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Pitcher Spotlight: This Is Andrew Heaney’s Rebound

I like Andrew HeaneyI think you should too but let’s start with me.

I like Heaney’s control. Save for his five-game 2017 season, Heaney’s 7.3% walk rate this year is the highest of any MLB season, fueled by a sinker hitting the zone over 58% of the time and a changeup he trusts for a 47% zone rate.

I’m getting ahead of myself. I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t feel there was a question about Heaney’s ability to perform, which wasn’t the case early in the year. Through the first eight starts of the year, there was a strong consensus that Heaney could excel for a considerable amount of time, sporting a 3.09 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 27% K rate, and a fantastic 12% whiff rate to support the elevated strikeout numbers.

However, Heaney ran into a pair of 5 ER games and suddenly it seemed doomed. It launched a stretch of 5.09 ERA with just a 16.7% K rate and the fun was coming to an end. Sure, the WHIP was still acceptable and walk rate was under 5%, but we were celebrating Heaney for the good ratios and strikeouts and it just wasn’t happening.

I started this article talking about Heaney’s control. It’s easily one of his best attributes and entering the year, we considered it as one of the only strong assets. For the most part, save for the “all around” types that are so hard to depend on, either we classify a starter’s value in good command/control arms or high strikeout ability. Heaney has always had the control, but what I’m believing in suddenly is the strikeout rate.

Bringing the tangent back, let’s look at Heaney’s biggest trend this year. Here are the whiff rates for Heaney’s first eight starts and the six that followed. I’ve color coded it glamourously to help:

Andrew Heaney Whiff Rates 2018
Date SwStr%
4/13/2018 12.9%
4/20/2018 11.8%
4/27/2018 14.9%
5/2/2018 8.1%
5/8/2018 7.0%
5/14/2018 13.0%
5/19/2018 9.3%
5/25/2018 17.5%
5/31/2018 8.5%
6/5/2018 13.8%
6/11/2018 7.7%
6/17/2018 9.4%
6/22/2018 6.3%
6/27/2018 9.0%

This is why we were worried. You should have been! The hype around Heaney is derived from the sudden mix of both control and whiffs and this looked damning. We felt the dread of a fun ride coming to its end, squeaking slowing to the entrance.

Except that’s not what happened. Let’s add his most recent two starts to that wonderful table:

Andrew Heaney Whiff Rates 2018
Date SwStr%
4/13/2018 12.9%
4/20/2018 11.8%
4/27/2018 14.9%
5/2/2018 8.1%
5/8/2018 7.0%
5/14/2018 13.0%
5/19/2018 9.3%
5/25/2018 17.5%
5/31/2018 8.5%
6/5/2018 13.8%
6/11/2018 7.7%
6/17/2018 9.4%
6/22/2018 6.3%
6/27/2018 9.0%
7/3/2018 17.9%
7/8/2018 20.4%

So what happened? Why did Heaney go through the down period and how did he return the two best whiff games of his season in his last two starts?

Simply put, his changeup wasn’t good for a moment. But it is again. Seriously, it’s that easy. Just look at this super telling chart:

Clearly we’re going to talk about Heaney’s changeup. Here are its numbers across the season thus far:

Andrew Heaney Changeup 2018
Usage % O-Swing % Zone % Whiff % BAA GB %
17.3% 42.2% 47.1.% 14.9% .263 51.4%

Heaney’s slow ball is a fantastic offering and keep in mind, those season numbers include the stretch of six poor games with the pitch. Heaney uses it as a jack of all trades, as his money pitch to pull out in a big moment.

I’m going to have some fun with this, really showing the difference between the good and bad stretches and linking it with Heaney’s changeup. First, this how the pitch it looked like during his initial stretch:

And a heatmap of its locations:

Notice how when missing outside to right-handers, the pitch is still close enough to the plate that it could be framed for a strike or at least still be considered by hitters and not completely spit on.

Compare that to the slow ball during a stretch where he fanned four or fewer in all but one game:

A pair of HRs on changeups that didn’t have nearly the same vertical drop and were located in very hittable locations, either back inside to a right-hander or spotted in the middle of the plate.

And now its locations during this time:

Those outside changeups were now completely wasted. No considerations from right-handers and little play with the outside corner. Either a definitive strike or not, save for the bottom of the zone.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that back-to-back ten strikeout performances from Heaney are a product of good changeups, but let’s still complete the process. Here’s a GIF of its movement:

And its locations:

This is prime Heaney. He’s come back on the other side and made the adjustment to fix his best pitch. Indulge me as I unnecessarily emphasize this point one more time:

Changeup pVal in first 8 games: 5.0

Changeup pVal in next 6 games: -4.2

Changeup pVal in last 2 games: 2.2

I like Andrew Heaney.

