Pitcher List Mock Draft No. 1: Daniel Port’s Picks (Rds. 1-10)

Ladies and gentlemen, the holidays have come early this year. No, I’m not talking about Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas or Kwanzaa. I’m talking about the only holiday that is OK to celebrate before Halloween, and that, my friends, is Mock Draft Season. It’s my favorite time of the year, and I cannot wait for it to begin. For me, mock drafts are like mathematical proofs or science experiments—vehicles for testing and discovery. You can never start doing them too early, so when Nick asked for volunteers to participate in some early mocks, I jumped at the chance. It ended up being exactly the shot in the arm I needed to get me pumped for the 2020 fantasy season.

 

General Thoughts From the First 10 Rounds

 

  1. Pitching went a lot slower than I expected, as we didn’t get out of the Top 10 among starters until the middle of the fourth round. Every time a starting pitcher got taken, I expected a run, and it never materialized. It will be interesting to see if this trend holds as we get further into the offseason. Maybe Nick has finally gotten to us after all these years and we all just waited on starters.
  2. Everyone says this year that shortstop is super deep, and they are absolutely right. But if these trends hold, that doesn’t mean that you can wait on getting your shortstop. Twelve shortstops went in the first 10 rounds, so you ‘ll likely have to plan to get one early on because they went quickly in this draft.
  3. It could be wrong, but it felt like there were way more elite run-producers than RBI contributors in the first 10. At some point in the offseason when we have more ADP info, I’d love to run the numbers on this, but it’s how it felt in the moment. I tried to take advantage of this by just stockpiling as many runs as possible, but it may be worthwhile to target RBI early in drafts.

 

1.9 – Francisco Lindor (SS, Cleveland Indians)

 

Anyone who has read my writing over the last few months knows how I feel about how we should begin drafts. It is imperative you leave the first two rounds with at least one hitter who contributes heavily in all five major roto categories. It gives you a ton of flexibility to let the draft fall to you for the first couple of rounds rather than chasing a particular need. Francisco Lindor is the perfect player to fill that role. Let’s start with his numbers from the last few years:

Lindor 3-Year Roto Numbers

You would be forgiven if you thought that 2019 represented a down year for Lindor, and in many ways, you would be correct. Last year he put up a career-low in BB% (down to 7.0% from 9.4% in 2018), his worst K% since 2015 (it’s still pretty good at 15.0%). And for the first time his xStats tend to indicate he got a bit lucky (.270 xBA, .443 xSLG, 7.5 BBL%, all down from 2018) in 2019. Despite all that, there’s plenty that makes me think Lindor will rebound next year.

Take a look at his plate appearances. You’ll notice he had about 91 fewer plate appearances in 2019 than in 2018. Traditionally, you’d find Lindor’s picture in the dictionary next to the word “workhorse,” as he rarely misses games. Unfortunately, Lindor suffered a severe calf strain in spring training and then while on rehab assignment managed to sprain his ankle. All in all this cost him 19 games at the beginning of the season. If you were to prorate his stats to include those 19 games, you’d end up with 36 home runs, 114 runs, 84 RBI, and 25 steals, which is in line with the numbers from his MVP-caliber 2018.

Even without the 19 games, he was still really, really good in 2019. He didn’t lead the league in any category, but he was an elite contributor in all five categories and will hit leadoff for a decently potent offense,. In most of my drafts, if I don’t end up with a top-four pick, I’m going to end up with a lot of shares of either Lindor or Trevor Story because they are the perfect across-the-board contributors.

