February 25, 2015
Fantasy Three-Year Projections
Starting PItchers, Part Two
Previous articles in this series:
The top 50 starting pitchers are in the books, so let's move on to the back page, where players are less likely to sink a fantasy club but might just be enough to put it over the top.
McHugh may have emerged from relative obscurity, but his profile is worth your attention on draft day. With velocity that's a tick above average and a pair of effective breaking pitches, McHugh has the mechanical baselines to repeat his release point and support his low walk rate from last season. Archer's ranking is due to a combination o>f his two-pitch repertoire, his predictable usage patterns, and high walk rates that raise the possibility that his elite velocity will be moved to the bullpen. Kennedy has a solid three-pitch mix and an efficient delivery, though his timing can fall out of whack just enough to catch large swaths of plate from time to time. Bailey would have ranked comfortably in the top 50 if not for the flexor mass strain that ended his season, thanks to his penchant for improving both stuff and mechanics from year to year, but injury is ominous and drops his standing accordingly. Weaver is a magician of angles and deception, allowing him to not just survive but thrive despite velocity that is descending into Moyer territory, but his peak is now far in the past and his funk might not be enough to overcome a continued loss of heat. Odorizzi was absolutely brilliant at times last year, but he was plagued by inconsistency and will need to refine his release point if he is to make the most of his fastball-split combination.
Liriano is a sneaky pick who can pay huge dividends if he keeps the ball down, but the three-year window opens a large opportunity for the wildly inconsistent lefty to fall off track a time or five. Kazmir has resurrected a career that was thought to be over, converting from a veritable walk machine into a pitcher who can miss bats and control the strike zone, and it might surprise some to learn that 2015 will be just his age-31 season. Predicting a three-year run of success is not in the cards given his career transformations to date, but Kazmir's back-to-back seasons provide a solid foundation for his next couple campaigns. Syndergaard has an elite pitch mix and is close to the majors, and though he might battle with repetition a bit at the highest level (particularly from the windup), his upside is undeniable and he should clear the bar to the big leagues in short order. If his change-up comes around, then watch out. Holland has long had the stuff for a sustained run of success in the majors, but myriad injuries have thus far derailed his career; he showed a glimpse of his upside down the stretch in 2014, and though his innings might be limited, the frames that he does pitch should be of high quality. After a so-so career in the minors, Shoemaker busted out last season, and though his lack of a supportive resume raises the clouds of doubt, his avoidance of the free pass has been established over the past few years and should be expected to continue.
Miller went off the deep-end for the first half of last season, as lack of fastball command sapped his effectiveness and put him in too many unfavorable counts, shining a bright light on the limitations of a two-pitch repertoire, but his second half proved that the upside that made him a top prospect still exists. Archie Bradley still has to clear some developmental hurdles before he can ascend to the highest level, but he could explode onto the scene if he can harness mechanical consistency and let his potent pitch-mix play to its potential – I'm guessing that he won't be a difference-maker until 2016, but that difference could be large. Smyly slips pretty far from his ADP of 42 in these three-year ranks, due to a combination of pedestrian velocity and one of the least-stable release points in the game, elements that clear the clouds of his smoke-and-mirrors approach to his craft. The Rays are noted for their general appreciation of balance and stability, so it will be interesting to see if his mechanics undergo an overhaul or if they leave the Leaning Tower of Pitching alone.
Hutchison had an uneven first season, but his track record in the minors suggests that his excellent first-half performance was not entirely out of line, but he will have to overcome the stamina-related doubts before he will be fully appreciated by the fantasy community. Fiers has ridden the performance rollercoaster over the past few seasons, with inconsistencies in his run prevention, control of the strike zone, and mechanics; his upside is worth an investment, but the uncertainty keeps his price lower in my book than the consensus (ADP of 49). Hughes takes an even steeper drop compared to his ADP (45 among starting pitchers), due to the lack of upside in a line that is unlikely to improve in his areas of strength (ie preventing walks) but has plenty of room for regression for a pitcher who was still hit hard yet kept the ball in the park—his new home certainly helped, but cracking another 3.50 ERA will take either a whole lot of luck or a dose of improvement. Eovaldi is a perpetual case of “woulda coulda shoulda,” with one of the hardest fastballs in the majors off-set by a sweeping slider, but his lack of an off-speed pitch and release-point inconsistencies have spoiled his best-laid plans. Captain Eo made some improvements last season, but the change in venue could be harsh on his learning curve.
Peralta is a serious breakout candidate due to his raw stuff (fastball averages more than 96.5 mph) and improving control. He's similar to Eovaldi in this sense, and both pitchers also share the need for a third pitch (ideally off-speed) to add to the repertoire. The question has not been performance with Hahn, it has been taking the mound—he pitched less than 185 innings combined from 2013-14, including majors and minors. Quintana has a very stable delivery that supports his low walk rate, and he should continue to be a safe bet to eat innings while holding solid ratios. Tillman has one of the tallest release points in the game, along with a solid pitch-mix of average stuff, leaving him as a solid-yet-unsexy pickup for your fantasy roster. Lackey has enjoyed a long career of above-average play, and though I expect a pleasant ride into the sunset, there's a decent chance that he will do so before the three-year window has closed. Roark was over his head last season, while his lack of strikeouts and questionable role for 2015 make him more of a speculative play at this point.
