BY ROB SHAW
There was once a time when drafting a Colorado Rockies pitcher in your fantasy league was nothing but trouble, but after we saw Ubaldo Jimenez not just tame the altitude, but dominate in it, fantasy managers are willing to invest in a Rockies hurler. One pitcher who is drawing a great deal of interest is Jhoulys Chacin.
The 24-year-old hurler was hurt last season by a lack of defensive and offensive support as his record was just 11-14 and more than 10% of runs scored against him were unearned. However, some of his struggles were self-inflicted. Chacin walked 87 batters and surrendered 20 home runs. Though he still managed a solid 3.62 ERA, he was flirting with danger despite the stellar .231 average against.
What makes Chacin so effective in Coors is that he keeps the ball on the ground. In fact, of all pitchers in the Majors last season with at least 100 innings pitched, Chacin ranked seventh with a 57% ground ball rate.
While Chacin is a solid pitcher the question is whether he will become a great pitcher. In order to do so he has to improve his control, which would result in a lower WHIP, better ERA, and a career-high in wins. At 24 years old, there is a great deal of upside for Chacin and it is fair to assume that he’ll take a step in the right direction this season.
Typically pitching in a pitcher’s park is more advantageous than a hitter’s bandbox. There is an argument to the contrary for Reds hurler Mat Latos who makes his way from San Diego’s PETCO Park to Cincinnati. The greatest liability in Latos statistics last season was the 9-14 record. Otherwise, the second-year hurler was stellar with a 3.47 ERA and 1.18 WHIP.
The idea here is that Latos could use a little run support. With Adrian Gonzalez having left the west coast for Boston last season, Latos had few batters to offer the run support needed for a winning record. That should not be an issue this season as he once again will have an MVP candidate manning first base with Joey Votto, plus the presence of Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce among others in the lineup.
Expect a rise in the ERA as the hitter-friendly ballpark can’t be ignored, but it will come with nearly 200 strikeouts and around 15 wins.
The Rays will compete once again in the AL East thanks to the fine young talent making up their starting rotation. While the Yankees and Red Sox acquire talent in trades and via free agency, the Rays secure their stars via drafts.
The next top prospect to follow the path of David Price and Jeremy Hellickson as prospects turned stars is rookie Matt Moore. In his first taste of the Big Leagues, Moore actually pitched more post-season innings than he did in the regular season. In 19.1 combined innings, Moore fanned 23 batters compared to just six walks.
In the minor leagues, Moore dominated while fanning batters at a shocking rate. The sunshine state southpaw surpassed 200 strikeouts in both seasons despite pitching 155 innings or fewer. Similar to Hellickson last season, Moore will likely make an immediate fantasy impact, though with more K’s. On the other hand, the Rays will likely play it safe and limit him to around 180 innings.
While most fantasy managers prefer proven commodities when it comes to fantasy drafts, there are very few hurlers with the upside of Moore’s, and yet you can likely nab him as late as the 10th round. For more fantasy insight visit BloombergSports.com.
by Eno Sarris //
We can get a little smart for our britches sometimes. We’ll take a pitcher, look at his peripherals and declare him over-rated. Then that pitcher goes and improves his peripherals and retains his ERA and WHIP and we look silly. This explains much of Trevor Cahill‘s last two years. Are we seeing it again this year in Tampa?
Take a look at Jeremy Hellickson‘s underlying statistics and he seems like a perfect sell-high. Despite a sweet ERA (3.17 ERA), he’s not striking out a ton of batters (6.1 K/9), is walking batters at about an average rate (3.25 BB/9, average is 3.14 BB/9), and is getting ground balls at a below-average rate (33.9% GB, 44% is average). To recap: that’s below average, average and below average. He’s managing the ERA mostly on the back of a lucky batting average on balls in play (.224 BABIP) and a lucky strand rate (79% left on base, 70% is league average).
Put it all together and you get a 4.27 FIP, or fielding independent pitching, a number on the ERA scale that strips out batted ball luck. An average FIP this year is 3.84. He’s been below average, which is a strange thing to say about a guy with a low-threes ERA and nine wins.
But here’s something even stranger to say: He could be just as good going forward, and maybe even fundamentally better. Well, that’s not really that strange, but given his rate stats, you might frown for a moment.
The reasoning behind the statement is simple. Like Trevor Cahill before him, Hellickson is a young pitcher. He has fewer than 150 innings pitched at the major league level. We can’t really assume that the strikeout and walk rates that we currently see are his true talent rates. In 2010, Cahill showed a 5.4 K/9 and the book was that he couldn’t sustain his results with that level of strikeouts. But Cahill had also had a 9.9 K/9 in the minor leagues. He just needed to figure it out on the major league level, and lo and behold, he now has a 6.65 K/9 and has bettered his FIP a quarter of a run.
Hellickson? He had a 9.8 K/9 in the minor leagues. He was a control artist, with a 2.1 BB/9 on the farm and no season where he walked more than three per nine. He never got a ton of ground balls, but he did get much closer to 40%. These numbers were accrued against inferior talent, but they are also relevant. We can’t just assume that Hellickson will continue to strike out six per nine and say he’s over-rated. Small sample sizes are the bane of the saber-friendly analyst, but in his last three starts, Hellickson has 18 strikeouts against three walks in 20 1/3 innings. That’s the sort of work he did in the minor leagues.
Particularly when we evaluate young pitchers, we cannot forget their minor league work. Baseball is a game of adjustments, and a young pitcher is an adjustment away from improving his underlying rates and ‘deserving’ his good fortune. Even in baseball’s toughest division, Hell Boy has great stuff, dominant control, and the ability to continue putting up an ERA in the low threes.
