Can Brent Suter Be a Fantasy Baseball Asset?
While the Milwaukee Brewers are still fighting for a playoff spot, contending fantasy baseball owners are also entering the home stretch of their respective seasons. Rookie hurler Brent Suter has played an important role in helping the former stay within striking distance, so perhaps he can also be of use for the latter group.
He is probably available in whatever league you play in, too -- he is owned in just 25% of Yahoo leagues and by just over 22% of ESPN leagues.
His availability presumably is due to his lack of name recognition and lackluster results in his last two outings. Still, Suter owns a 3.31 ERA in 54.1 innings, a mark which is backed up by a 3.28 FIP.
The strikeouts have not been there -- he's fanned just 20.4% of batters faced -- but neither have the walks (6.2% walk rate) or the home runs (0.7 home runs allowed per nine innings).
If he can continue to suppress homers, it’s easy to see Suter being a valuable fantasy asset going forward. This is easier said than done, especially since his current home-run-per-fly-ball rate (HR/FB%) is just 7.4%, which is well below the big league average of 13.7%.
Infield Flies and Weak Contact
With a 45.4% ground-ball rate that's about in line with the league average, Suter must rely on a low HR/FB% to keep finding success.
Generally, HR/FB% is prone to a ton of random variation, particularly in small samples. Home runs are naturally the most impactful outcome of a plate appearance, so stripping away this inherent randomness is a big reason why xFIP is a strong predictor of future performance.
After park adjustments, Suter's xFIP is currently 4.09, a mark that is 5% better than league average. It's still solid, but a far cry from his actual park-adjusted FIP, which is 27% better than the mean. It’s certainly possible he's had little to do with his low homer rate, but even this implies that if he can sustain his strikeout and walk rates, he can be an above-average pitcher going forward.
Still, it is also possible that he's doing something real that is keeping balls in the yard. While he probably will not continue to run a HR/FB% that is almost half the league average, we may not want to regress Suter all the way to the mean, either.
He is currently sporting a 13.0% infield-fly rate, which is tied for 28th among the 216 pitchers who have tossed at least 50 innings, per FanGraphs. This is not a new development for the southpaw, who had an infield-fly rate of at least 16.0% in all but one of his minor league stops since ascending to High-A ball in 2013 (and the exception was only a 35-inning stint in Triple-A in 2015).
Statcast data also suggests Suter is playing a role in keeping the ball in the park. On all balls hit in the air, only Brandon McCarthy has allowed a lower average exit velocity than Suter’s 87.0 miles per hour, according to Baseball Savant (out of 224 pitchers who have allowed at least 75 balls in the air this season). In fact, based on the launch angle and exit velocity of fly balls Suter has allowed, he "should have" allowed about three homers this season, according to Andrew Perpetua’s xStats.org.
In reality, he has allowed just four.
Fortunately for Suter, expected home runs seem to be a very good predictor of future home runs, even more so than past home runs. In December, Perpetua found that expected home runs allowed in 2015 correlated with actual home runs allowed in 2016 with a coefficient of 0.63 (1 would imply a perfect relationship and 0 would imply no relationship). Meanwhile, home runs per batter faced in 2015 only correlated with home runs per batter faced in 2016 at 0.25.
So, there does appear to be some skill here.
Making Them Really Earn It
Suter's walk rate is his other major skill, as it ranks in the 83rd percentile among pitchers who have thrown at least 50 innings. His strikeout rate is in the 48th percentile while his 9.4% swinging-strike rate is in the 43rd, which makes sense for a pitcher whose average fastball velocity is just 86 miles per hour.
Although his walk rate may raise his floor, the lack of strikeouts mean his ceiling is tied to that homer rate. Our projections do see the low homer rate continuing -- we forecast him to allow just two more over his final 22 innings (0.8 home runs per nine innings).
We also see him walking just 6.5% of the batters the rest of the way, but that includes a decline in strikeout rate (16.1% going forward) and a continuation of a worse-than-average BABIP. This all plays into a forecasted 4.09 ERA, which is still better than average. Our numbers are more bullish on Suter than ZiPS (4.28 rest-of-season ERA) and Steamer (4.69), as both models are expecting more homers (1.1 HR/9 from ZiPS, 1.5 from Steamer).
All things considered, though, his start to the season and low ownership rates should make him a good plug-and-play option when the matchup suits it. That'll probably happen when the Cincinnati Reds and their second-half wRC+ of 82 visit Milwaukee this weekend, which will be a good time to take advantage of Suter's skills as we move closer toward the fantasy playoffs.