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ADP Reflections - National League Starting Pitchers

The draft season is in full swing. The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational (TGFBI) has commenced on the NFBC site, and more and more draft data is filtering through to the masses. We’re now at the point where draft data is shaping draft strategies as people look for value against ADP.

There are lots of great articles on Rotoballer already comparing similar players with significantly different ADP and where value can be found. The sample of ADP available from these early NFBC drafts has given us a good basis to ascertain if certain players are being drafted too high considering their projections and expectations. The same can be said if they’re being unloved and drafted later than their projections suggest they should be.

In some cases, a player's projection may seem a bit generous or a bit stingy which is driving a player’s ADP. Two such pitchers plying their trade in the National League are Jack Flaherty and Mike Foltynewicz.

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Jack Flaherty, St. Louis Cardinals

This isn’t where I say Flaherty isn’t any good or to avoid drafting him, but his overall ADP of 24 does seem a bit on the early side which is being inflated with slightly generous projections.

Currently, Flaherty’s projections are:

Player IP W-L ERA WHIP Ks
Jack Flaherty 207.0 15-7 3.06 1.09 251

We should all be aware by now that predicting pitcher’s wins can be fickle and a big grey area. Flaherty’s 15 wins projected for 2020 is a bit on the high side still. Considering he managed 11 wins in 33 starts last season when the Cardinals managed 91 wins, Vegas has the Cardinals' 2020 total wins over/under set at 87.5. Even with the Cardinals expected to win three or four fewer games, Flaherty is being projected to get four more wins than last year. Seems generous.

The much-improved Cincinnati Reds along with the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers offenses still looking productive means Flaherty won’t have many weak opponents this year. In 409 drafts, Flaherty has gone as high as 11 overall and as low as 40.  With an ADP of 24, Flaherty is currently averaging as the sixth pitcher picked after Gerrit Cole, Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Walker Buehler which makes him the fourth NL pitcher drafted. That's elite company which is warranted should Flaherty manage to put up numbers like he’s projected to.

The other generous projection for Flaherty is that 3.06 ERA. After posting a 2.75 ERA last year, this projection might seem fine but his FIP and xFIP hints at a bit more regression than being offered. Flaherty had a 3.46 FIP in 2019 and a 3.64 xFIP (where xFIP accounts for the pitcher’s flyball rate rather than a flat number of home runs given up) in 2019. His ERA shouldn’t regress back to the 3.46 FIP mark but is likely to be around a 3.25 ERA rather than the 3.06 ERA he’s being projected.

As initially stated, I’m not expecting Flaherty to be a bust at all, but being the sixth pitcher drafted in mixed leagues and fourth in NL-only doesn’t fit his profile and Statcast’s expected batted ball profile from 2019 agrees with that. Below are Flaherty’s rankings among the 72 qualified starting pitchers last year. Also shown are two comparable NL pitchers.

Pitchers xBA xSLG xwOBA xOBP xISO
Jack Flaherty 10th 10th 10th 8th 16th
Luis Castillo 4th 3rd 9th 20th 4th
Sonny Gray 7th 9th 15th 21st 18th

Luis Castillo has an overall ADP of 44 and Sonny Gray's is 103. Castillo is the sixth pitcher drafted from the NL whilst Gray is 17th. Flaherty going ahead of Gray makes sense of course, but there are 12 NL pitchers being drafted between the two of them. There likely aren't going to be 12 pitchers statistically between the two at season's end. Castillo is very comparable to Flaherty from last year's Statcast batted ball profiles and ranked above Flaherty in four of the five statistics shown. Castillo is just as close to the top-three NL pitchers as Flaherty yet he's going 20 spots after him in mixed drafts and approximately a full round later.

 

Verdict: ADP Too High

In mixed leagues, Flaherty will still be a top-12 starting pitcher providing he doesn’t have a complete and unforeseen meltdown. His ADP seems elevated in part from panic by drafters who miss out on one of the top-five options wanting to get their first pitcher rostered early. However, I’d be much more comfortable waiting until nearer the 40th pick before opting for Flaherty. Taking a top hitter at Flaherty’s ADP spot then waiting another round for a similarly projected pitcher like Castillo should give you a boost in hitting without any negative impact on pitching.

In NL-only leagues, Flaherty is going as the fourth pitcher but looking at these numbers, you can still take a top hitter instead of Flaherty. Wait for an extra round for Castillo and then pair him with Gray while focusing on offense in between. That still offers an excellent one-two punch in this format without neglecting your hitting stats.

 

Mike Foltynewicz, Atlanta Braves

With an ADP of 204, Foltynewicz is on average currently the 78th pitcher being drafted overall and 39th National League pitcher on NFBC despite being one year removed from a 13 win, 2.85 ERA season. That’s largely in part to him following up his big 2018 with a terrible start to 2019 which saw him demoted in June with a 6.37 ERA in 59.1 IP. After a stint in Triple-A where he had a 3.86 ERA (3.24 FIP) across 10 starts, Foltynewicz returned to the Braves rotation and had an excellent second half of the season. His 2.65 ERA over 57.2 IP was a reminder of his capabilities he displayed the year before.

Foltynewicz ranked near the top of starting pitchers in 2018 as shown by his Statcast profile.

But coming into 2019, Foltynewicz only managed two innings during spring training due to an elbow injury and didn’t make his season debut until April 27th so maybe some rustiness and lack of normal preparation contributed to his early-season struggles.

Any such repeat of that will see Foltynewicz return to the upper echelon of starting pitchers. What do his 2020 projections look like compared to a couple of National League starting pitchers going earlier than him in drafts?

Player IP W-L ERA WHIP Ks
Mike Foltynewicz 191.0 13-10 3.84 1.24 202
Max Fried 174.0 13-9 3.91 1.31 191
Zack Wheeler 192.0 12-8 4.09 1.26 194

Max Fried's ADP is 136 and Zack Wheeler's is 119, so both are going considerably earlier than Foltynewicz. While Foltynewicz is the 39th NL pitcher being drafted, Fried is 25th and Wheeler the 19th. There's a large enough difference from Foltynewicz's ADP to Fried's and Wheeler's despite Foltynewicz projected to put up better numbers than his teammate and Phillies' winter acquisition.

 

Verdict: ADP Too Low

For someone seeing 200 players drafted before him on average, that’s pretty good. In fact, that’s really good. Foltynewicz is projected to outperform pitchers being drafted 70-85 spots ahead of him. That’s a sizeable discount and given Foltynewicz comes into this season healthy, there should be fewer concerns about him than what currently seems to be scaring people away.

Even if you’re a bit less bullish on Foltynewicz than others, 75% of his last two seasons have been excellent, yet his draft cost is putting a much bigger emphasis on the 25%. His current draft position can carry some regression and a sub-3.00 ERA isn’t to be expected. A 3.84 ERA and over 200 Ks is someone being drafted around 120th overall so you should be able to draft Foltynewicz around 50 spots earlier than his ADP and still have a profit if he “only” matches his projections.

In NL-only leagues, Foltynewicz can be an even greater asset and even if he's taken as the 25th pitcher in such drafts, he can still offer value given his close comparisons are going around that spot. He can even be the second starter you take as the 25th SP which allows you to take one of the top relievers or extra hitting in the earlier rounds before snagging Foltynewicz at the start of the mid-rounds.

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