Sleeper #2

By JCMcLaughlin
Jan. 31, 2017

I really disdain pitching in fantasy sports. I mean, I know I have to have it, but I don't think I have ever owned Clayton Kershaw. And while I have owned guys like Max Scherzer, it was while he played in the desert. There are two big reasons why I don't invest heavily in pitching. First, injury volatility is pretty high and even with top of the line guys. Strasburg, recently Kershaw, less recently Wainwright. It's not shocking to see Stras go down but guys like Kershaw and Waino can be here today and gone tomorrow for your season, too. If that's your 1st, 2nd, 3rd round pick that really hurts. The second reason I don't invest heavily is that you can find pitching. Every year you can find pitching. Even in deep leagues you can find pitching. And do you know why? Because chicks dig the long ball. And so do middle-aged balding dudes. Hitters still seem to take the majority of the attention. I don't know how else to measure it, but if you recorded the all baseball highlight shows, and timed the amount of coverage that focused on the hitting versus the amount of time that focused on pitching I think you would see what I am talking about. When I get an assistant I will have them do stuff like that. I will also call them by the wrong name just so they know who's the boss.

One of the under the radar pitchers out there is Michael Pineda. That is odd to me, that I would think of a Yankee as under the radar. This is the second one in a row, after. I mean, it's the freaking Yankees! Nothing is under the radar with them.  Actually that's not true anymore. Their whole team is under the radar. I don't mean that as a slight. They have just done a good job of gathering players (mostly through the draft) that are good, but haven't hit the main stage yet. I am kind of guessing that happens this year, and their team is a surprise playoff team. The rotation is the potential downfall. That's no small hurdle. Anyway. 

Pineda was up and down last year. At time he was unusable, April and May. And at times he was one of the hottest guys going for stretches, June and Sept. The one constant he had was the strikeouts. He only had one month with a k/9 under 9, August. And really it wasn't much under 9. He finished the year with 175.2 innings and 207 strikeouts. That K/9 rate of 10.605 was good for 5th in baseball. His strikeout total was 11th. Right off the bat, we know he is going to really help in at least one category. I already said that I think the Yanks as a team will be better so I assume some more wins will come, but you don't chase wins so lets not count those. Wins are just gravy on top of a good pitcher chicken fried steak. You can live without a ton of gravy because what you are eating is good by itself. Although more gravy is better. 

His WHIP was 54th, so not great, but walks weren't the problem. Hits were. He gave up 184. I often look at this stat as an indicator of how a pitcher really preformed. It's not the end all be all, nothing is, but it does show some luck if the pitcher received any. Ideally, the pitcher stays below .250 in batting average against. That means they gave up less than one hit per inning on roughly. When I see BAA of +.250 I start to really eyeball the pitcher. I need to see some positives. Pineda's BAA isn't sky high, but I need to see some other things to justify grabbing him. One thing that I noticed is the BABIP against him. It IS sky high. .353. Second highest in MLB, behind Robbie Ray, another guy I may write about soon. His hr rate is high too. So a considerable amount of hard against this guy. I am really painting a great picture of him, huh? Don't trip over yourself running to draft him. 

So what is is about him I like besides the Ks? He actually has some pretty redeeming qualities. First, he is a biiiiig dude. 6'7" 260. He should be able to handle a high innings load. Not imperative for fantasy but nicer than the alternative I think. He has good velocity. Again, not all that important, directly, for fantasy, but when push comes to shove I am drafting hard throwers over soft tossers. Most importantly he looks like he has had some bad luck. If you know anything about BABIP for hitters you know that one thing it almost always shows is if the player got lucky. Certain qualities raise or lower BABIP, but there are seasons that are lucky for hitters. And the same for pitchers. Dan Strailey led pitchers with a .243 BABIP last year. I bet he doesn't do that again. This is two years in a row that Pineda has had a high BABIP, but those are career exceptions if we look at his entire professional career. I think there is a pretty good chance we are looking at a pitcher that got unlucky on balls in play two years in a row. 

His FIP would say so. He had a FIP of 3.80. If that were his ERA he would be going much earlier in drafts. Even an era of 4.00 and there would still be a significant movement to draft him higher. There are some other flies. Home runs for instance. His 17% hr/fb ratio is well above the league avg of 10%. But it's above his career avg of 11%. It seems like I am trying to force the issue here when there isn't really a case to be made for him, I know. If I cited one stat that was unlucky, sure. But I keep giving you poor stats and explaining why they were bad luck. Sometimes though a season can just go that badly for a player. I have already mentioned him but Robbie Ray is an even more extreme example of this. Great K rate. Completely dominating at times. sub-par era, WHIP, and win total. 

Pineda has shown his upside. His rookie year in Seattle was great (although not drastically different than 2016). If he where to strikeout 220 with an ERA in the threes it wouldn't surprise me at all, and it wouldn't take much more than his BABIP, and HR/FB normalizing. The guy is going to have to get a little more of a plan while on the mound for sure. He is still a thrower, and he needs to make the transition to a pitcher. Hopefully Gary Sanchez can help with that. We will see. But I like Pineda as a guy that won't cost an arm and a leg and has upside. A lot of upside. Like win you your league upside. And if he is the guy we saw in 2016, then, meh, pitch him when he is hot and take the extra Ks.