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Jake Arrieta and Other AL SP Musings

We already have a month of baseball in the books and pitcher ERAs are not surprisingly still all over the place. This is my favorite time of the season as it is hard for many owners to ignore a bloated ERA, and the opportunity to improve your staff by buying at a discount is there. If you have a tough time yourself ignoring ERA, you must be strong! Look at the underlying skills and be confident that eventually the ERA will match it. Now for some American League starting pitcher talk…

I first talked about Jake Arrieta in early April when I noted his increased fastball velocity. I was pretty optimistic about his chances for a breakout given the velocity jump combined with elbow surgery that supposedly helped his control. He pitched a gem last night against the Yankees, dropping his ERA to 3.52 which will likely get mixed league owners to strongly consider adding him. I had not acted in my own mixed league because I had several concerns. The primary one is that despite the increased fastball velocity, his SwStk% coming into last night’s game was just 5.7%. That is significantly below the league average and simply does not match up with a K/9 above 7.0. It is a bit surprising because watching him pitch, his stuff appears quite good, so I would have thought for sure his SwStk% would be league average at the very least. Next, his F-Strike% had been just 49.6%, which is absolutely terrible and also suggests that his walk rate was headed upwards, perhaps dramatically. But then he goes out and has a game like last night and all these underlying metrics go out the window.

I didn’t watch last night’s game and am not sure how many swinging strikes he induced or how many first pitch strikes he recorded. So I am in a bit of a bind on how I feel about him right now. He still pitches in a difficult division and in a park that inflates home runs, which is scary for a pitcher who only has a league average ground ball rate throughout his short career. I will say that he outwardly does appear to be a better pitcher than in previous years and given his prospect pedigree, is probably worth a shot in a mixed league, especially if you have a roster spot available to take the chance.

-Wondering if another Orioles hot starter, Jason Hammel, is for real? I highlighted him in a recent ground ball surgers article, but unfortunately PITCHf/x guru Josh Smolow analyzed his pitches and results and came away less optimistic. He concluded that the ground ball rate appears to nearly be a complete fluke as his two-seamer has little natural sink and there doesn’t seem to be any real reason his ground ball rate has spiked. That will probably make everyone breathe a sigh of relief, because seriously, it would have been hard to pick up a veteran like Jason Hammel thinking this is suddenly his breakout year and be confident enough to start him each week.

-Now might be a good time to inquire about Philip Humber in your AL-Only league. His owner is probably thinking that he lost his chance to sell high and may jump at the opportunity to trade him away when his perfect game is still on our minds. Dave Cameron told us why Humber is for real given the change in his pitch selection and this process-based analysis is spot on.

-Is my count off, or does Luke Hochevar own the record for the most blowups each and every season? He has only started 5 games so far this year and he has already allowed 7 runs and 9 runs in separate games over a total of 8 innings. Last year, he allowed 6 runs four times and 7 runs once. I dare you to find another pitch more prone to imploding.