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Pitcher Buy-Lows - Second Half Fantasy Baseball Outlooks for Zack Wheeler, Nick Lodolo, Yu Darvish, more

Zack Wheeler - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, MLB News, DFS Picks, Betting

The annual All-Star break offers fantasy baseball managers a great chance to assess and revamp their rosters for the stretch run. With both the fantasy and real-life trade deadlines looming, this stage of the season signifies one of the last key opportunities to make a potentially league-winning swap.

These buy-low picks consider a combination of statistic discrepancies on Statcast as well as prospective upcoming deadline moves. Many of these players probably required significant capital in most spring drafts, which can also indicate an underachiever.

I experienced some success in calling out buy-low candidates with this method earlier this year, viewing Aroldis Chapman as such back in early-June with the notion he could be traded. He threw for an adequate 3.10 ERA across his initial 20 1/3 innings pitched in Kanas City. Since the calendar turned to June, Chapman has pitched lights out with a 0.75 ERA over his last 12 IP, since being moved to Texas which should only enhance his rest-of-season outlook. Let's see if we can find more situations like this using a similar approach.


Top Fantasy Baseball Buy-Low Candidates

Chris Sale - SP, Boston Red Sox

Many of you may not want to touch this one with a ten-foot pole, but hear me out. Since Sale bagged a lucrative five-year deal in 2020, he’s pitched a mere 22 games.

The oft-injured seven-time All-Star suffered yet another setback just when it seemed he was finally rounding back into form a bit, this time with left shoulder inflammation on June 2. Even though Sale is still a number of weeks away from a potential return, his season 4.58 ERA may tell a misleading story.

Sale’s latest injury may have led to some impatient fantasy managers dropping him in shallow formats. The 34-year-old should be scooped up wherever this is the case for rosters ahead in their league's standings aiming to load up for a playoff push.

Sale is admittedly perpetually injury-prone, but Boston remains in position to push for a Wild Card berth, minimizing the likelihood of a potential late-season Sale shutdown. The strikeout machine remains MLB's all-time K/9 leader with a career 11.1 figure.


Zack Wheeler - SP, Philadelphia Phillies

Wheeler's recent stumble (11 ER in 16 1/3 IP pre-All-Star break) has opened up a buy-low window for the ace-caliber hurler. The 33-year-old still leads the NL in pitches per game (100.4), indicating he’s an arm to depend on for start-to-start length and a regular dose of punchouts.

Wheeler's expected numbers don't turn out glaring discrepancies, but his other percentile rankings paint nothing but good-to-great results across the board.

The former All-Star is no stranger to first-half struggles, experiencing such back in both 2018 and 2019. Wheeler logged a 4.44 ERA pre-break (18 GS) in ‘18 followed by a dominant 1.68 ERA post-break (11 GS). The right-hander posted a 4.69 ERA pre-break (19 GS) in ‘19 before finishing strong once again with a 2.83 ERA post-break (12 GS).

Wheeler’s imminent schedule is navigable post-break in '23, tentatively positioned for matchups vs. SD, @CLE, @PIT, @MIA, vs. WAS, and vs. MIN based on a five-man rotation.


Nick Lodolo - SP, Cincinnati Reds

Former top Reds prospect Lodolo represented a popular '23 fantasy breakout candidate with exciting bat-missing stuff coupled with a promising 2022 second half. The 25-year-old turned heads post-break in ‘22, toting a 2.92 ERA with 93 punchouts covering 77 frames.

Lodolo tantalized once more with a 2.12 ERA through his first three ‘23 starts, only to thrash to a hideous 10.38 ERA over the subsequent four starts. But the southpaw is probably the biggest Statcast darling on this list, clearly underachieving by their metrics.

Lodolo signifies a premium fantasy stash while sidelined on a hungry Cincy team craving starting-pitching help. Here’s to hoping the young lefty comes back strong from a stress reaction in his tibia which has shelved him since mid-May.

If Lodolo can improve at keeping the ball in the yard (a big if at the Great American Ball Park), he covers most of the bases that can help dictate fantasy prosperity with excellent strikeout and walk rates. Lodolo's arsenal reminds almost of another Chris Sale type of thrower.


A.J. Puk - RP, Miami Marlins

Puk was originally acquired by Miami for former top prospect JJ Bleday straight up this past offseason. That’s just reiterated to demonstrate what kind of esteem the Marlins hold Puk in. The former first-rounder has already collected 15 saves as the club's closer, so the buy-low case here isn’t as obvious.

However, Puk’s struggles after coming off the injured list on June 6 after experiencing irritation in his throwing elbow may very well decrease his trade price just enough to make him a valuable fantasy deadline buy-low.

Much like with Wheeler, Puk's Statcast page boasts awesome stuff, checking virtually every box. I don’t expect the Fish to prioritize significant bullpen fortification at the deadline with more pressing roster needs offensively, perhaps in the form of a thumper to capitalize on Luis Arraez's .400 BA pursuit.

Despite three blown saves and eight ER allowed over his last 7 1/3 IP, Puk should be viewed as a top-12 fantasy reliever, at worst, for the rest of the season and an aggressive fantasy trade target.


Yu Darvish - SP, San Diego Padres

Darvish has endured a very bumpy ride in '23, most recently missing multiple starts with a flu-like bout he couldn’t overcome for a few weeks. The 36-year-old is on pace for his worst full season as a pro yet, limping to a 4.87 ERA across 85 IP this year.

However, Darvish features the resumé and track record to suggest he'll right the proverbial ship during the second half. The five-time All-Star's Statcast profile produces a fairly encouraging tune.

Darvish held an acceptable 3.67 ERA over his initial nine 2023 starts (54 IP) but has since tumbled with a 6.97 ERA since a seven-run implosion against the New York Yankees on May 28. The righty has notched only one quality start during this difficult stretch.

Things won’t get much easier for Darvish out of the break, tentatively lining up @PHI, @TOR, vs. PIT, vs. TEX, vs. LAD, and @ARI based on a five-man rotation. Perhaps this buy-low opportunity extends past the commencement of play resumption.

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