It’s A Looong Season: NL SP Stashes

I think something the fantasy universe forgets too often at this time of the season is the sheer length of the season. Six months. Twenty-six weeks. And of course, 162 games. In today’s game, very few players are able to play ‘em all. Just four players were able to do so in 2014. The pitching equivalent is 34 starts and just 10 pitchers managed to reach that height last year. So there are countless guys populating the top 50 or 100 who didn’t play anywhere near the full season.

Trust me I understand why we as a fantasy community have such a sharp focus on the here and now, prioritizing players who have roles secured at this moment. After all, you absolutely can’t play 162 games or log 34 starts if you aren’t even slated to start the season with the major league club. We know many starting roles will turnover as the season goes on and we will churn our fantasy rosters week-in and week-out. With that in mind, you need to make sure you aren’t being too dogmatic about avoiding injured guys or those on the outside looking in of a starting role.

Volume is a bigger part of the hitting game while pitchers can make a significant impact with far less than a full season. Jake Arrieta finished third in WAR among starters in the National League and 16th overall among starters in baseball on ESPN’s Player Rater in just 156.7 innings. Jacob deGrom won the NL Rookie of the Year and finished 37th on the Player Rater in 140.3 innings. Hyun-Jin Ryu was 11th in WAR and 42nd on Player Rate in 152 innings – something he might be faced with trying to repeat as he appears headed to the disabled list for the start of the season.

Here are five DL/reserve stashes among NL pitchers who have the skills to pay dividends in 2015, but just need a role:

(Note: Jose Fernandez is obvious and he won’t come cheaply, we’re looking for low-dollar investments here.)

Rafael Montero, NYM – The area of unquestioned depth on the Mets is starting pitcher. They’ve already had to tap into it with the injury to Zack Wheeler which opened up a role for Dillon Gee, but they still have more than enough reinforcements. Noah Syndergaard is the obvious one and will go in many NL-only auctions, but Montero is now in line to make the club as the long man, giving him an inside track to fill an opening in the rotation.

Montero’s command didn’t show up to the majors with him last year, but it was three small samples spread across the season and even as a whole (44.3 IP), it’s too inadequate to draw sweeping conclusions from about what kind of command guy he will be as a major leaguer. In the minors he had a 6% walk rate and 1% HR rate over 434.3 innings, but in his 44.3 MLB innings, those figures were up at 12% and 4%, respectively. He’s better than that. On the plus side, he did miss bats at a solid clip (22% K rate) including a 10-strikeout outing in his third start.

The ceiling isn’t stratospheric, but he can be an asset.

Chad Billingsley, PHI – Billingsley has missed essentially two years (12 IP in 2013-14) with back-to-back surgeries (Tommy John and flexor tendon). In fact, the right elbow began barking in the middle of 2012 and limited him to 149.3 innings that season, so he has lost a lot of time to this series of arm injuries. But he has worked his way back and could join the Phillies sometime in April if he continues on this path. The backend of the Phillies’ rotation shouldn’t be hard to break into once ready as current occupants include Kevin Slowey and Jerome Williams.

The last time we saw him pitching regularly, he had a 3.55 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 20% K rate, and 2.8 K:BB ratio in those 149.3 innings. That isn’t winning any awards or headlining any fantasy staffs, but he could be this year’s Aaron Harang (3.57 ERA, 1.40 WHIP)… or a rich man’s version thereof as I’d expect Billingsley to top Harang’s WHIP. I know that’s not a ringing endorsement, but Harang had several runs of success within his season, though he would wash it out with the landmines he laid throughout his 33 starts (four 5+ ER outings, including a 9 and 8 ER nightmares).

Again, that’s where the “rich man’s version” comes into play. I don’t think Billingsley will be as guardrail-to-guardrail if he is able to stay upright and pitch for most of the season.

A.J. Cole, WAS – The Washington Nationals have the best rotation ever and they will never need any reinforcements as all five guys will definitely make 32 starts, something that happens often every single year. Orrrr… only three times since 2006 has a team used just six starts and the last time we saw the same five all season for a team was the 2003 Seattle Mariners (Jamie MoyerRyan FranklinJoel PineiroFreddy Garcia, and Gil Meche). Teams have been averaging 10 starters per season since 2003 and it’s pretty constant year-to-year.

The Nats didn’t have their super-rotation last year as Max Scherzer was still in Detroit, but it was still damn good and even it needed eight starters to contribute. Even with Tanner Roark moving to the bullpen to become the best sixth starter in the game, he is still only one guy and making it through with just six starters has happened a whopping 2.5% of the time in the last four seasons and just seven times since the last time we saw a legit five-man rotation in 2003 (1.9%). So the Nats are likely to need someone other than Roark during the season.

Cole saw his strikeout rate drop in his first full season in the high minors, but he maintained his strong walk rate and still managed solid results splitting time between Double- and Triple-A. He lacks a true swing-and-miss offering which makes it hard to see his 1+ K/IP levels from the low minors returning. However, he has a solid four-pitch arsenal capable of keeping hitters off balance and having the occasional big strikeout game, but mostly living in the 17-18% range with his K rate. Hell, maybe he could be this year’s Roark.

Patrick Corbin, ARI – Corbin was coming off of his breakout season in 2013 when he fell to Tommy John surgery on March 16th last year. He is slated to return in June-July sometime giving him that 15-16 month timeframe since surgery. We’ve seen what it has done for Matt Harvey’s command and control out of the gate in Spring Training. Corbin isn’t anywhere near Harvey’s class in overall skill, but if he returns with more of his command and control intact than guys returning after the 12-14 month timeframe, then he could be useful out of the gate.

Fastball command drove that 2013 season and he had a nice strikeout/groundball mix. Neither was elite, but his 21% K rate and 47% GB rate were both above average that season and he has always been better than average with his walk rate, yielding a career 6% mark in his 315.3 innings. He isn’t a fantasy ace and a lot of people weren’t buying Corbin’s 2013 so he is likely to be forgotten in a lot of leagues.

Brandon Beachy, LAD – Beachy is recovering from his thirty-eighth second Tommy John surgery leaving him with long odds of returning as a viable asset, but his entire career has beaten the odds so I’m reluctant to count him out entirely. He has been good in virtually all of the 267.7 innings thrown across his four seasons as a major leaguer netting a 3.23 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 25% K rate, and 3.2 K:BB ratio. His worst effort was still only a 4.50 ERA in 30 innings that included skills worthy of an xFIP nearly a full run lower (3.60) as the tiny sample was heavily influenced by a 3.7 IP/7 ER/2 HR effort against Colorado.

The Dodgers picked Beachy up this offseason which is a sharp speculation by them. He just started (March 17th) throwing off a mound and isn’t expected back until the All-Star Break. Obviously if you only have one or even two DL spots, Beachy is a bad option because you will likely need that spot before the ASB so it doesn’t even make sense to take him, but in leagues with 3+ spots, he is a worthy lottery ticket. He needed just 81 innings in 2012 to deliver $12 of value (2.00 ERA, 0.96 WHIP). He is very unlikely to be that good immediately upon return, but there is wiggle room between that 2.00 ERA effort and a useful second half arm.

He has shown big strikeout potential in the past (29% in ’11) and if that or something like it (25%+) returns, he can be useful with a 3.50ish ERA.

Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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