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We are at a critical juncture of the Fantasy Baseball season, given that we are roughly one quarter of the way through the year.

Enough time has elapsed that you should have a decent idea of the strengths and weaknesses of your roster. There is also enough time remaining to improve your standing and fix any deficiencies that you may have.

In last week’s Fantasy Lookout, we dug into a few slow starting aces. This week, we dive into some starting pitchers off to a hot start that may be a surprise to some given their preseason rankings.

Once again, we will use Yahoo as our benchmark for both preseason and current rankings.

All of the pitchers that we will look at today currently have a ranking within the Top 60 overall and their preseason rankings were all outside of the Top 250.

 

The Fantasy Lookout: Hot Start; Pitcher Edition!

Aaron Nola, Philadelphia Phillies

Nola burst onto the scene last July after he was promoted from Triple-A. This year, he is off to a hot start and he has shown across the board improvements. He has increased his strikeout rate from just over 21-percent up to nearly 29- percent, while also improving on his already impressive walk rate. Both seem sustainable as Nola has also increased his swinging strike rate along with throwing more first pitch strikes. These enhancements have allowed him to post the fifth best K-BB% mark in all of baseball in the early going.

Nola also has an incredibly impressive batted ball profile, further supporting his stellar numbers. He owns a sub 20-percent line drive rate, a 56-percent ground ball rate, along with a 21-percent hard hit rate. All these data points suggest that his seemingly low .248 BABIP may actually only slightly regress. In addition, when you consider his 66-percent LOB%, you can see that all of his headline numbers are not just built on good luck.

Yahoo rates Nola as the eighth best starting pitcher so far in 2016. Consider that he ranks near the top of all starters in a variety of statistical categories including: K% (13th), BB% (7th), K-BB% (5th), batting average allowed (7th), WHIP (4th), FIP (3rd), ERA (23rd), ground ball rate (9th), hard hit rate (3rd), and soft hit rate (14th). Nola’s hot start is for real; fade at your own risk.

Drew Pomeranz, San Diego Padres

Since entering the major leagues, Pomeranz has bounced around in terms of both his team and his role. Currently, in his fourth organization, Pomeranz has appeared in 115 career games with only 57 of them being starts. Now with the Padres and being used exclusively as a starter for the first time since his Colorado days, Pomeranz seems to be putting it all together.

Still lacking pinpoint control, Pomeranz has more than made up for it with a huge jump in his strikeout rate. He is currently seventh in all of baseball with a strikeout rate of 30.3-percent. Fantasy owners should also gain further confidence with the fact that Pomeranz also owns the 13th best swinging strike rate.

While Pomeranz ranks within the Top 20 in terms of both ERA and WHIP, his .238 BABIP is the result of a miniscule line drive rate of 14-percent that ranks sixth in baseball. There is also some cause for concern as his LOB% will likely regress from his current lofty mark of nearly 83-percent. Pomeranz is also giving up a fair amount of solid contact, exhibited by his 31.5-percent hard hit rate. That, combined with his penchant for walks, could lead to more trouble, especially when you consider his HR/FB mark of just 6.8-percent.

There is no doubt that Pomeranz’s hot start should have the attention of all Fantasy owners; however, there seems to be some negative regression coming his way. While I do not think he will fall off the mixed league radar, I highly doubt he finishes the year where his current Yahoo ranking is as the 13th best starting pitcher.

Vince Velasquez, Philadelphia Phillies

Velasquez came to the Phillies last year as the centerpiece in the deal that sent Ken Giles to Houston. He was good, but not great last year over his seven starts as he posted a 4.03 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, and 38 strikeouts over 38 innings. It turns out he was just teasing us, as this year Velasquez has put it all together and Yahoo currently ranks him 14th among starting pitchers.

He has managed to increase his strikeout rate and lower his walk rate all while trading line drives and hard contact in for groundballs and soft contact. Now that is perfection. All of the improvements have allowed Velasquez to place within the Top 12 in K%, K-BB%, batting average allowed, ERA, WHIP, FIP, and hard hit rate.

There are no glaring luck factors that scream regression either. His .265 BABIP is completely reasonable given his batted ball profile and his LOB% of 73.7-percent is essentially league average. When you consider his minor league stats, velocity, and his maturation at the major league level, there is plenty to be excited about when it comes to Velasquez. With the increases in his headline numbers supported by his peripherals, Velasquez should follow through on his hot start and continue his breakout campaign.

Steven Wright, Boston Red Sox

Wright and his knuckler have floated their way into a Top 15 starting pitcher ranking so far in 2016. This is extremely impressive when you consider that the only reason he is even in the starting rotation is due to an Eduardo Rodriguez injury. To say he has taken advantage would be a gross understatement.

Despite the hot start, Wright’s peripherals do not show any material improvement. Yes, he has a slightly better swinging strike rate along with a slightly better first pitch strike rate. However, this has not significantly improved his K-BB% mark. In addition, his line drive rate suggests his .250 BABIP is ripe for regression. Wright has also been lucky with the long ball, as he has managed to post a HR/FB ratio nearly half of his career mark, despite having a batted ball profile in line with his career stats.

There is no question that Wright has exceeded expectations over the first month and a half. That being said, the underlying numbers imply that he is not very different than a league average starter. You also have to consider that Joe Kelly and Eduardo Rodriguez are both due back in the very near future and could potentially bump Wright from the rotation. If you have been lucky enough to ride the hot start, ring the register and try to unload Wright as soon as possible.

 

These four outperforming starters are off to a hot start. Of the group, I think that both Nola and Velasquez are the real deal, Pomeranz should be decent, and Wright is a sell. Make sure you check back next week for more in-depth Fantasy analysis from around the league here at the Fantasy Lookout. Until then, enjoy the games!

Data courtesy of www.fangraphs.com

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