MASTER NOTES: Early mound oddities

I like oddities, and just about three weeks into the fantasy baseball season, we’re seeing some very odd oddities indeed.

I’ve always found that the place to look for early weirdness is in the ranks of pitchers. I looked on Thursday at the 132 pitchers who had faced at least 50 batters through Wednesday’s games, and sure enough, there’s some interesting weirdness going on. I focused on my new pet metric, Net Good-Bad Outcomes.

I’ve tweaked the metric a little since the last time I talked about it. Good pitcher outcomes now include:

  • Strikeouts
  • Soft- and medium-hit groundballs
  • Soft- and medium-hit flyballs
  • Infield flies

Bad outcomes are:

  • Hard groundballs and flyballs
  • Line Drives
  • Walks
  • HBP

The key metric is the total percentage of good outcomes minus the total percentage of bad outcomes. It’s called Net Good Percentage, shortened here to Net%.

One of the pleasant-slash-weird surprises this young season has been the “comeback” of Phil Hughes (RHP, MIN), who is 2-1 and has provided $7 in roto value. You might think this makes Hughes a worthy candidate for a FAAB investment. If so, there’s a Nigerian prince somewhere who will pay me for your e-mail address. Hughes’ 5.40 ERA and 1.40 WHIP should be enough to dissuade you from a FAAB investment, but if not, keep in mind that Hughes’ -8% Net% is worst in the group, and one of just seven pitchers under sea level. His Bad% in particular is worst by far, at 61%, 23 points more than league average. In a nutshell, he’s giving up way too much hard contact (53%, versus 30% group average), especially ripped liners, which he’s surrendering at twice the league average. (His HHFB% is one-and-a-half times league average as well, so more homers are in the offing.) If you gambled on Hughes as an endgamer, and you’re tempted to ride your lucky streak—well, remember that Las Vegas was built on gamblers riding lucky streaks.

Justin Verlander (RHP, DET) hasn’t looked especially sharp this YTD, with a 5.71/1.44 line and one win in three starts, worth $6 on the young season thanks to 18 Ks in 17 IP. Verlander’s +15% Net% is 10th-worst in the cohort, as both his good and bad outcomes are on the wrong side of league average. On the surface, it looks like Verlander’s main issue has been gopheritis, as he has surrendered three big ’uns in his 17.1 innings, for a worrying 1.6 HR/9. Here’s the kicker, though: Verlander is at 25% HR/HHFB%, five points under that gamewide average. Verlander was a great story last year, and as a result went for some solid dollars this year. One more tidbit: in 2014, when Verlander was a -$5 starter, his swinging strike rate (SwK) was around 10%. Ditto in 2015. Last year, when he notched his $31 comeback campaign, it was 13%. This year? Back to 10%. If you are an owner and someone else comes sniffing around to see if you’re selling low, don’t automatically brush him off. There are times when selling low is a good tactic.

CLE ace RHP Corey Kluber got bids approaching $30 in experts’ leagues, and has thus far been a raging disappointment, with one win and two PQS-Disasters in three starts, and a 6.38/1.42 line. His saving grace has been 18 Ks in 18 innings, which has kept him above the value waterline at three or four bucks in 5x5. If you are looking for things to turn around, be wary of Kluber’s YTD outcomes. Kluber has given up hard contact to almost half of the batters he’s faced, including a 19% HHFB% that makes him full value for five swats allowed, and the concomitant low Strand Rate and high ERA. Similarly, his HHGB% is nearly double league average and his overall LD% is higher than league average as well. So there’s the source of all the hits and the high WHIP (his walk rate is very low). Something is going on here, and it ain’t good.

Here’s something peculiar: Boston knuckleballer Steven Wright (RHP) has given up only five HHFB so far while facing 67 hitters. All five HHFB went out of the yard, for a 100% HR/HHFB rate. Don’t let this note fool you into thinking better times are nigh, though—Wright is one of the negative Net% pitchers, giving up way more hard contact than league average, especially hard line drives and hard fly balls. Even if he gets the HR/HHFB rate down to a more normal level, he’ll still be serving more taters than an Irish buffet.

