We’re back for another set of 20 starting pitchers for 2020 fantasy baseball, and here’s where it starts to get interesting.
Here are the Top 20 Starting Pitchers for 2020 Fantasy Baseball and Top 40 Starting Pitchers for 2020 Fantasy Baseball articles if you missed them earlier.
Tier 6: This is the Cliff (continued)
41. Kenta Maeda (Minnesota Twins) – FINALLY. The Dodgers have dealt Maeda away, curing him of Dodgeritis as he heads to the Twins. He’s not scot-free though, even if the Dodgers sent over money as well that would cover the innings incentives in Maeda’s contract. There’s a chance the Twins elect to sit Maeda in September if they’ve run away with the division in an effort to save $500K or more. The Dodgers also held Maeda back from facing the lineup for a third time, which the Twins have been known to do with Jake Odorizzi, and it could continue here.
But maybe not. I’m in the camp that Maeda never deserved to be pulled so early from games, as his stuff doesn’t speak to “third time through” syndrome. Why? Because he has two fantastic secondary pitches. His slider was easily a Money Pitch, blowing past the SwStr% threshold for a near 22% clip, holding batters to a wRC+ of 35. There’s your zone pitch that happens to also be a strikeout fiend. Lovely. With sliders for strikes, his changeup was a fantastic whiff offering, boasting a near 48% O-Swing and 19% SwStr%. He has the two pitches you want to be deadly and survive long games, yet he wasn’t allowed to.
That’s because his fastball is bad. Near 150 wRC+ marks for the last two years, this four-seamer is the standard “please don’t hit me” pitch that he hopes will get a strike and seduce batters into swinging at his junk instead. I really wish he had a better heater, as I already buy that he should be better than his 4.04 ERA, but a solid heater would push him into suggesting a 3.00 ERA or so.
So that won’t happen. Fine. I’m a little low on the innings projection in Minnesota, given we haven’t seen the volume for a while, and there are still concerns about how he’ll be used. Still, the quality is there to push a 30% strikeout rate with his overall 14.6% SwStr mark last season, and that WHIP is sure to help along the way, especially feasting on the AL Central. Grab Maeda and be happy.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 3.80 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 27% K rate in 165 IP
42. Matthew Boyd (Detroit Tigers) – Speaking of the AL Central, I’m going to be a Boyd Boy once again. Maybe. I’ve found myself not drafting Boyd a whole lot as he’s getting swiped just when I start taking a break from grabbing starters, but that’s beside the point. Here are a few things I expect from Boyd: fewer home runs and the same flow of strikeouts. Ta-da! That’s a better WHIP and ERA while hovering a 30% strikeout rate, and we love this.
But why do I like Boyd more than other options? This isn’t going to sell everyone and that’s completely fine, but I think Boyd is a better pitcher than we saw during the horrible six weeks in June/July that returned 14 HRs in eight games. Yikes. It was a 2.91 SIERA and a 6.08 ERA, but that’s not really fair — to allow so many long balls, he clearly was doing something wrong.
And he was. His fastball wasn’t as elevated as it should be, and despite his slider still falling well under the plate a ton (he had a 13+ K/9 in these starts!), worse fastballs equated to all the long balls you saw.
You have to weigh in the positives as well. He increased his fastball velocity a full tick. There’s room to grow with his changeup and curveball to keep batters off fastballs more often. He still plays in Detroit, one of the better pitchers’ parks out there. I’m willing to take the under on last season’s 1.89 HR/9 for 2020 Boyd, and that has me chasing the volume and strikeouts at a surprisingly good WHIP. Oh, and who knows, maybe the Tigers deal him at the deadline like they should have already.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 3.90 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 29% K rate in 185 IP
43. Luke Weaver (Arizona Diamondbacks) – THE CUTTER. Weaver has been a four-seamer up, changeup down pitcher for as long as we’ve known him, and there’s plenty of success to be had there, but those types all require one thing: a third pitch for strikes. Castillo has his slider, kinda. Strasburg, the deadly curveball. Weaver toyed with a curveball as a Cardinal, but it wasn’t all that great, and then suddenly last season we saw the cutter show up and it worked. 57% zone rate with a 94 wRC+ was all that we need it to be: Nothing special, just good enough to allow him to take chances with his changeup out of the zone proper.
And let’s talk about that changeup. An 18% SwStr% with a 43% O-Swing is exactly what we want, and Weaver’s ability to trust the cutter in the zone allowed Weaver’s changeup to feature the lowest zone rate of its career, dropping eight points since its 2017 clip to just 33%. It’s been begging to do this for ages.
So things were going great for Weaver, featuring a 3.03 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and 27% K rate through 11 starts. Then he got hurt, and that was that. Just when he was starting to get cooking, it was pulled out from under him.
Now, I understand people being hesitant to trust the high strikeout rate with a low overall 10.6% SwStr%, but keep in mind that his four-seamer held a 30% strikeout rate on its own — better than his changeup’s 25% clip. With pitchers that finish at-bats with heaters a lot (Buehler, for one, with a 31% K rate on his four-seamer), you generally see higher expressed strikeout rates than their SwStr% normally dictate.
That’s not to say I expect a repeat of a 27% strikeout rate, but with that cutter helping navigate at-bats, Weaver is primed to be a solid all-around arm for your team. The question then becomes the innings, and considering his peak was 136 in 2018, it’s hard to suggest he’s ready to push 180. Still, they’ll be of quality and I’m down for the ride.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 3.70 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 24% K rate in 160 IP
44. Joe Musgrove (Pittsburgh Pirates) – You’re probably sick and tired of hearing about Musgrove by now, and this rank should bring few gasps. Why do I like Musgrove so much? He doesn’t walk batters (5% rate!), helping him boast a 1.18 and 1.22 WHIP the last two seasons. He holds an overall 12% SwStr rate boosted by three — THREE — pitches above a 17% SwStr rate. He increased his average fastball velocity to 93/94 mph and even 95 in the final two months after sitting 91/92 mph prior. Musgrove also began shifting away from sinkers, reducing the rate to just 11%, and it could go away in 2020.
Think about it. The organization removed the characters suggesting heavy sinker usage, and Musgrove has a chance to go four-seamers up with three stellar secondary pitches down. It’s Zac Gallen-lite just twenty SP picks later and with more questions about approach.
Last year, Musgrove featured his curveball or changeup a combined sub-20% rate, and I could easily see that mark rise in 2020 as the team reassesses its staff and amplifies what works well. He has the control, whiff pitches, increased velocity, and a blueprint that can blossom with a slightly tweaked approach. This is your upside play to make after all the safe picks are gone.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 3.90 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 24% K rate in 180 IP
45. Andrew Heaney (Los Angeles Angels) – I was tempted to go with Heaney at #40, as he has one of my favorite approaches of anyone in the Top 50. His strike zone plots are filled with superb pitch separation, with a sinker that acts as a four-seamer up, his curveball down-and-glove side, with his changeup down-and-arm side. It’s what you want.
So let’s talk about that repertoire. His curveball was a bit erratic last year, sitting under the zone a ton, but with a few too many that got away from him as a waste pitch or hittable over the plate … yet it still earned a 42% O-Swing and 19% SwStr rate. I’ll take that.
His changeup was the go-to strike earner with a 15% SwStr% and 47% zone rate, but like his curveball, he made too many mistakes, allowing a 127 wRC+ on the pitch.
But that sinker. Man, I love it. 63% zone rate with a 11.5% SwStr% that overpowered a ton. It did allow its fair share of long balls as well, but a .232 BAA across 979 thrown works just fine, and opens the door for more changeups/curveballs outside the strike zone.
This grants a strong foundation to build upon, and I wonder if a clean spring training into the season can bring the true Heaney breakout that his repertoire speaks to … or if he’s just going to be a “PEAS.”
Oh, and please be healthy for once. K (a lot) thanks.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 4.00 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 27% K rate in 160 IP
46. Sean Manaea (Oakland Athletics) – Do I like Manaea? I guess I do. Like many of you, I’m not sure what we can really expect from him in 2020. We saw five glorious starts across nearly 30 innings last season, and you don’t need me to tell that he won’t hold a close to a sub-2.00 ERA with a 27%+ strikeout rate. But what does his stuff suggest?
