Pitchers to Watch - June
May 31, 2017
By Joe Nelson
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Current form doesn’t always hold but here are four MLB starters that appear to be heading in the right direction into the month of June and four starters that appear to be falling off a stronger early season pace.
Consider buying or selling these pitchers in some fantasy formats or look for upcoming play-on and play-against situations involving these starters in the upcoming weeks.
Jimmy Nelson – Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers remain a first place team at the end of May even with a less impressive recent run of play. Whether or not Milwaukee can remain a viable playoff threat all summer is certainly a fair debate but the Brewers are one of the better scoring teams in baseball and Jimmy Nelson has proven himself as a rare pitcher that fares well pitching at high scoring Miller Park with a career ERA of 3.83, including 3.60 this season at home. Nelson has delivered a fine month of May to shake off a marginal April with a 2.28 ERA in the month and a 10.1 K/9 over five starts. Given that Milwaukee will be dogged in many matchups home or away including in many NL West draws ahead in June, Nelson may be worth a look in several upcoming starts or as a potential fantasy option in deeper leagues with his ownership rate currently at around 15 percent and a high strikeout ceiling. Nelson’s success in May came with a higher than average .324 BABIP as his ceiling could be even higher and his modest walk and home run rates are very attractive through 10 starts this season.
Martin Perez – Texas Rangers
Martin Perez won 10 games for the Rangers last season in nearly 200 innings and while he has felt like a pitcher the team is always looking to replace in the rotation, he will present some value opportunities ahead for a Texas squad that is showing signs of making a run. Perez is 2-5 with a 4.19 ERA but he has been saddled with a very high .347 BABIP that is 41 points above his career average. Perez is not a high strikeout pitcher but he has allowed four or fewer runs in 10 of 11 starts this season. Perez has some of his best career splits in the month of June and his career ERA in Arlington is just 3.79 despite the high scoring track record of the now named Globe Life Park. Texas owns an excellent home record at 17-9 and while the Astros are running away with the AL West the Rangers look capable of making a run into wild card contention, recently boosted with the return of Adrian Beltre. Texas will have underdog opportunities behind Perez in June with games against the Astros, Nationals, Yankees, and Indians in the month. Perez normally receives a much higher groundball rate than his current 45 percent clip as he could see his numbers improve over the summer.
Jordan Montgomery – New York Yankees
Rookie Jordan Montgomery is just 2-4 through nine starts this season at just 24-years of age. He has looked the part as quality option on the mound for a Yankees team that continues to provide plenty of run support. Montgomery hasn’t yet pitched seven innings in a start at the MLB level but New York’s bullpen is very good and the unit should get Aroldis Chapman in the near future to add to that strength. Montgomery figures to draw lesser pricing than the more established starters in the New York rotation and he will certainly be worth a look vs. lineups that are less successful vs. southpaw pitching. While his ERA is 4.11 his FIP is just 3.60 through just over 50 innings of work and a third of his base runners have come around to score this season, a figure that is likely to improve. Walks were a problem for Montgomery early in the season but he has allowed just five walks in his last four starts and only allowing five home runs so far this season is a promising sign especially considering that Montgomery has already faced several powerful lineups including the Rays, Cubs, Astros, and Orioles (twice). Montgomery will have his innings under close watch and could show some fatigue later this summer as the next several weeks may be the best time to cash in on the promising rookie.
Clayton Richard – San Diego Padres
Clayton Richard technically got a World Series ring last season as the veteran pitched into late July with the Cubs before being released. He was picked up by the Padres to finish the season and signed for 2017 as well, re-joining the team where he had the best success in his career with solid seasons in 2010 and 2012. The Padres have one of the worst records in baseball with a tepid offensive attack but Richard is pitching well for San Diego and will give his team a chance at some upcoming upsets. Over his last six starts his FIP is just 3.26 with an increased strikeout rate and while he is 1-3 with a 4.23 ERA in that span he has had some tough luck with a .342 BABIP while also facing some of the league’s better offenses in his recent starts. Richard doesn’t allow many home runs and has a low walk rate while getting groundballs at a very strong rate so far this season. Pitching at Petco Park can help his cause with San Diego set to play 16 June home dates and the Padres featuring much more respectable showings at home this season.
