Pitcher List Mock Draft No. 1: Daniel Port’s Picks (Rds. 11-23)

Did you want more mock draft reviews? Good, because Daniel Port is back with Part 2 of his mock draft!

Welcome to part two of my mock draft review. If you missed part one or want more insight into my overall strategy click here! Let’s jump right into it.

 

11.137 – Kyle Hendricks (SP, Chicago Cubs)

 

If there is a theme for my draft, it’s somewhat boring but effective, and Kyle Hendricks fits right in. I view this pick as a continuation of Dan’s SUPER SECRET PITCHING PLAN (see my earlier draft recap) in that he is a set-it-and-forget-it pitcher who can provide solid stability to my staff in the instance that something happens to Luis Castillo as my ace. He also fits the idea of finding guys who were pretty much the same player in 2019 as they were in 2018. His ERA, WHIP, K%, BB% and HR/9 were nearly identical from 2018 to 2019. That’s exactly the sort of dependability I want out of my SP3. It’s fair to say that with Zack Greinke and Hendricks I’ve sacrificed Ks, but I think my ERA and WHIP will prosper for it. Also based on his pitch mix, I’m not sure Hendricks doesn’t have a little bit of upside in 2o20, especially when it comes to strikeouts.

He is mostly known for his excellent changeup, but the pitch actually wasn’t a good one in 2019 as it registered a -1.0 pVAL on the season. That’s a bit misleading, though, as he gave up a mere .264 batting average and 83 wRC+ on the year. I think two things hurt it, namely a single percentage-point increase in the pitch’s HR/FB% along with a seven-point increase in fly-ball percentage, which led to way more changeups hit for home runs. The other thing that took its toll on the pitch was a near 10-point increase in zone percentage for the pitch. It seems like Hendricks used the pitch to steal strikes in the zone more often than he has in years past. It’s worth noting that the pitch still had over a 14.0% swinging-strike rate and qualified as a Money Pitch, so it still had all the qualities of a great offering.

Now let’s talk about Hendricks’ four-seamer. A 10.3-pVAL pitch in 2019, it improved in every way. It was barely a plus pitch in 2018, but the jump in Hendricks’ fastball came courtesy of much better location. Look at the zone map for his fastball in 2018.

Now look at it for 2019:

This past season, Hendricks threw that four-seamer up in the zone way more often, and the results speak for themselves. From 2018 to 2019, the pitch’s swinging-strike rate doubled to over 12.3%, while its contact rate dropped almost 8.0%. Add in that he threw it more often (4.3-point increase) in 2019 (thankfully at the expense of his mediocre sinker), and there’s reason to be excited for Hendricks’ fastball in 2020.

Hendricks’ fastball wasn’t the only pitch that made a big leap in 2019 as his curveball made waves as well. In 2018 over about 260 pitches, it had only managed a 6.9 K%, but in 2019? 31.3%. That’s nuts. Why did we see such a jump? Once again it’s all about location. Here’s the 2018 zone profile:

And now the 2019 zone profile:

 

Hendricks has always thrown his curveball down in the zone, which is what we want, but it’s worth paying attention to the exact locations. Those two large zones at the bottom of the zone profiles are mostly on the edge of the zone to outside the zone, while those three smaller boxes right above them are the bottom of the zone. If you add them, he threw 38 strikes in 2018 in those three boxes, but in 2019, 68 of his curveballs ended up in that same area. This is huge. One of the keys to having your curveball being an effective strikeout pitch is being able to establish that you can throw it in the bottom of the zone for strikes. If you don’t do this, then hitters know that the moment they see that curveball dive down, they don’t have to swing. In 2019 with Hendricks’ curveball they never know if it’s going to drop in the zone for a strike to dive lower, which helps explain why the pitch’s’ O-swing jumped 9.1 percentage points in 2019. If he can continue this success with these pitches and iron out a few things with his changeup, we could be looking at a huge breakout, as his one-pitch mix suddenly becomes a devastating three-pitch arsenal.

