Unexpected Aces: Arrieta, Roark, Ross and Richards. Can They Maintain Their Success?
The season is now two thirds over and it is a good time to look at the newest and most surprising members of the Ace Pitchers’ Club. Last year at this time you had never heard of these guys, and the ones you had heard of you didn’t think were very good. But things have changed in a hurry and they are all premium assets for your fantasy team now. Let’s take a look and see why these guys got so good so fast and predict if their success will continue…
Garrett Richards — Los Angeles Angels
11 Wins, 143 Ks in 144 innings, 2.74 ERA, 1.04 WHIP
I love me some Garrett Richards. Out of all of this year’s breakout pitchers he is my favorite. The 26 year old is a great reminder that most elite pitchers were not elite from day one. Unlike Jose Fernandez and Matt Harvey, most aces start their careers off slowly and ramp their way up the ranks until they finally reach the upper echelon. My favorite pitching stat is K%-BB% and Richards’ went from an awful 3.2% in 2011 to a still awful 4.1% in 2012 to a poor 9.2% in 2013 to a good 16.7% this year. That is a very strong trend in the right direction. So it is not surprising that Richards also saw a smooth and steady improvement in his ERA, xFIP and SIERA each season. Richards is clearly honing his craft and becoming a better and better pitcher on a yearly basis. He boasts the 2nd highest fastball velocity in the majors among starting pitchers at 96.3 MPH (behind only Yordano Ventura’s 96.8). What is not to love about a guy with a powerful arm, great command and steadily sharpening skills who throws in one of the best pitchers’ ballparks in the league with the league’s highest scoring offense backing him up? Verdict: True Ace. Top 20 Starting Pitcher moving forward. Target him aggressively before the trading deadline in your league.
Tyson Ross — San Diego Padres
10 Wins, 150 Ks in 148 innings, 2.60 ERA, 1.18 WHIP
Ross was a popular sleeper pick coming into this season after his semi-breakout 2013 season. The 27 year old Ross has been in the majors since 2010 but his results were very poor before last year, when he was able to significantly boost his strikeout rate while simultaneously lowering his walk rate. That led to a K%-BB% of 14.9% that was double his career average. His SIERA went from a career average of 4.75 all the way down to 3.33 for 2013, which proved his 3.17 ERA was no fluke. His 3-8 record served to mask his excellent performance though, and that combined with some injury concerns led to him being under-ranked coming in to this Spring. This year is the first time that Ross has been given a chance to be a permanent member of the Padres starting rotation rather than bouncing back and forth from the bullpen. He has continued his success and even taken another step forward. He is predominantly a two-pitch pitcher with a fastball/slider combination and only rarely mixes in a changeup. That is not a standard starter’s repertoire and is a bit worrisome for sustained success if the league’s batters make adjustments. Ross has already exceeded his career high for innings pitched with two months left to go, which could lead to fatigue and diminished performance in the coming weeks. He might also be shut down early this season and miss the fantasy playoffs. Verdict: The Real Deal. Top 35 Starting Pitcher moving forward.
Tanner Roark — Washington Nationals
11 Wins, 103 Ks in 134 innings, 2.74 ERA, 1.08 WHIP
Like Richards and Ross, Roark is not a youngster. He is 27 years old. Another case of a hurler who served a lot of time in the minors learning the art of pitching before finding success in the major leagues at the age of 26 despite never being a top prospect. Roark put up a 1.51 ERA and 7-1 record last year in 53 innings, but he was regarded as something of a fluke. That was partly because he is not an overpowering pitcher racking up high strikeout totals with a blazing fastball. He throws 91 MPH and strikes out only 6.7 batters per nine innings. He was an unheralded prospect drafted in the 25th round who spent 6 years in the minors despite having played college baseball. A player like that has to throw more than 53 good innings to convince people he is a stud. Roark doesn’t strike out a ton of batters but he rarely walks anyone, only 1.9 BB/9 in his career and that is excellent. Both last year and this year he has been lucky in terms of BABIP and Strand Rate, which is a major reason why he has been able to outperform his xFIP by more than a full run so far in his career. This year he is allowing a lot more fly balls than he did last year and that has led to more home runs. His peripherals warn that he has not been as good as his stellar 2.39 career ERA. Expect an ERA more in the range of 3.50 to 3.70 in the future. Verdict: Solid Rotation Stalwart. Top 50 Starting Pitcher.
Jake Arrieta — Chicago Cubs
6 Wins, 106 Ks in 98 innings, 2.11 ERA, 0.99 WHIP
Yet another late bloomer, Arrieta is 28 years old. His success this season has come almost completely out of the blue. Prior to this season Arrieta had thrown over 400 innings in the majors with an ERA over 5.00. Not good at all. Arrieta progressed quickly through the minors and was considered a top 50 prospect in 2009 and 2010 but fell flat on his face upon reaching the major leagues in Baltimore. He hit bottom with a 6.20 ERA in 114 innings in 2012, but his peripherals were actually quite good that year. He struck out almost a batter per inning and had a 14.9% K%-BB% and a 3.66 SIERA that was a whopping 2.5 runs better than his ERA. For those who looked closely that was the first real sign that he had turned a corner in his development and could still become a quality pitcher one day. In 2013 he shuttled back and forth between the minors and majors and was dealt to the Cubs. This year he has put it all together with a 6-2 record and fantastic 2.11 ERA in 16 starts. His 9.73 K/9 would be 9th in the majors if he had enough innings to qualify. That is better than King Felix and Masahiro Tanaka. His 20.1 K%-BB% would be 11th in the league. His peripherals indicate his 2.11 ERA is a little fortunate but he would still be in the 2.90 range with normal luck. He throws a nice 4 pitch mix with a stiff 93.5 MPH fastball. The Cubs are going to be a very good team soon and Arrieta will ride the wave to fantasy success. Arrieta is another candidate for an early shutdown due to his innings and the fact his team is out of contention. Verdict: Stealthy, Emerging Ace. Top 40 Starting Pitcher with potential for top 30.
The Moral of the Story:
The lesson these not-so-young first-time aces have to offer is that age means a lot less when evaluating pitchers than it does with hitters. There is a strong trend in recent years of pitchers who were not elite prospects taking a long time to advance through the minors and perhaps struggling in the big leagues for a few years yet ultimately developing into premium starting pitchers. There is also a strong trend of hot-shot young Top 25 prospects who fail to find quick success in the major leagues. A major reason that scoring is down in recent years and is continuing to decrease is because of advances in the art and science of pitching that have made it a much more complex skill to master. That means it takes longer to learn the craft. So don’t get too carried away with the elite pitching prospects and don’t sleep on the 25-27 year olds putting up good stats for the first time!
Are there any other pitchers or hitters you want to know about? Shoot me a comment below and hit me up on Twitter (@BlazingFastba11) and I will give you my opinion.