Five Starting Pitchers I’m Avoiding In Drafts

Nick Pollack outlines the pitchers he's avoiding in drafts.

Last week I outlined the starting pitchers I’ve found myself gravitating toward in drafts this preseason.

Now it’s time to throw the positivity out the window and make myself feel awkward doing so. At my heart, I want every pitcher to be dope. The best there is and dominate every evening. Nevertheless, there are players who are being drafted at points that don’t align with where I stand with them and it’s important to express that.

Keep in mind, I’m mostly avoiding those who have been missing from Summer Camp or have tested positive for COVID-19. I think it’s clear to many how it brings haze to their 2020 season and I wish them the very best that they come out of this season with a fantastic bill of health. It still feels weird to discuss this fantasy game when it’s a real, human condition affecting so many people.

NFBC ADPs are based on drafts completed since July 1st, 2020.

 

José Berrios (Minnesota Twins) – ADP SP #19

 

This isn’t really a knock on Berrios as I think he should help any team that drafts him in 2020. It’s more a push against his current ADP, as the 19th SP off the board in NFBC leagues is a bit too generous.

Let’s focus on the positives first. He’s the ace on a winning ballclub — that’s huge as Wins will be hard to acquire and being the first on the bump for your squad creates more opportunities to start and a general push from organizations to stay in the game longer to save their bullpen.

Berrios certainly has been consistent over the years, but not as the ace you think he is. His last three seasons have produced ERAs hovering around 3.75 while his FIP and SIERA marks are slightly above that. His strikeout rate? Last year it sat at 23% and in 2018 peaked at 25.4%. You see his WHIP stood at 1.22 last season and you’re starting to wonder what makes him a Top 20 SP.

But what about his curveball? That pitch is filthy!

It definitely is…when it works.

 

 

It may shock you that Berrios’ hook returned just a 12.2% SwStr rate last year, with a 37% O-Swing and 41% Zone rate. It’s great he can throw it for strikes, but it’s far from the assassin’s blade we imagine.

His success relies on a four-seamer that works well but isn’t quite elite enough to carry him through starts a la Lance Lynn and a changeup that has been “developing” since he arrived in 2016. There just isn’t enough here for me to chase as I’m not sure how Berrios elevates into a de facto Top-15 arm. Can he return Top 20 SP value? Sure, but his cost is at his ceiling, not his median. That’s not for me.

 

Tyler Glasnow (Tampa Bay Rays) – ADP SP #21

 

 

I was initially hesitant to put Glasnow in this article given how he hadn’t shown up to camp when I initially began this piece, but he returned to camp yesterday. He’s still getting drafted near Chris Paddack and Aaron Nola. Thing is, he threw just 49 pitches yesterday and pitches for a team that is notorious for using openers and utilizing their pitching depth liberally. This season is about volume more than ever as we have less time to make up for slow starts. Does anyone anticipate Glasnow, under two weeks from his first start of the season, to push 90 pitches comfortably on day one?

A likely slow start aside, there’s more to consider. His hype revolves around a 1.86 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, and 30% strikeout rate across his first eight starts of 2019. I’m not joking, just 48.1 IP. Glasnow hit the IL shortly after his May 10th start against the Yankees and pitched limiting frames in September after returning that totaled just 12.1 innings in four “starts.” We have to wonder how much we’re being influenced from a small sample.

Glasnow’s repertoire doesn’t speak to longevity and consistency, either. It’s a two-pitch mix of heaters and curveballs, though we were all excited to hear news of a developing splitter in the spring. Still, the worry surrounds his ability to find the zone. His curveball fails to hit the 40% mark for both zone rate and O-Swing, while his four-seamer sat under a 10% SwStr rate. It’s a good foundation, just not one that speaks to dominance that is sure to continue after a significant layoff.

But hey, it’s a short season and if Glasnow was able to dominate over eight starts in 2019, there’s a chance he can do it again in 2020. I’m certainly hoping for it — I want every pitch to be dope, don’t forget that — but I have my reservations.

 

Max Fried (Atlanta Braves) – ADP SP #36

 

 

It feels weird talking down about a pitcher that I made an effort to amplify just last year. After a hot start, Fried’s performances left plenty to desire through the summer, ending the season with a 4.51 ERA across his final 26 starts. I was excited for his new slider that was a Money Pitch last season, but it came with a downgrade in both fastball and curveball command.

And that’s the crux of the problem. I find it hard to bank on Fried getting that fastball and curveball command back this year. Do I think he can over time? Absolutely. Right away? Unlikely.

The weird part about all of this is that I like Max FriedI think there is a good enough trio of pitches here that this can work for the long term. But I’m seeing Fried hovering the 40th SP off the board, if not earlier, and he’s simply not the strongest play.

There is worse news, too. The Braves have detailed their plan to limit their starters in their early starts to help ease them into the new season without a proper spring. Considering Fried’s rank in the rotation as the #3 (maybe #2 if they place him over Folty), this doesn’t bode well for our young southpaw as he’s clearly not their workhorse ace.

