Every season holds surprise performances from players that no one was considering during their pre-season drafts. Players like Zack Godley burst on the scene last season to provide high-end pitching production for those quick enough to pick them up, and this season will be no different. The hard part always comes in seeing the potential in these players before the breakout happens, which is incredibly difficult to predict.
All of these players have their warts, and while I do not expect or suggest that anyone on this list will approach the production seen by Godley last season, I do have a few arms that could be worth a late round flier, or at least deserve further attention, as potential roster adds as we get into the season and pitching injuries start to pile up.
Either way, here are three pitchers currently being ignored in most drafts that could surprise this season:
Nick Pivetta, Current ADP: 427.17
Nick Pivetta made his MLB debut this past season, struggling to an 8-10 record with a healthy 6.02 ERA and bloated 1.51 WHIP over 133 innings. Needless to say, not many teams were leaning on Pivetta to help them down the stretch, and he has been an afterthought so far in drafts, coming off the board at the bitter end of selections, if at all. But while many may look at their phone, see that Northern AZ area code/ERA of 6.02 and press decline, I am answering the call and targeting Pivetta as a late round flier who could offer useful production this season.
While that 6.02 ERA really hits you in the face, the shock of it starts to wear off when you note that Pivetta’s FIP, FIPx and SIERA all come in two runs below that number: (4.87; 4.26; 4.79):
So while those numbers are not setting the world on fire, it does show that he may have dealt with some bad luck that impacted his 2017 numbers. It gets more odd and/or interesting as you take a look at Pivetta’s second half performance. While his ERA rose to an even more putrid 7.05, advanced looks at that performance were pretty forgiving (4.59; 3.89; 4.12). His K% (24%) rated well above average, and though his BB% was obscenely high for the season overall (9.80%), he managed to drop it to 8.80% during the second half while seeing his K% drop only slightly (23.60%).
Pivetta is currently a lead candidate for a back-end rotation spot in 2018, and while he will definitely need to better his control to be useful in fantasy moving forward, he should provide some value due to his K potential.
Jakob Junis, Current ADP: 384.39
Junis was a nice surprise for the Royals in 2018, going six or more innings in half of his sixteen 2017 starts. He ended the year with a 9-3 record, a 4.30 ERA and 1.28 WHIP, and really excelled in limiting walks, posting BB% of 5.90% for the entire season, including a miniscule 3.50% rate for the second half. While he will never be someone who strikes out a ton of batters, his K/9 of 7.32 still plays, and he should see a slight increase to that number in 2018, though probably not to the level we saw in his last minor league assignment (10.90%).
As you can see, his advanced statistics for the full season are not that encouraging, with those metrics all coming in slightly higher than his final ERA (FIP 4.55; FIPx 4.77; SIERA 4.49):
However, in the second half (when he was starting more consistently), he pitched much better and saw greater support in those advanced statistics. While I admit this is a small sample to extrapolate from, I see some similarities between Junis and Ervin Santana, another pitcher who provides solid IP support with a low BB%’s and just enough K’s to be valuable in fantasy, though obviously that is not a level of production I see coming from him this season.
Junis is currently projected to break camp in the rotation, and I will be watching him as someone who can add solid production to a fantasy staff.
Chad Kuhl, Current ADP: 397.86
If you are looking for someone who could provide cheap K’s for your squad this season, Chad Kuhl is a very interesting and somewhat perplexing option to target for this season. Here are Kuhl’s rates for the full season and second half:
As you can see, Kuhl has some unusual things going on with his production rates, specifically relating to K’s. While he posted a healthy K% of 23.40% in the second half and saw K/9 rates above 9.00 for the last two months of the season, his SwStr% was below average during that period of time, and much lower than the 9.50% he posted for the season as a whole. Some of this difference may be explained by his Plate Discipline profile, which saw him throw more pitches in the zone in 2017 while upping his first strike percentage, perhaps showing that Kuhl was getting more K’s looking that before. Either way, Kuhl limits HR’s (HR/9: 0.97), throws hard (average FB 95.9, CH 89.2, SL 88.9) and will be in the rotation this season, so there is a lot to like as a late round flier. The one area he does need to clean up is his control, and if he can do that he could provide even greater value.
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