February 29, 2016
Early ADP Analysis
Welcome to the penultimate installment of our new fantasy series focused primarily on analyzing early average draft position (ADP) trends. The goal of the series is to identify trends in the data to determine what we can learn to improve our draft-day strategy going forward. The early ADP data referenced for this entire series, housed at STATS.com, is from 2016 National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) leagues, which are comprised of 15 teams. Therefore, the average round data is reflective of that league size.
The Overall Landscape
Let’s start with a brief visual overview of how fantasy owners are constructing their rotations from the basic standpoint of just how many pitchers are being selected in each round of early 2016 fantasy drafts.
Aside from the first five starters off the board (Kershaw, Scherzer, Arrieta, Sale, and Bumgarner), the vast majority of fantasy owners are selecting their first starter in the third, fourth, or fifth round. 18 “fantasy aces” are currently going off the board in that ADP range. After a steep dropoff in the middle rounds, another run on starters comprising the heart of most rotations ramps up right around the ninth round. After that, we see fantasy owners abstaining from the pitching market until right around the 15th round, when several enticing back-end names are being snapped up.
The number of frontline starters selected within the first 100 picks (27) is identical to what we saw in drafts last year. However, there’s plenty of turnover from that crop. Without further delay, let’s dive into starting pitchers.
The First Round
Kershaw continues his unprecedented venture into uncharted waters…There’s no reason to doubt him, but the risk (just like his ADP) is reaching an all-time high…
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
The raw numbers are unassailable. Despite a rough first two months (4.32 ERA through his first nine starts), the reigning NL MVL posted an unbelievable 1.39 ERA over his final 24 starts. In addition to posting the lowest Deserved Run Average of his entire career (2.13 DRA) he became the first starter to strikeout 300 batters since Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson with Arizona back in 2002.
There’s a legitimate case to be made to take Kershaw with the first-overall selection given the value he provides over even the other elite starters in the game, with his durability being a central reason why. Despite logging over 1,600 career innings since 2008, he’s dodged the injury bug with more finesse than a Russell Westbrook euro-step, with just one career DL stint, back in 2014. Kershaw is a once-in-a-generation force of nature. However, let’s not completely overlook the potential injury risk just because he’s never been hurt before. Nobody is saying, “don’t draft Kershaw” but let’s acknowledge for just a moment how risky it is to invest in a pitcher in the first round. Much like the Death Star, Kershaw appears to be virtually indestructible. There, I said it.
Max Scherzer, Nationals
On the surface, it appears Scherzer aced the transition to the senior circuit, posting a sparkling 2.79 ERA while striking out 276 batters over 228 2/3 innings. A pair of no-hitters merely served as icing on the cake. However, a deeper dive reveals a concerning trend for the 31-year-old right-hander. In addition to surrendering four earned runs or more in 10 of his 33 starts, he allowed 27 home runs (his highest total since 2011). The problem? ESPN’s Dave Schoenfield expertly pointed out late last season that the vast majority of the home runs Scherzer allowed were the result of missing his location with a fastball, leaving it up and over the plate. It’s a problem Scherzer could easily correct and it provides some optimism that he will be even better in 2016. He’ll need to be if he’s going to justify a lofty first-round investment in fantasy drafts.
The Second Round
Missed out on Kershaw? No problem…How do a pair of Windy City aces sound?
Jake Arrieta, Cubs
The vast majority of fantasy owners were hesitant to fully invest after Arrieta’s breakout campaign in 2014, which saw him emerge from relative obscurity to post a 2.53 ERA over 25 starts in Chicago. Taken on average with the 83rd selection (sixth round in 15-team leagues), Arrieta posted an eye-popping 1.77 ERA with 236 strikeouts over 229 innings of work (33 starts) en route to winning the NL Cy Young. The postseason fade and reality of just how hard the Cubs rode him last season is a cause for concern, but there’s no doubt anymore that Arrieta is one of the best pitchers in the game. It just took a little longer than expected.
The Early Rounds
Get your ace here! There’s a lot to digest in this tier, but this is where fantasy owners are starting to build the heart of their rotations…
Jose Fernandez, Marlins
The clear expectation among fantasy owners selecting Fernandez as a top-10 overall pitcher is that he’s going to be healthy and shoulder a workload that gets him in the neighborhood of 200 innings. The problem with building a redraft rotation around Fernandez is that there are too many questions surrounding how the Marlins are going to manage his workload. It’s clear (in all likelihood) he’s not going to eclipse 200 innings. So the question becomes at what point do they have to shut him down and even more terrifying, what happens if Miami is actually in contention for the playoffs and they need to save Fernandez for a playoff series? Considering the names being selected after him in this tier and all of the risks associated with his health and innings, it’s hard to imagine Fernandez returning this type of value.