Conclusion

There are still questions about what to expect from Heaney in the second half and it’s understandable. Two starts isn’t enough of a sample to determine what will happen in the next ten weeks – you could even argue the entire first half isn’t enough – and we could be back to where we sat in the sad month of June.

What I see is a pitcher that had the feel for a pitch, struggled for a collection of starts, and has reclaimed his ability once again. We’ve seen other starters go through similar journeys with a pitch in their repertoire – Jose Berrios and his curveball come to mind – and we’re often too quick to ignore the adjustments made through the season. Heaney faced the wall, adjusted, it’s time to take advantage of it.

You should like Andrew Heaney.


Waiver Wire Week 15: 10 SP Targets

Each week I look at the collection of starting pitchers owned in under 30% of leagues (consensus Yahoo/ESPN ownership from Fantasy pros) with a few extra sub 10% discount options at the end, pointing out the options to consider if you need an extra arm or two at the end of your staff.

Let’s highlight my ten favorite starting pitcher options that may be available on your waiver wires, roughly ordered from top to bottom:

Under 30% Owned

Jeff Samardzija (San Francisco Giants) –  His 6.42 ERA will not last. His 1.67 WHIP will not last. He will have a strikeout rate above 16%. I think it’s best for us to forget about what has happened to Samardzija so far this year, throw it out, and ask what t expect moving forward. Is a sub 4.00 ERA so hard to buy into? A 1.30 WHIP or lower? How about a 20%+ K rate? It all seems very plausible to me, making him playable in 12-teamers, especially those in QS leagues as he will be given a longer leash than most.

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Pitcher Spotlight: Jordan Zimmermann’s Adaptation

Note: Scott Strandberg also wrote about Jordan Zimmermann yesterday and you should read that piece too.

Conversations about Jordan Zimmermann rarely present the Detroit Tigers starter in a good light. Maybe his horrid contract is referenced or how his fastball registered a -27.3 pVal in 2017 (yes, it was that bad) or maybe how far he’s fallen since his days with Nationals. Regardless of the focus, if you’re talking Zimermmann, it’s often sprinkled with disappointment.

We’re going to have a different conversation today. No, it’s not that Zimmermann is definitively a dependable arm for the rest of the year, that would be foolish. You know the drill with these articles, I have seen something interesting and I want to make the case that maybe, just maybe, a pitcher will be better than expected in the next month or two.

Let’s establish our baseline. Here’s what Jordan Zimmermann has done over his last two seasons leading up to 2018:

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Waiver Wire Week 14: 10 SP Targets

Each week I look at the collection of starting pitchers owned in under 30% of leagues (consensus Yahoo/ESPN ownership from Fantasy pros) with a few extra sub 10% discount options at the end, pointing out the options to consider if you need an extra arm or two at the end of your staff.

Let’s highlight my ten favorite starting pitcher options that may be available on your waiver wires, roughly ordered from top to bottom:

Under 30% Owned

Zack Wheeler (New York Mets) – Wheeler is finally getting proper time in the Mets rotation and he’s developing into a dependable arm, featuring a 2.73 ERA with a 27% strikeout rate and 9% walk rate across his last four starts. A 13.2% over whiff rate and a double-digit mark in each of these starts is a product of both increased velocity (97.1mph average four-seamer!) and an increased reliance on his slider. Get on board before your entire league catches on.

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Pitcher Spotlight: It’s Time For Nick Kingham

For the second week in a row, I’m going to bring up Chad Kuhl. After last week’s entertaining disappointment against the Diamondbacks, Kuhl was removed after four frames against the Mets on Tuesday with forearm discomfort.

I am not bringing up Kuhl in an act of self-depreciation, despite how often I rely on it. Rather, his potential longterm removal from the Pirates rotation means that Nick Kingham could soon hold a firm grip on the #5 spot in Pittsburgh.

I think you see where this is going. A pitcher that is currently owned in under 10% of fantasy leagues, an arm that with consistent playing time could return top-5o starting pitcher production, a rookie who holds a sub 1.00 WHIP, 24% strikeout rate, and 12% whiff rate may suddenly be getting a whole lot of playing time.

Let’s take a dive into what Kingham does on the field and how it could translate into a potential league-winning pickup.

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Waiver Wire Week 13: 10 SP Targets

We’re changing it up a little this week, formerly looking at the collection of starting pitchers owned in under 15% of leagues (consensus Yahoo/ESPN ownership from Fantasy pros) and moving toward a 30% threshold, with a few extra sub 10% discount options at the end, pointing out the options to consider if you need an extra arm or two at the end of your staff.

