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With the inherent injury risk to pitchers and innings management becoming more prevalent in baseball, nailing starting pitchers becomes even more important on draft day.

After the big four of Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, and Corey Kluber are off the board, seemingly every pitcher has some sort flaw or concern going into 2018. This article will look at three NL starting pitchers that are values at the current average draft position (ADP), and three that are overpriced.

Average draft position is based on NFBC ADP as of 03/06/2018. Check out our current starting pitcher rankings for mixed leaguesNL-only leagues, or go premium to find all our dynasty ranks!

Editor's Note: Stay on top of our MLB off-season news and fantasy analysis all year round. Read our daily fantasy columns about MLB prospects, dynasty outlooks, player outlooks and much more. It's always fantasy baseball season here. Let's Go!

 

Undervalued NL Starters

Zack Godley Arizona Diamondbacks – 46th SP, 128th Overall

Godley’s 2017 breakout seems to have been overshadowed by teammate Robbie Ray. While Godley won’t put up strikeout numbers like Ray, his 9.58 K/9 is above average and 13.3% swinging strike rate is elite. Unlike Ray, Godley’s performance doesn’t carry a host of concerning underlying metrics. Godley’s 3.37 ERA was supported by a 3.41 FIP and 3.32 xFIP. Godley also did an excellent job of limiting fly balls, with just a 26.2% fly ball rate. His success was brought on by increased curveball usage. Godley embraced his best pitch by throwing it 35.6% of the time. The pitch was extremely effective for him too, yielding just a .162 average against and .074 ISO against. He also got batters to whiff at the pitch 21.88% of the time.

While the curveball was a big part of Godley’s success, he also saw increased effectiveness on all his pitches. His improvement looks like the result of a new release point. Godley lowered his horizontal release point by a foot, and this mechanical change has allowed him better command of all his pitches. The only negative aspect of Godley’s 2017 was his 3.08 BB/9. Godley has shown the ability to limit walks while in the minors and walks seem to be the last piece that need to fall into place for Godley to become an ace. The fact that Arizona will utilize a humidor at Chase Field in 2018 is just gravy. Godley is a great value going in the 11th round of 12-team leagues.

Johnny Cueto, San Francisco Giants – 57th SP, 153rd Overall

It’s easy to disregard players over 30, especially players over 30 coming off the worst season of their careers. Between his age and 2017 struggles the former top-20 starter has tumbled all the way to 57th among starting pitchers. Blisters caused Cueto to pitch only 147.1 innings last year after three straight seasons with over 210 innings pitched. When he pitched he wasn’t his usual self, with a 4.52 ERA, 4.45 xFIP, and 3.24 BB/9. While those numbers look ugly, his .322 BABIP against and 1.34 HR/9 were uncharacteristically high. Cueto’s biggest issue was his sinker. His sinker got pummeled in 2017, with a .359 batting average against and a .505 slugging against. He also lost two miles per hour on his sinker and his fourseam.

Given his age and near 1,800 major league innings, 2017 could be seen as the beginning of the end for Cueto. However, it seems Cueto may have been the victim of injuries and a juiced ball. Younger pitchers that rely on the sinker like Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman also suffered from blister issues and lost effectiveness with the pitch. With the MLB seemingly making initiatives to correct the juiced ball problem going into 2018, it is conceivable that Cueto’s issues correct themselves. It is also possible that Cueto suddenly and sharply declined and won’t recover. With his track record of reliability and bargain draft price, Cueto is a dice roll worth the gamble this draft season.

 Jameson Taillon, Pittsburgh Pirates – 72nd SP, 193rd Overall

After having a breakout rookie year in 2016, Jameson Taillon struggled to repeat his success in 2017. His 4.44 ERA was over one run higher than his 2016 ERA, and his 3.10 BB/9 was his highest walk rate at any level when pitching over 40 innings. Taillon had a 3.48 FIP and .352 BABIP against last year, indicating that he may have been the victim of bad luck. For context, in 2017 the league average BABIP against was .297 and league average strand rate was 72.6%. He also had a below-average 29.6% hard contact rate and above average 22.1% soft contact rate. The type of contact Taillon was allowing should not have resulted in such a high BABIP against. Getting Andrew McCutchen and his -16 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) out of centerfield should help Taillon’s hit and run prevention.

Taillon is an imperfect quantity. He’s had a rough injury history and has a sub-par 7.95 K/9 and 8.2% swinging strike rate over his short career. Still, Taillon has both limited flyballs, with just a 27.5% flyball rate, and obtained soft contact with a 20.0% rate in 237.2 big league innings. If he can have a season without a major injury concern Taillon should be able to maintain an ERA closer to his 3.48 FIP and exceed 8 K/9. Going at nearly pick 200 this is a gamble worth taking on a 26 year old former top prospect.

