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Overrated/Underrated Week 8: Sell Shields, Buy Hendricks

Week 1 (OF/SP) | Week 2 (OF/SP) | Week 3 (SS) | Week 4 (1B) | Week 5 | Week 6 (SP) | Week 7 (2B)

* * *

Comin' atcha hot: this week's daily dose of player ownership discrepancies and misvaluations. Depending on the depth and settings of your league, there's a chance you can get through an entire championship season without making a single trade. Per Fleaflicker's data, there are plenty of quality players on the waiver wire to go around.

This week, I look at starting pitchers. There's a ton of them, and the way their good and bad performances crop up overnight make for volatile fluctations in their value -- sometimes warranted, sometimes not. I'm here to sift through the noise.

 

Overrated

James Shields, SDP
80% owned, via Fleaflicker

I don't know how many times I can start off one of these analyses with, "I just don't get it," but: I just don't get it. Now, in Shields' owners' defense, Shields looks better than last year, as far as his 3.07 ERA is concerned. And his 3.96 xFIP is only a few point worse than last year's mark, which was only a few points worse than his usual marks.

But xFIP may not be the appropriate measure here anymore. xFIP assumes pitchers don't have much control over what happens to the fly balls they allow. I don't know if that's a safe assumption to make with Shields. He has always had a bit of a home run problem, and it has been especially bad the last two years. The 4.09 FIP is something closer to what we should expect from him. He's currently benefitting from a nice 83.8% stand rate, or left-on-base percentage (LOB%), helping suppress his ERA.

He's somehow managing the second-best ERA of his career despite what are, by far, his worst-ever peripherals. He lost last year's strikeouts while sustaining the unsightly walk rate (BB%). He's still living outside the zone -- his 42.3% zone percentage (Zone%) is slightly better than last year's mark, according to PITCHf/x, but still way worse than his peak. This isn't a problem when hitters are chasing bad pitches. But they're not; in fact, hitters are chasing Shields' bad pitches less often than ever before.

Meanwhile, Shields' infield fly ball rate (IFFB%) suggests that, despite generally similar batted ball numbers, hitters are squaring him up, too. A high IFFB% correlates well with a low batting average on ball in play (BABIP) and vice versa. That ranks him 12th-worst among 102 qualified starting pitchers in this regard.

Lastly, a reality check: Shields plays for the lowly San Diego Padres. Despite his superficial success, he still only has two wins. It's an archaic statistical category, but your league likely depends on it. It doesn't figure to get any better for Shields once he regresses.

Underrated

Kyle Hendricks, CHC
63% owned, via Fleaflicker

Hendricks was, quietly, an excellent pitcher last year, and he has quietly been excellent this as the de facto #4/5 in a loaded Chicago Cubs rotation. To attest: his 3.28 FIP ranks 22nd among all pitchers with at least 300 innings pitched since 2014. That's better than Garrett Richards, Chris Archer, Cole Hamels, and Danny Salazar, to name a few.

Hendricks pairs a decent, albeit not eye-popping, strikeout rate with pinpoint command. I wouldn't say he "pounds the zone," at least not historically. But he has certainly ramped up his first-pitch strike frequency, which now ranks third among all qualified starters behind the illustrious Johnny CUeto and very hittable Phil Hughes. Fortunately, Hendricks does not suffer the ill effects of the latter.

Right now, Hendricks isn't experiencing quite the same success as he did last year in the strikeout department, as pitchers have managed to lay off on his junk pitches more often than last year. But he has sustained an almost-identical swinging strike rate (SwStr%) since 2014, and his current 7.38 K/9 almost perfectly matches his career 7.40 K/9. Perhaps the low 5.27 K/9 in 2014 and the high 8.35 K/9 in 2015 are outliers here, and his strikeout effectiveness has finally normalized.

That would be fine. Hendricks isn't flashy in this regard, and his lack of strikeouts will keep him on the waiver wire for longer than he deserves to be. Right now, he is limiting hard contact with the best of them, inducing the league's 5th-best ground ball rate (58.1 GB%) and third-best infield fly ball rate (17.2 IFFB%), both of which would represent career-bests for him if the season ended today. He gets Dallas Keuchel's results with an entirely different, entirely safer, method of attack.

And, lastly, to bring it back to team quality: Hendricks pitches for the Cubs, arguably the best team in the world right now. His two wins thus far does not accurately represent a reasonable pace we should expect from him -- although let it be acknowledged that, yes, Hendricks has little control over his run support. Still, bet on him finishing the season ahead of Shields (and many other pitchers more owned than Hendricks) in terms of fantasy value.

 

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