 

12.146 – Caleb Smith (SP, Miami Marlins)

 

So now with a solid SP1-SP3 established, I decided it was time to grab some strikeouts and some upside with my next pick. Caleb Smith is a fascinating pitcher to me. First of all, his four-seamer does this:

That’s just nutty. I didn’t realize physics let us do that with baseballs. According to FanGraphs, Smith’s fastball has the third-most horizontal movement in baseball, and that’s rad. But that’s not his only good pitch, his changeup is filthy too:

Oh and his slider ain’t too bad either:

So that’s three filthy-looking pitches, but you still say, “Dan, who cares how good the pitches look, why should we give a hoot about a guy with a 4.52 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP?” Fair question. My retort is that once again the full-season numbers don’t tell the whole story. In 2019 Smith had a Tale of Two Seasons, and if a hip injury hadn’t derailed his 2019, we’d likely be talking him up as one of the breakout pitchers of the year. Early on in 2019, Smith was dominating opposing teams and looked like an ace in the making, but on June 6, Smith was placed on the IL with said hip injury, which ended up costing him a month. When he came back from the injury, he just wasn’t the same player. This makes a ton of sense as we know that the hips are a huge part of pitching and so not having them at 100% would have a big effect on Smith’s abilities. Take a look at this comparison for Smith’s numbers pre- and posy-injury.

Caleb Smith Pre and Post Injury

It seems clear the injury hounded Smith the rest of the season, especially when you consider the 0.9 mph drop in his average FA velocity. The huge drop in K% and bump up in BB% are also solid evidence that the injury was hampering him as well. My hope with this pick is that with a full offseason of rest and rehab I’ll get something resembling the pre-injury Smith with huge strikeout upside. If I even get three-quarters of pre-injury Smith, that’s a great SP4 to help make up for my staff’s lack of strikeouts.

 

 13. 161 – Elvis Andrus (SS, Texas Rangers)

 

This pick is mostly about getting some stolen bases. Given my solid foundation of batting average, runs, and home runs, I don’t need to win steals every week. I just need to be able to win say 50% of the weeks, and I think combining Elvis Andrus with Francisco Lindor, Yasiel Puig, and J.T. Realmuto gives me a great shot at doing exactly that. Since entering the majors in 2009, Andrus has never stolen fewer than 20 bags in a season. Now, many people will bring up his age, but his sprint speed held up this year, and being fast has never been a part of his game; he just kinda goes after volume and gets it year after year. His batting average was disappointing last season, and for the most part points toward age-related decline. There is also something to be said for breaking Andrus’ season down month to month.

Elvis Andrus Monthly Breakdown

A few things leap out right off the bat. It’s two bad months that sunk Andrus’ numbers, whereas he was good to great in four months. Heck, March/April, and June are borderline elite. The second thing that stands out is the consistency of his stolen bases. Even in his extreme down months Andrus never stopped stealing bases. Given the scarcity of steals, you have think that the positive value he’s contributing to your overall numbers washes out the damage he’s doing elsewhere.

 

14.170 – Sean Doolittle (RP, Washington Nationals)

 

This pick was a bounce-back bet. There’s no denying that 2019 was a rough season for Sean Doolittle, and it would be understandable if you were reluctant to invest in him in 2020. At this price, though, I think you gotta risk it for the biscuit. Injuries devastated Doolittle last year. On August 18 he was placed on the IL with knee tendinitis likely stemming from overuse. At that point in the season he led the majors in appearances and was on pace for a career high in innings pitched by over 10 innings. According to the linked article, Nationals manager Dave Martinez first noticed the injury when video showed Doolittle wasn’t landing properly on his front side, likely due to the knee. This lines up with quotes Doolittle had given right before he went the IL, where he expressed frustration with his inability to repeat his mechanics or be consistent. It sounds to me like the injury hounded him throughout the season and likely hurt much of his performance throughout the season. Once Doolittle returned on September 1, he seemed at least somewhat back on track as he put up a 2.25 ERA over eight innings and nine appearances but with a distinct lack of strikeouts. Nevertheless, it was step in the right direction. Hopefully with a full offseason to get healthy and fix his mechanics we will see the Doolittle of old again and he’ll return to being a dominant closer.

