There are few better feelings in sports than doing a live fantasy baseball draft, but there’s one thing you have to take note of. Many people set up their draft room by sorting by ADP, to try and see when players should be expected to go and draft based on that. This means they also fall prey to the inherent flaws in ESPN’s ADP. While your draftmates might be foolish enough to rely on that which they see in front of them, you’re smarter than that, and with this primer in hand, you’ll know which players to be targeting for maximum value, and which players you’ll let your rivals overpay for.
Yesterday, I talked about what hitters you should be targeting and avoiding in order to crush your draft on ESPN. Now, I’ve cross-referenced our rankings against ESPN’s ADP and pre-season rankings to find the best values throughout your pitching staff. If you want to win your draft on ESPN, this is the guide for you.
Early Draft Targets
Yu Darvish, CHC: Darvish made a change to his mechanics midseason last year, moving his release point and that made all the difference for his fastball. He’s always had fantastic secondary stuff, but now he has a good fastball to pair with it, and while he won’t be as amazing as he was in the second half of last year, that change he made does portend good things for Darvish in 2020. He’s a borderline SP1 for us and he’s being drafted as the 20th SP off the board at pick 92, which is around 20-30 picks too late.
Lance Lynn, TEX: Lynn has one bad (and unlucky) season in 2018, and everyone seems to discount that he could be good again. His 4.77 ERA in 2018 was with a 3.84 FIP, and in his fantastic 2019, his 3.67 ERA was supported by a 3.13 FIP. Lynn increased his SwStr rate to a career-best 12.5% and saw a large uptick in strikeouts as well. He’s a safe, high-floor SP who should give you tons of innings, strikeouts, and a solid ERA. With that, he’s ranked as our #27 SP, but he’s being drafted in ESPN as the #35 SP off the board. That’s a huge discount for a pitcher that could give you the volume you need to allow you to take some high-upside dart throws later.
Carlos Carrasco, CLE: Carrasco still had the nasty breaking stuff last year, even while battling leukemia. The numbers don’t look great on the surface, but he was really unlucky (well-above his career average in BABIP allowed and HR/FB ratio) and he did really poorly as a reliever in September. He posted a 4.14 FIP as a starter and got a 15% SwStr rate on the year, showing that he still has great stuff. It’s obviously tough with the medical situation that Carrasco has, but he doesn’t lack the talent. We ranked him as our #18 SP to enter the year, yet he’s the 27th one drafted. Here’s hoping to a long life of health (don’t forget, Jon Lester had lymphoma early in his career) for Carrasco.
Zac Gallen, ARI: You know I had to mention Gallen here. Gallen is definitely someone we are planting our flag on and for good reason. His stuff is insanely good. He has three solid offspeed offerings that make him a dangerous pitcher against any hitter, and I can’t honestly see a world where Gallen isn’t in the Diamondbacks’ rotation to break camp. He’s too good for them to send down to the minors. He’s the 41st starting pitcher in ESPN’s ADP, and we have him ranked as our #23 SP.
Corey Kluber, TEX: Kluber is just one season removed from being one of the best pitchers in baseball, when he posted a 2.89 ERA and 222 strikeouts in 2018. He had a freak injury early in 2019 (comebacker that fractured his forearm) and lost the rest of the season, which has led us all to discount him as he’s an old fragile man now. He’s only 33, which isn’t that old for a starting pitcher, and he has looked great in spring. We have him as our 16th best SP, you can get him as the 25th starter taken in ESPN drafts.
Zack Wheeler, PHI: Wheeler has legit ace upside, he just hasn’t put it all together yet. Maybe a change of scenery is just what the doctor ordered for Wheeler. Either way, he’s being drafted as the #31 SP in ESPN, and he’s well worth that price tag considering he could be knocking on the door of acedom.
Frankie Montas, OAK: We all remember that Montas was busted for PEDs, but the change he made last year that really opened up his game was introducing a splitter, something that he should still be throwing this year. The splitter was a great third pitch, a perfect complement to his slider, and both pitches performed very well last season. We believe in his breakout for that reason, and you should too. It’s not the biggest discount you are getting here, as we have him ranked as the #30 SP and he’s going off the board as the #37 SP, but he’s still someone to keep an eye on and make sure you snag above his ESPN ADP of 158.
Matt Boyd, DET: Are you a Boyd Boy? Because you should be! His slider is one of the best in baseball, and he has a great fastball to pair it with. So far this spring he’s been mixing in his changeup and his curveball, and if one of them can be a reliable third pitch, Boyd could unlock his potential as a great source of strikeouts with good ratios to boot. ESPN is full of people who aren’t Boyd Boys though, and they aren’t taking him until pick 196.
