The great debate of Fantasy Baseball rages on.
How early should owners draft their pitchers?
These days, the popular Fantasy strategy seems to be the wait-and-see approach, where owners forego the elite, top of the rotation arms in lieu of upside picks later in the draft. On the other hand, many owners prefer to draft their pitchers early. With this strategy, owners are attempting to mitigate risk by drafting known quantities to anchor their rotation. I have been playing Fantasy long enough that I’ve succeeded and failed using both strategies.
The key to both strategies is to compliment your draft picks with strategic streaming to top up your wins and strikeout totals. In any case, pitching is one of the easiest positions to supplement during the year. Between rookies, breakouts and streaming, lots of value can be found late in 2017 drafts.
In this series I’ll be looking at five pitchers who are being undervalued and overvalued in drafts thus far. This piece will focus on five guys who are flying under the radar in drafts.
2017 Fantasy Baseball Undervalued Pitchers
Jameson Taillon, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates (FantasyPros ADP 144.7)
Taillon burst on the scene last season in style. After being called up in early June, Taillon impressed with a mix of raw stuff and control, finishing his rookie season with a 3.38 ERA. Pitching under the tutelage of Ray Searage, Taillon brings a solid two-seamer, change-up and curve ball to the mound. With his plus command, Taillon was able to induce a 52.7% ground ball rate and 1.47 BB/9. It was an especially impressive debut, considering that Taillon had not pitched since 2013 due to Tommy John and hernia strategies.
With Andrew McCutchen moving to right field, the Pittsburgh defense will be much improved. Taillon’s pedigree and expected improvement makes him a bargain at his current ADP. It seems like Taillon is being undervalued due to his youth and injury history. I understand being cautious of a young pitcher who may have starts skipped due to an innings limit. However, Taillon is being drafted behind Rich Hill, who only pitched six more innings than Taillon did over a full season due to extensive blister issues. He is also being drafted well below Kenta Maeda, who has far less upside than Taillon.
Taillon is one of my favourite targets this season due to his command, upside and continued tutelage in Pittsburgh. If he slips anywhere close to his current 144.7 ADP in your draft, don’t hesitate to take him and run.
James Paxton, SP, Seattle Mariners (FantasyPros ADP: 165.7)
Over the past couple seasons Paxton has done two things. First, he’s shown great potential as a hard throwing left hander who can strike out a ton of people. Second, he’s shown great potential to find himself on the DL. Despite three seasons in the Mariners’ rotation, Paxton’s 121 IP in 2016 were a career high. Despite his talents, there will always be some risk in rostering the big lefty.
Paxton adopted a new arm slot last season, which helped him add speed and movement to his repertoire. His fastball now touches 99 MPH and his cutter generates a ridiculous 27.9% K rate against right handers. The extra bite on his pitches helped Pax maintain a sterling 1.79 BB/9 to go along with his 8.70 K/9.
Looking at Paxton’s underlying stats, there’s a lot of room for improvement. His .347 BABIP should normalize closer to league average, which would help his ERA trickle closer to his xFIP of 3.35. If (BIG if) Paxton is able to pitch 170-180 innings, he provides great value at his 165 ADP.
Kelvin Herrera, RP, Kansas City Royals (FantasyPros ADP: 117.7)
Herrera has been a good-to-elite set-up man for the majority of his career. In five seasons with the Royals, Herrera has compiled 360 strikeouts over 356.1 innings. The fireballer took a step forward last season, improving his K/9 to 10.75 while lowering his BB/9 to 1.50 over 72 innings. With Wade David out of Kansas City, Herrera has sole control of the closer role and should prove to be an elite option in 2017.
With the Kansas City defense behind him, Herrera will be able to maintain his 2.75 ERA, which was supported by his 2.77 xFIP. Playing his home games at Kauffman stadium will suppress his home run totals as well. Not that he has an issue with the gopher ball anyways.
At the moment, he’s the 13th reliever off the board in mixed-league drafts. In saves leagues I’d move him up at least 4-5 spots, ahead of Cody Allen and Andrew Miller, who could end up splitting save chances at some point this season. Ken Giles and Roberto Osuna play in very tough divisions, making me wary of their day-to-day chances. Herrera is being treated as a mid-tier option when he will end up with borderline elite value due to his ratios and ample save opportunities.
Shawn Kelley, RP, Washington Nationals (FantasyPros ADP: 211.0)
Kelley has been a bridesmaid for several years, spending his time setting up for elite closers Mariano Rivera, Craig Kimbrel and Mark Melancon. Now with Melancon in San Francisco, Kelley has the inside track for the Nationals closer job. If his performance last season is any indication, Kelley is more than adequate to take over the ninth for the defending NL East champs.
Kelley posted career highs in strikeouts (12.41) and walks (1.71) per nine innings last season. Underlying his career year was his ability to hit the strike zone regularly. He worked his pitches over the plate more often, which resulted in the highest swinging strike rate of his career. His increased FB% led to a solid .258 BABIP. If he continues to control the strike zone with precision, Kelley should be able to maintain his K/BB ratio.
Unless Washington adds another bullpen option, Kelley will start the year as the closer. With the Nationals looking like the class of the division once again, they will have no problem racking up save chances for Kelley. Even with slight regression from his 2016 numbers, Kelley will provide plenty of value at his late round ADP.
Jacob deGrom, SP, New York Mets (FantasyPros ADP: 62.7)
deGrom is flying under the radar after he had surgery to repair damage to his ulnar nerve. The surgery isn’t expected to be an issue moving forward as deGrom has declared himself pain free. He’s throwing off a mound and is expected to be ready for spring training. Prior to his injury woes, deGrom was pitching like his old self, holding a 2.29 ERA through his first 21 starts of 2016. While battling the pain in his right arm, deGrom put up a 9.82 ERA in his final three starts before surgery. If he’s fully healthy, there’s no reason to believe that he can’t return and post an ERA under 3.00 once again.
As more reports come out of spring training, expect deGrom’s ADP to fluctuate based on his health. If healthy, expect deGrom to continue pitching to his potential numbers of a K/9 over 9.00, a BB/9 around 2.00 to along with elite ratios. Fantasy owners participating in early drafts are finding deGrom available in the sixth round, which seems like a huge steal to me. I think deGrom needs to come off the board before Chris Archer, Stephen Strasburg and Carlos Carrasco. Strasburg and Carrasco have their own injury consistent injury concerns. Archer had a much better second half, but still comes with control issues and a poor team.
If his ADP stays in this neighborhood, I would target deGrom in as many leagues as I could. It would be a blessing to find an ace like deGrom in the sixth round.