For the best fantasy baseball analysis and insight please visit BloombergSports.com
Young starting pitching is always at a premium in the real world, and often in the fantasy world. As such, serious leagues demand its owners possess knowledge of the top prospects near and far the stage of the majors. With that stated, here are the 10 arms considered the finest pitching prospects in the land by Bloomberg Sports’ Front Office Tool:
1. Mike Minor
2. Jeremy Hellickson
3. Kyle Drabek
4. Chris Archer
5. Manuel Banuelos
6. Zachary Britton
7. Christian Friedrich
8. Kyle Gibson
9. Casey Kelly
10. John Lamb
The top three already have big league experience. Minor started eight games for the Braves last season, completing 40 innings while striking out 43 and walking 11. The former Vanderbilt attendee figures to start the season in the rotation and while he’s unlikely to replicate his 2010 numbers, he’s better than most fifth starters. Hellickson impressed as well, with a similar strikeout and walk rate. Although he’s hampered with a hamstring injury now, if healthy, the Des Moines native will open the season as the Rays’ fifth starter. Drabek’s entrance to the majors did not fare as well, but he’s a top prospect for a reason and could open the season in the Jays’ rotation too.
Archer is one of the jewels the Rays received in return for Matt Garza, he should open the season in Triple-A, but a big league stint near season’s end -perhaps in the bullpen–is not out of the question. Banuelos received hype for a recent appearance, but he’s just now turning 20 and it’s unlikely he’ll get much more than a cup of coffee this season. Britton, on the other hand, should debut this season, as he spent last season in the high minors and pitched fairly well, with sub-3 ERAs at both Double- and Triple-A and peripherals to match.
As for the rest, Gibson shot through the system and stands the best chance of appearing in the bigs this season. That doesn’t mean you should ignore arms like Lamb and Kelly in keeper leagues, though, as again, they have the pedigree for a reason. Just don’t get too infatuated with these guys, as pitching prospects are more volatile than hitting prospects.
by Eno Sarris //
The Rays, as seems to a yearly tradition, have a bright young pitching prospect hitting their rotation this year. Jeremy Hellickson comes off a stellar, if short, debut, already has a scintillating nickname in “Hellboy.” But we’ve seen this story before, and with varying results. How does Hellickson stack up against fellow young Rays David Price, Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann?
Take a look at the table below for a quick overview of the relevant statistics these young Rays accrued in the minor leagues and in their respective debuts. The percentage of games started is included because players always perform better in short stints out of the bullpen.
Some differences immediately step to the fore. Not all debuts were created equal. We can probably eliminate the chance that Hellickson ends up like Niemann based on a few factors, including his debut. Not only did Niemann show the worst control of the group in the minor leagues, but his strikeout rate dropped as he advanced through the minor leagues, eventually bottoming out in his debut.
But eliminating Niemann still leaves the possibility that Hellickson ends up more Wade Davis than David Price. Now, these pitchers are all different, and have varying arsenals, ages, and histories, but they all have the common misfortune of having to face the AL East from the get-go. David Price obviously did well, and Hellickson’s numbers compare favorably to Price’s. If only Hellickson used his left hand, we’d have a nice comparable player to point to.
Why won’t Hellckson end up like fellow right-hander Wade Davis? Control is the easiest answer. Hellickson’s is elite, Davis’ average or below. Another answer lies in their comparative arsenals. Davis relied mostly on a fastball, while Hellickson has a plus-plus changeup and a solid curveball to go with his 91 MPH fastball. Bloomberg Sports has him putting up a 3.89 ERA and 1.24 WHIP, and he obviously has the upside to better that.
Given his elite control, strong off-speed arsenal, and historical record so far, Jeremy Hellickson is on track to be more David Price than Wade Davis. Expect a strong year from Hellboy, even if he hits a few bumps along the way.
For the best fantasy baseball analysis and insight please visit BloombergSports.com
By Tommy Rancel //
Jeremy Hellickson may have been an effective major league starter had he cracked the Tampa Bay Rays’ roster on Opening Day of this season. But where an April gig would have been a luxury, Hellickson’s promotion recently became a necessity.
The Rays had a plan for Hellickson. He made a spot start last week and was sent back down to Durham where his workload could be monitored and controlled. Once the rosters expanded in September, they would recall Hellickson and use him out of the bullpen.
Tampa Bay was able to execute the first part of the plan. Hellickson made his major league debut – a successful one – and was immediately returned to Triple-A. However, even the best-laid plans are subject to change. With Wade Davis AND Jeff Niemann experiencing shoulder pain, the Rays had no choice but to bring back Hellickson and use him as a starter, beginning with tonight’s outing against the Detroit Tigers.
Although he is listed at 6-1 – already on the short side for a right-handed starting pitcher – that might be a generous measurement. Still, the numbers don’t lie. In 578.2 career innings in the minors, he posted 630 strikeouts and just 135 walks. His pinpoint command of the strike zone has drawn comparisons to Greg Maddux. Stuff-wise, Hellickson sets hitters up with his low-to-mid-90s fastball, and puts them away with an excellent change-up and plus breaking ball.
This time around, Hellickson will be on the shortest of leashes. After pitching 114 innings last season, he has surpassed 124 innings this year (117 minor league, 7 major league). Hellickson pitched a career-high 152 innings in 2008. Don’t expect him to go much beyond that this year, if at all.
If that is the case, then we might be looking at five-to-seven big league starts, or possibly just a couple of starts and several relief appearances, if Davis and Niemann get well soon. Still, given Hellickson’s talent and body of work, he’s worth an immediate pickup in all leagues.
For more information on Jeremy Hellickson and
hundreds of other players, and for dozens of tools to help you dominate
your fantasy league, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.