Last week I briefly touched on some guys who had been getting raked across the coals in the BABIP/LOB% department, making their raw stats look like something out of a horror film. This week I’ll take a look at the flip side; guys who have sparkling ERAs, but looking under the hood implies that your nice new sports car might not be purring quite as well as you had hoped. Just remember, it’s very early and a lot of the underlying peripherals haven’t stabilized yet; we’re just looking for guys we don’t want to make the mistake of overpaying for.
Jake Westbrook; 1.25 ERA, 4.35 FIP
Westbrook has gotten off to a quick start in St. Louis, only allowing three runs in 21.2 innings. As such, he’s been scooped up in more than a few fantasy leagues; for example, his ownership in CBS leagues has skyrocketed from ~10% on Opening Day to 43% as of this morning. But is it all good? He has the dreaded reverse K/BB (or, I guess, sub-unity K/BB) where he is actually walking more batters than he is striking out (8.6% K%, 15.1% BB%). Blech. His SwStr% is at 4.3%, well below his career average of 7.0%. His sinker velocity is holding, but his Contact% numbers are up across the board. The good news is that his LD% rate isn’t up and, if anything, his GB% rate is slightly elevated over where it normally is. However, even granting that his strikeout and walk numbers should flip and move back to his career norms, he still only possesses a four-year running FIP in the mid-4’s. Unless he has discovered a new way to strand runners, his LOB% (currently 87.9%) should tend towards his career average (69.6%) and his ERA will be on the rise as well. Assuming he rebounds in the peripherals department, he should still be a useful streamer for owners (like this weekend against the fourth-worst-OPS Pirates), but think twice before dropping one of the starters you drafted for him and counting on Westy as a staple of your fantasy rotation. Let someone else make that mistake.
Carlos Villanueva; 1.53 ERA, 4.07 FIP
Like Westbrook, Villaneuva is a guy who has been flying off wires early in the season as people try to “revamp” their pitching staffs. After all, he’s only given up five runs on the whole season. And there is some good news in his rates; so far he’s only walked 5.7% of batters, which would actually represent an improvement on his already solid 8.1% career mark. Unfortunately, there are a few red flags. Remember when I said he had only allowed five earned runs? They’ve all come via the longball, meaning his strand rate is a pristine 100%. That isn’t going to hold. In addition, his BABIP is a minuscule .164. Villanueva’s LD% is down a tick but his GB%/FB% rates have essentially flip-flopped. This (if it were to hold) would be good for him overall (groundballs results in more singles whereas flyballs mean more extra base hits), but the BABIP for wormburners is actually higher, meaning (if anything) his overall BABIP should actually be elevated over his career norms. I still like Villaneueva as a streamer/backend filler in deep leagues (and he’s useful this Sunday against the woeful Marlins), but like Westbrook, don’t be the guy that gives away good talent to snag him. Especially since Matt Garza will eventually be back.
Matt Moore; 1.04 ERA, 3.67 FIP
Finally, a marquee name on this list. Fantasy circles are murmuring about the emergence of Moore (finally) as a fantasy ace based on his first four starts to the season. He’s whiffed more than a batter per inning (29 in 26) and has only let three runs cross the plate. Is it finally his time to rise up and give the Rays some comfort in eventually trading David Price this offseason? Well, maybe. There is no denying Moore has an elite pedigree, and his K% is pushing 30% on the young season, which would make him one of the top strikeout artists in the game. But the walks are still a problem, with Moore issuing free passes to 14% of the batters he has faced. Unfortunately, it’s tough to be elite with a walk rate in that stratosphere, just ask Oliver Perez. I own Moore in a couple keeper leagues, but I’ll admit, I’m dangling him in a few of them after his amazing start. If you can get someone to buy in on him as a top-10 SP and give you SP1-type return (especially in a redraft league) you have to strongly consider it. Example; I just saw him go for Carlos Gonzalez is a fairly competitive dynasty — I like Moore, but you do that trade ten times before Sunday. If the best I can do for him is a fourth-fifth round player, I’ll probably hold and roll the dice on him cutting the walks, but just don’t be surprised when he hits a few more bumps in the road.
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