Breakout or Fakeout: Should you Target These Hot Starting Pitchers?
Let’s take a look at a few pitchers who may be available in your league who are off to hot starts. One key to success in fantasy leagues is to quickly identify the true breakout players early in the season, and separating them from the fakeout players — those whose success is a mirage. Last season saw unexpected breakouts from Matt Shoemaker, Collin McHugh and Jacob deGrom. The owners who snared them received a very nice boost to their championship hopes, whereas those owners who grabbed Dan Haren, Aaron Harang or Martin Perez after their hot starts ended up getting burned. So what we need to do is determine whether each of these pitchers is likely to continue their success.
Odrisamer Despaigne, Padres — 1 Win, 0.77 ERA, 0.34 WHIP, 4 Ks in 11.2 innings.
The 28 year old Cuban defector started the season in the minors but was promoted after Ian Kennedy went down with an injury. Despaigne pitched 96 innings for the Padres last year and put up a tidy 3.36 ERA. That is the good news. The bad news is his xFIP was 4.01, and xFIP is a much better predictor of future ERA than previous ERA is. Despaigne also exhibits a very low strikeout rate 5.75 K/9 for his career. That is a problem for two reasons. The first is that pitchers with strikeout rates that low are incredibly unlikely to put up good ERAs for long. The second reason is that strikeouts are a key fantasy scoring category and Despaigne is not going to help you there. Despaigne does not have anything close to overpowering stuff. He is a smoke-and-mirrors junkballer similar to Livan Hernandez or Bronson Arroyo. Despaigne plays half his games in a very pitcher-friendly ballpark and the Padres have made huge upgrades to their offense, two factors that will help Despaigne. Verdict: Fakeout. Won’t be terrible but should not be targeted for your team. Decent injury replacement. Can be used as a streamer in two-start weeks at home.
Nick Martinez, Rangers — 2 Wins, 0.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 6 Ks in 14 innings.
The 24 year old has yet to allow a run this season through 14 innings, but let’s not get carried away just yet. He has struck out 3.86 K/9 and walked 3.21 BB/9. Both of those stats are poor, especially the whiffs. His K-BB% is an awful 1.9% (average is 12%). It doesn’t really mean anything in such a small sample size but it does show that Martinez has not pitched that well despite his perfect ERA. His xFIP is 5.22, which is almost identical to the 5.24 xFIP he put up last year in 140 innings for the Rangers. His K-BB% in those 140 innings last year was a dismal 3.6%, so while this season’s 14 innings is a small sample it does fit right in with the bad numbers Martinez yielded in a large sample last year. Unlike Despaigne, Martinez has to pitch in a ballpark that is harsh on pitchers. I don’t see anything here that makes me think Martinez is capable of a breakout season. Verdict: Fakeout. Avoid this pitcher. Trade him quickly if you have him.
Dan Haren, Marlins — 1 Win, 2.08 ERA, 0.69 WHIP, 7 Ks in 13 innings.
This winter the Dodgers paid the Marlins $10 million to take Haren off their hands. Not exactly a ringing endorsement. Haren has had a very good career but he is way past his prime. He had a 92 mph fastball for several years, but that has been declining rapidly. His “heater” was down to 87.7 mph last year and has plummeted to 85.9 in early returns this year. Not a good sign at all. Like the previous two pitchers, Haren has struggled to strike batters out so far this year, but unlike them he has avoided the walk. Haren also has a long track record of pretty good strikeout rates and good walk rates. Haren will be playing in a strong pitcher’s park on a team that should score some runs for him. Haren might be a worth a flyer, but he is going to need some of that lost velocity to come back if he hopes to be close to an average pitcher. I would gamble on Haren before Despaigne or Martinez, but don’t expect too much. He is nothing more than a streamer for an especially tasty matchup. Verdict: Fakeout. Worth a couple dollars of FAAB in deep leagues. Serviceable NL-only pitcher. Streamer in mixed leagues.
Shane Greene, Tigers — 2 Wins, 0.00 ERA, 0.50 WHIP, 8 Ks in 16 innings.
Greene has been quite lucky so far this year. His BABIP is a very low .156 and his strand rate is a very high 87.5%. Obviously those are going to come crashing back to reality. His strikeout rate is a very low 4.50 K/9. All those factors lead us to believe Greene’s breakout is a fakeout. But I am actually a believer in Greene. His strikeout rate was an excellent 9.27 K/9 last year. His BABIP was very unlucky at .330 as well. His peripherals indicate he pitched better than his 3.78 ERA. Greene has above average velocity and a solid 4-pitch mix. He is 26 years old. He was never a top prospect in the minor leagues but his stats were pretty good. I don’t see any red flags and I think Greene definitely has the potential to be a good but not great fantasy pitcher moving forward. He plays on a good team in a good ballpark. I am a buyer. If you are going to invest in a possible breakout candidate, choose one that hasn’t failed before. Greene has been quite good in his 95 career innings. Verdict: Breakout. See if you can trade one of these fakeouts for him.
