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Sauceda's Slants: Folding Aces


There are very few Fantasy experiences more pleasing than hitting on a late-round sleeper or sneaky waiver acquisition — not unlike the experience of finding a twenty-dollar bill in your pocket that you had completely forgotten. When landing these types of players, common refrain tends to be, “sell high!”

But for anyone who’s played in a competitive league, you know that your league mates aren’t exactly lining up to pay top dollar for your found money — at least not yet. But eventually we reach a point where the sample grows, strong performance continues and believability of that performance improves.

Now more than two months into the season, we might be at that point, creating an interesting conundrum for those of you who have these kinds of players on your rosters — hold or sell?

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The Decision-Making Process

Of course, like onions, this is a question with several layers:

  • How much do I buy their current performance?
  • What do I expect moving forward?
  • What is the market valuation?
  • What are my team needs?

While no one is better suited to answer the last question than yourself, we’ll tackle the first three questions. Our focus will be a set of six starting pitchers who have performed well to date, but who could be reaching prime selling time.

To do our best in making that determination, let’s break out our go-to toolkit for pitching analysis:

  • Talent or “raw stuff” assessment using ACES
  • Best in-season indicators and predictors of future performance: strikeout minus walk rate (K-BB%), ERA estimators (e.g., SIERA, FIP, xFIP), whiffs and CSW
  • Rest-of-season (ROS) projections from Steamer and THE BAT, found on FanGraphs
  • While defining a blanket market valuation is nearly impossible — league-specific factors will significantly shape valuation — we’ll turn to Yahoo’s trade market to get an initial idea for “comps” (NOTE: before you roast me for this, we’re solely using this as a rough proxy for ideas of what you might be able to trade a player for — it’s not meant to pinpoint precise valuation!)

Here are the pitchers, each with a verdict of buy (market undervaluing), hold (market properly valuing) or sell (market seeing strong value) for redraft leagues (rest of this season only).

(NOTE: All stats are as of 6/6/19.)

 

Jake Odorizzi, MIN

Type K-BB% ERA SIERA FIP xFIP
Value 19.6% 1.96 4.05 2.82 4.28
Rank 21 2 35 6 48

Look at that sub-2.00 ERA. It doesn’t take a sabermetrician to figure out that’s unlikely to continue. But to where? Odorizzi’s FIP portends strong skills and his K-BB% — still the best in-season predictor we have — ranks just outside the top 20 among qualified starting pitchers.

While his SIERA and xFIP suggest his low home run rate is bound to increase, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen strong production from Odorizzi. He appeared on his way to cementing himself as a top-of-the-rotation arm for the Rays, pitching a 3.35 ERA in 2015 (169 innings) and 3.69 ERA in 2016 (187 innings). The Twins have done masterful work with their rotation this season and Odorizzi is no different, having added roughly two ticks to his velocity across his entire arsenal — previously sitting 91-92 on his fastball to 93-94 this season.

Maybe that’s what the projections can’t see, projecting him for an ERA near 4.00 and 8.5 to 9.9 strikeouts per nine (K/9). Yet those are still playable numbers! And the strikeout projection is well supported by his current whiff and CSW figures:

Stat Value Percentile
Whiff% 13.7% 83%
CSW% 30.0% 72%

If we buy skills growth and take the slight under on his projections and SIERA/xFIP, we’re left with roughly a 3.80-3.90 ERA and a strikeout per inning on a good team — that’s quite useful and certainly not production you want to sell off for peanuts.

As a very rough proxy, let’s see how the trade market is valuing him. Are they buying the current stats or valuing closer to projections? Here are a few trades that have been completed on the Yahoo platform, far from the best measure but a starting point nevertheless:

Okay, maybe we can’t dream that high but clearly, someone is valuing Odorizzi as a strong asset moving forward — this is a market worth exploring.

Verdict: Sell

 

Caleb Smith, MIA

Type K-BB% ERA SIERA FIP xFIP
Value 26.2% 3.10 3.29 3.60 3.46
Rank 5 16 6 29 14

As someone who touted Smith as a potential ACES breakout back in February, it’s been great to see his early-season breakout. But even I didn’t expect this level — as of Thursday, he had a top five K-BB%! We’ve started to see him come back down to Earth more recently though — walks inching up, hard contact increasing and his ERA subsequently rising.

Still, even during his recent struggles the strikeouts have been there. On the season, he ranks in the top four among qualified starting pitchers in both strikeout rate and swinging strike rate. Projections buy most of the strikeouts but are projecting an ERA between 3.76 and 4.12 the rest of the way. Of course, his win totals are likely to be low, but I’ll still take the under on both of those ERA projections and bet on his supercharged strikeout stuff:

Fourseam Slider Change
Usage 49% 33% 19%
PERCENTILES:
Whiff% 95% 64% 87%
CSW% 90% 66% 81%

Having said that, “everyone has a price,” as they say, and let’s see what the Yahoo market is doing:

What a mixed bag! I’m buying Smith above his Steamer projections, who see him as a top 25 starting pitcher moving forward, meaning I could see myself going multiple directions with him. If I can acquire an elite bat, I’m willing to move him. If I can package him to get a top five starting pitcher, I might do it depending on who else I need to include. If I badly needed saves, I’d be open to discussing him for an elite closer, although ideally, I’d get a little more in return. I wouldn’t want to deal Smith and Chavis for, say, Kimbrel and Rogers. I’d happily trade away Price if it meant I got Smith in return.