The other thing to note with Doolittle is something our own Nick Pollack rightfully brings up a lot, and that’s the idea that even a full season for reliever is a still a small sample. This means that most of his index statistics like ERA, WHIP, K%, BB% and so forth can be skewed by outliers (usually a bad outing), but because of this, sometimes it’s useful to look at the monthly splits and game logs and see if the struggles are spread out or were they centered on a few disastrous outings.

Sean Doolittle Monthly Breakdown

As you can see, it was just May and August that sunk Doolittle’s numbers, with August standing out as the major season-killer. We know he was hurt then and ended up missing time so we have a good idea of what was going on there. Let’s drill down a little further, though, and look at six specific outings.

Sean Doolittle Bad Outings

Look at that. These were the six worst outings out of 63 appearances Doolittle made last year, and they accounted for over half of his home runs and two-thirds of his earned runs! And we know that Doolittle was definitely hurt for at least three of those outings in August. If you add those three outings you’re talking 10 earned runs and five homers. Let’s say in a mirror universe that Doolittle’s knee holds up and he cuts those numbers in half, and gives up a mere five earned runs and three home runs instead. He would have ended the season with 22 earned runs and nine home runs. That alone would bring his ERA down to 3.30. I’m willing to bet that with time to heal and get his mechanics right that Doolittle is excellent next year as the Nationals closer.

 

15.185 – Taylor Rogers (RP, Minnesota Twins)

 

I doubled down with another closer in the 15th, and I couldn’t be happier to get Taylor Rogers. Look at these numbers from the last three seasons:

Taylor Rogers 2017 – 2019

Talk about a pitcher figuring it all out. What led to the breakout?

This is what. That’s just straight filthy. Rogers started throwing his slider in 2018, and it unlocked his true potential. The underlying numbers tell the real story.

That’s so good. When you combine the massive jump in usage (33.1%!) with the huge leap in CSW% and K%, you get a real idea of just how unhittable the pitch was in 2019. If he continues to get called strikes along with a mid-40s zone rates and also misses bats at this rate, Rogers has a real shot at a being a top-three to top-five closer this season.

 

16.194 – Ryan Yarbrough (SP,RP – Tampa Bay Rays)

 

This is the one pick I would love to get back. Not because I don’t believe in Ryan Yarbrough‘s talent; it’s more about the uncertainty regarding his role. We don’t yet know if Yarbrough will be in the Rays rotation to start the season, and so I may have jumped the gun here. In a way, he reminds me quite a bit of Doolittle or Caleb Smith in that you miss the full picture of how well the player performed if you only look at the full-season stats (that might be the true theme of my draft). At first glance, a 4.13 ERA in 141.1 innings with 117 Ks isn’t anything to write home about, but when you break it down by month, you see a player who was a valuable fantasy asset for much longer than we realized.

Ryan Yarbrough Monthly Breakdown

So it was two bad months (43.0 IP) that blew up Yarbrough’s full-season numbers. From May through August? He put up a 2.55 ERA and a 0.79 WHIP over 98.2 innings with 84 Ks. That’ll play in any format. I’m willing to take the shot here that if Yarbrough gets a spot in the Rays rotation to start the season that we get something along the lines of a 3.50-3.70 ERA with 1.1o WHIP over 120-150 innings, and that’ll do nicely.

 

17.209 – Hector Neris (RP, Philadelphia Phillies)

 

Why Hector Neris? Let me make the argument. First off, he has a secure hold on the job. David Robertson likely won’t be back from Tommy John until next fall, and in the past, the Phillies have preferred to use Seranthony Dominguez in the fireman’s role. There’s no one else in the Phillies pen to push for the closer position. It also doesn’t hurt that Neris was very good last season.

Just how good was Neris? Try 28 saves (out of 81 Philadelphia victories) with a 2.93 ERA and 89 Ks in 67.2 innings. Underneath it lies a .323 SIERA with a 32.4 K% and a greatly improved 1.33 HR/9. Considering he put up a 5.01 ERA in 2018, at first glance this seems like an outlier, but actually I have a good argument for why 2018’s numbers are the aberration. Early in 2018, Neris was god-awful due to what seems like a combination of losing control over his trademark splitter and getting into his own head. On June 19, Neris was sent down to Triple-A to try to get the feel back for his splitter and perhaps more importantly clear his head and get right. Boy did he ever.

