When Pitching Isn’t Your Focus

I have found myself waiting on pitching in my drafts this year, sometimes to an extreme degree. While top-tier starters like Max Scherzer, Blake Snell, and Aaron Nola are interesting, I have found it nearly impossible to pass up impact bats early on. Taking this approach has meant I need to be selective as to when I take my first arm.

Grabbing at least one top 25 pitcher is ideal in that it ensures you at least one steady arm to rely on. After that, depending on how the draft goes, I find myself looking for quality innings anywhere I can. The two players I highlight this week have consistently ended up on my rosters in both real and mock drafts this year, though for different reasons. Keep these two arms in mind as you draft or re-shuffle your lineups this spring.

Jose Berrios

I think Berrios is due for a big step forward in 2019. In his second full season, the young hurler kept his walk rate consistent (7.7 BB% in 2018, 7.8 BB% in 2017) while increasing his ability to strike batters out (25.4 K% in 2018, 22.6 K% in 2017). Berrios was able to make hitters chase his outside offerings more (+2.3% O-Swing%) and limited their success against those pitches (-5.5% O-Contact%). Those improvements and a large hike in his SwStr% (+1.8% in 2018) allowed Berrios to post the 18th best K% among all qualified starters last season.

Berrios’s SIERA (3.80) was almost an exact match of his ERA (3.84) and all other indicators (3.90 FIP, 3.89 xFIP) were similarly ranged. He is currently going as the 24th starter off the board (74.44 ADP), putting him at the end of the 5th round for 15-team leagues (beginning of 7th round in 12-team). I see Berrios as a perfect candidate to target as your first arm if you decide on a hitter heavy approach to your draft. He should toss 200+ innings and strikeout over 200 batters while limiting hits and walks allowed (17th best WHIP in MLB last season).

Only eight starters eclipsed the 200 mark in both innings and strikeouts last season, with three others coming up just short (Berrios, Marquez, and Severino). That rare mix (at least these days) is the perfect foundation for any fantasy rotation, and Berrios offers one of the latest opportunities to secure that kind of production in the draft. Becoming more consistent with his secondary offerings could allow him to become elite, but he is a top 20-25 arm either way.

Kenta Maeda

2018 marked a third straight season where Maeda’s innings have declined:

Year W L ERA G GS SV HLD IP
2016 16 11 3.48 32 32 0 0 175.2
2017 12 6 4.35 25 25 0 0 126.1
2018 8 10 3.81 39 20 2 5 125.1

He has not tossed more than 140 innings in either of the last two seasons due to injury (2017) and a late-season shift to the bullpen (2018). Despite his limited innings, Maeda has always delivered solid production when he is on the hill. His K% has always been above average (25% in 2016, 25.1% in 2017, 28.8% in 2018) and his control has not been an issue either (7% BB% in 2016, 6.1% BB% in 2017, 8.1% in 2018). In his 435.1 career IP, Maeda owns a 3.80 ERA with even better indicators (3.63 FIP, 3.66 xFIP, 3.42 SIERA).

He is a top-tier arm when he pitches, plain and simple. The issue that has and continues to affect his value lies with the Los Angeles Dodgers and how they decide to use him. Unlike other pitchers who are relegated to the bullpen, Maeda was not struggling (3.85 ERA, 3.66 SIERA, 27.7% K% in 20 GS) when a Dodgers roster crunch sent him to the pen last season. He also is not someone who has issues putting away batters more than twice in one outing. On the contrary, he actually got better as the game went on in his 2018 starts:

Split G BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1st PA in G, as SP 20 12 48 .242 .296 .412 .708
2nd PA in G, as SP 19 12 51 .247 .298 .396 .694
3rd PA in G, as SP 18 16 28 .209 .333 .374 .707

The Dodgers staff is still overloaded coming into 2019, though Maeda is set for the back of the rotation currently. He will likely not reach the usual inning levels you would expect from a starter, but that does not mean he is someone to avoid on draft day. With an ADP of 217.48, Maeda offers top-level production as the 80th pitcher off the board, and his innings, while limited, offer better statistics than you will find from other starters at that point in the draft. If you do decide to make hitting your first priority, target Maeda as a later addition who could bridge the gap for your staff.

 

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Hunter Denson

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Fantasy baseball enthusiast, Boston Red Sox fan and general lover of baseball living in the Pacific Northwest. More likely to remember Mel Ott's career HR number than my pin number. Married to an amazing woman who supports and encourages my baseball mania.