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Fantasy Baseball Today

Looking for buy-low candidates at pitcher

By Chris Towers | CBSSports.com

Things could be looking up for Brandon McCarthy in the future. (USATSI)
Things could be looking up for Brandon McCarthy in the future. (USATSI)

One of the many ripple effects of the rash of pitchers dealing with arm injuries earlier in the season is that depth across the league has been tested.

For Fantasy owners, the losses of the likes of Matt Harvey, Jose Fernandez and Patrick Corbin has meant that less dependable pitchers have been thrust into starting roles unexpectedly.

And, while the out-of-nowhere ascension of guys like Garrett Richards, Mark Buehrle and Henderson Alvarez to the ace-level has helped -- so far, at least -- there are plenty of pitchers struggling to live up to expectations as well. The Fantasy owners who are able to identify the pitchers most likely to improve in the second-half of the season will be those who are ahead of the competition.

In his early-season primer on advance stats, Chris Cwik went into how xFIP can be used to give us a better idea of a pitcher's true talent level. This is accomplished by removing the impact of poor defense (out of the pitcher's control) or poor luck on fly balls, to get a truer image of how well a pitcher is actually throwing.

Below is a list of the 10 pitchers with the biggest negative gap between ERA and xFIP so far:

NameERAxFIPERA - xFIP
Brandon McCarthy5.112.912.20
Ricky Nolasco5.744.071.67
Edwin Jackson5.223.821.40
Wade Miley4.783.481.30
David Price3.632.531.10
Stephen Strasburg3.702.611.09
Justin Masterson5.033.961.07
Homer Bailey4.393.420.97
Eric Stults5.364.440.92
Ian Kennedy4.013.130.88

The first thing to know from this list is that history has shown that not all pitchers are equally likely to regress to their xFIP. For whatever reason, some pitchers' production consistently does not match up with their fielding independent pitching stats. Matt Cain was long a good example on the positive side, while Ricky Nolasco and Edwin Jackson might just be the poster boys of the negative side.

The pitchers who struggle to match their peripherals tend to be those who nibble at the strike zone a bit too much with subpar stuff. Nolasco and Eric Stults fit right into this category, and are good examples of how this sort of exercise can mislead if context isn't taken into account. Even if Stults and Nolasco were able to match their xFIP, they would hardly be the type of pitchers you want to go out chasing.

However, there are a handful of names on this list that just might be worth your time. Price and Strasburg are mostly living up to their reputations as two of the best pitchers in baseball, and their ERA's will likely match that by the end of the year. Unfortunately, their Fantasy owners might not be too interested in moving on from them; they know how good these guys are.


Brandon McCarthy has been one of the hardest pitchers in the league to figure out this season. He has begun to rely on his sinker more, but has become more of a swing-and-miss pitcher than ever in spite of that. An obvious reason for that is that his velocity is up a few ticks across the board, leading to an 8.2 swinging-strike percentage which is by far his highest since brief tryouts with the White Sox early in his career.

McCarthy is inducing a ton of groundballs thanks to that hard sinker, but one in five of his flyballs has still left the yard. Coupled with a .338 BABIP that stands as the fourth-highest for any qualified pitcher, it is easy to see where his problems are coming from. However, McCarthy's line-drive percentage is nearly identical to his career mark, indicating his BABIP could be in line for regression.

Additionally, 46.7 percent of his 15 home runs allowed have cleared the fence by just 10 vertical feet; compared to just 31.99 percent for the league as a whole. McCarthy even had one home run pop out of his center fielder's glove early in the season. That is the type of play that scream's "unlucky."

McCarthy is unlikely to be an ace from this point on, but he might settle in as mid-3's ERA pitcher, and one who is owned in just 13 percent of CBSSports.com leagues right now.


The remainder of the names on the list aren't nearly as available as McCarthy is, but you might be able to pry them out of a disappointed owner for cheaper than his long-term value might suggest.

As Wade Miley showed with his eight-inning, 10-strikeout game Tuesday, this stuff can turn around quickly.

 
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