Unheralded Second Half Breakouts: Starting Pitching

Finding players late in your draft, or on the wire in the first few weeks, that break out is a key to dominating your league. A lot of articles will focus on young guys on the up and up, or former great players coming off down years. This article will find these wiley veteran players who very quietly played very well down the stretch. You should track during the offseason and be snatch them up with one of your last round picks. These guys won’t be league winners, but they can be key cogs to your machine. Best part, no one else will be in on them. With that, we start with starting pitching:

Clayton Richard, SP, San Diego Padres

Clayton Richard this past year quietly had several strong things going for him. Put your hand up if you thought Clayton Richard threw close to 200 innings last year. Now put it back down because you’re lying, even Padres fans weren’t aware of that. Richard threw 197.1 innings for the Padres across 32 starts, averaging 6 1/3 innings per start. He also struck out 151 total hitters. That inning total and strikeout place him 16th and 40th in all of baseball respectively. There’s value in those two numbers on their own.

Let’s get to the bad, in spite of those good numbers he finished with an ERA of 4.79, a WHIP of 1.52, and only 8 wins. Those numbers are….charitably not good…which made him the 142nd best starting pitcher in fantasy according to ESPN with a player rater value of .06. That’s gross, on the plus side, he was still a positive value! Those numbers, his low k/9, his journeyman status,  and pitching on one of the worst and least publicized teams in baseball will keep Clayton Richard off the radar (frankly for good reason).

So why am I optimistic on his 2018 outlook? First of all that ERA and WHIP were victims to an abnormally high BABIP, as he gave up a .351 number this past year, which is well above league average. Richard for the season actually had a 3.76 XFIP, and a 4.23 FIP. Those numbers are rather good, and place him 22nd and 34th respectively in the league among qualifiers. If his ERA comes down to what his indicators suggest, and his WHIP falls with a more reasonable BABIP he becomes a very interesting option. Someone in the top 20 in innings, top 50 in strikeouts, and top 30 in ERA (XFIP is more predictive than FIP) that has top 50 starter written all over it. That’s solid value for a guy you can grab off the wire in the vast majority of leagues.

But the title of this article is about second half breakouts, so is there more upside in Richard than if he simply meets what his ERA indicators suggested last year? Leading questions are fun aren’t they?

All of his sabermetric numbers took an encouraging step forward over 87.1 second half innings. His K/9 rose significantly (6.14 first half to 7.83 in the second) as well his k% (15.9-19.6) while his walk rate stabilized (6.8-7.0). A promising start, and that progress also made his ERA indicators better. His XFIP (3.97 to 3.50) and FIP (4.43 to 3.97) both dropped notably in the second half. Amongst all pitchers in the second half his XFIP ranked 15th, and his FIP 31st. His numbers in the second half were bad because of a ridiculous .367 BABIP.

Add it all up and Richard has tons of promise. He has shown he can get to 200 innings (with upside for more as with a normal BABIP he’d have eclipsed 200 easily this past year) and be in the top 20 in that category, have an ERA in the top 25 with normal batted ball luck, a palatable, if not great, WHIP in the 1.25-1.35 range (a 1.3 would have him 34th among qualifiers), and strikeout rate between 7-7.5 guys per 9 innings (200 innings with a 7.25 k/9 would be 161 k’s, which would have him 34th last year). The only thing missing will be wins, as the Padres are still likely to not be good in 2018. In spite of that, put all of it together and Clayton Richard could sneak into the top 30/35 starters.

The Padres believe in him, as they gave him a 2 year extension in September, you should too. No one on draft day will praise you for drafting Richard, in fact you are likely to be mocked (I’ve already been mocked by my biggest fantasy friend/rival for even mentioning his name), but he could pay off huge with one of your last picks. Profit accordingly.

Kyle Gibson, SP, Minnesota Twins

Kyle Gibson is another guy who is completely off the radar. Coming off a season where he threw 160 innings, with an ERA over 5, and only a 6.89 k/9 rather rightfully puts him there.  He’s been around forever, and has never lived up to his top prospect pedigree. It’s also possible he doesn’t have a spot in the starting rotation when spring training rolls around depending on what the Twins do this offseason. But if he has a spot in the rotation, he deserves a spot on your watchlist in shallow leagues or on your roster in deeper leagues. Here’s why:

His second half was actually quite strong, his start was just that horrendous. The numbers he put up in the second half are incredibly encouraging. He bumped his k% from 13.6 to 22.1! His walk rate plummeted from 10.1 to 6.9, with this bump his k/9 was a promising 8.22 over a fairly large sample of 76.2 innings. These improvements caused his ERA indicators to improve dramatically. He had an insane 5.94 FIP in the first, and dropped down to a 3.71 in the second. His XFIP started at 5.04 and sank to 3.63. His second half FIP and XFIP ranked 20th and 19th respectively.  His second half k%-bb% also ranked 27th, with his k/9 ranking 30th.

The main credit to Gibson’s second half breakout was on the heels of him changing his delivery. He switched his mechanics up by keeping his body closed so that hitters could not pick up his stuff so easily. Byron Buxton actually helped him make that switch, Derek Wetmore at 1500ESPN Twin Cities wrote about Gibson’s changes. He also changed his pitch mix by throwing more 4 seamers and less sinkers. He threw his sinker over 40% of the time in the first half, and that dropped to low 20s in the second. His 4 seamer went from 13% to almost 30%. Both of this switches are a large part in his surge in k rate.

Gibson has thrown close to 200 innings before. This year between the minors and majors he had 32 starts. In 2014 and 2015 he started 31 and 32 times respectively. In 2016 he started 28 times between the majors and minors. He has been very durable, and showed signs over the second half of a guy who could strike out 8k/9 (which over 200 innings is 178 ks, which would have been 26th this year). Gibson could have a season with 200 innings, 175 k’s, an ERA below 4, a WHIP around 1.3, and on a strong Twins team could finish around 15 wins. Put all of it together and he could very well be a top 30 starter next year. Keep an eye on him this offseason, if he has a rotation spot come spring training take him with one of your last picks.

Doug Fister, SP, Free Agent

I had to sneak in a Red Sox guy somehow. Fister came out of nowhere this year to provide much needed innings for the Red Sox this year and help them clinch the AL East. But I feel he will slip under the radar amongst owners this offseason as his ERA was an unspectacular 4.88, he’s a free agent, and has long been written off as a guy who lost it. But if he signs with a favorable organization and has a rotation spot, I would put him on your radar.

He very quietly put up a career (half) year in a lot of different ways.  He struck out 21.2% of batters this year. His previous career high was 20.4% in 2012, but other than that has been between 14 and 18 for most of his career. While his ERA was close to 5, both his FIP and XFIP were around 4 (3.98 and 4.18 respectively), and over his final 69.1 innings those numbers were 3.53 and 3.69.

A lot of this success was an increase in velocity back to the days when Fister was relevant (a still not amazing 89.7, but back to his 2011-2013 levels when he was at his best and a fantasy asset). Fister is only 34, he’s not that old, and if his stuff stays where it was this year, he will return to 2011-2013 levels of productivity. He could be a very viable number 5 starter for you. While he won’t be a Rich Hill style Red Sox rebuild castoff that goes and dominates somewhere else, he could be a viable guy who throws 175 innings, strikes out 7-7.5k/9, with an ERA around 4 and a WHIP around 1.3. Watch where he signs, and be ready to pick him towards the end of your draft.

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