Starting pitching is very deep with middle of the rotation arms this season, and unlike like last year, there are a lack of aces. This can make it difficult to navigate which pitchers to target in the middle of your draft. Here are two pitchers owners should feel optimistic about and target for the 2017 draft season.
Sean Manaea made his much-anticipated, and impressive, major league debut in 2017. Other young starting pitchers, namely Jameson Taillon, Michael Fulmer, and Aaron Sanchez, performed slightly better than Manaea, but their price has far outpaced his to this point. That makes him the young pitcher to target in 2017 drafts.
To start, Manaea posted a very respectable 14.7 K-BB% over 144.2 innings in the majors last season. This was aided by a surprisingly good walk rate and illustration of control when compared to his minor league numbers. Getting ahead of hitters was a key for him in this regard, as he threw a strike on the first pitch to 64.8% of batters. That put him among elite pitchers such as Max Scherzer, Madison Bumgarner, and David Price.
His 20.9% strikeout rate and 7.71 strikeouts per nine innings were a strong effort for his first season, but his peripherals indicate there is more upside in that regard. Specifically, Manaea posted an 11.8% swinging strike rate. That swinging strike rate sandwiched him between Kenta Maeda and David Price, who struck out 9.17 and 8.92 batters per nine innings respectively. With more experience at the big league level, Manaea should have more success sequencing his pitches to make more of his swinging strike rate, with Price and Maeda illustrating his upside.
To truly reach the level of the elite pitchers, he will also have to improve both his command and pitch sequencing to suppress home runs. The downside of him being around the plate so much – only Bartolo Colon among qualified pitchers threw a higher percentage of pitches in the strike zone – was the 1.24 home runs he surrendered per nine innings. The challenge for him to take the next step as a pitcher is to trust his stuff enough to throw out of the zone more often without increasing his walk rate. This will make it more difficult for batters to sit on pitches in the zone, and in turn, should make hitters less likely to make hard contact against him. It may be ambitious to expect him to enter into elite territory with that change needed this season, but he should be able to at least show some progression. A home park that is notoriously poor for hitters should also aid him in suppressing home runs.
As far as the overall fantasy package, Manaea’s 3.86 season long ERA from 2016 doesn’t look all that impressive. However, if we play with arbitrary endpoints a bit, it is noticeable that he got shelled to the tune of a 7.03 ERA in his first 32 innings of the season. In his next 112.2 innings pitched, he posted a 2.96 ERA. It’s not a good idea to project that out over a full season, but it does show Manaea’s upside. That said, he deserves more credit for what he did last season, and his peripherals show there is plenty more to come.
There are a lot of narratives that stand in the way of Drew Pomeranz being a reliable fantasy asset this season. Health concerns are already abound as he was bothered by a shoulder injury in the latter half of the season. There was optimism surrounding the health of that shoulder heading into 2017, though we are just days into Spring Training and there is already news that Pomeranz cannot throw off of the mound yet. Monday should be his first chance to do so, but this will be something that needs to be taken into account as we get closer to April.
Another concern about Pomeranz’s fantasy value is that The Red Sox rotation has the potential to be crowded with Eduardo Rodriguez, Steven Wright and Pomeranz vying for two spots. Each has had injury issues in the past, so the issue could resolve itself with one or more of them hitting the DL. In addition, Rodriguez still has minor league options, which could play heavily into the Red Sox decision. That said, it feels relatively safe that Pomeranz will find his way into the Red Sox rotation and maintain that spot throughout the season – assuming he can stay healthy.
Now that the playing time concerns are mostly settled, it’s time to dig into the stats. Pomeranz put up incredible stats and fantasy value in the first half of last season, but his value took a major hit after he was traded to the Red Sox in early July. His current ADP as the 56th starting pitcher off the board in NFBC drafts suggests that many owners feel as if this was due entirely from his move to the Red Sox. That’s a reasonable conclusion given that he was no longer pitching in the NL and went from a relatively friendly pitchers park to a friendly hitters park as his home field. While it is impossible to rule out those factors as the reason for his second-half demise, there is a plausible alternative.
Prior to last season, Pomeranz had never thrown more than 96.2 innings in the major leagues, and that career best came in the 2012 season. In his first 88 innings, all with the Padres, Pomeranz average fastball velocity was 91.78, 91.57, 92.44, and 92.10 respectively from April to June. From July forward, his fastball velocity was 91.21, 91.88, and 91.79 respectively. His sinker, curveball, and cutter all lost velocity as well. Both the midseason trade and potential fatigue may have been contributing factors to Pomeranz’s second half disappointment, but it should not be assumed that Pomeranz cannot pitch effectively at Fenway Park or in the A.L. East based solely on his second half numbers.
One thing that did remain strong all season was Pomeranz’s strikeout rate, as he struck out 10.15 batters per nine innings in the first half of the season and 9.31 in the second half. That led to a season-long total of 9.81 strikeouts per nine innings or 26.5% of batters faced. There is optimism that he can continue to strike out batters at a prolific rate, given his 11% and 11.1% swinging strike rate in the past two seasons respectively. Thus, even if his ratios do take a bit of a hit based on ballpark and quality of opposition, strikeouts should keep his value insulated. In addition, the Red Sox offense should provide plenty of run support, even with the retirement of David Ortiz. Thus, Pomeranz’s win potential is another possible safety net in the event that he falters for stretches of the season.
There are several intriguing players going in the same ADP area as Pomeranz, including the likes of Sonny Gray, Aaron Nola, Carlos Rodon, and James Paxton. All have the potential to provide ace-like fantasy performances, though they all have some of the same concerns as Pomeranz. Given the known strikeouts and win potential of Pomeranz is enough to boost him ahead of each of those pitchers and makes him an undervalued fantasy asset heading into 2017.
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