By Fred Zinkie
Special to Yahoo Sports
Statcast has allowed us to understand Major League Baseball better than ever before. And one of the main advancements with Statcast has been the introduction of “Average Exit Velocity” to many fans’ vocabulary.
This week, we will take a look at starters who have been the best at limiting opponents’ AEV. If they continue to suppress hard contact, these hurlers could be some of this season’s biggest bargains.
Kenta Maeda (AEV 81.1 mph)
Maeda will be on the rotation bubble if/when the Dodgers rotation returns to full health, but he should be a shallow-league asset as long as he is drawing starts. The right-hander typically excels at limiting average exit velocity, and he could really find his groove by pumping his mediocre 2.0 K:BB ratio back to his lifetime 3.6 mark.
Caleb Smith (AEV 82.7 mph)
Smith is off to a stellar start, posting a 2.35 ERA and a 0.87 WHIP that is backed by a 4.8 K:BB ratio. Although his lackluster supporting cast could cost him some wins, Smith looks like someone who demands ownership in shallow leagues. The youngster profiles as someone who gives up plenty of fly balls but limits hard contact well enough to keep his homer rate in check.
Anibal Sanchez (AEV 82.8 mph)
Sanchez is excelling at limiting hard contact for a second straight season. But the 35 year old has taken a step back with his control skills this year, which is the biggest reason that his ERA has ballooned from 2.83 to 4.91. Dropping Sanchez for the treat-of-the-week makes sense in 10-team leagues, but he should get a longer leash in formats with 12 or more clubs.
Luis Castillo (AEV 83.0 mph)
There should be no surprise that Castillo is handcuffing hitters, as he has been one of baseball’s best starters (1.47 ERA, 0.88 WHIP) through his initial four starts. The righty is also racking up oodles of whiffs (12.0 K/9 rate) and inducing plenty of grounders (52.5 percent). Lowering his 4.1 BB/9 rate is the final piece to this tantalizing puzzle.
Jose Berrios (AEV 83.6 mph)
Berrios is a legit AL Cy Young candidate now that he has improved his control skills (2.2 BB/9 rate) to an elite level. Sure, it’s early to proclaim that the problem has been solved in terms of limiting free passes, but owners who plucked the righty as a No. 2 starter are getting everything they wanted and more. My strong recommendation is that Berrios owners hold him unless offered an irresistible return package.
Sandy Alcantara (AEV 83.8 mph)
In possession of a 5.09 ERA, Alcantara is sitting on waivers in most Yahoo leagues. But owners who dig a little deeper will see that he owns a 2.46 FIP and has been plagued by bad luck (.356 BABIP, 61. 8 percent strand rate) despite inducing plenty of grounders and rarely surrendering hard-hit balls. The support of a woeful Marlins club will keep the 23 year old on waivers in 10-team leagues, but he deserves a look in deeper formats.
Joey Lucchesi (AEV 83.9 mph)
Like Alcantara, Lucchesi could be a little hit-sequencing away from finding his stride. The youngster currently owns a 5.06 ERA, but much of his struggles stem from a 63.5 percent strand rate, and his 3.30 FIP paints a much rosier picture. His current ownership rate (72 percent) feels about right, and owners should consider taking the plunge in the leagues where he remains available.
Zach Davies (AEV 84.2 mph)
Davies is one of the few hurlers to avoid on this list. He deserves credit for limiting hard contact, but his 1.19 ERA is largely the result of a 91.9 percent strand rate. With his limited plate dominance (1.7 K:BB ratio), Davies should soon own an ERA that resembles his 4.22 FIP.
Max Fried (AEV 84.4 mph)
Get ready for a mixed bag of advice. On a positive note, Fried has been dynamite as a starter largely on the strength of outstanding control skills (1.8 BB/9 rate) and a stellar ability to keep hitters off balance. But the 25 year old is struggling to put batters away on his own (5.5 K/9 rate) and is relying heavily on a two-pitch mix. Fried should be active in all leagues for now, but his lack of variety and dominance could eventually catch up with him.
Trevor Williams (AEV 84.5 mph)
Dismissed by many owners as a smoke-and-mirrors act when he posted a 3.11 ERA last season, Williams has taken his seemingly fluky results to another level (2.59 ERA, 1.03 WHIP) this year. The righty may lack the dominance of the ace-level starters, but he limits walks and has consistently shown the ability to limit hard contact. There is a real chance that he can remain a serviceable mixed-league option.