Hector Neris 2018-2019 Splits

As you can see here, Neris fixed something down in Triple-A. His ERA from August 15 when he returned from Triple-A through the 2019 season ranked 24th among all relievers over the same time period, while his SIERA ranked fourth. His WHIP was tied for 11th with Rogers and a mere 0.01 behind Kirby Yates. K% came in at ninth while still finishing in the top 25 for innings pitched as well. It’s hard not to get behind that.

What changed? I think some of it was getting a better feel for that splitter. To be fair it’s downright filthy.

Freeman never stood a chance there. Heck, our very own Alex Fast covered Neris’ splitter recently:

The thing is, he used it much differently once he came back from the minors in 2018 and throughout 2019.

Hector Neris Splitter Stats

You can see here that after that minor league stint in 2018, Neris came back and started ramping up his splitter usage. Not not only did he throw the pitch more often, he also threw it out of the zone far more than before, and hitters chased it more often when he did. The pitch’s swinging-strike rate and CSW% stayed right in line with the career numbers while getting a drastically lower xwOBA and a reduced BBL%. Perhaps the most interesting number there is O-Contact%. It stayed consistent throughout his career, including 2019. Hitters made contact on the splitter outside the zone more at much the same rate as before, but now the usage rate is way up and hitters are chasing it more often so the total number of splitters outside the zone that hitters made contact with skyrocketed. Combine that with the greatly reduced xwOBA and BBL% that comes with hitting a pitch outside the zone and you see how the pitch was so darn effective in 2019. If this trend continues for Neris in 2020, I predict he’ll be a steal in drafts come March.

 

18.218 – J.D. Davis (3B, OF New York Mets)

 

When it comes to J.D. Davis, it’s all about potential and playing time. He absolutely has the ability. In just 453 plate appearances, Davis hit a fantastic .307 (supported by a .308 xBA) with 22 home runs, 65 runs and 57 RBI. Over a full season, that would translate to 30+ home runs with 160 combined runs and RBI. Statcast numbers back it up, too, as evidenced by his 91.4 exit velocity with a 10.4 launch angle and 11.4 BBL%. He even has stellar plate discipline based on his 27.0 O-Swing%. These are all signs of a hitter on the brink of a breakout in 2020.

So what’s holding him back? He’s a god-awful defender. In 2019 Davis saw 220.1 innings at third base and 585.1 innings in left field and contributed -20.0 defensive runs saved. That’s Manny Ramirez bad. In a perfect world he’d get traded to an AL team that needs a DH, but as of now he’s still a Met. The other playing-time issue is where he plays. The Mets already have more outfielders than they know what to do with, so when you consider his poor defense, he might have a difficult time getting a lot of playing time out there. It doesn’t get any easier in the infield unfortunately. While Todd Frazier has moved on to free-agent pastures, there’s still Jeff McNeil, Robinson Cano, and Davis fighting for at-bast at second and third. All that being said, though, Roster Resource has Davis listed as the starter in left field with McNeil starting at third base. If that ends up being the case and Davis finds himself with a path to full-time at-bats, you might be able to snag an All-Star-caliber player late in drafts.

 

19.233 – Kolten Wong (2B, St. Louis Cardinals)

 

At this point in the draft I realized I was low on steals as Lindor, Puig and Andrus are my only reliable sources of steals, so I felt like I needed one more source of 15 to 20 stolen bases. When I scanned the board I didn’t see all that many reliable options left so I pivoted my approach. Instead I thought Let’s grab a couple of players who are a bit riskier but have steals potential, watch how they do throughout spring training and early in the season and hopefully I end up with at least one 15- to 20-steal guy or some Voltron-like combo of players who can get me the equivalent. Kolten Wong was the first leg of this Katamari Damacy of stolen bases.

Last year Wong emerged as the near everyday second baseman for the Cardinals, and with that full-time role managed to steal 24 bags in about 549 plate appearances (190 times on base) while hitting .285 and walking 8.6% of the time. Sixty-one runs and 59 RBI are solid too when you consider that he didn’t get a full season of plate appearances and primarily hit eighth right in front of the pitcher. Since he won a Gold Glove at second base, you have to assume he’ll be the everyday guy at the keystone again and could approach 600 to 650 plate appearances if he stays healthy. If that happens and you believe this season is repeatable, it’s within the realm of possibility he ends up with something like a .270 batting average with 10-15 home runs and 30+ steals. Of course the question is, do we think it’s repeatable?

