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When drafting a pitcher, the vast majority of owners put an emphasis on upside, selecting a player based on his best-case scenario. That’s what makes Diamondbacks starter Robbie Ray so intriguing, and why he has a 120 ADP.

After lighting up the league in 2017, people are still holding out hope that the best is yet to come for the hard-throwing lefty. However, on draft day proceed with caution when putting such a high value on a player with control issues as bad as Ray.

A little farther down the draft board, a pitcher with similar upside may be found in Andrew Heaney. Is the cost differential justified or should you hold out for a less-heralded left-hander?

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Robbie Ray - 120 ADP

The 27-year-old southpaw was flat out filthy in 2017. The 1.15 WHIP was nice, the 2.89 ERA was even better, but the 32.8 K% was what really made him a stand out. Only Chris Sale (12.93 K/9) had a higher K/9. Going into 2018, Ray was expected by many to at least come close to replicating those gaudy numbers. Those expectations seemed lofty then and are certainly unreasonable heading into 2019.

During his outlier 2017, Ray had the fifth-lowest ERA in all of baseball (2.89), even though his FIP (3.72) ranked 17th. His career BABIP currently sits at a relatively high .314, but during his All-Star season two years ago, it sat at .267. He also exceeded his career average strand rate (74.9) by almost 10% (84.5). The point being he outperformed all of his peripherals in a largely unsustainable way.

The most glaring hole in Ray’s game is his control. In his All-Star season, he managed to survive with a 10.7 BB%. It’s a testament to his electric stuff that his lack of control didn’t manifest to a WHIP higher than 1.15. However, when putting so many men on base, there is a high likelihood for some really bad outings.

Last season the expected regression came, and it all fell apart for Ray. His off-speed stuff was almost as effective as 2017 but his fastball became a liability. In one year, the whiff rate on his 4-seamer dropped from 26.1% to 19.9%, and his BB% on that 94mph went from bad (12.4%) to worse (16.6%).

While Ray still would have finished fifth in the league with a 31.4 K% if he pitched enough innings to qualify, all his numbers regressed to the mean last year. His ERA (3.93) was once again lower than his FIP (4.31,) his BABIP (.292) negatively regressed much closer to his career average, and his WHIP was an alarming 1.35.

Ray is by no means a lost cause, nor will he be a fantasy bust. In fact, his 3.23 ERA in 65.1 innings after the All-Star game is encouraging. However, owners need to temper expectations and anticipate drafting a pitcher that will give them production more in line with his 2018 season. Meaning an inconsistent, high strikeout, high WHIP pitcher, with a high-threes ERA. He will be of use to a fantasy team but that is the kind of production that can be found much later than 120th overall.

 

Andrew Heaney - 168 ADP

While we may have already seen the best that Ray has to offer (and it's darn good), there is a former first-round pick that is just starting to scratch the surface of his potential - Andrew Heaney. Heaney is going to take the mound on Opening Day for the Angels in an attempt to build on a very encouraging 2018. Yet, his current ADP is 168, meaning he could be one of the best value picks of the year.

The former 2012 ninth-overall pick only went 9-10 with a 4.15 ERA in 2018, which will help him sneak under the radar in most drafts. His lefty-righty and home-away splits were extreme last year, but are sure to become more consistent. His numbers against right-handers (4.77 ERA,) will improve and he can hopefully carry his home success (3.22 home ERA) on the road.

His final numbers don’t jump out, however, when compared to Ray’s they start to look a little more impressive. A 6.0 BB% was less than half of Ray’s 13.3%. His strike to K/BB ratio last year was 4.0, the highest of Ray’s career was 3.07 in 2017 due to his remarkably high walk rate. Ray garners more attention because strikeouts are flashy but Heaney’s K-BB% was 18.0, an insignificant 0.1% lower than Ray’s (18.1%.) Heaney’s 3.99 FIP was also lower than Ray’s 4.31.

The Angels ace should have actually finished with better overall numbers. They took a hit after he faulted down the stretch, but that can likely be attributed to pitching 180 innings, after a previous high of 105.2 in 2015. He should also mature as a pitcher after it looks like he is now fully recovered from Tommy John surgery.

From the start of May until the end of June, the former prospect had a 3.25 ERA to go with a 1.07 WHIP. It’s not unreasonable to think Heaney can match these numbers across an entire season in 2019. Very few starters compare to Ray in terms of swing-and-miss stuff, but Heaney is no slouch. A 9.0 K/9 indicates that if he continues to grow his innings then he could reach 2000 K’s, and owners won’t have to deal with such a pronounced lack of control.

 

The Decision

Simply put, Heaney is trending upward whereas Ray, and the Diamondbacks as a team, seem to be heading in the opposite direction. Losing Goldschmidt and A.J Pollock will surely result in a much lower record than their 82-80 2018, and thus less win potential and run support.

Heaney is going 48 spots, exactly four rounds later than Ray, when realistically he should outperform the 2017 All-Star in wins, quality starts, WHIP, and ERA.

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