2018 Fantasy Baseball Undervalued Pitchers

by Tyler Thompson
2018 fantasy baseball undervalued pitchers

As the yearly author of the Pitching Planner for the site, I understand that finding the right underrated streamer for a week can win matchups. The risk is much higher for singular starts, but sometimes I figure out more about a player when writing about them for a single week. There are certain players who, after running the numbers each week, I find repeating as the weeks go by. That's when you know you've hit the jackpot on a starter for the season.

However, I want to try to find that player before the season even starts if I can (obviously). So, what are the things I look for when ranking starters and relievers? Obviously, I look at role within a team, but after that, it's a myriad of things. Underlying statistics, health, and demeanor all can sway me when producing rankings. What I don't let influence me, however, is ADP. Well, ADP is necessary, but it's how you use it that determines your fate.

Great drafters don't use ADP for pitchers as a tour guide. In fact, they do quite the opposite - they exploit it to gain an advantage over their colleagues. If you have Pitcher A rated as a top 40 arm and ADP dictates they will be taken outside of the top 60, you gotta play the draft room a bit. I understand the 'get your guys' methodology, but if you can work the draft and attain other players before your main target - that's the name of the game!

Now, when evaluating why pitchers get underrated, I came across a few reasons:

  1. The pitcher is boring - runs the same stat-line every season.
  2. A pitcher is unproven - has a brief stint in the majors without making major headlines.
  3. The player is a previous letdown - has a history of burning drafters after up-and-down seasons.

All things considered, this was a fun exercise for me. We the fantasy community need to do a better job of clearing our minds for new seasons. It's becoming more and more evident that recency bias is dominating average draft position (ADP) more than it should. If your league is full of haters based on the reasons above, you need to take notes and make them pay.

2018 Fantasy Baseball Undervalued Pitchers

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Jeff Samardzija, San Francisco Giants (FantasyPros SP39)

Well, you might already know who I was thinking about when I said 'previous letdown'! This guy has burned just about everyone in the fantasy realm. After his stellar 2014 season, he was a disaster for the White Sox in 2015. He was then 'just a guy' in San Francisco for 2016 before re-establishing himself in 2017. I know, I use the term 're-establishing' loosely - it was still a 4.42 ERA on the surface.

However, there wasn't much else to complain about in the rest of his profile. You can simply look it up on FanGraphs so I won't harp on it, but a few things here. First off, he played for a garbage team last year that wrecked his ability to garner wins. If he is playing with more leads, maybe we can expect the home runs allowed to decrease to his career average. Additionally, his 20.4% K-BB% was 13th among qualified starters and a vast improvement from his previous two seasons.

Lastly, in today's landscape of the injured pitcher, Shark is one of five pitchers to throw 200 or more innings each of the last three years. The other four are Chris Sale, Corey Kluber, Max Scherzer, and Chirs Archer, all of whom are being drafted toward the top of drafts.

Originally, I saw Shark's ranking as an SP4 as about perfect. Then, when seeing guys like Gio Gonzalez (fluke) and Sonny Gray (mess) ahead of him, I wondered if he was better suited as an SP3. The guaranteed volume of innings and strikeouts don't come often and he can definitely deliver that floor. Furthermore, if he can control the HR/FB rate and catch fire with a revamped Giants team, he could really turn up the value for 2018.

Brad Peacock, Houston Astros (SP57)

After acquiring Gerrit Cole in an offseason trade, it all but solidifies Peacock's position as a swingman in the bullpen. We know Peacock can perform well when given the opportunity, seen last year by his 19% K-BB% and stellar pitch values. The only thing holding him back is the pecking order in Houston. Man, it's too bad that starters always stay healthy and throw 200 innings every year.

Oh wait, they don't! Don't discount Peacock throwing ~150 innings this season. That may not sound like a lot, but think about it this way - Steamer projections only have 45 of the 67 starters drafted ahead of Peacock throwing over 150 innings. Looking specifically at the Houston pitchers, are we really projecting a clean season? Check out this chart showing the average number of innings thrown the last few seasons by the five projected starters.

Astros Starting Rotation (Sorted by Three-Year IP Average)

Justin Verlander133.1227.2206.0189.0
Dallas Keuchel232.0168.0145.2182.0
Gerrit Cole208.0116.0203.0175.2
Lance McCullers125.281.0118.2108.1
Charlie Morton129.017.1146.297.2

That's not exactly the healthiest staff out there. Sure, it's not as bad as some teams are rolling out, but I gotta think that Houston will be playing the long game and will be taking many opportunities to rest guys if they feel off. Peacock will have ample opportunities even early on in the season to handle the bump from the jump (poet didn't know it). When considering what Peacock could do once given the chance, it's not out of the realm of possibility that he could just take over for a guy like Morton or McCullers.

The second thing to consider here is that Peacock isn't just a bum when he is not starting. In fact, he could be a dominant multi-inning reliever that stabilizes your ratios and boosts strikeouts. Let's say you have a fringe starter going in Colorado or Boston one week - replacing him with Peacock could get you five innings with a win and maybe a hold (if your league counts holds). That's a huge swing and could win you a week.

