5 Buy-Low Pitchers to Target in Fantasy Baseball
Some of baseball's big-name pitchers have gotten off to a slow start in 2015.
Hey, it happens in this grand 'ol game. Sometimes, pitchers run into a string of bad luck, have trouble finding the plate, or consistently find too much of it in the early going. I believe that's where the expression "That's baseball!" comes from.
Yes, several old people near me are nodding their heads in agreement, so there you go.
Below are five pitchers who have started their '15 season with some pretty bad numbers. But here's why you shouldn't worry too much about them, making them ideal trade targets in fantasy.
Clay Buchholz, Boston Red Sox
We've been giving the Red Sox starting rotation a lot of grief -- and for good reason. Their starters have a 5.73 ERA through 26 games, the highest ERA of any team in baseball, and Buchholz has not helped very much, with a 6.03 ERA in six starts.
But as you'll see with all the pitchers listed below, his peripherals tell a different story. He has struck out 11.49 batters per nine (K/9) third-best in all of baseball, and his strikeout-to-walk percentage (K-BB%) is 12th-best. Buchholz' problem is that he has given up a .407 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), by far the highest in baseball. That's why his Fielding Independent Pitching of 2.97 is so much better than his actual ERA. This is a good indication that, as his BABIP levels regress closer to the league average, his monstrously high ERA will go down as well.
No one in baseball has a higher difference in their ERA to FIP (3.06) than Buchholz.
Jon Lester, Chicago Cubs
Much of what was written above about Buchholz is going to apply to all these pitchers, Lester included. He suffered through a dead arm period in the spring, but his velocity is exactly the same as it was last year, so that hasn't been the problem. He's still striking out nearly a batter per inning and he's walking fewer than two per nine innings.
Like Buchholz, Lester has been the victim of some bad luck, with a .360 BABIP, 10th-worst in baseball. His ERA of 4.71 is far higher than his FIP of 2.34, giving him the second biggest disparity between those two numbers in the Majors.
One difference that is a bit alarming is batters this year have exchanged fly balls for line drives against Lester. While his ground ball rate (GB%) remains consistent at around 41%, his line drive rate (LD%) is up from his career number of 19.6% to 35.3%, and his fly ball rate is down from his usual 33.6% to 23.5%. It's something to keep an eye on.
Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox
I think it's pretty safe to assume that Sale's ERA of 5.32 isn't going to last a whole lot longer. But there is one thing that is concerning in the early going.
Last year, Sale struck out 10.76 batters per nine and has averaged 9.78 during his career. However, through an admittedly small sample size of just four starts, Sale is striking out just 8.18 batters per nine. But do I look worried?
I'm not because it is a small sample size and because Sale has also given up a .373 BABIP this year, which again, is a number that should revert closer to the norm as the sample size grows larger. His line drive, ground ball, and fly ball rates are all right at his career averages, and his velocity is right where it should be. Take advantage of that 5.32 ERA, make an offer, and bank on the 3.31 FIP.
Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians
I doubt anyone is going to put last year's Cy Young Award winner on the trading block in your league, but now might be a good time to at least make an offer.
Last year, Kluber went 18-9 and this year, he's 0-4 through the first month of the season. But, pitchers' records are all garbage, we know that. What is un-Kluber-like is his 4.62 ERA through his first six starts. While he's not striking out batters at the clip he did last year (9.00 to 10.27), he's still averaging at least one an inning. That'll play in this league.
Where he's had the most trouble is with men on base, with a career-low 63.0% left-on-base percentage (LOB%), and he's not been helped by a .366 BABIP, which was ninth-highest in baseball. But his walk rate is right at his career average, as are his LD%, GB% and FB%. It just appears as if he's been a little unluckier than usual, which is why his FIP of 2.98 is so much better than his ERA.
Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals
We've been saying this for a while now, but one of these years, Strasburg is going to put it all together. And there is still plenty of time for it to be this year.
Stras is an interesting character. He's always had a very high strikeout rate (career 10.29), and that's continued this year, striking out 9.20 batters per nine. His walk rate is right in line with career norms as well, but that pesky ERA of his just doesn't want to stay down, sitting at 4.73 after Tuesday night's abbreviated start.
But Strasburg is suffering from a .402 BABIP, second-highest in baseball behind only Buchholz, and batters are actually hitting into soft contact on a more regular basis this year (20.4%) than they have through his career (17.5%). His other peripherals are all in line with his career averages, which largely means he's been getting very unlucky on balls in play, resulting in a higher ERA and a lower FIP (2.76).
Strasburg is a guy you can probably target and get for quarters on the dollar. Just make sure he's healthy after leaving last night's game.
Make an offer on all these guys. You might catch someone panicking.