Verdict: Buy, sell or hold — YMMV. Assess your market! Either way, Smith is legit!

 

Domingo German, NYY

Like Smith, German profiled as a potential ACES breakout going into the season. His strong start has allowed him to pile up eight wins so far, helping drive his top 50 overall rank according to the Razzball Player Rater.

The skills have been strong but not quite Smith-ian levels:

Type K-BB% ERA SIERA FIP xFIP
Value 18.9% 3.77 3.95 4.01 3.87
Rank 24 39 30 43 34

While the strikeouts have been strong, German has allowed 1.43 home runs per nine innings (HR/9) in 164 career innings — not the best combination in Yankee Stadium, particularly as the summer brings warmer temperatures. Projections see the same issue and project an ERA closer to 4.50 moving forward. Even if you wanted to take the under, his current ERA estimators would lead you to stay close to 4.00.

He’s a perfectly fine pitcher, but his quick start and the allure of the Yankees should allow you to trade him away at somewhat of a premium — at least if the Yahoo market is any indication:

Verdict: Sell

 

Max Fried, ATL

One of the Braves top young arms and a top 100 prospect going into the season, Fried has shown some nice skills in his 66 innings so far:

Type K-BB% ERA SIERA FIP xFIP
Value 15.8% 3.78 3.94 3.83 3.56
Rank 41 40 28 34 19

Freddie Freeman, for one, had quite the assessment of Fried, telling The Athletic during spring training:

“I think he’s one of the best pitching prospects I’ve seen in a long time. Left arms like that don’t come around very often.”

Compared to the names above him on this list, however, he hasn’t shown the same strikeout upside yet:

Stat Value Percentile
Whiff% 11.3% 55%
CSW% 27.9% 49%

He’s been among the top 30% in generating grounders and popups (GB+PU%), but below average command has been an issue and his curveball might be the lone attraction right now:

Fourseam Curve Slider Change
Usage 59% 27% 10% 3%
PERCENTILES:
Whiff% 49% 81% 51% 54%
CSW% 40% 58% 15% 85%
GB+PU% 88% 77% 47% 13%

Naturally, as a young pitcher with few major league innings to his name, it’s difficult to peg down a ROS projection — Steamer sees a 3.72 ERA and 9.2 K/9 whereas THE BAT has a much more pessimistic view, projecting a 4.80 ERA and 8.5 K/9.

Without top-notch stuff and command, perhaps the answer is somewhere in between — at least for this season, although I’d lean closer to Steamer with a 4.00 ERA. As a trade asset, it seems like Fried has been shopped as more of a complementary piece:

It depends on the size of the league but, in 12-team leagues or deeper, Fried is simply too good to add and drop solely as a streamer. He could be the perfect sweetener to grease the wheels on that hitting upgrade you need.

Verdict: Sell

 

Spencer Turnbull, DET

Turnbull has one of the best ERAs in this group but doesn’t have the skills to support it:

Type K-BB% ERA SIERA FIP xFIP
Value 13.2% 3.01 4.46 3.82 4.50
Rank 52 11 49 33 53

But he does pair average command with some whiff-y stuff!

Stat Value Percentile
Whiff% 12.4% 70%
CSW% 26.1% 27%
GB+PU% 55% 76%
ACES 0.13 59%

His wide arsenal helps — he throws four pitches more than 10% of the time and all are above average by whiffs and grounders plus popups. There’s plenty to like in his profile but he plays on a bad team, projections are pessimistic and he doesn’t have the name or prospect equity behind him. There’s enough here to be useful to you — at least in a 12-team league — but not enough to make him a trade asset.

Verdict: Hold (or stream/drop in shallow leagues, as needed)

 

Lucas Giolito, CWS

Let me first say that everything Giolito is doing appears for real:

Type K-BB% ERA SIERA FIP xFIP
Value 22.2% 2.54 3.62 2.64 3.67
Rank 13 7 14 3 25

You don’t fake your way to a top 15% whiff rate and CSW:

Stat Value Percentile
Whiff% 14.3% 87%
CSW% 32.5% 90%

And he’s got three above-average pitches to prove it:

Fourseam Curve Slider Change
Usage 55% 7% 13% 25%
PERCENTILES:
Whiff% 75% 23% 88% 84%
CSW% 73% 16% 77% 95%
GB+PU% 76% 37% 15% 55%

BUT, let’s not forget that he still has below average command, sitting close to the bottom 30% by Command+. He still plays for a bad team — albeit in a weak division at least! — and projections are too jaded by his past incompetence so they still see a future ERA higher than 4.50.

That doesn’t mean you should sell, but it’s just a reminder that Giolito doesn’t have a foolproof profile. And given his prospect pedigree and recent strong performance, he could be someone to at least think about shopping. It all depends on the return and if league mates are buying into him at near-ace levels. There’s a possibility that they don’t; trades involving Giolito on Yahoo are uninspiring and there’s no reason to trade him away just for the sake of doing so — but could be worth at least exploring.

Verdict: Hold

Whether we buy a player or not often depends on the market around us. That is, how are others valuing them?

When in doubt, follow skills (like K-BB%) and stuff (like ACES). How believable does that suggest their current performance is? How does it impact their ROS projection?

And how does that differ from their current player rater rank and the market’s perception? If that gap is large, you know what to do. Time to get to work.

More 2019 Fantasy Baseball Advice