 

2.17 – Anthony Rendon (3B, Free Agent)

 

I don’t know how it happens every year, but I couldn’t believe Anthony Rendon fell this far. You can make the argument that I’ve spent my first two picks on the two deepest positions, but I don’t care. I just want the best player and best value, and it’s hard to argue that Rendon isn’t that. Just take a look at his numbers the last three years:

Rendon 3-Year Roto Numbers

That’s pure production year after year, especially in the RBI department. There’s only a handful of guys every year who break the 100-RBI plateau, and Rendon has done it two of the last three. Elite RBI producers outside the top five guys are pretty scarce, and so to get that production in the second round is huge. The real thing that I love about Rendon is the high floor. Pretty much pencil the guy in for a .300 average, at least 25+ home runs (I think he’ll hit more), and elite production in runs and RBI. It’s not Lindor’s all-around production, but it’s elite numbers in four of the five major categories, and I’m happy as a clam with that.

The one question that sits on everyone’s mind with Rendon is whether the power is here to stay. Between uncertainty surrounding the ball next season and the effects of normal regression, I’ll admit I expect Rendon to hit closer to 30 home runs than 35, but his Statcast numbers make me think he’ll surpass 30.

Rendon 2019 Statcast

Happy Fun Ball (TM Jeff Zimmerman) or not, that’s incredible production, and all the xStats back it up. If he can continue barreling the ball at the rate he did in 2019 with the exit velocity and launch angle that he put up, those home runs aren’t going anywhere.

The one real knock on Rendon is that he always manages to squeeze an IL stint in there somewhere, and that’s a fair criticism. The reward, though, is worth the minor risk that an injury could derail his season. I’ll take 140-150 games of Rendon’s production without batting an eyelash and fill in the gaps when I need to. I feel like with Lindor and Rendon, I have a great base in average, runs and home runs to start things off.

 

3.32 – Charlie Blackmon (OF, Colorado Rockies)

 

Blackmon 3-Year Roto Numbers

That’s as consistent as they come. I had stuck in my mind during this draft that we will have no idea what the ball will be like next year. With this in mind I tried to pick players whose numbers didn’t seem effected either way. Juiced ball or no juiced ball, Charlie Blackmon just went about business as usual by putting up elite numbers. And if you’re worried that the only reason he returned to his usual numbers is because of the new ball (therefore hiding regression), much like Rendon, Blackmon’s Statcast numbers set my mind at ease.

Blackmon 3-Year Statcast

Like I said, that’s pretty much as steady as she goes. It’s also worth noting that Blackmon dealt with several nagging injuries this past season, so if he can stay healthy, he could put up even bigger numbers in 2019. It didn’t help that the Rockies as a whole were not their usual robust selves outside Blackmon, Nolan Arenado and Story. After regularly putting up huge numbers as a top offense, the Rox were ninth in runs, ninth in wOBA and an astonishingly bad 26th in wRC+. David Dahl was the only Colorado hitter outside the big three to put up a wRC+ above 100. If this improves, those 112 runs might represent Blackmon’s floor as opposed to his ceiling.

 

4.41 – Luis Castillo (SP, Cincinnati Reds)

 

Finally took my ace. I had a plan I wanted to test out with this mock draft. The goal was to take the Top 10 of The List and make that into a separate tier, and then within that tier divide it up into three categories: Sure Things, When They Play They’re Awesome, and High Upside Who Could Finish No. 1 Overall. This is who fit into each category:

Top 10 Pitching Categories

I knew I wanted to load up on hitting for at least three rounds so the Sure Things were out. Since this was going to be my ace, I also wanted someone who could pitch 200 innings. I worry that Dodgeritis will hold back Walker Buehler back in that area, Blake Snell gets hurt too often, and Chris Sale‘s career workload might be catching up to him. That leaves the High Upside Who Could Finish No. 1 Overall category (I need a shorter name for that group). My hope was that I could grab whoever was the last remaining member of that group and luck into the top pitcher. Worst-case scenario, I end up with a pretty good SP1 no matter what, but I do feel like Luis Castillo has all the makings of a guy who could finish as the best starter in baseball.

The key lies in Castillo’s arsenal. First up, his changeup. This is Castillo’s bread-and-butter pitch, and it is a doozy. It honestly might be the best changeup in baseball.

