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Breakout or Fakeout: Are These Hot Starting Pitchers For Real?

We are now a month into the 2014 season and there are several starting pitchers who are unexpectedly leading their fantasy teams to the top of the standings. Last week I reviewed some highly ranked ace pitchers that are off to terrible starts (read it here).  Today I will do the opposite and look at some pitchers that have come out of nowhere to post excellent numbers. None of these guys were ranked highly this Spring but they are all ranked in the top 20 for the season thus far.

Aaron Harang — 3-1 Record, 0.85 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 33 Ks

Harang has been the 4th best pitcher in fantasy leagues so far, which is very impressive. When is the last time you saw an ERA lower than a WHIP (Buehrle too, below)? He is striking out a ton of batters, which is an indication he could have continued success. But this is not Harang’s first rodeo. We have seen this guy in the majors since way back in 2003, so we pretty much know everything there is to know about him — and we know he is not this good. Harang has been quite lucky with a microscopic .200 BABIP and a huge 89.3% strand rate so far. His xFIP is 3.75. Moving forward we should plan for him to pitch at a 3.60 ERA or higher, with a WHIP of 1.30. Verdict: Hold onto him and use him while he is hot.

Martin Perez — 4-0 Record, 1.42 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 23 Ks

Perez is off to a white-hot start that has him ranked as the 6th best pitcher in 5×5 leagues right now. Has the once highly-touted prospect finally broken through and solidified himself as an elite ace? Not really. He doesn’t strike out many batters, and that is a strong indication that he is not going to continue pitching at such a high level of success. He hasn’t given up a home run yet, which will surely change as the weather heats up in the Arlington hitters’ haven. I expect Perez to deliver a solid ERA around 3.60 with adequate Wins, but his WHIP will be high at 1.30-1.40 and he won’t provide much value in strikeouts. Verdict: He’s a mirage, use cautiously against weak opponents, shop him around and sell high if possible.

Scott Kazmir — 3-0 Record, 1.62 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 31 Ks

Kazmir is currently ranked 7th in roto leagues among all starting pitchers and unlike Harang and Perez I think Kazmir is for real. He won’t continue to be this good, but he will be an upper crust pitcher as long as he remains on the mound. And that is the key with Kazmir — his health. He has a long track record of injury, having missed basically the entire 2011 and 2012 seasons. He has been in the league since 2004 but has only reached 200 innings one lonely time. Why do I think Kazmir can continue to pitch at a near ace-like level even though his career ERA is 4.09 and WHIP is 1.38? Well, he showed last year that he could put up an FIP of 3.51and an xFIP of 3.36 and a SIERA of 3.38 over 158 innings. And he is doing it again this year too. He is striking out a full batter per inning and his walk rate is excellent. He hasn’t been overly lucky in terms of HR/9, BABIP or Strand Rate either. He is in a good ballpark for pitchers with a good offense and defense around him. I expect about 15 Wins, with a 3.20ish ERA and a WHIP around 1.25 if he doesn’t get hurt. Verdict: The Real Deal. Use him. Trade for him.

Mark Buehrle — 4-0 Record, 0.64 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 19 Ks

Buerhle is another guy who has been around forever. We know he is a borderline fantasy pitcher who gets dropped and picked up several times every year in most leagues. He doesn’t strike batters out and he doesn’t put up good ERAs and WHIPs, but he does pitch a lot of innings and racks up enough Wins to be useful. Don’t get carried away by his fantastic start to 2014. He and his 82 mph “fastball” will get blown up as soon as you put him in your active lineup. Verdict: Trade him while you can.  There are better options out there, can be useful as a temporary injury replacement if you had several of the recent Tommy John victims on your team.

Kyle Lohse — 4-1 Record, 2.38 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 31 Ks

Similar to Buerhle, Lohse is another guy that has been a mediocre option since 2001. He is off to a great start but don’t expect it to last, at least not anywhere near this level. His last few years have actually been pretty good. He doesn’t rack up strikeouts, but he can help in ERA, WHIP and Wins. Don’t use him against the best offensive teams. Expect a few ugly whoopin’s. Verdict: Useful member of your rotation, but not a stalwart.

Jason Hammel — 3-1 Record, 2.60 ERA, 0.69 WHIP, 20 Ks

Hammel has a long history of extreme suckitude since 2006. He has never pitched anywhere near this well for any length of time, so let’s not expect his recent success to continue. On the other hand, he can be useful against the weakest offensive teams if the opposing starting pitcher isn’t very good and the wind isn’t blowing out in Chicago. In other words, Hammel can be used as a streamer if you play in a weekly league and he  has two starts on the road against weak teams like the Padres, Mets, Astros or Mariners. Wait, what am I saying? Don’t use this guy. Verdict: Let somebody else blow up their team ERA by falling for his hot start.

