Nola and Buehler: Playing Devil’s Advocate

I promise I’m not a jerk. I know you need pitching early – I agree. Believe me, I’m in the middle of TGFBI right now and I’m glad I snagged Verlander in Round 2. But, I think we are back on the tiers train this year for starting pitching in fantasy baseball, and there is nothing wrong with that. I am writing this article, however to dissect two starters who I think have the potential to be over-drafted. Take this as your justification for trusting old guys like Kluber or Verlander and even two of my favorites based on ADP: Severino and Carrasco.

Aaron Nola SP Philadelphia Phillies
NFBC ADP: 24th overall and 6th SP

Aaron Nola is really good; nobody is arguing that fact. But this is about playing the devil’s advocate. Nola is going off the board, in a good number of early drafts, as the 4th SP – right there with Verlander and Kluber – and I think you need to be aware that it will be hard for him to return that value at this position.

The possible reasons for some regression? Backed by one of the worst defenses in baseball last year, for whatever reason, the defense was actually very good behind Nola. He had a .251 BABIP, which is down from .309 a year before. This, coupled with a 82.5 strand rate helped Nola outperform his FIP (3.01) to the tune of a 2.37 ERA. The BABIP should normalize to somewhere around .290-.300 this year, and the strand rate will probably be closer to 80%. If those two scenarios occur, Nola is probably more of a 3.10-3.20 ERA pitcher which is in line with the projection system’s metrics.

Is that bad? Absolutely not. Is it a top 5 starter? I’d argue not. Nola has a very high floor with a 50% GB rate and a 27% K rate – an elite combination. However, the league will have the opportunity to adjust to Nola’s change in pitch selection from 2018. He traded 4% of his fastballs for changeups which accounted for the slight uptick in strikeouts. Nola is also a pitcher who relies on called strikes which makes him more susceptible to a more aggressive hitting approach. This division still has the Marlins and it’s still in the NL, but I think the competition will be stiffer and the defensive luck will not be as favorable to Nola in ’19. After all, he had a 10% HR/FB rate in a bandbox of a home park.

  • My Advice

I don’t think I’ll have many shares of Nola. I see him more in the range of an early to mid 3rd round pick in 12 team leagues, and I’m comfortable with taking him after pick 28 or so – not the late 1st/early second round some are reaching for. If he’s your guy, this take should not change your opinion. For me, though, he’s behind Verlander and Cole and he’s not being drafted that way. Remember, some regression is coming!

Walker Buehler SP LA Dodgers
NFBC ADP: 38th overall and 12th SP

Innings Innings Innings. Buehler looked great in the playoffs, and everyone was watching. The guys in your draft room were watching. But, this equation is simple. 98 innings in 2017 to 177 innings in 2018 , including 24 postseason frames, should fade Buehler more than his ADP suggests. I don’t question the skills, but no team uses the DL more than the Dodgers, and I suspect they will try to find ways to spread out and or limit Buehler’s workload in 2019.

There a few similar regression concerns as outlined with Nola. Buehler benefited from a .248 BABIP last year so I think it’s very possible his  end of season ERA is much closer to 3.00 than his 2.62 mark from 2018. He also needs to miss a few more bats with his off-speed pitches. His fastball is elite, but his changeup had a negative pitch value last year. Additionally, his slider and curve show that they need a little more polish. This will come by the way, just not this year.

  • My Advice

I’m impressed. The skills are real. But, there is absolutely no way the Dodgers let Buehler throw 200 innings, and there’s also the potential for an innings limit or pitch count. For me, this makes Buehler closer to Jameson Taillon than Carrasco. That’s still very valuable, but not enough to warrant being selected in the first 3 rounds of a 12 team draft, and he should be reached for at 16 overall when the best number for Syndergaard and Carrasco is 24 and 27 respectively.

Let someone else be the high guy on Buehler. Instead, if you’re looking for a 3rd round SP to target… I’d go Cole if he is still available, but Severino, Syndergaard, and Carrasco are all guys who could be available and I prefer them all over Buehler.

 

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Colin Dinsmore

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Avid Fantasy Baseball player, Yankees fan, amateur gambler, dog-lover. @AssemblyColin