Carlos Martinez, STL: It wasn’t that long ago that Martinez was a consensus top 12 SP, and it’s been his health holding him back more than anything else since then. He’s shown the stuff is all still there, and his numbers have not suffered much from his 2015-16 reign of acedom. The Cardinals want him in the rotation, and there should be nothing holding him back from being an SP3 or better. He’s going off the board at pick 173 in ESPN drafts, and you should definitely be targeting him there.
Luke Weaver, ARI: Weaver added a cutter to his repertoire in 2019 and it made all the difference, as he desperately needed a third pitch to complement his great fastball/changeup combination. Then we collectively forgot about him as he got hurt, and missed two-thirds of the season. He should pick up right where he left off and be a solid part of your rotation. We think he’s a solid SP4, but he’s being drafted at pick 229 as the 53rd starting pitcher off the board.
Kenta Maeda, MIN: Maeda has been a fantasy-relevant SP over the past two seasons, even with the Dodgers jerking him around from the rotation to the bullpen, and now he’ll finally have a solid spot in the rotation in Minnesota. I think Minnesota will let Maeda pitch far more than the Dodgers ever did because they need him to be a big part of their staff. He’ll also be pitching against some of the worst lineups in baseball between Detroit and Kansas City. He’s being taken around pick 200, making him the 49th starting pitcher off the board, and he’s definitely a value there.
Late Lottery Tickets
Julio Urias, LAD: It was just announced the other day that Urias will be a mainstay in the Dodgers rotation, and that may drive his ADP price way up. That’s something to monitor, because while there’s a lot to like about Urias (his repertoire including that dominant change-up, decreased walk rate), he still has some development to do. He should be good for about 140 innings this year and those innings should be very good, borderline great. He’s currently being drafted after pick 200 and he has probably the highest ceiling of anyone going that late.
Mitch Keller, PIT: We’re not believers in Keller because of the numbers he put up in 2019, we’re believers because he has the stuff to back it up. His slider induced a 27% SwStr rate and an insane 51% O-Swing, and he has a great curveball as well. He had horrible luck last year (.475 BABIP, sub-60% strand rate), but all the underlying metrics speak to a much much better pitcher than the one we saw last year. I mean, he had a 3.19 FIP against a 7.13 ERA. That should tell you the kind of improvement we could be seeing in 2020. He’s essentially free on ESPN, as he’s only owned in roughly 7% of leagues, but we think he’s a top 50 SP this season.
Jose Urquidy, HOU: Urquidy seems like he has a spot in the Astros rotation all sewn up, and he’s shown enough in his limited opportunities to make him a decent flier at this point in the draft. He has a wide array of pitches, all of which have shown great stuff, and that will help him take on a larger role as a regular starter. Again, we’re talking late fliers, and he’s hardly even owned at 12.5% rostered. The opportunity cost is not high for someone who should easily be a top 50 SP.
Joe Musgrove, PIT: We’re all in on the Pirates this year — well, at least their pitchers. That’s because they’ve overhauled their coaching staff, and that should mean a decreased organizational focus on sinkers that haven’t been working for years. Musgrove has some fantastic breaking pitches, and if he could utilize his four-seamer more for those to play off of, he could be the solid starting pitcher we’ve seen all along. He’s being drafted as the 58th starting pitcher, making him a really cheap upside play that still provides a decent floor.
Caleb Smith, MIA: The wheels fell off the wagon on Smith’s great rookie campaign, and that left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. But that was because he got hurt, and it’s very difficult to pitch through an injured hip. He was incredible when he was healthy, and he should be healthy entering the season as well. He’s being drafted as the 59th SP off the board, and we think he’s closer to a top 50 arm. Certainly upside worth chasing this late in the draft.
Pitchers to Avoid
Aaron Nola, PHI: Man, it’s weird putting Nola on this list. I mean, we have a shirt and everything for him. The question isn’t whether or not he’s talented — he absolutely is. The question is if he’s worth being drafted as the 12th best starting pitcher, and I don’t think we can get behind him there. We currently have him ranked 20th, and while he has a fantastic floor, there are questions about how much upside he truly has and if he can reach it. A lot went his way in 2018 to make him the ace that he was then, there’s no guarantee that that will happen again. He’s not a terrible pick at his current ADP, we just prefer about a half-dozen other starting pitchers over him.
Hyun-Jin Ryu, TOR: Ryu had a magical 2019, not just because he had a legit case for winning the NL Cy Young, but because he actually stayed healthy for a full season. Ryu has always had serious injury issues, and we shouldn’t expect another full season of health. He also is a pitcher who relies more on the defense behind him than the average pitcher, and that will change (for the much worse) moving to Toronto. He’ll also have turf to deal with, and the Yankees, Rays, and Red Sox, and all that spells disaster for a pitcher who’s currently being drafted as the #26 starter overall, a full 33 spots above where we have him ranked.
