Pitchers and catchers have finally reported, breaking us out of the monotony of what has been a glacial offseason for baseball on the hot stove side of things. But now we can rejoice that all over Arizona and Florida, spring training facilities are up and running again and we are fast approaching a new fantasy baseball season. In order to celebrate baseball being back, we focus on half of those first reporting to camp: pitchers.
This past season was frustrating for fantasy owners everywhere due to an explosion of offense that rendered most pre-season pitching rankings moot. As we enter another draft season, I wanted to point out a few pitchers whose current ADP leaves them outside the Top 100 players overall, but sets them as great values to target for options who should outperform their current draft position:
Jon Gray, Current ADP: 156.40
This one almost feels like cheating. Gray’s 2017 season was cut short by a stress fracture in his foot that limited him to only 110.1 innings in his second full MLB season. When you add the fact that he toes the rubber on Blake Street, everyone’s least favorite pitching venue, you arrive at why he is currently being undervalued in drafts. But if you look deeper into his profile, Gray took a few steps forward in his sophomore campaign that should make you very excited for his fantasy potential in 2018.
Gray ended the year with a 3.67 ERA, which was supported by a 3.18 FIP and 3.45 xFIP. Apart from those stats, the main areas I want to focus on are his improved BB% and the fact that he maintained his elite K% in the 2017 season. As a refresher, here is a good rule of thumb for how these rates should be perceived:
|Above Average||8.2||22.00%||Above Average||2.5||6.50%|
|Below Average||7||17.00%||Below Average||3.2||8.00%|
In 2016, Gray struck out 26% of the batter he faced while walking 8.3%. Looking at the chart, you can see that while his K% rated at an almost excellent level, his BB% showed there was some ground to make up in control. Gray managed to cut his BB% in 2017 to an above average 6.5% while only dropping slightly in the K department, with his overall K% settling in at 24.3%.
To put that into further perspective, here are the only SP in 2017 to post similar rates:
That’s pretty elite territory for fantasy pitchers, and makes Gray a great target on draft day. If you have owners in your league that are leery of Rockies hurlers, be sure to take advantage of their ignorance and reap the benefits this year with Gray.
JA Happ, Current ADP: 249.75
Every fantasy team needs a few arms with high floors and low risk. JA Happ is a great veteran arm you can select later in your fantasy draft with a great chance to beat his pedestrian ADP and provide you solid value along the way.
In an era where pitchers reach the 6IP mark less and less, Happ went 6 innings or more in 64% of his starts, and proved to be fully recovered from the slight elbow issues that kept him out of the latter half of April. Over the past three seasons he has maintained slightly above average K%’s (21.1%, 20.5%, 22.7%) and BB%’s (6.3%, 7.5%, 7.4%) and has so far avoided any declines in his overall average velocity, actually seeing it jump slightly during the 2017 campaign to 91.8 MPH.
Not good enough for you? If you need more to convince you of Happ’s value at his current ADP, take a look at this comparison from 2017:
Pretty similar stats right? What if I told you that Player 2 is currently being drafted at an average of 156 spots higher than Player 1? Player 1 is JA Happ. Player 2? Jake Arrieta.
Jameson Taillon, Current ADP: 191.60
Like some of the other pitchers in this article, Jameson Taillon missed a good chunk of the 2017 season with injuries that are likely part of the reason why he has such a good chance to outperform his lower ADP for 2018. Taillon missed almost one month of action after the removal of suspected testicular cancer in May. This procedure limited him to 133.2 innings, and his pedestrian 4.44 ERA at seasons end left much to be desired for many owners who had expected more of the highly regarded young hurler. There is reason to be optimistic about Taillon, however.
Advanced stats like FIP, xFIP and SIERA (3.48, 3.89, 4.24) all liked his performance better than the final result, leading me to believe that perhaps some bad luck was involved in his overall performance. His K% was slightly above average (21.3%), and he did not struggle too badly with walks, posting an average BB%. He also exhibited an interesting Quality of Contact profile as well, posting a higher than average Soft% (Percent of balls hit softly).
Based on these facts and his prospect pedigree, I see Taillon as a candidate to provide more value than a few other pitchers with similar profiles that are currently going much earlier in drafts. Here is a quick comparison between Taillon and two of these pitchers:
You can see here that Taillon compares well with both Gray (Current ADP: 148.39) and Keuchel (Current ADP: 71.83) in most areas, except for a sky high BABIP that I expect to come down in 2018. Look for Taillon to continue to grow as a pitcher this season and be sure to target him as someone whose performance should outweigh his ADP.
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