Drafting Fried will mean wondering if you should drop him or not for a streamer two weeks into the season. Don’t put yourself in that position.

 

Brandon Woodruff (Milwaukee Brewers) – ADP SP #22

 

 

I wish I could get behind Woodruff. At his heart you think I would — his foundation is built on an elite fastball, the #1 priority when assessing a starting pitcher — but there are just too many obstacles for him to hurdle in 2020.

First up is the aforementioned heater. Can it replicate its 2019 season? A 12% SwStr with a .213 BAA for a pitch thrown nearly two-thirds of the time is exceptional, especially at 96 mph, which may not stick through another season (his 96/97 September was inflated due to shorter starts). Paired with a dramatic change in defense at backstop from Yasmani Grandal to Omar NarvaezWoodruff may earn fewer strikes with his heater, pulling down the performance of the pitch he needs to succeed.

The Brewers are also an odd animal. I call it getting Camp Counseled, where starters are treated like children and don’t get to hit their potential as the season winds down, favoring their bullpen arms more frequently than other ballclubs. They’ve already mentioned they plan to use their pitching staff like they normally do in September. Considering Woodruff’s value is rooted in his ability to go deep into games, this news adds plenty of haze to his ceiling.

Returning to his repertoire, Woodruff isn’t as deep of a pitcher as we’d like. His #2 offering is a slider that I did underestimate entering last season, but it certainly isn’t a savior if his heater isn’t performing up to par. The pitch held a sub 13% SwStr last year with just a 28% O-Swing and possibly overperformed last season with a low 72 wRC+. Maybe I’m undervaluing its 45% zone rate and ability to steal strikes once again, but if we see some expected regression with his heater, this slider will need to carry extra weight it may not be equipped for.

It adds up to a pitcher who excelled for 115 innings last year for a 3.53 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and 29% strikeout rate…and will likely be left staring at the past through a rain-glossed window in 2020.

 

Julio Urías (Los Angeles Dodgers) – ADP SP #32

 

 

We’ve been waiting for Urías to get his chance even before his 2016 MLB debut and this felt like the year it was all going to come together for the near-24-year-old. This hype is pushing Urías’ value a bit too high, sadly, and it’s time to recalibrate his value for the short season ahead.

I have a term for the Dodgers’ abnormal manipulation of their rotation — Dodgeritis — as Los Angeles is notorious for ignoring common conventions of a five-man rotation and tossing the same arm every fifth day. Despite the short season and David Price sitting out, don’t anticipate this to change as beyond Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, and Alex Wood are four excellent options in Urías, Ross Stripling, Dustin Mayand Tony GonsolinThis is ignoring how Buehler is currently behind schedule, making it seem that Kershaw is the only fully equipped starter currently in their rotation.

Am I excited to see more of Urías? Absolutely, but it’s not the dream we’ve been waiting half a decade for. I think his innate stuff is solid — a well-commanded fastball, a changeup that misses bats, and a slider + curveball that can each earn strikes (that slider could turn into a major strikeout threat) — but the volume just isn’t there right now. Why go for Urías when you can have a higher floor of production in Shohei Ohtani for roughly the same amount of frames?

 

Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire I Featured Image by Alyssa Buckter – alyssabuckter.com

Nick Pollack

Founder of Pitcher List. Worked with MSG, FanGraphs, CBS Sports, and Washington Post. Former pitching coach and Brandeis alum. Wants every pitcher to be dope.

  • Avatar Marv says:

    Nick,
    Great stuff ! love the lists and the write ups.

    I’ll be using your lists to help me select my keepers this year but still having a hard time with the 4 pitchers I want to keep. This league is a 12-tm H2H cat keeper (we keep 12 every year) and is pitcher aggressive with most teams have 7-9 by end of draft. Guys that I don’t keep, I will most likely not be able to secure them during the draft. These are the current pitchers I’m considering keeping (asterisk on current intentions):
    W. Buehler*, J. Verlander*, C. Kluber*, S. Gray*, Z. Gallen, J. Paxton

    Would you keep that the order ?
    I could try and keep 5 but I’d be throwing E. Suarez back into the player pool to which I should probably keep (over another pitcher)

    thanks bud

    • Nick Pollack Nick Pollack says:

      Hey Marv!

      I think you’re keeping the correct four from that bunch, as much as I like Gallen and Paxton.

      Suarez is a fantastic bat to have your 8th best hitter! You should be in great shape.

  • Avatar Chin Music says:

    When will you be doing another SP ranking?

  • Avatar Perfect Game says:

    Nick, who would you rather have in your pen for this year after news of Chapman – Britton or Workman? I’m in a S+H league.

  • Avatar Pops says:

    Nick,
    I can’t get behind your assessment of Berrios for two simple reasons. The schedule, and the Twins lineup. The Twins have 10 contests against the Royals and Tigers. And, seven of their 10 games against Cleveland are in Minnesota. The Twins also avoid Cincinnati’s hitter-friendly park entirely. I’ll gladly pay up for him this year, more than I would with a regular slate of games. Brandon Woodruff is another guy I’m targeting due to a favorable schedule.

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