Three (or Four) Undervalued Starters for Your Consideration

If you sort Yahoo!’s player page descending by ownership, Justin Verlander shows up on the second page. That means, at 70-percent ownership, he ranks in the top 50. Julio Teheran shows up there, too, at 73 percent. What the two have in common: more than 1,000 other players have been more valuable than them.

Verlander deserves an ounce of clemency: his 31 innings haven’t allowed him ample time to generate value. His 6.62 ERA, sixth-worst among all pitchers who have thrown at least 30 innings, really damages his stock.

Then again, so would his 5.01 xFIP, good for ninth-worst. Or his 6.06 FIP, good for fifth-worst. He has simply done nothing to inspire confidence in anyone, yet because of name recognition alone he’s owned in far more Yahoo! leagues than the pitchers I’ll present now.

Sub-60% Ownership

Andrew Heaney, LAA (57%)

Heaney has flashed enough tools to earn upper-half considerations on baseball’s flashiest top-100 prospect lists the last three years. There are strikeout artists and there are command artists, and Heaney doesn’t really classify as either one. But with 8.9 strikeouts and 2.5 walks per nine innings across his Minor League career, Heaney exhibited a modest yet intriguing blend of both. Thus, as an Angels fan, I was excited to see him come to “Los Angeles.”

Through 34.1 innings, Heaney has struck out almost seven times more batters than he has walked en route to a 1.57 ERA and 0.82 WHIP. He brings in tow, however, a .223 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), 92.4-percent left-on-base rate (LOB%) and suboptimal 38.1-percent ground ball rate (GB%), all culminating in a wide gap between his ERA and fielding independent pitching (FIP) statistics.

Thus, there are green lights and red flags. His 6.75 strikeout-to-walk ratio (K/BB) and 18.0-percent strikeout-walk differential (K-BB%) rank fourth and 22nd, respectively, for all starters who have thrown at least 30 innings, corresponding with his strong FIP numbers. But the peripherals scream regression, and he could have his fair share coming his way.

His especially high hard-hit (Hard%), pull-hit (Pull%) and fly ball (FB%) rates also portend bad news in terms of potential damage by home runs, which he has been able to limit thus far. Moreover, there’s nowhere for his walk rate to go but up. So while ERA regression lurks in the corner, so it does for the FIPs, too.

Still, Heaney will be better than Verlander or Teheran, and that’s all I ask of him. But that may sell Heaney short, too: he’s a potential top-60 starter while active, although those last two words are the primary caveat. Heaney was simply keeping Jered Weaver’s rotation spot warm for him, but Manager Mike Scioscia has stated he’d let Heaney keep pitching, so it’s anyone’s guess how much longer he’ll contribute for fantasy teams. Regardless, he’s worth owning until his seemingly eventual demotion.

I’d also rather own him instead of: Phil Hughes (70%), Doug Fister (66%)

Sub-40% Ownership

Kyle Hendricks, CHC (28%)

Hendricks over-performed in his Major League debut last year, recording a 2.46 ERA versus a 3.92 xFIP in 80.1 innings pitched. A modest strikeout rate limited his appeal but his 1.68 walks per nine innings (BB/9), which ranked among the 20 best of pitchers who threw at least 80 innings, helped prevent baserunners and, thus, runs scored.

It’s 2015 now and Hendricks is preventing baserunners more effectively than last year, striking out almost two more hitters per nine innings and shaving ticks off his walk rate. He’s no Heaney, but his 4.67 K/BB ranks in the top 20 of pitchers who have thrown at least 100 innings. It all hasn’t translated into last year’s success (read: luck) but his 3.44 ERA is nothing to sneeze at, and it almost perfectly aligns with his 3.37 xFIP.

Furthermore, he generates ground balls almost half the time and induces more soft contact (and less hard contact) than Chris Archer, Shelby Miller, Johnny Cueto and Jason Hammel, to name a few. He kind of has a Dallas Keuchel thing going on, but I don’t want to call him Keuchel Lite because I already called Kyle Gibson that, but frankly both Kyles have a lot in common. However, I like Hendricks more, albeit marginally, so perhaps he deserves to usurp Gibson’s title.

One weird thing: all of Hendricks’ plate discipline peripherals, from chase rate (O-Swing%), contact rate (Contact%), first-pitch strike rate (F-Strike%), zone rate (Zone%) and swinging strike rate (SwStr%), have declined since last year, yet his strikeout rate has improved. Mike Podhorzer’s expected strikeout rate (xK%) equation, however, yields an 18.8-percent xK%, very close to his current 19.9-percent rate.

Thus, it looks like last year was anomalous, not this one, and Hendricks is a bona fide fantasy contributor even in shallow leagues. To repeat the punchline: he’ll do better than Verlander.

I’d also rather own him instead of: Drew Hutchison (43%), Alfredo Simon (35%), Rick Porcello (32%)

Sub-20% Ownership

A Diamondbacks pitcher: Robbie Ray (15%) or Patrick Corbin (14%)

Ray’s numbers strongly resemble Heaney’s: a modest strikeout rate, sharp walk rate, alarmingly low ground ball rate and a wide rift between the ERA (2.29) and xFIP (3.82). Unlike Heaney, however, Ray has been lucky not on balls in play but in regard to fly balls, which Ray has been fortunate to see turn into long outs instead of home runs.

Still, Ray can limit baserunners well enough to prevent severe damage, and he’ll likely be the kind of pitcher who alternates stud starts and dud starts when home runs start to victimize him. If you need to improve your WHIP and can stomach a bit of ballooning in ERA, Ray can definitely help by filling out the back of your rotation.

Corbin has only thrown 15 innings since returning from Tommy John surgery after missing all of 2014. So far the strikeouts are still there and he has been particularly stingy with the free passes. Home runs have brutalized him, but he’s certainly suffered some bad luck in light of his 53.3-percent ground ball rate.

It’s a small sample size, of course, but his plate discipline peripherals support his success thus far and he has not suffered any dips in velocity. Corbin posted a 3.6-WAR season and was slated to start for Arizona on Opening Day prior to blowing out his elbow in spring training. The upside is obviously there and — don’t make me say it — I’m, like, 99.9-percent sure it’s not there for Verlander.

I’d also rather own one of them instead of: Matt Garza (26%), R.A. Dickey (24%), Nathan Eovaldi (23%), Kendall Graveman (20%), Anthony DeSclafani (18%), Danny Duffy (18%)

Two-time FSWA award winner, including 2018 Baseball Writer of the Year, and 8-time award finalist. Featured in Lindy's magazine (2018, 2019), Rotowire magazine (2021), and Baseball Prospectus (2022, 2023). Biased toward a nicely rolled baseball pant.

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Ken Erdedymember
8 years ago

Fantastic article, particularly the “I’d also rather own him instead of . . .” aspect. This should be a twice-monthly series for both hitters and pitchers.