In last week’s column, I dug up a handful of hitters who could aid your team in the least exciting of categories: batting average. Just as we may overemphasize power when looking for hitters, we can overlook pitchers who may excel in categories other than strikeouts. If you need to boost the production of your fantasy pitching staff, there are lots of ways to go about it, but aiming for a low second-half WHIP may be a more affordable approach. While high-K pitchers draw much of the attention as our leagues’ trade deadlines draw near, WHIP specialists are often passed over.
Fortunately, there are a few pitchers who are clearly primed to have a low second-half WHIP, and some of them are widely available, particularly in 12-team mixed leagues. Here are five pitchers owners should target, especially if improving one’s WHIP is more important than addressing a deficiency in strikeouts.
Note: Ownership percentages for Fantrax leagues are in parentheses for each player.
Second-Half WHIP Targets for All Leagues
Sean Manaea, SP, Athletics (98 percent owned)
Manaea is almost completely unavailable on waivers, but some of his current owners may be tiring of waiting for the lefty to be the decent strikeout pitcher he was during his first two major league seasons. After clocking in with a 20.5 percent K-rate in 2016 and 2017 combined, Manaea’s 2018 rate has slipped to 16.9 percent. It could be a good time to get a source of low second-half WHIP on the cheap.
Manaea is a better control pitcher (48.1 percent Zone%) this season than he has been previously and that may be contributing to a higher contact rate. However, he is walking batters at a svelte 4.6 percent rate, which is the seventh-lowest mark among qualified starting pitchers. It certainly helps that Manaea has been pounding the strike zone, but only a dozen qualified starting pitchers have been better at inducing swings outside of the zone. His 34.1 percent O-Swing% is right in line with his career norm of 33.6 percent. The heat map below shows how Manaea has been especially good at getting opponents to chase after low pitches (Source: FanGraphs).
A contact-friendly approach has actually worked out for Manaea, who sports an American League-low .221 BABIP. While he is due for some regression, Manaea figures to be stingy with hits on balls in play going forward. Not only does Oakland Coliseum typically have one of the lower BABIPs in the majors, but Manaea has been inducing poorly-hit balls at a 29.5 percent rate that is nearly four percentage points above the major league average.
If you can afford to take a hit in strikeouts, Manaea is an excellent target for lowering your staff’s WHIP. Even with the expected BABIP regression, he could post a mark around 1.10 the rest of the way.
Tyler Anderson, SP, Rockies (72 percent owned)
The Rockies’ southpaw is a free agent in many shallower leagues, and if he is still there for the taking in your league, he is worth picking up, especially if you need help with WHIP. If Anderson is already owned, he is worth the trouble of engaging in some trade talk, as he offers an enticing combination of good control (45.7 percent Zone%) and a consistent knack for inducing soft contact (career 23.7 percent rate).
Anderson has been on a particularly good run over his last eight starts, compiling a 2.19 ERA and 0.98 WHIP with 55 strikeouts over 53.1 innings. Over that stretch, he has assembled a tidy 6.3 percent walk rate that has been aided by a 32,8 percent O-Swing rate. Anderson is not bad at missing bats, but his ability to induce chases and limit home runs away from Coors Field (0.99 road HR/9) gives him extra value. His season-to-date 1.21 WHIP is not bad at all, but his recent trends suggest he could take it much lower.
It’s time to multi-task! Keep up with all of our baseball coverage, but kick off your football prep and dig into our 2018 Fantasy Football Draft Kit. Then head on over to Fantrax and join a Fantasy Football league.
Second-Half WHIP Targets for Deeper Leagues
Wade LeBlanc, SP, Mariners (46 percent owned)
Back in early June, I wrote about how LeBlanc was displaying an unusual combination of freezing batters, getting chases on bad pitches, and inducing popups at a high rate. Over the nine starts he has made since then, he has not been as good at getting infield flies, but he has been avoiding walks by getting swings on pitches outside of the strike zone at a 35.4 percent rate. He has also found a new way to avoid hits on balls in play, by getting batters to pull grounders at a healthy 60.3 percent rate. That has enabled LeBlanc to hold opponents to a .172 batting average on grounders and a .272 BABIP during this nine-start stretch.
Even though he continues to be effective at getting swings on bad pitches and avoiding swings on pitches in the strike zone, LeBlanc is not especially consistent in getting swinging strikes or strikeouts. Owners should not get too excited about LeBlanc’s 10-strikeout performance against the White Sox on Friday, but they should definitely be enticed by his season-to-date 1.13 WHIP.
Wade LeBlanc has equaled his career-high of 10 strikeouts (also: 9/23/11 vs. LAD w/SD). #Mariners
— MarinersPR (@MarinersPR) July 21, 2018
Jordan Zimmermann, SP, Tigers (46 percent owned)
Forget about WHIP for just a moment. Zimmermann has just been flat-out superb over his last seven starts and he is wildly underowned, regardless of what owners’ particular needs might be. His final start of April and first start of May produced 12 scoreless innings, and then he went on a month-plus hiatus on the disabled list for a shoulder impingement. Zimmermann continued his masterful ways after returning, putting up a 2.56 ERA and 0.95 WHIP in his final five starts of the first half. A total of 29 strikeouts over 31.2 innings were a nice bonus, but incredibly, he walked only two batters over those five outings.
In four of those starts, Zimmermann threw at least 46.0 percent of his pitches in the strike zone and drew swings on pitches outside of the zone at a rate above 37.0 percent. That alone bodes well for his ability to limit his walk rate and WHIP.
Zimmermann will make his first start of the second half on Tuesday night against the Royals in Kansas City, It won’t just be a test of his consistency, but also his health. Zimmermann received a pair of cortisone shots in his back during the All-Star break, but owners can be encouraged by the fact that he also received the same treatment prior to spring training, and perhaps that played a role in his first-half resurgence. The flyball-prone veteran has benefited from a 26.3 percent popup rate as well a dearth of walks, so barring a dramatic change in fortune, he should be an elite among starters in WHIP for the second half.
Yusmeiro Petit, RP, Athletics (13 percent owned)
If none of the above starters are available in your leagues, it could make sense to pursue the next-best thing: an inning-eating reliever who has long excelled at preventing baserunners. Among relievers, only Ryan Yarbrough has thrown more innings than Petit, who has already logged 62.1 innings this season. His 1.06 WHIP does not look the least bit fluky, and not just because he compiled a 1.09 WHIP over the previous four seasons combined. With a 43.0 percent Zone%, Petit is not especially proficient as a control pitcher, but he is continuing in his long-standing pattern of getting chases at a high rate (34.4 percent O-Swing%). Like Manaea, Petit induces poorly-hit balls at a high rate — 31.5 percent, to be exact — and he gets an assist from pitching home games at Oakland Coliseum.
Statistical credits: FanGraphs, xStats.org.