Points League Starting Pitchers: Overvalued and Undervalued

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As we’ve discussed, points leagues are a bit of a different animal from the more popular head-to-head and rotisserie formats. One of the easiest and best ways to ensure that you’re making a smooth transition between these disparate styles is to identify players whose values change most.

Today, to conclude this series, we're looking at some potential starting pitcher sleepers and busts, or draft targets and avoids in points leagues.

Let's get to it.

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Overvalued for Points Leagues

Jake Arrieta, Chicago Cubs

Arrieta struggled with bouts of wildness all season, but as the season wore on, he also had trouble putting hitters away. His K/9 dropped from 9.5 to 7.5 and his home run rate nearly doubled. The veteran has thrown a lot of innings over the last two seasons, and the workload could be catching up to him.

His struggles were relative, of course – he still won 18 games, posted quality ratios, and struck out nearly a batter per inning. But the underlying issues behind his second-half fade, should they persist, would certainly knock him off the perch of a fantasy ace in points leagues.

 

Aaron Sanchez, Toronto Blue Jays

As a rookie in 2014 and 2015, Sanchez pitched well out of the bullpen, but his performance as a starter left much to be desired. In 11 starts, he threw 66 innings with only 42 strikeouts and 37 walks. So how did he go from that lackluster showing to posting the best ERA in the American League last season? The most critical improvement Sanchez made was getting ahead of hitters more often. His F-Strike% increased by over seven points, although this still only put him in the middle of the pack among qualified starters. While Sanchez continued to make his living primarily with his fastball, he showed greater consistency with his secondary offerings.

ERA estimators still don’t love Sanchez. It’s not hard to see why – for one thing, his K-BB% was comparable to such luminaries as Wade Miley and Jaime Garcia. A glance at his BABIP marks to this point in his career would suggest he has some suppression ability, but Statcast data doesn’t really support that assertion. His exit velocity metrics were nothing special, and groundball-heavy pitchers don’t tend to consistently post low BABIPs, since groundballs are more likely to go for hits than fly balls.

 

Marcus Stroman, Toronto Blue Jays

Stroman was last seen dominating Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic final, and he’s flashed ace form before. That’s precisely the rub, though – he’s only shown glimpses. Often, he’s merely been serviceable, and sometimes unplayable. Check out his monthly splits from last year:

Month ERA WHIP K-BB% HR/FB%
April 4.37 1.03 7.2% 10.7%
May 4.54 1.44 12.3% 12.0%
June 7.76 1.91 7.2% 26.7%
July 3.71 1.06 19.2% 26.3%
August 3.13 1.14 26.1% 16.7%
September 3.41 1.24 7.8% 13.6%

 

Which is the real Stroman? I’m inclined to take his overall 2016 production as a reasonable approximation: 4.37 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 13.1 K-BB%. In points league, he’s not terribly appealing due to a lack of strikeouts and proneness to home runs. Unless you buy the 30% strikeout rate he posted in August, which was eight points higher than any other month of his career.

(I promise I don't hate the Blue Jays. I was too young for Joe Carter's walk-off to really make an impact on me.)

 

Undervalued for Points Leagues

Michael Pineda, New York Yankees

In most formats, Pineda is a volatile asset and should be deployed with great care. In points leagues, his outstanding strikeout and walk numbers make his flaws easier to overlook. Perhaps more than any other pitcher, Pineda could benefit from a change of scenery – he’s allowed an ungodly 1.82 HR/9 at Yankee Stadium and a 0.68 mark everywhere else. Unfortunately, a trade doesn’t seem likely. But with a K-BB% that ranks among the best in baseball, he’s at least worth more than his current ADP in points formats.

 

Robbie Ray, Arizona Diamondbacks

Ray bears several similarities to Pineda. Namely, he racks up strikeouts, but when hitters do manage to make contact, they generally hit the ball hard. Ray had his own homer issues, though they weren’t exclusive to his (extremely hitter-friendly) home park. He doesn’t limit walks the way Pineda does, but given the Diamondbacks’ move from Welington Castillo to Jeff Mathis, it seems reasonable to anticipate improvement there. In addition to better pitch framing from his battery mate, Ray will need to improve his secondary offerings to take the next step. But only three qualified starting pitchers posted a higher strikeout rate than Ray last season: Max Scherzer, Jose Fernandez, and Noah Syndergaard. This is upside worth betting on.

 

Aaron Nola, Philadelphia Phillies

Through his first 12 starts last season, Nola had pitched to a 2.65 ERA and 0.99 WHIP. He was striking out over a batter per inning and nearly six batters for every one he walked. Then his season fell apart thanks to a combination of an elbow injury and truly horrific luck – he had a .464 BABIP (!) and a strand rate of 49% (!!!!!) in his last eight turns.

Assuming health – and there have been no red flags this spring – Nola should be one of the best bargains of 2017. I’ve been beating this drum for months. You probably get the idea at this point, but Nola is of particular value in points leagues given his excellent K-BB%.

 

More Points Leagues Analysis & Draft Values