Marcus Stroman earned the centerpiece spot in last week's Prospect Watch, and shortly thereafter, the Blue Jays promoted him to the majors. I'm not saying we had anything to do with it, but that Alex Anthopoulos sure is a genius, isn't he?
With flattery of the Toronto GM taken care of, let's get to the business at hand. Stroman forced his way to the majors after absolutely dominating at Triple-A Buffalo. In 26 2/3 innings, Stroman posted a 1.69 ERA, 1.58 FIP, 1.09 WHIP and 36 strikeouts against seven walks. He saved his best performance of the season for what was likely his last appearance in the minors for a long time, striking out 10 across six hitless innings against the Reds' Triple-A affiliate, walking one batter for his only baserunner of the outing.
Right now, it appears that Stroman is only owned in deep or savvy leagues, but that likely won't be the case for long. He was the No. 52-ranked prospect in baseball, according to MLB.com, heading into the season, and his brief stint at Buffalo put him on the radar of the entire fantasy community.
The Blue Jays have issues all across the starting pitching staff. Dustin McGowan and R.A. Dickey have both struggled this year. Mark Buehrle has pitched well, but his peripheral stats and recent track record suggest regression is on the horizon. Drew Hutchison doesn't look like more than a backend guy, and J.A. Happ made his starting debut on Monday.
The bullpen hasn't been much better. Closer Casey Janssen has been on the DL all season, and that has led to unrest in the bullpen since Opening Day. Sergio Santos just gave way to Aaron Loup in the ninth, though there's no telling if the team will have a true closer before Janssen returns. The Blue Jays have the fifth-highest ERA at 4.65, and they've surrendered the fourth-most earned runs, 141, tied with the Rockies and Twins. Clearly, they needed the help that Stroman can provide.
While the rookie will start out in the bullpen -- he already gave up a run and a hit in 2/3 of an inning in his major league debut -- chances are he will break into the rotation at some point in the not-too-distant future. Given his strikeout potential and the likelihood that he remains in the rotation for the rest of the year, Stroman should be considered a quality pickup in 12-team mixed and AL-only leagues.
Pitchers of the week
Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins -- Last week: 15 IP, 1 W, 18 K, 1.20 ERA, 0.87 WHIP
Maybe we should have a section of this column titled "Pitcher of Every Week" where we celebrate Fernandez's exploits on a weekly basis. The now reigning NL Pitcher of the Month for April surrendered two earned runs and seven hits in 15 innings against the Dodgers and Braves. He also registered his third double-digit strikeout game in his last four outings.
Sonny Gray, Oakland A's -- 15 IP, 1 W, 9 K, 1.20 ERA, 0.80 WHIP
Gray didn't post the gaudy strikeout totals we're used to seeing from him, but that's about all he didn't do in his starts against the Rangers and Red Sox last week. First, he threw a complete game shutout in Texas, allowing just three hits and fanning six while besting Yu Darvish. He followed that up by allowing two runs in six innings in Boston.
Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox -- 8 IP, 1 W, 15 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.38 WHIP
Lester turned in one of the singular pitching performances of the season thus far, striking out 15 in eight shutout innings against the A's. Only three batters reached base against him, and just one of those was by virtue of a hit, a leadoff single by Craig Gentry in the third inning.
Pitchers of the weak
CC Sabathia, New York Yankees -- 8 2/3 IP, 9 K, 9.35 ERA, 2.31 WHIP
Sabathia was shelled in starts against the Mariners and Rays, allowing a combined nine runs on 19 hits in 8 2/3 innings. He did give his owners more than a strikeout per inning, but that didn't come anywhere near offsetting the damage he did in both major rate categories.
Aaron Harang, Atlanta Braves -- 4 2/3 IP, 4 K, 17.36 ERA, 2.36 WHIP
The cold, hard truth of regression smacked Harang in the face in a start against the Marlins on Wednesday. He gave up nine runs on 10 hits and a walk in 4 2/3 innings, taking his second loss of the season. He's obviously not as bad as he looked against the Marlins, but he isn't as good as he was while baffling hitters for most of April, either.
Alex Wood, Atlanta Braves -- 10 IP, 9 K, 8.10 ERA, 1.90 WHIP
There were other pitchers who had worse overall weeks than Wood, but they are not as widely owned, and therefore their struggles were not felt across a wide swath of the fantasy community. While Wood did bounce back in his second start of the week, he gout touched up for seven runs on 10 hits in five innings by the Marlins. He also struck out a season-low two batters in that start.
