If you’ve read any of these columns this season, you know that we’re pretty big fans of the FIP stat. Fielding Independent Pitching strips out all the noise in ERA (defense, bad BABIP luck, etc.) and simply grades pitchers on what they can control. Namely, pitchers get a big boost in FIP with strikeouts, and take a hit by allowing home runs and walks. It’s a great statistic, and one that really gets to the heart of who is and isn’t pitching well.
Take a look at the FIP leaderboard for this season, and you’ll see a lot of names you expect to see in the top 10. Clayton Kershaw is first with a 1.75 FIP. Felix Hernandez checks in second at 2.05, and he’s followed by Chris Sale (2.31), Corey Kluber (2.58) and Jon Lester (2.62). The name that rounds out the list might come as a bit of a surprise. Sale’s rotation mate Jose Quintana, one of the most underappreciated starters in baseball this year, has a 2.80 FIP. That has him ahead of Stephen Strasburg, Madison Bumgarner, David Price, Zack Greinke, Max Scherzer, Masahiro Tanaka and Johnny Cueto. He’s also set to be a major asset in the final five weeks of the fantasy baseball regular season.
Need proof that Quintana is one of the most underappreciated starters in the league. Despite a better FIP than all those ace pitchers, he remains available in two-fifths of Yahoo leagues. In his last seven starts, Quintana has a 1.70 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 49 strikeouts in 47 2/3 innings. One reason for his marked improvement this season has been his ability to keep the ball in the park. He has surrendered just six home runs in 131 1/3 innings, which translates to 0.41 per nine innings. Last year, that number was north of one. With a home park like U.S. Cellular Field, Quintana's ability to keep the ball out of the air is paramount. Last year, Quintana’s ground-ball rate was 42.5 percent while his fly-ball rate was 37.4 percent. This year, those numbers have moved to 48 percent and 29.7 percent, respectively.
It’s rare that a fantasy owner can get his hands on a pitcher as good as Quintana at this point of the season, but he can be had in many leagues for the simple price of dropping someone, and in many others is likely available at a reasonable rate. With the numbers he has already put up this season, owners have little reason to expect him to be any worse than a No. 3 fantasy starter for the rest of the year.
Pitchers of the Week
Chris Sale, White Sox – Last week: 15 IP, 2 W, 20 K, 0.60 ERA, 1.00 WHIP
Sale was simply dominant yet again in two starts last week. First, he limited the Royals to one run on seven hits in seven innings, striking out eight and walking one. He then tossed eight shutout innings against the Twins, fanning 12 and allowing just five hits. It was his fifth game this year with at least 10 strikeouts, and the second time in his last four outings that he whiffed 12 batters. Sale is 10-1 with a 1.88 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and 122 strikeouts against 19 walks.
Jacob deGrom, Mets – 13 1/3 IP, 2 W, 11 K, 0.68 ERA, 0.90 WHIP
The rookie deGrom won both of his starts last week, giving him wins in four consecutive outings. His first win of the week came against the Mariners after he allowed one run on five hits in seven innings. He twirled 6 1/3 scoreless frames against the Brewers his next time out, allowing four hits and two walks. He now sports a 5-5 record, 2.79 ERA, 1/26 WHIP and 83 strikeouts in 87 innings this season.
Kluber was masterful in his only start last week, absolutely shutting down the Royals. He took a perfect game into the seventh, and ended up allowing just an unearned run on two hits with 10 strikeouts. Unfortunately, he didn’t get any run support, and took a no-decision in a game the Indians ultimately lost. Kluber is now the 12th-ranked pitcher in standard 5X5 leagues. He’s 10-6 with a 2.77 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 162 strikeouts in 149 1/3 innings.
Pitchers of the Weak
Cliff Lee, Phillies – 10 2/3 IP, 7 K, 7.59 ERA, 2.25 WHIP
The Giants knocked Lee around for six runs on 12 hits in 5 2/3 innings last week. He proceeded to give up three runs on nine hits and a pair of walks in five more innings against the Diamondbacks. All told, he took one loss and one no-decision, and saw his ERA jump to 3.78 from 3.18. His next scheduled start is Thursday against the Nationals.