Even Betty Crocker burns the odd cake every now and then, but Hernandez nearly set the entire kitchen ablaze with a pair of disastrous starts against Houston and Boston in which he surrendered nearly a quarter (18 earned runs) of the runs he allowed all season in less than three innings. While those two outings (and a third against the Yankees in which he gave up seven earned runs in fewer than five innings) shouldn’t be completely overlooked, they effectively obfuscated on a surface level what was otherwise a vintage Hernandez season in 2015.
With his average fastball velocity (92.83 mph) continuing to decline, it’s clear that the barbarians are closing in on the castle walls, but armed with his stellar changeup (32 percent whiffs-per-swing) and curveball (38 percent whiffs-per-swing), this King still has a few more battles left in him. The fact that Hernandez going outside the top-15 starters is shocking, and he’s clearly one of the better values among the elite tier of starters heading into 2016.
Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
It’s easy for fantasy owners seem to forget how good Wainwright was in the two seasons prior to suffering an Achilles injury in April, that despite returning for a trio of one-inning relief appearances in October, effectively ended his 2015 campaign before it ever got started. From 2013-14, Wainwright tossed 241 2/3 innings (more than anyone not named Price or Cueto) with a 2.94 ERA and a 219-to-35 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He’s fully healthy, only 34 years old, and clearly motivated. Currently being drafted outside the top 20 at the position, Wainwright is shaping up to be a huge steal for savvy fantasy owners.
Steven Matz, Mets
Let’s pump the brakes. This ADP is all about projection and the issue (at a very basic level) with paying for Matz as a top-30 starter on draft day is that it eliminates any potential profit and assumes a ton of risk given the small sample size of major-league innings we have to project his future performance. There’s no disputing how impressive the minor-league statistics he compiled in the hitter-friendly PCL (2.19 ERA with 94 strikeouts in 90 1/3 innings) last summer or the numbers he posted in his brief Mets debut (2.27 ERA with 34 strikeouts and just 10 walks over six starts). The arsenal, comprised of a solid three-pitch mix (fastball, curveball, and changeup), is polished, but the reality is, he’s not going to be Syndergaard 2.0 from a fantasy impact standpoint.
There might not be a more impressive, ready-now, left-handed starting pitching prospect than Matz, who turns 25-years-old in May. However, development is not linear, and elevating him into the upper echelon of fantasy starters, ahead of names like Richards, Zimmerman, Liriano, Darvish, Shields, Iwakuma, and Verlander, just because he hasn’t struggled yet, seems like a huge mistake. For what it’s worth, PECOTA is exceptionally high on Matz, forecasting a 3.55 ERA (1.19 WHIP) with 143 strikeouts and just 48 walks in 148 innings. Love the pitcher. Hate the ADP.
Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees
Despite turning in a top-20 caliber season, according to BP’s valuations wizard Mike Gianella, Tanaka is still being miscast as a huge injury risk heading into 2016. That criticism may be fair, especially considering he’s coming off surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow this winter, but assuming the 27-year-old is healthy (and by all early camp reports, he is) is it really unreasonable to expect him to return ninth round value in 2016? With the considerable risk built into his draft day price, Tanaka is clearly a moderate-risk, high-reward selection capable of far exceeding his current ADP (SP31) if he’s able to make 25-to-30 starts again. Fantasy owners talk about “value” all the time and while Tanaka seemingly carries tremendous risk on draft day, there isn’t a more glaring example of profit potential at the position.
Justin Verlander, Tigers
The halcyon days of high-90s velocity in the late innings, sub-2.00 ERAss, and a strikeout per-inning over 250 frames are long gone. However, the now 33-year-old evolved into a completely different, yet surprisingly effective hurler last season. By DRA, Verlander posted the fourth-best mark (2.65) of any pitcher with at least 100 innings of work last season. Only Kershaw, Greinke and Arrieta were better in 2015. By cFIP, a predictive pitching metric, Verlander’s 89 mark last year grades out as a top-30 mark among all starters. As Toby Keith would say, Verlander “may not be as good as he once was,” but the new version is still pretty effective. Barely being drafted as a top-40 starter, circle Verlander’s name on your cheat sheet, he’s better than you think and a bargain at this price.
James Shields, Padres
A top 75 selection at this time last year, the 34-year-old’s ADP has nearly doubled this season and he’s barely going in the first 10 rounds. That’s what happens when you serve up a league-leading 33 home runs. While he posted the highest strikeout rate (9.6 K/9) of his career, his walk rate ballooned to a career-worst 3.6 free passes per-nine. The only skill he seemingly retained with the move to San Diego was his ability to continue to soak up innings. By cFIP, Shields (108) and DRA (4.72) should no longer be viewed as even an average major-league starter by those metrics standards, making it hard to justify him as a core member of a fantasy rotation going forward. There are simply better investments out there.
