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Sauceda's Slants - Five Starters To Add For Pitching-Thirsty Teams


Oh, the thrill of Monday mornings. On your train commute to work, you rush to set your lineups for the upcoming week. Unfortunately, you see your pitching staff is riddled with swiss flags and “IL” labels — a sign that the chaos of the baseball season has infected your team. You see Max Scherzer ailing with shoulder and back injuries. Do you start him? Blake Snell will undergo surgery on his left elbow, putting into question his return this season. Carlos Carrasco continues to battle leukemia. Your reinforcements are ailing — Tyler Mahle hurts his hamstring on the last pitch of his recent outing and is now on the IL. Jimmy Nelson and Luke Weaver have already been there for months.

Maybe you only face one or two of those issues. Or maybe you face a different, yet painfully similar, set of circumstances. Or maybe, like me, that perfectly describes the current state of your team. Whatever the case may be, if you’re looking for pitching — and who isn’t this time of the season? — then you’re in the right place. They won’t be able to replace any of those names mentioned above, but we’ve highlighted five interesting starting pitchers below who can help you piece things together while your bigger names heal.

These are pitchers rostered in fewer than 41% of fantasy leagues — hopefully, that means they’re available in yours. These are the five that caught my eye, sorted by roster rates. Maybe they catch yours too. (NOTE: All stats and CBS roster data are as of Sunday, 7/28/19)

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Jose Urquidy, HOU (41% owned)

It’s only been four starts for Urquidy. The Astros are among the most likely bets to add a starting pitcher this trade deadline. It’s unclear whether he’s long for the rotation this season.

Nevertheless, the early returns have been very promising — Urquidy has shown top 20% ability by both whiffs and called-strikes-plus-whiffs (CSW):

Stat Value Percentile
Whiff% 13.8% 80%
CSW% 32.4% 89%
GB+PU% 53% 70%

The stuff doesn’t jump off the page, but he does possess above-average velocity, rise and horizontal movement on his fourseam, as well as an above-average velocity gap between his fourseam and changeup. He’s used that to generate a top 15% CSW for both pitches and a top 15% whiff rate on the changeup.

Armed with a balanced arsenal throwing four pitches more than 10% of the time, his curve and slider have been quite effective at generating grounders and popups, and not too shabby by whiffs and CSW:

Fourseam Curve Slider Change
Usage 45% 16% 14% 26%
# Thrown 146 51 45 85
PERCENTILES:
ACES - - - -
Whiff% 37% 87% 67% 86%
CSW% 89% 65% 58% 85%
GB+PU% 32% 87% 80% 78%

It’s true that we don’t know how long Urquidy’s run in the rotation will last, but there’s upside here that suggests he could be a near-every week starter for your teams if he did — THE BAT, for one, sees a potential top 50 starting pitcher. Rotation casualty risk aside, there are few teams that maximize the raw ability and win opportunity of their pitchers like the Astros. You don’t often find that kind of upside available at this point in the season, making Urquidy an intriguing addition for pitching-starved teams.

 

Anthony DeSclafani, CIN (38% owned)

Possessing top 20% stuff, I highlighted “Tony Disco” as part of the ACES refresh in late May. Here are DeSclafani’s stats since then:

58.1 IP, 3.55 ERA, 24.3% K%

While his 4.00 FIP and 1.32 WHIP during that time highlight his imperfect profile — not to mention his hitter’s paradise of a ballpark — there is still value in rostering DeSclafani. He rated as 87th percentile by ACES and has been above average by both whiffs and CSW this season:

Stat Value Percentile
Whiff% 12.3% 65%
CSW% 28.3% 58%
GB+PU% 45% 26%
ACES 0.48 87%

He may not have the every-week-starter upside as Urquidy, but he’s a useful arm who can inexpensively deliver more than a strikeout per inning and palatable ratios.

 

Tyler Beede, SF (36% owned)

In early June, I was impressed by Beede’s three above-average pitches by stuff, calling him a “borderline 12-team pick up.” Since then, his results have been playable if uneven, with a 1.26 WHIP, 8.3 K/9 and 4.13 ERA driven by an obscene 1.72 HR/9.

He’s been above average by all three of whiffs, CSW and grounders-plus-popups:

Stat Value Percentile
Whiff% 12.7% 70%
CSW% 28.5% 60%
GB+PU% 51% 58%

The question remains command, something projections believe may remain an issue (4.5 to 5 projected BB/9 ROS). Even so, there’s enough here to remain interested. Pitching in baseball’s most extreme pitcher’s park is a nice start. Also, in 10 starts since returning to the rotation on 5/30, he’s reigned in his homers a bit (1.54 HR/9) and has pitched to a sub-4.00 ERA.

