Cheapish Starting Pitchers: Revisiting the Quadrinity, Plus ADP Mini-Update

It’s time to resume our search for underpriced starting pitchers. For the past two years, we’ve been taking a look at which starters qualify, on the basis of the previous season’s stats, for the Holy Trinity (an established way of looking at stats, relying on a pitcher’s strikeouts per 9 innings, walks per 9 innings, and ground ball percentage), and the Holy Quadrinity (an approach of our own devising, relying on strikeout percentage, walk percentage, soft-hit percentage, and hard-hit percentage).

If you want more background and detail, go here. Obviously, most guys who do well in these categories are going to be top pitchers everyone already knows about. But the approach yields some surprises, including, last season, Justin Verlander and Kyle Hendricks. And, as we determined at the end of last season, in the aggregate it produces some positive value. So let’s see who it turns up this year.

Among ERA-qualified starters, there aren’t too many unexpected Quadrinitarians, by which we mean guys who aren’t among the top 40 starting pitchers according to NFBC Average Draft Position. But there are a few: Drew Smyly (ADP 222), Collin McHugh (ADP 283), and Jerad Eickhoff (ADP 203). When we loosen eligibility to include all pitchers with 40 or more innings as starters, there are some other interesting names. They fall into several categories.

First, there are pitchers everyone knows are good, but are coming off injuries: Aaron Nola, Steven Matz, andTaijuan Walker. There is Robert Gsellman, who’d probably be a top-40 starter if he were a certainty to crack the Mets’ rotation. There are useful, McHughesque pitchers who are plausible candidates for upgrade: Jeremy Hellickson and Ervin Santana. And there are a couple of guys who are favorites of ours, but apparently not of yours: Mike Foltynewicz (who was our big Quaternity find last season) and Tyler Anderson.

Allow us to digress for a moment: Why don’t you like Tyler Anderson? His NFBC Average Draft Position is 363, which means that, on average, he’s not even being taken until the reserve round. Is it just the Coors factor? That gets you only so far. Consider that (1) He was a first round draft choice who dominated at every minor league level; (2) In 19 starts last season, he pitched just as well in Coors as he did on the road; (3) He keeps the ball on the ground, and, assuming Ian Desmond can play first base at all, has a very good infield behind him; (4) He has excellent control, and strikes out enough guys not to hurt you; (5) He is good at fooling hitters into a futile pursuit of bad pitches, as indicated by a high O-Swing rate but a middling O-Contact rate;(6) He does ok against right-handed hitters (about the same FIP against them last season as classy fellow lefties Jose Quintana and Cole Hamels), and (7) He even does ok against righties at Coors (.261/.307/.442 slash line). If the Baseball Forecaster is to be believed, he earned $8 in two-thirds of a season last year. What’s not to like with, say, a 20th (or earlier)-round pick?

A look at the Trinity yields a couple of other interesting names. If you confine yourself to ERA qualifiers, it’s just the usual suspects: Maeda, Kluber, Lester, Hendricks, Cueto, Syndergaard, Gausman. If you expand it to guys with 40 or more innings as starters, though, you get some promising results: Gsellman, Matz, and Anderson; Carlos Rodon and James Paxton, whom we’ve had occasion to recommend already for this season; plus Luis Severino, with whom we think the market is outsmarting itself, and Tyler Duffey, whose presence on any list betokening pitching excellence in 2016 is pretty astonishing.

The only way to make sense of Severino’s current ADP is won’t-get-fooled-again, which is apparently a function of the belief that hitters didn’t get fooled again last season. At the start of the 2015 season, Severino, then 21, ranked as Fangraphs’ number-26 overall prospect. He had stuff universally acknowledged to be outstanding. The Yankees promoted him to the majors in August, whereupon he made 11 starts, only one of them bad, producing a 2.89 ERA, a 1.20 WHIP, and 8 strikeouts per 9.

As many people pointed out a year ago, some of Severino’s Fantasy-irrelevant stats like FIP and BABIP gave reason for caution, but not outright rejection. Severino’s 2016 ADP was 158; his 2016 season, however, was pretty awful, especially his 11 starts. We won’t explore the reasons for that now. We’ll just note that his current ADP is 384, meaning he’s not being taken until the reserve rounds, and also that, at least as far as the Trinity is concerned, his stats as a starter weren’t as bad as they looked. (And, by the way, we don’t believe for an instant that Joe Girardi has any intention of using Severino in the bullpen, whatever may be the noises he’s making to that effect at the moment.)

As for Duffey: we touted him enthusiastically last season, and drafted him in three different leagues. He rewarded us with, among many other bonbons, a 6.43 ERA, worst in the majors among starters with more than 100 innings. His peripheral and granular stats suggest, it’s true, a measure of bad fortune, but speak much more eloquently of bad pitching. And yet there he is in the Trinity, and it’s not like he just squeaked in. Indeed, with 5 more strikeouts he’d be in the top third of the three categories. We’re shocked, too, and we’re not sure we can bring ourselves to draft him again, but perhaps you can.

So let’s see what we wind up with. We’ll eliminate the pitchers who are among the first 40 starters being taken. We’ll also toss out Gsellman, who may not start, and Nola, Matz, and Walker, who but for their injuries might have cracked the top 40. And let’s even eliminate Duffey, who’s going to be there for the taking at any point in any draft of fewer than 35 rounds. That leaves us with ten guys (last year we gave you nine). In ascending order of ADP, they are: Paxton, Rodon, Eickhoff, Smyly, McHugh, Hellickson, Folty, Santana, Anderson, and Severino.

You should be able to assemble a good six-man starting staff without taking anyone before the 10th round. Indeed, in the recently-completed LABR mixed-league draft, no one except Paxton (who went in the 10th round) was drafted before Round 13. Alternatively or additionally, in a mixed-league auction, you should be able to assemble a nine-man pitching staff consisting of six of those guys, two solid closers, and a good closer-in-waiting for less than $80. We wished we’d tried it last year, and we’re going to try it now.

Late-Breaking ADP News: We just took a look at ADP changes over the last 15NFBC Drafts, and it looks like Tyler Anderson is getting some love after all. His current ADP is 363, but in the last 15 it’s 340–still cheap, but getting pricier. Gsellman (Overall ADP:362, ADP Last 15: 330) is also getting some attention, no doubt because the improbability of the Mets’ top five starters staying healthy is starting to sink in. Other guys worth mentioning: Jarrod Dyson (255/223), continuing a trend we noticed in our first ADP update, remains everyone’s favorite sleeper–so much so that it’s fair to say he’s now wide awake. He went in the 14th round of the LABR draft, and in a month’s time, we’d guess, you’ll be lucky if you can get him even that late. Eric Thames (195/177; 11th Round in LABR) is also getting more popular as people prepare for the season and realize that this onetime Quad-A hitter is back stateside after three years of being the Lou Gehrig of Korea.

The Birchwood Brothers are two guys with the improbable surname of Smirlock. Michael, the younger brother, brings his skills as a former Professor of Economics to bear on baseball statistics. Dan, the older brother, brings his skills as a former college English professor and recently-retired lawyer to bear on his brother's delphic mutterings. They seek to delight and instruct. They tweet when the spirit moves them @birchwoodbroth2.

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Smyly was no Duffy, but he was terribly disappointing to my fantasy teams last year. He might be DTM this year too. I hear you on Severino though. Just hoping he isn’t given the SP job right out of spring to give me a shot at picking him up cheap by the time my AL only draft happens at the end of March. Hopefully, tilling for cheap pitchers this year will bear a more fruitful crop.