Fantasy Baseball: Eight breakout pitchers for the second half
Wondering how you can save your pitching staff? Scott White has eight breakout picks for the second half.
If you follow my work closely, none of these names will surprise you. They're pitchers I've liked from the beginning and continue to like for many of the same reasons.
For some, the math still doesn't add up. Others have shown clear signs of improvement. All still offer reason for optimism and the potential to be every-week type of contributors in Fantasy.
If you're looking for upside on the pitching side of things, you can come about it more affordably with these eight.
You can chalk up Jon Gray's recent stint in the minors, which lasted all of two starts, to a mathematical breakdown. Judging by the metrics we usually care about, he has been one of the most overpowering pitchers in baseball this year — and vastly improved from past years — with both a top-12 swinging strike rate and a top-12 FIP. But uncommon struggles with men on base sort of blew up the equation. Maybe he's fixed now — his first start back from the minors certainly looked good — but he doesn't inspire a lot of confidence for a guy with a path to ace numbers. That's your cue to act.
You know who else has a top-12 swinging strike rate? Domingo German. Actually, his is top five, behind just Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, Jacob deGrom and Patrick Corbin. That metric is the single strongest indicator of studliness among starting pitchers, its leaderboard reading like a Cy Young ballot every year, and German, as a fairly low-profile rookie, has been as good as they come. And he's done it with three pitches that account for the whiffs almost equally. Most pitchers lean on one or two.
German has had starts where he's looked as good as the numbers suggest, but at times, his command has escaped him, leading to home runs, walks and an ERA over 5.00. Seems like a relatively small hurdle to clear, though.
Remember when Danny Duffy first found his footing as a starter two years ago? He looked like an ace at times — certainly a big strikeout pitcher — and velocity had a little something to do with it. When that velocity faded last year, he lost some of his helium, and it continued to escape with his struggles early this year.
But he has been a different pitcher over his past seven starts, striking out at least seven in five of them with a 2.66 ERA, and it comes just when his velocity's beginning to pick up again. It's not quite where it was two years ago, but it's better than at any point last year, and batters are swinging and missing more as a result. The helium is back.
Like Duffy, this one is more of a bounce-back than a true breakout, but I didn't want to miss the chance to point out some positive developments for one of my favorite preseason picks. What made Zack Godley the out-of-nowhere hit he was last year was his curveball, an elite swing-and-miss pitch that he began featuring more prominently with devastating results. He featured it just as prominently throughout his struggles early this year, but it didn't have the same bite. He was walking hitters instead of fooling them.
There were mechanical issues and a crisis of confidence along the way, but whatever the reason, he seems to be back. His swinging strikes are way up over his past eight appearances, seven of them starts, and most of it is attributable to the curveball. He has a 3.79 ERA during that stretch that would be even better if he hadn't allowed so many line drives, but he's been such an extreme ground-ball pitcher throughout his career (including earlier this year) that I don't worry about that part so much. His consistency is still in question, but he's clearly trending up.
How dare a reliever sneak into this starting pitcher discussion! Look, relievers are pitchers, too, and when it's a question of saves, it can make for a dramatic shift in value. A.J. Minter is currently in line for saves for the Braves, but that's only because Arodys Vizcaino is on the DL with a shoulder issue that's not considered serious. The change at closer isn't thought to be long-term, in other words.
But it's Vizcaino's second DL stint for the same injury. The Braves toyed with the idea of giving Minter more chances even when Vizcaino was healthy, and the left-hander seems to be relishing his recent opportunities, looking more like the closer-in-waiting he was presumed to be with a fastball approaching triple digits. The guy had 26 strikeouts to two walks in 15 innings last year and, after a slow start, has 21 strikeouts to two walks over his past 16 2/3 innings this year.
I'm not sure Vizcaino is getting his job back.
It just doesn't add up for Kevin Gausman. No matter how you measure it, he should be getting more strikeouts than he is. He has the best swinging strike rate of his career — the 22nd-best among qualifying pitchers — and yet he has only 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings. He's throwing his best swing-and-miss pitch, the splitter, at a rate he didn't start throwing it until his final 19 starts last year, when he recorded 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings, and yet he has only 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings. He's walking fewer batters, throwing as hard as ever, delivering the same batted-ball profile as always, and yet he has only 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings.
He's doing everything as well or better than before, and yet it's his worst strikeout rate since his rookie 2014 season. It doesn't add up. The strikeouts have to go up, and when they do, the ERA and WHIP will go down.
You remember the elite swinging strike rate for German? Kind of the same story here. Castillo's ranks 10th in all of baseball and has been falling, but it still ranks up there with Fantasy standouts like Blake Snell and Lance McCullers. His changeup is a thing of beauty, and the upside, as we saw last year, is tantalizing. I'm beginning to lose faith, though, because unlike German, the standout starts have been few and far between.
There was a three-start stretch at the beginning of May when he seemed to be trending in the right direction, and I imagine things could turn around just as quickly for Castillo now. He's kind of a mess at the moment, though, so this one is more of a cross-your-fingers-type pick than one with real momentum.
In what would be a breakout in a truer sense than for most of the pitchers on this list, I foresee big things for Shane Bieber, who if nothing else in seven big-league starts has demonstrated an uncanny ability to throw strikes, issuing just eight walks between them. Factor in his time in the minors, and he's up to 14 walks in 19 starts. Being able to command his pitches so well is big advantage for someone straight out of the minors.
He doesn't seem to be just a one-trick pony, though, recording nearly a strikeout per inning with an above-average swinging strike rate. Most impressive to me, though, is that he has a 3.53 ERA despite an inflated .362 BABIP. He's efficient enough to throw six-plus innings consistently, he's built for a low FIP, and he's with an organization with an outstanding track record of developing pitchers. What's not to like?
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