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Starters for the Stretch Run

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As the fantasy baseball sadly winds down and playoff matchups are in the balance, finding starting pitchers on hot streaks becomes even more important. Let’s look at some guys ending on a high note.

St Louis Cardinals v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

A quick look at the calendar confirms that, yes, it is September, football is in full swing, and fantasy baseball is nearing its inevitable end. Who doesn’t love the daily nature of the game, checking stats and lineups seven days a week for nearly six straight months? All of this also means it is playoff time or the home stretch in roto leagues. With so many starting pitchers teams have relied on going down to injuries: Danny Salazar, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, etc., many fantasy teams are desperate for starters.

This late in the year, we don’t care about season-long projections or regression to the mean. Small sample sizes are king right now. That’s why today’s post is focused entirely on the starting pitchers that have performed the best over the last 30 days. Hopefully we can identify hot starters for the final push to win your league.

I chose a 20 inning minimum to weed out the very small samples and decided to use K%-BB% as my main stat to sort by. From there, I focused on pitchers that not only had stellar K%-BB% (the best in-season predictor of future ERA), but also other strengths like a low hard hit rate, FIP, and xFIP, or a high ground ball rate. I will highlight the guys from the big list that have several strong stats below the table.

Name IP K-BB% Hard% FIP xFIP GB% IFFB%
Vince Velasquez 23.2 28.00% 37.50% 4.79 2.87 31.70% 3.70%
Luke Weaver 27 27.90% 30.00% 2.95 2.4 28.80% 13.60%
Carlos Carrasco 37 26.60% 40.70% 2.38 2.3 50.00% 6.90%
Justin Verlander 39.2 26.10% 42.60% 4.22 3.78 23.00% 10.20%
Chris Archer 32.2 26.00% 34.20% 2.62 2.82 54.40% 7.40%
Chris Sale 41 25.30% 36.40% 3.19 3.17 42.70% 5.30%
Madison Bumgarner 29 24.20% 30.40% 3.66 3.16 44.30% 6.70%
David Price 42 23.10% 29.30% 2.83 3.56 39.00% 18.40%
Robbie Ray 32.1 22.70% 38.30% 2.8 3.16 46.30% 13.30%
Masahiro Tanaka 33.1 22.10% 28.90% 2.45 2.98 47.70% 19.20%
Corey Kluber 40.2 22.00% 27.30% 3.75 3.41 42.90% 7.90%
CC Sabathia 36 21.80% 27.00% 3.81 3.14 54.50% 6.30%
Ivan Nova 40 21.70% 25.90% 2.29 2.74 59.80% 3.80%
Jose Fernandez 29.2 21.70% 39.00% 2.53 2.91 36.50% 9.10%
Max Scherzer 40 21.30% 28.30% 2.46 4.01 34.00% 11.50%
Rick Porcello 35.2 21.20% 27.70% 2.41 3.62 41.60% 19.50%
Kevin Gausman 31.2 21.10% 32.90% 2.67 3.28 50.60% 11.10%
Brandon Finnegan 35.1 20.30% 29.30% 3.79 3.72 40.20% 8.10%
Mike Foltynewicz 34.1 20.10% 34.60% 3.2 3.4 42.40% 5.70%
Noah Syndergaard 39.2 20.00% 22.90% 2.58 3.08 54.70% 11.10%
Drew Pomeranz 33 20.00% 35.60% 4.14 3.77 37.50% 12.80%
Michael Pineda 25 19.80% 37.50% 3.38 2.83 52.80% 6.70%
Anthony DeSclafani 35 19.60% 32.00% 3.57 3.54 38.60% 10.50%
Kenta Maeda 28.1 19.30% 25.00% 3.24 3.06 47.40% 5.00%
Jon Lester 34.2 19.10% 27.90% 2.36 3.3 41.00% 18.50%
Jose Quintana 40.1 19.10% 31.90% 3.46 3.35 45.70% 16.70%
Julio Urias 21 18.80% 17.00% 2.47 3.84 38.50% 11.80%
Carlos Rodon 31.2 18.80% 24.20% 2.79 3.46 40.40% 10.70%
Dallas Keuchel 20 18.80% 32.20% 3.74 3.31 49.20% 0.00%
Tyler Anderson 30 18.30% 29.40% 3.64 3.31 45.10% 8.00%
Yu Darvish 30.1 18.20% 24.40% 3.44 4.1 41.50% 8.60%
A.J. Griffin 28.1 18.10% 37.70% 6.28 4.95 23.40% 8.50%
A.J. Cole 28.2 18.00% 25.00% 4.85 4.83 31.30% 17.40%
Zach Davies 30.1 17.90% 36.80% 3.6 3.83 38.90% 11.40%
Jameson Taillon 28 17.90% 30.00% 3.5 3.37 52.60% 4.80%
Gio Gonzalez 30.2 17.90% 29.20% 3.6 3 49.40% 5.00%
Matt Shoemaker 21.1 17.30% 26.20% 3.79 3.23 51.70% 18.80%
Jeff Samardzija 37 17.20% 35.20% 2.71 3.46 45.10% 9.40%
James Paxton 20.1 17.20% 34.80% 3.04 3.34 48.50% 5.30%
Kyle Hendricks 33 17.00% 30.50% 3.35 3.96 35.40% 8.60%
Matt Andriese 25.1 17.00% 27.30% 4.84 4.09 40.90% 22.90%
Danny Duffy 38.1 16.30% 37.10% 4.73 4.26 37.90% 3.90%
Cole Hamels 27.1 16.10% 38.40% 3.65 3.33 59.20% 0.00%
Clay Buchholz 22 16.00% 38.50% 4.09 4.24 42.20% 20.00%