While I could write this whole article about Peacock, I don't want to beat a dead horse. Depending on your league, drafting Peacock as an SP6 or SP7, just like Faria, is drafting him at his floor. Prudent drafters would draft Morton (SP50) and handcuff him with Peacock. Between the two of them, you could get 200 elite innings.

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Jake Faria, Tampa Bay Rays (SP65)

Someone fill me in on how a young rookie pitcher who had a great debut season is getting undervalued. This is the same fantasy world where guys like Luke Weaver and Luis Castillo get vaulted into the top 30 NFBC ADP after short tenures. Don't get me wrong, I love both those guys - it's just strange that the whole 'rookie love' thing only happens for some guys and not others. Faria had a solid season and there's reason to believe that he can improve in his sophomore campaign.

I could point to a few different things for Faria that stand out to me. His high K-rates in AA and AAA certainly exude ceiling for the 24-year-old. The walk rates have been sorta high but improving over the last couple of years. What I enjoy most about Faria is the fact that he has reverse splits. This dude straight up knows how to handle left-handed hitters. His combination of fastball and split-finger changeup is already dynamite against lefties and that's usually the most difficult thing for an inexperienced pitcher to figure out. Additionally, pitch values rated his curveball and slider well, which could project to better numbers against righties.

His value is absolutely perfect at the moment as an SP6 or SP7 for a rotation. Drafters must be seeing his second-half splits and writing the first half off as lucky. This is an upside arm who has a safe spot in the rotation now that the Rays have played their hand in the trade market. If he puts it together against righties, you could get SP4 value from Faria.

Michael Wacha, St. Louis Cardinals (SP69)

Speaking of drafting for floor, Wacha is the perfect example of a 'boring' pitcher who didn't live up to early expectations. Not to be overlooked, the dude has been an enigma the past few seasons. He outperformed his peripherals in 2015, leading to his overrated ADP in 2016. He now has underachieved in his last two seasons compared to his peripherals. So when will things start to even out?

For me, I see his 2017 season as his new floor moving forward. Of course, pitchers are weird and Wacha is leading that pack of strangeness, but I love the little improvements he made last year. He pitched much better out of the stretch as seen in his vastly improved LOB%. The strikeout rate went up without compromising his walk rate. Finally, he cleaned up his act against righties, dropping his wOBA against from 0.358 to 0.319 from 2016 to 2017.

Look, I'm gonna be honest, I'm trying to apply makeup on someone who drafters just don't see as sexy. However, you know what they say, beauty is in the eye of the beer-holder! If you find yourself drafting risky pitchers in the middle of your fantasy rotation, allow Wacha to provide stability as an SP7. Who knows, maybe the 26-year-old entering his prime surprises us with the season we've been expecting from him for years.

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Sean Doolittle, Washington Nationals (RP15)

The most confusing name of the list, Doolittle really showed all the signs of being overvalued. He's got the name value, closes for a contender, and is coming off a spectacular season. Outside of the top four or five guys, there's a large second tier of closers and I think Doolittle is in the conversation. So what's the deal here?

It's possible that injury history has stunted his ADP growth. He threw about 53 innings in 2015 and 2016 combined before throwing 51 in 2017. I understand this and it actually does concern me going into this season. However, I still believe that his ADP has overcorrected here.

I'm looking at names selected ahead of him while comparing 2017 stats and 2018 projections and, long story short, I don't see anything other than personal preference. Brad Hand, although favorite of this author, pitches for a subpar team and could get traded out of the closer role. Alex Colome also closes for a subpar squad and is coming off a not-so-great season by K-BB% standards. Wade Davis has had an injury history of his own and now calls Coors Field home. You could even make the argument for taking him over Raisel Iglesias, the sexiest name in this tier of five guys.

For me, it's all systems go for the 31-year-old Doolittle. New skipper Dave Martinez has already given him the green light as the team's closer over guys better suited for setup roles like Ryan Madson. The elite ratios in run-allowing and strikeout-to-walk should continue in 2018. I'm ready to spend a 12th or 13th rounder on him as a reliable reliever.

Blake Parker, Los Angeles Angels (RP27)

If you know me, you know that I love me some split-finger changeups. As with Faria, Parker sports a sick splitty that has caught the attention of many fantastic baseball minds. Eno Sarris posted a sexy tweet the other day and seems to be a fan of Parker based on previous discussions.

As we did with the other arms, let's analyze how Parker got to this point of being undervalued. It could be that the Angels have not yet officially labeled him as the closer.

Oh, right, we can just stop there.

Look, I know drafting a reliever in a committee isn't ideal, but look at the inverse of this last season! When it was the sexy name of Cam Bedrosian gunning for the job, he was being selected in the top 20 at RP. Now, we get the boring name of Blake Parker, which sounds like an everyday Joe. However, check out the statistics from 2017 because there's nothing 'everyday' about that.

Whereas drafters are overrating the elite closers more than ever, I'm more than willing to bet on talent at the end of drafts that have all but taken the closer job. Based on the results from 2017, Parker is one of the best bets among relievers outside the top 15 to cash in a top 15 closer type of season.

2018 Fantasy Baseball Position Previews
CatcherFirst BaseSecond BaseThird BaseShortstopOutfieldStarting PitcherRelief PItcher

Check out the rest of our great Fantasy Baseball content as the 2018 season approaches.

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