him some upside if he can figure out how to do it in the majors, but it doesn't explain his performance to date.

Cleveland's defense could be giving Clevinger a boost, but it does not seem likely. The team does not have superlative or dreadful defenders at any position, with Bradley Zimmer and Carlos Santana tied for the team's best DRS number with four while Francisco Lindor is the team's laggard at -2. Lindor came up as a glove-first shortstop, so it is more likely that his poor showing is the result of the metric's unreliability over small samples than anything else. Still, this team is not the 2016 Cubs in terms of run prevention.

Clevinger has also allowed average contact quality. Airborne baseballs hit against him have averaged 92.3 mph, grounders have averaged 82.6 mph, and his Brls/BBE rate is 8.8%. None of these numbers are bad, but they are not strong enough to justify such a minuscule BABIP. His LD% is also around the league average (21.8%), so there is no suppression skill there either. Left with no other explanations for his favorable BABIP, we must conclude that it is a fluke due for regression in the near future.

Fantasy owners wouldn't mind if the Ks were a fluke too, but they look completely sustainable. Clevinger's fastball is terrible (48% Zone%, 5.1% SwStr%) and has actually lost velocity relative to last season (92.7 mph against 94.4 mph last year), but his secondary stuff is amazing. His slider boasts a 23.6% SwStr% and 35.5% chase rate. Batters who manage to put it in into play generate a 36.8% FB% and 42.9% IFFB%, making this pitch the most likely reason for his minor league BABIP success.

His change does not possess any particular knack for inducing pop-ups, but it is better at generating strikeouts with a 23.4% SwStr% and 50.5% chase rate. Clevinger also throws a curve with a 23.2% SwStr% and 50% chase rate, giving him three true wipeout offerings to choose from whenever he gets ahead in the count. None of his secondary pitches help reach that goal, as his slider is a strike 33.3% of the time, his change 33.5%, and his curve 21.4%. His BB% is currently an inflated 13.3%, and there is little hope it gets better with this repertoire.

Clevinger was a FIP-beater in the minors, posting a 2.73 ERA against a 3.22 xFIP at Double-A and a 3.00 ERA against a 3.36 xFIP at Triple-A. His reliance on pop-ups instead of strikeouts (22.7% K% at Double-A, 25.5% at Triple-A) on the farm suggests that he's a completely different pitcher now though, so it may not be applicable. The league's home run bug has also bitten Clevinger, as he was great at limiting dingers in the minors (4.6% HR/FB at Double-A, 8.2% at Triple-A) despite his current HR/FB of 14.3%. He'll need to allow fewer homers to become the ace his K% suggests he can be.

Overall, Clevinger is likely to alternate ace-like outings with absolute clunkers, much like Robbie Ray did prior to this season. His volatility makes him a poor choice for squads with large leads, but his potential upside makes him valuable to a fifth-place team looking to crack into the money. There are teams in that situation in every league, so Clevinger gets a Champ tag.

Verdict: Champ

 
Rich Hill (SP, LAD) 85% Owned

Hill has gone 5-4 with a 3.69 ERA and 4.64 xFIP, but has been much better lately with a 0.64 ERA over 14 July IP. This success may make him look attractive with a K% of 27.3%, but this is a profile you should take a hard pass on.

Let's start with Hill's repertoire. His heater is great despite losing some velocity (91.2 mph last year, 89.5 mph this), boasting a 10.9% SwStr% and a 57.7% Zone%. His curve is virtually the same pitch, offering a 10% SwStr%, 55.6% Zone%, and an average chase rate of 33.3%. Hill occasionally shows a cutter (4.5% usage), slider (3.3%), and change (0.2%), but never regularly enough to say that he has a third pitch. When the best SwStr% in your arsenal is 10.9%, it is challenging to maintain even an average K%, let alone Hill's.

Hill is also an extreme fly ball pitcher, boasting a FB% of 47.9%. Hill's average airborne exit velocity is virtually unchanged (90.3 mph this year, 90.7 last), and his Brls/BBE has doubled from 3.7% to 6.6% relative to last season. Dodger Stadium is neutral to power hitters, but the dreaded Coors Field and Chase Field are in the same division. Hill has kept the homers in check with a 10% HR/FB thus far, but that many fly balls is scary in the current power environment. A disastrous outing is always possible.

The fly ball tendency makes it possible for Hill to sustain his current .271 BABIP, but his outfielders would need to cooperate. Both Yasiel Puig (six DRS) and Cody Bellinger (five) rank well by DRS, but Joc Pederson's -10 undoes nearly all of the good they provide. Hill also has a LD% (13.7%) that is probably too low to sustain even if he does have a history of doing so (19.7% career).

Hill projects as an injury-prone arm with gopheritis and average strikeout totals at best going forward. The depth of the Dodgers also ensures that his rotation spot gets skipped periodically, making him difficult to rely on even when he is going well. There is no need for him to be owned in so many leagues.

Verdict: Chump

 

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