New Ace Smackdown: Collin McHugh vs Matt Shoemaker

This week’s Smackdown pits two 27 year old veteran minor leaguers who emerged as star hurlers in 2014. Neither of them were ever considered top prospects by any stretch of the imagination. McHugh was an 18th round draft pick by the Mets in 2008 and reached the majors with them in 2012. He was traded to the Rockies last summer but they made a big mistake by releasing him last December. The Astros claimed him off waivers and he has been an ace ever since. Shoemaker wasn’t drafted at all, signing as an undrafted free agent that same year of 2008. Neither of them distinguished themselves in the minors or gave a hint of future stardom. How did these two completely unheralded pitchers develop into aces? Are they for real or are they merely mirages that will quickly disappear when we examine them closely? Which one of them is the better bet for your fantasy team? Let the Smackdown begin…

Traditonal Stats McHugh Shoemaker
Record 10 – 9 16 – 4
Strikeouts 151 124
ERA 2.66 3.04
WHIP 1.03 1.07
Innings Pitched 148.2 136.0

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TDGX Hits: Kluber, Escobar, Span, Morton, Mesoraco

As the fantasy season winds down so too does the inaugural season of our Dynasty Guru Experts League. We’ve written pretty extensively about the comings and goings on in the league on these pages. It has certainly been a fun exercise for us as managers to be able to so openly discuss strategy among competitors, and hopefully it’s been an illuminating source of public disclosure for you as readers. So as a final act of transparency for the season I’m going to use this space for the next two weeks to talk about some of the players I nailed correctly as targets as well as the ones I whiffed on, as well as the future dynasty league value for all. This week we’ll start with the hits, because hey, good news first, right?

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Young Ace Smackdown: Alex Cobb vs Alex Wood

This week’s smackdown pits two young hurlers named Alex — the Rays’ righty Cobb and the Braves’ lefty Wood. Both are a little light on innings this year but for different reasons. Cobb missed some time early in the season due to an oblique injury that sidelined him for a month. Wood spent a month in the bullpen due to the crowded Atlanta starting rotation. Here are their stats for the season:

Traditonal Stats Cobb Wood
Record 9 – 7 10 – 10
Strikeouts 138 147
ERA 2.75 2.90
WHIP 1.12 1.15
Innings Pitched 147.1 152.0

Right now the duel is too close to call. Wood has one more win and a few more strikeouts, but Cobb has fewer losses and a slight edge in both ERA and WHIP. Both have been fantastic. We are going to have to dig deeper to find a winner. Continue reading

Breakout or Fakeout: The Collin McHugh Chronicles

Every year a handful of players that weren’t on anybody’s radar invariably come out of nowhere to impact leagues and help determine championships. It’s always fun – and usually necessary for a title run in a competitive league – to hit on one or two of these guys, but figuring out what to do with them in dynasty leagues after the season ends can present a challenge. Was it a flash in the pan or a legitimate coming out party for a player no one saw coming?

Perhaps no player better fits the mold this year than 27 year-old Astros righthander Collin McHugh. A former Met 18th rounder from a tiny school in rural Georgia, McHugh put together a solid if unspectacular minor league progression before running into nothing but trouble at the big league level. He bottomed out last year in a seven game, five start trial with both the Mets and Rockies, when he somehow managed to give up 45 hits over 26 innings en route to a double-digit ERA. That performance for the ages led the Baseball Prospectus staff to conclude in our Annual that “after another disastrous season…it’s time to ask what McHugh really offers a major-league team.”  McHugh subsequently went undrafted in NFBC leagues and remained unowned in Sportline leagues for the first month of the season. And then…well, a funny thing happened.

Fast-forward to the present, McHugh has turned in the 27th most valuable fantasy season by a starting pitcher, highlighted by a sparkling 2.79 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 144:40 K:BB in 142 innings. So what gives? What’s changed in McHugh’s profile to explain the huge turnaround, and what does it mean for his future value?

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Young Ace Smackdown: Danny Duffy vs Jake Arrieta

Danny Duffy and Jake Arrieta are both pitchers who have burst onto the fantasy scene this year despite very low expectations coming into the season. Their ownership rates in fantasy leagues were practically zero on Opening Day but that changed gradually as the season wore on and both are now owned in nearly all competitive leagues of 12 or more teams. In 5×5 roto leagues Arrieta ranks as the 23rd best starting pitcher in 2014 while Duffy comes in one slot behind at 24th. That is better than Stephen Strasburg, Yu Darvish, Jeff Samardzija, Sonny Gray, Jeff Weaver, James Shields and many other good pitchers.

