Fantasy pitchers you should buy or sell based on well-hit data

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Hitters are having a hard time squaring up <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/teams/atl" data-ylk="slk:Atlanta Braves">Atlanta Braves</a> lefty <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/players/9868/" data-ylk="slk:Sean Newcomb">Sean Newcomb</a>. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Hitters are having a hard time squaring up Atlanta Braves lefty Sean Newcomb. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Let’s look at well-hit rates vs. pitchers according to the video scouts at MLB stat provider, Inside Edge. The stat is how many balls in play were well-hit per at-bat. So if you strike someone out, it counts as a non-well-hit at bat.

I explain this every time because other similar stats ignore strikeouts. So if a guy strikes out 18 of 20 hitters (I’m looking at you, Josh Hader) and gives up a line-drive to one of the other two, his hard-hit in some models would be 50% — crazy pants. (For the record, the Inside Edge will hit rate against Hader is .070 compared with the MLB average of .151).

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You are correct that well-hit is not a fantasy statistic. But again, at the risk of over-clarification, you want indicators that broaden the samples as much as possible. ERA is based on relatively few pitcher-versus-hitter encounters. Wins are largely a team stat. WHIP can include a lot of batted-ball luck. And I prefer the Inside Edge method over batting average on balls in play because that ignores homers.

So enough preamble. Who are the winners and losers in this statistic? If the statistic is worth tracking, mostly obvious good and bad pitchers will occupy the far ranges. And that’s a check here. The well-hit leader is Jacob deGrom (.045) and Justin Verlander (.073), Chris Sale (.086) and Noah Syndergaard (.088) also are all top 10. Among the trailers are guys you want to keep as far away from your mixed-league rosters as possible: Mike Leake (.244), Derek Holland (.239), Clayton Richard (.192) and, this year anyway, Marcus Stroman (.191).

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The surprising leaders are buys. The highly-owned trailers, sells. But waiting for more data is reasonable — it always depends on what you need and what you can get.

My old favorite Vince Velasquez (.074) is fourth in well-hit rate between Verlander and Masahiro Tanaka. But he’s 11% owned due to grisly averages. But are his WHIP and ERA flukes? This says it just has to be. Velasquez has given up nine hard-hit balls in 122 situations this year. He should be crushing ERA and WHIP. You can point to the five homers, but can someone just rope a single against this guy? Five homers out of nine well-hit balls seems like ridiculous bad luck. His strikeout and walk profile is good, too. Full disclosure, I dropped him in 15-team Friends and Family. Every time I take Velasquez for a spin, he crashes my averages. I will come around to reason and roster him again in short order, no doubt.

Charlie Morton is 89% owned but is sixth. So he’s for real. But just behind him is a hard-throwing lefty who is just 32% owned — Sean Newcomb (.085) — even after dominating the Mets on Wednesday. Newcomb was one of my bold predictions in March (to be a top 30 starter) because of his stuff and the fact that he was one of the best prospects in baseball. His 2017 had some intriguing qualities (K-rate), remember. I like Newcomb’s odds even better now.

Zach Wheeler (18% owned) doesn’t qualify for the overall leaderboard but I see he is seventh best in allowing just five well-hit balls on 55 outcomes decided by pitches in the strike zone. If he can survive there, he can dominate if this out-of-the-strike zone splitter is remotely for real. Check it out for yourself. I say get ahead of the pack on what is likely going to be a good start in New York against the feeble Rockies and roster Wheeler now.

Jose Berrios (.062), Rick Porcello (.086), Trevor Wiliams (.092), Blake Snell (.095) and Miles Mikolas (.102) are all worthy of rostering/believing in, no matter the format.

Clayton Kershaw has been homered on a lot and you’d think that means he’s getting squared up at a very high rate, too, but he’s 25th best at .111. Don’t worry about Kershaw.

Sean Manaea though is only .121 well-hit allowed. Yes, that is good. But it’s nowhere near his statistical performance in fantasy. So he’s a sell if you can get someone to pay you a hitter you think is top 50, for example.

I think we’re a little ahead of our skis with Gerrit Cole, who is 51st in the stat at .139. You can say, “Who cares,” but if Cole’s so good, why is he getting squared up so often? Sure, these are mostly grounders probably. But remember Ks are being counted here.

There are just four guys at the bottom of the list of 97 qualifiers who are trendy/highly owned: Michael Fulmer (.193), Joey Lucchesi (.188), James Paxton (.188) and Chris Archer (.178). We already mentioned Stroman up top. I’m not saying to cut Fulmer and Lucchesi but just note there are some fleas here so getting lit up will be more correction than outlier. Paxton, Archer and Stroman have earned all their trouble this season. You may think you are buying low on them but a real buy low is a guy with bad fantasy stats but much better foundational stats, not one who is bad in fantasy and bad in the leading indicators, too.

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