Mound Musings: The Risk/Reward Equation

Mound Musings: The Risk/Reward Equation

This article is part of our Mound Musings series.

Last week we covered some pitchers off to rocky starts and the impact of injuries on production to determine whether these pitchers should be discarded or kept as they attempt to work through their struggles. That is a form of risk/reward analysis. This week, we take it a step further. If you are in the hunt for a league title, now is the time to actually pursue players – in our case pitchers – who, while with some risk, have hinted better days are imminent. The key here is deciding how much reward is necessary to offset the risk. However, that is the basis of fantasy baseball. It's relatively easy to assign estimated value based on past performance. But success is predicated on predicting the future.

That said, I would like to feature a few pitchers who have impressed me with both positive hints and/or future potential at this point in the season. This could be either adjustments or just settling in after returning from an injury. Those are the critical components in risk/reward: hinting that performance could improve (there is still risk involved) and having the skillset to make a large impact (ahhh, the reward). Here are some names to consider:

You might consider pursuing these arms:

Kodai Senga (Mets, 4-3, 3.94 ERA, 1.52 WHIP) – It's probably no surprise that I monitor baseball in Japan and Korea pretty closely, watching for impact players who could arrive in the USA fairly soon. Here is my most recent featured arm.

Last week we covered some pitchers off to rocky starts and the impact of injuries on production to determine whether these pitchers should be discarded or kept as they attempt to work through their struggles. That is a form of risk/reward analysis. This week, we take it a step further. If you are in the hunt for a league title, now is the time to actually pursue players – in our case pitchers – who, while with some risk, have hinted better days are imminent. The key here is deciding how much reward is necessary to offset the risk. However, that is the basis of fantasy baseball. It's relatively easy to assign estimated value based on past performance. But success is predicated on predicting the future.

That said, I would like to feature a few pitchers who have impressed me with both positive hints and/or future potential at this point in the season. This could be either adjustments or just settling in after returning from an injury. Those are the critical components in risk/reward: hinting that performance could improve (there is still risk involved) and having the skillset to make a large impact (ahhh, the reward). Here are some names to consider:

You might consider pursuing these arms:

Kodai Senga (Mets, 4-3, 3.94 ERA, 1.52 WHIP) – It's probably no surprise that I monitor baseball in Japan and Korea pretty closely, watching for impact players who could arrive in the USA fairly soon. Here is my most recent featured arm. I have Senga in a group with two other pitchers (Shohei Ohtani and Roki Sasaki who is unlikely to come over before 2025 or so, but needs to be on your watch list). That's pretty elite company. Senga has a huge repertoire including a genuine forkball that you don't see very often these days. Trust me, it's worth the price of admission if you are a big strikeout fan like me. He has had some trouble adjusting, suffering from too many walks and elevated pitch counts, but things will improve with each outing. As the season progresses, I think you will see his effectiveness last deeper into games, and he could be on the brink of capturing more success over the remainder of the season. I own him in all of my leagues, and I couldn't be happier about it.

James Paxton (Red Sox, 1-1, 5.14 ERA, 1.36 WHIP) – It seems like I have been a Paxton follower forever. You take him out and show him off every now and then, knowing he'll be going back into storage one day soon. I think that's where we are now – enjoying his success while it lasts. He's in his 10th season, but he has never tossed more than 160 innings in any given year. Paxton's mechanics just don't lend themselves to durability, but when he's healthy, he is generally a fantasy asset. In 2023 he has made three starts. He is averaging just over 96 mph on his fastball, the highest velocity we have seen since 2016, and he has already tossed 107 pitches in an outing. All signs point to productivity, as long as it lasts, so I have again acquired his services in some of my leagues, and I'll ride him as long as possible. Injuries are an increasingly frustrating part of baseball, so you have to realize "get what you can" is the order of the day.

Joe Musgrove (Padres, 1-2, 6.75 ERA, 1.58 WHIP) – I have never been a huge fan of Musgrove so it might seem a bit strange seeing him, with his 6.75 ERA and 1.58 WHIP, listed here as a possible starting pitcher to pursue, but I see hints that better days could be in the offing. That makes him a potential buy low candidate. He's another on the long list of competent starters struggling this season, but I think his command is improving. After coming to San Diego from Pittsburgh, he altered his pitch mix (more cutters and fewer sinkers) resulting in much better peripherals the past couple seasons, but bad luck and inopportune mistakes have cost him. Interestingly, after being something of a workhorse (over 180 innings per season) he has not completed six innings in any of his five starts after returning from nagging toe and shoulder woes, so I am inclined to believe he has yet to reach midseason form. I think he's worth a shot.

