Here in the Pitching Report, we admittedly don’t give much love to closers. Their job is important, if a bit overstated, but it’s typically a lot more interesting to analyze a starter than it is a reliever. Every now and again, however, one reliever pitches so well or achieves something so unexpected that we cannot sit idly by and pretend it isn’t happening. The Mets’ Jeurys Familia is doing just that in 2015.
First of all, it’s a surprise that Familia is in the closer’s chair at all, let alone the fact that he has turned it into a throne from which he rules the ninth inning. It took a few events, completely out of his control, to get him the job. First, Bobby Parnell’s return from Tommy John surgery went slower than expected, keeping the former closer on the DL for the first two-plus months of the 2015 season (he’s set to return later this week). Then, Jenrry Mejia, who closed for most of 2014 with Parnell on the DL, suffered an injury of his own and tested positive for a banned substance, earning himself an 80-game suspension. Familia stepped into the gap, becoming arguably the best closer in baseball this year. He has converted 17 of his 18 save opportunities, and sports a tidy 1.30 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 32 strikeouts against seven walks in 27 2/3 innings.
The 25-year-old Familia had a solid year as a setup man in 2014, his first full season in the majors. He made 76 appearances, amassing a 2.21 ERA, 3.49 xFIP, 1.18 WHIP and 73 strikeouts in 77 1/3 innings. He was primarily a sinker-slider pitcher, though he did throw his four-seam fastball 27.7% of the time. That brought him enough success for the Mets to turn to him once they lost Mejia in early April, but a change he made this season has elevated him to new heights.
For all intents and purposes, Familia has scrapped the four-seamer, throwing it just 13.6% of the time. He’s throwing more sinkers (56.8% usage rate) and sliders (26.8% usage rate), and it’s impossible to argue with the results. Hitters have managed just a .157 batting average and .216 slugging percentage with 11 strikeouts against the sinker. The slider, meanwhile, has limited hitters to a .091 batting average and .000 isolated slugging percentage—Familia has not allowed an extra-base hit on his slider this season. The sinker has a whiff rate of 15.1%, otherworldly for a fastball, while the slider’s whiff rate is at 30.2%.
Let’s take a look at each pitch, starting with the sinker. It helps that the offering sits at an average of 97.7 mph, but Familia has spotted it beautifully this season. Typically, this is a pitch he wants to bust in on righties’ hands and run away from lefties. His zone profile for the sinker shows he’s doing just that.
Here it is in action, getting a degree-of-difficulty strikeout against Paul Goldschmidt, who was the tying run.
On the flip side, he wants to keep the slider away from righties, generally using it as a chase pitch in plus-counts. As his zone profile for the pitch shows, he pretty much hasn’t missed his spot with it at all this season.
Here’s the slider making Giancarlo Stanton look foolish with the tying run on first base in what was eventually a five-out save for Familia.
Familia features two power pitches, throwing one to each side of the plate. He has exactly the repertoire to stick as a dominant closer for seasons to come. Perhaps even more impressive, he has done enough for us to recognize a closer in the Pitching Report.
And with that, let’s get back to starters. A whopping five pitchers won two starts last week, all doing so in dominant fashion. As such, all earned inclusion in the Pitchers of the Week.
Pitchers of the Week
Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays: 15 IP, 2 W, 26 K, 0.60 ERA, 0.80 WHIP
We may soon have to change the title of this section to “Pitchers of the Week not Named Archer,” because the Rays ace seemingly puts on great performances every week. Archer is in the midst of his most dominant stretch in what has been a breakout season. In his first start last week, he struck out a season-high 15 batters in eight innings, while allowing just one run on six hits in a win over the Angels.
Over the weekend, Archer fanned 11 Mariners in seven shutout innings, becoming the first pitcher in the modern era to make three consecutive starts with at least 10 strikeouts and zero walks. In those three starts he has allowed one run on 14 hits while striking out 38 batters in 23 innings. At this precise moment, there’s no better pitcher in the league than Archer. He next takes the ball on Saturday against the White Sox.
Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers: 15 IP, 2 W, 18 K, 1.20 ERA, 0.60 WHIP
Kershaw hasn’t turned up in this section nearly as much as we expect him to this season, but that doesn’t make him any more of a pleasure to face. He had his best week of the year over the last seven days, turning in a pair of shut-down performances against the Rockies and Cardinals. He first went into Coors Field and allowed just two runs on five hits while striking out seven batters in seven innings.
The Dodgers' pitcher topped that with a vintage performance on Saturday, throwing eight scoreless innings against the Cardinals, surrendering one hit, fanning 11 and walking just two. The overall numbers may be disappointing by his impossible standards, but he still has a 3.36 ERA, 2.19 xFIP, 1.06 WHIP and 101 strikeouts against 19 walks in 80 1/3 innings. Kershaw takes on the Padres in his next start on Friday.
