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After five months of winter hibernation, I am reviving the Two Trains series for the lead-up to the 2016 baseball season. The next month will involve more research and analysis by Baseballholics than any other time of the year – our own “March Madness” if you will – as we attempt to formulate the ultimate strategy for draft day and compile a fantasy roster that will take home the crown. We are in the thick of fantasy draft season, so I've added a bend toward the fantasy game for this preseason series of articles, focusing on two pitchers whose perceived value in fantasy leagues are headed in opposite directions.

In this week's edition, we'll be focusing on one pitcher who headed into last season as the bee's knees among MLB-ready pitching prospects, as well as a hurler who was largely unknown prior to his April 2015 debut. They both hit hard times in the first half of the season, but while one right-hander's second-half improvement has paved the way for a skyrocketing ADP, the other righty had a larger-sample performance that has added little helium to his fantasy stock.

Raisel Iglesias

NFBC ADP: 134 overall, 37 among SP

Iglesias made a surprisingly-early debut, making his first career start in the majors on April 12th of last year following just 36.0 innings of minor-league ball (including the AFL). I was impressed with that first outing, in which Iglesias showcased a hard-biting sinker that ran inside to right-handed bats, an arm slot that was designed to be volatile and a delivery that was inspired by equal parts Aroldis Chapman and El Duque Hernandez.

Check out the movement on his sinker:

Most of his pitches were thrown from a low arm slot, but occasionally Iglesias would pop up with a higher angle of shoulder abduction:

He was immediately sent back down to the minors after that first start, was recalled in May, and scuffled through the end of July.

Arbitrary Endpoints

Date

IP

ERA

WHIP

BABiP

HR%

BB%

K%

Apr – July

40.7

5.53

1.475

.361

2.2%

7.0%

22.7%

Aug – Sep

54.7

3.13

0.896

.221

3.3%

7.1%

29.5%

These endpoints aren't so arbitrary, as his start on July 27th was the last of his really bad turns for awhile, and the following start on August 1st was the first in a line of great starts. The samples are tiny, so to draw any definitive conclusions based on numbers alone is a fool's errand, but it's hard not to notice the stark difference in his fantasy-relevant numbers as opposed to his peripheral stats. It's also worth noting that he still had more than a K-per-inning during the rough stretch, with 42 strikeouts in 40.7 innings pitched, and keep in mind that he was jerked around between the majors, minors and the bullpen for the first few months of the season.

His walk rate remained unchanged when comparing his early-season struggles to his late-season domination, and his rate of homers allowed was actually 50-percent higher during the good months. The two numbers that really stand out to me are his BABiP and his K rate. His ERA and WHIP suffered in the first sample due to the exorbitant BABiP, which turned out to be an outlier on both sides of the coin after cratering in the second half. If trying to project his season, then it's tough to go beyond a simple expectation of regression to something near the league average BABiP. The strikeout rate popped to another level thanks to a three-start run in which each start featured double-digit strikeouts, including a 13-K gem against the Diamondbacks on August 23.

Iglesias only pitched 124.3 innings last season, combined between the majors and minors, so keep in mind that you are probably acquiring a 150-inning guy on fantasy draft day, maybe 175 frames tops—and that's if the Reds give the 26-year old a big workload jump and he survives it (in terms of both performance and injury). He is theoretically out of the injury nexus but his frame doesn't exactly inspire the confidence of a workhorse, and his adjustment to a big-league usage pattern is another hurdle that must be cleared in Iglesias' development.

Iglesias is essentially the same guy that I reviewed last April. I remained high on him while he got ripped for a few months and am staying grounded while his fantasy value soars out of the profit zone. The fact is, he was never as bad as the numbers looked in the first half, nor was he as good as the numbers indicate from the final two months of last season. He's incredibly intriguing as a player that can seemingly manipulate his arm slot (and hence the baseball) at will, but he has stayed mostly the same while opinions have dodged around him.

Verdict: Value over-correction

Iglesias is currently being overvalued. I like him but fully expect there to be speed bump. Without August's performance I would have been targeting him this year as an undervalued asset, but right now I think that the community is overvaluing a great 10-day stretch if starts and overlooking the hole in the floor of his potential performance. Iglesias has been a popular pick in fantasy drafts this year, as he falls under the official Sleeper description of under-the-radar (read: second half) studly performance that many folks think went unnoticed. The problem is that it is noticed by a large portion of gamers, so instead of someone like Iglesias being a late-round steal, he quickly becomes an over-drafted liability.

