Meet Lance Lynn, baseball’s answer to Harry Houdini. Lynn won’t be on the mound in 2016—he’s taking the year off to recover from Tommy John surgery—but we can still appreciate what he accomplished last season.
It’s not just Lynn’s ERA (3.03) that stands out. Last year he posted a higher left on base percentage (78.9) than Matt Harvey (78.7), David Price (78.6), Clayton Kershaw (78.3) and Madison Bumgarner (77.9). That’s some top-notch damage control.
Of course, there’s a reason Kershaw makes $32 million a year and Lynn only makes $7.5 million. While Kershaw might not be as good at getting out of jams as Lynn, he also has fewer jams to escape from. Last year Kershaw limited opponents to a .237 on base percentage. Lynn’s was .330. That could be why Kershaw’s WHIP was baseball’s third-lowest (0.88) while Lynn’s was the 13th-highest (1.37).
So instead of swimming around in shark-infested waters with someone like Lynn, fantasy owners would be wise to target starting pitchers of the more even-keel variety. If you’re hoping for a stress-free fantasy year, you might want to consult last year’s WHIP leaderboard. Now for another installment of Over/Under …
Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants
*Consensus Projection: 1.07
This is a little off-topic but I noticed the Rockies have a stretch in late August/early September where they play the Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Giants in consecutive series. Can you imagine potentially facing Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Bumgarner all in the span of a few days? If I was on Colorado, I’d fake an injury that week.
Bumgarner hasn’t been 100 percent this spring—he’s dealing with rib and foot injuries—but it’s hard to ignore what he’s done over the last three seasons. ERA under three? Check. WHIP under 1.1? Check. 200-plus innings each year? Check. 200-plus strikeouts? Almost. He finished with 199 in 2013 but surpassed 200 the other two seasons. If you can name another pitcher as consistent as Bumgarner, I’m all ears.
Bumgarner threw an absurd amount of innings for the Giants during their playoff run in 2014, but didn’t show any signs of fatigue last season. His 6.0 K/BB ratio was the league’s fourth-highest behind Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Chris Sale. Despite logging a career-high in innings (218 1/3), Bumgarner walked just 39 hitters, his fewest since 2010. He also lowered his BAA from .240 in 2014 to just .222 last season. It’s painful for NL hitters to hear this, but Bumgarner is still getting better.
It never hurts to have a strong defense behind you and Bumgarner certainly has that in San Francisco. Only the Dodgers had a higher fielding percentage in 2015 while four of the Giants’ starters last year were Gold Glove finalists (Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Matt Duffy and Buster Posey). I think Bumgarner will beat this projection in his sleep. Prediction: Under
Johnny Cueto, San Francisco Giants
Aside from, you know, winning the World Series and everything, Cueto’s tenure with the Royals couldn’t have gone much worse. His ERA rose from 2.62 to 4.76 after arriving at the trade deadline while his WHIP skyrocketed from 0.93 to 1.45. Opponents hit .307 during that stretch compared to only .196 in Cueto’s 19 starts for Cincinnati. His strikeout rate also plummeted from 8.94 in 2014 to 7.47 last season.
Cueto actually walked fewer hitters in Kansas City (1.88 BB/9) than he did in Cincinnati (2.00 BB/9), but that may have also been why he struggled. Cueto found the strike zone more often and hitters took advantage. Not that Cueto was ever going to get Greinke or Price money, but his rocky tenure in Kansas City may have contributed to his relatively quiet market this winter. Cueto’s heavy workload (480 2/3 combined innings over the last two seasons) could have also been a factor.
None of that bodes well for Cueto but I’m still optimistic and here’s why. Cueto lost five starts in a row last year between August and early September. He collected a 9.57 ERA over that stretch with an embarrassing 1.97 WHIP. That’s all it was though—one atrocious five-game slump. If we erase those five games, Cueto’s ERA goes from 3.44 to 2.57 while his WHIP shrinks from 1.13 to 1.01. Cueto has finished with a WHIP under 1.10 three times in his last five seasons. Now that Cueto’s back in the National League where he’ll face pitchers instead of designated hitters, I think he’ll bounce back and make it four out of six. Prediction: Under
Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins
Sometimes I think we go about fantasy the wrong way. It’s seems like we’re always searching for unproven “sleepers” while looking for ways to tear down established talent. Fernandez is a perfect example of that.
