Fantasy Baseball Sleeper and Busts: Pitchers


We wrap up our Sleeper and Bust series with pitchers. We break down both starters and relievers, and let you know which ones may be flying under the radar and which ones we are a little worried about heading into this season. Feel free to let us know whether you agree or disagree in the comments below.

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Starting Pitchers

Sleepers

Ryan
Lance Lynn, Cardinals.
Fantasy baseball players often have short memories. Lynn has been a solid pitcher in his career with the Cardinals, and he sports a 3.38 career ERA with nearly a strikeout an inning for his career. Lynn had Tommy John Surgery last season, but he is 16 months away from that surgery, so he is kind of in that sweet spot of recovery. He is off to a great start this Spring, allowing just two runs in nine innings. The Cardinals have shown some confidence in his recovery, allowing him to throw four innings in a game in his second start. Lynn isn’t an elite starter, but he is being drafted right around 300 overall which is insane. Take a flier on him late in your draft and I believe you will have a solid third or fourth starter on your team. 

Ryan
Joe Ross, Washington Nationals. Early reports have been that Ross is competing in Spring Training for the final spot in the Nationals rotation, but I have yet to figure out with who he is competing. I would have bought Lucas Giolito as their top prospect, but he was shipped out in the Adam Eaton trade. Ross isn’t an elite pitcher, but he is really good. He hasn’t been fully healthy in his two years in the big leagues, but when he is in there he's solid. Ross sports a 3.50 ERA in his 32 career starts, and his strikeout rate isn’t elite, but it is very good. The Nats will be a good team again which means he should win 12 games with ease. Ross is being drafted around the 20th round and he is far more talented than the guys going at the same time. Draft Ross and have a solid starter at the end of your night. 

Paxton

James Paxton has the stuff to make up for the decline of King Felix.

Steve
James Paxton, Seattle Mariners. I don't think I'm alone when I say I'm on the James Paxton bandwagon going into this season. He's one of the hardest throwers in MLB and after a change in his mechanics, he showed a big improvement in his command AND added about three miles per hour onto his fastball. After owning 4.15 and 4.40 ERAs during June and July, he improved that to 2.73 and 3.68 in August and Sept/Oct, so his improvement during the season has something shifting in my shorts. He's had a hard time staying healthy, but if he can stay on the field, he has the potential to be a breakout star for the Mariners.

Steve
Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros. Last year was a disaster for Dallas Keuchel. That may actually be understating it. After winning the CY Young Award in 2015, many had high expectations for Keuchel in 2016 and he rewarded those that believed in him with an ERA of 4.55 and a 1.29 WHIP. Yuck! So why and the heck am I optimistic Keuchel will return to 2015 form this year? Well, for starters, he held a 3.53 xFip last year. My partner Ryan, hates numbers, so I know he probably hates the fact that I'm bringing up xFip, but xFip is an indicator of what a pitcher's ERA would be if they experienced league average in balls in play as well as home runs. It's complicated, but to break it down, this shows that his ERA could have been over a run lower if he was a little luckier. Luck isn't the only thing that plays here, but this isn't the time to dig too deeply into my crazy mind, so let's leave it at that. He also faced injury issues last season, so if we consider he was hurt as well as to a degree, unlucky, last year, he could potentially be more of the 2015 version of Dallas Keuchel than the 2016 one. 

Busts

verlander

Watch out Ryan...if Kate Upton sniffs you have JV on our list of busts, you may awaken another Twitter rant from Kate Upton.

Ryan
Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers.
 Injuries and inconsistency had marred Justin Verlander from 2013-2015, but he had a major bounceback season in 2016. He won 16 games, he struck out over 250 batters, and had an ERA barely over 3.00. Verlander turned 34 years old in February, and he has over 2,300 innings on his right arm. Fantasy players must have completely forgotten about his few rough seasons, because Verlander is being drafted among the top ten starting pitchers so far, in the fourth round overall. I have a lot more confidence in Jon Lester, Johnny Cueto, Chris Archer, Jacob DeGrom, and many other pitchers who are being drafted around the same time. Verlander had a great 2016, but he is being overvalued heading into this season. 

