With REAL BASEBALL set to start on Sunday (with three games no less!), most fantasy drafts have either occurred or are set to happen very soon. With that in mind, we’re set to put a wrap on our positional avoid series with the final chapter: pitchers.
Pitchers are as volatile as they come in fantasy baseball, as no pick truly feels safe. Sure, Clayton Kershaw will dominate on the mound, but will he make 30 starts? As such, many fantasy players wait on pitchers looking to draft aces well after they have taken a couple bats. This only makes their aces all the more risky and the whole cycle continues. Considering pitching makes up half up most league's categories, though, pitchers are of the utmost importance.
With that said, we’ll take a look at three pitchers (two starters and a reliever) who you would be best served to avoid when it comes to drafting in 2017. There is a world in which these three end up outperforming their current draft position, but it’s not as likely as some of the safer picks out there. Let’s meet these three.Editor's note: Get 50% off any MLB Premium Pass. Draft guide, cheat sheets, 200 days of DFS access, and over 20 premium tools. Dominate your leagues all year long! Sign Up Now!
Pitchers Who May Bust in 2017
Jake Arrieta (ninth in RotoBaller SP rankings; ADP of 32 in NFBC)
Two years ago Arrieta won many a fantasy player his/her league thanks to a season in which he won 22 games and posted an ERA of 1.77. There were some signs that he wouldn’t repeat in 2016, and those signs bore out in reality, as Arrieta slipped to 18 wins and a 3.10 ERA. Still very respectable numbers, but not dominant as he was in 2015.
This year, Arrieta is being drafted right around where you’d expect if he were to put up a carbon copy of 2016 - not among the truly top tier of pitchers but right behind them. If we simply take the “he’ll be somewhere between 2015 and 2016” tack, this would make Arrieta a strong pick. It is much more likely that 2016 was a step in a downward direction rather than a tough-luck season, though.
Arrieta has now seen his K/9 drop in each of the last three seasons, despite a league-wide trend in the opposite direction. Arrieta finished 2016 with a K/9 of 8.67, only a touch above league average (8.10 K/9). Now because of the high inning total he was able to reach once again, he tallied more total strikeouts (190) than all but 14 other pitchers in baseball, but if this trend continues in 2017, Arrieta could see that figure drop into the 175 range - not spectacular from someone being drafted so early.
There’s reason to believe his K/9 may continue to slip as well. His velocity dropped either 1.84 or 0.9 mph based on whether you go by Brooks Baseball or FanGraphs. Either way, his swinging strike rate dropped 0.6 percent in 2016 and that trend could well continue as Arrieta is now 31 years old.
Finally, there’s the issue of his spotty command, which was one of his biggest issues back in his Orioles days, when he couldn’t break into the league successfully. Arrieta nearly doubled his walk rate in 2016 (3.47 BB/9 up from 1.89), a sign that is as troubling as any. Top all that off with a second half (4.19 FIP) that was worse than his first half (3.03 FIP) and you have a pitcher I’ll be avoiding in 2017.
Drew Pomeranz (53rd in RotoBaller SP rankings; APD of 240 in NFBC)
Pomeranz is coming off his best year as a fantasy pitcher, which, as has been noted time and time again, is never a good time to draft a player. With Pomeranz, a good chunk of that expanded value came thanks to finally staying healthy enough to top 100 innings. That and escaping Coors Field helps too. After five seasons in the majors in which he never threw more than 96.2 innings at the major league level, Pomeranz tossed 170.2 innings in 2016 - a significant jump. Maybe it is not surprising then to hear that Pomeranz has already landed himself on the DL to start the 2017 season. He had been struggling all spring and was officially added to the DL with a forearm flexor strain, according to the Boston Globe.
It’s not just the injuries that scare me with Pomeranz. He is one of the most infuriating pitchers to own in fantasy. Here’s an abbreviated look at his 2016 game logs after he moved to Boston last season:
Road vs. LAA (decent matchup): 5.1 IP, 5 ER, 4 K
Home vs. NYY (tough matchup): 5.1 IP, 1 ER, 5 K
Road vs. CLE (tough matchup): 7.2 IP, 2 ER, 6 K
Home vs. NYY (oh he did well last time in this situation): 3.2 IP, 4 ER, 3 K
What the heck man? With Pomeranz being one of those play-him-based-on-the-matchup type pitchers in a ten-team mixed leagues, he makes it exceptionally difficult to do so with crazy all over the map results start after start. Add in his 4.59 ERA last year after being traded to Boston, and I’m staying away even at his relatively cheap price.
Craig Kimbrel (fourth in RotoBaller RP rankings; ADP of 88 in NFBC)
Of the three pitchers listed here, Kimbrel is my biggest avoid. That may seem like heresy to fantasy players who have been around for years, as Kimbrel has been a go-to name in the closer's business since 2010. That’s part of the reason, though. Kimbrel is “only” 28, but he’ll be 29 soon and he is showing signs of losing his elite skills.
The most straight-forward way of showing that: his ERA has climbed each of the past five years. Now that ERA started at a miniscule level, but here are his last five ERAs: 1.01, 1.21, 1.61, 2.58, 3.40. There are plenty more signs, though, many of them 2016 specific. In 2016, Kimbrel saw his ground ball rate plummet to 29.4 percent after five seasons over 40 percent. In turn, his fly ball rate jumped 48.0 percent, more than 11 percent higher than his career rate. As such, Kimbrel was a bit lucky not to see his home run rate jump through the roof. Partially tied to the change in batted balls allowed, Kimbrel allowed a career-high 33.0% hard hit ball rate - again a bad sign for allowing extra base hits. Kimbrel’s velocity was measured at mostly the same pace in 2016, but hitters were pulling him more often than ever, which suggests his perceived velocity may have slipped as he has aged.
It wasn’t just the contact that Kimbrel allowed in 2016, he also saw his already high walk rate jump into a scary realm. With a walk rate of 5.09 BB/9, Kimbrel finished behind only seven other pitchers with as many innings in 2016, in terms of walk rate. When you add in the fact that Kimbrel is also currently the most expensive pitcher in his tier (as a Tier 2 closer), he becomes one of the biggest avoids in the entire fantasy world for me. Instead, target Tyler Thornburg, who should be returning from a DL stint right around the time Kimbrel implodes and forces a change at the closer position.