Fantasy Baseball: Which Breakout Pitchers To Sell or Keep?
There are quite a few pitchers who have gotten off to amazing starts to their 2011 campaigns, surprising many fantasy owners. Who’s for real? Who should we cut bait on now? Let’s take a look at a few of them:
Gio Gonzalez—Oakland Athletics
In his first three starts, Gonzalez is sporting a 0.47 ERA and 1.26 WHIP. The problem is that he has done it with a BABIP of .212 and a strand rate of 100.0 percent. Obviously that’s not going to continue.
He has also continued to struggle with his control. In 19.0 innings of work, he has walked 12 batters—good for a BB/9 of 5.68. It’s hard to imagine continued success if he is going to walk that many batters. Think it’s an aberration? In his minor league career he had a BB/9 of 4.01. In his previous three seasons he posted the following BB/9:
- 2008—6.62 (34.0 IP)
- 2009—5.11 (98.2 IP)
- 2010—4.13 (200.2 IP)
If he continues to walk people, the numbers are going to come tumbling down. It’s really just a matter of time. Yes, being a good ground-ball pitcher (50.0 percent in ’11) helps, but it’s not enough. I’d be wary of Gonzalez moving forward, as the numbers scream for a possible regression.
Matt Harrison—Texas Rangers
After stymieing the Yankees on Friday night (8.0 IP, 1 ER, 7 H, 3 BB, 3 K, W), Harrison is at 3-0 with a 1.23 ERA and 0.91 WHIP. He certainly has had luck on his side with a .203 BABIP and 93.0 percent strand rate, but there are other numbers at play as well.
Thus far this season he’s posted a line-drive rate of 9.8 percent, after being at over 20 percent in his previous three seasons. Can that continue?
Harrison also offers little upside in the strikeout department (5.73 K/9 in ’11, 6.42 in his minor league career). He does have good control (2.07 BB/9 in his minor league career), which helps to backup his 2.45 mark in ’11.
Is good control and an improved ground-ball rate (52.5 percent in ’11) enough to warrant grabbing him off waiver wires? I wouldn’t expect him to induce six ground-ball double plays very often, meaning the results against the Yankees could’ve been very, very different.
While those in AL-only formats could consider him, there’s a risk for a major regression at hand. If you are in a mixed league, that risk coupled with the low strikeout rate are enough reasons to stay away.
Justin Masterson—Cleveland Indians
With a 1.33 ERA, a 0.93 WHIP and a 3-0 record in his first three starts, there's a lot to like about the “Masterful” Justin Masterson.
A lot of people have written him off due to his struggles the past few years, but there was an awful lot of bad luck at play (68.6 percent, 66.6 percent strand rates the previous two years). He also hadn’t shown very good control, something that he had consistently displayed in the minor leagues (2.28 BB/9).
He is one of the elite ground-ball pitchers in the league, currently sporting a 65.0 percent ground-ball rate. Since 2009, among pitchers with at least 300 innings pitched, Masterson is second in the league with a 57.8 percent ground-ball rate (Joel Pineiro leads the way at 58.2 percent). That certainly says a lot about his potential to produce, assuming the luck is there.
Not that he’s going to be able to continue his .242 BABIP, but for a ground-ball pitcher, marks of .314 and .324 (which he posted in ’09 and ’10) are going to hurt. Improvement there will go a long way to his success.
I know people are going to point towards his 5.31 K/9 and say that he’s worthless, but that’s shortsighted. Over his minor league career he posted a 7.46 K/9 and showed in his second start of the season (nine K in 6.1 IP against the Mariners) that he has the potential to pile up the strikeouts. If he can strike out five to six batters a night—to go with the rest of his repertoire—he has the stuff to be a breakout starter in 2011.
If others in your league have not yet bought into his early season success, I would highly recommend him. Yes, there is the chance for a regression, but he has the stuff to be a useful starter all year long.
Chris Narveson—Milwaukee Brewers
He’s won only one game in his first three starts, but Narverson's sporting a 1.45 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. Considering his realistic .286 BABIP (though he has benefited from an 86.4 percent strand rate), there certainly is reason to take notice.
The real question when it comes to Narveson is his 9.16 K/9. If he can come reasonably close to sustaining it, the sky is the limit. If he can’t, there’s going to be a regression.
Over his minor league career he posted a K/9 of 7.50. At Triple-A in ’09 he posted a 9.1 K/9, though a lot of that came while working in the bullpen (only six starts in 26 outings). In September of 2010 he did show the potential to maintain this type of mark in the rotation, with 37 Ks in 37.1 innings of work. In August he had 20 Ks in 26.1 innings of work.
His performance as of late has not just come out of nowhere.
Can it continue with a fastball that has been averaging 87.9 mph? I’m not so sure about that.
He has looked good and is certainly worth owning, but he is no guarantee to continue. Having never shown this type of strikeout success in the past, it’s hard to say that three starts is a given. Even if you include August and September of 2010, you are looking at 14 starts. It’s a lot better, but it still shouldn’t be accepted as the new norm.
Tread carefully, but he’s certainly worth owning in most formats because he's pitching in the NL. Just don’t become too attached, because there is a good chance that a regression could be coming.
What are your thoughts on these four pitchers? Who do you think is for real? Who would you avoid?
Make sure to check out these other great articles from Rotoprofessor:
- Around the Majors: April 16: Austin Jackson, Josh Beckett & More
- Injury Report: April 17: Grady Sizemore, Carlos Gonzalez & More
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