Five Starting Pitchers to Buy Cheap — A Review

The season has ended (boy was that quick!), which means it’s now time for me to go review crazy. I like to look back at all the articles I posted proclaiming this and speculating that about the upcoming season and reviewing the players discussed and my thoughts. In mid-July, a week before the season began, I published Five Starting Pitchers to Buy Cheap. Over a shortened season, I posited that the already volatile ratio categories were going to end up at surprising levels for many starting pitchers. So perhaps it might be prudent to focus more on strikeouts and almost entirely ignore ratio projections since 12 or so starts isn’t nearly enough of a sample for ratios to settle where we expect them to. That was the basis of this post, and of course taking ADP into account and targeting cheapies.

Below is the table I originally presented with starting pitchers to buy:

Cheap Strikeout Artists
Player Pitcher Rank ADP K/GS
Jon Gray 108 276 6.0
Dylan Cease 109 279 6.0
Griffin Canning 122 323 6.0
Reynaldo Lopez 125 343 5.6
Josh Lindblom 린드블럼 127 366 5.7

Jon Gray lasted just eight starts before succumbing to a shoulder injury that ended his season. Given his results, it was no surprise he was pitching through injury. His strikeout rate plummeted to nearly half his career mark to just 12.6%, while his fastball velocity dropped nearly two miles per hour from last year to a career low. It’s why monitoring fastball velocity is so important, especially paired with strikeout rate as it would help you avoid buying low on guys like Gray who clearly were not right.

It was a bizarre season for Dylan Cease, who makes for a perfect example of how ratios can bounce anywhere over a small sample, no matter how the pitcher’s peripherals look. Through his first 10 starts, his 3.20 ERA massively outperformed his 5.82 SIERA. To the casual White Sox fan, Cease seemed to be breaking out and pitching wonderfully. But diving deeper, we learn that his outwardly good ERA was merely the product of and unsustainably low BABIP and high LOB%. How much of those two rates were luck over a small sample or good skill that simply won’t last, I don’t know. But if he didn’t improve his strikeout and walk rates, odds were high that his ERA would skyrocket. And though he only made two more starts, his ERA did surge from that solid 3.20 up to 4.01, where he finished the season.

For a guy whose fastball velocity actually rose by more than a mile per hour, getting up to an elite 97.7, I don’t know what happened to his strikeout ability. At the moment, his former top prospect status needs to be ignored and he should be drafted based on his poor skills over his first 131.1 MLB innings. A bet on him now is pure speculation and hope that he improves overnight to become the guy he was expected to be when he was ranked as a top pitching prospect, as nothing right now suggests he’s any good.

I was a fan of Griffin Canning, especially in a shortened season as he had more time for his elbow injury to heal. He rallied at the end of the season to finish with an ERA just below 4.00 and perfectly validate the strategy I outlined with this original article. Unfortunately, like Cease, the underlying skills simply weren’t there. In fact, his strikeout rate decline from 2019, while his walk rate rose, leaving him with an unimpressive 4.63 SIERA. His fastball velocity was down and his SwStk% dropped nearly two percentage points. Whether his performance was affected by the elbow is anyone’s guess, so it’s hard to say with certainty that he’ll regress next year to match his SIERA. But unlike this season where I was buying everywhere, he might now be overvalued next year and end up on none of my teams.

Sheesh, I think it’s time to give up on Reynaldo Lopez. He wasn’t able to translate his strong fastball velocity into strikeouts, and now that velocity is down more than a mile per hour. A fly ball pitcher in a home run friendly venue is also a bad combination. He still has two pitches in the slider and changeup that can post double digit SwStk% marks, so all hope isn’t completely lost. But there are too many weaknesses to correct right now to roster him in any format.

After spending years in the KBO, Josh Lindblom returned to the U.S. and actually posted pretty solid peripherals. In fact, he would have been another win on this list if his LOB% wasn’t ridiculously low and his BABIP was closer to league average (which again exemplifies why it’s even harder to project ratios over smaller samples). He managed to strike out an even higher rate of batters than I think anyone expected, supported by a 12.4% SwStk%. Unfortunately, the high BABIP was justified in the sense that he allowed an extraordinarily high LD%, but LD% itself is subject to lots of luck and is more controllable by the batter than the pitcher to begin with. I do worry about the high fly ball rate in a home run friendly home park, but if he opens next season in the starting rotation, I think he’ll be a profitable buy.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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3 years ago

Regarding Cease, “his 3.20 ERA massively outperformed his 5.82 ERA”. Huh? Did you mean SIERA for the second stat?
I bought on Gray (both Jon and Sonny) and Lindblom. Dropped Jon and Josh along the way. Next year, I think I’m out on Lindblom but will be watching Gray for news on his shoulder. If he get right, I may buy yet again.