Castillo’s Changeup

Those numbers are insane. Over a quarter of the time when Castillo throws his changeup he gets a whiff. That comes out to 264 swinging strikes in 2019 using his changeup. He throws it out of the zone nearly 75% of the time, and yet it is so filthy that hitters still swing at it half the time. When they did make contact, he only gave up a 23 wRC+ with little to no power, as evidenced by the .071 ISO. It makes a fair argument for the best pitch in baseball and has actually gotten better every year of his career.

What about his other pitches? A big part of Castillo’s success in 2019 was due to his getting positive results those. This was the case with Castillo’s sinker. Registering 9.5 pVAL, it touched 99 mph at times and averaged 96.5 mph. In the past it hadn’t been an effective pitch, but I think I understand why it pulled through for him. Nick mentioned this during the Castillo section on our podcast review of this draf,t but Castillo has an uncanny ability to throw his changeup at the bottom of or just under the zone. This makes it so hard to know if the changeup is a strike and forces the hitter to swing. Here’s the thing: Castillo did much of the same thing with his sinker in 2019. Here’s the zone profile for Castillo’s sinker for 2019:

There it is down in the zone. There’s more to it, though. Watch this video of Castillo getting a knee-buckling whiff out of Anthony Rizzo with his changeup:

That’s just mean. He just makes Rizzo look silly there. Now here’s Castillo getting a whiff from Paul Goldschmidt with his sinker:

Watch them again. The movement on the two pitches looks kinda similar, right? It’s important to remember that his changeup averages 87 mph and his sinker averages 96.5 mph, so there’s nearly 10 mph on average between two pitches that break similarly and are thrown in the same spot. Here’s another perfect example. On September 20, Castillo faced the Mets, and early in the game, he got a swinging strike from Pete Alonso on a beautifully placed 87.3 mph changeup:

Later on in the evening, he got Alonso to ground out on a 99.7 mph sinker with nearly the same movement, in practically the exact same spot:

What do you even do if you’re Alonso and you’re facing a pitcher who can throw two different pitches that look the same, break the same, and are 12.4 mph apart? When he’s able to do that, hitters don’t stand a chance. If he can replicate that 1-2 combo and continue to develop his slider, which by the way gave up a mere 78 wRC+ on 518 pitches with a 19.9 swinging-strike percentage, we absolutely could be looking at a pitcher who is ready to take the leap into the Top Five.

 

5.56 – Kris Bryant (3B, Chicago Cubs)

 

If this is where Kris Bryant is going next year come draft time, I am going to own him in all my leagues. I covered Bryant back in September for an insanely early draft I did over the summer (in fact I actually compare the merits and skills of both Bryant and Blackmon in the article), so in the interest of saving some words, I’ll just direct you back there.

Once again we’re talking about adding a player who was a plus to elite player in average (.282), home runs (31), and runs (108), as he batted second in the Cubs lineup all season. I’m a firm believer in the idea that you can’t/shouldn’t try to win all 10 categories every week when the most important thing you need to focus on is building a team that is a near sure thing to win six categories each and every week. By adding Bryant here I’ve built myself the foundation for a team that will dominate in average, home runs and runs week in and week out and goes a long way to getting me halfway to that six-category goal. He also managed to increase his BB% and lower his K% while putting up a .379 wOBA and a 135 wRC+, which I will take on my team any day.

 

6.65 – Zack Greinke (SP, Houston Astros)

 

In my intro to Castillo, I outlined the first part of my plan for pitching. Obviously anytime you take a shot on a young kid who is breaking out, there is some risk that comes with that move, so Part Two of Dan’s TOP-SECRET PITCHING PLAN is designed minimize that risk. What I want to do with my second starter is grab a set-it-and-forget-it SP who I know exactly what he is going to do for my team. There is no more a Steady Eddie SP2 than Zack Greinke. I feel like Greinke is going to fall in a lot of drafts because he’s kinda boring, and there are some false red flags that will scare some folks off, but I love what I saw out Greinke in 2019, fastball velocity be darned.