Let’s highlight my ten favorite starting pitcher options that may be available on your waiver wires, roughly ordered from top to bottom:

Under 30% Owned

Nick Kingham (Pittsburgh Pirates) – With Chad Kuhl leaving Tuesday’s game with forearm discomfort, it’s possible Kuhl heads to the DL for a significant amount of time, with Kingham taking his place as soon as this weekend. Kingham’s skill set speaks to a Top 60 starter if not higher with excellent fastball command and a swing-and-miss heavy slider. It’s a 1-2 punch that makes him 12-team relevant regardless of the rest of his arsenal and with a secure role in the rotation, Kingham could be in for a fantastic second half.

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Pitcher Spotlight: Chad Kuhl May Have Figured It Out

I’m taking a chance today, posting this piece just an hour before Chad Kuhl takes the hill against the Brewers. Yesterday’s game was postponed, forcing me to take a leap of faith today, but I know what I see and I’m going to talk about it anyway.

We’ve been waiting for Kuhl to have consistent fantasy relevancy since his call-up in 2016, but it’s been a laborious two years. Back-to-back seasons with a WHIP over 1.30 and an ERA well north of 4.00 have done little to inspire hope, as his strikeout rate has hovered 20%.

However, Kuhl’s last four starts have been successful and I could be more than just a blip on the radar. I actually think it’s going to stick.

Chad Kuhl’s 2018 Season
ERA HR/FB Soft Contact Whiff% Slider usage Fastball usage
First ten starts 4.20 16.7% 15.4% 9.1% 16.1% 61.3%
Last four starts 2.70 8.3% 21.7% 11.1% 28.5% 51.4%

That’s a table comparing Kuhl’s first ten starts of 2018 to his last four, including a bit of a pitch mix adjustment as Kuhl is suddenly throwing his slide piece over 30% of the time as he pulls back from his fastball.

Why is this important? Because Kuhl’s slider is incredible and his fastball is terrible.

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Waiver Wire Week 12: 10 Widely Available SPs

Each week through the season, I’ll be looking at the collection of starting pitchers owned in under 15% of leagues (consensus Yahoo/ESPN ownership from Fantasy pros) and pointing out the options to consider if you need an extra arm or two at the end of your staff.

It’s been another week of Fantasy Baseball, and the waiver wire has shifted. Let’s highlight my ten favorites, roughly ordered from top to bottom:

Shane Bieber (Cleveland Indians) – The only reason Bieber qualifies is his lack of security inside the Indians rotation. It’s possible he only sticks for one more start – Thursday against the Tigers – as Carlos Carrasco returns from his short DL stint, but the possibility that he gets more starts alone should be enough to grab in most leagues now. And even if it’s just for one start, his control-heavy approach with a good fastball and solid secondary offerings make him a good play for Thursday’s matchup.

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Pitcher Spotlight: Matt Strahm, The Starter

For those that are familiar with my work may know that Matt Strahm is a bit of an inside joke. Entering 2017, I labeled him as a dark horse sleeper, possibly in position to steal the #5 spot in the Royals rotation and transform from a shadow on the wire into surprising fantasy relevancy.

That didn’t go so well – the Royals signed Jason HammelStrahm struggled as a reliever, got knee surgery, and was shipped off to San Diego in the Trevor Cahill deal. My vision was put on the backburner.

But it’s June 15th, 2018, where the Padres have had to deal with injuries to Dinelson Lamet and Joey Lucchesi, and a demotion of Luis Perdomo after struggling like car tires in a swamp. The door has opened for Strahm to get a spotlight as a starter – albeit in “bullpen games” – and it’s time to consider what that could be. We may have to wait until the second half (or maybe 2019!) to see Strahm stretched out and penciled into the rotation, but I want to make sure he is on your radar. I want to show you why you’ll probably consider picking up Matt Strahm this season.

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Waiver Wire Week 11: 10 Widely Available SPs

Each week through the season, I’ll be looking at the collection of starting pitchers owned in under 15% of leagues (consensus Yahoo/ESPN ownership from Fantasy pros) and pointing out the options to consider if you need an extra arm or two at the end of your staff.

It’s been another week of Fantasy Baseball, and the waiver wire has shifted. Let’s highlight my ten favorites, roughly ordered from top to bottom:

Marco Estrada (Toronto Blue Jays) – This could be nothing, but it could be something as Marco Estrada has dominated in his last two starts, allowing 3 ER in 12 frames against the Yankees and Orioles, posting a wonderful 15/1 strikeout per walk ratio. His fastball has been toxic through the season, but has performed wildly better in these starts, suggesting that maybe, just maybe, a corner has been turned that could spell better days. One more great start will exile him from this weekly article, and this might be your only chance to act.

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