Baseball is random. A below average pitcher can dominate a good lineup and a bad lineup can destroy an elite starting pitcher. Volatility reigns in small sample sizes. As there is so much risk inherent in starting pitching, fantasy owners are forever searching for the diamond in the rough. When we see a sub-par pitcher (or one we perceive as sub-par) dominate a good lineup, we raise an eyebrow. When we see a sub-par pitcher dominate a bad lineup, we often dismiss it. Today, I am going to very briefly discuss Brandon Finnegan, who I wrote about during the offseason, and his dominant start last night.
Without rehashing too much of the material from my previous article, I was high on Finnegan because he improved his results late in the season after undergoing a change to his pitch mix. His full season results hidthe progress he made late in the year. Last night against the Phillies, he continued to build upon his success from late last season.
Finnegan’s late season surge was keyed by his increased change-up usage. He learned a grip that he liked from Dan Straily and as he increased its usage, his K-rate soared and results improved. Last night, he maximized his three pitches – a rising four seamer that averaged 94 MPH (2.3 MPH increase from 2016), a slider and the change – to produce a tremendous opening game result – 7 shutout innings with 9 Ks and 1 BB.
Given the gains that Finnegan experienced late last year, I would not simply dismiss this as a poor pitcher making the best of a great situation against a bad offense. I put my money where my mouth was in a league where I got a scare from Garrett Richards and promptly scooped Finnegan off waivers for a healthy FAAB price. I wanted to ensure that I got the player given my affinity for his late season skills that appear to have carried over.
Aside from Finnegan’s performance last night, here are my takeaways from the last two days (April 5-6, 2017):
–A.J. Pollock has shown that he is an elite fantasy player when healthy. Any doubts about whether the elbow would affect him going forward should be erased, he possesses elite bat control, good power in a good ballpark and the Arizona front office has not discouraged him from running. If you get 145 games from Pollock, he is going to be a top 15 bat.
-James Paxton fans should rejoice. He was consistently pumping upper 90s heat with good command and fooling Astros hitters with his curve. The strikeout total was not gaudy (5Ks in 6 IP), but the Houston lineup is good and when he was not generating swings and misses, he was inducing weak groundballs – a positive indicator considering his batted ball struggles from a year ago.
-Corey Dickerson is a player that did not have much preseason buzz after an underwhelming first season in Tampa. Dickerson excelled to close last year with a new hitting coach and early results have been positive this season. Additionally, Dickerson is hitting leadoff v. RHP at the moment. He makes for a nice waiver add especially for those that are waiting on J.D. Martinez, Ian Desmond or David Dahl.
-Dylan Bundy was masterful last night. Breaking stuff was sharp, velocity was good – it was very encouraging. We spoke about him on the podcast, which will be out soon, and it was amazing to me that he was owned in just 24% of Yahoo! leagues. After last night’s performance, it’s already up to 36%. That is still not close to high enough. There is major breakout potential here.
–Travis Shaw is off to a very hot start and is batting clean-up in Milwaukee. Remember that Milwaukee is one of the best parks for increasing left-handed power so Shaw’s 20 homer ceiling, might be closer to 25-30 HRs.
-As far as power sinkerballers go, I am buying Kendall Graveman over Clayton Richard. Graveman has increased his velocity again and has outstanding movement on the pitch. He could be a solid mid-rotation option this year, but I would still keep him on the bench in smaller parks. I need to see another start from Richard given last year’s results, but at minimum, he has earned some increased attention.
-Coming off an uninspiring WBC stint, Andrew McCutchen has done little to allay the concerns of his owners with a 0-9 start with 3 Ks. Obviously, it is super early, but McCutchen is not among my early buy low targets.
-I am not terribly worried about pitchers showing poor command/control (Jharel Cotton, Zach Davies, Matt Shoemaker, Ian Kennedy) in one start. Remember, these pitchers are traveling from Florida and Arizona to much different climates. That fact combined with first start nerves is enough for me to wait another two or three turns through the rotation before cutting bait on most of these pitchers.