Dynasty Days of Christmas: Six Geese A-Laying
Recently at Pitcher List, we have been releasing a bunch of dynasty and prospect content because we know that side of fantasy baseball never rests! With the Holiday season now upon us, we thought it would be fun to put together a dynasty series based on the 12 days of Christmas. We close with the sixth day, “Six Geese a Laying”, which we have labeled as six starting pitchers that “laid eggs” 2018 but we see rebounding for 2019. Makes sense? Good! Let’s hop right into it. These starters are in no particular order of bounce-back, and I did not count Milwaukee Brewers SP Jimmy Nelson as he did not pitch at all in 2018.
It wasn’t a good year for SP Marcus Stroman, and he had issues right from the start. He was diagnosed with shoulder inflammation in Spring Training that would delay his start, which turned into shoulder fatigue and would keep him out a month and a half. When he was on the mound nothing seemed to go right, as he finished with a 5.54 ERA and 1.48 WHIP. There’s lots of optimism for Stroman going forward in 2019 however. The Blue Jays defense was 2nd last behind only the infamously horrible Phillies defense and should improve greatly with 3B Yangervis Solarte departing (-13 runs a year below average) and SS Almedys Diaz traded (-5 runs a year below average). Stroman lives and dies with his defense (career 60% groundball rate), so an improved defense should see his .326 BABIP fall a bit, and help him get closer to his 3.91 FIP from 2018 if completely healthy. He was also fairly unlucky in 2018, as his left-on-base percentage was 12.3% lower than the league average (72.8%) and should regress closer to his career average of 70.7%. Stroman’s current NFBC ADP is 329 and he is the perfect target to buy as a bounceback as a #5 pitcher for a ROTO staff or in points leagues.
SP Jon Gray, what will we ever do with you? After what seemed like a breakout 2017 that saw him put up a 3.17 FIP and a 24.3K%, it seemed like Gray would be the first pitcher since SP Ubaldo Jimenez to conquer Coors field. As we all know, that did not end up happening and instead, Colorado Rockies SP German Marquez and SP Kyle Freeland both passed him on the depth chart. While 2018 looks completely worse statistically, not all was bad for Gray. He upped his swinging strike percentage from 8.8% to a hefty 12.3% and saw both his Z-contact and O-contact percentages both drop. The reason for the ungodly ERA was thanks to a dip in his velocity that Gray attributes to losing 20 lbs throughout the season. This, in turn, caused a lot of the contact he gave up to be hard contact, as seen by his 7.7% hard contact rate increase. Gray will always have to deal with Coors field and its BABIP inducing ways, but if Gray can limit the amount of hard contact he allows and strike more batters out as he did last year, then he will be worth his 191 NFBC ADP.
SP Kevin Gausman, perennial sleeper starting pitcher, might FINALLY live up to his potential we’ve gotten to see flashes of. It seems like we’ve been clamoring every year since 2016 for Gausman to start throwing his splitter more, and by golly, all it took was a trade to Atlanta (is Baltimore REALLY that bad with their pitchers?). After his trade to Atlanta, Gausman really started to lean on his split-change, increasing its usage all the way up to 42%. Interesting enough, almost all of his peripherals took a hit. His hard hit percentage went up, walks up, strikeouts down, groundball percentage down. There’s still a big reason for optimism, however, as the more he leaned on his splitter, the more whiffs overall he started to get. Ben Palmer touched on Kevin Gausman last year, and a lot of the same reason we bought into Gausman last year exist this year. However, now we know he’s actually going to use the splitter, and the results could be massive.
Yu Darvish was the big free agent acquisition of 2018 and seemed like he could replace SP Jake Arrieta as the ace of the Chicago Cub’s staff. Unfortunately for the Cubs, Darvish ended up being hurt most of the year with elbow and triceps injuries, the former knocking him out for the rest of the year after his May 21st start. Currently going at pick 151 ADP on NFBC, Darvish has much more strikeout upside than many of the names going around him. Even in a small sample of a down season last year, Darvish still had a 27.2 K% which is right in line with his 2017 season and there’s the promise of more should he be able to bounce back well after dealing with a lot of emotional stress regarding the uncertainty of the injury last year. It’s no surprise his best year came when he threw his slider over 36% of the time, as it’s easily his best pitch. Darvish has always been known for his stupidly good slider, but once the Dodgers acquired him at the 2017 July trade deadline, they made him start throwing his cutter a lot more to much success. Should his HR/FB % regress back to his career normal (17.5% in 2018, 12.3% for his career), then he has the upside of a #3 fantasy starter.
SP Zack Godley was a popular sleeper pick going into 2018 with an average FantasyPros ADP of 111, and rightfully so, as he finished 2017 with 3.41 FIP, a 26.3% K-rate and an elite groundball percentage (55.3%). Unfortunately, Godley did not have a rosy 2018, as he was plagued with control issues and saw all of his pitches except his curve get smacked around. So why do I see a rebound for Godley? He leaned more heavily into his curve in 2018 (up to 40.3% from 35.6%) and he could become like Washington Nationals Patrick Corbin, as a pitcher that throws their best pitch over 50% of the time. Throwing a pitch that can do this to batters more often can’t be a bad thing right?
Despite the overall struggles, Godley still had a K/9 of 9.34 and the 23rd best swinging strike percentage at 11.5% so it wasn’t a completely lost season. If he can keep his sinker and curve down in the zone he should see his GB% go back up and walk-rate trend down. Godley is currently going after guys like Los Angeles Dodgers SP Alex Wood, Milwaukee Brewers SP Jhoulys Chacin and Pittsburg Pirates SP Trevor Williams in NFBC drafts. Godley has the strikeout upside and groundball potential to be better than all 3 of those names, and possibly a spot in the top 30 SP.
Arguably the riskiest on this list is Steven Matz, who if you look at the numbers had an alright year, nothing special. However, I’m going to highlight a couple of starts that should give fantasy baseball players some hope. Three of his starts, his June 26th start VS the Pittsburg Pirates, his September 1st start VS the San Fransisco Giants and his final start September 29th against the Miami Marlins all feature one specific thing in common:
Find it? In these three starts, Matz threw his sinker less and his secondaries (in particular his slider) more and it led to 26 strikeouts in 20 innings with a shiny 1.80 ERA. We all know what Matz can do when his slider is on. Matz threw his sinker an average of 60% of the time in his starts, while he limited it to closer to 50% in these isolated starts and used his slider a lot more (8.43% for the year, 15.5%, 17.2%, and 16.5% respectively). If Matz is healthier coming into 2019 and not avoiding his slider as he has in the past, Matz will be a good upside play at his current NFBC ADP of 262.
(Graphic by Justin Paradis)