Ryan
Zach 
Greinke, Arizona Diamondbacks.
 Greinke had his worst season in more than a decade in his first year in Arizona after signing a monster contract. He only made 26 starts, his ERA was well over 4.00 and his strikeout rate was well below one per inning. If that wasn’t bad enough, he is off to an awful start this Spring. Not only has he allowed two runs in just over four innings to this point, but his velocity is way off. Once a pretty strong strikeout pitcher, Greinke has topped off at an 89 mile per hour fastball. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that won’t be good enough to get Major League hitters out. Somehow he is still being drafted among the top 25 starting pitchers, in the seventh round. There is a lot of risk taking this guy that soon, and I am going to stay far away from him this year. 

Steve
Aaron Sanchez, Toronto Blue Jays. Alright, I really like Aaron Sanchez. There isn't much not to like, honestly. He led the American League in ERA last season and and both the club and myself think he may be their ace of the future. I just want to pump the brakes a little bit. First, he's not much of a strikeout pitcher, and that's pretty darn important in the fantasy baseball world. He only struck out 7.55 batters per nine innings and even through his time in the minors, he didn't show the penchant for big strikeout numbers. Secondly, he's a ground ball pitcher who relies heavily on his fastball. He could really use more weapons in his arsenal if he wants sustained success in the Majors. Finally, the Rogers Centre in Toronto isn't the most pitcher-friendly park to pitch in. According to the 2016 ESPN Park Factors report, Rogers Centre was a bottom ten stadium in terms of hits, doubles, triples and runs scored last year. While I still think Aaron Sanchez will have a fine season, I'm not quite sure he will be able to live up to his lofty expectations.

porcello

Don't overpay for the name, Rick Porcello, this season.

Steve
Rick Porcello, Boston Red Sox. When you look up "Dream season" in Uncle Webster's Dictionary, I think you will find a picture of Rick Porcello. Porcello came out of nowhere and claimed the Cy Young Award (albeit undeservedly, right Justin Verlander)? Anyways, Porcello had a fantastic 22-4 record with a 3.15 ERA and 1.01 WHIP and I personally, don't think he can come close to repeating last season's performance. Last year, he had the lowest BABIP of his career, so I expect a regression in his ERA forthcoming. It's also very unreasonable to expect 22 wins from Ricky Boy this year as well. Wins can be very unpredictable and I think it will be more realistic to predict 15-16 wins, rather than 20. He's not a strikeout pitcher, so with a likely regression coming in his wins, ERA and WHIP, I'm not going to overpay on draft day for his name.

Relief Pitchers

Sleepers

Ryan
Hector 
Neris
, Philadelphia Phillies. Despite the fact that Manager Pete Mackanin has already said that Jeanmar Gomez will start the year as the Phillies closer, I don’t know that there are many people that feel he will hold the job for long. Neris is a far better pitcher, and has the chance to dominate National League hitters. He struck out 102 batters in just 80 innings, and his ERA was right around 2.50. Gomez finished the season awfully, and he should have a very short leash to start the year. It will take a little patience for you to draft Neris, as he might not be the closer until the middle of May, but it is just a matter of time before he takes over the ninth inning and begins to dominate.

Steve
Nate Jones, Chicago White Sox. Nate Jones may not be the official closer for the White Sox yet, but I believe it's only a matter of time before he assumes the role. Chicago is in full, rebuild-mode, and current closer David Robertson's name has been thrown around in trade rumors for some time now. Not only that, but Jones is quite honestly, the better fit for the ninth inning. He's a hard throwing reliever with the capability of big strikeout numbers and if he ever takes over as closer, he could flirt with top ten, fantasy closer production.

Busts

Ryan
Alex Colome, Tampa Bay Rays. 
Colome has bounced back and forth between starting and the bullpen in his career, and nothing gave us any indication that he would be as dominant as he was in 2016. He never was a big time strikeout pitcher, but whiffed 71 guys in 56 innings last season. His ERA was nearly 4.00 in 2015 before his sub-2.00 ERA in 2016. The Rays continually tried to trade him in the offseason, but had no takers as their price was too high. Colome will be the closer at least to start the season, but nothing in his history gave us any indication that he would be as dominant as he was in 2016, and I don’t expect him to repeat that performance. He is being drafted around the top 15 at the position at the moment, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he lost the job part way during the season.

Steve
Craig Kimbrel, Boston Red Sox. Craig Kimbrel can strikeout a ton of batters. Unfortunately, he also walks more than he should and is prone to give up the home run. He also had a career high ERA last season (3.40) and I'm worried that his best days may be behind him. Don't get me wrong, he's still a very good reliever. I'm just worried he won't be able to live up to value in 2017.


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