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Starters WAR Studs and Duds: Week 25

Welcome back 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. At this point in the season, I will 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 WAR and two with a disappointing WAR to see which pitchers have been reliable and which have been difficult to trust. For reference, the highest WAR among qualified starters is Gerrit Cole's 6.5. I will take a look at some interesting names to help fantasy players make tough decisions about who to start with a fantasy title on the line.  

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WAR Studs 

All stats current as of 9/16/19


Lance Lynn - Texas Rangers

(14-10, 3.72 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 6.2 WAR)

Our first WAR stud has had a solid 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 1.25 WHIP is much more in line with his career 1.31 mark than 2018's 1.51. Consequently, his batted-ball profile has been great. Lynn's 87.2-MPH average exit velocity and 33.1% hard-hit rate are both in the top 30% of baseball and he has kept the ball on the ground for the most part with a launch angle of 13 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 27.1% K rate with an 12.3% swinging-strike rate. Lynn relies mostly on fastballs (51.6% four-seamer, 16.8% sinker, 15.2% 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 10% of baseball. His movement combined with a high level of control has allowed Lynn to miss bats as well as avoid hard contact.

Lynn has been a standout fantasy option but faces a tough Astros matchup on the road this week. I could understand if fantasy owners did not want to risk it by benching him, but, given how much he has helped teams all season, I would not have a problem starting him this week.


Noah Syndergaard - New York Mets

(10-8, 4.15 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 4.2 WAR)

Our second WAR stud has not provided what fantasy owners were hoping for this season but still has a high WAR. Noah Syndergaard has a mediocre 4.15 ERA and a 24.2% K rate this season; however, his WAR indicates that he has been one of the most valuable starters. Let's take a look at how these conflicting numbers can exist. 

The main thing that is helping Syndergaard is his FIP. His 3.53 FIP is much better than his ERA, indicating that he has gotten unlucky. This jives with his batted-ball profile; Thor's average exit velocity and hard-hit rate are both in the top 15% of baseball and he has kept the ball on the ground with a 9.4-degree launch angle. His SIERA doesn't quite back all of this up though. His 4.07 SIERA suggests that, despite his batted-ball profile, his results have been what they should be.

It has been an interesting season for Syndergaard, which has made thing frustrating for fantasy owners. He has allowed at least four runs in three of his last four starts and has to go to Coors Field this week. It would be a very tough decision to sit him this week, but I wouldn't blame owners for doing so.  


WAR Duds

All stats current as of 9/16/19


Wade Miley - Houston Astros

(14-5, 3.71 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 1.9 WAR)

Our first WAR dud has a lowly WAR despite being a huge fantasy contributor. Wade Miley has completely restarted his career with the development of his cutter and has been contributing on a competitive Astros team. His numbers have regressed a bit over the course of the season, but he still has only the 49th-highest WAR among qualified starting pitchers. Should this fact impact fantasy owners' decisions on whether to start him or not for the final few weeks? 

Let me quickly reassure those that have Miley; he may not be the sexiest fantasy option as we all know, but he has been a solid pitcher this season. 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 1/3 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 19.9% strikeout rate isn't poor, but it is hard to rack up strikeouts when you throw an 87-MPH cutter 47% of the time.

The biggest factor in Miley's low WAR has been his high FIP (4.42). This stat, along with his SIERA (4.76), 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 strong this season (87-MPH average exit velocity, 32.1% hard-hit- rate, 7.8-degree launch angle).

Miley had thrown a few poor games recently but rebounded nicely in his last start. He will face a Mike Trout-less Angels this week; given his overall season performance, I would be starting Miley.


Yu Darvish - Chicago Cubs

(6-6, 3.97 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 2.0 WAR)

Our second WAR dud had a slow start to the season but has been providing more of what fantasy owners have expected lately. Yu Darvish now has respectable stats, but his WAR sits below many other starters. Should this matter down the stretch?

The bottom line is that Darvish has pitched extremely well lately. His 2.01 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, and 2.52 SIERA over his last five starts indicate that everything is clicking. Further, nothing really stands out in his season stats. He has managed to last about 5 2/3 innings per start, which isn't great but isn't awful. Further, his batted-ball profile has been slightly below average on the season. However, everything else has looked fine, especially of late.   

Darvish has figured things out and he looks like a higher-end fantasy asset once again. He has a two-start week, taking on the Reds in a decent matchup and the Cardinals in a tougher one. Regardless, I would not hesitate to use Darvish this week, despite his WAR.

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