Jacob deGrom, New York Mets: 15 IP, 2 W, 18 K, 1.20 ERA, 0.67 WHIP
If it weren’t for Archer, deGrom would probably be the hottest pitcher in baseball. He carried over his strong May performance right into June, notching wins over the Padres and Diamondbacks in his first two starts of the month. He was particularly nasty against San Diego, throwing eight shutout innings with eight strikeouts and allowing a total of two baserunners. He gave up two runs on five hits in seven innings to the Diamondbacks, but also struck out 10. In his last five starts, dating back to May 16, deGrom has allowed five runs and struck out 44 batters in 36 1/3 innings. His next start is Saturday against the Braves.
Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh Pirates: 14 IP, 2 W, 16 K, 0.00 ERA, 1.14 WHIP
If it weren’t for Archer and deGrom, Cole would probably be the hottest pitcher in baseball. He has won four consecutive starts, adding the Giants and Braves to his trophy room last week. He threw seven shutout innings in both contests, allowing a total of 11 hits while whiffing 16. Like deGrom, he has been essentially unhittable since the middle of May. Going back over his last five starts, Cole has allowed four runs and amassed 41 strikeouts in 35 1/3 innings. For the season, he’s 9-2 with a 1.73 ERA, 2.71 xFIP, 1.10 WHIP and 86 strikeouts in 78 innings. Given that shiny win total, he may be the current favorite to start the All-Star Game for the NL. Even if he doesn’t start, odds are he will be there for the first time in his career.
Jason Hammel, Chicago Cubs: 14 2/3 IP, 2 W, 18 K, 1.84 ERA, 0.82 WHIP
Hammel was the last of the two-win pitchers last week, picking up victories over the Marlins and Nationals. He made it through just 6 2/3 innings in Miami, though that likely had something to do with the career-high 11 strikeouts running up his pitch count, and fantasy owners were probably just fine living with that. He then held the Nationals to two runs on five hits in eight innings, fanning seven batters in his fifth win of the season. Hammel now sports a 2.76 ERA, 2.93 xFIP, 0.89 WHIP and 76 strikeouts against just nine walks in 75 innings this season. Hammel must really love hot dogs without ketchup or deep-dish pizza, because everything he has done in Chicago over the last two seasons has worked. In 183 2/3 innings with the Cubs dating back to 2014, essentially a full season, Hammel is 13-7 with a 2.89 ERA, 3.09 FIP, 0.97 WHIP and 180 strikeouts.
Pitchers of the Weak
Jeff Samardzija, Chicago White Sox: 12 1/3 IP, 9 K, 10.95 ERA, 1.95 WHIP
Unlike Hammel, Samardzija’s return to Chicago, albeit on the other side of town, has gone as terribly as possible. In 80 1/3 innings this year, he has a 4.93 ERA and 1.36 WHIP. His strikeouts are way down (18.1% strikeout rate, compared with 23% last year), and he’s surrendering more home runs. He just finished off one of his worst weeks of the season, allowing a total of 15 runs on 22 hits in 12 1/3 innings in losses to the Rangers and Tigers. Rather than being the No. 2 pitcher behind Chris Sale in what was supposed to be one of the best rotations in the AL, Samardzija has barely pitched above replacement level for the White Sox. He’ll oppose Archer and the Rays on Saturday.
Andrew Cashner, San Diego Padres: 10 1/3 IP, 14 K, 10.45 ERA, 2.32 WHIP
This is turning into a parade of Cubs draft picks, with Cashner joining Archer and Samardzija. Cashner, too, has been a disappointment this year, compiling a 4.05 ERA and 1.42 WHIP in 73 1/3 innings. He got knocked around by the Mets and Reds last week, though his offense saved him from a loss in Cincinnati. Cashner allowed five runs on 11 hits in just 4 2/3 innings against the Mets, but salvaged some fantasy value with 12 strikeouts in that outing. There was no silver lining against the Reds, however, as he surrendered seven runs on eight hits with just two strikeouts in 5 2/3 frames. Outside of an increased strikeout rate, Cashner has fallen far short of expectations this season. His next start is Thursday against the Braves.
Buy, sell or hold
Buy: Garrett Richards, Los Angeles Angels
There’s a chance that Richards’ recent performance, capped off by his brutal outing against the Yankees last week, has created a buying opportunity. In his last four starts, Richards has allowed 17 runs in 19 1/3 innings, lowlighted in the Bronx last week when he surrendered six runs while getting a grand total of two outs. This poor stretch in general, and the outing against the Yankees in particular, have skewed Richards’ season line to make it appear that he has only been mediocre this season. In reality, Richards has bounced back quite well from the gruesome knee injury that ended his 2014 campaign. He has a 4.14 ERA and 1.31 WHIP, but those numbers were at 3.26 and 1.21 before he got roughed up by the Yankees. His strikeout numbers are down from last season, but he’s still fanning a respectable 7.36 batters per nine innings. You shouldn’t pay a 2014 price for Richards, but you also wouldn’t have to unless you’re dealing with an incredibly unreasonable owner. Now’s the right time to check in and see if he can be had at a discount.
