by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
There are a significant number of potential breakout pitching candidates, especially if you are targeting the hard-throwing young arms who litter rosters across the league. That makes it easy to potentially overlook an “older” starter who simply may have found something and turned the corner.
Enter the Marlins’ Tom Koehler, who altered his approach last season yielding improved results. Here’s our writeup from our 2017 Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide (click here to purchase) to help get things started:
We saw his strikeout rate jump in the second half (7.03 to 8.03 K/9), while his control improved (4.59 to 3.79 BB/9). The strikeouts are out of character, but he also changed his approach as the usage of his slider jumped to 23.7% (14.0% in ’15), and even more in the second half (26.4%). That had an impact on his success, as it is his best swing and miss pitch (19.28%) and coupled a good changeup (16.44% Whiff%) there’s reason to believe he can maintain the elevated mark. Add that to an expected improvement in his home run rate at home (1.34 HR/9) and a career 3.63 BB/9 and there’s suddenly a lot to like. Mark him down as well worth the late round selection.
Just to give you an idea of the increased usage of his slider, here’s a year-by-year breakdown:
Clearly it was by design, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that it led to his jump in strikeouts. Assuming he continues to utilize the pitch at a similar rate, there’s no reason to think that he can’t maintain his second half strikeout rate. While it’s not an elite number, it’s a solid one that will help fantasy owners.
He’s not an elite groundball pitcher, with a 42.2% mark in ’16 and 44.2% for his career. That said, Marlins Park yielded 1.54 HR/game last season. That represents the second fewest in baseball (AT&T Park in San Francisco allowed the fewest, at 1.47) and it was no aberration (1.37 HR/game in ’15, 1.28 in ’14). Groundball pitcher or not, an improvement is coming and that too is going to help his overall appeal (most importantly, it should help his virtually league average 73.3% strand rate).
Koehler did struggle with his control in the first half of the season, and also in September (6.41 BB/9). However, from June through August he showed the potential upside:
Maybe he’s not quite that good, but like with the strikeouts he should be a solid option with control that isn’t going to blow up his WHIP.
Obviously there’s nothing “blow away” in the underlying numbers, but they also are solid across the board and that should allow him to be a productive starter. He pitches in a favorable home ballpark and benefits from pitching in a weaker division, further helping his cause. He’s not going to be a star, but as a starter to fill out your rotation in deeper formats there are far worse gambles to take.
Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball, ESPN
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Make sure to check out our other Early 2017 Rankings: