Pitching is a fickle market. Consider that just three years ago we had Anibal Sanchez, Hisashi Iwakuma, and Cliff Lee in the top 10 for ERA. Perhaps more remarkably, Shelby Miller, Andrew Cashner, Travis Wood, and Kris Medlen were all in top 20 while James Shields and Mat Latos were just outside. Life comes at you fast as a pitcher.
Obviously, injuries are the biggest factor in changing the fate of a pitcher and most of the names suffered an injury or three in the interim that has seriously altered their path. Tyson Ross put up 516.7 IP of a 3.07 ERA from 2013-15, but missed essentially all of 2016 with a shoulder injury that eventually gave way to thoracic outlet syndrome surgery and led to his being non-tendered by the Padres. He’ll latch on somewhere and remain on the radar as he works his way back, but sometimes guys just get squeezed out and collectively forget about them.
It isn’t always due to injury, either. Poor performance, a dimmed prospect star, or just a lack of prospect status in the first place can all push a guy to the side in the crowded pitching market. Here are four arms you should keep in mind for deeper leagues (more than 10 teams) in 2017:
Homer Bailey | Reds
Bailey has essentially missed two seasons to Tommy John surgery and the subsequent recovery. It came almost directly on the heels of him signing a 6-year, $105 million dollar extension, too. He has three guaranteed years left at $63 mil plus a $25 million dollar option for 2020 which seems like a pipedream now and is much more likely to result in the $5 million dollar buyout.
He was actually looking a lot like himself through his first four starts this past season (3.66 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 31% K, 7% BB in 19.7 IP – the one dud really inflated his WHIP) when biceps tendinitis flared up and resulted in two disastrous starts before eventually ending his season in early September. His velocity was creeping its way back up to his 2013-14 levels, too, per BrooksBaseball. And if you lop off the two duds at the end, his 11% swinging strike rate was right in line with his peak.
Assuming the bicep issue is something that is quelled with an offseason, Bailey looks like a great dollar gamble in the endgame. He was taken in the 28th round of the mock draft that will appear in the Rotowire Magazine scheduled to be released in January and it’s probably no surprise that he went to Doug Dennis, a Cincy native and avid bargain hunter when it comes to pitching.
Drew Hutchison | Pirates
I was pretty hot on the Hutch train back in 2015, but that sucker derailed in spectacular fashion and let everyone – myself included – gun-shy about hopping back on in 2016. There was no room at the inn for Hutchison as Toronto’s starting five made all but 10 starts and left him expendable. He went to Pittsburgh in the Francisco Liriano trade which briefly popped him back onto the radar (any pitcher going to Pittsburgh gets at least one article or quick blog post about what could be) before they kept him Triple-A through August and relegated him to the pen throughout most of his September call-up.
Unlike Bailey, he doesn’t have much of a track record or even past prospect hype. He has shown flashes of brilliance within his two full seasons and still has time on his side at the age of 26. He is now in the easier league with a favorable ballpark, though interestingly Rogers Centre wasn’t his issue (3.67 home ERA, 6.20 road ERA). There’s also the coaching team in Pittsburgh, namely pitching coach Ray Searage, who gets credited with a lot of the reclamation work they’ve done in recent seasons (though Jim Benedict – who is now in Miami – was also instrumental).
Hutchison brings a three-pitch arsenal, plenty of swing-and-miss, and a workable 2.9 K:BB ratio for Searage and Co. to mold. His 39% GB rate is not at all what they’re used to and I wouldn’t be surprised if they shifted him toward more sinkers than four-seamers to get the ball down. Of the 21 individual seasons for Pittsburgh since 2013, none have posted lower than a 46% GB rate (min. 100 IP). They’ll also likely focus on getting him to work inside more.
The Pirates have a league-high 35% of their pitches on the inner third since 2013 (all pitchers included) and Hutchison is at just 24%, which is even lower than the 28% league average. Unsurprisingly, he was up at 34% during his brief September look with them. I’ll be keeping a close eye on Hutchison this spring, though I’ll remind myself as well as y’all to not get too crazy even if he dominates as we saw what happened with Juan Nicasio just this past season.
Hyun-Jin Ryu | Dodgers
The shoulder has been problematic for Ryu since 2014, costing him virtually all of the last two seasons (4.7 IP in 2015-16), but then he added to the trouble this past season. He hit the DL after just one start in 2016, this time because of an elbow injury that eventually required a debridement (an arthroscopic procedure) and ended his season before it ever began. Shoulder and elbow surgeries have bookended his whopping one start the last two years and I’m out here saying he needs to be on your radar?
Prior to the surgeries, Ryu was looking like a strong mid-rotation arm. While it might be trite to make a comparison to another Asian pitcher, it’s hard not to see some Hiroki Kuroda in what Ryu was doing those first two seasons, with Ryu looking just a little better across the board likely due at least in part to the fact that he came over seven years younger. Kuroda posted a 3.45 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 3.3 K:BB ratio with the Dodgers while Ryu is at 3.17 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and 3.7 K:BB in his time. Pardon the potentially lazy comparison, but they fill very similar roles in fantasy baseball rotations.
We haven’t heard much in the offseason regarding Ryu other than the fact that he will have a rotation spot available should he prove healthy in the spring. You early drafters needn’t necessarily be looking at Ryu in you leagues outside of a deep reserve round, but as camps open, he is someone I’ll be keeping a close eye as a potential dollar investment. In the aforementioned Rotowire mock, I took Ryu with the last pick in the 30-round draft, #450. At that price, he is all upside. There is no expectation of a 30th rounder to perform, so even if I can squeeze 100-120 IP out of him it’s a potential boon.
Matt Boyd | Tigers
Boyd was the secondary piece of the David Price trade last summer behind Daniel Norris and while I still like Norris to reach a higher ceiling, I’m keeping tabs on Boyd, too. The 26-year old lefty had an inauspicious debut with Toronto and Detroit last year (7.53 ERA in 57.3 IP), but looked a lot better in 2016 while wearing out a path between Toledo and Detroit. He was essentially up for good in early-July (there was one more trip, but it was after his August 29th start and only done to get another arm before September Expansion) and unsurprisingly that’s when he started to put things together.
In 68 innings from July 9th on, Boyd posted a 3.71 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and 3.4 K:BB ratio across 13 starts and a relief appearance. Righties in general and homers against both sides kept him really dominating (well that, and 11 ER in 3.7 IP across two September starts), but there’s promise here. He has three viable secondaries he used at least 11% of the time, but only the slider is plus. Right now, the fastball and curveball need the most work, especially against righties. The two pitches accounted for 11 of the 15 HRs he allowed to righties with a combined .887 OPS. The change and slider allowed a .640 OPS, and just a .518 from July 9th on.
He may just need to scrap the curve against righties or even altogether. The slider gets the job done as far as a breaking ball. But the biggest improvement needs to be his fastball. He might look to teammate and staff ace Justin Verlander for a path to that improvement. Verlander got back to the high fastball which spurred his huge season. Boyd allowed a .175 AVG and .651 OPS on fastballs in the upper third, but .318 and .939 on those middle and low. More high fastballs and either more judicious deployment of or a discarding of the curveball should help Boyd.
Boyd will have to battle for a rotation spot coming into the season, but that will keep his price low. Anibal Sanchez had a brutal 2016, but he’s making $17 mil so he’s going to get a chance. Jordan Zimmermann was also rough, but he’s not going to be ousted by Boyd. I could see Boyd starting in Triple-A, but he’s a worthy reserve in deep leagues, especially AL-only. He’ll go undrafted in plenty of mixers, but keep him on your watch list for when he does get his shot.