If you compare their statistics you can see a lot of similarities:

Danny Duffy vs Jake Arrieta

Both look like excellent young fantasy starters. Both have stellar ERA and WHIP scores. Both have well above average fastball velocity. Since they look so much alike it seems this smackdown could end in a tie. We are going to have to look much deeper into their peripherals to figure out which of these guys is better than the other:

Danny Duffy vs Jake Arrieta

Now we begin to see some big differences. Despite the fact their fantasy numbers and rankings are almost exactly the same, now we can clearly see that one of these guys has pitched much better than the other, and furthermore one of these two is much more likely to put up elite fantasy stats next year. The clear cut winner in this battle is Jake Arrieta, who has huge leads over Duffy in all of the key stats above. These are the most important metrics for evaluating the performance of pitchers. These peripherals portray a stark contrast between a pitcher who is having a dominant season (Arrieta) and a pretender who is skating on thin ice (Duffy).

Danny Duffy — Kansas City Royals

Duffy’s 2.42 ERA is exactly two full runs better than his xFIP, and that is not a good thing because xFIP is much better at predicting the future than ERA. An ERA over 4.00 in today’s offensive environment would be a nightmare for your fantasy team. He has been very BABIP lucky with his .232 mark. His strand rate also indicates good fortune. Duffy doesn’t strike out enough batters, especially when compared to his walk rate. His 2.16 K/BB rate is indicative of a pitcher who is going to struggle. Duffy’s 93.3 MPH fastball is nice but he relies on it too heavily, largely because he doesn’t really have the depth of repertoire that one would hope for from a starting pitcher. He has a curveball that he throws 22% of the time and a changeup he only uses for 9% of his pitches. He is a  flyball pitcher who allows a lot of contact, but surprisingly his home run rate has been good, although I would expect that to rise as time goes by. Duffy is 25 years old but he has been in the big leagues since 2011.  He needs to learn another pitch to prevent batters from sitting on his fastball. Now would be a good time to trade Duffy as his value is at its peak. I would not risk using him in your fantasy playoffs if you have other decent options. Verdict: Fantasy Mirage. Trade him this winter.

Jake Arrieta — Chicago Cubs

Arrieta’s excellent ERA is fully supported by his underlying peripheral stats. His FIP, xFIP and SIERA all show that his 2.81 ERA is no fluke. Arrieta’s strikeout rate and walk rate are both 50% better than Duffy’s, so it is no surprise that Arrieta’s key K%-BB% metric is almost double that of Duffy. Pitchers just don’t succeed for any length of time with strikeout and walk rates as pedestrian as Duffy’s, but Arrieta’s rates are very good and portend continued success. Arrieta utilizes a four pitch mix that is basically the same as Duffy’s but adds in a good cutter that not only gets hitters out but also makes his other pitches more effective as well. Arrieta throws his fastball 50% less often than Duffy throws his, making it much harder for hitters to sit on it. Arrieta is 3 years older than Duffy. Despite this being the first year of sustained success for Arrieta he has shown signs of an impending breakout in prior years, especially in 2012 when he posted a 3.66 SIERA and 3.65 xFIP despite an horrific 6.20 ERA. In that 2012 season his good peripheral performance was masked by atrocious luck stats including a .320 BABIP and woeful 57.3% strand rate. The cutter is a new pitch that Arrieta has incorporated into his arsenal this year and it has worked like magic. He is a much better pitcher now than he was with the Orioles and his success is going to continue. Verdict: The Real Deal. Will continue to be a #2 fantasy pitcher moving forward and makes a good trade target.

Arrieta wins the smackdown! Does anybody disagree? Are there any factors I should have considered? Who should square off for next week’s epic smackdown? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

If you have Duffy on any of your teams you should try to trade him for Arrieta. If you can trade Duffy for any top 75 starting pitcher I would do it.

If you missed last week’s column you can check it out here: Prospect Perspective: Nolan Arenado and Nick Castellanos are Still Elite Prospects.

Nick Doran writes all kinds of cool stuff about the game’s ultimate flamethrowers at Blazing Fastball and will answer your baseball questions on Twitter @BlazingFastba11.


Breakout or Fakeout: 2nd Half Risers

This time of year it’s always fun to start looking at some of the players who took big steps forward production-wise in the second half. It’s a valuable exercise for dynasty leagues, as it can be a big help in setting up early off-season target lists and getting a head start on thinking about keepers for next season. So today a simple exercise: I’ve sorted out the top 20 hitters in baseball for the second half by wOBA, and below are four who have performed most dramatically better than their first half efforts. Let’s take a look and see if we can identify anything helpful in the profiles of these guys.

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