FANTASY PLAYS: Real vs fake pitching starts, golf outlook
It's critical in all formats of fantasy baseball to be able to identify and evaluate hot starts by pitchers to determine which performances are real, and which ones are going to go up in a puff of smoke. This week we will look at a couple of pitchers off to surprising starts, and dissect just how much we should be buying into their early season statistics, especially for daily fantasy purposes.
PATRICK CORBIN, Arizona Diamondbacks
Through seven starts, Corbin has a sparkling 2.15 ERA. While our expectations rest of season should be centered around a 3.00 ERA target, most of Corbin's early-season success has been completely justified by his underlying skill set.
A year after increasing his strikeout minus walk percentage from 9.3 percent to 14.2 percent, Corbin has shockingly more than doubled that rate this year, all the way up to 29.5 percent. The improvement there has come at no expense to his above average 50.5 percent ground ball rate, leading to a 2.96 fielding independent pitching (FIP) and 2.30 expected fielding independent pitching (xFIP). FIP and xFIP are ERA estimators that try to tell us what a pitcher's ERA should be based on the skills they have displayed, attempting to strip luck from the equation.
Corbin has stopped throwing his changeup in favor of a curve, which has a 15 percent whiff rate, higher than any whiff rate Corbin previously achieved with his changeup. Furthermore, Corbin has increased his slider usage for the second straight season and is now throwing it around 40 percent of the time. Corbin generates more swings and misses on that pitch than any other pitch, and he has increased both vertical and horizontal movement on it this season.
CARLOS MARTINEZ, St. Louis Cardinals
Carlos Martinez has an ERA of 1.40 but a FIP of 3.24 and xFIP of 3.98. The large gap is a good sign that he has been lucky to begin this season. Sure enough, Martinez currently has a .241 Batting Average On Balls In Play (BABIP), 87.7 percent strand rate (LOB), and 3.4 percent home run per fly ball (HR/FB) rate. These are the three primary luck statistics, and we can generally count on these numbers to regress toward a pitcher's career marks. In Martinez's case, his career BABIP is .299, LOB percentage is 76.9, and HR/FB rate is 11.1. As these numbers normalize over the course of the season, Martinez will see his ERA steadily rise unless he is able to make improvements in his strikeout, walk, and ground ball rates.
TPC Sawgrass hosts The Players Championship, as the "fifth major" brings out a star-studded field. TPC Sawgrass is a 7,189 yard long Par 72 most fondly known for the 17th hole island green, and is an all-around balanced test that slightly favors golfers with a strong approach game. Over the past eight seasons roughly 40 percent of strokes have been gained on approach, which is notably higher than the tour average of 34 percent.
Henrik Stenson is a strong value this week with 40 percent odds to finish inside the top 20 this week and 80 percent odds to make the cut. While the Swedish veteran's official world golf rank of 15th is the lowest it has been the past five seasons, that is as much due to lack of appearances as anything else. Stenson is the highest-rated golfer priced below $9,000 and comes in with great form posting three straight top 10 finishes including a top 5 finish at The Masters. Stenson is ranked first on the PGA Tour this year in strokes gained on approach. He's also won this event before and made the cut five of the past six years. Stenson checks the boxes in short-term form, long-term form and course fit. In fantasy formats, Stenson is cheap enough that he doesn't have to do a lot, but he offers a high ceiling and floor for his value.
Paul Casey offers comparable results for a comparable price. Casey ranks 10th on tour in strokes gained on approach and allows you to comfortably roster whichever other top golfers you choose. Casey looked to be a great fit last week for the Wells Fargo and backed it up with a fifth place finish. Paul Casey now has a Top 20 finish in 17 of his previous 20 events and can be leaned on confidently in all fantasy formats. At his price, Casey only needs to be the third best golfer on your fantasy rosters but he certainly has the capability of producing the best results.
This column was provided to The Associated Press by DailyRoto, http://dailyroto.com