Well, he’s a slinger from the left side and it makes me wonder if he’ll ever be a proper command pitcher with his heater. I’m inclined to think not, which outlines a higher WHIP in general than I’d like. He’s also had trouble finding consistency with both his slider and changeup, and the end result is someone still going through growing pains. There’s hope for his breaker and changeup to click, pushing a 25%+ strikeout rate as long as he doesn’t serve up a ton of meaty heaters. But for the most part, I’m taking the under for now, given the 17% clip across 161 frames we saw in 2018. I may be a bit harsh on the WHIP side, but a .247 BABIP will not be replicated and a 5% walk rate seems a bit too low.
It’s interesting. His floor is actually relatively high, where I doubt we’ll see a Manaea that hurts you, while there is a tangible ceiling that is worth chasing. On the other hand, he could sit reasonably close to a Toby as well, paired with an injury history that has limited him to under 170 frames in each season. I find myself leaning toward guys with clearer paths to their upside, but you’ll be fine with Manaea.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 3.80 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 21% K rate in 170 IP
47. Dinelson Lamet (San Diego Padres) – There is so much talk about Lamet, and while I think I’m out, I can totally be in. It’s weird. A lot of pitching is weird.
On one hand, he’s chaos personified. Look at this strike zone plot. Does this look like a man that has a game plan? What’s his approach? I don’t know and neither does he.
But here’s the thing. That strike zone plot above? It returned a line of 7.0 IP, 0 ER, 2 Hits, 4 BBs, 12 Ks. And it’s MADDENING.
I don’t like his fastball or changeup. Sure, it held a .368 BABIP that should come down, but even when it had a .259 BABIP in 2017, it still held a 147 wRC+. It’s not a good pitch in the slightest. And his changeup isn’t going to turn into a proper third offering to trust, either. He threw it 17 times last year in 14 starts. Just over one a game. Yeah.
That breaker though, mmmph that’s a breaker. I’ve seen Savant say it’s two distinct pitches in slider and curveball variations, but it’s really one pitch and it’s fantastic — 23% SwStr rate with a 52% K rate and .116 BAA. Phenomenal … but it found the zone under 40% of the time with a 41% O-Swing. Normally strong numbers, but it’s the only pitch he has that does well. I wonder if this pitch is enough to truly carry Lamet through the year at the projected rate.
It suggests to me that the 34% strikeout rate we saw last year should take a step back, and his sub-8.00 H/9 could rise as well, even if he held an impressive 14% overall SwStr rate last year. Still, it could be more of the same and that’s just fine. I don’t see how it gets dramatically better, though, even if his 3.61 SIERA suggested he deserved it last year. The fastball is just too much of a detriment, his changeup is essentially non-existent, and his “IPS” will likely be below average, preventing a 180+ IP season. There just isn’t enough to suggest that he becomes a legit top 20 arm, so I’m likely going to miss him in all my drafts. So it goes.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 4.00 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 30% K rate in 170 IP
48. Shohei Ohtani (Los Angeles Angels) – Shotani is the best pitcher here. He’s also the arm that will be a headache to own, as he’s not going to hit the mound until May at the earliest … and then will likely have starts skipped and limited across the year. It’s very frustrating as a 180+ IP season would be a consensus top 20 arm. His slider was a fantastic strike-earner, while his splitter was as elite as you’ll find, boasting a 28% SwStr% and 59% K rate. CRAZY. And these pitches were so good that despite his four-seamer well underperforming with a .394 BABIP and .382 BAA despite its 97/98 mph average velocity, Ohtani still gave owners 52 frames of a 3.31 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and 30% strikeout rate. He’s really really good, y’all.
So here we are. We know the skill set is legit, it’s just about the innings and if you’re willing to waste that roster spot (assuming it’s Yahoo; if not, his value is vastly higher) for months and deal with the headache after as we hope for him to pitch on schedule each week. It’s going to be an intriguing year and I’ll be struggling massively as to where to place him on The List when he’s healthy.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 3.50 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 28% K rate in 110 IP
49. Robbie Ray (Arizona Diamondbacks) – Ray is the guy you don’t want to draft, but you’ll kinda have to anyways because of those strikeouts. He’ll bother you all year with his walk rate comfortably above 10%, keeping his WHIP above 1.30 and that ERA is sure to hover 4.00 as he gives you fantastic and horrible starts seemingly every single time out there.
