Deep League Starting Pitchers (Bauer, Plesac, Kikuchi, Gonsolin, & Greinke)

I’m just going to keep grinding my way through the starting pitchers hoping to find a couple of gems.

For reference, here are the pitchers I’ve already profiled:

Starting and Relievers, Part 1 & 2($$):

Deep League Starting Pitchers

Trevor Bauer (308)

Even before the recent criminal charges, Bauer was a divisive player with the recent incident leaving him with no support. He’s such a hot topic, I about skipped him over.

He’s shown the ability to be the best pitcher in the game (i.e. 2018, 2020), but there is a real chance he doesn’t throw an MLB inning this season or for the rest of his life. I asked my Twitter followers if they thought he would throw in the majors this season, and 60% don’t think so. With his ADP down here in the 300’s, most drafters don’t think so either. Even if some desperate team wants to take a chance on him, it’ll likely be well into the season before Bauer takes the mound.

Putting aside the nature of his crimes, he has about the same chance to contribute as some Single-A or AA pitching prospects. For me, he’s a near last-round add, not someone I’ll roster in the 20th round of a 15-team league. His current ADP feels like an eye-closed swing hoping for a home run. I understand hoping for cheap production, but I won’t be the one rostering him close to this cost.

Zach Plesac (309)

Plesac’s ADP is down over 200 points from last season. The hype was built on an outstanding 2020 season (2.28 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 9.3 K/9 in 55 IP) mainly because of a .224 BABIP. While he was able to maintain a decent .263 BABIP in 2021, his strikeouts dropped down to 6.3 K/9.

He missed over a month beginning in late May with a fractured thumb but was not striking out as many batters (5.8 K/9) before getting hurt. When he returned from the IL, the foreign substance enforcement was in place and it dragged him down even more. The main culprit was the drop in spin on his slider going from 2149 rpm in 2020 to 2084 rpm in May and 1981 in September. A near 250 rpm drop. The swinging-strike rate on the pitch went from 17% to 25% to 17% over the past three seasons. He no longer had the elite put-away pitch last year, hence the strikeout drop.

With just an average fastball (7% SwStr%, 32% GB%) and change (13% SwStr%, 50% GB%), he should at least have average results. The disconnect is that he has always allowed a ton of home runs (1.4 HR/9 for his career). While his 2.1 BB/9 was outstanding last year, it is still double his 2020 value of 1.0 BB/9.

And to finish it all off, he showed no signs of improvement in September with horrible stats (5.40 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 6.4 K/9) and the lowest monthly average fastball velocity (91.9 mph) of his career.

Pay for a below-average starter and hope the 2020 production comes back.

Yusei Kikuchi (311)

First and foremost, fantasy managers must understand there is a chance that free agent Kikuki returns to Japan. That option should keep his cost down some.

As for his talent, he continues to underperform his SIERA and xFIP with his ERA being almost 0.5 runs higher over 365 career innings. He seems to have owned the skill of getting hit around (.301 BABIP, 1.6 HR/9).

There was some hope to start the season. From the start until June 12th, he had a 3.67 ERA, 9.2 K/9, and 1.05 WHIP. Then the foreign substance enforcement began and his season went straight downhill. Most of his pitches lost at least 200 rpm with his change losing 500 rpm.

After June 12th, he was able to keep up the strikeouts (9.5 K/9), but his ERA (5.08) and WHIP (1.56) jumped. The main issue was his walk rate going from 2.8 BB/9 to 4.2 BB/9. The season just kept getting worse for him with his velocity dropping and his walk rate continuing to climb (6.4 BB/9 in September).

Additionally, he lost all his faith in his cutter (9% SwStr%) and slider (17% SwStr%).

Like Plesac, there is nothing positive to build off of for next season. He’s a career 4.97 ERA pitcher and I will value him accordingly going forward.

Tony Gonsolin (315)

Gonsolin dealt with shoulder soreness all season that included two IL stints. The volume wasn’t there with him reaching five or more innings in only four of his 13 starts. While he was able to strike out a few batters as a starter (10.6 K/9), he was walking over a batter per inning (5.2 BB/9).

Like most pitchers, he was affected by the foreign substance enforcement. The issue with him was that this enforcement occurred right as he was getting off his first IL stint.

He sort of got it together (i.e. found some sticky stuff that the umps didn’t find) in September with a 3.6 BB/9 and 3.75 xFIP. Additionally, his velocity was back up near his 2020 values.

The walks allowed the major item holding him back with his pitches getting good results.

Tony Gonsolin Pitch Mix
Pitch SwStr% GB% Usage%
Four-seam 6% 27% 44%
Slider 21% 53% 26%
Splitter 19% 46% 22%
Curve 5% 50% 6%

Well, besides that curve. It needs to finally go.

While the shoulder injury does scare me some, he was able to get it together in September and that gives me more hope for him compared to Plesac and Kikuchi.

Zack Greinke (319)

Greinke just might not throw hard enough anymore to be an average pitcher… maybe. His 89-mph fastball doesn’t miss many bats (4% SwStr%) and his strikeouts (6.3 K/9) dropped to a 15-year low. Additionally, his 1.6 HR/9 was the highest since his rookie season.

The deal was that he was pitching as expected (3.66 ERA, 1.15 WHIP) until September when he spent time on the IL for COVID-19 and shoulder soreness. It was an ugly September for him with an 11.12 ERA and 1.41 WHIP.

While his fastballs didn’t miss any bats, his slider, curve, and change all had a swinging-strike rate of over 12%. They just weren’t enough to overcome is useless fastballs. His 171 IP was the 29th highest and helped him accumulate 11 Wins (t-22nd highest). The problem is that 85 pitchers had more strikeouts than Greinke’s 120.

Right now, his upside would be 2017 to 2019 versions with a near 3.10 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 15+ Wins. Or he could just be a guy who is streamable in two-start weeks. For now, his cost seems fine.





Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won four FSWA Awards including on for his Mining the News series. He's won Tout Wars three times, LABR once, and got his first NFBC Main Event win in 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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Vegas Baby
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Vegas Baby

Bauer’s case is so bizarre. How can a basic criminal investigation take this long? If they can’t make a case by now, isn’t it looking like Bauer won’t be charged? I hope Dodgers have to pay Bauer every penny of his contract.