Let’s take a quick look at nine pitchers who have slid down draft boards or fallen off the radar completely whether because of injury or poor recent track record who could end up making an impact in 2019. I tried to give a wide-ish range of guys – well, as wide as you can with a group of lottery ticket-type guys.
Jimmy Nelson | Milwaukee Brewers – Nelson put up a fantastic 2017 season with a 3.49 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and 21% K-BB in 175 IP, but he missed all of 2018 to a torn rotator cuff suffered while diving back into first base after a single because the National League inexplicably still lets pitchers bat. Cool, National League. Cool. Nelson curbed the usage of his fastball, favoring his curveball instead with great results.
His curve usage jumped 8 points from 2016 to 20% and it was the fourth-best curve in the game at a 9.2 pitch value. He actually used it 20% of the time in 2015, too, but it wasn’t nearly as good (-0.7). It finally gave him something to reliably combat lefties and helped him to a career-best .710 OPS against them. Even if he doesn’t fully repeat 2017, he won’t be super expensive.
Sonny Gray | New York Yankees (for now) – There’s no way he stays in New York so hopefully his new landing spot is an upgrade. The Reds have been rumored as they recently hired Derek Johnson, his former coach at Vanderbilt, as their pitching coach while the Braves, Rangers, Twins, Padres, and a return to the A’s have also been mentioned as having interest. Gray had a massive home-road split so getting out of New York can’t come soon enough for him.
He had seven starts with at least 5 ER and only one came on the road (at Boston, of course). Sometimes home-road splits can be overrated, but he clearly struggled in Yankee Stadium. He might not suffer the same issues if he pitched there again this year, but the Yankees are not going to test that theory. He had a 6.98 ERA, 1.90 WHIP, and 4% K-BB at home (59 IP) while posting a 3.17 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 19% K-BB on the road (71 IP). He’s had two dud seasons in the last three seasons so there’s plenty of risk here, but that is more than baked into the price.
Shelby Miller | Arizona Diamondbacks – He returned from TJ in late-June, but lasted just four starts before elbow inflammation shelved him until September 29th (he made a single relief appearance to cap off the season). We saw the velocity fully return (94.5 mph), but little else came together in his 16 IP, which isn’t atypical of a short TJ return. I’ll be looking to see if the command gets on track in Spring Training as it’s last to come after TJ and if I see signs of it returning, I’m ready to throw a buck his way.
Caleb Smith | Miami Marlins – Smith made some early season noise, taking a 3.51 ERA and 1.15 WHIP into June along with 69 very nice strikeouts in 56 IP. He hit some bumps in June (6.00 ERA) and was eventually sidelined by a lat injury that required surgery, ending his season. The southpaw is expected to have a little bit of late start in Spring Training, but nothing that should cut into his 2019. His devastating slider (.392 OPS, 37%) and swing-and-miss heater (26%) give him a nice foundation to build on. Playing in Miami and only throwing 77 IP last year will keep him firmly in the late rounds, too.
Matt Shoemaker | Los Angeles Angels – I thought Shoe would be back and ready for action last season, but he was limited to just 31 IP thanks to a forearm strain that cut into his 2017 as well. His skills were on point in that limited sample (25% K, 8% BB) and even cut his ugly HR rate from 2017 (1.7 to 0.9), but struggled stranding runners (64%) which led to a 4.94 ERA despite a host of ERA indicators that suggested he was more of a mid-3.00s guy.
Of course, that can happen in limited samples. A 2.7 IP/5 ER dud pushed his ERA from 3.82 to 4.94 so be careful with ratios in short samples. Shoemaker has consistently had that strong splitter carrying his arsenal and it was nice to see a K rate that matched his swing-and-miss better, even in just seven starts. Keep tabs on Shoemaker. If he has a role, he’s worth a shot in deep leagues and at least worth watchlisting in shallower leagues.
Michael Pineda | Minnesota Twins – Everyone’s favorite strike-thrower will be back in 2019 after missing all of 2018 with both a TJ recovery and then a meniscus surgery during his minor league rehab from the aforementioned TJ. From 2015-17, his 20% K-BB rate was 11th in baseball, but he was one of just two guys in the top 25 to post an ERA north of 4.00 (Jon Gray, 4.40) with a 4.56 in 433 IP. He would benefit from throwing fewer strikes. Or more to the point, he needs to give in less often.
In hitter-ahead and even counts from 2015-17, Pineda was 138th out of 140 SPs (min. 600 BF in those counts) with a 1.048 OPS. His 5.2% HR rate was also 132nd, so it seems he not only keeps pounding the strikezone in compromised accounts, but does so with remarkably hittable pitches. There is some upside with his swing-and-miss capability and I think this is something that can be worked on, but until we see some tangible it’s hard to tab him for anything south of a 4.00 ERA.
Joe Ross | Washington Nationals – I just can’t seem to quit Joe Ross despite posting just a 5.02 ERA in 90 IP over the last two seasons along with TJ surgery. I still look back at the 3.52 ERA/1.22 WHIP with solid swing-and-miss from 2015-16 and definitely believe the 26-year old can get back on track. I’d like to see the changeup develop to give him three pitches, but he can be pretty solid even just leaning on the fastball/slider combo.
Jerad Eickhoff | Philadelphia Phillies – Shoulder trouble cost him virtually all of 2018 (threw 5 meaningless IP) and he was a bit too hittable his last full season, allowing 10.0 H/9 in 2017 as he labored through a couple injuries, but I can’t completely forget the 197 IP of 3.65 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and 15% K-BB back in 2016. Keep an eye on his spring progress and see if he’s tracking for a rotation spot. He might not be someone worth drafting, but if he’s healthy, he’ll get some looks throughout the season and could recapture his 2016 form.
Drew Smyly | Texas Rangers – He’s now missed two full seasons so he’s total wildcard, but we’re still looking at a career 3.74 ERA/1.20 WHIP guy. The last time we saw, he was getting knocked around to the tune of a 4.88 ERA thanks to a major HR issue (1.6 HR/9). He’ll need to get the longball in check to be anything close to useful, but I’ll be keeping an eye on his potential return.