I mentioned last week that we fantasy baseball players love to talk starting pitching. We especially love talking starting pitching that is acquired late in draft. Most fantasy baseball players will recommend patience when it comes to pitching. And this is advisable; starting pitching is deeeeep.
Look at all these options you can find in the late rounds. Someone like Kyle Lohse is consistently undervalued. Jake Peavy might be a nice buy, especially for a full year in the NL. R.A. Dickey has a shot to rack up Ks and wins on an improving Toronto team.
Haha, I kid. Yeah, you could take those pitchers, but what’s the fun in that? In all likelihood Kyle Lohse will pitch ok, but around the same time you’ll find a bunch of enticing options that might become the stars of tomorrow. In 2014, Tyson Ross, Garrett Richards, and Jake Arrieta went from draft day afterthoughts to key contributors to championship teams.
The poster boy for taking starting pitching late is Corey Kluber, who was overlooked on draft day and went on to win the AL Cy Young Award. As a result, there is a lot of interest this year in finding “The Next Corey Kluber.” Good luck with that.
It’s unlikely that a starting pitcher taken so late in drafts will have the impact in 2015 that Kluber did last year. Kluber has the total package of what you want in a pitcher: He throws hard, gets ground balls, doesn’t walk anybody, has a top-notch K rate and he has a bunch of plus pitches. This type of pitcher is usually found at the top of the draft board, not at the bottom.
However, breakouts come in all shapes and sizes. We can look for bits and pieces of the Kluber profile in other promising young arms that may bring us profitability. Or we may find pitchers who are exceptional in other ways. Here are five arms to take a shot at in your drafts.
Nate Eovaldi – His era jumped nearly a full run from 2013 and he was shipped to the American League, so it is tempting to write off Eovaldi. On the surface he’s not much to look at, but there may be some beauty underneath ready to come out. First of all, he lowered his walk rate per 9 from 3.4 to 1.9. The improvements tell me he’s maturing and learning how to harness his stuff a little bit. Second, the guy throws hard. His average fastball velocity was 95.7 mph in 2014. The velocity has not reflected in his strikeout numbers, however, the trade to the Yankees may allow him to get closer to his potential. Last year my favorite team got lifetime best performances out of Michael Pineda and Brandon McCarthy. Perhaps pitching coach Larry Rothschild shows the 25-year-old Eovaldi the way to big league success and fantasy relevance.
James Paxton – I can’t help but wonder if we would be talking about Paxton alongside pitchers like Garrett Richards if he had not gotten hurt last year. He got out of the gates strong in 2014 before being sidelined with an injury. Another hard thrower, he generates ground balls at a 55% rate and has a deep arsenal that frustrates hitters. On an improving team in a pitcher’s park, the time is ripe for Paxton to emerge in 2015.
Trevor Bauer – Speaking of deep arsenals…according to Fangraphs, Bauer used 6 different pitches in 2014. If the coaching staff can convince him to lose a pitch or two and work out some kinks he may follow in the footsteps of Kluber and Corrasco as the Tribe’s next fantasy pitching star. While he does not have the ground ball rate we are looking for, his command took a step forward from the year before and his K rate is up over 8. He also throws hard, has a strong pedigree, and showed durability last year. The evidence here is a little more anecdotal but there’s a lot to like in this one-time highly regarded prospect.
Jesse Hahn – In contrast to Bauer, Hahn relies primarily on his fastball and curveball and his fastball velocity is not exceptional. If we stop the description there, Hahn is nothing special. However, Eno Sarris wrote about the exceptional drop Hahn gets on his curve. He used it to embarrass National League hitters over the summer before slowing down toward the finish. Sarris also noted that Hahn is working on adding a third pitch to throw regularly. After the season, the Padres traded him to Oakland. As with Eovaldi, the switch to the bigger-hitting league may turn out to be a positive. Oakland has turned any number of under-the-radar pitchers into useful fantasy pieces. I’m thinking Oakland gives Hahn what he needs to hit his ceiling as soon as this year.
Drew Hutchison – Hutchison’s 2015 season line looks fairly average, but he took some big steps over the course of the season. He throws gas and his K-rate was already passable, but it spiked to 26.3% in the second half. Bluebird Banter attributes this to an improved slider, which leads me to believe this is not a coincidence. Hutchison also has issues against left-handed batters; instead of dinging him for this though, I’m thinking that this is a problem that can be isolated and corrected. Maybe this year Hutchison can find the weapon he needs to get these batters out. If he can improve against lefties and get a little more fortunate on his home run rate, we might have a fantasy star on our hands. I expect him to be usable either way.
These are a few of my choices to come out of nowhere to become fantasy stalwarts in 2015. Do you think any of them have the goods to be Klubot 2.0? Hopefully the stars of tomorrow will get cooler nicknames. What other pitchers do you like to come out of the top 50 and into fantasy stardom?