Grading the Unexpected Aces: Archer, Keuchel, Hammel, Miller and Pineda
We are getting close to the halfway point of the baseball season and there are several pitchers having great years despite low pre-season rankings. All of the pitchers below are currently ranked in the top 25 starting pitchers in baseball in 5×5 leagues. Are they flukes or can we expect them to continue pitching at an elite level?
Chris Archer, Rays — 7-4 Record, 1.84 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 108 Strikeouts in 83 innings.
What is not to like about Chris Archer? He was never expected to be this good, but his performance is totally real. He has an ultra-elite 11.71 K/9 strikeout rate, a very good 2.17 BB/9 walk rate, a top 10 fastball velocity and a devastating slider. He has been a bit fortunate with his 82.4% Left On Base rate even when you factor in the whiffs, but other than that there are no red flags here. The only concern is that these rates are all much better than last year and his career. But we can chalk that up to a young pitcher learning his craft and simply becoming a better pitcher. Archer’s 2.08 FIP, 2.19 xFIP, 2.30 SIERA and 2.04 DRA all point to the fact that his 1.84 ERA is only slightly better than it should be. The kid can pitch. Verdict: The Real Deal, a true fantasy ace pitcher. Do not sell high.
Dallas Keuchel, Astros — 7-2 Record, 1.90 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 72 Strikeouts in 94.2 innings.
If you compare Keuchel’s line to Archer’s above, they look the same until you get to the strikeouts. Archer is a flamethrower with a wicked slider. Keuchel is a soft-tossing groundball specialist with a below-average 6.85 K/9. Strikeouts are not only the best way to get batters out, they are also a very important fantasy scoring category. So not only is Keuchel less likely to continue pitching as well as Archer in terms of ERA and WHIP, he is also not going to produce the same fantasy value in Ks. All that being said, Keuchel is still a very nice pitcher to own in fantasy baseball. He will not continue to pitch at an elite ace level but he will still be a quality mid-rotation starter for your team. Keuchel’s ERA is an incredible 1.90 right now, but his peripherals predict an increase. His 2.89 FIP, 2.95 xFIP and 2.98 SIERA are excellent but not as great as his ERA. Unfortunately these fielding-independent metrics do a better job of predicting the future than ERA does. Baseball Prospectus’ new DRA metric rates Keuchel at 1.79 — even better than his ERA! Time will tell how that new stat holds up. Keuchel’s low .235 BABIP is also a source of concern because it is likely to rise close to his .296 career BABIP. Verdict: Very good pitcher but not an ace. Consider selling high if you can get ace value in return, otherwise ride him all season.
Jason Hammel, Cubs — 5-2 Record, 2.76 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 76 Strikeouts in 75 innings.
The 32 year old Hammel is pitching better than he ever has in his long career. That right there would scare most people away. Usually when a veteran suddenly has a spike in performance it is a strong indication of a lucky streak that is going to end soon. But if you look at Hammel’s underlying stats this season he looks legit. His 9.12 K/9 is the best mark of his career. His 1.08 BB/9 is too. The .255 BABIP is 50 points better than his career BABIP, and that is an indication he has been a bit lucky. He is a strong fly ball pitcher and he pitches in a ballpark known to allow a few dingers, so the home run rate is likely to rise as well. But his 2.95/2.92/2.86/3.05 FIP/xFIP/SIERA/DRA all show his 2.76 ERA is real. The guy is not just a fluke, he has actually improved his game and made himself a truly better pitcher than he used to be. I know, I was surprised too. I expected to find some luck or some red flags but I didn’t. Verdict: Good pitcher, roll with him as long as the strikeout rate stays high.
Shelby Miller, Braves — 5-2 Record, 1.84 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 57 Strikeouts in 78.1 innings.
This is the first pitcher I have real concerns about. Miller put up a 3.74 ERA last year, twice as high as his current 1.84 ERA. Even that 3.74 ERA was fortunate compared to his below-average peripherals. His peripherals this year look a lot more like Miller’s stats last year than the stats from the three pitchers above. Miller’s 6.55 K/9 is worse than league average. His 2.87 BB/9 is very slightly better than average. His .218 BABIP and 84.7 LOB% are both extremely lucky. His 0.46 HR/9 is very lucky for someone with a 51.4% ground ball rate. Miller’s 3.39/3.94/4.05 FIP/xFIP/SIERA all indicate a drastic uptick in his ERA is forthcoming. But take a look at this: his 1.53 DRA is the best in baseball! Something doesn’t compute here. DRA is the new kid on the block, so I will have to see this puppy in action before I rely on it too heavily for fantasy prognostication. I will steer clear of the scary luck stats. The woeful Braves offense is not likely to get their young buck many more Wins either. Verdict: Sell High on this young name-brand pitcher with plenty of trade value. Cash him in and roll with a safer player.
Michael Pineda, Yankees — 7-2 Record, 3.33 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 76 Strikeouts in 70.1 innings.
Pineda is the reverse of Miller. Pineda has an excellent 9.73 K/9 strikeout rate and an unbelievably low 0.90 BB/9 walk rate. He has been unlucky with his .347 BABIP as well. His peripherals indicate his 3.33 ERA should fall closer to his 2.39 FIP, 2.44 xFIP and 2.50 SIERA. In my opinion Pineda is one of the best young pitchers in baseball, but his reputation has not yet caught up with his true skill level. That means there is a buying opportunity here. The one major concern I have is durability. Pineda has been fragile throughout his minor and major league career, so I worry that he might not throw enough innings to be considered an elite fantasy pitcher over the next few seasons. Verdict: Legit Stud while healthy. Trade for him while his price is lower than it should be.
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?