Fantasy Baseball Mailbag: Friday 5/20/16

How worried should we be about Sonny Gray's slow start? Answers to that and more in today's fantasy baseball mailbag.

We're starting a new little diddy here on numberFire to try to help you navigate the ever-changing landscape that is fantasy baseball. It's not easy to keep up with all of the day-to-day fluctuations, so it can help to have someone to bounce ideas off of. That's what our daily mailbag will look to do.

Feel free to shoot us any questions you may have throughout the day on Twitter, and then we'll try to answer as many as we can in the form of a post. These questions can be anything fantasy baseball related. That means daily fantasy baseball, season-long, dynasty, and everything else are all in play.

Obviously, we won't be able to get to all questions because there's a lot to cover. For additional questions, be sure to check out our new MLB DFS tools along with our daily and season-long projections, which should help out more times than not.

Now, enough of that. Let's dig into today's mailbag and see what's popping in the world of fantasy baseball.

As those of you who play DFS can testify, this is one of the most frustrating things in the world. It always seems like a new starter is either going to torch the opposing lineup with 11 strikeouts or like the offense will make Triple-A look appealing by pummeling him into submission. You're spot on, though, about how to have an educated guess about which way a guy will lean.

Whenever a new pitcher comes up from the minors, the first things to look at are strikeout rate and walk rate. These are the building blocks of a great skill-interactive ERA (SIERA), and if a pitcher doesn't excel there in the minors, it's hard to see him doing well in the Majors. These would also be the areas that would see the least influence from defensive issues or a bad park, both of which are concerns with minor leaguers.

Let's take Pittsburgh Pirates prospect Tyler Glasnow as an example. Glasnow has been burning the faces off of opposing Triple-A batters this year with a 30.7% strikeout rate. He has struggled with walks (as you'd expect with a young, 6'7" pitcher), but you're not stacking against that strikeout rate almost no matter what in the Majors. When it comes to season-long, he's a guy you'd likely want to buy into thanks to his superb and sustainable Triple-A numbers.

Once Glasnow has a few starts under his belt, then you can turn to things like swinging-strike rate and contact rate. If he's excelling in both, then those strikeouts are legit. If his swinging-strike rate is sitting closer to 8.0% or 7.0% with a contact rate near 80.0%, then you might want to worry about whether or not the strikeouts are legit.

As for your question on whether a historically-good pitcher will turn things around, that leads in well to the next question.

Doug's outchea tryna make the old Sonny Gray truther in me weep. That's cold-blooded, bruh, but it's a question we definitely need to be addressing because there are a bunch of causes concern.

We can use the things Evan mentioned in his question to evaluate Gray, and they're going to show why it's a bit past the time to worry about the Oakland Athletics' righty. The table below shows some of the more important numbers we can use to evaluate a pitcher's effectiveness for Gray over the past two years. Swinging-strike rate is the percentage of strikes that come via swings and misses, and contact rate is the percentage of swings on which an opponent makes contact. Gray has slipped significantly in both.

Season Strikeout Rate Swinging-Strike Rate Contact Rate
2015 20.3% 9.7% 79.2%
2016 18.9% 8.3% 82.0%

Not great, Bob.

FanGraphs' Jeff Sullivan detailed Gray's struggles with his breaking ball last week, and it illustrates why Gray's issues may be something other than an injury. Gray has certainly been experimenting, relying more heavily on his slider in his most recent start than he had in any game since August of last year. Gray's working on it; it's just a matter of when things will be corrected.

Gray's swinging-strike rate has only hit 10.0% in two starts this year, but one of those was his last time out. He'll face the New York Yankees tonight, and they're not a team that swings and misses often. If he can continue pushing things in the positive direction with both his swinging-strike rate and contact rate tonight despite a less-than-ideal opponent, then it may be time to start buying again. Until then, I'd hold Gray in fantasy as his stock can't get much lower than it is right now.

Any day is a great day when you get to discuss Tommy Joseph. Obviously it'd be great if the Philadelphia Phillies could stiff-arm Ryan Howard and let Joseph just eat at the plate, but even right now, I still think he can be usable in certain fantasy baseball leagues.

If you're in a league with daily lineups and fairly large benches (a good chunk of dynasty leagues work this way), Joseph is a great way to get top-tier production without suffering the downsides of his current volume. Although he's only playing against lefties right now, he's likely going to destroy things when he gets the chance.

It's a relatively small sample, but check this out on Joseph. Since the start of 2014, he has had 151 plate appearances against lefties between the minors and this year in the big leagues. Those have resulted in a .317/.351/.626 slash with 10 home runs and 10 doubles. Additionally, his strikeout rate against lefties in that span is only 13.9%, which should allow his batting average to stay elevated. Even if you're only getting that every now and then, that'll provide a big boost when Joseph does crack the lineup.

The Phillies may choose to keep Howard in the order every day, and if they do, it'll obviously put a serious cap on Joseph's viability as a fantasy asset (outside of DFS). But if you've got deep enough benches and daily rosters, he can contribute right now, given his solid park factor and spot in the middle of the Phillies' order.