AL Starting Pitchers: Overvalued and Undervalued

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In my pitching strategy article, I laid out my case for drafting three high-floor, high-ceiling starters and then waiting until late for lottery ticket pitchers. I also advised against paying for the pitchers in between, who either lack the ceiling or the floor to justify the price.

In this piece, I'll lay out some top end and lottery ticket pitchers in the American League who are undervalued, and then some overvalued arms to avoid.

Keep in mind, however, that you may not always be able to get the pitchers you need at a discount; sometimes you must pay full price to abide by my strategy. Nonetheless, keep an eye out for these values:

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Undervalued AL Starting Pitchers

High End

Justin Verlander

ADP: 43, SP11
MY RANK: 38, SP7

Browsing the ADP charts, I realized it is hard to find value on top starting pitchers. So, Verlander going later than my valuation of him makes him a good target as one of your top three pitchers. I laid out the case for him last year as a pitcher who had been dominant when not affected by his 2014 core surgery and his 2015 triceps injury. In 2016 he was healthy and proved dominant as a top five starter: 16 wins, 3.04 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and 254 strikeouts. Who knows how long he can keep performing, but he’s worth riding for at least one more year.

 

Borderline High End

Lance McCullers  

ADP: 171, SP42
MY RANK: 137, SP29

If you have two strong top pitchers and a strong closer or two, you can stomach the risk of McCullers as your third high-floor, high-ceiling pitcher. If you don’t, his elbow injury that ended his 2016 and his control/WHIP issues could make him too risky. However, last year he posted a whopping 13.0% swinging strike rate. In 36 career starts, he has a 3.22 ERA (3.16 FIP and 3.32xFIP), 10.23K/9, and a 1.33 WHIP. Only 23 years old and in front of a great offense, McCullers will perform if healthy and could easily be a top 10 pitcher if he controls the WHIP.

 

The Lottery Tickets

Dylan Bundy    

ADP: 271, SP72
MY RANK: 167, SP42

You can read my full opinion of Bundy here, https://www.rotoballer.com/dylan-bundy-fantasy-baseball-breakout-candidate/364618. Since that piece, Bundy has begun throwing his cutter/slider in games. While he has noted issues controlling the pitch, and it has not been the plus pitch it used to be, it is still a fourth pitch batters have to look for. Whether it improves, stays the same, or he scraps it altogether, his other three pitches give him a shot a top-25 first half performer, before likely wearing down as the season progresses.

 

Eduardo Rodriguez

ADP: 300, SP81
MY RANK: 195, SP48

Eduardo Rodriguez is another former Orioles’ top prospect ready to shine. After being traded to the Red Sox, he excelled with the change of scenery and had Orioles’ fans screaming “Jake Arrieta” again. But after his hot start, he faced some struggles and injuries. In the second half of last year, the 23 year-old posted a 3.24 ERA, 9.2K/9, a 1.13 WHIP and a 3.48 FIP. This upside and his age make him a perfect late flier.

 

Francisco Liriano

ADP: 315, SP85
MY RANK: 243, SP60

Say what you want about the importance of pitch-framing and catcher ERA, but make no mistake that Liriano has done well pitching to Russell Martin. In 248 career innings pitching to Martin, he has a 2.94 ERA, 9.2k/9 and an OPS against of .621. Last year, he pitched more than two innings to five catchers. He had a 3.04 ERA and 9.3k/9 with Martin; he had ERAs of 5.97, 5.52, 5.02, and 4.58 with the other catchers. Reunited with Martin in Toronto, Liriano has the upside to strike out a batter per inning with an ERA around 3.00, making him a great lottery ticket.

 

Daniel Norris

ADP: 288, SP77
MY RANK: 245, SP61

Daniel Norris is a former top prospect who has battled through a lot the past couple seasons. Nevertheless, here are selected MLB stats from his last three MLB seasons:

IP ERA K/9 BB/9 SWINGING STRIKE %
2014 6.2 5.40 5.40 6.75 7.3
2015 60.0 3.75 6.75 2.85 9.2
2016 69.1 3.38 9.22 2.86 10.5

 

He is trending upward, has shown the ability to get strikeouts, and has prospect pedigree. As a pitcher who is going undrafted in most standard leagues, he is exactly the type of lottery ticket we want to bet on in the last round or two as a breakout candidate.

 

Overvalued AL Starting Picthers

Corey Kluber      

ADP: 24, SP6
MY RANK: 44, SP8

Corey Kluber is great. However, he has enough red flags that he should not be a second-round pick when similar players can be had two rounds later (Verlander) or one round later (Darvish). The red flags? Kluber’s K/9 has declined each of the past three years: (10.27, 9.93, 9.50). His 2016 walk rate was the highest since 2012. Not surprisingly, his FIP and xFIP both rose for the second straight year. His average fastball went from 93.2 in 2014, to 92.6 in 2015, to 92.1 last year. Most likely he will have another great season; but these risks make him less valuable than similar players going later.

 

Rick Porcello     

ADP: 111, SP26
MY RANK: 146, SP32

Porcello falls outside the range of my top three pitchers I target, but he still costs you a high pick. Is that justified? He did win the “Cy Young”, although Kate Upton was none too pleased about that. However, that he ate innings isn’t necessarily a good thing in standard formats. That he won a lot of games reflected a lot of luck, and his offense now lacks last season’s OPS leader (David Ortiz). While his ERA was lower than 2015, he struck out fewer batters (7.63K/9), did not improve his swinging strike rate (8.2%), and induced a career low 43.1% groundballs. Nothing in his 2016 batted ball profile screams that he was a meaningfully different pitcher, and his FIP and xFIP didn’t view him much differently than 2012-2014. Thus, Porcello is likely to be a middle of the road fantasy pitcher, the type of which I like to avoid.

 

Felix Hernandez

ADP: 139, SP31
MY RANK: 266, SP69

King Felix is a good example of a player that someone who has not followed baseball closely for the past couple years will take far too high. Sure, there are some reasons for hope; Hernandez was battling injuries last year, and this year he has added muscle to try to avoid that. But, even his 2015 was a major disappointment by his standards: his K/9 fell significantly, his BB/9 rose significantly, and his ERA shot up almost a point and a half: 3.53 ERA, 8.52K/9, 2.59 BB/9, 1.18WHIP. Last year, he posted a 3.82ERA, 7.16 K/9, 3.82 BB/9, 1.32 WHIP. Remove the name, and this is the profile of a lottery ticket bounceback candidate who should go at the end of drafts, not someone to be drafted in the middle.

Check back tomorrow for my overvalued/undervalued NL pitchers, and follow @rotonails to be alerted of future articles.

 

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