But that strikeout rate: It’s just too good. He’s held a 31%+ mark for three straight seasons and that’s unlikely to stop as his slider still holds a 22% SwStr rate. You have to wonder if Ray could ever make that leap to a 3.50 ERA and 1.25 WHIP for a full season, but it’ll be contingent on his curveball to get over the 40% zone hump, which he’s never been able to do.
You may be surprised to know that his fastball held a 57% zone rate last year, plenty better than you’d expect, but the name of the game is consistency for Ray. Too much volatility inside starts themselves meant he lost more batters than you’d like to see without that secondary pitch to keep him in check to find a strike.
So you know what you’re getting for the most part. It’s not for me, as I hate putting myself in a position for frustration from the moment of the draft, but I can’t ignore the overall value he provides.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 4.00 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 31% K rate in 170 IP
50. Mitch Keller (Pittsburgh Pirates) – Mmm, I love watching Keller pitch, especially after the first inning. The man had one of the most volatile samples you’ll ever see, getting labeled as the unluckiest player in baseball with a .475 BABIP and 3.19 FIP vs. his 7.13 ERA. But the starts themselves were all over the place, with a first-inning implosion followed by nine straight outs in the next three frames. And I’m inclined to believe in the latter more than the former.
He’s a Pirate who doesn’t feature a sinker, instead throwing a 95/96 mph four-seamer with intent to elevate it. WONDERFUL. He also has a slider and curveball that are interchangeable, though I do prefer the slider over his deuce. I mean, who wouldn’t prefer a 27% SwStr% and 51% O-Swing breaker? I think there’s more in his curveball than the 121 pitch sample we got last year showcased, and I’m on board for this blueprint of success.
Innings-wise, he tossed about 150 total, allowing him the opportunity to hint at 180 if the Pirates let him fly. The strikeout rate is real, the small sample luck should be reversed, and this value can be all yours.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 3.90 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 25% K rate in 160 IP
51. Eduardo Rodriguez (Boston Red Sox) – Sorry, I’m not in on The Uni. There are simply too many reasons not to buy in, and obviously I’m going to run through them now.
Last year, he pitched 200 frames for the first time in his career. Previous high? 137. It was knee problems before, and it’s possible that’s behind him, but we have to take it into consideration.
Eduardo also holds a career 1.30 WHIP, with his best mark sitting at 1.26 and last year’s at 1.33. This isn’t a product of luck, it’s a product of Eduardo getting into deep counts against batters all the time, forcing higher pitch counts, more walks, and more chances for batters to put balls in play. He relies on chases with his changeup (and understandably so, with a 46% O-Swing!), but with his sub-25% zone rate, Eduardo has only his fastball to turn to for strikes, and it makes for stressful at-bats constantly.
And there’s the third point. His slider/cutter is just not good enough. Look at Weaver, who also has a fastball/changeup combination and adding the cutter opened the door to greatness. Eduardo’s is plenty worse. It’s always been this way. And I’m not saying it’s terrible or detrimental, it’s just not the pitch you want it to be when it’s a 2-2 count and Eduardo doesn’t want to get to 3-2. We thought it was going to be better last year (it wasn’t), and I don’t see how Eduardo improves enough with fastballs and changeups alone to take that leap.
Now, there was that seven-start stretch in the second half that stirred the pot a bit (and, honestly, saved his entire season with its 1.20 ERA), but guess what? That was during a period when his fastball/changeup was as pristine as it gets. This will happen again in 2020, but to imagine it coming close to being consistent for a full year — it came to a sharp halt in his final two games of the year via 10 ER — is just wishful thinking. He’s always had those stretches and he’s always been volatile. Did you own Eduardo last year? Then you’ll remember what it was like enduring his first four months of 4.31 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, and 23% K rate for 25 starts. You were stuck in purgatory and had no idea what to do.
