Three Pitchers to Consider for the Stretch Run
Most teams need pitching, especially when Clayton Kershaw’s back is ailing again, and Robbie Ray has a concussion, and Noah Syndergaard is too busy throwing spears for the Lannisters to throw baseballs for the Mets (he may also still be injured). The following pitchers may not be the most exciting names in baseball, but they do have a few things going for them, the primary factor being that they are all available in well over half of leagues, and in one case almost all leagues.
Ariel Miranda, Mariners (ESPN 34.4%, Yahoo 32%)
Miranda has given up 20 earned runs, including nine home runs, over his last five starts, so picking him up is not going to feel particularly good. There’s no question that Miranda has a serious home run problem: over 184 2/3 major league innings, he has given up a James Shields-esque 39 bombs. With a fly ball rate north of 50%, it’s not that surprising that Miranda gives up more homers than the average pitcher, and he may be disproportionately affected by the change in the balls.
It isn’t all terrible, though. Over the same five-game stretch, Miranda has struck out 29 and walked just 5, a 25.7% strikeout rate and just 4.4% walk rate. The 28-year-old’s swinging strike rate is surging to levels that are extremely attractive for fantasy owners, with his changeup, slider, and split all capable of getting swings and misses – when he locates them at the edges of the zone. When he doesn’t, Miranda ends up with way too many meatballs that are simple for major league hitters to crush for homers, like this. The slider has been very good in this regard: hitters have recorded just two hits against it in 22 at-bats ending with the pitch. On the flip side is the changeup, which has a .647 slugging percentage against and has been responsible for six home runs in 51 at-bats, and the fastball isn’t all that much better on a percentage basis.
There are components here for good starts, and when everything is working, Miranda can be very useful. On six different occasions this season, the left-hander has gone at least 7 innings and given up two or fewer runs, including a complete game, nine strikeout, one-run effort against the Rays in early June. He may just need some tweaks to his pitch mix and delivery to be able to locate more consistently; he may never get there and end up in the bullpen, where the fastball velocity can jump and the slider would provide an excellent complement. Miranda gets the strikeout-prone A’s tonight, followed by the uninspiring Angels, and then the similarly whiff-happy Rays, so there’s a chance for a really nice run here. I’m not promising anything, though.
Luis Castillo, Reds (ESPN 25.8%, Yahoo 31%)
To get the bad out of the way first again: Castillo is a rookie with just over 50 MLB innings under his belt, pitching for a last-place team, in a bad park for home runs. His walk percentage is also in the double digits, and he just passed his innings total from 2016 with almost two months still remaining this season.
That said, this is a 24-year-old starter who can throw 100 and sits at 96-97 with his fastball. Castillo has made it through five innings in every single one of his nine MLB starts and has gone six or more in five of his last six. The changeup seems to be coming along nicely, with hitters batting just .118 against the pitch while whiffing over 20% of the time, and he’s striking out almost a quarter of all batters faced overall with a 11.7% swinging strike rate to back that up. Castillo has also added a sinker over his last three starts, helping his ground ball percentage to jump up to nearly 60%.
Castillo’s ownership percentage has climbed of late but he’s still out there in plenty of leagues and the Reds get the Padres later this week, making him an appealing spot-start add if nothing else. The rest of the schedule also doesn’t look too formidable outside of the Cubs, with potential starts against the Braves and Pirates over the next few weeks.
Tyler Skaggs, Angels (ESPN 7.6%, Yahoo 9%)
Skaggs made his major league debut in 2012 and still has just 264 innings under his belt, which gives you some idea of how much injuries have interrupted the left-hander’s career. The latest ailment, a strained oblique, kept him out from the end of April until the past weekend, when he laboured through four innings in an abbreviated outing against the A’s.
Skaggs is still just 26, even though it feels like an age since he was a highly-touted prospect (and five years is a pretty long time in prospect circles). The signs in the brief sample available this season are promising: the walks, an issue upon his return from Tommy John surgery in 2016, are down to 7.9%, while his strikeout rate gains have held at 22.9%.
While the velocity looks to be down a little, the truth is that we just haven’t seen enough of Skaggs to know whether he can contribute meaningfully this year, which is kind of the point. 26-year-olds with great prospect pedigree aren’t usually available in this many leagues, and Skaggs has shown both flashes of significant upside mixed in with very mediocre performance and, of course, lengthy periods of injury. Until he gets an extended period of uninterrupted time on a major league mound, making long-term predictions about Skaggs’ ultimate upside is somewhat futile. As pitcher who currently has a major league starting job, with a nice curveball and a decent home park to pitch in, Skaggs is worth a flier for those in deeper leagues trying to catch lightning in a bottle.