Edinson Volquez, Pirates – 10 IP, 5 K, 6.30 ERA, 2.30 WHIP
Volquez allowed 23 runners to reach base in his 10 innings last week. Viewed in that light, it’s almost a miracle he only gave up seven earned runs. At this point of the season, he can’t be trusted as anything more than a spot starter in the deepest of leagues. He has a 3.87 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and 78 strikeouts against 44 walks in 121 innings.
Mike Minor, Braves – 9 2/3 IP, 1 W, 7 K, 8.38 ERA, 2.17 WHIP
Minor had one of his worst outings of the year in his first start last week, allowing six runs on 10 hits in just three innings against the Marlins. Even though he picked up a win over the Padres in his next start, surrendering three runs and eight hits in 6 2/3 innings against the worst offense in the league isn’t exactly something to write home about. It has been a major struggle for the 26-year-old this season.
Buy, Sell or Hold
Buy: Jon Lester, Red Sox
This is going to be easier said than done, given that Lester is the No. 11 starter in standard 5X5 leagues. However, it’s worth kicking the tires early in the week, because Lester may soon see his stock increase. He’s the subject of numerous trade rumors, with the most likely landing spot sounding like the Dodgers. If Lester leaves the AL for the NL, he’d get the organic value bump any pitcher gets by transferring to the Senior Circuit. He’d also leave a mediocre team for one of the best teams in the majors, so his owners could reasonably expect him to get more wins with the Dodgers than he would if he remains with the Red Sox for the rest of the season. The trade deadline is Thursday, so act fast.
Sell: Ian Kennedy, Padres
Kennedy’s last two starts came against the Mets and Cubs, a pair of offenses that could be described as less than stellar. Rather than shutting down those inferior opponents, Kennedy gave up a total of seven runs in 11 innings. Following that, he was scratched from his scheduled start Monday with oblique soreness. That’s an accumulation of red flags that could rightly have fantasy owners concerned about Kennedy for the rest of the season. His full-season numbers still look great, and he allowed just one run with 17 strikeouts in his two starts prior to facing the Mets and Cubs, so he should still be attractive on the trade market.
Hold: Junichi Tazawa, Red Sox
Lester isn’t the only Red Sox pitcher who might be on the move. Koji Uehara has once again been one of the best closers in the league this year, but that’s wasted on a likely non-contender such as the Red Sox. Uehara’s contract ends this season, making it even easier for Boston GM Ben Cherington to move him if the price is right. Should that happen, Tazawa would take over as the Red Sox’ closer. If you’re in need of saves, go ahead and grab Tazawa now. All it will cost you is one roster spot for the next few days. If Uehara is still with Boston as of Thursday afternoon, cut Tazawa and call it a risk worth taking.
Daily Fantasy Plays
Tuesday: Jeff Samardzija, A’s (@ Astros) – Samardzija just dominated the Astros last week, holding them to one run on five hits while fanning six in eight innings. Expect a similar performance on Tuesday.
Wednesday: David Price, Rays (vs. Brewers) – There are plenty of good options in addition to Price on Wednesday (Felix Hernandez, Corey Kluber, Garrett Richards), but Price gets the slight nod. Be sure to check and see who has the lowest projected score. That could break the deadlock.
Thursday: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers (vs. Braves) – Throwing Kershaw against a team with a 22.1-percent strikeout rate almost seems like cruel and unusual punishment, but that’s exactly what will happen Thursday. You should know what to do at this point.
Friday: Chris Sale, White Sox (vs. Twins) – Sale befuddled the Twins in his last start, striking out 12 in eight shutout innings. Much like Kershaw, he’s going to be the best option in daily fantasy leagues nearly every day he pitches.
Saturday: Scott Kazmir, A’s (vs. Royals) – Kazmir has allowed just five earned runs in his last five starts, a stretch that covers 31 1/3 innings. He has 32 strikeouts in that span.
Sunday: Tyson Ross, Padres (vs. Braves) – Ross is the 15th-ranked starting pitcher in standard 5X5 leagues this year. In his last seven starts, he has a 1.47 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and 53 strikeouts in 49 innings.