We’ve all heard the phrase “pitching is deep” over and over again, and it’s often referenced when talking about holding back from selecting starters in the opening rounds. The statement isn’t wrong – there are plenty of worthy pitchers to pick up in this year’s drafts – but who do you select? Which guys are returning the most value for their ADPs that aren’t just waiver wire fodder in the later rounds of 14+ team leagues? I’m here to focus on seven pitchers who will stick on your team through the season despite all being drafted well past pick 300.
Tyler Duffey (ADP #369) – It’s hard to believe that Tyler Duffey could be sitting outside of the first 200 starters drafted this year when he presents upside to be a top 60 pitcher. His fantastic Knuckle-Curve induced an O-Swing rate of 44.5% across his brief ten starts last season, making his 8+ K/9 very repeatable. Mix that in with a BB/9 that should settle below 3 per 9 plus a FIP of just 3.24, and suddenly you have someone that can easily beat out numbers from Edinson Volquez or Mike Leake. His biggest question mark is playing time, though Molitor has expressed his expectation for Duffey to claim the final rotation spot in Minnesota. And after pitching over 180 innings in 2015, there’s little reason to expect a limitation come September. If you’re searching for pitching help in the later rounds of your draft, don’t forget about Duffey.
John Lamb (ADP #475) – Probably the biggest sleeper of the bunch is John Lamb, who would have hinted at a Top 60 spot in my pre-season SP rankings If it weren’t for his back surgery during the off-season. In his ten starts in the bigs, he featured a ghastly 5.80 ERA that may make you question this endorsement, but don’t ignore the 3.73 xFIP and 3.56 SIERA underneath. Those low DIPS numbers are a product of an excellent Cutter that debilitates right-handed batters, helping him earn a remarkable 10.51 K/9 in 49.2 frames. His command may appear questionable, though his 3.44 BB/9 was inflated by a single six-walk outing, which would have left him with a 2.62 BB/9 over nine starts for the Reds. The biggest area for Lamb to grow is gaining consistency with his Changeup – when Lamb was able to throw it effectively, he looked like an excellent SP #3 on the hill, though he struggled when he lacked the confidence to turn to it. The sample size is small, but Lamb has a chance to live up to solid minor league numbers and make a huge splash in 2016.
James Paxton (ADP #346) – I’ve been on the Paxton hype train for a pair of seasons now, and I’ve endured as he has disappointed through injuries and overall lack of polish. Paxton is now a post-hype sleeper who is entering the 2016 season healthy and the final spot in the Mariner’s rotation most likely secured ahead of Nathan Karns. He still possesses the same north-south delivery that pumps out grounders at a crazy good rate (52.6% career mark), and his Knuckle-Curve/Changeup combo creates excellent strikeout upside that could have to lengthy southpaw earning strikeouts near the 8.50 K/9 clip and even higher. Sure, the command still needs some work, but a consistent amount of innings on the hill (Paxton’s career high is just 74.0 IP in the bigs), could help him get into the groove we all know he’s capable of.
Vince Velasquez (ADP #333) – The prized piece for the Phillies in the Ken Giles deal was Vince Velasquez, who they see as a rock in their rotation for years to come. He still has to fight for the final rotation spot with Brett Oberholtzer, but look for the flamethrower to get the nod as he hurls 95+ with a pair of good breaking balls and a developing Changeup. With a spot secured, Velasquez could be racking up the strikeouts handily inside the NL Easy, and we could be seeing punchouts at an absurd 9.50+ K/9 rate at a very cheap price. His command is his biggest wart, though it isn’t out of the question Velasquez turns out a 3+ K/BB this season, making his walks an easy pill to swallow.
Jerad Eickhoff (ADP #320) – Jerad was one of the earlier sleeper picks this preseason who was brushed aside once the full swing of articles came out. His allure is easy to see: he held a 8.65 K/9, 2.29 BB/9 and just a 2.65 ERA across his 8 starts last season, and while the ERA is sure to regress, he’s skilled enough to maintain solid value at his cheap price. I would be surprised if he began striking out a batter per inning, but his Curveball is deadly enough to hover around 8+ moving forward while his control has always been excellent. Eickhoff’s low groundball rate may make you a bit uneasy, but his solid 12.5% IFFB rate should continue to impress with rise on both his Four-Seamer and Changeup. The biggest issue will be his lack of wins playing for the Phillies, but he should have a solid contributor elsewhere, allowing him to be a safe play in most situations.
Rick Porcello (ADP #322) – I know what you’re thinking. Porcello isn’t a good pitcher and doesn’t belong on a sleeper list. And you may be right…if you’re referring to Porcello before his 2015 DL stint. The Red Sox starter was sidelined last August and came back a new man, earning a K/9 of 8.95, a BB/9 of 1.78 and inducing 51.2% groundballs across his final eight outings en route to an identical 2.96 FIP/xFIP. You may be pointing to a small sample size, and I’m going to direct you to his improved Curveball, more whiffable Changeup, and better command of his Sinker down in the zone. He seems to have turned the corner, which means you can take a flier on Porcello late in your drafts at the cost of nothing, giving you a near free chance for a real #4/5 starter. It’s hard not to be a fan of that value.
Robbie Ray (ADP #364) – Ray has been forgotten by many entering this year’s drafts, but it would unwise to ignore his potential. The Diamondback lefty holds strong strikeout upside after featuring excellent K numbers through the minors with his nasty Slider, and he backed it up with a solid 8.39 K/9 last season. There’s room to push it further with an improving Changeup, though his walk rate will most likely sit above 3.00 BB/9. The snakes will be an improved team in 2016, presenting Ray with a good shot at collecting double digit wins at the back of the rotation, while padding your strikeouts and not killing your ERA each week (just a 3.53 FIP last season).