Sure, there are red flags. Fernandez missed most of 2014 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and only made 11 starts last season. His agent is Scott Boras, which means he’ll probably be on some kind of innings limit this year. His 2.92 ERA last year was also a little higher than his career average (2.40).
But come on, guys. That’s nitpicking. Fernandez’s career to this point has been nothing short of remarkable. He owns a career WHIP of 1.01, opponents have hit just .198 against him in 1,048 at-bats and his lifetime K/9 (10.46) is higher than Clayton Kershaw’s (9.75). Yeah, the guy’s a prodigy.
Often pitchers see their velocity drop after Tommy John surgery but that wasn’t the case for Fernandez. He averaged 95.8 mph on his fastball last year, which was harder than he was throwing pre-surgery. Fernandez caught a bit more of the plate last year as his BAA ballooned to a career-worst .249. Fortunately he kept his walks down, allowing more than two free passes just once all season.
Fernandez didn’t seem comfortable with his curveball last year, throwing it on just 3.9 percent of his pitches. That’s well below his career rate of 16.3 percent. Pitchers usually lay off breaking pitches when they’re coming back from an injury so we should see more curves from Fernandez in 2016. And just like Bumgarner and Cueto in San Francisco, Fernandez has great fielders behind him. Only the Dodgers committed fewer errors than Miami last year. Remember, Fernandez is still just 23. Call me crazy, but I think 2016 will be his best season yet. Prediction: Under
Matt Harvey, New York Mets
Speaking of Scott Boras clients who have had Tommy John surgery in the past few years, here’s another one. Harvey pushed the envelope with his innings last year (216 including the postseason) but he never ran out of gas and actually seemed to get better as the season went on. His ERA improved from 3.07 in the first half to 2.19 after the break. After all that, he was still sharp in the playoffs with a 3.04 ERA over four outings.
Walks were a problem for Harvey when he entered the league in 2013. That year, he averaged 3.94 walks per nine innings. He trimmed that rate to 1.76 last season. Harvey hit a rough patch in July when he walked at least four batters in three straight outings, but he responded by allowing just seven walks total over his last 11 starts.
Harvey did have a few meltdowns last year—he gave up seven runs or more on three occasions. But he didn’t allow double-digit hits in any of his 29 starts. Overall, opponents hit just .222 against Harvey including .210 in the second half. Harvey’s resume suggests he’ll beat this projection with room to spare. Prediction: Under
David Price, Boston Red Sox
I know what you’re thinking—When’s this guy gonna’ pick the over already? These players can’t all be better than their projections. Let’s see if Price is the one. The experts are projecting a 1.11 WHIP for him this year. Want to know Price’s highest WHIP over the last four seasons? 1.10. So much for the over.
But here’s why I think Price might actually regress this year. Including the playoffs, he’s thrown exactly 500 innings over the last two seasons. That’s almost unheard of nowadays. And if that doesn’t drain Price, consider that he’s on his fourth team in three years. Does Price even know which team he’s on anymore? Changing your address that many times in such a short span has to take its toll.
From a pure pitching standpoint, Price’s walk rate increased considerably last year. His BB/9 jumped from 1.38 in 2014 all the way to 1.92 last season. And though Price carries the “ace” label (he’s certainly being paid like one), he’s actually been rather hittable over the last few seasons. Opponents have hit .240 against him since 2013. That’s not a great average by any means but it’s not what you’d expect from a $31 million-a-year pitcher. For example, Erasmo Ramirez, a pretty run-of-the-mill starter for Tampa Bay, held opponents to a .236 average last season. Mike Fiers, who would probably be lucky to land the No. 5 job with Houston this year, carried a .238 BAA in 2015.
Price has actually fared pretty well at Fenway over the years (6-1, 1.95 ERA in 11 starts) but it’s not the most forgiving park for pitchers. According to ESPN, Fenway was fourth in overall park factor last year and the second easiest stadium to hit doubles in after Cleveland’s Progressive Field. A flyout at a normal stadium can sometimes be a home run or a double at Fenway where the Green Monster stands only 310 feet away from home plate. I’m not saying Price is going to have a bad season but 1.11? I don’t think so. Prediction: Over
*Compiled by FantasyPros