Every year we see a handful of starting pitchers have breakout campaigns. There is nothing better for a Fantasy owner than to buy a starter on the cheap and have him flourish and create a profit windfall.
In last week’s Fantasy Lookout, we touched on two starting pitchers who were off to slow starts, but looked like a breakout season was still on the horizon. This week, we will showcase three starting pitchers that are off to blazing starts, but severe caution is warranted as breakout seasons do not seem to be in the cards.
While all three hurlers have so far posted impressive ERAs, they all have plenty of red lights that are flashing warning signs under the hood. As we dig into their underlying peripherals, you will see how there is a large inconsistency between their ERAs and their supporting numbers.
In general, players will have their breakout seasons relatively early on in their careers. It is rare for any player to come out of nowhere and have a career year after their 30th birthday. All of the following pitchers have been in the majors since at least 2009, logged over 1,000 innings, and are on the wrong side of 30. Needless to say, none would be considered spring chickens.
Do not buy the hype and feel free to fade the following starting pitchers.
Starting Pitchers to Fade
Ervin Santana, Minnesota Twins
Fantasy owners have had nothing to complain about with respect to the red-hot start of Ervin Santana. He currently ranks fourth in all of baseball with a 2.07 ERA and fifth with a 0.89 WHIP. However, the time is now to lock in those profits as the future does not look nearly as bright.
Santana’s hot start has been aided by an unsustainable and MLB low BABIP of .143 along with the second lowest LOB% of 90.7-percent. These compare to his career marks of .283 and 73.0-percent respectively. He has taken the term you have to be lucky to be good and good to be lucky to a whole new level, at least the lucky part. Santana has also posted a K-BB% of just 8.2-percent, which is considerably weaker than his career mark of 11.5-percent.
The main culprit has been his career worst walk rate of 10.8-percent. In fact, the last time he posted a K-BB% under 10-percent was in 2012 when he had an ERA of 5.16 and WHIP of 1.27. There is some support to his early season numbers as he has done a great job of limiting line drives and hard contact while also inducing popups and soft contact.
I do not see a breakout season for Santana as the majority of his key peripherals do not support his headline numbers. Fantasy owners should fade Santana’s quick start and I do not see why his rest of season numbers will differ too greatly from his career figures of a 4.02 ERA and 1.27 WHIP.
Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals
With only one season with a sub-3.00 ERA under his belt, Gio Gonzalez’s hot start in 2017 has to be considered a surprise. His current ERA of 2.47 would easily be his career best, but his underlying numbers are nowhere near what you would want to see if you were expecting a career best campaign.
Gonzalez’s ERA seems artificially and temporarily low thanks to a career high LOB% of 91.4-percent and a career low BABIP of .243. Despite the low BABIP, Gonzalez has still only managed a WHIP of 1.29, mostly due to the fact that he has posted a walk rate of nearly 12-percent. He currently has a K-BB% of only 7.6-percent, which would be his lowest mark since his cup of coffee during his rookie campaign in 2008. Gonzalez has usually been a decent source of strikeouts. However, this year he has a strikeout rate of less than 20-percent for the first time in his career.
Despite having posted the ninth best ERA in baseball in the early going, Gonzalez’s underlying peripherals do not suggest he is in the midst of a breakout campaign. For the rest of the season I would expect him to post an ERA well north of 4.00 along with a WHIP around 1.40.
Derek Holland, Chicago White Sox
Derek Holland has made the White Sox look like geniuses after they signed him to a one-year deal this past offseason. Holland’s sparking 2.70 ERA along with his very serviceable 1.20 WHIP have been great for any Fantasy owner that hitched their wagon to him early on. However, the good times are about to end as the underlying numbers suggest a lot of smoke and mirrors.
Unlike the previously mentioned pitchers, Holland has not been helped with his 67.8 LOB%. However, a career low BABIP of .239 has been a major contributor to his headline numbers. His K-BB% is just barely in the double-digits at 10.1-percent and it is even less than his career mark of 11.4-percent.
Batters are having no trouble squaring up the ball against Holland, evidenced by his hard hit rate allowed of over 40-percent (eighth worst in baseball). Given that he is currently on pace to allow a new career high in terms of fly ball rate, pull rate, and hard hit rate, it will not be surprising to see Holland run into some home run trouble as the season wears on.
The majority of Holland’s 2017 peripherals line up fairly well with his career numbers. However, if anything they suggest he will be lucky to finish the year with an ERA and WHIP in line with his career figures. For the remainder of the season I would take the over on Holland’s ERA versus his 4.27 career mark and the over on his WHIP versus his 1.32 career mark.
It is easy to fade a player’s hot start if the underlying numbers do not fully support the headline statistics. The three starting pitchers listed above all have one thing in common, their sub-3.00 ERAs will all surely balloon quite materially by season’s end. Until the next Fantasy Lookout, enjoy the games!
Data courtesy of www.fangraphs.com
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