It goes down as one of the flukes of the season, and it will be forgotten about soon enough.
The Pirates just swept the Dodgers in a three-game series. In Los Angeles, of all places. We haven’t heard Randy Newman all week.
If you examine the standings, these teams sit where we expected. The Dodgers are 33-17, three games on top in the NL West. They’re playoff bound. The Pirates are five games under .500, and will likely be sellers when the trade season kicks in next month.
Investing in brand-name Dodgers hitters has been a boon, as expected. Trea Turner and Mookie Betts have returned first-round value, and although Freddie Freeman only has four homers, he’s also validated his lofty ADP.
But a funny thing happens when you look at the Dodgers pitching staff. This is where fantasy managers needed to hit the discount rack, think about a thrifty approach. The big names have been mild disappointments in the LA rotation, while the unheralded guys have been the profit plays.
I don’t want to come down hard on Clayton Kershaw, who was delightful in five starts (1.80 ERA) before getting hurt. But you can’t help the club from the tub. Maintenance is expected when you draft Kershaw in his later years.
But Walker Buehler and Julio Urias have been mild disappointments.
Buehler has playable but carries unspectacular ratios (3.22 ERA, 1.24 WHIP), and his strikeout rate has tumbled by six percent. Urias still has a pretty 2.89 ERA on the back of his baseball card, but it’s a fluke. His strikeout rate has dipped even more than Buehler’s, and Urias is also down 1.4 mph on his fastball. FIP suggests a 4.50 ERA for Urias, while the Statcast estimate is less penal but still disappointing, given Urias’ pedigree and ADP ticket (3.45 xERA).
What’s a Buehler or Urias manager to do? Perhaps wait for a high-profile strong outing, then quietly make it known you want to “move a pitcher.” See if one of your opponents wants to pay up for a brand name.
The saviors of the LA rotation have been the discount guys. Tony Gonsolin has five wins, a strikeout per inning, and knockout ratios (1.80 ERA, 0.93 WHIP). Tyler Anderson’s stats are similar — six wins, same strikeout rate, 2.90 ERA, 1.01 WHIP. Statcast suggests both pitchers have been a little fortunate, but not egregiously so — Gonsolin gets an xERA of 2.48, while Anderson stands at 3.26.
The big question with Gonsolin is load management. He’s never thrown more than 55.2 innings in any MLB season. The Dodgers can manage their team like it’s already in the playoffs, so you have to wonder if Gonsolin will skip turns later in the summer, with an eye to having him fresh in the fall.
On Anderson, it’s fair to wonder where this story came from. He’s a well-traveled veteran, with the Dodgers his fifth club over seven years . His career ERA is 4.49, his career WHIP 1.29. He was knocked around last year, going 7-11 with Pittsburgh and Seattle, posting a 4.35 ERA. And all of his success this year is coming despite an average fastball that’s south of 90. Anderson couldn’t get a speeding ticket in a school zone.
The big change for Anderson this year is his change — it’s by far his most effective pitch. It’s enabled him to handle the platoon disadvantage — righties are slashing an ordinary .230/.260/.410 against him. That slugging percentage is 51 points lower than his career norm.
Gonsolin and especially Anderson probably go down as forced holds in the fantasy world. Your opponents are unlikely to trade for them as if they’re sure things, but you can’t move them like they’re guaranteed to fold.
As for the Pirates, even with their glorious sweep, there’s not much fantasy tale to tell. Ke’Bryan Hayes only has one homer, but a .292 average and six steals have him inside the Top 120 in 5x5 value. David Bednar is one of the best closers in baseball — two wins, nine saves, 35 whiffs, 1.38 ERA, 0.81 WHIP. He’ll probably be Pittsburgh’s All-Star representative, assuming he isn’t traded to a contending club before the midsummer exhibition is played.