 

Overvalued NL Starters

Robbie Ray, Arizona Diamondbacks - 15th SP, 48th Overall

A lot went right for Robbie Ray in 2017. His 2.89 ERA and 12.11 K/9 over 162 innings made him an elite starting pitcher. Ray was one of three qualified starters with more than 12 strikeouts per nine innings, along with Chris Sale and Max Scherzer. Like Zack Godley, he found success by upping his curveball usage from 5.3% to 21.9%. He looked like he finally put it all together and married his strikeouts with consistent run prevention. However Ray benefited from a .267 BABIP against and an 84.5% strand rate, the second-highest among qualified starters. He managed to achieve this with a league-high 40.4% hard contact rate against and while raising his already atrocious walk rate from 3.67 BB/9 to 3.94 BB/9. Those numbers make it unlikely that Ray comes close to repeating his sub-3.00 ERA performance.

Ray also had drastic home/road splits. At home he posted a 4.08 ERA, 4.45 FIP, and 4.68 BB/9. On the road, he had a 1.86 ERA, 3.09 FIP, and 3.31 BB/9. Away from Chase Field Ray was utterly amazing, but he looked a lot more pedestrian at home. The installation of the humidor should help his home performance, but it’s hard to know exactly how the humidor will affect his stats. A high-cost player should not have a major portion of his value tied to an unknown variable. With his draft price, Ray isn’t a pitcher that can be used selectively. A pitcher going in the top-50 overall needs to be used in every matchup, and Ray couldn’t be trusted at home against tough opponents. Ray also cannot be trusted to provide a high volume of innings relative to other pitchers going in the top 20. With such a high amount of walks and strikeouts, Ray’s pitch count adds up quickly. He averaged just 5.8 innings per start in 2017, and 5.44 in 2016. He should not be expected to go six or seven innings regularly, and he had just 16 quality starts in 2017. He had less quality starts than pitchers like R.A. Dickey, Andrew Cashner, and Mike Leake to name a few. Repeating his 2017 seems unlikely, but his draft day price would require him to have a full repeat.

Luis Castillo, Cincinnati Reds – 33rd SP, 99th Overall

Castillo was incredibly impressive after being called up in late June last season. His 3.12 ERA and 9.87 K/9 over 89.1 innings made him look like a fantasy stud in the making. There is a lot of upside with Castillo; he could be a 200-strikeout pitcher in the future. But Castillo’s draft cost does not adequately factor in the risk he carries. Castillo’s performance benefited from a .247 BABIP against and an 80.1% strand rate. It is unlikely that he would be able to maintain such a low BABIP and high strand rate over a full season. If Castillo's BABIP goes up then his 3.22 BB/9 could really start to hurt him.

An overlooked contributing aspect to Castillo’s breakout season was his elite 58.8% ground ball rate. Combined with his 27.3% strikeout rate meant that batters had an especially difficult time reaching base against him if they could make contact. While these rates are a mixture for success and will suppress base runners, this ground ball rate is far above anything Castillo has done in the minors.  Castillo’s sinker allowed him to have such a high ground ball rate, but it’s hard to believe that Castillo can maintain a 58.8% ground ball rate when his minor league ground ball rate was always between 40%-50%. A slight dip in ground ball rate won’t kill Castillo, nor would a dip in strand rate or a rise in BABIP. But if all of these things regress a little bit, they will combine to affect Castillo’s overall performance. He’s a great talent, but Castillo is going too high for a pitcher with under 90 career innings.

Alex Wood, Los Angeles Dodgers - 41st SP, 114th Overall

Alex Wood had an amazing first half in 2017, with a 1.67 ERA, 2.04 FIP, and 10.82 K/9. Natural regression kicked in during the second half, and a lingering shoulder injury exacerbated his problems. After the All-Star break Wood had a 3.89 ERA, 4.76 FIP, and a measly 6.78 K/9. His velocity also dropped precipitously over the course of the season. In April his sinker was clocking in at 93.52 MPH, and it lowered every month, finishing at 90.46 MPH in October. Wood has struggled with injuries throughout his career, and with a career 8.33 K/9 he carries similar injury risk to pitchers like Rich Hill and Lance McCullers without big strikeout upside.

Like some of the other pitchers in this article Wood had a low .267 BABIP against and a high 80.1% strand rate. It’s likely that both his BABIP and strand rate regress towards his career averages of .301 and 75.9%, causing his overall performance to fall somewhere closer to his second half than his first half. It would be hard to expect Wood to pass 150 innings again in 2018 given his history of shoulder and elbow problems, and he is already dealing with an ankle injury this spring. Draft capital is better spent waiting a little for pitchers like Jon Lester (119th), Zack Godley (128th), or Sonny Gray (143rd). Those pitchers have similar upside, less injury risk, and won't cost as much.

 

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