One of my favorite things to do during the first couple months of the season is to scour other rosters and/or the wire for guys that are performing poorly fantasy-wise but have more projectable underlying peripherals. This happens with hitters (see Jason Heyward and his 0.091 BABIP this year) but I feel pitchers are a better target. It’s tougher to “see” a pitcher’s luck. You can watch a guy smash liner after liner to the left fielder, but even when a starter gives up five bloops over short, he gets tagged as “hit around.” So, while very early on, here are the top three big league starters sorted by ERA-FIP (as of last night). These guys have ugly, ugly raw lines after three starts but, hey, there’s reason for hope.
Vance Worley; 10.50 ERA, 3.03 FIP
Kind of hard to believe Worley is only 25, since it seems we are long removed from when the soft-tossing righty was making noise upon his arrival in the big leagues. Traded to the Twins in the offseason, Worley has been absolutely browbeat during his three starts so far in 2013, giving up 14 earned runs in only 12 innings. While some of that is a product of Worley’s abysmally low 9.2% K%, he also hasn’t had much help with the balls in play, allowing a .455 BABIP on the young season. No matter how controllable you think pitcher BABIP is, that’s due for some serious regression. His LOB% (41.4%) is also too low and he pounds the strike zone (career 8.0% BB%). He’ll never be a fantasy mainstay but he’s useful if deployed correctly.
Worley will get the ball tonight against the Angels. Los Angeles is (surprisingly) 13th out of 15 American League teams in runs scored this year and tonight’s game will be played (if played) in nasty, wet conditions with temperatures in the upper-30’s. For a super cheap option in Fangraphs: The Game or as a quick streamer in a deep league with daily lineup changes, he might not be a terrible play.
Wade LeBlanc; 6.75 ERA, 3.03 FIP
Yeah, he plays for the Marlins. Yes, he has a career xFIP in the mid-4s with low strikeout upside. No one is advocating making him a staple in your rotation. But LeBlanc has gotten a bit of an unfair deal so far in 2013, putting up a not-so-sexy 6.75 ERA. The southpaw has actually been… kind of good this year, sitting on a 14/5 K/BB ratio in 14.2 innings while hitters are getting away with a .404 BABIP. There are a few red flags; his SwStr% is still the same as it was last year (mediocre) and his already slow velocity is down another notch but the low walk totals appear to be in line with his improvement the last couple of years.
I certainly can’t advovate rushing out and grabbing LeBlanc unless you are in a super-deep league (like my 20 team dynasty) where there are only a few starting options kicking around on the wire. And I probably wouldn’t stream him against the Reds at Great American this Saturday. But running him out there against a couple weaker opponents when he is home could provide cheap, above (fantasy) replacement level starts here and there. Just be careful playing the matchups.
Edwin Jackson; 6.06 ERA, 2.60 FIP
Jackson is this guy on this list who is closest to a true “buy-low.” Cubs fans are cranky with his 6.06 ERA and E-Jax hasn’t helped himself by walking 10 guys in 16.1 innings. However, his .356 BABIP is well north of his career .307 mark. Same goes for his 55.6% LOB% which projects to regress upwards with time. Perhaps most positive is the fact that he has whiffed more than one-quarter of the batters he has faced this year, supported by a near double-digit SwStr%.
Jackson is scheduled to take on the Brewers Friday night at Miller Park. He should be a solid start there and if an impatient player has already dropped him, snag him before someone else plucks him to be a mid-rotation option for their fantasy rotation. It also couldn’t hurt for those in deeper leagues to toss a line out to a potentially frustrated owner and see if you can buy Jackson for a mediocre guy off to a fast start like Ross Detwiler or Jake Westbrook. It should pay dividends as his on-field performance begins to creep towards his skill predictors.