Earlier this week, I offered my list of recommended buy and sell hitter candidates, based on some of the more suspicious-looking early flyball and home run trends.
The guys who throw the ball have also been helped and punished by some strange flyball patterns as well, and we can find some buy and sell candidates among them, too.
The pitchers featured here are those who have thrown at least 30 innings, compiled flyball rates of at least 37 percent and have home run per flyball ratios (HR/FB) or HR/9 rates that are out of character and likely to move in one direction or another. The value of focusing on these indicators is that they are far more prone to random fluctuations than other performance metrics, such as strikeout, walk and ground ball rates. For example, owners are suddenly sour on Dan Haren, but one of the biggest changes in his profile is a surging HR/FB rate. If he were demonstrating a similar change in, say, his ability to get batters to swing and miss at his offerings, there would be a greater cause for concern. Because a major factor in his downturn is something that is volatile, especially in a relatively low number of innings, he appears here as one of the top buy-low candidates.
Along with Haren are the rest of this week's top pitching buy-low and sell-high candidates, as well as a few pitchers who merit the "wait and see" treatment before you plan on making a deal that involves them.
All stats are current through Wednesday, May 16.
Top buy candidates
|Pitcher||HR/FB (%)||Flyball Rate (%)||ERA||WHIP|
Dan Haren, Angels: Haren is still owned in nearly all leagues, but he has found his way onto a lot of benches over the last two weeks. A 6.48 ERA over his last three starts has started to cause some worry among his owners, and six of the 14 runs he has allowed have been driven in by home runs. Haren's flyball rate is only slightly elevated this year, but his home run per flyball ratio has jumped four percentage points. That seems suspect given that he has yet to pitch in a ballpark this year that favors home runs. His control is not quite as pristine as it was a year ago, but it's far too early to stop treating Haren as anything less than a solid No. 2 starter. Given that he is benched in roughly one out of every four of the leagues on CBSSports.com, you may not have a hard time finding an owner who radically undervalues him.
Josh Beckett, Red Sox: The overreaction that some owners are having to Haren's slump is nothing compared to alarm over Beckett's perceived decline. It's true that his 1.9 HR/9 ratio has made him a hazard to start at times, but seven of the nine long drives that he has allowed occurred in just two contests. Also, his 10.6 percent swinging strike rate shows that he is still plenty capable of making hitters look like duffers. Aside from his two rough starts, Beckett has been very reliable this year, putting up quality starts in each of his five other appearances. Put aside his occasional blowups and controversies, and he is simply a pitcher who can help owners in nearly all formats on a weekly basis.
Bruce Chen, Royals: Chen continues to look like a late bloomer, as he has further sharpened his command of the strike zone this season. The progress is not reflected in his 4.34 ERA, which would be easy to dismiss as an "old school" Chen performance. With a flyball percentage that continues to linger in the mid-40s, we can't expect Chen to avoid homers, but he's been hurt by too many flyball base hits in general. It seems unlikely that hitters will continue to bat .203 on flyballs in play when the league norm is in the .130s. That high rate has also probably played a role in his difficulties in stranding baserunners (65 percent of runners left on base). While all of the early Chen buzz has been for Wei-Yin, it's the Royals' lefty who will have the more impressive overall stat line by the end of the season.
Philip Humber, White Sox: Humber's popularity has fallen a long way since he twirled his perfect game gem nearly a month ago. Owners can't be faulted for getting scared off, as he underwent a three-game skid in which he allowed 20 earned runs and five homers over 13 1/3 innings. If Humber continues to be the flyball pitcher that he has been so far this season, he will be a bigger risk than he was last year, but his 12.5 percent HR/FB ratio looks inflated, even for someone who pitches home games at U.S. Cellular Field. While the frequency of home runs off Humber should recede, his strikeouts have been more plentiful, as he has been getting more called strikes on both his slider and fastball. Because there is still a home run risk, Humber should only be used on rare occasions in standard mixed leagues, but he should be starting in more than 10 percent of our leagues. He's an ideal buy-low target for owners in deeper mixed leagues.