Wong is usually the kind of profile I avoid heavily as he’s a high-BABIP speed guy that’s pretty much at the bottom of every Statcast number other than sprint speed, but then this article by the excellent Blake Newberry over at Viva Los Birdos made me do a 180. According to the article, Wong faced the shift 232 times (42% of his ABs) and put together a 14.5 infield hit percentage when going the opposite way, which will always spell a recipe for success for a hitter with Wong’s speed. The bunt was also a huge weapon for Wong as he managed 11 bunt singles last year. The most fascinating part of his bunt hits is that he used it in pretty much any situation regardless 0f the game situation. Wong is a really good bunter, and one of my favorite things I want to see a speedster with little power do is utilize his speed to manufacture hits, and that’s exactly what Wong was doing. The other thing about the bunts is that they were smart, strategic bunts. He either took advantage of defenders playing back on him or to force a defender into a position where it would be impossible to make a play. If you’ll indulge me three examples here are my favorites.

This is just a picture perfect drag bunt. He lays it down at the last second and hits it in the perfect spot so it gets past Yu Darvish on the mound and forces Anthony Rizzo into a position where he is the only person who can come up and make the play. With surprise on his side and with his speed, the second baseman has no shot at beating Wong to the bag. Sure, Dexter Fowler gets out by being a bonehead and overrunning the bag, but it doesn’t take away from the perfect bunt by Wong.

It’s clear Wong is a skilled bunter, especially at drag bunting. With two outs and the bases loaded, the only way you lay down that bunt is if you know you can put it in that exact spot. It’s also the only way you can pull that off and not have your manager hang your head on a spike outside the clubhouse as a warning. Just to drive the point home here’s one more.

Again this is about as well as you can do it. The runner on third is Yadier Molina, who is not exactly fleet of foot. For Wong to successfully bunt him home, he has to put this ball far enough away from the pitcher that the catcher has to come out and get it but also far enough away from the catcher that Wong has time to beat the throw to first. Again it’s important to remember there are two outs. This isn’t designed to score Molina on a sacrifice. This has to be a hit, and it has to be perfect, and Wong nails it.

Wong may have figured out a way to use his speed to augment his best abilities and help neutralize his shortcomings. I wouldn’t be shocked, if he gets a full season of at-bats, if he can put together something like a .265-.275 batting average with plenty of walks with 10 or so home runs and 30 steals. Roster Resource has Wong slotted into the No. 2 slot in the Cardinals lineup, and if that’s the case, then there might be massive upside in terms of runs. The Cardinals were the 19th-ranked offense in runs scored last year but were only 10 runs away from being the 14th-ranked team by runs, so there could be some real potential here if he holds on to that spot.

 

20.242 – Rich Hill (SP, Los Angelos Dodgers)

 

In past drafts when I’ve ended up with some risker SP picks or am a bit lacking in ERA or WHIP I will often try to fill in the gaps with high-volume relievers like Ryan Pressly, Michael Lorenzen, or Seth Lugo to help balance things out. If you put a couple of them together, you can get the equivalent a great starter and originally that was the plan here. Then Rich Hill fell to me in the 20th and I had to snatch him up. The thought process was that despite his injury risk, most likely his floor was the equivalent of that high-volume reliever. He’d garner comprable strikeout numbers and had upside for more if he managed to stay healthy. Unfortunately recently it was announced (after this draft took place, of course) that Hill underwent an invasive elbow surgery and likely won’t be ready to pitch at the MLB level until around the All-Star break. There’s no sense rostering him until we get closer to that date sadly.

