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One of the hottest pitchers in fantasy baseball right now, going from an ownership rate of 14 percent in CBS Sports fantasy baseball leagues to 44 percent, is Scott Feldman. He went 2-0 last week going up against what looks to be two of the better hitting lineups–on paper at least, the current numbers suggests more like middle-tier offenses–in the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels. As always, Feldman didn’t impress anyone with his weak strikeout totals, but only gave up one earned run while scattering five hits over 13 innings pitched. The question on everybody’s mind, including Josh Collacchi’s in the recent XN Sports’ Waiver Wire Monday, is “can he keep it up?”
It would appear that in the interim, Feldman would indeed be worth an add. Against another dangerous hitting lineup in the Texas Rangers (again, numbers suggest a mediocre offense right now), Feldman pitched seven valuable innings for the Astros and put up another goose egg on the scoreboard. More impressive, he went up against the dominant Yu Darvish and gave his team a chance to win and his fantasy owners a decent start. Yes, he gave up four walks and the strikeouts were lacking once again, but the bend-but-don’t-break approach to Feldman’s game has him off to an adequate start.
In the long-term, however, Feldman’s outlook is a bit more puzzling. Nevertheless, it’s interesting and almost satisfying to see Feldman get all this buzz to kick off the 2014 season. By the end of the 2012 campaign, Feldman looked like a pitcher on the crossroads of his career, going through another disastrous season in Texas, seeing his ERA balloon to 5.09. Just when it looked like Feldman would never amount to anything in the Majors, he goes on and has himself a bounce-back 2013 season.
So what changed during the 2013 season and what trends in Feldman’s game can we assume for this current year? For starters, per Brooks Baseball (ignoring his shortened 2011 season where he pitched in only 11 games, mostly out of the bullpen), Feldman has scaled back on his cutter and has utilized his curve more. Matter of fact, this season, after three starts, he’s more or less equally using his cutter, sinker, and curveball in his starts. The mix of pitches is allowing hitters to be off-balance against a guy that lacks explosive stuff.
Also, Feldman has decreased his Line Drive Rate (LD%) and increased his Ground Ball Rate (GB%) in 2013. As far back as 2009, Feldman was sporting an LD% of more than 20 percent. His GB% has also been below 50 percent since 2008, his first year utilized primarily as a starting pitcher. Definitely not a good thing for a sinker baller. In 2013, however, it shot up to 49 percent (a career high as a starting pitcher), good enough to finish 14th overall among qualified starting pitchers. This season, his GB% is at 50 percent. Obviously, the more ground balls he induces, the more effective Feldman will be.
Furthermore, just like last season, hitters are simply not swinging at a lot of Feldman’s pitches because they are making ridiculous amount of contact against him, especially within the strike zone, otherwise known as Z-Contact Rate: 90.5 percent, finishing 10th in 2013; 95.3 percent for the 2014 campaign.
In other words, Feldman is predictably pitching up to his pitch-to-contact profile and counting on a heavy dose of grounders provoked by his mixed bag of pitches that continues to frustrate hitters. However, all good things come to an end and eventually Feldman will come back down to earth. Perhaps his LD% will continue to be below 20 percent, but his SIERA (per fangraphs.com, this is a pitching stat that takes into account strikeouts, walks, and balls in play) from last season suggests a high rate of luck. Last year, he finished with an ERA of 3.86, but a SIERA of 4.03. Currently, Feldman is sporting a microscopic ERA (microscope not included), but his 2014 SIERA stands at 5.56. He is due for a brutal reality check. When it will come, is anybody’s guess.
Finally, going Feldman’s way in 2013 was the defense that played behind him. In terms of RngR, per fangraphs.com, this is a defensive metric used to measure defensive range, the Chicago Cubs finished fourth in that category and, when he got traded to the Baltimore Orioles, he was backed by the 12th best defensive range team in the Majors. Using another defensive metric, rPM, which is a defensive metric that also measures range and helps calculate Defensive Runs Saved (whereas RngR is an Ultimate Zone Rating stat), the Houston Astros are currently 24th in that defensive category.
Too many walks, a high SIERA, and a suspect defense leads one to believe that he is better off being left on waivers. However, there is value in fantasy baseball for a guy on a hot streak like this as he provides a very low WHIP (for roto-leaguers) and eats up innings (pay attention fantasy points owners). Feel free to roll the dice with Feldman but don’t expect him to save your pitching staff.
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