Late-Round Evaluations: Wood, Dobnack, Kelly, Archer, & More

I’m continuing my attention on fringe starters. They are the starters who once the season starts, managers are going to have to make a quick decision on adding or dropping. These pitchers will be in play all season. I’m using NFBC’s ADP and starting at the bottom and selecting any starter drafted by half the teams. Here is an evaluation of eight more starters (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7).

#537 Alex Wood

A straight gamble at this point in the offseason.

  • Unsigned
  • Evaluating 2020 over 12 IP.
  • Velocity was up for a second straight year (89 to 90 to 91 mph)
  • Ditched sinker for a swing-and-miss four-seamer but allowed more home runs.

No way I’ll draft him without at least seeing a few Spring Training starts. I probably wait into the season for more verification of his talent level. There are too many unknowns.

#536 Randy Dobnak

I was a Dobnak fan coming into last season as a pitcher similar to Kyle Hendricks: low walks and strikeouts with tons of groundballs. The issue with Dobnak was that he lost over 1 mph of fastball velocity (92.7 mph to 91.6 mph) and his strikeout rate dropped from 7.3 K/9 to 5.2 K/9. Even with the drop in strikeouts, he kept throwing his sinker and posted a 62% GB%.

His sinker (75 GB%) and slider (17% SwStr%) are near elite. The problem is that he throws his useless and change and four-seamer for a combined 20% of the time. It’d be nice to see the total drop.

One issue with Dobnak is that the current Twins infield defense is projected to be 26th in the league. With his groundball nature, there might be a few games when he’ll get BABIP’ed to death.

He’s fine where he’s going but fantasy managers might want to push him up some if he regains any velocity in Spring Training.

#535 Brent Suter

Suter moves around between starter and relieving and he’s better in short stints. He’s got a great fastball (15% SwStr%) and changeup (13% SwStr%), but that’s it. Over his career, he’s really struggled the second and third time through the batting order.

1st: 2.53
2nd: 4.03
3rd: 8.89

Suter’s best role is going in for two to three innings. In some leagues, these pitchers are useful but in most, he’s a non-factor.

#526 Chris Archer

Archer didn’t throw at all in 2020 because of a shoulder injury and he’s now throwing off a mound.

He’s been a two-pitch guy that the league caught onto. His ERA has slowly climbed up two points (3.23 to 4.02 to 4.07 to 4.31 to 5.19).

I’m not going to draft him for now. First I’d like to see what team signs him and how he throws in Spring Training.

#525 Antonio Senzatela

Senzatela is a bad version (low strikeout and walk rates, good groundball rate) of Dobnak but he throws half his games in Colorado. Unlike Dobnak, Senzatela gets the distinction of having the 3rd best projected infield defense behind him (.268 BABIP in 2020). The extra groundballs aren’t going to help a pitcher in Coors. They’ll still struggle.

Unless a league has a deep bench, I’m not interested at all in rostering Colorado pitchers. They are unstartable at home and the limited bench spots can be used for other players. Now, in best-ball or draft-and-hold formats, the large benches allow for picking at choosing when each player is started. Best-ball is the ideal format so that all the starts are compared.

#522: Steven Brault

Brault has a career 4.7 BB/9 that has led to a 4.68 ERA and 1.50 WHIP. Last season, his ERA (2.38) and WHIP (1.20) improved, so did any underlying numbers change?

  • The walks stayed the same at 4.6 BB/9.
  • His strikeout rate was 8.0 K/9 (7.8 K/9 on his career).
  • He didn’t get hit around (.243 BABIP and 0.4 HR/9).
  • His fastball velocity stayed even at 92 mph.
  • He dropped his fastball usage by 14% points and threw his changeup (11% SwStr%, 76% GB%) more.
  • Finally, he wasn’t allowed to throw deep into games with a career 3.76 ERA the first time and 5.05 the second time.

Brault’s improvement results can be tied to some batted ball late, a small pitch mix improvement, and only being allowed to throw more than five innings in two of his 10 starts. The lack of length led to just one Win. I’m not sure if he’s rosterable. Either he generates OK rate stats in short outings, or the outings get extended and he gets lit with a strikeout or two more and possibly a Win. Too many ifs for someone being drafted this high.

#517 Forrest Whitley

There are too many injuries in Whitley’s past for me to want to draft him. He threw 26 innings in 2018 and 60 innings in 2019. And during the last few seasons, he’s struck out batters (10+ K/9) but had no idea where the ball was going (6.6 BB/9 in 2019).

The chance for no production or a complete blowup is too high for me to consider him. The only option might be a league with a waiver wire where he’s added but can be dropped for a usable pitcher.

#517 Merrill Kelly 켈리

Kelly was pitching great (0.99 ERA, 2.59 ERA) before he was shut down with a shoulder injury. The Arizona Tightwads must think he’ll be healthy since they picked up his $5.25M option.

He made several small improvements that led to a major step forward. A higher Zone% and First Strike% cut his walk rate in half (2.8 BB/9 to 1.4 BB/9). A bit more fastball velocity and a move to a sinker (12% SwStr%) moved his strikeouts up (7.8 K/9 to 8.3 K/9). His home runs allowed stayed the same even though his groundball rate went from 42% to 46%.

While some regression should be expected with his .247 BABIP, I buy the step forward and will roster him at his current ADP. I even think there is a little more in his tank if he went with the sinker even more. It gets about twice as many groundballs (53% GB% vs 29% GB%) with a better swing-and-miss rate (8.5% SwStr% vs 7.3% SwStr%)

Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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I’d love to see Dobank traded to a team with good infield defense. After his great start, he fell victim to hitters finding the gaps in the Twins defense. A lot of those innings that got away from him was the lack of infielder’s ranger and poor defensive positioning. He can do himself a huge favor also by shifting his strategy up when pitches are being sat on; he tended to stick to his shtik and players weren’t going to swing and in those moments he should pound the zone and avoid relying on swings. His FStrike% dipped and I think it needs to jump back up closer to 60% if he is going to be more successful.