Good SOBB – Turn that Frown Upside Down
Not surprisingly, Jose Fernandez tops the list, and by a decent margin. Fernandez has a 29.1 SOBB with Masahiro Tanaka second at 26.8. As much as Stephen Strasburg has struggled (by Strasburg standards) with a 3.60 ERA, his xFIP (Expected Fielding Independent Pitching) sits at 2.24 thanks in part to the fourth best SOBB at 25.8.
The first surprise, and a big one at that, is Collin McHugh sitting sixth with a 25.4 SOBB, sandwiched between Zack Greinke and David Price, two names you’d never associate with McHugh. So is McHugh for real? He has a .277 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play), which isn’t a concern. McHugh’s 2.98 xFIP is slightly above his 2.79 ERA, and that’s because his numbers aren’t due to a high level of luck. In fact, a 61.1 LOB% (Strand Rate) and 31.9 GB% (Groundball Percentage) are more concerning and not fortunate at all. Yet, when you have a SOBB of this level, it’s hard to ignore your success. So where is this coming from? McHugh has a career high 13.9 SwStr% (Swinging Strike Rate, previous best 8.3). But again, why? It’s because McHugh is actually a different pitcher this season. He’s barely throwing his two-seam fastball, throws his four-seamer faster than ever (91.2 mph average) and includes his slider at a career high (28.5 percent). That mix, in addition to a 60 percent F-Strike (First Pitch Strike Rate) and low contact percentage (63.0) has led to McHugh taking us all by surprise. Will McHugh end up in the Cy Young discussion? No chance. Will he even crack the Top 40 pitchers? Unlikely. However, McHugh is showing signs of being a worthwhile Fantasy option, even pitching for the Astros.
Nate Eovaldi sits just outside the Top 10 at 21.7, and that’s largely due to his blazing fastball. Only Yordano Ventura (I’m still drooling to this day) and Garrett Richards average a higher average fastball speed at 96.0 MPH, with Eovaldi sitting at 95.6. Eovaldi is for real; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
We know about Jesse Chavez already, and with a Top 20 SOBB of 19.3, he should continue to have quality Fantasy value, even with the occasional off night. Just remember that Chavez has never thrown more than 95.0 innings, so start thinking trade come July.
Partly due to the move from the AL to the NL, Ervin Santana is also finding high-level success thanks to his 21.2 SOBB. Ian Kennedy finds his way into the Top 20, and his 3.00 xFIP shows that his 3.43 ERA is actually a bit inflated. Kennedy will have a solid season thanks to his SOBB and pitching in Petco. Drew Hutchinson has been a pleasant surprise, and with a 20.1 SOBB and 3.22 xFIP, we can feel good about his continued value.
Corey Kluber, and not Danny Salazar, could be the Indians pitcher taking the next step this season. Kluber has an 18.4 SOBB, while Salazar’s sits at 16.7, even though Salazar has much better strikeout ability. That’s because Salazar walks too many batters, and until that changes, the struggles will continue.
Many hoped that Phil Hughes would put up his best year yet. That hasn’t happen so far, but there is still hope. Hughes isn’t walking many batters with a 4.1 BB% (Walk Rate), giving him a solid 15.8 SOBB. That factors into his 3.85 xFIP and tells us Hughes should be stashed in deeper leagues with potential for better days ahead.
Poor SOBB – Grab the Kleenex
Want reason No. 1 why you don’t trust Scott Feldman? Well, besides the fact that he’s Scott Feldman… His SOBB is 0.0. Yes. Zero! You can’t strike no one out and walk too many (8.6 K% and BB%) and expect to succeed… well, for long. It’s quite obvious why Feldman’s xFIP is 5.08 while his ERA sits at 1.69.
Cesar Ramos is another major concern, even with an ERA of 2.91. Ramos’ SOBB is just 1.1 thanks to an absurdly high 15.2 BB%, which is why that xFIP checks in at 5.28.
Shelby Miller has quite a few concerns this season. Jason Collette pointed out part of what I was going to talk about here (thief!). Collette noted that Miller’s K% has dropped 5.2 percentage points from last season. It also dropped 5.2 points from 2012 to 2013. Hmm. Add in a BB% of 13.5 (up 5.6 points from 2013) and you have a poor SOBB of 4.7. Miller’s ERA is a respectable 3.20, but his xFIP is 4.65 thanks to his SOBB and high LOB% of 91.5. SELL!!!
Alfredo Simon shouldn’t keep this up much longer like many on this poor SOBB list. His SOBB is 6.3 with a mediocre K% (13.8) and BB% (7.5) and combines with an exceptionally lucky .192 BABIP that screams regression alert.
A.J. Burnett is also primed for a step back, albeit not to the degree of the pitchers mentioned so far. His SOBB is just 8.7, but his .258 BABIP has kept his ERA down (2.06). In fact, he and Ubaldo Jimenez have similar SOBBs of 8.7 and 8.4 with LOB% marks in the 70s. Thanks to the BABIPs (Jimenez’s is .307), their ERAs are drastically different with Jimenez sitting at 5.19. That is why their xFIPs are closer with Burnett at 3.89 and Jimenez at 4.43.
No surprise at the top, as Craig Kimbrel dominates with a 38.8 percent SOBB. It helps when you strikeout nearly half of the batters you see (49.0 K%). Not far behind is Dellin Betances with a 33.3 SOBB, 44.4 K% and 1.38 xFIP. Shawn Kelley did an okay job filling in for David Robertson, but if he were to ever go down again, I wonder if the Yankees might give Betances a look. Either way, Betances can have value in start limit leagues.
Worried about Francisco Rodriguez? Don’t be. Truthfully, K-Rod only had one poor season, and his 2014 numbers are rather impressive. Rodriguez has a 32.7 SOBB, and while his .219 BABIP points to some regression, we’re only talking about him slipping into the 1.00-2.00 ERA range instead of sitting at 0.00 all season.
If Cody Allen is sitting out there in your league, grab him now. Not only is John Axford struggling again (you knew this was coming) and sporting a 4.85/5.27 ERA/xFIP, but Allen has a 2.03/2.50 split and dominating 26.8 SOBB. The change is coming.
Another name that shouldn’t be sitting on the wire is Ernesto Frieri. Yes, he struggled quite a bit to start the season, but Joe Smith doesn’t have a true closer’s makeup, and Frieri still had a 23.2 SOBB amidst his struggles. A 31.3 HR/FB rate was a big factor, and a 3.17 xFIP is telling as to Frieri being much better than what we’ve seen.
Not only does Hector Rondon have three saves for the Cubs, but with a solid 18.2 SOBB (4.2 points better than Pedro Strop), he looks to have a good chance at holding on to the gig.
Matt Lindstrom is one of the closers I’m most worried about. With a 1.5 SOBB, Lindstrom won’t be able to keep that ERA under 4.00 for too long. His xFIP is 4.72, and like Axford (5.27 xFIP and 3.3 SOBB), time is running out.