Fantasy Lowball: Five Pitchers To Target in June
Whether you've missed out on the Tommy Hanson sweepstakes or find yourself streaming starts out of combustible re-treads while your fantasy ace is on the minor league rehab tour, this guide is for you.
Buying low on pitching is especially prudent when the alternative to trading for a K/9 stud is Todd Wellemeyer on a sunny afternoon at Coors Field.
White Sox pitcher John Danks is one of five buy-low options for fantasy baseball managers targeted in this, the inaugural installment of Fantasy Lowball.
John Lackey, SP, Angels
Owners who bet a draft pick or a DL spot on John Lackey may find their patience tested by Lackey's lackluster numbers and the emergence of several top pitching prospects over the past few weeks.
In Lackey's last three starts, he's picked up one decision (a loss), allowed 27 hits, 10 runs, and has struck out only 13 batters in 21.1 innings pitched.
While the Ks may never feature as prominently for Lackey as they have in the past, there are some indications that his luck will turn.
With a well above-average .322 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and a below-average percentage of runners left on base, you should expect opposing batters to hit and score fewer times off the big right-hander.
Ricky Nolasco, SP, Marlins
After a 15-win 2008 campaign, Florida Marlins starting pitcher Ricky Nolasco entered the 2009 season with deafening hype that all but negated the "sleeper" tag many slapped on him.
Now, with just 50 innings pitched (and a Triple-A demotion) under his belt, those who bought the hype on Nolasco are beginning to itch.
Sporting a retch-worthy ERA (8.17), WHIP (1.82), and record (2-6), now is the time to buy on the promise Nolasco showed in 2008, while owners are still blinded by the inflated numbers.
In his first start upon returning from his demotion to the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes, Nolasco was tagged with another loss but looked at least a little better than mediocre—over seven innings he allowed 10 hits, two earned runs, and struck out four while walking three.
What you can expect from Nolasco going forward is an ERA that resembles something closer to his Fielder Independent Pitching (FIP) mark of 4.55.
What remains to be seen is what effect Nolasco's apparent meltdown has on his command—the most alarming stat that he's posted this season has been a walk rate of almost three per game.
If the Marlins coaching staff encourage Nolasco to pitch to contact, his K numbers may drop off, but if they do the right thing and let the kid throw, the K and BB numbers should level off to something resembling what he accumulated last season.
Max Scherzer, SP, Diamondbacks
Fantasy owners looking for a consistent source of Ks with the potential to rebound from an inconsistent start to the season should look no further than Max Scherzer .
The Arizona starter with the funky delivery has transformed from a must-have call-up in 2008 to a patience-draining rotation regular in 2009.
What's interesting about Scherzer is that at this point in the season, he's matched his 56 innings pitched from 2008. He's K'd about the same number as he did in 2008, walked about the same number as he did in 2008, but his current ERA is almost a whole point higher than it was last season.
So far, the only outliers are those that effect a pitcher's relative degree of "luck"—Scherzer's BABIP is an above-average .324, meaning more balls that leave opposing hitters' bats are falling for hits, and his home run to fly ball (HR/FB) percentage is two points higher than it was in 2008; you should expect some regression to the mean in both areas.
Blow-ups like Scherzer suffered on May 31 at home against Atlanta, where he let up eight earned runs in three short innings, should be considered growing pains for a rookie starting pitcher.
Wait for another of these poor outings and offer your over-performing trade chits for a pitcher who should be a steady source of K's for years to come.
Gil Meche, SP, Royals
When Gil Meche agreed to sign a five-year, $55-million contract with the Kansas City Royals, the talk was that the Royals had grossly overpaid for a middle-tier starter.
All Meche did the following season was post the best numbers of his career and make his debut All-Star Game appearance—it was the opposite of a "contract" year.
Then, in 2008, Meche won more than 12 games in a season for only the second time in his career, and struck out 183 batters, the highest number of K's he'd ever thrown.
Entering the 2009 season, Meche seemed like a sure thing, well worth the 10th-round pick many owners spent on him. Now it's June, and Meche's rotation-mate Zack Greinke (also a 10th-round pick for many fantasy teams) has slayed all comers while Meche has been a mess, plagued by control issues.
The good news for Meche is that the balls opposing hitters are putting in play are falling for hits at an extremely high rate—Meche's .332 BABIP is one of the highest in the league for regular starters and his performance thus far is backed by a remarkable 3.22 Fielder Independent Pitching rating.
Defensive woes like those faced by Meche in his appearances usually level off over the course of a season, and a regression to the attractive numbers that put Meche on the fantasy radar after years of mediocrity in Seattle are to be expected from here on out.
John Danks, SP, White Sox
John Danks wowed fans, scouts, and opposing hitters with his 2008 season, in which he posted a park-adjusted "ERA+" of 138, struck out seven hitters every nine innings, and won 12 games for the division-winning White Sox.
Entering 2009, he was considered a solid No. 2 option for a fantasy rotation, backing up the big names with consistent numbers across all categories.
Thus far, the 2009 season has been a disappointment for Danks and his owners. He's on pace to match or exceed his strikeout rate from 2008, and by the numbers, he's been able to make hitters swing and miss at a higher rate than in the past.
The problem is that he's also throwing more pitches out of the zone looking to make hitters chase, and they're not, which has led to a higher walk rate than Danks has had in the past.
Compounding Danks' relative control issues has been an extreme BABIP rate. (If you haven't caught on by now, BABIP will be a consistent theme when examining pitchers not performing to their expected levels).
Danks' .323 BABIP exceeds the league average (.301) by a sizable margin, and could account for a good portion of Danks' bad luck with hits this season.
Additionally, a greater number of fly-balls hit off Danks have gone for home runs than in the past—this is a tricky stat to account for, as he does pitch in a hitter-friendly park.
However, the spike (7.4% HR/FB in 2008, 13.8 percent in 2009) is large enough to be considered an outlier, and should settle to somewhere in between as the season goes on.
The big left-hander should be a solid source of wins and Ks going forward, but make sure you can compensate for the possibility that his WHIP and ERA numbers remain inflated due to the Sox' spotty defense and launching pad of a home park.