 

21.257 – Aaron Civale (SP, Cleveland Indians)

 

What I wish I would have done here instead of taking Hill the round before is grabbed Zach Plesac and gotten both him and Aaron Civale and assured myself a share of whomever ends up with the fifth starter spot in Cleveland (if it ends up being Adam Plutko, we riot). With that being said, I love Civale. He’s got a diverse five-pitch arsenal with three of those pitches registering positive pVAL. His sinker registered an astonishing 5.7 pVAL in a mere 304 pitches (57 IP). His cutter qualified as a Money Pitch and racked up 2.8 pVAL in just 247 pitches. Lastly his slider put up 2.2 pVAL over 130 pitches while giving up a paltry 5 wRC+. There’s a ton of potential waiting on the surface for Civale, and while I don’t think he’ll have a sub-3.00 ERA next year, I think he’s a few tweaks away from being a good pitcher.

The major thing Civale needs to work on? Throwing the ball in the zone. Last year Civale threw 354 of his 863 (41.0%) of his pitches in what Statcast calls the Shadow zone. It’s essentially a combination of the area just inside the zone and just outside the zone with the border of zone running through the center of it. Look at the breakdown of those pitches.

Aaron Civale Pitches in Shadow Zone

It’s worth noting that 66 of the 142 pitches that comprised the Foul and Ball In Play categories were out of the zone. In other words 153 of the 354 ( 43.2%) were out of the zone. Considering that 41.0% of his pitches were in this area, that’s not enough pitches in the zone. Civale is nibbling too much, which is a big part of what led to his unsightly 36.3 Zone% and 4.74 SIERA overall. One has to wonder if Civale’s success would be more sustainable if got more aggressive in the zone with his pitches and nibbled just a little bit less that we might see more reliable results. If that sounds familiar to you, it’s a lot like what we heard about Shane Bieber last year but in reverse. Bieber also nibbled too much and so had to throw gopherballs to get strikes, so his results were way out of wack with his excellent peripheral numbers. Civale has to see if by attacking in the zone more often he can actually elevate his strikeout numbers and find a more sustainable path to success long term. Since he’s pitching with the Indians, who have a ton of success with getting pitchers to make this sort of adjustment. I have a ton of faith that they can get that figured out. Now he just has to win the job.

 

22.266 – Jean Segura (SS, Philadelphia Phillies)

 

There wasn’t much lying underneath this pick. Honestly at some point Jean Segura just fell too far for me to pass on him and the value got too good. The idea here is that Segura forms the second leg of my SB Voltron (with several players on the wire that I would likely drop Hill, Civale and Pearson for if they don’t get jobs right away such as Kevin Newman, Daniel Johnson, Jarrod Dyson, or Ender Inciarte being the final piece). He won’t get me a ton of steals but should be good for 15 stolen bases with like a .270 to .280 average. As an added bonus, Roster Resource has Segura slotted in at the No. 6 hitter in the Phillies lineup with Andrew McCutchen, Realmuto, Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins, and Didi Gregorius hitting in front of him so there might be some RBI upside there as well if he hits there all year and the Philadelphia lineup hits better this year. It’s hard not to want a piece of that for this price.

 

23.272 – Nate Pearson (SP, Toronto Blue Jays)

 

This pick was brought about by rumors spreading around in September and October when this draft was taking place that the Blue Jays were perhaps looking to spend some of their sizable budget space to bump up their young roster and start contending again. Most of the rumors then posited the idea that if that happened, the Blue Jays would be quick to bring up their best pitching prospect, Nate Pearson. If that ends up being true, then I absolutely want shares of Pearson. He’s been fantastic in the minors so far and is an absolute flame thrower as he touches 100 mph regularly on his fastball and has wicked breaking pitches that once he figures out how to harness should be devastating. Give me all of that please. If he doesn’t end getting a job out of spring training or doesn’t look like he’ll get called up right away, then it’s an easy drop for one of the stolen base guys I listed in the Segura section, but if he does, look out he could be an incredible value.

So that’s my draft! Here’s what I ended up with:

Daniel Port’s Final Team

 

I think I have viable starters at pretty much every position and am well-situated in batting average, runs, home runs, RBI, ERA, WHIP, and saves while also having a path to be solid if unspectacular in stolen bases with weaknesses in strikeouts and wins. I also feel like I accomplished my SP plan of pairing a high-upside but volatile SP with two dependable SPs to form a solid base for my staff. This would be a contending team in most leagues, and I think I made a bunch of great value picks that I’m pretty happy with. Let me know what you think of my team in the comments!

(Photo by Stephen Hopson/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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