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  • He's not an ace, but the Reds' Anthony DeSclafani has proven to be a valuable backend option in fantasy. That, this week's pitchers to watch and more.
By Michael Beller
July 25, 2016

Anthony DeSclafani may end up pitching just long enough for the Reds this season to get himself to a contender. He’s not eligible for arbitration until 2018 and under team control through '21, so it’s entirely possible a rebuilding team like Cincinnati won’t cash in this trade chip. At the same time, we may be watching him at his ceiling, and he could be worth more to a contender now, in the form of prospects, than he’ll ever be to the Reds, even if they’re relevant sooner than expected.

DeSclafani has been excellent pretty much from the moment he stepped on a major league mound this season. He missed the first two months of the season with an oblique injury, making his 2016 debut on June 10. He held the A’s to one run in six innings in that start and hasn’t looked back since. In 50 1/3 innings, DeSclafani has a 2.50 ERA, 3.57 FIP, 1.21 WHIP and 40 strikeouts against nine non-intentional walks. He has notched quality starts in all but one of his outings and was undone by his defense in the one in which he fell short, succumbing to the Braves after an error on a ground ball that should have been an inning-ending double play.

The 26-year-old got his revenge on the Braves in his last start, tossing eight strong innings and allowing two runs on eight hits, striking out three, to move to 5–0 on the season. DeSclafani would probably be a better fit on a National League contender—the Dodgers, perhaps?—but in three starts against the Rangers, Nationals and Cubs, he posted a 1.83 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 20 strikeouts in 19 2/3 innings. It’s an incredibly small sample, but at the very least, it shouldn’t scare away any AL teams looking for pitching help, depending on Cincinnati’s asking price.

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DeSclafani turned in a solid enough season last year, his first full campaign in the majors. He threw 184 2/3 innings for the Reds, amassing a 4.05 ERA, 3.67 FIP, 1.35 WHIP and 151 strikeouts. While he still projects, as he did last season, to a mid-rotation ceiling in real life and backend starter in fantasy leagues, DeSclafani has made a couple of noteworthy changes to his pitch usage this season. He has cut his four-seam fastball usage significantly, with most of the difference going to his two-seamer and slider.

The sinker hasn’t exactly been effective. Hitters have managed a .318 average and .541 slugging percentage against the pitch, with five homers and four doubles. It has, however, been a better foundation fastball than the four-seamer. DeSclafani has been able to command the pitch more efficiently, keeping it in the strike zone 68.2% of the time compared with 65.9% for the four-seamer.

Like most righties, DeSclafani wants to throw the two-seamer in on the hands of same-siders while keeping it away from lefties. It can be effective on the other side of the plate, but that’s a much more dangerous pitch. Even if a hitter puts a two-seamer in play when it’s in its typical spot, the chances of inducing soft contact are much higher than when a pitcher tries to get cute. We can see some of that soft contact here, with help from Ryan Zimmerman.

Without fastball command, you have nothing. DeSclafani has found better fastball command this season. The following zone profile tells us DeSclafani has been good enough, though not great, spotting his two-seamer.

​DeSclafani has made significant gains with his slider this season. He has thrown it more than any other pitch, and it’s easy to understand why. DeSclafani has held hitters to a .200 average and .262 slugging percentage with his slider. He has surrendered just two extra-base hits—a homer and a double—with the pitch, getting a 15.6% whiff rate.

DeSclafani has been able to use the pitch to his advantage against both lefties and righties, as we see in the strikeouts of Freddie Freeman and Jonathan Lucroy above.

There’s something about the pitch to Lucroy, however, that could portend trouble in the future. He has lived out of the strike zone with the pitch, evidenced by this zone profile.

That’s all well and good with two strikes or when he’s ahead in the count, but this is something that could ultimately come back to trip him up. As good as DeSclafani has been this season, he’s not going to overwhelm most hitters with stuff. If the slider is purely a chase pitch for him—and that’s what it has been this season—hitters are going to have an easier time laying off it going forward. That will force him back to his other offerings, which simply aren’t as good as his slider.

Whether or not DeSclafani has a new home by Aug. 1, he should have a home in most fantasy leagues, certainly those with at least 12 teams. Even if he has pitched a bit over his head in his first eight starts of the season, he has shown us enough in his brief major league career to trust him as a backend option in those formats.

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Pitchers to Watch This Week

Drew Pomeranz, Red Sox

Acquired from the Padres earlier this month, Pomeranz made his first start for the Red Sox last week against the Giants, a team he had already faced three times with San Diego this season. San Francisco roughed him up for five runs on eight hits and two walks in three innings, making his first start in Boston one to forget. The Red Sox gave up a lot to get Pomeranz, so the lefty will be watched closely the rest of the season. He has already thrown about 20 more innings this season than he previously had in any of his four major league seasons. Pomeranz is scheduled for two starts this week, drawing the Tigers on Monday and Angels on Saturday.

