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Fantasy Baseball: Which starting pitchers should we believe in or fade?

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Entering Week 8 of the MLB season, let’s use CSW (my favorite quick and dirty stat) to identify pitchers whose strong (or slow) starts appear real (or not). I used 250 pitches thrown as the qualifying threshold.

The Good CSW

Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee Brewers (No. 1 in CSW)

He leads all starters by a significant margin, as if you needed further proof his ridiculous start was real. He finally walked his first batter of the season during his return from the IL last week, but a 58:1 K:BB line will do. Burnes easily has the lowest expected ERA (1.24) among starters.

Shane McClanahan, Tampa Bay Rays (No. 6 in CSW)

The top-five starters in CSW this season are Burnes, Jacob deGrom, Gerrit Cole, Shane Bieber and Tyler Glasnow. No. 6 is McLanahan. His sample is smaller, and wins will remain an issue with him not going deep into games, but McClanahan clearly has massive long-term upside. Three of his four starts have come against top-eight offenses in wRC+, and McLanahan’s name is here among the game’s truly elite hurlers. He’s rostered in only a third of Yahoo leagues right now.

Alex Wood, San Francisco Giants (No. 11 in CSW)

He improved to 5-0 with another strong outing Sunday, leaving him with a 1.75 ERA and a 0.94 WHIP. Wood is sandwiched between Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Brandon Woodruff on the CSW leaderboard, as he’s been one of this season’s best pitching surprises. Wood is absolutely one of the bigger injury risks moving forward, and no one should be expecting him to continue performing like a unanimous Cy Young award winner, but there’s nothing fluky about his strong start. His slider has become a real weapon.

Rich Hill, Tampa Bay Rays (No. 15 in CSW)

Here’s someone who’s available in 85% of Yahoo leagues. Hill has remained a big help in WHIP (1.08) despite moving to the AL East, and his CSW suggests he should be added in all fantasy leagues. The 41-year-old is likely to make an IL trip before the season ends, but he’s also pitching like a borderline ace right now.

Adbert Alzolay, Chicago Cubs (No. 17 in CSW)

The spring chatter about Alzolay’s improved slider has proven true, and his CSW screams to pay more attention to his 0.88 WHIP than his 4.50 ERA. Alzolay is available in more than 75% of Yahoo leagues.

Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels (No. 22 in CSW)

He’s carried far more fantasy value as a hitter, but Ohtani’s pitching shouldn’t be overlooked either. He dominated an Astros offense that leads MLB in wRC+ in Houston during his last start and appears to be getting better. Ohtani ranks top-25 both in wRC+ (149) as a hitter and in CSW (32.7%) as a pitcher, which is simply unheard of. When Babe Ruth tried to do both, he produced a measly 3.60 career K rate while pitching (what I’m trying to say is Ohtani > Ruth).

The Bad CSW

Frankie Montas, Oakland A’s (No. 120 in CSW)

He had a solid outing over the weekend, lowering his ERA for the fourth straight start, but Montas’ poor 2021 doesn’t look especially unlucky or like a fluke. He’s not 4.93 ERA bad, but Montas’ CSW isn’t an especially encouraging sign moving forward. He gets MLB’s best offense (the Astros) next time out.

Luis Castillo, Cincinnati Reds (No. 124 in CSW)

One could argue Castillo’s ADP was too high for a pitcher who was just mediocre here (No. 40) last season, but no one could’ve predicted a 7.71 ERA and 1.79 WHIP over eight starts. Castillo’s fantasy value has nowhere to go but up after a rough outing in Coors Field over the weekend, but ranking bottom-25 in CSW suggests he’s earned his ugly stats so far.

Zack Wheeler, Philadelphia Phillies (No. 108 in CSW)

This one surprised me with Wheeler sporting a 2.85 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP while throwing harder than ever (97.1 mph). His CSW rank is actually an improvement over last season (No. 140), but that also came with a lowly 6.7 K rate. Wheeler’s expected ERA is 2.98, and there are no obvious red flags other than his mediocre CSW. Wheeler is an interesting case worth following.

Anthony DeSclafani, San Francisco Giants (No. 101 in CSW)

Some of the magic working in San Francisco has clearly rubbed off on DeSclafani, who’s having the best season of his career with a 2.14 ERA and a 0.88 WHIP. But his middling CSW suggests the incoming correction may hit hard. DeSclafani has always had fantasy potential, but with upcoming matchups this week in Cincinnati (MLB’s best offensive park so far in 2021) and another against the Dodgers, he’s someone to include in trade offers while currently ranking as a top-75 fantasy player.

Chris Flexen, Seattle Mariners (last in CSW)

His ERA is down to 3.46 after a solid outing over the weekend, but Flexen ranks last in CSW among the 151 starting pitchers who’ve thrown 250+ pitches this season. You don’t need a Sabermetrician to tell you Flexen has shaky peripherals, but Matt Harvey in the AL East has a better CSW. Yikes.

Tune in later this week for the same exercise but with relievers.

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