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Champ or Chump: Sonny Gray and Jason Hammel

By Scott U (Sonny Gray (3)) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
What Appears In This Article? hide

Clubs looking for starting pitching are mostly out of luck in this market.

Sonny Gray is the among the biggest names on the trade market, but he posted a 5.69 ERA last year. Jason Hammel is the top remaining free agent, but he is not anyone's idea of an ace.

Can either help 2017 fantasy squads? Let's take a look.

Editor's note: Be sure to also check out our 2017 fantasy baseball rankings dashboard. It's already loaded up with tons of great rankings articles and draft analysis. Aside from our tiered staff rankings for every position, we also go deep on MLB prospect rankings, impact rookies for 2017, and dynasty/keeper rankings as well. Bookmark the page, and win your drafts.

 

A Deeper Dive - 2017 Outlooks

Sonny Gray, SP

Gray has become the poster child for beating advanced metrics by limiting hard contact, but he crashed and burned last year with a 4.67 FIP and 4.13 xFIP to go with his inflated 5.69 ERA. The biggest reason was a 17.5% HR/FB that towers over his previous career worst of 9.4%. Before you automatically assume positive regression and a return to fantasy relevance, remember that xFIP normalizes HR/FB and still rated Gray as only a league average arm last year. Average has value in real baseball, but fantasy owners generally strive for much more.

The problem with Gray is a consistent lack of strikeouts, especially from a fantasy perspective. We like our Ks, and Gray's 18.2% K% last year just isn't enough to hold our interest. His career rate is only 20.5%, so it's not as though last year was a fluke. His stuff also doesn't suggest much K upside, as only his slider generates whiffs (18.7% SwStr%) and does so by requiring batters to chase it (41.8% chase rate) when it is almost never in the zone (23% Zone%). If batters learn to spit on it, Gray is toast.

Any potential trade also seems likely to hurt Gray's historical ability to limit BABIP. The Coliseum's expansive foul territory allows fielders to catch balls they wouldn't have access to in most parks, suppressing BABIP there as a result. I would project an increase in Gray's .278 career BABIP if he leaves. Oakland's mediocre lineup will probably hurt Gray's Ws if he stays as well, so there is no situation that favors Gray from a fantasy perspective.

Gray had a low strand rate last year (63.9%), but that is common among pitchers allergic to striking guys out. Somebody will blame the forearm injury and bet on a rebound based on nothing more than name recognition. Don't let it be you.

Verdict: Chump

 

Jason Hammel, SP

Hammel's 3.83 ERA was much better than Gray's last year, but the advanced metrics (4.48 FIP, 4.34 xFIP) liked him even less. Hammel's 15-10 record looks impressive, but it was almost entirely the result of pitching for a fantastic Cubs squad.

Chicago's elite glovemen were very likely the only reason Hammel got his BABIP down to .267 last year, as his career average of .299 does not suggest any ability to impact the stat. LD% is known to fluctuate wildly, and Hammel's 19.8% last year (21.1% career) also seems a little fluky. The Cubs are currently the only team we know Hammel won't pitch for next year, so many more base hits against him seem likely.

Hammel's HR/FB is also trending in the wrong direction, going from 12% in 2014 to 12.8% in 2015 to 13.8% last year. Wrigley Field sometimes plays as a hitter's park, but not to the same extent as his previous addresses in Baltimore and Colorado. Should he end up in a hitter's park now, the results could be bad enough to ruin a fantasy team's pitching stats regardless of who else is on the roster.

Like Gray, Hammel does not offer too many strikeouts even when he is going well. An improved ERA may therefore not translate into the kind of fantasy value one might expect. He also has a hard time finishing seasons, a problem only exasperated by the elbow injury that plagued him last year. He might be worth a dollar bid or reserve draft pick, but let someone else pay for last year's production.

Verdict: Chump


Check out RotoBaller's entire fantasy baseball waiver wire pickups and sleepers list, updated daily!




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