That’s not the life I want you to live again.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 3.90 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 25% K rate in 160 IP
52. Julio Urias (Los Angeles Dodgers) – I’ve been waiting for Urias to get his true chance inside the Dodgers rotation for years, and this may finally be it. Kinda. Dodgeritis is still a thing and with Stripling and May and Gonsolin still around, I wonder if the Dodgers will take care of the 23-year-old for another season before 2021 is the year where he truly spreads his wings.
But let’s say it’s about 140 innings; what quality will that be? We saw Urias begin the year in the rotation while Kershaw was waiting to return, then was sent to the pen after and never exceeded three frames, and it’s hard to look at last year’s numbers and say, “okay, he’s a sub-1.10 WHIP arm now, with a 26% strikeout rate, clearly.” So let’s talk about that repertoire because, duh. That’s what we do.
I’m really impressed by Urias’ heater, which gained two ticks in the pen last year to 95 mph and found itself with a lovely 12% SwStr rate and fantastic .193 BAA. I don’t believe those numbers will stick as a starter, but at the very least it should be a good pitch that could be more, and that works.
As for secondary stuff, his changeup is filthy and far-and-away a Money Pitch, though he uses it early in counts and less as a strikeout threat. The big question is if one of his breakers can take the next step, as we haven’t seen either his slider or curveball be a dominant offering. From the eye test, I think either one could, but there is a large assumption that one of them will, preventing his true ceiling.
Still, it should be very productive innings with that fastball/changeup, and it’s not like his breakers hurt him. There’s just more development we’re waiting for. So I’m intrigued, but Luzardo is a more complete package at this time over near the same volume, and I needed to create a gap between them.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 3.60 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 23% K rate in 140 IP
53. Caleb Smith (Miami Marlins) – It’s a joke by now, but you case you didn’t know, I like Caleb Smith. Am I saying that you should be drafting him in all leagues? Maybe not, but we’re at the point where it’s about chasing upside, and Smith displayed tangible talent last season before he succumbed to a hip injury. His fastball sat 92+ mph through his first eleven starts before hitting the IL after the 12th, then hovered 91 mph the rest of the season. During that time, his swinging-strike rate was 15.6%. His ERA was 3.10 with a 3.43 SIERA, 0.97 WHIP, and 34% strikeout rate.
Yes, you can take many small samples and get excellent results, but those whiff numbers with higher velocity before an injury hit?! That just screams like a chance you should be taking out of the gate at a point in your draft when it’s not a win/lose situation. You’re not drafting him as an anchor: He’ll be your fifth, sixth, or maybe even seventh starter who could hold a 30%+ strikeout rate. GO FOR THIS. His dominance is based on a three-pitch mix of elevated fastballs and a slider/changeup combination that each miss bats over 16% of the time and hint at the Money Pitch metrics. It’s there, the upside you want at a time dedicated to chasing it.
The biggest knock on Smith has been his HR rates, which ballooned to 1.94 last season, and now he doesn’t have as much of a luxury in his home park as Miami moved in its fences. But let’s say he falls down to a 1.45 HR/9 for the year; that seems reasonable. That is what he had during his first eleven healthy starts.
One final fact: He had at least eight strikeouts in all but two of those first eleven games. One was a horrid one-strikeout game; the other was seven. Chase the health out of the gate. If he’s above 91 mph, this could be a steal past SP pick #50.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 4.20 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 27% K rate in 160 IP
54. Griffin Canning (Los Angeles Angels) – To understand this ranking, let me explain why I call Canning a Bieber-lite. Canning has a 94 mph fastball that gets hit a little too often and requires a touch better command to excel. He has a ridiculous slider that returned a 22% SwStr rate last season and found the zone 40% of the time, turning it into a near Money Pitch. He also has a curveball that he confidently throws for strikes with a sub-15% SwStr% and suggests a touch of upside that can grow into a proper third pitch.
That’s what Bieber had entering 2019, even with the sub-15% SwStr% curveball that exploded to be a 24% SwStr% pitch. It’s not safe to assume in the slightest that Canning’s curveball will have the same growth because Bieber’s did, though I do think there is more to squeeze out of Canning’s deuce than what we saw last season. The slider is certainly legit, though, and with a bit of a push in the right direction with his heater, you have yourself a legit #3 starter at half the cost.
