by Eno Sarris //
The tale of two starters owned in about half of all fantasy leagues ends with a discussion on strategy. Derek Holland and Jeff Niemann may not be very similar in terms of their physical stature or the quality of their stuff, but the two pitchers have similar statistical profiles. Putting them in a position to succeed is very important to getting the best results from these two young starters.
Neither Holland nor Niemann have great swing-and-miss stuff right now. The average swinging strike rate in the major leagues is 8.6% this year, and Holland (7.2%) and Niemann (8.1%) fall short of that number. Their strikeout rates (6.84 K/9 and 7.14 K/9 respectively) reflect this reality. In the future, Holland has more upside, perhaps, as his 94 MPH fastball is three ticks faster than Niemann’s, and his four-pitch mix has gotten better whiffs in the past. But, right now, both of these guys lack the strikeout punch of an elite pitcher.
None of the rest of their rates are elite either. Holland has average control (3.07 BB/9, 3.11 BB/9 is average), gets groundballs at a slightly above-average rate (47.3% GBs, 44% is average), and has had slightly below-average luck (.310 BABIP, 70.3% LOB, averages are .292 and 72.4% this year). For the most part, Niemann’s story is the same. He has an average ground-ball rate (44.1%), and slightly above-average luck (.277 BABIP, 76.7% LOB). Right now, he’s showing an elite walk rate (2.11 BB/9), but he’s been limited to 98 1/3 innings this year and his career rate is much closer to average (2.90 BB/9).
If their luck stats regress towards the mean like they should, both of these pitchers are mid-to-high threes ERA pitchers. Even if one is 6′ 9″ and is nicknamed the Big Nyquil because of his slow pace and sleepy stuff, and the other is 6′ 2″ and has a suprising 94 MPH fastball coming from his left hand, there are similarities here.
By all accounts, if a 3.6+ ERA is above-average in real-life baseball, it is average in your regular mixed fantasy league. So you have two pitchers that have the upside to give you average production and the downside to actually hurt your ERA. How do you best use two dudes like this?
By putting them on your bench and using them in good matchups.
Holland has been a better pitcher on the road, showing better control and better results. Avoid Arlington, where he has a 5.32 ERA and a 1.63 WHIP, and he’s suddenly a much better pitcher. Niemann doesn’t have much of a home/road split, but he does face juggernaut offenses in Boston, Toronto and New York. Avoiding those teams would be the safe way to go. You mitigate your risk, and you improve the downside portion of the ledger.
If you have the flexibility to use a starter half of the time, you’ll get half of an above-average starter out of each of these two dudes by picking your starts well. Many fantasy teams make the mistake of holding too many bench position players. These players only contribute one or two starts a week to your team. Instead, your bench should be made up of pitchers like Holland and Niemann: pitchers that can easily be put in a position to succeed.
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By R.J. Anderson
Carl Pavano has long been a whipping boy, an entry into a word association game when the term “fragile” came up, and a baseball punchline. Pavano thrived in relative anonymity last season, posting a good enough year with the terrible Cleveland Indians to earn him a trade to the contending Minnesota Twins. Rather than testing the frost-bitten market, Pavano accepted the Twins’ offer of arbitration. And boy, who can blame him? The Twins added some fun toys for his usage in the form of a new middle infield with high defensive reputations and offensive ability.
Nothing about Pavano screams fantasy asset. He’s a pitchability type, someone who relies on getting groundballs and avoiding mistakes. His injury-heavy past makes him more of a risk than most and he’s always given up quite a few homers. Pour all of that information into a bowl and whisk softly for a few minutes until the aroma of sleeper hits you. Right? Well, evidently not, since Pavano is being drafted at an average spot of 188th. His B-Rank is a low 324th and his positional rank (meaning of all pitchers, not just starters) is 118th.
Pavano is pitching for the AL Central favorites, so wins should be available. The defense behind him is strong, so his ERA could be playable. He doesn’t strike many out, but then again he doesn’t walk many either, so his K/BB and WHIP are passable. But, is he really worth a top-200 pick? The immediate options that surround Pavano in the B-Rank standings are young talents like Bud Norris, Brian Matusz, and Derek Holland – three pitchers with considerably more upside who aren’t being drafted until the 250-270 range, if it all (in Norris’ case, he’s not being drafted).
It’s not that Pavano is worthless or unworthy of being considered a fantasy option. It’s just that he’s being favored in front of options with a lot more potential to help your team. In shallower leagues, there’s no reason at all to take Pavano ahead of these younger pitchers: You can always find another generic SP with a 4.50 ERA and 12 wins on the waiver wire in a 10- or 12-team mixed league. But Holland and Matusz have the potential to be top-tier pitchers if or when their breakout comes.
At the end of your draft, take the upside pick, not predictable mediocrity.
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