Unexpected Aces: Keuchel, Beckett, Simon, Richards, McHugh and Chavez
We are now two full months into the 2014 season and several unheralded starting pitchers have been making headlines. None of these guys were ranked highly this Spring and some of them weren’t ranked at all, but they are all ranked in the top 30 for the season thus far. Let’s examine them to see if they are true breakout stars or if they are merely mirages. Will they continue to put up ace-like numbers or will they implode while ruining your team’s stats? Read on to find out…
Dallas Keuchel — Yahoo SP Rank #9
Fantasy Stats: 6-2 Record, 61 Ks in 70 innings, ERA 2.55, WHIP 0.98
Peripherals: SIERA 2.42, K%-BB% 18%, BABIP .275, LOB% 76.5%
Prior to this season, the 26 year old Keuchel had a career 5.20 ERA in 238 innings. Not very impressive at all, and that is why he was all but ignored in preseason rankings. But Keuchel is having one Hell of a season so far in 2014. His stats are fantastic and his peripherals back them up 100%. This guy is no fluke. He does not have the prototypical ace profile with imposing size, a blazing fastball and elite off-speed stuff. He has a good but not great strikeout rate of 7.77 K/9. But his walk rate of 1.53 BB/9 is elite and his sensational ground ball rate of 66.5% is nearly unheard of. The lefty has a 5 pitch arsenal, but his sinker and slider are his deadly weapons along with his pinpoint control and command. He induces a ton of weak contact with masterful use of his varied repertoire. It is very unusual for a 26 year old pitcher to burst onto the scene as an ace, but in Keuchel’s case there is no reason to think he will suddenly turn into a pumpkin. The Astros have been a travelling comedy troupe the last few years, but now they have some real talent already paying dividends in the majors and plenty more on the way. Verdict: The Real Deal. Keep him and use him if you have him, trade for him if you don’t.
Josh Beckett — Yahoo SP Rank #21
Fantasy Stats: 3-2 Record, 57 Ks in 60 innings, ERA 2.52, WHIP 1.02
Peripherals: SIERA 3.62, K%-BB% 14.4%, BABIP .211, LOB% 85.4%
Beckett’s performance has been all over the map in recent seasons. His tenure in Boston was rocky with lots of ups and downs before they finally shipped him off to the Dodgers in a salary purge. He missed most of last season with a career-threatening injury and got a late start to this season. He appears to be fully healthy again, and so far this year he has been pitching like an ace. There are some red flags here however. He still has good fastball velocity at 91.5 mph, but that is down from the 94mph of his heyday. His .211 BABIP and 85% strand rate indicate he has been very lucky and that is simply not going to continue. But let’s not panic. He has a nice strikeout rate at 8.46 K/9 and a decent walk rate of 3.12 BB/9. His xFIP and SIERA indicate he should deliver an ERA of around 3.60 for the remainder of the season (for a final full-season ERA of around 3.20). He has nearly doubled his curveball usage this year and that has been a very effective pitch for him. The no-hitter he threw this week got a lot of attention and will elevate his trade value for several weeks. Moving forward, Beckett is a good pitcher to use but should not be expected to pitch as well as he has thus far. He is a solid mid-rotation fantasy pitcher but not an ace. Verdict: He is a good pitcher, but shop him around because his current trade value may exceed his true value.
Alfredo Simon — Yahoo SP Rank #23
Fantasy Stats: 6-3 Record, 38 Ks in 62 innings, ERA 2.90, WHIP 1.10
Peripherals: SIERA 4.36, K%-BB% 7.9%, BABIP .224, LOB% 85.9%
I wrote up Simon last month and told you to sell, Sell, SELL. That was good advice even though his season numbers still look very good. He was 4-1 with a 1.60 ERA in April, then 2-2 with a 4.45 ERA in May and you can expect even worse moving forward. He has been extremely lucky in terms of BABIP and strand rate. He doesn’t strike out many batters, which leads to a dismal K/BB ratio of 2.11 that is not nearly good enough to sustain any type of success over the long haul. Simon’s peripheral and component stats indicate he is a well below average pitcher despite his stellar start to the 2014 season. Simon has been a blessing to the Reds during Mat Latos’ absence. Latos is coming back soon and the Reds will have to send either Simon or Tony Cingrani to the bullpen. Verdict: Total Fluke. Sell him quickly and don’t hold out for a good deal.