All in all there is a major reason I’m a big Greinke fan for the 2020 season. I feel like I saw a remarkable adaptability out of him this year. The first four starts of the season were just god-awful.

Greinke 3/28 – 4/14

That’s atrocious. So many home runs. Considering Greinke’s fastball velocity was down yet again, most doubters jumped straight to confirming their suspicions about Greinke being washed. He had other things in mind. See if you can spot the change in Greinke’s approach, and results from that point onward.

Greinke Season Breakdown

In 22.2 innings to start the season, Greinke gave up nearly as many home runs as he gave up over the next 185 innings he threw. He gave up 22% of his season’s earned runs over those four starts. He was clearly not himself during those outings. So what changed? He threw his fastball less and his best breaking balls more often. For the rest of the season, he increased his curveball usage by 5.62 percentage points and threw his changeup more (1.65 percentage points). If I have kink when it comes to pitching, it’s when a pitcher takes his best pitches and decides to throw them more often. It’s a simple concept, but it’s a sexy one, and that’s exactly what Greinke did this season. His curveball was the eighth-best curveball based on pVAL per 100 pitches, while his changeup was the 11th-best changeup by the same measure. We want to see him throw those pitches more often.

There is one last wrinkle, though. When looked at in the whole-season view, the fastball did well, finishing as the ninth-best heater in baseball according to pVAL/100. Over those four terrible starts, Greinke’s fastball was worth -1.7 pVAL. After April 14? The same pitch was worth 14.2 pVAL! Some of that is natural regression, but one does have to wonder if by throwing his other pitches more often and pulling back on the fastball that he could better keep hitters off balance and pick his spots with the pitch better.

 

7.79 – J.T. Realmuto (C, Philadelphia Phillies)

 

I know a lot of folks have already been preaching to wait on catcher, and I’ll admit that if I can’t get this guy, I absolutely agree with them, but J.T. Realmuto is a step so far above and beyond any other option at catcher that it’s well worth grabbing him this early. Check out where his 2019 numbers ranked among catchers.

Realmuto 2019 Numbers and Ranks

There’s an argument to be made that in terms of catchers, Realmuto is the only five-category Lindor type I was chasing. Sure Gary Sanchez or Yasmani Grandal have him beat in terms of home runs, but he’s got nearly 30 to 40 points of average on them both and outpaces them both in runs and RBI. Getting nine steals out of your catcher ain’t nothing to complain about either. I expect him to bat cleanup once again in the Phillies lineup (which I expect to play better with a year separated from the chaos of signing Bryce Harper and possibly a better manager), and that should lead to plenty of production again in 2020.

 

8.94 – Yasiel Puig (OF, Free Agent)

 

I’m not quite sure what to expect from Yasiel Puig. We thought that we would see an explosion in his power numbers, but if you glance at his 2019 numbers, that doesn’t seem to have happened. The thing is, the numbers don’t tell the whole story. A lot depends on where he ends up in the offseason, but there are several reasons I think we may have simply have been a year early when it comes to the Puig breakout.

While Cincinnati is a hitters’ park, if you’ve ever been to Cincinnati in April, it is pretty cold. Check out Cincinnati’s average high and low temperatures for April 2019 as listed by Weatherspark.com.That’s pretty cold, especially when you consider most games are played once the sun goes down. This is pure speculation, but I’m going to bet Puig has never encountered that sort of consistently cold weather at home throughout his career, let alone the effect those cold temperatures would have had on the ball and his power numbers in Cincinnati. It’s possible he will end up somewhere that also starts the season with cold weather, but at least he’s felt it and played in it now. To drive the point home, I’m going to take the monthly numbers for his time in Cincinnati and break them up along the lines of the temperature periods used by Weatherspark.com.

