The “Leaders” section of Fangraphs is a wonderful place. It’s a smorgasbord of sortable data. One of the many, many useful functions of this data is that you can spot underrated players grouped among some of the more elite and well-known players in the game. Often the out-of-place player is there because of something like luck or a small sample size, but sometimes the bath water belongs with the baby. Below are a few pitchers who looked out of place in certain categories but might actually have a place alongside the game’s better known pitchers.
Dillon Gee (New York Mets, 1.4% owned)
Gee currently ranks 11th among starters with an 11% swinging strike rate. That’s a better rate than guys like Clayton Kershaw and Stephen Strasburg have. And for a guy who managed just a 6.08 K/9 in his first 193 major league innings, such an elite swinging strike rate seems fluky. But there is some evidence that an above-average swinging strike rate is sustainable. In 160 AAA innings in 2010, Gee struck out more than a batter per inning. And his low K/9 in his early major league innings may have been the real fluke as his swinging strike rate was slightly above average (9%).
The jump from 9% to 11% could be due to a significant decrease in the use of his four-seam fastball. He used his four-seamer about 30% of the time last year but is using it only about 10% of the time so far this year. As a result, he’s mixing his pitches a lot more. That 20% decrease has been allocated fairly evenly between his two-seamer (his primary fastball), curve, slider, and cutter.
You also have to love Gee’s 1.91 BB/9. His walk rate won’t stay under two per nine, but he displayed good control at all levels of the minors. When you combine good strikeout and walk skills (something Gee can control) with a favorable home ballpark (something he can’t), you’re looking at a guy who should be owned in way more than 1.4% of leagues. He starts tonight at home against Milwaukee if you’re looking for a stream option today.
Phil Hughes (New York Yankees, 8.4% owned)
Hughes is only owned in as many leagues as he is because of some name value still held over from his days as a prospect. But I would imagine most smart fantasy owners gave up on him before this year.
And yet despite his plus-5.00 ERA this year, I’m half-inclined to buy back in on him somewhat. He’s pitched quite well if you look past the ERA. Hughes is currently in the top 25 in strikeout-to-walk ratio among qualified starters. With his career K/BB of 2.43, it sure does look odd to see him sandwiched between Roy Halladay and Felix Hernandez on that list this year.
And it might be sustainable. Hughes’ problem has never been control. The real issue has been his hit and miss ability to generate swings and misses. His K/9 and swinging strike rate have bounced around from well-below average to well-above average with stretches of league average in between. But the reason for it seems to simply be varying velocity. In 2008 and 2011 when Hughes’ strikeout ability disappeared, his fastball velocity sat around 91 mph. When he has gotten swings and misses more frequently, his fastball velocity has been above 92 mph. Last year the velocity on all four of his pitches was down.
But this year the velocity seems to have returned to normal. He’s been unlucky so far with runners on base (66% LOB%) and with balls leaving the park (HR/FB% about 5% higher than career average). When those things return to normal as well, Hughes should be a sub-4.00 ERA pitcher with good strikeout and walk numbers.
Joe Blanton (Philadelphia Phillies, 27.9% owned)
Blanton is 13th among qualified starters in WAR. He has an ERA (2.96) lower than Roy Halladay’s, and has a BB/9 (1.29) lower than both Halladay and Cole Hamels. And his performance thus far seems to be legit. He might be due for a slight bit of regression in the BABIP and HR/FB categories, but that should be offset somewhat by a little better luck with runners on base.
Since moving to the NL, Blanton’s swinging strike rate has been above average (about 9%). That’s a sample size of more than 400 innings, so we should expect him to continue to miss bats. So his K/9 should finish somewhere north of 7.00 as opposed to the current 6.47.
Blanton’s ownership percentage is likely to continue rising, so grab him while you still can.
Written by Brett Talley exclusively for thefantasyfix.com. Brett is a soon-to-be attorney in Dallas who can’t believe he just recommended Phil Hughes. You can follow him and/or ask him for fantasy advice on Twitter @therealTAL.