Don't have an account?
Join the Best Live Fantasy Chat Community!

Lost password? [X]

Receive free daily analysis:

NFL    NBA    MLB

Already have an account? Log in here.

[X]

Forgot Password


[X]

Where Are The Elite Starters? Looking for 2019’s deGrom


Researching elite starters has taught me a number of things about pitcher development. One of the most valuable has been the reminder that progress is never linear.

Blake Snell and Justin Verlander present recent examples of that. Verlander has been in “obvious decline” on two occasions now, and both times he’s bounced back. 2016 Blake Snell displayed impressive talent but limited control. He was then relegated to AAA for portions of 2017, lost strikeouts, and saw his ERA increase, but we all know what he did in 2018.

Despite the inconsistent nature of growth, we do see patterns in those pitchers who emerge as elite starters. In parts one and two of the series, I worked to assemble a methodical approach for identifying pitchers who were more likely to emerge as elite starters. If you want to read more about the methodology, check out those articles. In this space, I want to focus on what it reveals about starters for this coming season.

Editor's Note: Get any full-season MLB Premium Pass for 50% off. Exclusive access to our Draft Kit, premium rankings, projections, player outlooks, top prospects, dynasty rankings, 15 in-season lineup tools, and over 200 days of expert DFS research. Sign Up Now!

 

Hunting for Upside

Looking at about twenty different stats, I saw a few baseline elements that spanned nearly every pre-elite season. In the vast majority of cases, pre-elite starters offered at least a 3.54 FIP, a 3.7 xFIP, 150 innings pitched, and a swinging-strike rate of 11.0%. There were exceptions to those, but they were statistical outliers. There were many other metrics involved, but those elements offered clear parameters for my search.

To be clear, the system would never have predicted Blake Snell’s Cy-Young performance, but it would have given far more confidence in drafting Max Scherzer in 2013 when he broke out or Aaron Nola last season. I didn’t design it to evaluate a player’s likely outcome. I designed it to indicate the possibility of whether a pitcher looked like a potential elite starter. A positive score means that a pitcher had better than average indicators for a pre-elite starter. A neutral score means the pitcher looked exactly like a pre-elite starter, and a negative score means that a pitcher had below average indicators for a pre-elite starter.

The data offers a way to gauge these players more objectively, but there are reasons not to treat the data as an absolute barometer. For instance, the system likes Alex Wood, and I think he’s undervalued, but there’s a near zero chance that he emerges as an ace. On the other hand, Zach Wheeler has a negative score, but his -1.2 score is easily explained by his return from injury.

Without further delay, here are the numbers…

Pitcher ADP Z-Score
Max Scherzer 4 14.3
Jacob deGrom 11 20.7
Chris Sale 15 15.6
Justin Verlander 22 9.4
Corey Kluber 24 9.1
Aaron Nola 25 10.9
Gerrit Cole 27 6.3
Blake Snell 29 1.9
Trevor Bauer 33 5.5
Luis Severino 34 -1.0
Carlos Carrasco 36 9.3
Walker Buehler 38 2.2
Clayton Kershaw 41 2.9
Noah Syndergaard 42 4.3
Patrick Corbin 50 9.7
James Paxton 54 4.8
Jameson Taillon 56 -1.9
Stephen Strasburg 62 -5.2
Mike Clevinger 63 -2.4
Jack Flaherty 65 -6.9
Zack Greinke 66 -3.0
Jose Berrios 74 -6.1
German Marquez 78 0.3
Alex Wood 90 -3.9
Zack Wheeler 92 -1.2
Mike Foltynewicz 93 -9.2
Miles Mikolas 96 1.9
Luis Castillo 114 -10.5
Charlie Morton 119 -5.4
Nick Pivetta 150 -9.1
Andrew Heaney 169 -5.8
Marco Gonzales 275 -7.3

 

The Obvious Candidates: Nola, Bauer, Cole, Snell

Aaron Nola, Trevor Bauer, Gerrit Cole, and Blake Snell are names that don’t surprise anyone. All four of them are getting plenty of attention as potential Cy-Young candidates for this season. Which one you prefer depends on your tendencies. There’s very little mystery around them, but I’ll address what the formula suggests about each one.