Puig 2019 Temp Related Splits w/CIN

There’s a lot here, and I’ll be the first to admit that each one of these blocks are small samples (I know 10 days is weird, but like I said I wanted to mirror the way the weather site broke the dates down). Here’s the thing that stands out. As the fantasy world moves more and more toward weekly formats, you’re talking about roughly 10 weeks or so of useful to stellar production. Sure, he hurts you for seven weeks, but I’ll take the good with the bad any day.

Secondly, he basically had two different seasons, and it clouds the overall picture. Here’s his base 2019 numbers split up between Cincinnati and Cleveland.

Puig 2019 Team Splits – Base Numbers

It appears like with one team he went heavily after power and steals and didn’t focus as much on average while doing quite the opposite once he got to Cleveland. Even that isn’t completely true. See the doubles? In about half the plate appearances, Puig hit the same amount of doubles in Cleveland as he did in Cincinnati, which makes me suspect he got a bit unlucky. In fact I’ve written in the past about Cleveland’s Progressive Field and its tendency to turn home runs into doubles. Of those 15 doubles, six of them went over 350 feet, with two of them clearing 390 feet (gotta love Comerica Park). He also hit a 368-foot double in Target Field that hit about 10-12 feet up the wall and would have gotten out in practically any other ballpark. With better fortune, he would have ended up with 27 on the season, and we’d feel a lot more excited about his campaign.

 

9.108 – Carlos Santana (1B, Cleveland Indians)

 

These next two picks are what I like to think of as the end of my “Acceptable Starters Tier.” As far as first basemen go, Carlos Santana is the last one I would feel comfortable as my starter coming out a draft. He’s been such a steady contributor for so darn long that I have a good idea of what his floor is going to be. At the very worst, you can expect a .250-.260 average with around 25 home runs and a healthy dose of RBI, as he’ll be the cleanup hitter for the Indians and will have Lindor, Oscar Mercado and Jose Ramirez batting in front of him. The questions that remains are, after putting up a career year at age 33, what is left in the tank for Santana, and can he possibly repeat his best season as a pro?

First to dive into the batting average issue. If you read my piece on him from earlier in season, Santana has largely been an extreme (50% plus!) pull hitter for most of his career. This has always left him susceptible to the shift. For his career, Santana has been shifted on for 30.6% of the pitches he’s seen, which has suppressed his average (.238 lifetime average against the shift). In the first half of 2019, though, he saw a shift on 57.9% (!) of his pitches. This time he managed to hit .292 against said shifts. At first glance, that sounds like an outlier or just dumb luck, but I think there’s actually a solid explanation.

For the first time in his career, Santana made a concerted effort in the first half to go the other way when faced with the shift. During said first half, Santana registered 68 of his 93 hits while facing the shift. Of those, 12 of them (17.6%) were to the opposite field, and 39 of those hits went back up the middle (41.9%). For perspective, 91 of his 282 career hits (32.3%) against the shift prior to 2019 went to center field, and 52 went to the opposite field (18.4%). Prior to 2019, Santana had put 932 balls into play against the shift with 184 of them going to the opposite field (19.7%) and 299 to center field (32.1%). In 2019 he put 273 balls into play, with 58 of them going to the opposite field (21.2%) and 106 of them going up the middle (38.8%). That’s going help boost that average against the shift quickly.

What about the power? Check out the Statcast numbers for Santana’s home runs.

His 34 home runs averaged an insane 396 feet with only one home run going less than 350 feet. That’s earning your home runs. They also put up an average of 103.1 mph (with only six of them falling below 100 mph), and an average launch angle of 27.4 degrees (with only two of them falling below 20 degrees). Twenty-nine of them were barreled! Some of this is obviously due to the juiced ball, but Santana absolutely crushed his home runs in 2019, with almost none of them being cheapies or because of luck. This coincides with him raising his BBL% to a three-year high of 9.6% and a career-high exit velocity of 91.8 mph and 44.9 hard-hit percentage. This gives me a lot of confidence that much of the power should be here to stay. I wouldn’t be shocked at all by a .270 average with 28 or so home runs in 2020, and that will do just fine for my starting 1B.