Sell: Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland Indians
Carrasco is an interesting case. Anecdotally, there’s reason to both buy and sell him. Whether you’d try to get rid of or acquire the righty depends a lot on your team context. For the sake of this exercise, we’ll assume your team is strong in pitching, especially in strikeouts. If that’s the case, you can afford to lose Carrasco, who simply has not shown the level of consistency that would make him a fantasy ace. He’s getting plenty of strikeouts, fanning 77 batters in 68 1/3 innings this year. That’s what will make him attractive on the market, especially to an owner in need of pitching help. At the same time, he has a 4.35 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and has made five starts this year in which he has allowed at least four earned runs. Most recently, he surrendered five runs in just four innings against the Orioles. You need to have the right roster mix to sell Carrasco aggressively, but he can provide a nice return to an owner who can afford to lose him.
Hold: Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees
Tanaka returned from the DL last week in sparkling fashion, pitching seven innings and allowing just one run while striking out nine in a win over the Mariners. What’s more, he needed just 78 pitches to get through seven innings. Tanaka is one of the harder pitchers to rank in the league. He has been very good in his four starts this year, compiling a 2.76 ERA, 0.82 WHIP and 33 strikeouts in 29 1/3 innings. At the same time, the specter of another injury looms over his head. He has legitimate top-10 upside, but because of the injury risk can be treated as nothing more than a top-25 pitcher. Owners in need of pitching can definitely pursue him, but should do so with their eyes wide open. Trading for Tanaka is a high-risk, high-reward play. Now that we’re into the second week of June, you should know if that’s the sort of move your team needs. If it is, Tanaka is a worthy trade target.
Steven Matz, New York Mets
You could forgive Matz if he feels a little overlooked. In the last three seasons, the Mets have brought Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard to the majors, with all three of them receiving the fanfare associated with being a high-profile promotion. Matz, as a result, has been left out of the spotlight, despite entering this season as the No. 33 prospect in baseball, according to both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus. He has lived up to that billing thus far this season, going 6-4 with a 1.94 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 75 strikeouts in 74 1/3 innings with Triple-A Las Vegas.
At 24 years old, Matz may seem a bit old to be getting his first taste of Triple-A ball, especially since the Mets drafted him out of high school in the 2009 amateur draft. Matz didn’t pitch professionally until 2012, however, after undergoing Tommy John surgery and suffering a few more injuries after the ligament-replacement in his elbow. He has rocketed through the system since then, however, excelling at every level along the way. In 12 starts at Double-A Binghamton last year, for example, he posted a 2.28 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 69 strikeouts against 14 walks.
There’s no doubt the lefty, who is similar in stature to Chris Sale, has a repertoire that will play in the majors. His fastball sits in the mid-90s, and he pairs it with a filthy changeup that already profiles as a plus major-league pitch. The bigger question for him, at least as far as this season goes, is whether or not there’s a spot for him in the rotation. The Mets recently went to a six-man rotation, with Jonathon Niese and Dillon Gee filling the final two spots. One of them would have to cede their slot to Matz, and there’s no indication the Mets plan on going that route just yet. He should be owned in deep keeper leagues and all dynasty formats, but owners in shallow keepers and redrafts are fine simply keeping an eye on him for the time being. If and when he gets the call, he’d be immediately relevant in all formats.
GIF of the Week
If not for all of last week’s dominant two-start pitchers, Chris Sale likely would have been one of the Pitchers of the Week. He fanned 13 batters in seven shutout innings against the Rangers, his third consecutive game with double-digit strikeouts. One of those was the following, his personal welcome to the majors for Joey Gallo.
- Chris Sale
- Max Scherzer
- Corey Kluber
- Sonny Gray
- Cole Hamels
- Shelby Miller
- James Shields
- Noah Syndergaard
- A.J. Burnett
- Jon Lester
- Miguel Gonzalez
- Lance McCullers
- Matt Shoemaker
- Dan Haren
- Aaron Harang
- Phil Hughes
- Ian Kennedy
- Rubby De La Rosa
- Taijuan Walker
- Chris Heston
- Marco Estrada
- Eduardo Rodriguez
- John Lackey
- Mike Leake
- Mike Bolsinger
- Jimmy Nelson
- Anthony DeSclafani
- Mike Foltynewicz
- Nick Martinez
- Nate Karns
- Taylor Jungmann
- Jason Vargas