Alfredo Simon — 3-1 Record, 1.30 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 17 Ks

Simon wasn’t expected to be a starter this year, but ended up in the Reds’ rotation when Mat Latos got hurt. Simon has been a blessing for the Reds so far, but don’t use him on your fantasy squad. He has an incredibly lucky .185 BABIP and 90.9% Strand Rate, both of which are due to come crashing back to reality real soon. His peripherals indicate an expected ERA of around 4.00 for as long as he remains in the rotation, which might not be long if Latos comes back soon. Verdict: Avoid. If you have him trade him pronto.

Dan Haren — 3-0 Record, 2.03 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 27 Ks

Dan Haren’s success this year is not a fluke at all. He is a very good pitcher who was criminally underrated by most people coming into this season. I told you to go get him HERE and especially HERE a while back. Haren’s stellar stats have nothing to do with luck, in fact he has been very slightly unlucky in terms of BABIP and strand rate. His FIP, xFIP and SIERA are all sub-3.00 and have been since July of last year. Haren is one of the top 20 pitchers in baseball. Verdict: GO GET HIM!

Lots of pitchers are off to hot starts. Some of them are real, some are fake. Are there any other pitchers you want to know about? Shoot me a comment below or hit me up on Twitter (@BlazingFastba11) and I will give you my opinion.

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.

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Nick Doran

Nick Doran


  1. cjeffw
    April 26, 2014 at 1:14 pm

    What is your take on one Jenrry Mejia for dynasty leagues? Shop or hold?

    • May 2, 2014 at 7:09 pm

      I think Mejia is for real. He has a very short track record and a very extensive injury history, so it is tough to get a good read on him this early in his career. I like what I have seen so far, although his walk rate is high. I would hold onto him because he has a chance to develop into a solid pitcher, although not a star.

  2. April 26, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    What to do with Jenrry Mejia in a dynasty league? Sell or hold?

  3. cjeffw
    April 26, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    What do you think of Jenrry Mejia in a dynasty league? Sell or hold based his numbers so far?

  4. Jerry Israel
    April 26, 2014 at 2:56 pm

    Your thoughts on Pineda and Paxton.

    • May 2, 2014 at 7:14 pm

      If Pineda can stay healthy he has a chance to carve out some real value in fantasy leagues. He has the talent, size, stuff and minor league pedigree to develop into an upper crust fantasy pitcher. Paxton is another guy to hold onto and see how he blossoms. I think he will be a good but not elite fantasy pitcher. His ballpark will provide a nice boost but the Mariners pathetic offense will deny him a lot of Wins.

  5. Brett
    April 26, 2014 at 8:32 pm

    10 days ago I traded Kazmir for Haren + Jonathan Broxton. So I gave away “The Real Deal” but got back a “GO GET HIM!” plus a temporary closer to add a few saves to my total (roto league). Does that mean I won? (I’m happy with the trade. The other guy is also happy with the trade; he was the one that approached me.)

    • April 26, 2014 at 8:59 pm

      I say you won that trade Brett. I like Kazmir but I like Haren even better and he is also more likely to stay healthy moving into the future. Broxton is gravy.

      • April 26, 2014 at 9:11 pm

        Thanks for the response. That’s basically how I felt about it, too, but it’s always nice to get another take.

  6. Roger
    April 28, 2014 at 11:38 am

    Thoughts on Garret Richards? I clicked the article expecting to see him mentioned one way or another.

    • May 2, 2014 at 7:17 pm

      I am not a big believer in Richards. He has the potential to be pretty good but I am not a buyer of his stock. He is serviceable for home games against weak offenses like the Astros or Mariners, but unless he takes a big step forward I don’t like his chances to become a reliable fantasy starting pitcher.

  7. Keeper N00b
    April 30, 2014 at 9:20 am

    Contending in keeper entering May, and as constructed these 2 slots wouldn’t be keepers.However, could always use more options to get something done deal wise or keeper wise later

    What 2 do you like?.


    • May 2, 2014 at 7:25 pm

      Kluber stands out in that crowd as the best option. Stroman is interesting and could have some real trade value when he first hits the majors and should be a pretty good pitcher for awhile, although I am not confident he will remain a good starting pitcher for more than a couple years. I am not very enthusiastic about any of the rest of them. They are serviceable and will have good stretches and bad stretches.

      I would rank them Kluber, Stroman, Bauer, Wood, Kennedy, Quintana, Straily.

  8. […] week I evaluated some unexpectedly hot pitchers (Breakout or Fakeout: Are These Hot Starting Pitchers For Real). This week I will do the same for hot hitters. Coming into the season none of these guys were […]

  9. […] you missed my columns on Breakout Starting Pitchers, Struggling Ace Pitchers or Breakout Hitters check them out […]

  10. […] wrote up Simon last month and told you to sell, Sell, SELL. That was good advice even though his season numbers still look […]

  11. […] Breakout or Fakeout: Are These Hot Starting Pitchers For Real? […]

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