Here’s something even more peculiar: Toronto LHP Matt Dermody faced six batters in his one big-league appearance against the Orioles. His first hitter, Trey Mancini, homered. Then Jonathan Schoop singled. J.J. Hardy popped out, then noted slugger Craig Gentry homered. Adam Jones walked, and Manny Machado homered, Dermody’s third of the inning. The end result for the shell-shocked Dermody: an ERA of 135.00, a WHIP of 2.00, 100% HR/HHFB rate, and a 270.0 HR/9. He was sent back to the minors, in case you were hoping to sign him for your Bizarro league.

Okay, enough with the Davitt Downer Diatribe. For now, anyway. Let’s turn the Net% the other way around and say which pitchers are getting it done.

The top 10 in Net% includes Jacob deGrom, Dallas Keuchel, Max Scherzer, Noah Syndergaard and Jake Arrieta, but there are quite a few surprises, starting with Phil Hughes’ rotation stablemate Ervin Santana (RHP, MIN). Santana has started the season 3-0, with a 0.41 ERA and 0.45 WHIP despite only a league-average 20% K%. What stands out for Santana is that he’s induced soft- and medium hit grounders and flies—easy outs—from more than half the batters he’s faced (the league average is 40%). At the same time, he’s given up a very low number of hard-hit balls: Just 17% of batters faced have squared him up, well below that 30% league average. One big caveat in all of this: Two of Santana’s three starts have come against the White Sox, who are the third-lowest OPS team in the majors, and his other start was against KC, the fourth-lowest OPS team.

There was some pre-season sleeper buzz around PHI RHP Jerad Eickhoff, and those who threw two or three endgame beans into his pot are reaping some profits. In three starts, Eickhoff has a 2.75/1.12 line and 18 K in 20 innings. There might be some concern in your league about Eickhoff’s low 26% Hit Rate (H%, also known as a .260 BABIP) and 84% Strand Rate (S%), which will depress his rate stats. But our standards in those regards are driven by expectations of league-standard batted-ball outcomes. Eickhoff thus far has been far from standard. He has induced 49% soft- and medium-hit grounders and flies, including an astonishing 27% medium flyball rate (MHFB%, although “MHFB” sounds like the latest party hallucinogen). That’s 2½ times the league rate for “cans of corn” that prevent runner advances, depressing both H% and S%. This 2017 MHFB% rate is more than double Eickhoff’s 2016 rate—so far beyond the norm that we should expect some regression towards the low teens. At the same time, we might anticipate some increase in his low 6% HHFB% rate, currently about half the norm. All that said, though, Eickhoff is a very low-walk command artist who appears to know how to pitch.

A few owners were wise to the potential of OAK RHP Andrew Triggs, and he’s ripped three useful starts in a row. A sinker-slider (and cutter, to RHH) GB specialist, Triggs has sunk, slid (and cut) his way to a 0.85 WHIP, and he has yet to allow an earned run. He’s also +48% on the Net% scale, well inside the Top-10, largely due to a 30% GBMed%, trailing only Clayton Richard’s 34% mark. As well, Triggs has prevented hard contact well, 12 points under the 30% league average. And he walks very few hitters—both last year and this YTD, his Walk Rate has been around 2.1/9 innings. There might be some regression-related declines in the outsized GBMed%, but we might also expect a regression improvement in his current 13% K5. Most owners will be delighted with Triggs’ hot start, but if his owner in your league is thinking of selling high, you might want to listen with a view towards obliging his wish.

Other high-performers in Net%: deGrom (+59%), Keuchel (+54%), Scherzer (+53%), Arrieta (+53%), Luis Severino (+48%), James Paxton (+47%), Miguel Gonzalez (+44%), Michael Pineda (+44%), Syndergaard (+43%), Danny Duffy (+41%), Mike Leake (+40%).

Other stinkers: Jake Odorizzi (-7%), Martin Perez (-5%), Austin Pruitt (-4%), Brett Anderson (-1%), Anibal Sanchez (0%), Josh Tomlin (+2%), Jaime Garcia (+5%), Jeremy Hellickson (+5%), Adam Wainwright (+7%), Jeff Samardzija (+7%), Alex Cobb (+8%), Yu Darvish (+9%), Mike Foltynewicz (+9%), Jordan Zimmermann (+9%), Aaron Sanchez (+9%), Jharel Cotton (+9%), Marcus Stroman (+9%).

As usual, the caveat of small samples applies, so don’t rush out and trade Corey Kluber for Jerad Eickhoff. But do keep an eye on these pitchers and the others at the extreme ends of the Net% spectrum. The complete table is here.

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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.