Carl Pavano, Twins: With one of the lowest strikeout rates in the majors, Pavano is no one's idea of a standard mixed league pitcher. However, his activation rate has been in the single digits all season, and that is simply too low. Pavano's current 5.14 ERA makes him look like nothing more than a low-end AL-only option, but his strikeout, walk and ground ball rates are strikingly similar to those of Bartolo Colon, who is starting in approximately one-third of our leagues. What separates them is their strand rates, as Colon's is normal, but Pavano's is an extremely-low 62 percent. Also, his flyball (41 percent) and HR/FB (10 percent) rates are above his recent norms, so owners can expect Pavano to be less prone to giving up extra-base hits going forward. Especially in AL-only leagues, Pavano is a worthy target for owners looking for a cheap pitching upgrade.
Top sell candidates
|Pitcher||HR/FB (%)||Flyball Rate (%)||ERA||WHIP|
Wei-Yin Chen, Orioles: I have made the case for why owners should be targeting Bruce Chen as a buy candidate; now here's why owners of Wei-Yin should be looking to unload their Chen. Both Chens have similar strikeout and flyball rates, but despite pitching in the tougher division and more hitter-friendly park, Wei-Yin has allowed half as many homers. Bruce has a proven ability to induce infield flies, but Wei-Yin has a lower BABIP despite the fact that he hasn't demonstrated that skill yet. It's also likely that Wei-Yin's 82 percent strand rate will tumble, and as a result, his ERA could rise a run and a half or more. With an ownership rate of 49 percent, Wei-Yin is not exactly over-owned, but with his recent run of successful starts, now is the optimal time to test the trade waters, before he puts up a few clunkers.
James McDonald, Pirates: Two weeks ago, I listed McDonald as a "sell" candidate in this space, but because of a string of successful starts, owners have continued to buy him, more than doubling his ownership rate. Due to a 2.42 ERA and 1.03 WHIP, many are starting to believe that the 27-year-old is finally delivering on his vast potential. Part of his improvement is tied to a lower walk rate, but given that McDonald is still having trouble finding the strike zone (60 percent strikes thrown), owners shouldn't be surprised to see more walks in McDonald's future. He has also been helped by only allowing two homers so far, but with only modest growth in his ground ball rate, that may be a fluke as well. Take advantage of McDonald's hot start and deal him ASAP.
Ted Lilly, Dodgers: Lilly was in the "sell" column in a previous analysis, but as with McDonald, he has only become more popular since then. In his win against the Rockies on Sunday, Lilly broke his streak of five straight quality starts to begin the season, but he still owns a spotless 5-0 record. That -- and his 2.11 ERA -- have made Lilly a Fantasy favorite in recent weeks, and he is now owned in 81 percent of our leagues. The normally flyball-intensive Lilly got more grounders than usual in his first couple of starts, but lately, hitters have been taking to the air against him yet again. Once his miniscule 2.1 HR/FB ratio regresses, he will be back to the version that Fantasy owners have known for years and have streamed on and off of waivers. You might as well as deal him before you dump him.
Chris Capuano, Dodgers: Capuano has been around long enough that owners know what they are getting with him: a good strikeout rate but a mediocre ERA and WHIP. Wherever Capuano has gone, home runs have prevented him from being more useful in Fantasy. His 8.2 HR/FB ratio isn't too far out of line with past marks, but so far he's been allowing more flyballs than normal, not fewer. While his flyball rate could regress to the mean, there are no signs to indicate that he can maintain even an average home run rate, much less a low ERA or WHIP. With an ownership rate hovering around 90 percent, Capuano is one of the most overrated players in Fantasy right now.
Barry Zito, Giants: Could it be the year of lefty letdowns? Zito is the fourth and final southpaw on this "sell-high" list, and he may be even more poised to disappoint than the other three. Zito's command and efficiency are still lacking, but a lack of extra-base hits has helped to preserve a sub-3.00 ERA and keep his WHIP respectable at 1.27. With a moderate flyball rate, Zito might be able to avoid homers, but his 14 percent line drive rate and .086 flyball BABIP are due to rise. When they do, Zito will be allowing more doubles and triples, not to mention many more runs. xFIP estimates that his ERA should actually be a shade under 5.00, so owners should hurry to deal him while his actual ERA is barely more than half of that.