I arbitrarily cut off the list at 16% K%-BB%. League average is 12.5%, so this is far enough above average to be worth looking at. Starting at the top, we see Vince Velasquez. He’s been shut down for the season, so he has no value this year. His FIP, homer problem, and lack of grounders are concerns, along with his health, so it will be interesting to see where he is taken in drafts. The talent is clearly there, though.

Luke Weaver is next and, despite terrible ground ball rates, is pitching very well. He’s getting lots of strikeouts, his FIP and xFIP are excellent, and he’s getting a good number of pop-ups, which is what you want with a fly ball pitcher. Put it together and you’ve got a great starter for the stretch run. His biggest issue is high pitch counts shortening his starts. In leagues with quality starts, that could make him less valuable, but he’s still good enough to start every time.

Carrasco and Verlander are having great seasons, despite sky high hard hit rates, at least in the past 30 days. Verlander is not pitching as well as Carrasco (look at his FIP and xFIP), but still startable every time out. I’m going to skip over the obvious, 100% owned guys like Archer, Sale, MadBum, Price, Kluber, JoFer, and the boys. You’re using them until they go down or the season ends.

CC Sabathia is interesting. Despite very diminished velocity, he has been great the past month. He has a low hard hit rate, great xFIP, and fantastic ground ball rate. Believe it or not, I think I have to recommend starting the big fella the rest of the year. I’m not a believer for 2017, but I do think he can keep it up for a few more weeks.

Ivan Nova is doing what CC is doing, but even better. If you don’t own him and aren’t using him every start right now, you need to rectify that immediately. Ray Searage has worked his magic once again. The numbers are shiny across the board for Mr. Nova.

Kevin Gausman has quietly been Baltimore’s ace this season. Other than his hard hit rate, he has great numbers across the board in the past month and should finish strong. Brandon Finnegan is a guy that I held on to for much of the season, only to let him go in July after a series of awful starts. In the past 30 days, he has decided to pull himself together and force me to say he should be streamed in these final weeks. He’s not on the same level as most of the other guys I’ve mentioned, but much better than he was early in the season.

I struggle with Mike Foltynewicz, not just in spelling his name, but with his propensity to give up lots of hard hits. It seems like his fastball is too flat. He can still strike ‘em out as well as anyone, but his hit-ability forces me to put him in the streamer group with Finnegan.

Some others from this list that I recommend starting every time out for the rest of the year (that aren’t obvious names): Anthony DeSclafani, Julio Urias (beware the innings limit and short starts), Carlos Rodon, Tyler Anderson, Zach Davies, Jameson Taillon, Gio Gonzalez, Matt Shoemaker, Jeff Samardzija, and James Paxton. I like all these guys because they add good FIPs, xFIPs, ground ball rates, infield fly rates, or hard hit rates to their already great K%-BB% in the last month. Some check all of the boxes. One or more of the guys in this post might be available in your league for this final push, so load up on healthy starters and make your move.

Every inning and every start matters more now so I hope this list can help you sneak a few extra Ks or quality starts before September ends. Tschus!

Completely off topic: that’s the first time I’ve seen the video for that song. I didn’t realize they made a short film with tons of dialogue around that song.