Buy, sell or hold
Buy: Marco Estrada, Milwaukee Brewers -- There is admittedly some good fortune lurking in Estrada's strong start to the season. He has a .245 BABIP and 86.5-percent strand rate, both of which are unlikely to last and help explain why his 3.13 ERA is accompanied by a 4.63 FIP. At the same time, his line-drive rate is 13.9 percent and his changeup is producing a 20.6-percent swinging-strike rate. He has upped the frequency of the pitch to 30.1 percent this year, and it's helping to drive his impressive surface numbers. Despite reason to believe a bit of regression may be in the cards, Estrada is a strong buy.
Sell: Jason Hammel, Chicago Cubs -- Hammel cannot be ignored any longer, not now that he's owned in more than half of fantasy leagues. He certainly deserves credit for going 4-1 with a 2.43 ERA and 32 strikeouts against nine walks in 40 2/3 innings thus far. However, if some of Estrada's numbers suggest potential regression, Hammel's peripherals are shouting it from the mountaintops. He has a .181 BABIP and 84.6-percent strand rate. The BABIP is particularly egregious given an average 16.4-percent line-drive rate and a 1.14 GB/FB ratio. While getting more grounders than fly balls should keep his opponents' slugging percentage down, it should also result in more balls finding holes. He's also unlikely to maintain a 21.2-percent strikeout rate that is nearly five percentage points higher than his career average.
Hold: Dillon Gee, New York Mets -- There has been a breakout season hiding in Gee's numbers for a few years now, and there's a chance we are in the midst of that season. On the one hand, there has been some good. Gee has cut his line-drive rate and HR/FB ratio. His strikeout rate is up a bit over his career numbers and his average fastball velocity, while not increasing, remains flat. Where his slider cost him 0.55 runs per 100 offerings last year according to Fangraphs, it's saving him 2.21 runs this season. On the other, neither Gee's BABIP (.218) nor strand rate (85.4 percent) pass the smell test. His FIP is north of 4.00, portending of a mean regression around the corner. You shouldn't be looking to sell him at all costs, but be open to a deal that might be presented.
Rookie pitcher spotlight
Roenis Elias, SP, Seattle Mariners
Left-handed pitchers are always going to be on the wrong side of the platoon advantage more often than not. For any southpaw to succeed, they need an out pitch that can retire right-handed batters with consistency. For a lot of the great lefties in recent memory -- Johan Santana, Cliff Lee, Chris Sale, Cole Hamels -- that pitch has been a changeup. That is not the case for Elias, Seattle's 25-year-old rookie. While a change is typically the best pitch to offset a platoon advantage, given the way it looks the same as a fastball coming out of the pitcher's hand, yet tails when it gets close to the hitting zone, Elias relies on his filthy curveball. In just the first 30 seconds of this clip, he makes Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano look foolish with the hook.
Indeed, no right-handed batter has been able to do much of anything against Elias' curveball this season. According to Brooks Baseball, Elias has thrown the pitch 81 times to righties this year, his third most-frequent offering to righties besides, predictably, his four-seam fastball and changeup. Righties are hitting .091/.179/.091 on those 81 deuces. They have a 19.8 swinging-strike percentage against the pitch that increases to 41 percent when isolating for just the curveballs at which they have swung.
Overall, Elias has been solid for the Mariners this season, posting a 3.09 ERA, 3.93 FIP, 1.31 WHIP and 31 strikeouts in 35 innings. His BABIP is .290 and his strand rate is 74.8 percent, both of which are sustainable over the entire season. Thanks to his devilish curveball, he should be able to maintain better-than-average performance against righties, as well. He's regularly available, but really should be considered in deeper mixed leagues.
By the numbers
55 -- Innings pitched by Johnny Cueto in seven starts, coming up just short of an average of eight frames per outing. Cueto has gone at least seven innings in every start this season, and has made it through eight, including two complete games, each of his last four times out. Not only has he rebounded from last year's injury-riddled season, he's among the too-early leaders for the NL Cy Young Award.
10 -- Percentage of balls in play allowed by Nathan Eovaldi that have been line drives. Despite that, he has a .303 BABIP. His performance thus far has not been a mirage.
65 -- Strikeouts for Jose Fernandez in 46 2/3 innings pitched this season. His 12.54 K/9 is second in the majors to Stephen Strasburg's 13.05. Given that Fernandez has been more efficient with his pitches, he's has fanned the most batters to this point -- not Strasburg. With Clayton Kershaw sacrificing six weeks of the season to a back injury, expect those two to battle it out for the NL strikeout crown.
21.9 -- Coincidentally, the HR/FB ratio for Masahiro Tanaka, Homer Bailey, CC Sabathia and Brandon McCarthy this season. What's more, none of them is close to another one in fly-ball rate. Just one of the statistical quirks we see all the time in this sport.
96.7 -- Average fastball velocity for Yordano Ventura, tops in the majors. He's throwing the pitch nearly 60 percent of the time, and while he'll have to further develop his secondary offerings to fully realize his potential, the blazing fastball is doing plenty for him right now.