American League SP Stock Watch: A Trio of Youngsters

This week I take a gander at a much hyped recent call-up, a former minor league strikeout leader and a man whose bad luck may finally be turning. It’s American League starting pitcher day, a time when we make no mention of those less exciting guys in that other league with names such as Clayton and Cole.

Kevin Gausman

Gausman is one of the top pitching prospects in baseball and prospect lovers in redraft leagues ’round the world no doubt rushed to their free agent pool to scoop him up upon his promotion to the bigs last week. With 2 starts and 9.0 innings now under his belt, the results haven’t been pretty, as he has allowed an ugly 11 runs and a whopping 15 hits already. His ERA is downright disgusting at 11.00, while his WHIP sits at an even 2.00.

It’s not all bad of course. The fastball velocity is exciting, as he has averaged just over 96 mph, which leads all Major League starters. He also complements that heat with a change-up (which bizarrely is labeled as a forkball by PITCHf/x) that should ensure he doesn’t have any significant platoon splits. When a young pitcher makes his debut and already features a fastball/change-up combination, that’s a great start. Unfortunately, his repertoire has induced few swinging strikes, while he has had trouble throwing the ball in the strike zone, despite a high F-Strike%.

My biggest concern in both the short and long term is that he is an extreme fly ball pitcher. He was a fly ball guy in the minors and his FB% over this small sample sits at nearly 44%. That’s not a batted ball distribution you want when you call a ballpark home that inflates home run totals. Furthermore, he jumped straight to the Majors from Double-A, having never thrown a pitch at the Triple-A level. I normally don’t have a problem with that, but he has also thrown just 61.1 professional innings. While his velocity makes him intriguing down the road, he should be left for AL-Only leaguers with the understanding that he may very well continue to prove he isn’t ready and get demoted in short order.

Dan Straily

Brett Anderson‘s annual injury has opened the door for Dan Straily to get an extended look in the Athletics rotation. Unfortunately, the 2012 minor league strikeout leader hasn’t seen his strikeout rate translate perfectly to the Majors just yet. Perhaps, it’s easier to get by in the minors on secondary stuff when you have a below average fastball. Then again, his SwStk% of 12.0% ranks among the league leaders and actually suggests some major strikeout rate upside. When I run the numbers for the follow-up to my new xK% formula, I will be interested to see how Straily’s compares to his actual mark.

Just like Gausman, Straily too is a fly ball pitcher, but Oakland Coliseum is a lot more forgiving of a home ballpark. Despite both a low BABIP and HR/FB rate, Straily’s ERA is a full run above his SIERA mark. Blame that on an inability to strand runners so far as his LOB% ranks fifth worst among all starters with at least 30 innings pitched. That mark will no doubt improve, but I still don’t see him as mixed league material. However, he does appear to be a decent buy low candidate in AL-Only leagues.

Corey Kluber

For the second season in a row, Kluber has endured a sky high BABIP and inflated HR/FB ratio, pushing his ERA well above his SIERA mark. I always remind readers that the rules related to the luck metrics only apply to so-called “Major League quality pitchers”. The saying always goes that if you or I were thrown into the fire and pitched in a big league game, do you really think our BABIP would be around .300 or HR/FB rate around 10%-11%? Of course not. Kluber’s Major League experience spans just 108.2 innings, so he hasn’t yet proven he is Major League quality. He may be if we focus on his strong strikeout and walk rates, but then again, we cannot be sure.

That said, Kluber probably holds the quietest near league leading K/BB ratio, a mark that ranks 5th among all starters with at least 40 innings pitched. Did you know he has struck out 43 batters in 41.1 innings, while walking just 7?! Kluber has decent velocity, has induced a good swinging strike rate, and his F-Strike% is above league average. However, his minor league track record is all over the place so it’s difficult to get a sense for what he is capable of.

His last start was his first all season in which his BABIP was below .300. That’s pretty crazy. But the high BABIP shouldn’t be completely chalked up as luck so far, as he has allowed a nearly 24% line drive rate. Whether that itself will remain that high we cannot be certain, but it does suggest that batters have been able to square up against Kluber’s pitches and maybe a .351 BABIP is well deserved. The high line drive rate gets back to the whole “Major League quality” debate. I typically sit on the side of “well, if he managed to post such strong strikeout and walk rates, he has to be Major League quality”, and it’s no different with Kluber. His SIERA ranks 8th in baseball among starters with at least 40 innings pitched, so pick him up in 15-team mixed leagues and deeper. He also makes a worthy streaming option at this point in shallower leagues, with the potential to become a mainstay on rosters.

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Mike Podhorzer produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. He also sells beautiful photos through his online gallery, Pod's Pics. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

5 Responses to “American League SP Stock Watch: A Trio of Youngsters”

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  1. BillyBeaned says:

    Harsh…but fair.

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  2. MLB Rainmaker says:

    I don’t have any great insight on Kluber, but his stats look like he adjusted well to each new level, just took him some time. His first taste of AA was rocky, then the next year he put it together; same with AAA. Maybe his performance in ’13 is just a matter of him putting it together at the MLB level after a rocky ’12.

    If you’ve seen video or GIFs, his change and cutter/sinker both look like swing and miss pitches.

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  3. Nick says:

    His recent 10k game on MLB looks very nice. 95 mph 2seamer with late life. sweeping slider/curve – big K pitch. Solid changeup with good fade. I bought in.

    Good article here on pitching off the 4 seam fb and using the cutter less has added velocity and made the slider sharper.

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  4. fei says:

    who does everyone like for the rest of the season? Straily or Kluber?

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    • I’d go Kluber. When Anderson returns in Oak, Straily could be headed back to the minors if his ERA doesn’t come down. So I think Kluber might have a bit more job security.

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