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Which Sell High Starting Pitchers Should You Part With?

Finding a breakout star is always satisfying for fantasy owners.  Holding on too long?  That could be costly.  Let’s take a look at a few early-season breakout starting pitchers and try to decide if now is the time to cut bait.

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Hold ‘Em or Fold ‘Em – Breakout Starters

Mitch Keller, Pittsburgh Pirates

Long hyped, Keller teased fantasy owners with a late-season surge (2.06 ERA in September ’22).  However, he’s carried that success into his first 10 starts of 2023 (2.38 ERA over 56.2 IP).  Now fantasy owners need to decide if this success is for real.

There’s been a noticeable change to his pitch selection, as he’s incorporating a cut-fastball for the first time (24.26%).  The pitch has given him a third swing-and-miss weapon (Whiff%):

  • Fourseam Fastball – 16.29%
  • Slider – 16.96%
  • Cut-Fastball – 11.32%

Opposing hitters have also managed to hit just .175 against the cut-fastball.  If that’s the sole reason for his success or not, we can’t say for sure.  What we know is he’s generating more swings and misses (10.3% SwStr%).  That has helped him to a 10.96 K/9.  Couple that with his suddenly elite control (2.22 BB/9) and enough groundballs (42.7%) and there’s a lot to like.

Keller also hasn’t benefited from extreme luck (.286 BABIP, 75.4% strand rate).  His 86.0 average Exit Velocity against ranks him 23rd out of 254 pitchers with at least 50 batted ball events this season.

You put that all together and it’s hard not to be excited.   While it’s possible he does take a step back, it shouldn’t be dramatic.  There’s every reason to believe that he’s emerged as a must-use option.

Verdict – Hold ‘Em

Eduardo Rodriguez – Detroit Tigers

Rodriguez has long been on radars, though with a career 4.03 ERA, he’s been a rather underwhelming option.  So what do we make of his 2.06 ERA over his first 56.2 innings?  Obviously, he’s had good control (1.91 BB/9), but what else are we hanging our hats on?  He hasn’t been piling up the strikeouts (8.26 K/9) and he’s not a groundball machine (42.1%).

In fact, things look even worse when you start to take his luck metrics into consideration

  • BABIP – .222
  • Strand Rate – 85.7%

Both of those numbers will regress, and with it will the other numbers.  While he has limited the hard contact (85.5 mph average Exit Velocity), there’s nothing new in his repertoire that would make you think he’s finally arrived.

He’s likely going to come crashing down, and you don’t want to suffer the consequences.

Verdict – Fold ‘Em

Bryce Elder – Atlanta Braves

Elder owned a 4.46 ERA over 105.0 IP at Triple-A last season, so what would make anyone think he could maintain his 1.94 ERA over 46.1 IP thus far?  The underlying metrics are somewhat promising:

  • Strikeouts – 7.58 K/9
  • Control – 2.72 BB/9
  • Groundballs – 56.8%

Of course, his 9.9% SwStr% doesn’t bring much upside in the strikeout department.  He’s also been hit relatively hard (91.6 mph Exit Velocity) and has benefited from an 86.6% strand rate.  Not to mention, does anyone believe he’s going to maintain his spot in the rotation?

While the control and groundballs are promising, that’s hardly enough.

Verdict – Fold ‘Em

Sources – Fangraphs, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball

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