Trevor Bauer, Indians — 2 Wins, 1.50 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 19 Ks in 12 innings.
You have to love a 14.25 K/9 strikeout rate, even in a small sample. While he won’t keep the rate that high, Bauer should continue to strike a lot of batters out. Bauer’s problem has always been walks, and despite his great start to the season he has still not fixed that problem in the slightest. His BB/9 is 6.75 so far this season, which is more than double an acceptable rate. His career K/BB rate is a woeful 1.94. That simply must improve by a LOT if he is going to succeed. Bauer was touted by a lot of experts as a sleeper this winter. I am wary and leery of investing heavily in this 24 year old former 1st round pick. The only reason I have for optimism is the fact that Mickey Callaway is his pitching coach. Callaway has done wonders for the likes of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. He turned those strong armed throwers into quality pitchers and maybe he can do the same for Bauer. I am not buying Bauer’s hot start as a true breakout, although I do still see some potential here. Don’t pay his owner’s asking price, which is likely too high right now. Wait until we see if Bauer can control that horrid walk rate before buying. Verdict: Fakeout, but keep an eye on him.
Jordan Lyles, Rockies — 1 Win, 2.25 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 5 Ks in 12 innings.
We can keep this one short and not so sweet. Lyles pitches for the Rockies, therefore he is anathema for fantasy rosters. The only Rockies pitcher you should even consider using is their closer, currently Adam Ottavino. The Rockies have been around for 20 years now and there has been only one pitcher worth using in all that time: Ubaldo Jimenez for a year and a half. Even if Lyles were pitching in a friendlier ballpark he would still not be fantasy worthy. Verdict: Fakeout. Avoid at all costs.
Ubaldo Jimenez, Orioles — 1 Win, 0.00 ERA, 0.36 WHIP, 10 Ks in 10.2 innings.
Speaking of Jimenez, he is capable of some great games, but is also prone to blowups. He strikes out a lot of batters but also walks a lot of batters. His career K-BB% is only 10.7%, which is below the 12% league average. His career K:BB ratio is only 1.99, far below the league average of 3.00. Pitchers just cannot be successful for long with that kind of ratio. Ubaldo used to be the hardest-throwing starter in the major leagues at 96+ mph. So far this year he is averaging 89.2 mph. The league average is 92 mph. Why roster a wild pitcher with a below average fastball? Verdict: Fakeout. Total mirage. Stay away.
Tommy Milone, Twins — 2 Wins, 2.08 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 10 Ks in 13 innings.
This guy won’t kill you but you better not count on him either. The soft-tossing lefty has one of the slowest fastballs in the majors. He will strike out a few batters but not enough to help you pass your rivals. He will put up a slightly worse than average ERA. The Twins have a weak offense that won’t give Milone enough support to earn many wins. The Twin’s ballpark is pitcher friendly. Milone is a boring guy to own in fantasy. Take a flyer on someone else. Verdict: Fakeout. Just decent enough to be on the fringe of being roster-worthy.
Anthony DeSclafani, Reds — 1 Win, 1.38 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, 11 Ks in 13 innings
I have watched both of his starts and was very impressed with his stuff and his bulldog mentality. He has slightly above average velocity and his secondary pitches were better than advertised at the time he was traded for Mat Latos. DeSclafani has exhibited excellent control throughout his minor league track record, so it is no surprise that he has put up a 1.57 BB/9 in his 46 major league innings. His career 7.24 K/9 is right at the league average. I think he will nudge that strikeout rate up gradually as he gains experience. He is going to have plenty of opportunity in Cincinnati due to the Reds’ depleted rotation, which should only get more depleted after this season assuming Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake depart in free agency. The Reds play in a very strong division against good offensive teams. Despite the small sample size we have seen so far, I am bullish on DeSclafani. I don’t see a star pitcher or a fantasy ace, but I do see a guy who is likely to be successful to some degree. I think his price is pretty low right now and I recommend you buy. Verdict: Breakout. Not an ace but could be a valuable accessory to your fantasy staff if obtained cheaply. There is good upside here and not much risk.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Are there any other players off to bad/good starts that you would like some advice on?