Fantasy Baseball: Five more who might be aces, including Chris Paddack and Caleb Smith
Heath Cummings looks at five more starting pitchers who are looking more and more like aces.
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Three weeks ago Luis Castillo, Jose Berrios, German Marquez, Tyler Glasnow and Shane Bieber haven't done anything since to make me think they aren't aces. Marquez still has things to prove at Coors, Berrios and Bieber have somewhat troubling peripherals and even Castillo and Glasnow need to show consistency. But I'd say they all definitely still fit in the 'might be aces' category.who might be aces. And honestly,
But they aren't alone. Not by a long shot. Here are five more starters who are off to blazing starts this season. Yes, they might be aces as well.
There's really nothing in Chris Paddack's professional career other than ace-level performance. In 2015 he threw 45.1 innings as a 19-year-old in Rookie ball and posted a 2.18 ERA. A year later he had an absurd 0.85 ERA with 71 strikeouts in 42 innings. Last season he split between High-A and Double-A, striking out 120 batters in 90 innings with a 2.10 ERA. All he's done this year is lead the NL in ERA and WHIP with a 46-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
He's essentially a two-pitch pitcher, plus a curveball he throws 10% of the time. But with both his fastball and changeup generating a k% above 30%, that's OK. The fastball isn't exceptionally fast, but the fact that it's separated by 10 miles per hour from the changeup definitely helps.
Since we are still talking about a relatively small sample size, I understand questioning whether the league will catch up to Paddack, that's just not the biggest question. Scott White's definition of an ace requires something close to 200 innings pitched and Paddack has virtually no chance at that number this season. The Padres have only let him throw 90 pitches once in a game this season (that's been okay because he's been so efficient) and it's really hard to imagine they let him top 160 innings this season (his professional high in 90).
Paddack certainly looks like an ace right now, and I could believe he'll be one on a per-inning basis. If he does it for 150-plus innings this season, we'll be drafting him like an ace in 2020.
At the beginning of the year when my fellow podcasters gave the Marlins pitchers the 'Stallions' moniker, I may have been a bit skeptical. But Caleb Smith has been as exciting as any pitcher in baseball. His 34.8% K% is amongst the league's best and he's improved his control, lowering his walk rate to 7.5%. He has a 2.88 FIP and a 3.05 SIERA, both of which rank in the top 10 in the league.
Smith has a more diverse arsenal than Paddack, with a changeup and a slider that have both generated a whiff rate above 40%. His fastball isn't bad, but it's been his least successful pitch, and he's wisely not throwing it as often. He's also been more efficient and consistent so far in 2019, with six straight starts of at least six innings.
Smith benefits from a pitcher-friendly home park, but that's the only positive about his situation. He's supported by the worst offense in baseball, and those hitters haven't been that much better with their gloves. Depending on which metric you use, the Marlins rank somewhere in the lower third of the league defensively. Smith has pitched like an ace so far in 2019, but whether he ranks as one in Fantasy at the end of the year may be determined by just how bad the rest of the Marlins are.
Like Smith, Matthew Boyd is lefty on a bad team who has made major improvements in 2019. He also has a slider that has been one of the best in baseball, and that pitch really tells the story of Boyd's improvement. The pitch has a 44.6% whiff rate and batters have just a .205 xWOBA against it.
Boyd technically has five pitches, but he's made strides this season by consolidating. Last year he threw his change, curve and sinker a combined 37% of the time. This year all three pitches are below 10%, and 85% of his pitches are either a four-seam fastball or his slider.
The key will come in the next few months with how hitters adjust. We've seen pitchers have immediate success by adjusting their arsenal, but it's also true that the league catches up to those changes sometimes. Unless that happens, it's hard to see how Boyd isn't an ace.
In spring training we weren't even sure Domingo German would find a spot on the major league roster. So far, he's been the team's best starter. Even if everyone was healthy (they won't be until at least after the All Star Game), it's hard to imagine a Yankees rotation without German.
Despite having an ERA that ranks in the top 10 in the league, I feel less certain about German's place in this category. His K% (25.8%) has actually gone down since last season and he doesn't have elite peripherals. One of the biggest reasons for German's success is the .204 BABIP-against and a 5.1% HR/FB rate. Neither of those numbers are sustainable, especially since he pitches half of his games in Yankee Stadium.
German's success has been extremely valuable to the Yankees, but the best value a Fantasy owner may get out of him moving forward is as a sell-high candidate. German looks like a good starting pitcher, but he's no ace.
At first glance, Charlie Morton stands out in this group because of his age. Yes, he's 35 years old, but it might be helpful to think of him as having been reborn as a pitcher in 2017. After all, that's when he went to Houston and we know the magic they can work with starting pitchers.
Since the start of that 2017 season he has a 3.26 ERA, a 1.17 WHIP and 412 strikeouts in 353 innings. In 2019 he's been even better. His K% is a career-high 30% and his FIP (2.96) would also be a career-best. He's done it by throwing his curveball (maybe the best in baseball) more than ever and cutting back on his four-seam fastball and cutter, neither of which was effective in 2018.
I feel more confident in Morton's status on a per-inning basis than any pitcher on this list. But like Paddack, there's plenty of reason to worry about the innings. Morton has never thrown more than 171.2 innings in the major leagues. Last season was the first he has ever made even 30 starts. As good as he's been in 2019, he's still averaging fewer than six innings per start. Enjoy the ace-level production you get from Morton, just don't expect 180 innings of it.
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