Taijuan Walker

NFBC ADP: 180 overall, 54 among SP

Walker had the fantasy world abuzz one year ago, entering the season on the heels of a K:BB ratio of 26:5 and a 0.67 ERA in 27.0 innings of spring training. He was arguably the top fantasy pitching prospect for the 2015 season, but he was torn to pieces over his first nine starts of the campaign.

Arbitrary Endpoints

Date

IP

ERA

WHIP

BABiP

HR%

BB%

K%

Apr 10 – May 24

43.0

7.33

1.837

.358

3.9%

11.1%

18.8%

May 29 – Sep 14

126.7

3.62

0.979

.267

3.4%

3.4%

23.6%

The entire season was a rollercoaster for Walker, beginning with a 9-run disaster in his first outing of the season that I covered at the time of implosion. The early-season struggles were largely connected to Walker's issues with mechanical timing, as he had a prevailing tendency to start the upper-body portion too late in the kinetic sequence, resulting in a throwing arm that failed to reach full extension in time for release point. The result was a lot of mistimed pitches that missed high and to the arm-side of their targets, with Walker inadvertently peppering the number three on the strike-zone keypad with many of his throws finishing up-and-in to right-handed batters.

Things weren't exactly fixed by summer, as he followed a seven-start run of stable pitching (never more than three earned runs allowed) with three consecutive disaster starts, each involved five or more runs allowed. The inconsistency plagued Walker throughout the campaign and into September, when the Mariners shut him down to control his workload. All told, though, he put up some impressive numbers in just about every department over the final three-plus months of the season, with a high rate of home runs allowed being the only real knock to his stat-line.

The high rate of home runs was tied to the same issues with mechanical timing that fueled his early-season collapse, as the tendency for a late arm leads to elevated pitches that are easier for opposing batters to hit out of the yard. He has pitches with vertical movement that he should be able to bury, including a splitter, a curve and at times a heavy fastball, but Walker's lack of command simultaneously belied his low walk rate and partially explained his vulnerability to the long ball.

Walker has all of the mechanical indicators to portend improved command in the future, such that his K:BB ratio of 118:17 over his final 20 starts could one day prove to be more than a mirage, but a repeat performance of last season will leave his fantasy owners thirsty. The stuff is still awesome and upside is still immense, and while the strikeout-to-walk ratio might attract some of the fantasy buzzards, there is also a good chance that many of the prospect hunters were burned by Taijuan last season, and those burns can take awhile to heal.

Verdict: Steer with the Skid

Walker might be volatile but the upside is still intact, and his current ADP is too low for a pitcher of his talents. Folks are generally down on him so we can wait for Walker to fall into our laps on draft day rather than take a reach, but when his ADP starts peaking up over the horizon in drafts he should be seriously considered. Walker should be particularly attractive to teams that have some reliability in the front half of the pitching staff, allowing for some dice-rolls later in the draft. They say that leagues aren't won in the first round (only lost), but that they can be won by shrewd drafting in the back-half of a draft. Walker is one of the dice-rolls that could make a difference.

Thank you for reading

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3/07
This makes me feel even better about picking up Iglesias last year for $1 after seeing him live in the AFL 2014. Another reason the AFL is a worthy vacation.
tombores99
3/07
AFL is such a great time, and unmatched access to such a high level of talent. Nothing compares.
GeorgeKimmet
3/07
I enjoyed this analysis and I am looking forward to the rest of the series. Thank you Doug!
tombores99
3/07
Thanks for the kind words, George
y2joelicho
3/07
Doug, Could you address whether Walker's mechanical issues were something new, or was it something he's just "gotten away with" against lower level competition? If it's a fairly new phenomenon, shouldn't it be relatively easy to overcome permanently? Thanks, love the article.
tombores99
3/07
It's the type of thing that happens to pitchers all the time, especially when they're young and amped up. I didn't see enough of his minor-league action to know if this was persistent, though I didn't notice it the handful of times that I saw him prior to last season. I'm not too worried about him long-term, and I think that he just needs to iron out the wrinkle in his timing pattern. He could fix that in an offseason - or it could take years.
maphal
3/07
Fantasy aside, Reds fans are very excited about Iglesias. He's one of those "you gotta watch this guy" pitchers.
tombores99
3/07
He is really fun to watch, and I will be tuning in with popcorn in hand when he takes the mound. His fantasy value might be a bit over-inflated, but I agree that Reds fans have every reason to be excited about Raisel.