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The Pitchers: Five September Surgers to Breakout in 2017


As the 2017 fantasy baseball season draws near, we are forced to look back at the 2016 numbers that were and decode what to buy into and what to ignore. How much should we write off that cold streak due to a potential lingering injury? Will this trade affect Player X in a positive or negative way?

And the question we explore today: How much weight can we give that red-hot performance to close out the season? For our purposes today, the answer will be somewhere in the range of "quite a bit."

While some may seem obvious, there's still plenty of context necessary for those that had such a great closing month. We broke down some bats earlier, and now we're onto the arms.

Editor's Note: Last chance to join the Monthly Challenge on Fantrax. Free to join, league winners get a full season of Premium access for all sports ($99 value).

 

Five September Surgers

James Paxton - SP, SEA

You know him, you love him and you’re ready for him to truly break out. Paxton battled through a couple of injuries to come back and carry fantasy owners to championships with his 29.2% strikeout rate and minuscule 3.3 percent BB rate (25.8 percent K-BB rate was fifth best in the MLB) that led to the third-best FIP (2.06) of the month. If J-Pax is able to stay on the mound and deliver at least 180 innings in 2017 then he could flirt with 190-200 strikeouts. If he can hone his command of the zone and cut into last season’s .347 BABIP and 66.3 percent strand rate, then he could flirt with the 2.80 FIP or 3.35 xFIP that sat behind the 3.79 ERA.

While some of his profile had painted him as a bit of a Robbie Ray or Michael Pineda, in other words: all peripherals but not execution, he has a leg up on the other two with his control. This control could serve as a cornerstone for command to flourish upon. While his NFBC ADP of 172.75 isn’t cheap, this is an arm that has shown it has ace potential in it. And he’s done so a bit more loudly than the others, so the price tag will reflect that.

Daniel Norris - SP, DET

When exploring September pitching numbers, Norris is a more surprising name. He posted a 24.6 percent K-BB rate, seventh best in the MLB, thanks to a 31.2 percent strikeout rate that came in fifth. Above Jose Fernandez (RIP), above Noah Syndergaard and above Corey Kluber. He only allowed a .219 batting average against despite an acceptable .282 BABIP, though he did allow five homers in his 29 2/3 innings of work. While Norris has to deal with his own durability woes -- notably right oblique and lower back strains -- and needing to conquer the long ball, there are a lot of promising markers here to back up his viability as a late-round flier. His current NFBC ADP is a paltry 287.74, making him a dynamite deep sleeper considering he appears to have the No. 4 slot in Detroit’s rotation locked up.

Carlos Rodon - SP, CWS

Will this be the season we finally don’t have to wait until August for “top Rodon” to come forward? After 2015 saw him make an adjustment with where he toed the rubber and 2016 saw him ditch his sinker for the four-seam fastball/changeup combo, we know that he can be an SP2 when on. Last season’s September yielded a 28.2% strikeout rate, 12nd best in the bigs, for the South Sider southpaw. While we'd love for him to have put together a full season, or at least more than a third of a season, at this point, there's also something to be said for a guy who is willing and proactive about making adjustments. He doesn't just rely on one pitch or natural-born talent to get him through. His current NFBC price tag is the 196th pick, the 52nd SP off the board, making him a nice mid-to-late round selection with upside. He’ll still need to refine his control, but the strikeout upside has already emerged, which makes him a “buy before he blows up” type of guy.

Eduardo Rodriguez - SP, BOS

If you’re noticing a theme, it’s that I enjoy strikeouts. Rodriguez checked in just behind Rodon with a 28.1% strikeout rate in September, just ahead of Madison Bumgarner, Chris Sale and Max Scherzer. That’s good company to be in, right? Not only did he ramp up the strikeouts, but he maintained decent control (8.6 percent BB rate) alongside only two homers allowed. Part of this is why xFIP doesn’t like him – 2.93 FIP for Sept. versus a 4.42 xFIP – but this, when mixed with a .253 BABIP (.186 BAA) can point to a guy who is learning to truly command the zone. Consider that he also allowed only two homers with a .225 BABIP (.184 BAA) in August.

He also pitched better with runners in scoring position, upping his strikeouts (10.29 K/9 with RISP vs. 8.02 K/9 with bases empty) and cutting homers allowed (0.43 with RISP vs. 1.41 empty). While Fenway Park and the AL East won't ever be anyone's preference when it comes to where their pitchers pitch, E-Rod has shown that he can handle it.

Jerad Eickhoff - SP, PHI

September saw Eickhoff post his best overall month with a 2.52 ERA and a stellar 33-to-4 K:BB in 35 2/3 frames. His ability to limit baserunners helped hold the damage to just 10 earned runs even though he allowed eight homers. This can be life in a power-friendly Citizens Bank Park, and thus presents Eickhoff’s last real hurdle. But we should be encouraged that his hard-hit rate dropped to 30.8 percent from 2015’s 36.2 percent in a season where hard contact rose by 2.6% league-wide. Thanks to his plus control and improved put-away stuff he was able to post the 12th-best K-BB% in September with a 21.3 percent mark, sandwiched between Kyle Hendricks and Max Scherzer.

While there’s no denying that he benefitted from some luck with a .211 BABIP and 91.4 percent strand rate in September, though he still had a solid 3.42 SIERA behind the strong surface stats. And it’s been pointed out across the industry that Eickhoff had been relying on his curveball more as the season wore on, but you can see here that he really got a feel for the curve in terms of whiffs induced in September. Don’t buy into him breaking out into ace territory, but he’s being selected in NFBC leagues with an ADP of 207.51 (SP55) where there’s still profits to be had if he performs like a low-end SP3/SP4.

 

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