Upside Starting Pitchers to Replace Injured Studs

There’s a good chance your team has had to suffer through massive injuries as well as shaky performances from your starting pitchers.

Currently on the DL: Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg, Lance McCullers, Steven Matz, Sonny Gray (Who largely disappointed this year anyway), John Lackey, and Steven Wright.

And that’s without even mentioning guys who have largely been studs this year that are starting to falter such as Noah Syndergaard, Danny Salazar, Chris Tillman, Drew Pomeranz, and to a lesser extent even Jacob deGrom.

Below I have listed a handful of guys that are still available in a number of leagues who possess the upside to give you a shot at replacing your injured studs. At the very least they can help supplement the rest of your staff with the possibility of higher ceiling performances. They’re listed in the order that I prefer them, but read my takes first and apply your own process and research as well.

James Paxton
Available in 74% of ESPN, 65% of Yahoo and 35% of CBS leagues

I am very high on James Paxton. He was a trendy sleeper pick the last two years as well as a decently heralded prospect – drafted in 1st round in 2009 and again in the 4th round in 2010 after deciding to stay in school. After disappointing the past two years, he made a mechanical adjustment in the minors that jacked up his fastball several miles per hour. According to MLB.com’s statcast, Paxton is currently averaging  97.3 MPH on his fastball velocity. A lefty that big (6’4 – 235) throwing that hard… is EXCITING!!!

IP W/L K K/9 SwStr% BB/9 ERA FIP xFIP
86.2 4-5 78 8.10 12% 1.97 3.63 2.94 3.57

Those numbers aren’t as dazzling as you might expect for someone first on the list. He’s been admittedly inconsistent as well. Still, he has done all of this with a .340 BABIP and 67.2 percent strand rate, both of which seems a bit unlucky, evident by his sub-three FIP.

A lot of my love for Paxton has to do with the eye test as well as the stats on the swings and misses. He’s had at least double-digit swinging strikes in 9 of his 14 games. This includes a high of 18 which he accomplished twice – most pitchers won’t even accomplish this once a year let alone twice.

As far as the eye test goes, seeing the 100 MPH cheese mixed in with a power slider is pretty impressive. My hope is that he rediscovers his curveball as a change of pace pitch – that’s the pitch that largely made him a big prospect in the first place. Baseball America ranked him as having the best deuce in Seattle’s entire farm system in both 2011 and 2012. It seems logical to me that he should be able to reintroduce that pitch without much difficulty.

I love post-hype sleepers, and especially love them when they could be Chris Sale if everything breaks right. I’d be adding him everywhere I can, especially in keeper/dynasty formats. His ownership has been depressed by the DL stint, but that was just a liner off his elbow, nothing UCL or flexor strain related. He came back on Thursday and looked a little rusty. but was still throwing hard and striking people out.

Safeco isn’t the pitcher’s haven it used to be, but it’s still one of the better pitcher’s park. The Seattle offense is better than it has been in years past as well, which should give him a decent shot at winning most days. Paxton could get really hot down the stretch and is a great option to help replace some of the ceiling that you may have lost to the DL.

Is he a guarantee? Heck no! But how many 100 MPH lefties with a blue-chip pedigree are this widely available? Snatch him up!



Eduardo Rodriguez
Available in 82% of ESPN, 78% of Yahoo and 45% of CBS leagues

It’s been a tale of two seasons for Eduardo.  He was terrible before being demoted to the minors.  There is a narrative that the Boston broadcasters constantly talk about and it seems to play.  They say that he was tipping his pitches before the demotion and that’s why he was getting smashed.  Since being promoted back to the bigs, he’s been pretty studly as you’ll see in the numbers below:

IP K K/9 SwStr% BB/9 ERA Soft% Hard%
39.1 39 8.92 12% 2.75 2.52 23.6% 21.7%

I’ll buy the tipping pitches narrative when paired with those stats. I’m especially sold since he was good last year and he was a reasonably hyped international prospect. He cracked the top 70 on prospect lists from Baseball Prospectus and MLB.com, and even made it into the top 50 with ESPN.

According to MLB Statcast he averages 93.6mph on the heater (which is good gas for a lefty), and his slider is filthy when it’s on. He’s only 23 so there may be some occasional turbulence and inconsistency. All that being said, I love this guy for the rest of this season and for the long haul. Reports are his hamstring is fine and he should start Sunday provided there are no setbacks. Grab him if you can, especially in keeper and dynasty leagues.

David Phelps
Available in 63% of ESPN, 36% of Yahoo and 34% of CBS leagues

A throw-in for the Marlins in the Martin Prado trade.  Phelps was an ace reliever all year long and seems to be making the transition to the starting role. This seems like Danny Duffy deja vu to me – ace middle reliever who takes velocity and mindset to a starting role and sustains the gains he made in the pen.

