The Scorecard: 5 starting pitchers making waves in fantasy baseball

Ben Brown #32 of the Chicago Cubs
Ben Brown looks like the real deal, in both fantasy and reality. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

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Ben Brown turned in a dominant performance on the road Tuesday when he recorded 10 strikeouts while holding a top-three Brewers’ offense (114 wRC+) hitless over seven innings; Shota Imanaga allowed more earned runs (seven) in Milwaukee the next day than he had over his previous nine starts (five) to begin his MLB career.

Brown recorded impressive strikeout numbers throughout the minors and has emerged as one of baseball’s more intriguing pitching prospects.

Brown has a 1.80 ERA (2.49 FIP) and a 0.90 WHIP over 30.0 innings as a starter this season with the Cubs compared to a 4.41 ERA and 1.35 WHIP as a reliever. Brown’s 19.3 K-BB% while starting would rank top 25 among qualified SPs, and his CSW would rank top 10. Brown’s control needs work like most young hurlers, but his ball% has shown real improvement, and he ranks second in SwStr% over the last month.

Brown only throws two pitches, but his knuckle curve might legitimately be the best pitch in baseball right now. It’s induced a ridiculous 50.4 Whiff% and a whopping 27% SwStr% while limiting both righties and lefties.

Brown remains available in 68% of Yahoo leagues in part because there’s no guarantee he stays in Chicago’s rotation once Jordan Wicks returns from the IL. But Brown’ll get another chance to impress in a favorable home start versus the Reds over the weekend, and he would be worth rostering in all fantasy leagues should his stay in the rotation become permanent. The Cubs have a dreadful defense, so a pitcher who misses bats is needed in Chicago.

Brown possesses far more fantasy upside than most pitchers available on waiver wires.

Michael King has had a weird year while moving to a full-time role as a starter. He's posted a 5.06 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP at home compared to a 3.43 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP on the road — including starts in Coors Field and Cincinnati and an appearance during a game in Korea that totaled 26 runs. Petco Park remains highly favorable for pitchers, and King’s K% has jumped to 31.4 at home, so his splits seem especially fluky.

Matchups have also been unpredictable regardless of venue, as King became one of just three pitchers to hold the MLB-best Dodgers offense scoreless over seven dominant innings (10 Ks) while on many fantasy benches during a start earlier this month; he got blasted for six runs against the lowly Rockies’ offense in Petco his next time out.

Putting it all together, King’s transition to starter ultimately looks like a success, even if his stats don’t fully reflect it. His ERA (2.40) has actually improved dramatically when facing lineups a third time this season compared to the first (3.94) and second (4.29). And while his K% and BB% have taken hits with the move to the rotation, King’s CSW (31.4) ranks seventh among all qualified starters this season.

King has been unlucky in Petco Park and remains a breakout candidate.

Hunter Brown was dropped in most fantasy leagues after ending April with a 9.78 ERA and 2.22 WHIP, but he’s pitched up to his preseason expectations since introducing a sinker in May. Brown has recorded a 3.42 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP with 29 Ks over five starts (26.1 innings) this month, and his new pitch is getting more ground balls. Brown’s 6.39 ERA comes with an MLB-high .353 BABIP and a 3.96 SIERA, and his once tenuous spot in Houston’s rotation is safe with Christian Javier (forearm) on the IL.

Brown looks like a different pitcher in May and is available in two-thirds of Yahoo leagues.

Blake Snell has been a fantasy disaster so far, owning a 10.42 ERA and 2.00 WHIP without a win over five starts. He’s unquestionably struggled without the benefit of spring training, posting a career-low CSW (25.7%). But Snell’s velocity has been fine, and his bloated ERA is accompanied by a 4.04 SIERA and a .414 BABIP that’s 60+ points higher than any qualified starter this season. His career BABIP is .292, and the Giants field one of the league’s best defenses (including the game’s premier pitch framer), so Snell’s been especially unlucky with balls in play.

Snell has always been streaky and should improve once he finally gets in a regular routine — he’s spent time on the injured and paternity lists after his delayed signing in San Francisco. He induced a bunch of chases during his latest outing that came against an elite Phillies offense, but Snell may become an even better buy-low candidate after his next start versus a Yankees team that leads MLB in wRC+ (122). Oracle Park is absolutely destroying power this season, decreasing home runs an MLB-high 34%, yet Snell’s HR/FB% (15.0) has been above his career mark (11.6%).

Regression is coming, and fantasy managers are likely fed up with him.

Snell can be a roller coaster, but there remains top-10 fantasy starter upside moving forward.

MacKenzie Gore has a 2.19 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP with a 30:6 K:BB ratio over his last four starts (24.2 innings). Three of those four outings came on the road in Philadelphia, Atlanta and Fenway Park, so his breakout has become official. Gore somehow has a 2.91 ERA despite having the highest BABIP (.353) among all qualified starters, and his 3.07 SIERA ranks top-15, ahead of Cole Ragans, Zack Wheeler and Shota Imanaga. Pitching for the Nationals won’t help Gore rack up wins, but the former top-three pick is developing into a full-blown ace despite a tough schedule.

Gore is becoming a top fantasy starter, yet he’s somehow available in 45% of Yahoo leagues.

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