Michael Fulmer, Detroit Tigers
Don't get me wrong, I really like Michael Fulmer. He made significant improvements with his changeup last year to give him a strong third pitch to add to his mid-90s fastball and nasty slider. His pure stuff has clearly moved past the "future reliever" tag because of how much his changeup improved last season. He also pitches in a good home park for pitching, and has shown the ability to be difficult to square up when hitters do make contact against him. My main concern with him is in a long-term dynasty format. His delivery is pretty high-effort and violent, and I'm not sure how long he's going to hold up as a starter. Maybe he's conditioned enough and built enough to handle it over the long haul without a problem, but it's enough to give me a little pause before investing in him in a dynasty format. —Tim Finnegan
Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
It feels very weird to say people should be avoiding Justin Verlander is fantasy drafts this year. He is, after all, among the best pitchers of his generation and very likely a future Hall of Famer. Not only that, but he’s also coming off one of the best years of his career and one in which he was a favorite to take home the American League Cy Young. He was the fifth-rated starting pitcher on ESPN’s Player Rater in 2016. After a couple of seasons in which he looked like he was firmly in the decline stage of his career, Verlander came back last season to strike out ten batters per nine innings while keeping his typically strong control.
Despite all of that, I suspect I won’t own Verlander in a single league this year. I don’t doubt that he’s still a good pitcher, but he’s currently being selected as the tenth starting pitcher in NFBC leagues and his ADP is eleventh on Fantasy Pros. As a pitcher who is entering his age-34 season who before last year was looking like his career would be over before anyone expected, I just can’t take him as an SP1. In NFBC leagues, he’s being selected ahead of Johnny Cueto, David Price, Chris Archer, Stephen Strasburg and Carlos Carrasco. I’d take all of them over Verlander. He’s still an all time great and if he starts to slip as the season approaches, I’ll reconsider. I doubt that’ll happen, though, and I’ll be letting someone else take on this risk. —Matt Collins
Taijuan Walker, Arizona Diamondbacks
Fantasy owners have been waiting for Taijuan Walker to deliver on the promise he showed as a prospect. As recently as 2014, Baseball Prospectus had Walker ranked no. 11 on their “Top 101 Fantasy Prospects.” During the first half of last season, he looked like he was beginning to deliver. Walker finished the first half with a 3.66 ERA and 1.140 WHIP.
Unfortunately, his production took a turn in the second half. Walker registered a 5.21 ERA in his final nine starts. During that time, he was plagued by foot pain that ultimately resulted in offseason surgery. Some owners will draft Walker hoping to get production closer to his first half performance now that he’s pain free.
However, Walker is moving to Arizona this season. He’s bringing with him the fifth highest HR/9 (1.81) in baseball among starters with at least 130 IP. Chase Field allowed the second most home runs per game last season, and over the past three years it’s been an above average park for long balls from both sides of the plate.
Walker is being taken in the 16th round by early ADP data. He’s had two straight seasons of 25+ starts, and he’s yet to return the kind of value owners have been looking for. There are higher ceiling options being drafted behind him, and it might be worth taking a pass on Walker this season to see how he reacts to surgery and a change of scenery. —Eric Roseberry
Julio Urias, Los Angeles Dodgers
We have seen comments such as "so this is really an avoid at their current price article?" The answer to that question is an astounding "yes," as players in fantasy baseball are always tied to their price and always tied to their opportunity cost—what we could be acquiring if we were not acquiring the player we are acquiring.
That said, Urias, as we all know, is an exciting, young player. He is currently holds the 42nd-highest NFBC ADP, ahead of players like Matt Moore, J.A. Happ, Jeff Samardzja, Sonny Gray, Michael Pineda, and Marco Estrada. That is not a sexy list of names so it is likely that Urias—who threw a career high 122 innings across Triple-A and the majors (39 appearances and 22 starts) last year in his age-19 season—is being taken because (i) of the upside he possesses and (ii) he has yet to drastically disappoint fantasy owners the way many of the other starting pitchers have over the years.
His upside, however, will still be somewhat limited because his innings will likely be limited (probably through both shorter starts and skipped starts). He also carries risk in that we have never seen him consistently pitch to a lineup a third time around. He should be good when he plays, so if your league is super shallow or has tons of bench spots, then he is a fine play at his current price, but for most leagues (slightly deeper leagues), I'd prefer to wait for more boring, higher-usage pitchers. –Jeff Quinton
Danny Duffy, Kansas City Royals
I'm prepared to eat my words. That's fine. Danny Duffy found the velocity he lost three years ago and, frankly, looks better than ever. My primary concern with him is his ground-ball rate, which ranked well within the bottom quintile of starting pitchers last year. There's plenty of research regarding a pitcher's ability to suppress contact quality, but it's mostly descriptive, not predictive. Dudes like Matt Cain and Barry Zito strung together several seasons of excellent contact management, but they're outliers; other dudes like Dallas Keuchel, who suddenly demonstrate this peculiar ability, let us down more often than not.
Duffy doesn't do this, though. He actually gave up a ton of hard contact last year. As an extreme fly-ball pitcher, that's not good. Duffster reminds me of Matt Shoemaker circa 2014: superb strikeout and walk rates but poor ground ball tendencies. I get it—Duff gasses 95, Shoe scrapes 91. The former was also a top draft pick and prospect a lifetime ago. But Duffy's only saving grace in 2016 was his strand rate. Granted, he has always been able to drum up above-average strand rates. So, too, did Drew Smyly and Sonny Gray prior to last year, though, so these things kinds of things aren't guaranteed. If it regresses at all, he'll be in bad shape, and that's before considering he loses any of his 2016 gains—or that he'll be pitching for baseball's second-worst team, per PECOTA. So, I'm wary. Few pitchers can make flyballs work the way Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander do. I'm not ready to place Duffy in that conversation. –Alex Chamberlain
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