Aaron Sanchez, Blue Jays

Sanchez was excellent yet again in his last start, holding the Diamondbacks to one run on six hits in seven innings, striking out five and walking none en route to his 10th win over the season. Over his last six outings, he has a 1.80 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 25 strikeouts in 40 innings. Sanchez hasn’t exactly beaten up on weak offenses, either, facing the Orioles, Rockies, Royals and Tigers in that stretch and making starts at Camden Yards and Coors Field. There’s no more talk in Toronto of sending him to the bullpen, which is music to the ears of his fantasy owners. Sanchez will next take the ball on Monday against the Padres and will get a second start this week, facing the Orioles on Sunday.

Kyle Hendricks, Cubs

Here’s the ERA leaderboard in the majors at the start of the last week of July:

Clayton Kershaw, 1.79
Madison Bumgarner, 2.14
Kyle Hendricks, 2.27

Hendricks has been nothing short of phenomenal for the Cubs this season and arguably the most consistent pitcher in a rotation that sent Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester to the All-Star Game. Hendricks hasn’t surrendered an earned run in his last 22 1/3 innings and has allowed just three in his last 37 1/3 frames. He snuck up on some fantasy owners this season, but that will not be the case when he enters his age-27 season in 2017. Hendricks will have an opportunity to extend his scoreless innings streak against the White Sox on Tuesday. He’s also scheduled for a start against the Mariners over the weekend.

Noah Syndergaard, Mets

Syndergaard, whose trademark is his blazing fastball and electric 90-mph slider, also features a devastating changeup that has a 24.6% whiff rate this season. He hasn’t thrown it much in his last four starts, however, which could be a result of the bone spur in his elbow. The pitch has a usage rate of 11.3% for the season, but that's fallen to just 4.5% in his last four trips to the mound. All four of those starts came against the Nationals and Cubs, and the degree of difficulty won’t change much for Syndergaard this week. He’s slated to oppose the Cardinals on Monday and Rockies on Saturday. Whether or not his changeup is there with him in abundance should be top of mind for his owners.

Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
Carlos Carrasco, Indians

Strasburg took his first loss of the season last week, allowing six runs on seven hits in six innings against the Dodgers, though it wasn’t a total loss for his owners thanks to 10 strikeouts. Carrasco, meanwhile, shut out the Royals for six innings in his last trip to the mound, allowing one hit and striking out six in an 11–4 Indians win. Why are these two grouped together? They will face one another on Tuesday in the second game of this week’s Nationals-Indians series in Cleveland. This is simply a special matchup between two dominant pitchers and, with the way these two teams are going, could be a preview of a showdown we see in October.

Prospect Watch

Jose De Leon, Dodgers

We just discussed De Leon in this space two weeks ago, but we cannot ignore what appears to be the impending promotion of one of the best pitching prospects at the Triple A level. De Leon was filthy in his last start, throwing eight shutout innings, striking out 10 and walking none in a win over Tacoma. It was his second straight start with 10 strikeouts, and he now has 35 whiffs over his last 25 innings.

The 23-year-old De Leon started this season on the shelf, forcing the Dodgers to stretch him out slowly starting in June. He has thrown more than 100 pitches in both of his last two outings, however, and as pitched into the sixth inning in three consecutive trips to the mound. Those are both sure signs that the Dodgers are comfortable with where he stands in terms of arm strength.

Los Angeles' hold on the top wild-card spot in the NL is precarious at best, set back by seemingly endless injuries in the starting rotation. Kershaw is out indefinitely with a back injury. Alex Wood won’t be back for eight weeks after elbow surgery. Hyun-jin Ryu is back on the disabled list. Even if the Dodgers make a trade at some point this week, they’re going to have to add to the rotation from within the organization. They have the luxury of being able to call on guys like Julio Urias and De Leon, who is likely more polished than his better-rated teammate at this stage of their respective careers. Don’t be shy about stashing De Leon now; he’ll be up in the majors and paying dividends before too long.

GIF of the Week

Jose Fernandez continued his incredible season last week, striking out 14 Phillies in a 3–2 Marlins win. His 10th strikeout of that game was the 500th of his career, making him the fastest pitcher in major league history to reach that mark, doing so in 400 innings. He now has 168 strikeouts in 113 2/3 innings, good for a rate of 13.3 per nine. Here he is making Freddy Galvis look foolish.

Two-Start Pitchers

Jake Arrieta
Noah Syndergaard
Kyle Hendricks
Carlos Martinez
Justin Verlander
Aaron Sanchez
Chris Tillman
Drew Pomeranz
Dallas Keuchel
Steven Wright
Michael Pineda
Anthony DeSclafani
Jaime Garcia
Jerad Eickhoff
Jeremy Hellickson
Ervin Santana
Gio Gonzalez
Hector Santiago
Ian Kennedy
Yovani Gallardo
Wei-Yin Chen
Daniel Mengden
James Shields
Tom Koehler
Martin Perez
Chad Bettis
Tyler Skaggs
Miguel Gonzalez
Chase Anderson
Braden Shipley
Colin Rea
Patrick Corbin
Kyle Lohse
Jake Peavy
Matt Cain
Brian Flynn
Jorge De La Rosa
Lucas Harrell
Matt Garza

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