Unexpected Aces: Porcello, Duffy, Keuchel and Simon. Will Their Success Continue?
Last week we talked about some pitchers who have come out of the blue to deliver excellent results this year. In that article we covered Tyson Ross, Jake Arrieta, Garrett Richards and Tanner Roark (read it here). But those guys are not the only unforeseen fantasy aces to burst onto the scene in 2014. This week we will evaluate several more to see if their success is the real deal or if they will regress in the future. Let’s get right to it…
Alfredo Simon — Cincinnati Reds
12 Wins, 85 Ks in 138 innings, 3.07 ERA, 1.12 WHIP
Simon’s pretty stats have him ranked as the 24th best starting pitcher in 5×5 fantasy leagues so far this season. After several disappointing years in Baltimore the Orioles released Simon and the Reds picked him up off the trash heap. Nobody knew it at the time, but that move has been a tremendous success for the Reds. Simon put up a brutal 5.18 ERA over 184 innings with the Orioles, but as a Red he has delivered a magnificent 2.92 ERA in 286 innings. What a huge difference! Why did that happen? Did Simon suddenly become a better pitcher or are there other reasons? Well, some might say that going from the AL East to the NL Central is the reason why, but I don’t think so. For one thing, the competition in the NL Central is every bit as good or better than the AL East the last few years. Both Wild Card teams came out of the NL Central last year and it could happen again this year with 4 of the division’s 5 teams well over .500 and close to claiming the Wild Card. Getting to face the pitcher instead of a DH does help, but not nearly enough to explain the difference in Simon’s performance.
While Simon’s ERA dropped from 5.18 to 2.92 after the move, his FIP improved from 5.23 to only 4.05. That is a nice improvement but is not nearly as pretty as his ERA. As you have already learned by now, FIP does a much better job of predicting a pitcher’s future ERA than his current ERA does. This year Simon has an FIP of 4.48, an xFIP of 4.07 and a SIERA of 4.15. All of those metrics are much higher than his 3.07 ERA and therefore we can expect Simon’s future results to more closely resemble those advanced metrics than his current ERA. The Reds have the best team defense in the league, and that will help Simon and the other Reds pitchers to beat their FIPs by a certain amount but does not account for most or all of the good fortune Simon has enjoyed. His BABIP of .246 will rise by about 40 points and his 81.4% strand rate will fall by about 10%. These corrections have already begun as Simon’s recent performance has not been pretty. Simon has already exceeded his previous career high in innings pitched, so we will also likely see some tiring and possibly even an early shut down to his season if the Reds fall out of contention. He is a risky player to own right now. Verdict: He’s a Mirage. Sell high on him.
Dallas Keuchel — Houston Astros
10 Wins, 108 Ks in 143 innings, 2.89 ERA, 1.21 WHIP
Keuchel has been the 29th best SP in 5×5 leagues thus far in 2014. That is pretty darn good for a guy who came in to 2014 with a 5.20 career ERA and a 9-18 record. Unlike Simon, Keuchel’s drastic improvement has been real and is backed up by his peripheral stats. If you take a casual look at Keuchel’s 2013 stats you would see that they were just as bad as his dismal 2012 rookie year. Because those surface stats were so poor, plus the fact that he was never a top prospect, plus the fact he has a below average fastball at 89 MPH it caused everyone (myself included) to write him off without looking any deeper at his peripheral stats. If any of us had bothered to look any deeper we may have seen some signs that could have tipped us off to the fact that he actually had quite a bit of potential. From 2012 to 2013 he nearly doubled his strikeout rate while reducing his walk rate by 25%. He also markedly improved his ground ball rate and in fact became one of the better ground ball pitchers in the league. Ground balls are good because they never become home runs and only rarely become doubles or triples. Keuchel suffered from an unlucky .340 BABIP last year as well. His ERA may have been an ugly 5.15 but his FIP was 4.25, his xFIP was even better at 3.58 and his SIERA was quite nice at 3.68. Once you notice those peripherals you start to think that maybe this guy doesn’t suck after all, maybe we should keep an eye on him as a potential sleeper for 2014. Too bad nobody actually did that. This year in 2014 Keuchel continued to improve his peripherals by improving his ground ball rate even more and kicking his K%-BB% up another notch as well. His 2.89 ERA is only slightly better than his FIP, xFIP and SIERA and therefore is totally legit. This guy is not a fluke. I talked last week about the trend of unheralded pitchers who have been emerging as stud pitchers in their mid to late 20’s and the 26 year old Keuchel is right there with the best of them. Verdict: The Real Deal. Top 40 starting pitcher moving forward. Don’t be afraid to trade for Keuchel while your leaguemates are still skeptical about him.