Luis Severino (Yankees, 0-0, 1.93 ERA, 1.07 WHIP) – The Yankees rotation has been decimated by injuries, but things could be looking up. Carlos Rodon could begin throwing off a mound soon, and Severino came back from a preseason lat injury (actually a recurrence from last year) and made his season debut a few days ago working into the fifth inning (75 pitches) against the Reds. With his health history, the Yankees won't push him and he made just two relatively brief rehab starts before moving up with the Yankees. He missed all or most of three seasons before working 102 innings last year, and the good news is he was sharp in his first start while hitting 97 mph on his fastball. I like his repertoire, and I would expect him to get fully stretched out over the next few weeks. He has top-of-the-rotation stuff if he can stay out of the trainer's room, and everything has been positive so far.

Matthew Liberatore (Cardinals, 1-0, 3.00 ERA, 1.33 WHIP) – Liberatore has made his way up and down the pitching prospects lists, but he has remained fairly high on mine. Being a young southpaw, part of his struggle has been developing consistency with his release point, but I think that's coming. It's not there yet, but when he gets locked in, his devastating curveball coupled with a lively mid-90s fastball will be a huge weapon. He's made just one start (five shutout innings against Milwaukee) where three walks over the five innings was the only serious concern. I'm not sure why the Cardinals are opting to consider using him out of the bullpen right now, but I see that being short-lived. Maybe bullpen assignments will make him easier to acquire.

Gavin Stone (Dodgers, 0-0, 10.13 ERA, 2.50 WHIP) – I am an enthusiastic supporter of Stone although I remain a bit unsure of his readiness to pitch in the majors. He has an excellent fastball with a couple dynamic breaking pitches including a cutter and a slider. I specifically tuned in to watch his start against Atlanta earlier this week. Now, my exasperated report begins with something I am at a complete loss to explain. Stone, like countless pitchers this year, was totally ineffective in the first inning, as the Braves batted around and posted four early runs. Then, he faces the minimum over the next three innings. He's settled in, right? Wrong. He walks the first two hitters in the fifth on eight pitches and gets the hook. Huh? Okay, bottom line, Stone has the raw tools to eventually be a top-of-the-rotation starter, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Some Notable Rotation Ramblings:

  • Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer both turned in exceptional performances recently. If these guys both get on a roll at the same time, it could get very uncomfortable for their NL East opponents. The Mets have been lingering around the .500 mark, but they have the pieces to go on a run at any time.
  • I originally had the White Sox' Mike Clevinger on the risk/reward pursue list above, but a wrist injury has at least temporarily taken him out of the picture. He missed all of 2021 and has been showing signs of recapturing his pre-injury form. Hopefully this latest injury won't keep him off the mound for very long.
  • The Pirates' Luis Ortiz managed to quiet the Rangers' offense – no easy task to be sure. He has the high-octane fastball and a crisp slider, but he still rarely uses his changeup, and he'll probably need that to enjoy long term success. The Pirates continue to play well, and he could be angling to contribute.
  • Kansas City's Brady Singer is better than his hideous 7.48 ERA would suggest. As I have begun to mention, he spotted a mediocre hitting Tigers' team a three-run cushion in the first inning of his most recent start. Everything seemed to be straight, and the only strikes he threw early were middle of the plate.
  • The Rockies are reportedly considering Dinelson Lamet for a rotation spot as he works his way back from a lower back injury. He has struggled this year, especially with command, and Coors Field is certainly no picnic, but his slider and overall stuff are stuck in my head. I'll be curious to see if things improve.
  • Another higher profile young starting pitcher is making solid progress. Boston's Brayan Bello has been displaying more consistent command, including his last start against the Angels. The biggest concern would be the seven homeruns he has allowed in just 35 innings, but at least he's throwing more strikes now.

Endgame Odyssey:

Don't look now but the hottest closer going right now has a halo on his hat. There is no question the Angels' Carlos Estevez has the stuff to dominate, but now he's throwing strikes, too. The Dodgers signed oft-injured former closer Ken Giles to a minor league contract. I can't see him up and closing anytime soon, but that bullpen is not locked down, so keep an eye on Giles' progress. With Andres Munoz and Liam Hendriks still on the IL, I have fallen off the pace in saves so I added Arizona's Miguel Castro. He has looked sharp recently and appeared to have a hold on the closing gig going forward, but they promptly used him to put out a seventh inning fire. He did get the ninth the next day. Oh the frustration of not having enough reliable bullpen arms. The Orioles have been making an impressive mark this year, and one needs look no further than the back of the bullpen to find a major reason why. Closer Felix Bautista and primary setup guy Yennier Cano have been virtually untouchable. Saves are not plentiful for the lowly Royals but they continue to primarily use Scott Barlow while still trying give Aroldis Chapman enough late-inning work to keep potential suitors interested.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brad Johnson
For more than 30 years, pitching guru Brad "Bogfella" Johnson has provided insightful evaluation and analysis of pitchers to a wide variety of fantasy baseball websites, webcasts and radio broadcasts. He joined RotoWire in 2011 with his popular Bogfella's Notebook.
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