Nola and Snell are the most obvious names here because their 2018 seasons already met the definition for elite performances. Nola’s only potential weakness is his walk rate. However, there’s scant evidence of control issues, and his 69.4% first-strike rate supports that.

For Snell, the issue is a simple case of control and efficiency. Snell’s 57.1% first-strike rate and 62.2% strike rate are well below the performances of other elite starters. The only other elite starter who was close to those numbers was Dallas Keuchel who had the most pronounced drop-off after his elite season. The good news for Snell is that he improved both metrics in the second half. Plus the Rays are a pitching organization that just moved to lock in Snell with a long-term contract.

Bauer was excellent last year, but the formula’s primary issue with him was the missed time from his stress fracture and the fact that the Indians clearly limited his innings in those final two starts. Additionally, if he’s actually found a way to emulate Carlos Carrasco’s changeup – and Bauer claims that he has – he’ll be even better this season.

Gerrit Cole’s 6.3 z-score is less gaudy than Nola’s, and there’s less hype on him than Bauer, but he’s still only 28, which is right around when lanky guys finally get everything synced up. At the least, owners can look at his strikeouts, K%, and FIP and have a clear sense that Cole is a virtual lock to be a top-ten pitcher.

 

Shopping for deGrom: Picks 50 and Up

I mentioned in the previous article that most elite starters finished in the top-100 players the season before they emerged. Aside from the four pitchers above, these are the players most likely to return elite-level value.

Patrick Corbin: Z-Score 9.7 (ADP 50)

Why the Formula Likes Him: On the most basic level, Corbin employs a skillset similar to Chris Sale (they use a strong fastball and slider mix to generate swinging strikes and groundballs). Corbin’s peripheral numbers all compared favorably with those of Scherzer, Sale, and deGrom. In 2018, he ranked 6th in K%, 5th in K-BB%, 4th in FIP, 2nd in SwSt%, and 1st in O-Swing%.

Why the Formula Doesn’t Love Him: Corbin’s mediocre .281 xwOBA and his 6.0 IPS were below standard for the pre-elite pitchers, who usually show more dominance based on batted-ball data and go deeper in their starts.

Final Thought: Corbin makes a perfect target for this season. His numbers compare favorably to Nola, Kluber, and Verlander, but he's available two rounds later. Corbin’s ability to induce groundballs (48.5% GB%) is among the league’s best, and it helps to account for his mediocre xwOBA. He gives up some harder contact, but it tends to be on the ground. Health is a concern, but he’s been my favorite SP target in leagues so far.

 

Zach Wheeler: Z-Score -1.2 (ADP 92)

Why the Formula Likes Him: Wheeler gets ground balls, limits fly balls, induces infield flies, generates whiffs, and provokes swings at pitches outside the zone. That’s a ton of ways to manipulate batters to sit back down.

Why the Formula Doesn’t Love Him: Wheeler’s xFIP is worse than we'd expect to see, and as a player returning from injury, he also lacks volume and hasn’t shown the ability to go deep into games.

Final Thought: If you want my guess on this year’s Jacob deGrom, it’s Zach Wheeler. I wish there were a higher swinging-strike rate, but the volume should take care of itself this season.

 

Jameson Taillon: Z-Score -1.9 (ADP 56)

Why the Formula Likes Him: Taillon has already demonstrated the ability to get lots of outs and to get them late in the game. His .214 wOBA on the third time through the order was exceptional. There’s probably some noise built in there, but Taillon’s ability to limit balls in the air and induce grounders is almost identical to deGrom’s.

Why the Formula Doesn’t Love Him: Taillon’s weakest attributes were his volume (191 IP) and his xFIP (3.58). Both of those numbers fall below the thirty-third percentile for pre-elite pitchers. Given that xFIP rewards groundball pitchers like Taillon, it’s worrisome that his number is that high.

