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Starters WAR Studs and Duds: Week 16

Welcome back from the All-Star break to RotoBaller’s pitchers advanced stats and StatCast studs and duds article series! Each week we will select an advanced stat, choose two studs and two duds, and analyze what those stats could mean for future fantasy output. This "week" has been a shorter one given the break, so I thought I would focus on an all-encompassing stat for starting pitchers; wins above replacement (WAR).

WAR is an interesting metric that was developed as an attempt to measure a player's relative value compared to a replacement-level player, or a readily-available player (think free agent). The calculation is rather complicated and is broken down with further explanation here for those who are interested.

I will take a look at two players with an impressive first-half WAR and two with a disappointing WAR to see what may lie ahead of them in the second half. For reference, the highest first-half WAR among qualified starters was Max Scherzer's 5.5. Given that Scherzer is a top fantasy option and that he just landed on the IL, I will not be discussing him. However, I will take a look at some interesting and unexpected names, so let's get to it! 

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WAR Studs 

All stats current as of 7/15/19


Lance Lynn - Texas Rangers

(12-4, 3.69 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 4.4 WAR)

Our first WAR stud has had an excellent first half of the season and has a WAR higher than many better-known fantasy names. Lance Lynn has rebounded after a poor 2018 season, posting solid numbers across the board. Let's take a look under the hood and see how Lynn has found his success.  

The first thing that stands out has been Lynn's solid control. His 1.21 WHIP is its lowest since 2011. Consequently, his batted-ball profile has been great. Lynn's 86.6-MPH average exit velocity and 31.4% hard-hit rate are both in the top 18% of baseball and he has kept the ball on the ground for the most part with a launch angle of 12.4 degrees.

The second thing that stands out has been Lynn's strikeout numbers. Lynn has made his way into my Strikeout Rate Risers article several times and has a 26.4% K rate with an 11.2% swinging-strike rate. Lynn relies mostly on fastballs (50.3% four-seamer, 18.7% sinker, 17.5% cutter), but has been able to get swings and misses thanks to the movement he has gotten on those pitches. Specifically, the spin rates on his fastball and cutter are in the top 13% of baseball. His movement combined with a high level of control has allowed Lynn to miss bats as well as avoid hard contact.

Lynn seems to be firing on all cylinders this season and there does not seem to be any reason to think that this will not continue. He has turned out to be a big fantasy value in 2019 and should help fantasy teams contend in the second half.


Lucas Giolito - Chicago White Sox

(11-3, 3.15 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 3.1 WAR)

Our second WAR stud has frustrated fantasy owners for several seasons now after failing to live up to his hype as a potential ace. 25-year-old Lucas Giolito seems to have finally figured things out this season, earning himself a spot on the All-Star team and a fixed spot in fantasy owners' rotations. What has changed for Giolito this season? 

Giolito has had a couple of things going for him to this point. The first has been his high strikeout rate (30.1%). He has gotten good movement and velocity on his fastball (94.1 MPH, 2,298 rotations per minute), leading to 10.3% swinging-strike rate on the pitch. He has coupled his fastball with great secondary pitches. He has a 22.7% swinging-strike rate on his changeup and a 21.6% swinging-strike rate on his slider, so both have been pretty lethal swing-and-miss pitches.

The second positive is that Giolito has avoided hard contact (33.6% hard-hit rate, 88-MPH average exit velocity). Consequently, all of his expected stats (xBA, xSLG, xwOBA) are in the top 14% of baseball. His 17-degree launch angle is a concern, however, as is his relatively high walk rate (9.5%). His 3.91 SIERA reflects that his batted-ball profile isn't as stellar as it may seem. To be fair, a 3.91 ERA would still be acceptable, but is not nearly at the level that Giolito has put forth so far.

All in all, Giolito has been a fantasy success this season. He has not completely fixed is control, but has gotten a hold of his pitch movement, leading to impressive strikeout numbers. I am not yet comfortable with him as a true stud given some of his underlying stats, but would gladly have him in the middle of a fantasy rotation.  


WAR Duds

All stats current as of 7/15/19


Wade Miley - Houston Astros

(7-4, 3.32 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 1.2 WAR)

Our first WAR dud ranks just 56th in WAR among qualified starters this season but has been a fantasy All-Star. Wade Miley has completely restarted his career with the development of his cutter and has been contributing on a competitive Astros team. Despite this, Miley has a lower WAR than pitchers such as Trent Thornton, Michael Pineda, and Brad Keller. So, should fantasy owners be worried that Miley won't be able to help them in the second half? 

Let me quickly reassure those that have Miley; he may not be the sexiest fantasy option as we all know, but he is legitimate. I will first point out the aspects of Miley's game that may contribute to his low WAR. First, he has not pitched all that deep into games. Miley has averaged roughly 5.5 innings per start, which isn't awful but isn't great. Second, he has had relatively low strikeout numbers. The switch to the cutter has helped him immensely but is not conducive to striking out hitters. His 20.5% strikeout rate isn't poor by any means, but it is hard to rack up strikeouts when you throw an 89-MPH cutter 46% of the time.

The biggest factor in Miley's low WAR has  highbeen his FIP (4.59). This stat, along with his SIERA (4.53), suggests that Miley is overachieving and may be benefitting from his team's defense rather than his actual skills. However, there is conflicting evidence to support Miley's performance. His batted-ball profile has been stellar this season (87.7-MPH average exit velocity, 33.1% hard-hit- rate, 8-degree launch angle) as has his command (1.14 WHIP, 7.7% walk rate). These values contradict his high SIERA and give me comfort.

I think that Miley has performed well both in terms of his peripherals and advanced metrics this season. His FIP and SIERA indicate that he has over-performed, but his batted-ball profile indicates that he is getting good results. Miley has been a great fantasy value to this point and I expect much of the same for the rest of the season.


Zach Eflin - Philadelphia Phillies

(7-8, 4.16 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 1.1 WAR)

Our second WAR dud was also an intriguing later-round fantasy pick heading into this season but hasn't quite provided the value people were hoping for. Zach Eflin has had some bright spots this season but has a pedestrian 1.1 WAR through the first half. Could Eflin rebound in the second half?

Eflin's numbers to this point match his career numbers, which, unfortunately, have been lackluster. He has never been much of a strikeout pitcher (19.4% strikeout rate), and while his walk rate has been fine (6.1%), he has given up too many hits (1.30 WHIP). Eflin's .292 BABIP is just .001 off from his career mark and his 4.70 SIERA is close to his career 4.63 mark, so I am buying his current WHIP and ERA. Eflin's current batted-ball profile is decent (87.9-MPH average exit velocity, 36.2% hard-hit rate, 13.8-degree launch angle), but not so strong that I would question his SIERA.

Eflin isn't a bad fantasy option but isn't really a strong one either. He plays on a competitive team, which helps, but seems set up to be merely a back-end rotation piece for the rest of the season.

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