Hold these pitchers
|Pitcher||HR/FB (%)||Flyball Rate (%)||ERA||WHIP|
Brandon Beachy, Braves: Beachy looked like a potential sell-high two weeks ago, but he has stayed hot with two more strong starts since then. He is not getting nearly as many whiffs as he did last year, and his swinging strike rate continues to hover around a not-so-impressive eight percent. Despite his continued success, owners may still view Beachy as a pitcher to sell. At the very least, he is being benched in 12 percent of our leagues, so he is not getting treated like a top starter. What Beachy lacks in strikeouts, though, he is gaining in more favorable ground ball and line drive rates. A 3.81 xFIP suggests that Beachy is an ordinary hurler, but that metric ignores his consistent avoidance of hard contact, so there may be something to his status as the majors' ERA leader. Even with a mild dropoff, Beachy can still be useful on a weekly basis, so trading him now may not be a profitable move.
Erik Bedard, Pirates: Bedard had allowed only one home run prior to Wednesday's loss to Washington, and even having allowed three more of them against the Nats, he still sports a low HR/FB rate. Whatever good luck Bedard has had on balls in the air, he's made up for it with the ones on the ground. Batters have been hitting .327 on ground balls against him, and while the Pirates' infield defense isn't among the best in the majors, it's not bad enough to allow so many base hits. When everything evens out, Bedard will still have an ERA around 3.00, just as he has had in his better seasons.
Mike Minor, Braves: While Bedard is poised to allow fewer ground ball base hits going forward, Minor might not be so fortunate. Hitters are batting .283 on grounders against Minor, but the Braves' infield defense is among the leakiest in the majors. In fact, as a team, the Braves are allowing opponents to hit .270 on ground balls, so Minor hasn't been that far off the norm. An 11.7 HR/FB ratio looks like a bad-luck fluke for Minor, but even if that improves, he could give up too many hits to buy low on.
Ervin Santana, Angels: Santana is a hard guy to figure out. After showing gains in his ground ball and home run rates last season, he opened the year by getting hammered in his first four starts, allowing 10 homers. In his four subsequent starts, Santana has dramatically improved his ground ball rate and allowed only two homers. You can't give credit to the schedule, as of his recent opponents, only the Twins are a poor power-hitting team. There may be something to Santana's mini-resurgence, so he could be a buy-low candidate. Owners may have to move quickly to get Santana at a bargain price, but it's still worth making sure he can repeat the feat against the Padres and Mariners in his upcoming starts.
| xFIP: Also known as Expected Fielding Independent Pitching. It is an estimate of what a pitcher's ERA would be if it were based on factors that a pitcher can control, such as strikeouts, walks and flyballs. xFIP is a derivative of FIP, which was developed by Tom Tango. |
Runs Created per 27 Outs (RC/27) -- An estimate of how many runs a lineup would produce per 27 outs if a particular player occupied each spot in the order; ex. the RC/27 for Miguel Cabrera would predict the productivity of a lineup where Cabrera (or his statistical equal) batted in all nine spots; created by Bill James
Component ERA (ERC) -- An estimate of a what a pitcher's ERA would be if it were based solely on actual pitching performance; created by Bill James
GO/AO -- Ground out-air out ratio
GB/FB -- Ground ball-fly ball ratio
Batting Average per Balls in Play (BABIP) -- The percentage of balls in play (at bats minus strikeouts and home runs) that are base hits; research by Voros McCracken and others has established that this rate is largely random and has a norm of approximately 30%
Isolated Power -- The difference between slugging percentage and batting average; created by Branch Rickey and Allan Roth
Walk Rate -- Walks / (at bats + walks)
Whiff Rate -- Strikeouts / at bats
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