Some Pitchers I Like More Than Other People Do

I got a suggestion to write a column on my favorite starting pitchers to target (thanks @cwsoxfan!), but in truth, that column is sort of scattered all over the place. For example, my last post for RotoGraphs included some analysis on why I will be targeting Joe Musgrove. I’ve written about several pitchers I’m ranking above ADP and the industry consensus, such as Matthew Boyd, Carlos Rodon, Anibal Sanchez, Mike Minor and Jaime Barria, in other pieces.

Still, there are a number of starters whom I do like better than other fantasy owners do, including those in the industry, but I have yet to write about them to explain why. For this piece, I will focus on five starters who will likely be frequent targets for me, based on my rankings as compared to ADPs. These aren’t exactly sleepers, though. Rather than going deep in the motherlode for bargains, I’ll be taking a look at widely-owned players who could provide a generous return if you are able to draft them at or near their ADPs
.

Kyle Hendricks (My rank: 17, FantasyPros ECR: 34, FantasyPros ADP: 31)

It seems as if I rate Hendricks higher than most others every season. Now that he is coming off a year in which his strikeout rate dipped and he recorded his highest ERA since 2015, the gap between my perception and everyone else’s has probably widened.

Hendricks ranked 34th among starting pitchers in standard Roto value last season, and that’s roughly how he is being drafted so far. I do expect him to be better in 2019. He has been steady in terms of peripherals for four seasons running, except for last year’s K-rate dip, and that was mostly concentrated in the first half. I think Hendricks gets underrated because the impact of his consistently-high soft contact rates on ERA and WHIP doesn’t get fully credited, but as of last season, he still had that skill. In an era in which innings-eaters are increasingly rare, Hendricks’ ability to throw 190 or more innings is also a boon to his fantasy value.

Chris Archer (My rank: 20, FantasyPros ECR: 33, FantasyPros ADP: 36)

If I’m going to buy into Hendricks as a perennial low BABIP pitcher, then I need to not give Archer the benefit of the doubt after four straight years of xBABIPs of .310 or higher. However, projecting him for a similar season to 2018, when he had a .338 BABIP and a 4.31 ERA, seems overly punitive. Also expecting a repeat of his 25.4 percent strikeout rate — his lowest since 2014 — seems too pessimistic, especially since Archer dramatically increased the SwStr% on his four-seam fastball after returning from an abdominal injury last July. Prior to his DL stint, he averaged a 5.9 percent SwStr% on the pitch, but afterwards, that mark shot up to 10.4 percent. That spike was dramatic enough to allow Archer to increase his K%, even though he started throwing a sinker in the second half.

Between the slight uptick in K% and correction in BABIP that I expect for Archer — plus getting a full season outside the AL East and in the NL — I would be surprised if he had an ERA above 3.70. That, along with the rest of my projection, is good enough to get him into my top 20. I’ll be watching for signs that he may not be fully recovered from offseason hernia surgery, but barring any red flags, I don’t anticipate moving him down in my rankings.

Rich Hill (My rank: 24, FantasyPros ECR: 36, FantasyPros ADP: 48)

The negatives for Hill are obvious. He has not pitched as many as 140 innings in either of his two full seasons with the Dodgers. Between his persistent blister issues and advanced age (he turns 39 next month), we can’t reasonably expect him to reach that innings threshold this year. In 2018, Hill suddenly became highly amenable to hard contact on flyballs and line drives (93.8 mph average exit velocity).

Yet in those same two seasons, Hill racked up 316 strikeouts and held opponents to a .209 Avg, despite all of those shortcomings. When he hasn’t been whiffing and freezing batters, the lefty has been squelching hits on balls in play by inducing popups and weak grounders. Even if I had to replace Hill with the likes of Barria or Brad Keller for the remaining innings, you could wind up with a combined stat line that isn’t too different from what Jose Berrios will produce on his own. And that’s why I have them ranked just two spots apart.

Andrew Heaney (My rank: 32, FantasyPros ECR: 44, FantasyPros ADP: 45)

Once the top 30 starters have been drafted, how many pitchers can you find with the potential for 180 innings, a strikeout per inning and plentiful run support? Cole Hamels and Masahiro Tanaka would be among your top options, though both are home run and ERA risks, and Tanaka may not even reach 180 innings. The same could be said of Heaney, but he belongs in this discussion — and in their ADP neighborhood.

I do run the risk of putting too much stock in Heaney’s 2018 season, which was his first full year in the majors. I just don’t perceive that his relative lack of track record makes him any riskier than other pitchers I would be looking at outside of my top 30. Especially if I can draft two reliable high-end starters to lead my rotation, I don’t mind having Heaney as my SP3. Given where he is being drafted, it’s more likely that he would be my SP4, and I would be thrilled about having him as my fourth-best starter.

Jose Quintana (My rank: 34, FantasyPros ECR: 45, FantasyPros ADP: 46)

Quintana’s strikeout, walk and home run rates all took a bad turn in 2018, but digging deeper, he didn’t look like a pitcher in decline. His swinging strike rate fell only slightly, and his called strike rate actually improved, but he had a huge dip in his foul ball rate that was a drag on his K%. Quintana’s walk rate rose, but the erosion of his Zone% and O-Swing% was minimal. His HR/9 hit a career-high of 1.29, but his batted ball profile wasn’t that much different. That suggests that maybe his home run rate was a fluke, and his xHR/9 of 1.12 (per xStats) appears to back that up. Essentially, he wasn’t much different than the pitcher he had been previously, aside from the strange blip in his foul rate.

A year ago, Quintana ranked 23rd among starting pitchers in NFBC ADP, and while that seemed generous to me, taking him outside the top 40 starters looks like an overreaction. As with his teammate Hendricks, he should offer enough innings and wins to make him stand out among the other starters who will be available at his current ADP.





Al Melchior has been writing about Fantasy baseball and sim games since 2000, and his work has appeared at CBSSports.com, BaseballHQ, Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster and FanRagSports. He has also participated in Tout Wars' mixed auction league since 2013. You can follow Al on Twitter @almelchiorbb and find more of his work at almelchior.com.

newest oldest most voted
pvalent
Member
pvalent

Archer and Quintana were picks last year that rekt me