Thousands of fantasy managers were rushing to add Reid Detmers to their team after the rookie fired the league’s first solo no-hitter of the season Tuesday night, but you might want to tap the brakes. I don’t want to throw too much shade on the accomplishment. After all, there have only been 274 no-hitters recognized by Major League Baseball (MLB) in the modern era.
Let me explain why I wasn’t rushing to the waiver wire to get Detmers after he tossed a no-no in only his 11th career start. Only a walk to Taylor Walls to lead off the sixth inning prevented the 22-year-old southpaw from pitching a perfect game. And there have been only 23 of those gems. But Detmers, who is widely available, had only two strikeouts and 10 swinging strikes.
Detmers, 2-1 for the upstart Angels, lowered his ERA to 3.77 after the no-no, and he sports a fine 0.84 WHIP. But he only has 20 strikeouts across 31 innings – an unimpressive 5.8 K/9. He also has a Statcast page that reveals plenty of hard contact allowed. This is a player who pitches to contact. On Tuesday night, the contact was mostly weak, but that’s won’t always be the case.
In case you’re still not convinced, also consider that Detmers had a 4.47 xFIP, 1.72 HR/9, 45.1% fly-ball rate, and 32.0% hard-contact rate entering that game. THE BAT, a sabermetrics program that incorporates information like park factors and platoon splits, air density and umpires, projected Detmers to post a 4.76 ERA rest of the season. In short, Detmers has been lucky.
But I want to use two of these statistics as a springboard into what I really want to write about in this column – the 32.0% hard contact and the 45.1% fly-ball rate. Those statistics alone would be enough to get me off of a pitcher on any other year, but maybe not this year. Things are different. Readers, there is something that I have noticed and plan to capitalize on this year.
In last week’s column, I wrote about Marcus Semien and eight other hitters off to a slow start in the 2022 season. Meanwhile, a number of starting pitchers are putting up impressive numbers. You might be only mildly surprised that Michael Kopech of the White Sox leads the league with a 0.93 ERA. But you have to be shocked that Merrill Kelly is No. 3 with a 1.22.
Kelly, pitching for the Diamondbacks, has a career ERA of 4.00. His ADP at NFBC was 529 before the season started. He wasn’t being drafted in even the deepest leagues. Before you conclude that Kelly is a statistical outlier, consider Miles Mikolas (ADP 400), Paul Blackburn (ADP 560), Brad Keller (ADP 640) and Chad Kuhl (ADP 885) all have ERAs under 2.00.
All of these pitchers have at least five starts and a minimum of 30 innings pitched, except Kuhl. He’s pitched 29.2 innings, and two of his five starts were at Coors Field. Kuhl is 3-0 with a 1.82 ERA and 0.84 WHIP. Kuhl, who has a lifetime ERA of 4.28, was released by the Pirates and was not even expected to secure a rotation spot with Colorado when he signed a one-year deal.
Do you smell what you’re stepping in, fantasy manager? Something may be rotten in Denmark, but something is even more rotten here in Mudville. Consider this scene, repeated too many times already in major league parks around the nation. A slugger lays into a pitch, and the ball jumps off his bat at more than 100 mph. It sails toward the outfield wall and then…is caught.
It’s the ball, dummy. Barrels aren’t what they used to be. Batters are hitting ball after ball and are convinced that they’re gone because the last few seasons have conditioned them to expect a ball hit squarely on the bat will carry over the wall for a home runs. The ball changed after the home-run happy 2019 season, and it’s clear to even the casual observer that it’s changed again.
Home runs are down early in 2022 and not by a tiny little bit either. Teams are averaging 0.90 homers per game, down from 1.22 last year and 1.39 in 2019 – the year MLB shattered a record with 6776 home runs. The previous league record was 6105. I’m not advocating that we return to the “fun ball” of 2019, but the “dead ball” of 2022 is a real drag (pun intended). But I digress.
It’s unlikely that this column will change the minds of the MLB powers that be. Therefore, the task at hand is to devise a strategy to take advantage of this trend – at least for as long as it continues. I suggest that the savvy manager stream starting pitchers that benefit from this dead-ball environment. But be advised that a new ball could be introduced before the season is over.
I did want to add a caveat. Be sure to do your homework before you start a streamer because a bad outing can destroy your ratios. One key thing you should look at is matchups. You don’t start a pitcher against the Dodgers or Yankees unless it’s a pitcher you have confidence in. And it’s unlikely you’ll be that much confidence in confident someone you found on the waiver wire.
There are other considerations, in addition to matchups. How deep is the league you play in? The deeper the league, the lower quality of pitchers you will find. The strategy I am recommending works best in 10-team leagues and works fine in 12-team leagues. In 15-team leagues, I would be more cautious. With that said, here are five that are rostered in less than 50 percent of leagues.
BRAD KELLER, SP, KANSAS CITY
The 26-year-old Keller wasn’t on anyone’s radar screen this season after staggering to a 5.39 ERA in 26 starts in 2021. Lacking overpowering stuff, Keller relies on being a groundball pitcher, and he saw that percentage drop below 50 percent for the first time in his career. Enter the dead ball, and Keller, 1-2, has lowered his ERA to 1.74 and WHIP to 0.84 in 31 innings.
TYLER ANDERSON, SP, LA DODGERS
Another beneficiary of the dead ball, Anderson has been hanging by a thread in major league baseball for years. He has a lifetime ERA of 4.55 and 1.30 WHIP. He had a 4.53 ERA with Pittsburgh and Seattle in 2021, but the Dodgers needed a lefthander and signed him to a one-year contract before the season started. In five starts, he’s 3-0, with a 2.78 ERA and 0.97 WHIP.
JAMESON TAILLON, SP, NY YANKEES
Taillon’s normal 50% groundball rate dropped to 33% last year when he returned to baseball after a two-year absence. This led to a career worst 1.50 HR/9 in his first year with the Yankees. He managed to struggle to an 8-6 record, but his ERA was 4.30 in 144 innings. He had offseason surgery and no one expected him to start the season 2-1, with a 2.84 ERA and 1.14 WHIP.
JOSH WINDER, SP, MINNESOTA
Get ‘em while they’re hot because Winder is lined up to start Thursday’s game against the Astros. If you think this isn’t an ideal matchup, you’re right. But I’ll have Winder in my starting lineup on at least one team after the Twins’ top prospect beat the Rays and the Athletics in his first two starts. He has a 2-0 record, 1.61 ERA, 0.72 WHIP and 20 strikeouts across 22.1 innings.
BRUCE ZIMMERMANN, SP, BALTIMORE
Okay, swallow hard. I’m recommending a Baltimore pitcher to stream in Saturday’s game at Detroit. Zimmermann is coming off his second win of the year against the Royals and has six starts with a 2.67 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 30 strikeouts across the 30.1 innings. He being stretched out as he tossed a season-high 85 pitches in his last game, and a 2.79 FIP supports his ERA.
Follow Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, on Twitter @ThomasLSeltzer1.