Four 2nd Half AL SP Improvers

The second “half” is almost underway, as we still have nearly two and a half months of more baseball to look forward to. It might be hard to believe, but if you’re still within 20 points of a money spot, you probably still have a shot. Here are four American League starting pitchers who should improve their ERAs during the second half and therefore might good acquisition targets.

Clay Buchholz

Coming off an unbelievable 16-start run last year that saw him post a 1.74 ERA over 108.1 innings, but was cut short by a shoulder injury, Buchholz’s first half was disastrous. He struggled with his velocity early on, then went on the DL with a supposed knee injury, but not before torpedoing ratios by posting a 7.02 ERA. While no one expected anywhere close to a repeat of last season’s performance, surely the regression monsters weren’t expected to be this harsh.

After missing a month, Buchholz returned to the mound, having made four starts since rejoining the rotation. And what a turnaround it has been. He’s posted a 2.73 ERA over 29.2 innings, which was driven by a sparkling 23/1 K/BB ratio. But the best news is that his velocity is back. Having failed to average 92 mph in any game earlier in the season, Buchholz has averaged between 92.3 mph and 92.7 mph with his fastball over those four starts. That’s great news and provides enough reason to believe that he’s back. Target him now while his full-season stats still look terrible.

Alex Cobb

After a breakout 2013 campaign, Cobb has been disappointing thus far this season, missing over a month with an oblique injury and having posted an ERA above 4.00 when he has taken the mound. However, his skills are nearly identical to what they were last year. While his strikeout rate is down a tad, his walk and ground ball rates are similar and his overall SIERA is up just a tick, at a strong 3.40. His fastball velocity is sitting at a career high, while his SwStk% has jumped considerably.

What has really hurt Cobb is issues with the long ball. Despite allowing fly balls just about 27% of the time, he’s allowing nearly a homer every nine innings. That’s not normal for an extreme ground ball pitcher, especially one with the ability to strike out batters. His HR/FB rate is above 13%, which follows last year’s similar struggles when his rate sat at nearly 15%. With just 408.1 MLB innings under his belt, it’s far too early to proclaim that he’s more prone to the long ball than the league average. Also head scratching is that his line drive rate is a low 15.2%, which suggests that batters aren’t actually making solid contact with his pitches. It’s possible his owner is thinking more and more that last year was a fluke, which means he could come at a very reasonable price.

Tyler Skaggs

Toward the end of April, I introduced you to the new Tyler Skaggs. Once a strikeout, neutral batted ball distribution type pitcher, Skaggs had evolved into more of a groundballer who has traded those strikeouts for balls in play he hoped his infield defense would convert into outs. On the surface, it hasn’t really worked so far given his 4.50 ERA.

But as Chris Cwik pointed out, the finger could be pointed at Skaggs’ inability to strand runners. His overall skill set remains fine and his SIERA sits below 4.00, making him usable in 12-team mixed leagues if he performed up to that level. But just about a 62% LOB% is killing him as whatever base runners he does allow are coming around to score far too frequently.

One can easily see why when diving into his splits. With the bases empty, he has struck out 21.5% of opposing batters and posted a 3.37 xFIP. But once runners get on, his strikeout rate has plunged to about half that at 11.2%, resulting in a 4.27 xFIP. And then with men in scoring position, his walk rate sky rockets to the point that he has struck out just one more batters than he has punched out. We’re still dealing with small samples here, but this is precisely what has led to the low LOB%. I can’t diagnose his mechanics from the stretch to determine whether there is something that needs to be fixed, but he hasn’t had this problem in the minors. So, you have to assume he rebounds and his ERA will drop along with that improvement.

Josh Tomlin

Tomlin underwent Tommy John surgery and returned this year with reports of increased velocity during spring training. Oddly, that velocity surge hasn’t actually materialized when the games counted, as his fastball speed is actually now below where it had been previously. But that hasn’t really mattered. His SwStk% is at a career high thanks largely to the effectiveness of his curve ball and his strikeout rate is up nearly 75% since his last season in 2012.

Along with that newfound ability to make batters swing and miss is his always sterling control. He sports a ridiculous 69/9 K/BB ratio and 18.7% K-BB% mark if you prefer our shiny new metric. But, his ERA sits nearly a full run higher than his SIERA. And speaking of that SIERA, who would have guessed that Tomlin would rank 11th in the AL in the metric (among SPs with at least 70 IP) at the All-Star break?!

What has wreaked havoc on his results has been a 15.5% HR/FB ratio, which has led to one and a half homers per nine allowed and reduced his ability to strand runners. He won’t continue to allows homers at that pace, so his ERA should drop below 4.00 as long as he sustains similar strikeout and walk rates.

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Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: 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.

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Mike Wimmer
Mike Wimmer

Would you rather own Jesse Hahn, Jake Odirizzi or Clay Buchholz the rest of the season?