Kyle Freeland – Colorado Rockies
24-year old Kyle Freeland has been a big piece of the surprising success of the Rockies so far this season, living up to his billing as the #8 pick in the 2014 draft. With five wins and a 3.43 ERA in 10 starts Freeland has been successful but there are some serious red flags with a 4.41 FIP a very low .271 BABIP, and just a 5.6 K/9 strikeout rate. Freeland is also walking batters at a very high rate and after allowing just 10 runs in his first six starts he has allowed 15 runs over his past four starts. Freeland has only made four Coor’s Field starts where his ERA is much higher at 3.94 and it isn’t clear if the Rockies will be able to maintain the greatly improved numbers from the bullpen and the defense the rest of the season. Ultimately Freeland might be the Rockies pitcher to consider fading in a mostly undistinguishable rotation with Colorado looking like a team that is unlikely to maintain its early season pace.
Lance Lynn – St. Louis Cardinals
Perhaps a Comeback Player of the Year candidate, Lance Lynn is pitching well after missing the entire 2016 season. Lynn won 60 games for the Cardinals from 2012-2015 and he is 4-3 with a 2.93 ERA so far this season. While St. Louis appears to be a team that will stay in NL Central and NL Wild Card contention all season, underachieving starters Carlos Martinez and Adam Wainwright look poised for better results the rest of the way. Lynn has incredibly stranded 83 percent of his base runners this season and his .212 BABIP is the third lowest of all qualified MLB starters and 90 points below Lynn’s career average. Lynn owns a 4.72 FIP and he has now allowed at least four runs in three of his last four starts while failing to pick up a win in that stretch as his numbers are heading in the wrong direction. While Lynn is likely to remain a solid starter the rest of the season given his career track record he could be a high risk starter on the road where his numbers are significantly worse or vs. lineups with quality left-handed hitters as so far in 2017 there is huge disparity in his results vs. lefties and righties, with lefties batting .260 and righties batting only .136.
Gio Gonzalez – Washington Nationals
Gio Gonzalez has taken just one loss this season pitching for a Nationals team on pace to run away with the NL East. Gonzalez owns an ERA of 3.03 that could rival his career season in 2012 but his strikeout rate is on pace to be the lowest since the 2010 season and he owns an alarming walk rate of 4.6 BB/9. A .277 BABIP has helped his cause along with 87 percent of his base runners failing to score as if not for a rather steady career track record the numbers for Gonzalez would stand out as very suspicious including a 4.76 FIP that is nearly two runs higher than his ERA. Gonzalez has been hit hard in his last three road starts as his success has been built on the majority of his starts coming at home this season and five of his starts have also come against the four NL East rivals that are collectively 82-118. Washington has received incredible offensive results in the first two months with unsustainable paces for some of the stars in the lineup and a slump could be ahead with a June schedule that features the Dodgers and Cubs as well as some less familiar foes with interleague matchups early in the month. Gonzalez doesn’t look like a pitcher one would want to lay a big number with in the coming weeks with Washington likely to open as solid chalk on most nights.
Gerrit Cole – Pittsburgh Pirates
At still just 26-years old former #1 pick Gerrit Cole is on the short list of rising star pitchers in the National League. Cole had a brilliant 2015 season for a very good Pirates team before regressing to an average injury-plagued season in 2016, netting just 116 innings of work. Cole has pitched better than his 2-5 record with a 3.65 ERA but a 4.40 FIP looms over that figure and Cole is getting far fewer strikeouts than in his best stretches, posting just 7.4 K/9 so far this season. Cole has a lower groundball rate than in his successful 2014 and 2015 seasons and he has already allowed 12 home runs this season. Cole has allowed 66 hits in just over 66 innings despite a fairly low .278 BABIP and ultimately he is pitching for a Pirates team that has limited prospects the rest of the way. Pittsburgh has declined offensively and defensively so far this season and while only 3.5 games out of first place late in May, the Pirates are in 5th place in the NL Central with the fewest runs scored and the worst scoring differential in the division. Gregory Polanco has battled injuries this season and Andrew McCutchen hasn’t looked like his past MVP form. If Pittsburgh continues to struggle some key players could be dealt and the respectable bullpen could also lose pieces that could lessen the opportunities for Pittsburgh starters to pick up wins. Cole will still be valued like an upper-tier starter in many matchups even though he hasn’t resembled the pitcher that finished 4th in the NL Cy Young voting two years ago.
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