Marcus Stroman, NYM: I don’t understand why people want to roster Stroman. He’s a low-strikeout pitcher who pitches to contact in front of a terrible Mets defense. There’s no way this ends well for him. He’s being drafted around 200th in ESPN drafts, and he is at best a streaming option for us; we have him ranked 76th.
Clayton Kershaw, LAD: I hate that I have to do this. I want to talk about how great Kershaw is, but unfortunately, the drafters at ESPN have made him the 8th SP off the board by ADP, and that’s just irresponsible. I get it, he went to Driveline and his velocity is back to a few years ago. I’m very excited about that! I think it will be great for his season, however, at this point, his ceiling isn’t much higher than being the 8th best SP on the season. We shouldn’t be drafting him at his ceiling, especially with his heightened injury risk due to all the recurring issues he’s had over the past few years (I can’t count the number of times he’s pitched through a bad back). If he falls a bit and you don’t have to pay his current price of pick 36, I’m all over it, but I can’t support it that high.
Jose Berrios, MIN: I have a theory on Jose Berrios: He gets drafted as high as he does because that curveball is so absolutely insane that we just associate him as an ace in our mind. It’s a gorgeous pitch! But it doesn’t lead to the strikeout numbers you look for in a top 25 starter, which Berrios is being drafted as. He gets about as many swinging strikes as Kyle Hendricks does, which doesn’t make me optimistic about Berrios’s strikeout potential moving forward. He’s a safe pitcher, but he’s not an ace, and we need to stop drafting him like one.
Eduardo Rodriguez, BOS: Rodriguez doesn’t have the stuff to repeat his 2019 season, as he relies far too much on getting hitters to chase his breaking pitches out of the zone, and his fastball isn’t good enough to bail him out when he gets behind in the count. He’s never had a WHIP below 1.26, and he’s just too volatile a pitcher to count on. He’s being drafted as a SP3, and that’s still too high for our taste.
Noah Syndergaard, NYM: I don’t blame people for overdrafting Syndergaard, you watch him pitch and he just looks like an ace. The fastball is fast, the slider has great movement, and he just kind of looks like Randy Johnson on the mound. But Syndergaard has never shown that he can put it all together, he’s regressed in so many ways since his fantastic 2016, and he doesn’t seem like he’s going to make the necessary changes to get the most out of his talent. Let someone else take him as the #16 SP off the board.
Nick Anderson, TBR: While the Rays haven’t officially announced a closer yet — and may not do so at all — Anderson is such an electric reliever that you may not need him to get 30+ saves to return the value of his current ADP. He’s going as the 14th closer off the board in ESPN drafts, around pick 153, and he’s going to give you elite ratios with a ton of strikeouts. Realistically, the Rays will spread around their closing duties, and Anderson will pick up around 20 saves, but as I said, he’s the 14th closer off the board. He’s a top 10 closer for us, easily.
Giovanny Gallegos, STL: There may be some questions around Gallegos’ role, but there really shouldn’t be. Martinez is going to be a starter, and Jordan Hicks won’t be ready to go until around early July. Gallegos is the 22nd closer off the board by ADP, but he’s our 14th-ranked closer. He’s more than just a closer, he’s also an excellent pitcher who will be elite in ratios and help out in strikeouts as well.
Hector Neris, PHI: Neris is the most locked-in closer on this list, as he should be getting almost all of the save chances in Philly out of the gate. He has two great pitches, an electric fastball and a nearly-unhittable splitter, generating a 17.6% SwStr rate overall. He’s had one bad year in his career, and we haven’t seemed to be able to let that go yet. Regardless, we think he’s the 12th best closer right now, and he’s being drafted as the 17th closer.
Pitchers to Avoid
Kenley Jansen, LAD: Ugh, I don’t want to talk about Jansen on this part of the list. As a Dodgers fan, it kills me that he’s not the elite, lights out closer that he was for so many years, but that’s just not the Kenley Jansen we have anymore. His cutter is still a good pitch, just not what it used to be, and his strikeouts and ratios won’t be the same because of it. He’ll likely earn 30+ saves, but with middling numbers outside of that, and that’s just not worth reaching for as the fifth closer off the board. He’s still a top-10 closer, just closer to 10th than 5th at this point in his career.
Archie Bradley, ARI: You should basically just swap where Bradley is being drafted with Gallegos, as Bradley is being taken as the 15th closer at pick 154. He had a stellar second half, but that was largely aided by luck, as his BABIP dropped over 100 points between halves and his swinging strike rate actually dropped quite a bit as well. He had the worst swinging-strike rate and zone-contact rate among qualified relievers last year, and he also walks a lot of batters, and that just doesn’t seem like a winning combination.
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