Five Starting Pitchers to Buy Cheap

I think we all know that this is going to be a truly wacky real and fantasy baseball season. New MLB rules and only 60 games instead of 162 means a chance to adjust our strategies to try to gain an edge. Ratio categories are always volatile, even over a 162 game season, so in just 60 games, there gap between the league leaders and laggards is going to be even wider than usual. And the names of those leaders and laggards could be more surprising than ever before just because randomness and pure luck are going to play a larger role.

Two of the five standard pitching categories are ratios and it sounds like starting pitcher wins are going to be a bit more difficult to earn than is typical. So, I feel like unless you’re buying a top five starter you feel ultra confident is going to pitch as many innings per start as he normally does from the beginning of the season, you might as well just go cheap and buy strikeouts. Maybe I won’t completely ignore ERA and WHIP when drafting, but I’ll heavily discount it and focus on strikeouts. But instead of overall strikeouts, I think strikeouts per start is more important since streaming is going to be super popular.

Here are five starting pitchers getting drafted after the top 100 pitchers that would fit in with this strategy. According to Steamer projections, all of them are projected to record at least 5.6 strikeouts per start.

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 bounced back last season after posting an ERA over 5.00 in 2018, though his SIERA suggests his skills were the worst of his career, so it was simply a matter of bad luck turning into good luck. Colorado pitchers are always risky, of course, but oddly, Gray actually owns a career ERA that is slightly lower at home than away. With ratio categories expected to bounce up and down, he’s the perfect guy to include on your staff as strikeouts should be most consistent. It’s rather surprising that he’s going 108th among pitchers (which includes relievers) after rebounding to a sub-4.00 ERA.

A former top prospect, Dylan Cease’s 2019 debut didn’t exactly go as planned, as he posted an inflated 5.79 ERA, though his 4.60 SIERA wasn’t as brutal. The most promising sign was the 24.9% K%, and that’s what you want to be buying. At the moment, his SwStk% doesn’t justify his strikeout rate, as it sat right at the league average. But armed with a mid-to-high 90s fastball, you would think that there’s lots of room to improve that SwStk% and either support the strikeout rate, or boost that strikeout rate even higher. While all the projections are for a mid-4.00 ERA and you don’t need much better at pick 279, there’s always the chance a ratio breakout comes as well.

If the season started on time, Griffin Canning wouldn’t have been ready. But his elbow injury has supposedly healed and he figures to be ready for opening day. Canning enjoyed a solid debut 2019, as he struck out 25% of batters, almost identical to Cease, but it came with much better control. In addition, his strikeout rate was fully supported by a 13.8% SwStk%, thanks to a whifferific slider, and a curveball and changeup that both generated double digit SwStk% marks. This is a true quality four-pitch mix.

Was there any more of a Jekyll and Hyde pitchers than Reynaldo Lopez last season? I could only imagine how many times he was picked up and dropped in fantasy leagues. The good news is if you’re not too concerned about ratios over a small sample, Lopez is a perfect fit on your roster! While his ERA jumped to his highest career mark, his strikeout rate jumped back over 20%, while his SwStk% spiked to double digits for the first time. For a guy that averages nearly 96 MPH with his fastball and maxes out at 100, you would think he would strike out more hitters. Both his slider and changeup generated SwStk% marks just above 15%, and his curveball wasn’t terrible at a 10% mark. It’s not obvious what the problem is, but it’s clear he has the stuff to eventually break out. If not break out, at least boost his strikeout rate even further, which is what we care about for this article. He has posted a sub-4.00 ERA before, back in 2018, but that was entirely due to good fortune, rather than good skills.

After a short career as mostly a reliever, Josh Lindblom joined the KBO in 2015, and aside from a short stint back in the US, played there until last year. His strikeout and walk rates were excellent there since 2017, so perhaps he could carry over that improved performance in his return to MLB. At 127 among pitchers and 377 overall, it’s clear that many fantasy owners don’t even realize he exists or is aware he has returned, but don’t expect much from him.

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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Great article. If the premise is that we have less ability to forecast how many innings starters will go, wouldn’t K/IP be better than K/GS? I think these same pitchers would still rank high, but also Junis, Happ, J Montgomery, Smyly all could be targets too