Garrett Richards — Yahoo SP Rank #25
Fantasy Stats: 4-1 Record, 62 Ks in 66 innings, ERA 3.00, WHIP 1.12
Peripherals: SIERA 3.52, K%-BB% 14.3%, BABIP .277, LOB% 72.0%
Richards has finally gotten a real shot in the Angel’s rotation and is running with it. He has a smoking hot fastball at 96.8 mph on average! He has significantly improved his strikeout rate this season. There are no red flags in his component and peripheral stats. Richards has taken a real step forward as a starting pitcher and should be a valuable member of fantasy rotations from now on. He plays in a strong pitchers’ park in front of a strong defense and a potent offense, which should help him to outperform his SIERA, xFIP and FIP in the future. This is a valuable but not elite pitcher who is currently under-appreciated in the fantasy community and therefore makes a good trade target. Verdict: The Real Deal. Keep him and use him if you have him, trade for him if you don’t.
Collin McHugh — Yahoo SP Rank #27
Fantasy Stats: 3-3 Record, 50 Ks in 45 innings, ERA 2.80, WHIP 0.98
Peripherals: SIERA 2.86, K%-BB% 21.4%, BABIP .261, LOB% 74.2%
This one is a very interesting case. He is probably the biggest surprise I have seen in a long time. The sample size of 45 innings is still small, but McHugh’s peripherals and components say his great season is not a fluke even one little bit. Prior to this season he had pitched 47 innings in the majors with an ERA over 9.00 and a WHIP of 1.75. Terrible. His minor league stats were pretty good, but gave no real indication that he would ever succeed as a starting pitcher in the major leagues, especially considering his age. He turns 27 years old in a couple weeks, so we are not looking at a young player or what we would normally consider a prospect. So how is it that he can put up 10.0 K/9 and 2.40 BB/9 for a 4.17 K/BB ratio? His FIP, xFIP and SIERA are all in the same range as his 2.80 ERA. He hasn’t been lucky in BABIP or strand rate. He seems totally legit. In past seasons McHugh had used his slider frequently but it was his least effective pitch. This season he has stopped using it altogether. That is likely a major reason for his improved fortunes. He has above average fastball velocity at 93mph and a nice 4 pitch mix even without the sinker. Keep a close eye on McHugh as his innings sample gets larger to see if any red flags appear. He is currently unowned in 75% of Yahoo leagues and 55% of CBS leagues. Verdict: I think he is for real and should be grabbed wherever he is still available. Trade for him but don’t pay a high price to acquire him.
Jesse Chavez — Yahoo SP Rank #28
Fantasy Stats: 4-3 Record, 64 Ks in 68 innings, ERA 2.78, WHIP 1.18
Peripherals: SIERA 3.28, K%-BB% 16.3%, BABIP .283, LOB% 78.8%
Chavez is 30 years old and has been in the majors since 2008. Now with the Athletics after stints in the Rangers, Pirates, Royals and Blue Jays organizations. Prior to this season he had appeared in nearly 200 games as a mediocre middle reliever. But due to injuries and trades the Athletics were forced to move him into the starting rotation this year and that decision has paid off in spades. Chavez may be a small guy at 160 pounds, but he is a bulldog on the mound. He throws a 93 mph fastball but has an extensive repertoire that has changed over the years. He used to feature a fourseam fastball, a slider and a changeup. He later added a sinker, then a couple years ago added a cutter and a curveball. This year he has abandoned the fourseam fastball and the slider altogether. Now he features the cutter and sinker and mixes in the curve and change. So we are looking at a completely different pitcher than the mediocre reliever of years gone by. The new mix of pitches has been very effective. Chavez’s peripherals are strong and luck has not been a factor. I expect him to continue to pitch nearly as effectively as he has thus far, but the biggest concern is the innings. He is rapidly approaching a new career high in innings pitched and we still have 4 full months of baseball left to play in the regular season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the thinly built Chavez begin to tire and wear down pretty soon. Verdict: The Real Deal for now. Use him with confidence but shop him around for another pitcher who will last longer.
In case you missed it, I already wrote about Scott Kazmir, Dan Haren, Mark Buehrle, Kyle Lohse and others last month here: Breakout or Fakeout: Are These Hot Starting Pitchers For Real? Be sure to check out that article as well because most of that info still applies today.
On a related note, I have some of these pitchers on my #TDGX team. As most of you know, I have a team playing in The Dynasty Guru Experts League, which is an awesome dynasty league filled with 20 teams owned by writers from all the best fantasy baseball sites on the Internet including Baseball Prospectus, FanGraphs, CBS Sports, ESPN, Fake Teams and many others. You have seen a lot of articles here on TDG regarding this league, and there are also articles about the league on many other websites. I posted an update of the league standings and my current roster over at Blazing Fastball, so be sure to read that. I could also use your advice on how to improve my team and make a run at winning the league this year!
Lots of pitchers are off to hot starts. Some of them are real, some are fake. Are there any other pitchers or hitters you want to know about? Shoot me a comment below or hit me up on Twitter (@BlazingFastba11) and I will give you my opinion.