The Numbers Do Lie in Fantasy Baseball: Are former touted pitching prospects finally breaking out?

A simple look at a box score or a study of fantasy categories doesn't always tell the whole story of how a player is performing. Dalton Del Don attempts to identify recent misleading numbers that are worth a closer look.

Yes ... The Numbers Do Lie.

Tanner Houck’s 5.30 ERA is a lie

Houck’s spot in Boston’s deep rotation remains safe with Corey Kluber moving to the bullpen after posting the highest FIP (6.60) among all starters this season. Houck’s 5.30 ERA is accompanied by a 4.14 FIP (and a 3.69 xFIP), as the former first-round pick has impressive peripherals to go with an unlucky HR/FB rate and LOB%. Houck has seen more than twice as many flyballs leave the yard as usual for him, while only three starters among 70 qualified have a lower LOB% (Sandy Alcantara should also start pitching better with runners on base moving forward). Houck’s HR/FB rate and LOB% this season are well above his career marks in the majors.

Houck isn’t going to pitch super deep into games (and it’s safest to bench him during his next scheduled start against Tampa Bay’s league-best offense), as he tends to struggle the third time through lineups. But the former top prospect is figuring it out. He added a bunch of movement to his pitches in May, when he held hitters to a .250 xwOBA. Houck ranks top-10 among starters in CSW this season while racking up swings and misses, so he has real upside for a pitcher who remains available in more than 80% of Yahoo leagues.

Bryce Elder’s 1.92 ERA is a lie

Any starter with a sub-2.00 ERA is due for regression, but Elder’s might be an explosive one. He has been a huge fantasy surprise (and help) while leading MLB in ERA, but that comes with a 4.45 xERA. Elder’s K-BB% (14.0) just barely ranks inside the top 50 starters this season, and his HardHit% is in the bottom-10th percentile, which isn’t typically a recipe for pitching success. Nor is being a low-strikeout, high-GB% pitcher playing for a Braves defense that ranks last in UZR.

Elder is a terrific story in a year filled with pitching blowups, but he posted a 4.46 ERA (4.45 FIP) last year in the minors, and THE BAT projects a 4.63 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP rest-of-season. He’s a screaming sell-high candidate in fantasy leagues.

Michael Kopech’s 5.77 FIP is a lie

Kopech has disappointed, with a 4.52 ERA and a bottom-three FIP among qualified starters. But he has produced an eye-opening 29:3 K:BB ratio (19.1 innings) his past three starts, including a 2.04 SIERA and a minuscule 0.57 WHIP over that span. A change in mechanics has led to increased fastball velocity and a bunch of whiffs, with Kopech among the leaders in K-BB% the past three weeks.

Kopech looked like a future star in 2021, and he’s healthy again. It remains to be seen whether he can keep it up, but Kopech is another former top pitching prospect who’s finally breaking out.

Anthony Volpe’s 20/40 pace is a lie

Volpe has hit just .181 in May, with an ugly 32.1 K% and a 4.5 BB%. He’s on pace for 20-plus homers and nearly 40 steals (he’s a perfect 13-for-13 on SB attempts), but only 11 qualified hitters have a lower wRC+ this season. The rookie should remain plenty valuable in fantasy leagues if he stays in New York’s lineup, even if he doesn’t make a major leap at the plate this season, but there’s a risk that he starts to lose playing time or makes a trip to the minors with Oswald Peraza healthy and tearing up Triple-A (148 wRC+). Giancarlo Stanton and Josh Donaldson are both due back soon as well, which will possibly lead to Isiah Kiner-Falefa seeing more time at SS.

Volpe is undoubtedly a future fantasy star, but his playing time is at risk in the short term.