 

10.122 – Mike Moustakas (2B/3B, Free Agent)

 

I’ve long been a fan of Mike Moustakas, both as a player and as a fantasy commodity. Year after year Moose flies underneath the industry’s draft radar despite the fact that you can pretty much just pencil him in for a .250 average and 30 home runs with good RBI and decent run totals. And he’s eligible at second base! To get that in the 10th round as my starter at the keystone is an incredible value. Look at his production over the last three years:

Moustakas 3-Year Production

That’s pretty consistent HR and RBI production, and I’ll feel pretty solid getting to put Moustakas into my lineup as my everyday second baseman. It’s important note that much like Santana, Moustakas also represents the end of my Acceptable Starters Tier for second base. This was as long as I was willing to wait to grab my keystone and feel pretty good about getting a 30+ home run hitter at the position in the 10th round.

I know some folks have some concerns about Moustakas’ second half, but I’m here to try to set your minds at ease. 2019 was a rough year on Moustakas’ hand. Early on in the season, he was hit in the hand by a pitch and fractured his pinkie but played through the injury, and it didn’t seem to slow him down at all until June, when he was again hit squarely in the hand. Craig Counsell at the time said it missed the pinkie but managed to pretty much catch all the rest of his fingers. Moustakas wasn’t the same in 2019 after that. The hands and fingers are pretty important to hitting. Check out his numbers before and after the injury:

Moustakas Injury Splits

Aside from the home runs, you can see the signs of injury-related decline pretty much everywhere. When you see drops like this in HR/FB%, launch angle, exit velocity and average distance immediately after an injury, it’s pretty obvious that he was not the same. Just to drive the point home, here’s his launch angle chart before the injury:

And then same chart for after the injury:

See that massive gray spike at the bottom? How about at the top? That’s a ton more ground balls and pop-ups being hit than before the injury. That’s a telltale sign of an injury. This isn’t to say that I expect a return to the .270 average of old, but I would expect that you won’t see the massive first-half/second-half splits as you did in 2019. Pencil Moose in for around 35 home runs again in 2020 and laugh as everyone else in your league curses their second base choices.

 

Conclusion

 

I like what I’ve done with my hitting so far in this draft. I stated earlier a major goal of mine was to secure three 0f the three hitting categories, and I think I’ve done just that by building a solid foundation in average, runs, and home runs, while I should also be competitive in RBI thanks to Lindor, Rendon, Realmuto, Puig, Santana, and Moustakas. I’ll need to address steals soon as only Lindor and Puig will help me there, but there’s still a lot to like.

As for my pitching, I have largely held off on pitching so far in the draft (that’s about to change soon), but I feel like I nailed the first two parts of my pitching plan with getting a high-upside ace in Castillo and a sturdy backup plan in Greinke as my SP2. If anything goes wrong with Castillo or if he regresses, Greinke can easily step in as a low-end SP1 and anchor my staff. All in all, I am ecstatic with how the first 10 rounds went, and I feel like if we were to play this out I would have a shot at being one of the top teams in the league. We’ll continue on to in Part Two of my mock draft review as I hatch a hair-brained scheme to address stolen bases and finally for once in my life get RPs right!

(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

Daniel Port

Daniel is a Fantasy Baseball writer, Brewer, and Theatrical Technician, located in Denver, Colorado. A lifelong fan of baseball and the Cleveland Indians since before Albert Belle tried to murder Fernando Vina, he used to tell his Mom he loved her using Sammy Sosa's home run salute, has a perfectly reasonable amount of love for Joey Votto and believes everything in life should be announced using bat flips. If you want to talk baseball, beer, or really anything at all you can find him on twitter at @DanielJPort !

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