Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: Five pitchers to avoid at ADP — and five to target instead

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We’re at the point where enough drafts have taken places that Average Draft Position data is starting to normalize. Things aren’t perfect, of course — Clayton Kershaw and Carlos Martinez will have tumbled down the ranks by this time next week — but we’ve at least got a good sense of where the industry is at.

That means it’s time to start figuring out where the values lay. It’s easy to tell you who is being overdrafted, and that’s what I’m here to do today. However, that doesn’t mean anything without the context of better ways to spend draft capital, so we’re going to be looking for two things: Players who aren’t worth their cost, and similar options you can grab for cheaper.

Using tools like ACES, FIP, SIERA, and more, I’ll be looking for similar skill sets at a lower cost — sometimes, just a little discount, and sometimes a big one. Either way, here are some off brand alternatives to the name brands on Draft Day based on ADP.

Blake Snell, Rays – SP8, 27th overall

So, we’re just all-in, huh? Snell was, of course, incredible in 2018, en route to a Cy Young, cutting his walk rate to roughly league-average levels, while adding to his already impressive velocity and four-pitch mix. He’s an uncomfortable at-bat for anyone, and the wildness that’s still there in his game only heightens that.

But he had about as much good luck as a starter could hope for in 2018, starting with a .241 BABIP. He was also unsustainably good with runners on base, posting an 88.0 percent left-on-base rate; league-average LOB% was 72.6 percent as a starter. Regression won’t make Snell bad necessarily, however even in an era where few starters are expected to go deep consistently into games, Snell averaged just 5.83 innings per start. What happens when he’s more like a mid-3.00s ERA guy? In points leagues, you’re looking at a diminished ability to pick up those all-important quality starts and wins; in Roto, you’re looking at a lower strikeout ceiling than his raw stuff or rates might make you think.

Just Draft Trevor Bauer (36th overall) Instead

Snell put together a terrific season in 2018, but Bauer was arguably better, topping him in FIP and SIERA, and coming in just two spots short of Snell in DRA. And he did it while more than a third of an inning more than Snell per start. Wait a round and get an equal, if not better, pitcher. It’s an easy call.   

Walker Buehler, Dodgers – SP 14, 42nd overall 

I’m not here to make the case against Buehler, who lit the world on fire in his MLB debut. He put up a 2.62 ERA with a 27.9 percent strikeout rate and 6.8 percent walk rate and rated as the 20th-best pitcher in baseball based on pure stuff by Aaron Sauceda’s ACES metric. He’s a polished, hard-throwing strike-thrower on a good team. What’s not to like?

Well, that good team is notorious for coming up with ways to limit their starters’ exposure, and Buehler seems a likely candidate. He threw 177 innings in 2018, after throwing 103 total in his professional career. He missed time coming back from Tommy John Surgery to open his career and is coming off a 79-inning jump from one year to the next. On a team looking to make yet another deep run in the playoffs, can you really expect even 180 innings from Buehler?

Just Draft Stephen Strasburg (56th overall) Instead

Is Strasburg as exciting in 2019 as Buehler? Of course not, and he has his own workload issues thanks to a well-documented history of injuries. However, he rated even better than Buehler by ACES, and had him beat in SIERA too — FIP likes Buehler slightly better, while SIERA sees them as nearly identical in 2018. Strasburg has his warts, to be sure, but if everything goes right, 30-plus starts, 200 innings, and a sub-3.00 ERA are certainly possible. Buehler doesn’t have that ceiling.

Jack Flaherty, Cardinals – SP20, 61st overall

Flaherty was like a Blake Snell-lite for the National League audience, as he made enough improvements with his control to let his impressive stuff play up, though in Flaherty’s case, it’s more about a dominant slider than a bevy of impressive offerings. Still, 223 strikeouts between the majors and minors and a 3.34 ERA against the highest level are strong points in his favor.

However, while Flaherty wasn’t quite as lucky as Snell, he needed quite a bit of good luck to cover up his flaws. He still had an above-average walk rate and has had a consistent issue keeping the ball down and in the yard. A 3.86 FIP and 3.57 SIERA point to good-not-great results, but it’s the innings that should really be a concern, as Flaherty averaged just 5.4 innings per start and completely fell apart in September. Just a bump in the road, or a warning of things to come?

Just Draft Chris Archer (133rd overall) Instead

Given Archer’s trouble preventing runs at quite the rate we expect over the years, I would bet on Flaherty besting him in ERA … but that might be the only place he really has an edge. Flaherty’s WHIP won’t be as good when his .257 BABIP regresses, and with three seasons in the last four with 200 innings and 233-plus strikeouts, Archer should have a huge volume edge. If he recovers from the slightly injury-marred 2018 he struggled through, Archer is a fine post-hype mid-rotation option at a fraction of the cost.

Mike Foltynewicz, Braves – SP24, 83rd overall

There’s a pattern here, you’ll notice. Foltynewicz turned that big fastball into actual production for the first time in the big leagues, turning in a sub-4.00 ERA for the first time — he got it down to 2.85. He leaned more heavily on his slider, his biggest swing-and-miss offering, and turned into an honest-to-goodness strikeout pitcher, ducking concerns that he might just be the next Andrew Cashner.

But, as with most of the rest of them, he pitched over his head. Foltynewicz’s swinging strike rate went up, but still wasn’t anything special, and he still has iffy command and control. Despite a high-90s fastball and that slider, in a lot of ways, Foltynewicz still looks like a mid-rotation pitcher. His 3.77 SIERA backs that up a bit, and if the strikeout rate regresses even a little bit, things could get a lot worse.

Just Draft Shane Bieber (161st overall) Instead

Bieber doesn’t have the raw stuff Foltynewicz does, but with a 70th percentile ranking per ACES, he isn’t just Jamie Moyer out there. And, while he probably left a few too many pitches in the strike zone — he actually tended to pitch worse when he had more walks — Bieber’s command and control were both impeccable. Bieber’s 3.23 FIP and 3.45 SIERA suggest he’s most of the way there, and it’s not a stretch at all to say he’ll be better than Foltynewicz in 2019.

David Price, Red Sox – SP26, 90th overall

Earlier in the offseason, Scott White, Heath Cummings, and I went through every player in the consensus top-300 rankings, arguing for the best- and worst-case scenario for every player. I drew Price, and I’ve gotta be honest … I had trouble finding an argument for his best-case scenario. He maintained his strikeout rate despite a drop in velocity in 2018, but his swinging strike rate cratered to 9.6 percent, his lowest rate since 2013.

Maybe he can keep that trick going, but at this point, a mid-3.00s ERA without significant volume is probably the upside. And, at this point a year ago, we had serious concerns about the health of his arm. If the upside isn’t that high and he has risk, why are people taking Price as their No. 2 starter in 2019?

Just Draft Cole Hamels (150th overall) Instead

Want to get an old former ace on your staff? Why not target Hamels five-to-six rounds later than Price? Price rated out as better than Hamels by most metrics last season, but he seemed to figure something out with the Cubs, lowering his SIERA to 3.76, which was better than Price. Sure, the sample is small, but so is the cost. Grabbing a vet to eat some innings isn’t a bad idea, but it’s a much better idea with your fourth starter than your second.

So which Fantasy Baseball sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And which undervalued pitchers can help you win a championship? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy Baseball rankings for every single position, all from the model that called Scooter Gennett’s huge breakout last season, and find out.

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