But then there’s health. Canning only tossed 106 frames across the majors and Triple-A last year due to an elbow injury that sidelined him in August, and we haven’t gotten clarity on his health and innings limit for this season. I’m anticipating a push to 160 frames, even baking in a chance for an early setback out of camp. It’s worth it to chase, though, as his 25% strikeout rate from last year with a sub-1.25 WHIP are here to stay and could even be the worst we ever see.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 4.10 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 26% K rate in 160 IP
55. Jose Urquidy (Houston Astros) – As you can see, I’m intrigued by Urquidy, and he’s on my list of young arms that could be dropped early or return the value you want, but he’s not a direct target of mine. The Playoff Tax is sure to take effect here, as he performed exceptionally well against the Nationals, but it’s not like it wasn’t a decent representation of what Urquidy can be.
It’s a 93 mph heater with three good secondary pitches mixed in. I like his changeup the most (he throws it in the zone plenty and without fear!), as those that are drawn to a 22% SwStr rate on his slider (thrown just 106 times) may be deterred when it came with just a 25% O-Swing and 33% zone rate. Small samples, they can be weird.
His curveball had hints of being wonderful, and as a fourth offering, it should be a nice addition.
The sum of it all is that I like Urquidy’s package, but there isn’t enough to make me think he can reach a point where he’s consistently overwhelming. Not to mention that his 2020 role is still oddly in question (though he did toss nearly 145 frames last year, not including the postseason!), but let’s say 160 innings are in order with upside for a little more. That’s solid, and I don’t think Urquidy will fall completely out of relevancy; he’ll just have a little bit of a harder time finding his true ceiling.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 4.00 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 24% K rate in 160 IP
56. German Marquez (Colorado Rockies) – I don’t want to deal with it, even if I have him projected above guys above him like Smith, Canning, and Urquidy. You’ll never know if you want to hold onto Marquez as he endures half his starts in Coors, or if his strikeout upside and solid WHIP are worth it. Now, he did have an 11 ER start last year that raised his ERA about .50 points, but that would have still been a 4.25 ERA, and it’s not always fair removing just one game from the story.
But what happened anyway? It short, his slider just wasn’t as good as it was in 2018. His curveball is still elite, the fastball is … meh, and the slider isn’t what it used to be. There’s a chance the slide piece comes back, and if you go for the ratio focused guys like Greinke and … Greinke, then Marquez could be the right fit. Yes, he likely belongs around #52, but as for when I’m actually drafting these players? I’m chasing the upside arms I can confidently drop earlier in the year if it’s not going as planned over Marquez who will make me anxious like Chidi Anagonye all season long.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 4.00 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 25% K rate in 180 IP
57. Mike Foltynewicz (Atlanta Braves) – Who is the real Folty? You shouldn’t believe it’s the 2018 season with a 2.85 ERA and .251 BABIP, as his 27% strikeout rate came with a 10% SwStr clip. That ain’t right. But it sure isn’t last year’s 4.54 ERA either, as he was so lost on the hill that they sent their former ace back to the minors. It was wild, absurd, necessary, and so very unlikely to be repeated.
When he returned from the minors, Folty had 95/96 mph velocity for a moment, then it faded to hover 94 mph through the final weeks of the season. I think we can see 94/95 more often than not in 2020, which is necessary considering his mix of four-seamers and sinkers are good, but not great.
His success really hinges on his slider figuring it out again. This was a 23+ pVAL offering that fell to a -2.3 mark last season, despite keeping an identical 18% SwStr% and only suffering from small drops in O-Swing and zone rates. The only real difference were massive surges in HRs and BABIP (4.5% HR/FB to 22%, and a .185 BABIP up to .322. Yikes.), which I imagine should fall closer to the middle, if not more on the positive side for Folty.