Final Thought: By my interpretation, Taillon isn’t particularly likely to provide an elite performance in 2018, but the data may be skewed by his continued recovery from the cumulative effects of cancer and Tommy John surgery. That’s a lot of physical and emotional trauma for someone who is still only 27 years old. A reasonable assessment recognizes that Jameson Taillon is an ass-kicker, and even if his 2019 is not an elite season, it should be very, very good. Like Bauer’s new changeup, Taillon’s grit isn’t baked into these numbers. The last cancer survivor with a season like Jameson Taillon was Jon Lester, who went on to be a top-10 pitcher for years.

 

German Marquez: Z-Score 0.3 (ADP 78)

Why the Formula Likes Him: Marquez leverages his strong swinging-strike rate (12.6%) with strong GB/FB ratios. His FIP (3.40) was almost exactly the average for pre-elite pitchers, and his xFIP was slightly better (3.10). Moreover, Marquez has demonstrated the ability to eat innings over the last two seasons.

Why the Formula Doesn’t Love Him: The formula doesn’t care about Coors Field, but it does care about inconsistency. Marquez’s has struggled in his third time through the batting order, and he’s failed to execute his pitches consistently. Both of those issues give us cause for concern.

Final Thought: As Paul Sporer argued a couple of weeks ago, “Coors Field is undefeated” against pitchers. However, Coors Field now has the handicap of the humidor, and I’m not sure that it’s ever met an opponent as talented as Marquez. It’s worth remembering that Marquez is only 24 and that he was a Kluber Formula candidate last year. He did not come out of nowhere. Among these four players, Marquez probably represents the greatest range of potential outcomes this season. Sometimes you throw a Hail Mary and it gets intercepted, and sometimes David Tyree makes a Helmet Catch. It’s worth noting that from June 30th on, Marquez’s performance was almost good enough to generate elite value even without the volume of a full-length season. However, the added difficulty of adjusting to Coors Field may be enough to complicate Marquez’s growth.

 

Honorable Mentions

Carlos Carrasco: Need an ace-lite? Draft Carrasco. You’re going to love his floor. I guarantee it.

James Paxton: The Yankees knew what they were doing when they acquired Paxton. In a world where only 60 pitchers reach 160 IP per season, Paxton’s health isn’t a liability. If Paxton ever reaches 200 innings in a single season, he’d either be an elite pitcher or extraordinarily close. However, I’m guessing the Yankees are planning on keeping Paxton’s IPS below 6.0, which will make it difficult for him to take the next step.

Noah Syndergaard: Among these six pitchers, he’s probably the best candidate to win the Cy Young if he can stay healthy. If…

Walker Buehler: Give him another 50 innings and two more outs per start, and he instantly becomes an elite starter. However, the news this Spring already suggests he won’t make it to 200 innings.

Mike Clevinger: Looks an awful lot like a poor man’s Walker Buehler.

Jack Flaherty: Misses the FIP cutoff and barely makes the IP cutoff. However, the rest of the numbers suggest he might be on the cusp. Managers looking for a “dark-horse” candidate to ascend to the elite level should consider him.

More Sabermetrics & Fantasy Baseball Strategy




More Recent Articles

 

2020 Starting Pitcher Rankings - H2H Points Leagues

Points leagues may seem like a slight variation from traditional 5x5 category scoring leagues but you must approach draft day with a very different strategy if you wish to truly compete. All preseason long, RotoBaller has you covered with the latest rankings for all fantasy baseball league types. Here we present our points league rankings... Read More


Second-Half Improvements: Buy Into These Starting Pitchers

The second half of the season is always put under a microscope for starting pitchers. Fantasy players have a love for the second half of the season, as the belief is that pitchers who take a step forward could carry over that success the next season and perhaps even build upon it. But, as we... Read More


How to Attack RP in SV+HLD Leagues

No position has seen as much evolution in recent seasons as the relief pitcher. Gone are the days where starters were expected to go seven innings as most teams have embraced the idea of "super-bullpening" and try to fit as many pitchers that can throw 95+ MPH into their bullpen as they can. Many fantasy... Read More