Rick Porcello — Detroit Tigers
13 Wins, 93 Ks in 148 innings, 3.09 ERA, 1.13 WHIP
Surprisingly, Porcello ranks #23 among all starting pitchers in 5×5 leagues this year. Unlike the other unexpected aces we have discussed in recent weeks, Porcello actually was expected to be an ace a few years ago. He was a 1st round draft pick and was a top 20 overall prospect in 2008 and a top 10 prospect in 2009 when he broke into the majors with a good rookie year at the extremely young age of 20. But the next few years were disappointing as he yielded ERAs above 4.50 each year and he faded out of fantasy rosters. For someone who was considered such an elite prospect Porcello doesn’t throw very hard and he doesn’t strike out many batters and never has. Fortunately he doesn’t walk many either. Porcello has dropped his ERA this year to a very nice 3.09 but his FIP, xFIP and SIERA are all higher than they were last year. In every previous year his ERA has been higher than his FIP, which is likely due to the Tiger’s notoriously poor team defense. His career BABIP prior to this year was .311 and his strand rate was 69%. But this year his BABIP is .278 and his strand rate is 76%, indicating we are likely to see a regression in these “luck” stats that will send his ERA back up to at least the the 3.70 level indicated by his peripherals and possibly higher due to the poor defense. Almost every one of his peripherals this year is worse than last year, yet his ERA has improved by more than a full run. Something has to give. Moving forward I expect Porcello to be a mid-range fantasy starter. He can be used against most opponents but I would skip him against the best offensive teams like the Athletics and Angels. He is still very young. This is his 6th season in the majors but he is still only 25 years old. Despite his youth I don’t expect a ton of improvement because he doesn’t throw hard and his game is already advanced so there is simply not much room for growth left. Verdict: Solid rotation member but not a stud. Top 50 starting pitcher moving forward.
Danny Duffy — Kansas City Royals
6 Wins, 87 Ks in 109 innings, 2.39 ERA, 1.10 WHIP
Duffy has been the 28th best SP in 5×5 leagues this year despite not starting a game until May. His 2.39 ERA is spectacular but it is not supported by similarly stellar peripheral stats. His K/BB ratio is a substandard 2.12 and so is his K%-BB% of 10.4%. He is a flyball pitcher but has been fortunate to allow only .74 HR/9 innings. He has been extremely fortunate with his .233 BABIP (70 points better than his previous career average) and 81.7% strand rate. His 4.43 xFIP indicates his 2.39 ERA is about to take a rapid climb. He doesn’t really have an effective starter’s repertoire with his fastball, curveball and occasional changup mix of pitches although being a lefty can help mitigate this disadvantage. His fastball is quite stiff at 93.4 MPH but he relies on it too heavily by throwing it more than two thirds of the time. Right now he is pitching way over his head and it cannot last. He is still only 25 years old and has room to grow in the future in terms of expanding his arsenal and honing his craft. Verdict: House of cards due for a collapse. Top 100 starting pitcher moving forward but he has potential for better.
If you didn’t see them last week I evaluated some Unexpected Aces: Arrieta, Roark, Ross and Richards and prior to that another Trade Targets: 4 Starting Pitchers to Target and 1 to Avoid. Check those out for more advice.
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.