That means we’re not too far away from 2018’s peak, and there’s something tangible to hope for in 2020. Sure, his curveball and changeup aren’t going to become the saviors of his repertoire, but he’s better than a 21% strikeout rate, and hey, that WHIP was still at 1.25 in his down year. There’s value to be had, especially if you’re looking for volume.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 3.90 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 23% K rate in 180 IP
58. Jake Odorizzi (Minnesota Twins) – We like that Odorizzi raised his fastball velocity about two ticks last year, while painting the top of the strike zone red. It was wonderful. Both his four-seamer and sinker did ridiculous things (15% SwStr% on both his four-seamer and sinker! 60% zone rate on sinkers, WHAT) and it powered Odorizzi to a career season via a 3.51 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and 27% strikeout rate across 159 innings.
Oh right, he only tossed 159 innings despite earning 30 starts. That’s a 5.3 IPS and not what we’re hoping for. It’s a product of the Twins pulling him in fear of his third-time-through-the-lineup numbers, which get worse due to a lack of anything sustainable outside of fastballs. Seriously, nothing: Not his slider, cutter, changeup, or curveball; none of it earned a SwStr% above a 10% mark. His cutter and slider were okay at finding the zone, but that’s really all we have here.
So I wonder. It was a peak year for Odorizzi where his fastballs did stupid well and he still only gave us 160 innings. I’m expecting him to be a little worse with his fastballs, which will pull down his ERA a decent amount, the 27% strikeout rate falls too, and the WHIP gets a little worse. It’s still helpful, it’s just not the surprising stud from 2019.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 3.90 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 24% K rate in 160 IP
59. Mike Minor (Texas Rangers) – I thought I was going to like Minor entering this season after not getting enough love during the 2019 campaign, as he hit 200 strikeouts on the nose via a baseball grey area of unwritten rules, and performed at an excellent 3.59 ERA and decent 1.24 WHIP in 208.1 IP.
Now moving to a better pitchers’ park in Texas, things should be better for Minor, right? Not really.
He needed an 80%+ LOB rate and below-league average 13% HR/FB rate to earn than 3.59 ERA (maybe that suppressed HR rate is a skill and can stick in the new stadium?) as his SIERA hated it with a 4.51 mark.
Then there’s the skill set, which I’m not sure speaks to a mid-3s ERA, but more like a Toby, hovering near a 4.00 ERA and closer to a 20% strikeout rate than you’d like. His changeup was absurdly good last year, finding the zone over 50% of the time while holding a .223 BABIP and .178 BAA, despite only inducing a 34% O-Swing. I need to see more chases out of the zone to believe that the BABIP will stick.
That changeup was everything for Minor, allowing his middling 92/93 mph fastball to play up to a 11.1 pVAL after holding a -5.8 mark the previous season. I do think Minor was a bit better commanding the pitch in 2019, but not that much better. Maybe just a half step to make him a major SP for your club.
Music theory jokes aside, that’s all Minor has. His slider and curveball are oooof not good and without the over-performance of his changeup, the production fades a good amount. There’s still a chance for a repeat in a better ballpark, though, and around this time you’d be okay letting him go back to the wire if it doesn’t stick around early.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 4.00 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 22% K rate in 190 IP
60. Hyun-Jin Ryu (Toronto Blue Jays) – Last year was something else, wasn’t it? A 2.32 ERA with a 182-inning season after combining for 214 across his previous four (albeit, 4.2 innings across two seasons included), and a luscious 1.01 WHIP as well. It was fantastic.
And it’s so not even close to repeatable as he moves away from Los Angeles to Toronto. Yes, I’m worried about his health, and the Blue Jays are too (via The Athletic). The Toronto defense is poor, the infield turf makes his 50%+ ground ball rate a liability (just ask Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman), and now he has to pitch inside the AL Beast as a Blue Jay. This is the recipe for disaster.
Still, there’s a chance his changeup is still effective enough to grind effective innings for your squad. The pitch returned a major league-leading 56.6% O-Swing last year, and even a step back to 50% would be fantastic inside Ryu’s arsenal. There isn’t much else to get excited about from his fastball to curveball, but that changeup alone will make him a king of all Tobys.
So take a chance if you like that all of these new factors won’t affect Ryu’s production. I’m going to sit this one out and chase something else instead.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 3.90 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 21% K rate in 140 IP
Photo by Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)