Using Sabermetrics for Fantasy Baseball: Pitch Info

One of the most fundamental questions in fantasy sports is if a player's current performance is sustainable. More than any other sport, baseball has a slew of statistical measures that can be dissected in numerous ways to analyze player performance. Pitch Info is a publicly-available pitch tracking system that provides a lot of different data to... Read More


2020 Fantasy Baseball Staff Rankings

Below you will find RotoBaller's 2020 fantasy baseball rankings, tiers and auction dollar values for the 2020 MLB season. Our Ranking Wizard displays our staff's rankings for various league formats, all in one easy place. Here's what you'll find: Mixed, Head-to-Head, Points, AL/NL Only, Two-Catcher Top 2020 prospects, Dynasty leagues, Keeper values Export the rankings easily... Read More


Mock Draft Review: Best Late-Round Targets

Last week, some members of the RotoBaller staff completed a 12-team mock draft for standard 5x5 format. After the draft, we each broke down our strategy and some of our favorite picks, which can be found here. However, I want to take a closer look at one portion of the draft in particular. Since we know that... Read More


Faster and Furious: Pitchers with Rising Velocity/Performance

Welcome fantasy baseball players! I’m sure that you, like me, are anxiously counting down the days until your drafts and Opening Day. While the fantasy season may not start for several weeks, there are plenty of things we can do to start preparing for a successful season. One of those things is to take a good... Read More


James Karinchak Is A Relief Pitcher To Know in 2020

One of the lesser-known players that intrigues me for the 2020 MLB season is Indians relief pitcher James Karinchak. The former Bryant Bulldog was drafted by Cleveland in the ninth round in the 2017 draft and went on to have one of the most outrageous statistical seasons in minor league baseball history. As someone who... Read More


2020 Relief Pitcher Rankings - H2H Points Leagues

Often regarded as an inferior fantasy baseball format, points leagues offer a different style of boasting over your friends or coworkers similar to that of fantasy football. These setups are typically head-to-head formats for a one-week stretch where the player with the most points gets a win. Easy right? While it's true that roster construction... Read More


2019 Barrel Breakouts: Who's For Real and Who's Next?

As pitchers and catchers get even closer to reporting and most fantasy leagues prepare for their drafts, everybody is looking for a leg up on the competition - a way to get in on a guy before everybody else does. In this article, we're going to look for a way to identify hitters who improved... Read More


Using Sabermetrics for Fantasy Baseball: Pitcher BABIP

While FIP is a useful tool to predict a pitcher's future ERA performance, fantasy owners should remember that ERA, not FIP, is what really matters in most formats. This means that we are interested in the "luck" that separates the two statistics. While some of this luck is unpredictable, we can and should predict some... Read More


Second Year Player Preview: Fantasy Baseball 2020 ADP Analysis

Host Anthony Aniano of RotoBaller Radio discuss the 2020 fantasy baseball season and keeps you updated with all the latest news and analysis Be sure to tune into RotoBaller Radio on SiriusXM (channel Sirius 210, XM 87) - every weekday morning between 6-7 AM ET, every weekday afternoon from 1-2 PM ET, Saturday nights from 9-11 PM ET... Read More


2020 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers - Jorge Alfaro

Miami Marlins catcher Jorge Alfaro was a key piece in the J.T. Realmuto trade that was executed before the 2019 season. The Marlins have high hopes for Alfaro and he continued his development in 2019 by slashing .262/.312/.425 with 18 HR, 57 RBI, 44 R, and 22 BB. The overall numbers may not seem all that... Read More


2020 Shortstop Rankings - H2H Points Leagues

Points leagues may seem like a slight variation from traditional 5x5 category scoring leagues but you must approach draft day with a different strategy if you wish to truly compete. Rankings themselves are a different beast altogether, as category specialists like Mallex Smith and Dee Gordon (stolen bases), Kyle Schwarber and Franmil Reyes (home runs),... Read More