This tier is dripping with upside yet tainted with volatility. Bundy is good enough to alter a franchise, but his stuff has not yet returned to pre-injury levels and there is some risk that he never makes it all the way back, thus limited his ultimate impact. Duffy enjoyed a smooth transition to the rotation, and though his strikeout rate took a hit with the move, the lowered walk rate was a worthy trade. Moore's previous struggles with consistency somewhat masked his raw talent, and though he will miss a chunk of this season in his recovery from Tommy John Surgery, if the stuff comes all the way back then he will still have elite upside. Heaney might lack that level of upside and his first tour of the majors was less than a thrill-ride, but he could have a short-order impact on an Angels team that is very thin on the mound. Rodon has made improvements to his mechanics over the past two seasons and is now working with coach Don Cooper, who could help the left-hander to extract even more value from his arm, and all indicators are that the White Sox will throw him into the fire sooner rather than later. Bauer is the ultimate tinkerer when it comes to mechanics, but he took some great steps last season toward simplifying his delivery, and once the basics are honed he will be able to reap greater advantages through his bag of tricks. Meyer's upside is as big as he is (6-foot-9), with huge velocity and B-grade mechanical baselines, but his lack of balance with the large frame has wreaked havoc on his release point. He's on the brink of the majors, but it could take some time for him to stabilize either his delivery or his stat-line.
His sinker-slider repertoire places greater emphasis on Nelson's ability to command the baseball, and he made great progress in that department last season. Despaigne has followed the El Duque blueprint to a tee, from his hide-and-seek leg lift to his myriad arm angles, and Despaigne commands his funk well enough to make the impression quite believable. The injury cloud will always follow McCarthy, who has visited the disabled list nine times in the past nine years for various woes associated with his right arm, seven of which involved his throwing shoulder. McCarthy has endured a stress fracture to his right scapula five times, and the apparent anatomical weakness sends him down the ranks. Kelly might not put up flashy K numbers, but his velocity is near-elite and the sinker has legit movement. Porcello will try the same trick as Kelly, to keep the ball on the ground in Fenway, and the two pitchers have a similar outlook for the next three years. Hellickson has the ability to return to previous glory, but it will be interesting to see how attacks batters from the stretch in Arizona, as the slide step has had rough repercussions to his delivery. Keuchel is fun to watch on defense, but his pitch-to-contact approach leaves him vulnerable to the vagaries of balls in play, and the lack of strikeouts means that his ratios have to carry him. I don't see another sub-3.00 ERA in Keuchel's near future.
More prospects clear the wall the deeper we go into the rankings, and the three-year window plays a key role at this juncture of the player pool. Norris was a strikeout machine in the minors and has a path to a rotation spot in Toronto, but he could have a turbulent transition until he harnesses a consistent release point. There is a wide gap between ceiling and floor with Stephenson, and last year's struggles may have delayed his MLB debut, but he has the raw materials for future dominance and could enter the show later this year. Gray is this author's pick for the game's top pitching prospect, but his fantasy value is squashed by his future home environment, and if he succeeds in spite of the thin air then he will be breaking new ground. Both Sanchez and Car-Mart are good bets to find a permanent home in the bullpen, but the upside associated with future looks in the rotation can't be ignored. The key to Corbin's return will be his slider, and we will be looking to see if he can locate that pitch with consistent break. Desclafani may not be a household name, but with above-average velo, a deceptive slider, strong command and B-grade mechanics, he could become a household spelling word in short order.
Petit has shown how far a pitcher can go with pitch command, and though his future could include significant time in the bullpen, he proved himself capable of holding down SP duties in his 12 starts last season. Ervin is consistently inconsistent, maddening on a start-to-start basis, but when it all shakes out he is usually good for a league-average performance. Buchholz is inconsistently consistent, going through occasional runs of dominance that were few and far between in 2014. A litany of disconnected injuries has sullied Anderson's career to date, but he is pretty damn good when he's on the mound. Pomeranz will have to sift through a crowded rotation in Oakland, and he has yet to prove that he can handle a meaningful workload. Gallardo is moving to an unfavorable environment with less-heralded receivers, and his penchant to leave pitches hanging could be a disaster in Arlington.
The above tier is a mish-mash of borderline value. You have the control artists who might help the WHIP but can be a leech on the K rate (Alvarez, Hendricks, Lohse, Niese, Chen), the inconsistent pitchers who offer a ray of hope in the strikeout department (Greene, Hammel, Garza, Minor, Norris), the former stars with a short shelf-life but who might be able rediscover a hint of their past effectiveness (Peavy, Sabathia), a couple of southpaws coming off poor seasons (Miley, Cingrani), and R.A. Dickey (who deserves his own category). The one thing that all of these guys have in common: they should have direct access to innings if they're healthy.
There's a spattering of upside with each of the pitchers in this tier, but the projected playing time is all over the map. De La Rosa possesses top-notch velocity with a delivery that has a good blend of power and stability in the early phases, but repetition of timing has eluded him thus far. The excellent minor-league walk rates of Marco Gonzales didn't follow him to the majors, and his future success hinges on harnessing command. Graveman keeps the ball on the ground and the bags clear of freebies, with a heavy sinker and a very sound delivery that could allow him to be bring sneaky value. He will battle for innings with Nolin, who carries the higher prospect pedigree but a limited ceiling. Elias has an interesting three-pitch mix but could get squeezed out of the rotation in Seattle. Then there's Tim Lincecum, who could do just about anything in the next three years and it would fail to surprise.
I left the uber-prospects for the end. The anticipation level for these two prodigies is off the charts, but each still has a long way to go before being MLB-ready. Giolito pitched in A-ball last season in his first full year back from Tommy John surgery, and the Nats will want to build his stamina to endure a starter's workload by the time he reaches the major leagues. Urias is incredibly advanced for his age, but he is still growing into his body and has undergone some significant mechanical (and physical) changes in the past year. He will take some time to develop these physical aspects into a frame and delivery that can pitch baseballs for a living. It would be a serious long-shot to expect either player to pitch in the majors this fall, and I don't expect either player to make an impact until late 2016, at the earliest. In the confines of a three-year window, their trade value likely outweighs their expected production.