He’s started to throw his cutter more in July (up from 1% in June to 15% in July), a welcome shift given results on the pitch:

Fourseam Cutter Curve Slider Change
Usage 57% 6% 14% 2% 20%
# Thrown 585 64 145 23 208
PERCENTILES:
Whiff% 45% 97% 75% 37% 85%
CSW% 32% 86% 63% 95% 87%
GB+PU% 57% 73% 94% 45% 80%

It would be great to see him rely less on his fourseam, but as walks have been a bit of an issue (4.15 BB/9), he’s had to lean on it to throw strikes. That will be the thing to monitor moving forward — can he throw enough strikes to be able to get to his secondaries? Given the whiffs, stuff, park and first-round pedigree, I’m inclined to add and find out.

 

Asher Wojciechowski, BAL (26% owned)

Like DeScalafani, Wojciechowski (or "Woj," for short) plays in an awful ballpark for pitchers. The Orioles are among the worst teams in baseball — if not the worst. Before being traded to the Orioles, he pitched 84 innings of a 5.83 FIP (3.61 ERA) for the Indians AAA affiliate this season. Now 30 years old, he has just 108 major league innings to his name.

There are tons of reasons to fade Woj. But sometimes, particularly in deeper leagues, you just can’t ignore a top 5% whiff rate — small 30-inning sample be damned:

Stat Value Percentile
Whiff% 16.8% 95%
CSW% 31.1% 83%

If he qualified — a big “if,” obviously — his 31.1% strikeout rate (11.1 K/9) would rank 7th in all of baseball, sandwiched among a who's who of elite starting pitching goodness: Cole, Sale, Scherzer, Verlander, Boyd, Bieber, deGrom and … Wojciechowski? His 24.4% K-BB% would rank 9th.

With a career 5.80 ERA … what is going on here? What’s changed?

Interestingly, it’s a (somewhat) new pitch! Woj has re-introduced a tasty cutter:

While below average by velocity, his cutter is quite good by both drop (85th percentile) and horizontal movement (97th percentile), helping drive top 20% whiffs and CSW on the pitch:

Fourseam Cutter Slider Change
Usage 53% 18% 27% 2%
# Thrown 250 87 129 10
PERCENTILES:
Whiff% 85% 98% 72% 78%
CSW% 62% 81% 83% 29%
GB+PU% 69% 27% 32% 0%

To be clear, this remains a volatile situation. The Orioles will provide few chances for wins. The AL East is a bloodbath, particularly when you don’t get the luxury of facing Baltimore. The ballpark remains awful. While there are promising signs — high strikeouts, whiffs and new a pitch — this is still a 30-year-old journeyman pitcher (at best) with projections predicting a 5.70 ERA for him the rest of the season.

Still, for those in deeper leagues, playable arms are hard to come by — like the Orioles, you might need to give Woj a shot. (H/T to Nando Di Fino for reminding me of Wojciechowki’s existence a few weeks back on The Athletic’s “Under the Radar” podcast.)

 

Cal Quantrill, SD (16% owned)

Like Beede, I wrote about Quantrill as a young arm possessing interesting stuff but no clear spot in the rotation. He still has the stuff and, after allowing only one earned run in his last 16 innings, it appears he might have a better grasp on a rotation spot.

It’s not a perfect profile — I prefer to tout those at least above average by both whiffs and CSW, but above-average whiffs, grounders-plus-popups and stuff is enough to warrant further consideration:

Stat Value Percentile
Whiff% 12.7% 71%
CSW% 25.3% 26%
GB+PU% 52% 64%
ACES 0.20 64%

He was also recently used as the “primary” pitcher after an opener, a positive development should that continue. He’s also used his minus curveball less in July (down to 1% usage), a welcome shift:

Fourseam Sinker Curve Slider Change
Usage 28% 27% 4% 19% 22%
# Thrown 196 192 29 135 155
PERCENTILES:
ACES 88% 71% 2% 81% 25%
Whiff% 79% 67% 14% 80% 67%
CSW% 18% 35% 10% 81% 67%
GB+PU% 88% 59% 13% 27% 72%

However, he’s also started featuring his sinker more (up to 40% usage in July) at the expense of his fourseam — a shift that’s harder to defend based on his stuff, outcomes and overall pitching trends in major league baseball. While his projections and K-BB% don’t suggest a ceiling you can dream on, his whiffs and stuff nevertheless portend a playable arm — particularly now that he appears to have a rotation spot.

That’s about the best we can do this time of year. Look for arms with interesting raw stuff. Mine strikeout and K-BB% leaderboards — those are still among the best in-season tools we have. Hopefully one of those finds bridges the gap with quality innings when you need them the most.

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