2020 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers – Victor Reyes

With a 457 ADP in 2020 NFBC leagues, Detroit Tigers outfielder Victor Reyes is an afterthought in all but the deepest leagues.  Perhaps the 25-year-old shouldn't be, though, as Reyes was quietly solid in 2019, slashing .304/.336/.431 in 292 plate-appearances, with three home runs and nine stolen bases. Having made stops in Arizona and the... Read More


More Recent Articles

 

RB Opportunity Share and Impact (AFC South & West): 2019 Review

We roll on with coverage of each of the eight NFL divisions, discussing the teams that are part of them and the running backs that were part of those teams in 2019. To present those teams and players I use a set of easy-to-read charts: treemaps. The graphics will hold all of the players of... Read More


Dynasty Price Check - Anthony Miller

Many of you have already begun planning and building your 2020 rosters. This includes best-ball owners who have assembled teams in that popular format. A number of owners in redraft leagues are inspecting the early rankings, while those of you who are involved in dynasty leagues have continued your process of relentless roster evaluation. As the... Read More


Is Lamar Jackson Worth a First Round Pick?

RotoBaller fantasy football analysts Pierre Camus and Chris Mangano discuss the idea of taking Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson in the first round of 2020 fantasy football redraft leagues. Like and subscribe to the RotoBaller channel on Youtube to get all our latest podcasts and catch us on iTunes and BlogTalkRadio as well! Be sure... Read More


Why Lamar Jackson Should Be a First-Round Pick in 2020

Sometimes I like to make noise and some headlines if I can. That is why I host shows six days a week on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio representing RotoBaller. If I can get people buzzing about a topic, calling in or responding on social media with passion and vigor, I am having fun. But whenever I... Read More


Dynasty Price Check - Darren Waller

Many of you have already launched into the planning process for your 2020 rosters. This includes best-ball owners who have embraced the opportunity to draft in that popular format. A number of owners in redraft leagues are also monitoring the early rankings, while those of you who are involved in dynasty leagues have continued a pace of... Read More


Biggest Breakouts of 2019: Tight End

There were a lot of fantasy football busts at the tight end position in 2019, but there were also a lot of breakout stars. The 2018 season saw Philadelphia’s Zach Ertz break the NFL record for most receptions in a season by a tight end, while San Francisco’s George Kittle broke the record for most... Read More


Dynasty Price Check - Courtland Sutton

With the conclusion of Super Bowl LIV, football season is over for many people. But for anyone that plays in a dynasty fantasy football league, the season is never over. For the fantasy addicts out there, now is the time to start preparing. In today's column, we will take a look at wide receiver Courtland... Read More


Dynasty Price Check - Josh Allen

The NFL offseason has arrived, which means that it's time for us to go all-in on dynasty mode. The time between the Super Bowl and the NFL Draft is the time for dynasty players to make some moves and try to make their team better -- or worse, if you're rebuilding and looking for draft... Read More


RB Opportunity Share and Impact (NFC East & North)

With the season over and real-life free agency and April's NFL draft ahead of us, it's time to look at how each team split their targets and carries (both of them combined in what is called opportunities; sometimes it's receptions instead of targets, but I wanted to look at the overall volume and total chances instead)... Read More


Odell Beckham - Dynasty Buy or Sell?

Pierre Camus and Chris Mangano discuss the dynasty value of Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.. Will he bounce back in 2020 to return WR1 fantasy football value or is he no longer an elite receiver? Like and subscribe to the RotoBaller channel on Youtube to get all our latest podcasts and catch us... Read More


David Johnson - Dynasty Buy or Sell?

Pierre Camus and Chris Mangano discuss the fantasy football value of Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson in dynasty leagues. Is it best to get something in return for him while you can or try to buy-low in hopes of a rebound season? Like and subscribe to the RotoBaller channel on Youtube to get all... Read More


Super Futures: Early 2020 Fantasy Outlooks for Chiefs and 49ers

Now that the Super Bowl is over, fantasy football purists are already looking ahead to the NFL Draft and next season. The Chiefs proved that a high-flying offense that boosted many teams to fantasy championships could also win a Super Bowl of its own. The 49ers fell short, but earning an NFC Championship was an... Read More