Pitching prospects are usually exciting for fantasy owners. We love to dream about them coming in and dominating right away, even though that rarely happens. Not everyone can be Noah Syndergaard. Nonetheless, good starting pitching is very hard to find outside the draft in most leagues, so pitching prospects are coveted.
Last year, one of the most highly anticipated prospects was Luke Weaver. This Cardinals righty actually debuted in 2016, throwing 36 promising innings. In 2017, he was expected to see much more time in the big leagues, especially with Alex Reyes missing the entire season.
In the end, Weaver threw 60.1 innings. If you just look at his ERA, you might think he didn’t have a great season. A 3.88 ERA is above average for an NL starter. But, it is still only good enough for 29th best in the league. His ERA is right next to Eddie Butler and Jhoulys Chacin. That’s not elite fantasy company. Despite that ERA, I’m very excited about this young pitcher. Let me explain why.
Here’s a table with some numbers. I’ll talk about the numbers after you see the table. That seems to be the way these posts work.
I’ve mentioned the ERA, but look at the underlying stats: 3.17 FIP, 2.73 xFIP, strong K% and BB%. Those are ace-level. My excitement doesn’t end there, however. Look at that nice 50% GB% and accompanying 25.5% Hard%. That rate of hard contact allowed is third best in baseball with 50 innings pitched or more. He only trails Dallas Keuchel (expected) and Rafael Montero (Huh?). Montero seems to be good at only this one thing. His walk and strikeout rates are poor and prevent him from taking advantage of his ability to limit hard hit balls.
Anywho, Weaver has shown a great ability at reducing hard contact. When you combine that with great ground ball rates, and above average strikeout and walk rates, you get a very complete package. But wait, there’s more!
Going back to the table, notice that in 2017 he had a very poor BABIP of 0.335 (13th highest among starters with at 50+ IP). That BABIP was NOT the result of allowing too much hard contact (see previous two paragraphs). Many pitchers with high BABIPs do allow too much hard contact. In this case, it appears to be just bad luck. Oh, and his strand rate of 71.4% was also below league average of 72.1%, so he didn’t benefit from luck stranding baserunners.
All of this means that if he simply does what he did in 2017 again and gets better BABIP luck, he could see a big drop in ERA. Maybe even to the 3.20 range. I think he is a rising star with lots of upside. Sure, he only throws 93 mph, but velocity isn’t everything. Look at Keuchel, Kluber, or Masahiro Tanaka. 93 is enough to get it done if you have good stuff.
Maybe Weaver will have some hype because he was a top prospect just a short time ago, but I’m betting some will be shy drafting him because of that mediocre ERA. Don’t be that guy! Don’t be shy! Don’t be Shy Guy!
Weaver should be on your sleeper list going into 2018. He’s a good bet to outperform his 2017 ERA and could be at least a solid fantasy #2 starter. Tschus!