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When it comes to fantasy drafts, really for any sport, what we all should be most focused on is the word value. For every player you are considering, you should be asking yourself “what value is this player most likely to provide?” ADP, recent form, and similarly-priced players should all be taken into consideration when attempting to identify the value in a particular player. This article will compare the value of two starting pitchers with similar numbers but vastly different ADP’s, veteran hurler Charlie Morton and the emerging Ross Stripling.

Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Charlie Morton enjoyed a career-best year in 2018 with the Astros, establishing himself as an All-Star and high-end fantasy asset with 15 wins and 201 strikeouts over 30 starts (167 innings pitched). Now, he must live up to a large contract in Tampa Bay while battling the beasts of the AL East.

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Ross Stripling is an intriguing sleeper with his promotion to the starting rotation due to Clayton Kershaw’s shoulder injury. He flashed his potential his first two years but really shined in 2018, posting a 3.02 ERA and registering 136 strikeouts over 21 starts (122 innings pitched). Which SP will be the better value in the middle rounds of fantasy baseball drafts in 2019?

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Charlie Morton - ADP 119

35-year-old Charlie Morton has seen a career revival since joining Houston in 2017. In 2017, Morton went 14-7 with a 3.62 ERA across 25 starts, racking up 163 K’s in 146 2/3 innings pitched (26.4% K-rate) and an impressive 1.19 WHIP. Morton raised his game even further in 2018, notching a 15-3 record with a 3.13 ERA (seventh in AL) and a 1.16 WHIP over 30 starts. His 15 wins were a career-high and ranked 10th in the AL, while he also tallied 201 strikeouts across 167 innings pitched and held opponents to a .213 batting average (fifth in AL).

Morton’s 2018 season was also impressive from an analytical standpoint. His 3.42 xFIP, 95.7 MPH Average Fastball Velocity, 28.9% strikeout rate, 31% Hard Hit %, 11.9% Swinging Strike %, .207 expected batting average, and .324 expected slugging percentage all ranked in the 80th percentile or higher among qualified starters in 2018.

Additionally, Morton ranked in the 97th percentile for Statcast’s “Curve Spin” statistic, highlighting how deadly Morton’s curveball, cutter, sinker, and splitter were last year. At his advanced age, Morton is not exactly an innings-eater - he has only eclipsed 160 innings twice in his 12-year career (2011 and 2018). However, that hasn’t been a huge detriment to his fantasy value as he has proven to be an asset when he’s out there (and to be fair, he has made 20 or more starts in six of the last eight years).

This year he'll be out to prove that his two-year run of brilliance with the Astros was not a fluke, as Morton signed a two-year contract with the Tampa Bay Rays in the off-season to join Blake Snell atop the rotation. The move to Tropicana Field is about neutral compared to Houston’s Minute Maid Park - Houston’s field suppressed runs a little more, while the dome in Tampa Bay ranked seventh-lowest for Park Factor home runs and Minute Maid Park was about middle-of-the-pack. However, Morton will be facing the daunting AL East (and their homer-friendly stadiums) much more frequently now, and that has to put a slight damper on expectations.

Steamer projects Morton’s fantasy value to take a big step back in 2019 with a 10-8 record, 3.50 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and a 26.3% strikeout rate over 152 innings pitched. Those projections feel a little bit light based off of what Charlie Morton has shown the past few years, and his deflated ADP makes him an intriguing fantasy pick in the middle rounds.

 

Ross Stripling - ADP 207

Ross Stripling is still in the earlier stage of his career, and thus, is a bit more of a wild-card than Morton when it comes to projecting his future output. He is 29 years old and entering his fourth season in the majors, all with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He started 14 games his rookie year with limited success, fared slightly better out of the bullpen in 2017, and then exploded on to the fantasy scene as a starter in 2018. Last year, Stripling went 8-6 over 21 starts (122 innings pitched) with a 3.02 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 136 strikeouts (27% strikeout rate). He also recorded a few impressive analytical statistics, holding hitters to a .223 expected batting average, .266 xWOBA (90th percentile), and a 21.6% Hard Hit %. His 11.2% Swinging Strike % ranked ahead of studs such as Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Jameson Taillon.

Perhaps most impressively, Stripling’s walk rate was an astounding 4.4% (fifth lowest among pitchers with 120 innings or more). As for Park Factor, Dodger Stadium is relatively pitcher-friendly. It ranks fourth-lowest in Park Factor Runs and middle-of-the-pack for Park Factor homers. With the recent news of ace Clayton Kershaw’s lingering pitching shoulder injury keeping him out past Opening Day, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has green-lighted Stripling to begin the season in the starting rotation.

Although his average fastball velocity of 91.7 MPH (34th percentile) needs to improve, his ability to miss bats and his elite control, with a top-tier offense to support him, make Stripling an exciting late-round value pick. Stripling's 22.7 K-BB% in 2018 was firmly in "elite" territory.  Most projection systems see Stripling taking a step back, which is fair, but we have to recognize that any projection system is going to treat a Stripling-like breakout conservatively, especially when considering his rotation job security with the Dodgers depth of arms. Stripling's xWOBA was above average on all four of his primary pitches, including an eye-popping .187 and .243 on his curve and changeup.  At his ADP cost, it is certainly worth taking that gamble. It’s all about the value, people.

 

Final Verdict

Is there enough value present to select Ross Stripling over Charlie Morton in the ADP 120 range? Absolutely not. However, there are some compelling reasons to believe both starting pitchers will outperform their current ADP, and you could definitely secure nice value by selecting these players when their ADP comes creeping up.

Morton’s move to the AL East puts a dent in his value - but there’s still no reason to believe that he won’t continue providing useful numbers in strikeouts, earned run average, WHIP, and wins. Targeting Morton in front of Kyle Hendricks (ADP 126), Robbie Ray (ADP 124), and even Luis Castillo (ADP 114) should yield positive value.

Ross Stripling is being selected about 100 picks later than Morton and is coming off an impressive 2018 season. He looks to have the confidence of the Dodger staff with his recent promotion to the starting rotation, though it's anyone's guess as to how long he'll remain there. Despite that uncertainty, his control and K-rate make the case for Stripling to outperform his ADP and provide great value at his current cost. Targeting Stripling ahead of Joe Musgrove (ADP 222), Jake Arrieta (ADP 216), and Kevin Gausman (ADP 203) will be a very profitable move.

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