Each week I look at the collection of starting pitchers owned in under 30% of leagues (consensus Yahoo/ESPN ownership from Fantasy pros) with a few extra sub 10% discount options at the end, pointing out the options to consider if you need an extra arm or two at the end of your staff.
Let’s highlight my ten favorite starting pitcher options that may be available on your waiver wires, roughly ordered from top to bottom:
Under 30% Owned
Trevor Richards (Miami Marlins) – You already know about Richards’ elite changeup, a pitch that held a 24% swinging-strike rate in 2018 and has picked up where it left off across 112 already thrown this season. You may not know that his four-seamer has shown signs of improvement thus far, returning a fantastic 11% swinging-strike rate in its small sample. It may be a flash in the pan for the 91 mph heater or it could be a tweak in approach to squeeze the most out of a weak offering. Richards is far from a lock for a breakout campaign with this questionable fastball and mediocre breaking balls, though now is the time to get in as Richards’ development continues.
Michael Pineda (Minnesota Twins) – A pair of starts are in the books for Pineda, earning a strong 13% swinging-strike rate while collecting plenty of called strikes as well. A date with the Phillies did little to steer him south, though his nine-inning sample can’t be trusted yet. Still, the potential is there for a 25% strikeout rate and ratios that don’t kill you in even in 12-teamers. Take a shot on Pineda and see where it goes.
Max Fried (Atlanta Braves) – It’s a fragile moment for Fried. Originally the “last one in” with Bryse Wilson and Kyle Wright as the premier options, Friend has impressed in each of his starts, even surviving a night in Coors Field. His fastball is not quite elite with its command, but it’s far from wild and is effective inside the zone. His big curveball will miss bats and his developing changeup creates a three-pitch mix that should succeed if he gets the innings. With Mike Foltynewicz’s return around the corner, take a chance that Friend survives in the bigs en route to helping your team through the year.
Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes (Milwaukee Brewers) – It’s another edition of this column and once again I’m going to include the electric duo of Burnes and Woodruff despite their tumultuous opening weeks. Both arms feature heaters that are sure to carve up lineups, while their sliders can turn into deadly weapons with two strikes or sneak into the zone early to get ahead. Each has his own problem to overcome, though we may not be waiting long for their growth. Burnes has to shake off a pair of starts featuring three longballs apiece – a product of featuring too many low fastballs and lack of strong third option – while Woodruff struggles to get ahead, allowing batters to get comfortable in the box. Their upside is Top 40 SP each and a strong start or two from either arm could result in their permanent removal from this column. Take the chance now before it’s too late.
Frankie Montas (Oakland Athletics) – Sure, his new splitter isn’t ramping up his strikeout rate as we’d hoped – just a 9.5% swinging-strike rate – but that doesn’t mean Montas can’t help your fantasy squad. His bowling ball sinker comes in hot at 96-97 mph, which could speak to inducing poor contact across the full year, while creating more chances to go deep into games. It does set him up for volatility, though, but cheap wins and quality ratios could follow.
Under 10% Owned
Caleb Smith (Miami Marlins) – I’m a bit shocked to see Smith well available in leagues. The Miami southpaw is boasting a 35% strikeout rate through his first eleven frames, suggesting his 27% mark in sixteen 2018 starts was legitimate. His increased whiffs on his heater is a welcome sight, while both his changeup and slider feature 2-%+ swinging-strike rate marks. It’s certainly early and across a two-start sample against the Mets and Braves, though this has the makings of being a free Chris Archer on your wire.
Merrill Kelly (Arizona Diamondbacks) – I was initially worried about Kelly’s velocity dip in his final spring tune-up, but Kelly has done everything to erase those memories, cultivating in a sparkling eight frames against the Red Sox over the weekend. His 92-94 mph velocity allows him to get away with a few more mistakes, and I loved watching his focus on curveballs, nailing the bottom of the zone to surprise hitters, while also burying it into the dirt for whiffs. It opened the door for selective changeups and sliders, adding up to a carving of the Boston lineup. We’ve seen little, though in deeper leagues where Kelly is still out there, he’s well worth the gamble.
Jeff Samardzija and Derek Holland (San Francisco Giants) – Samardzija and Holland came at severe discounts during drafts and have yet to cultivate love among the fantasy crowd. Samardzija’s lack of interest is very understandable – a horrid 5.59 K per nine, 6.12 SIERA, and 12% walk rate are the makings of a fantasy bum – though it’s a bit too early to count Shark down and out. He’s an injured season removed from 200+ frames of a 24% K rate and 1.14 WHIP, while he could take strides to hold a lower HR/9 and return a sub-4.00 ERA. If you’re not sold, simply go for Holland instead, who has given clear production early. His 32% strikeout rate will easily come down, though it picks up where he left off in 2018, sporting a 25% strikeout rate across his final four months. Don’t anticipate the low 3.38 ERA to stick, but a 3.60 clip with a 1.25 WHIP and 23-25% strikeout rate is well attainable in pitcher-friendly Oracle Park.