Additionally, his home park is arguably the best pitching park in the league.  He’ll also have his share of favorable matchups down the stretch considering he’s in the “NL Least”. Phelps may have some very serious upside. His fastball sits at 94.44 MPH according to Statcast, which is harder than I remember him throwing with my Yankees. He also gets a good amount of ground balls with a slow curve that’s more in the low 80s (45% overall, 81% on the knuckle curve)

IP K K/9 SwStr% ERA xFIP WHIP Hard%
20.2 26 11.32 10% 1.31 2.78 1.02 27.7%

He has had some BABIP help this month as well as a lucky strand rate so the ERA could go up some, but not enough to dent his overall value. Grab him if it’s not too late; this can be Danny Duffy all over again. By the way, those numbers include his first start where he was starting to “stretch out”. It was at Coors and he didn’t give up a run.

This could be a great short and long-term add. It is also worth mentioning that he is eligible at both SP and RP. Phelps is an absolute must add in weekly points leagues where I’d prefer him to all but the very best closers in that RP slot.



Collin McHugh
Available in 71% of ESPN, 44% of yahoo and 22% of CBS leagues

Not as sexy as some of the other names on here, and some people are flat-out sick of him. Good! That gives you an opportunity to capitalize if he’s available. He has had some bad luck as his BABIP this year is a robust .366 compared to .310 last year and .259 in 2014.

He also hasn’t helped himself by giving up too many home runs; he’s averaging 1.46 HR/9 this year. But even there he’s had some bad luck as his HR/FB ratio is sitting about 5% higher than the previous 2 years as well. His FIP and xFIP both suggest his ERA should be a full point lower than it is – close to or below 4.00. That doesn’t sound that exciting, but take into consideration that offensive numbers are up on the whole this year.

On a positive note, he is averaging close to a strikeout per inning this year (8.94 – 10.58 in the second half). The Ks are very real.  On any given night he might be able to give you double-digit Ks and a Win, which at this point can win you a week or even a playoff round.

Combine Mchugh’s base skills with a team whose offense has been hot as of late and this could be a great opportunity. The Astros rookies and mainstays are all starting to stroke it, and that could mean lots of run support for him. Just avoid starting him in obvious places like Colorado, Baltimore, Boston, and Toronto and he should be a pretty reliable option moving forward.

His ownership is lower than it should be because of ugly season-long numbers and a few big stinkers. I believe McHugh to be the safest guy on this list for the rest of this season, but potential keeper status of his predecessors made me push him a down a bit.

Kendall Graveman
Available in 82% of ESPN, 84% of Yahoo and 61% of CBS leagues

It’s hard to say he doesn’t have as much upside as the others on this list considering he pitched a shutout two starts ago. I view Graveman as more exciting in the points format though. He’s been eating innings in an effective manner lately which largely neutralizes the lack of Ks in a points format.

Graveman is also a ground ball machine.  Baseball Reference shows that he’s averaging a WHOPPING 12.5 grounders per game since the start of an impressive run starting on June 17th. For the season and his career he has a 52% ground ball rate. That combined with a 2.35 BB/9 and fly ball rate under 30% the past two years helps keep the run damage to a minimum. While his overall numbers are solid, he appeared to have turned a corner in June. His numbers since then are as follows:

IP BB BB/9 ERA WHIP W/L
92.1 16 1.56 3.02 1.11 8-2

Graveman is another name that got some play as a sleeper the last 2 years, and his Keuchel-esque worm killing ability is making me wonder if he might still be able to make good on that potential (minus the strikeouts). He has a terrible defense behind him (as Sonny Gray might attest), but he does pitch in an amazing pitcher’s park.

His strikeouts are on the low side for Roto and Categories, but he has the potential to be a major difference maker in points leagues down the stretch if he can keep this up.  You should feel pretty comfortable deploying him in favorable matchups and stadiums. It’s also nice because even his bad starts rarely kill you. He’s an automatic start for me when he has a 2 start week, and is also worthy in one start weeks depending on the opponent.

*****

Chad Green, Reynaldo Lopez, and Robbie Ray get an honorable mention, but didn’t quite make the list for me.  Take a look at them as well if you need some upside risk on your roster.

Obviously, none of the guys we talked about are as bankable as the studs you lost to injury or funks.  These guys do have big upside and can help replace some of what you’ve been missing.  A few of them have the added intrigue of keeper potential.  Hopefully some of these guys help put you over the top. Good luck!

 

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Mike Sheehan
Comedian, Powerlifter, and most importantly a Cum Laude graduate of the fantasy baseball school of hard knocks. Double major in points and categories with a minor in roto. Happy to be doing my Postgraduate work here at the Fantasy Assembly.
Mike Sheehan

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