Raisel Iglesias, Reds
The skills are legitimate. The slider is nasty. The workload to justify a selection this high may not be there for several reasons, the most notable being that the Reds aren’t a contender and have zero incentive to push the odometer their most talented young arm. Iglesias threw just 124 (extremely impressive) innings total in his first season stateside last year, expecting him to push 200 would be a huge stretch and is the only thing holding him back from potentially finishing as a top 40 (or much higher) starter in 2016. Once the Reds finally take the governor off in 2017, Iglesias is going to be fun to watch, but his current ADP feels like a reach given that his ceiling is clearly limited by the workload concerns.
The Middle Rounds
We’re outside the top 40 fantasy starters, so it goes without saying that each of these pitchers carries significant risk, but the rewards are worth the investment if valued properly…
Jeff Samardzija, Giants
Grabbed with the 64th-overall selection on average last year, Samardzija has experienced one of the biggest declines in ADP of any starter, falling outside the top 150 picks overall at the moment. A perplexing pitcher to analyze, it really comes down to whether or not you believe the 31-year-old can solve a case of gopheritis (allowing 29 home runs last year) and experience a rebound in both his strikeout and groundball rates with the Giants. If you’re still a firm Shark rebound believer, he’s a bargain at his current ADP, but the negatives are starting to outweigh the positives in his overall profile. Invest at your own peril.
Luis Severino, Yankees
It’s nearly impossible not to like Severino, who at just 21 years old wasn’t overwhelmed in his major-league debut last season, making 11 starts down the stretch. His ERA (2.89) outpaced his DRA (3.82) by nearly a full run, one of the largest gaps of any starter in the game, but he struck out nearly a batter per inning (8.1 K/9) and his control wasn’t a complete disaster (3.2 BB/9). He possesses the ceiling of a quality mid-rotation fantasy starter and assuming he grabs a spot in the Yankee rotation, he’s not a huge risk in the middle rounds. Still, for me personally, I’d rather have former Yankees farmhand Jose Quintana, who is going about 10 picks later.
The Late Rounds
If you can figure out what Jaime Garcia is going to do this season, please give me a call…I’d love to know…
Kyle Hendricks, Cubs
The 26-year-old still needs to hold off newly acquired swingman Adam Warren for the Cubs final rotation slot, but he’s easily the most intriguing starter in this tier. His signature pinpoint control remained intact, while he established new highs in innings pitched (180) and strikeouts (8.3 K/9) while posting a 3.87 DRA, which ranked 42nd out of 141 pitchers who threw at least 100 innings in 2015. The arsenal alone rules out “future ace” potential, but going outside the top 60 starters in ADP, he offers a much higher floor than virtually any other option outside the top 200 selections overall.
Jose Berrios, Twins
The highly touted rookie isn’t a lock to open the season in the Twins rotation, but it won’t be for a lack of talent. In addition to a minor-league leading 175 strikeouts, Berrios posted a sterling 2.62 ERA over 12 Triple-A starts with Rochester down the stretch last season and showed that he’s about a major-league ready as a pitching prospect can be. Given the logjam in the Minnesota rotation, which currently features Phil Hughes, Ervin Santana, Ricky Nolasco, Tommy Milone, Tyler Duffey, and Kyle Gibson all battling for spots, look for Berrios to begin the year in the minors. Regardless, he’s a fine stash candidate in deeper formats that could have a big impact once he gets called up mid-season.
There’s no shortage of interesting speculative pickups in this tier…If only we had the space to discuss them all…
Blake Snell, Rays
The southpaw’s meteoric rise was capped off by being named Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year. Capable of contributing right now, he may be forced to wait for injury or ineffectiveness to force his way into a crowded Rays rotation. For now, he’s a phenomenal stash in deeper re-draft leagues and an even more compelling follow on Twitter thanks to his iconic “Snellzilla11” handle.
The Undrafted Crop
PECOTA’s “biggest breakout” (Jesse Hahn) is in this tier…Just saying…
Yovani Gallardo, Orioles
The starter most likely to see his stock rise in the next few weeks, the lack of a current zip code made Gallardo a risky investment, but with a rotation spot sewn up in Baltimore, he becomes one of the more attractive options in the late rounds. The move to Camden Yards and the AL East isn’t going to do him any favors, but the fact that he posted the lowest ERA (3.42) of his career in Texas is reason for encouragement. There’s no upside here, but at some point in a deeper mixed league, 33 average starts becomes valuable, see Miley, Wade as another prime example.
George Bissell is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
Click here to see George's other articles.
You can contact George by clicking here