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Pitcher Targets Under $5 - Salary Cap League Values

It's a cliché to say that those managers who finally dip their toe into salary cap leagues never go back to snake drafts. Snake drafts have their own charm. There is simply more going on, and thus, more fun to have when participating in a salary cap draft. There become no bounds on how one wants to build their roster.

Snake drafts require managers to keep their eye on late targets to fill out their roster. In salary cap leagues, however, a manager can build their entire roster around multiple stars and then continually fill in with late-round values. The cheaper players are key; finding those that elevate and extend a roster.

For this exercise, we're targeting pitchers under $5. That rules out roughly the top 200 players in drafts. From this vantage point, some managers may look for high-risk, high-reward plays to strike big with a small investment. There are plenty of safer guys to acquire as well, to balance out a stars-and-scrubs draft approach.

Be sure to check all of our preseason fantasy baseball rankings for Roto, Points, H2H, dynasty, best ball, prospects and more:

 

James Paxton, Seattle Mariners

Cost: $3

The weird, unparalleled 2020 season notwithstanding, we know what we are getting from Paxton: great numbers, with lesser volume due to expected IL stints. As mentioned in the piece about hitters under $5 to target in drafts, a lot of 2021 value will be determined by whether managers over or underrate what happened last season. With Paxton, it was a lost year. There is nothing to read into other than a drop in velocity caused by his forearm injury and accepting that he is bound to get hurt again this season. Hopefully, it will be a couple of 10-day stints and nothing more because when Paxton is on the mound, he is still a premier starter.

It has been five years since his strikeout rate was anything below 28 percent. Not counting the five starts in '20, it's been six years since his xFIP was above 4.03. If Paxton's health was not a concern, he would be a $17-25 pitcher. We get a steep discount off that talent because he is going to miss time. It seems like a tradeoff worth making unless your league doesn't utilize any IL slots for some reason.

 

Cristian Javier, Houston Astros

Cost: $3

There were questions as to whether Javier would be guaranteed a rotation spot for Houston in 2021. Justin Verlander is going to miss the season; Framber Valdez fractured his finger; Forrest Whitley sprained his elbow. There is no longer a question, even after the Jake Odorizzi signing. Javier is going to be a rotation starter. '20 was Javier's first time in the Majors, and his final numbers were up-and-down. He didn't miss enough bats. His xFIP was 1.38 runs worse than his ERA. He pitched to a .194 BABIP. And yet, there is reason to be excited about his future. For one, his strikeout numbers in the minors are much better than he displayed in his first taste of the highest level. The best individual sample we have is probably at Double-A in 2019. He pitched 74 innings and collected a 39 percent K-rate.

A .194 BABIP also seems unsustainable, but he pitched to nearly the exact same rate in 2019 at Double-A and Triple-A. It's because of the contact he gives up. Even during struggles in '20, Javier finished in the top 10 percent of the league in hard-hit percentage allowed, at 29.3 percent. He also gave up an average exit velocity of 86.9, in the 74th percentile. Sure, his BABIP allowed was .194...but his xBA was .185. It was no fluke.

 

Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox

Cost: $3

Earlier in the offseason, the NFBC ADP metrics had Sale priced as if he was going to pitch nearly the whole season. We knew that wouldn't be the case. Now, there seems to have been an overcorrection, or at least, a correction we can take advantage of. Getting Sale even for a third of the season at $3 is a bargain worth hunting.

First, the injury recovery: Sale had Tommy John surgery in March of 2020. Thus, we are already 12 months removed from that procedure. Players' returns obviously vary but usually range anywhere from 12 to 18 months. It means there is a distinct possibility that Sale doesn't see the mound at all this season, but the chance he pitches seems worth the risk.

Pre-2019, Sale was one of the best pitchers in baseball. It isn't necessary to run through the numbers, but just know that he finished in the top six of Cy Young voting every single season from 2012 through 2018. If that guy is back, $3 is worth it for three starts. But even if prime Sale doesn't resurface until 2022, the "bad" version of him from 2019 still did the following: had a 35.6 percent K-rate, a 1.09 WHIP, and a 2.93 xFIP. In other words, his worst season was still pretty darn good.

 

Nate Pearson, Toronto Blue Jays

Cost: $2

Pearson could be considered a stand-in for high-upside prospects ready to break out if given the opportunity. He just happens to have a better opportunity than most. Once he recovers from his groin strain, a spot in the Toronto rotation should be his. And then comes the unleashing of his 100 mph fastball and 65/70 grade slider. For fantasy managers that want to take a chance on someone cheap who could end up anchoring a team for years, this is a chance worth taking.

We got just a taste of Pearson's repertoire in '20. He wasn't very good, but it wasn't enough to go off of. In fact, Pearson has only thrown 141.1 professional innings in total. That's where we could see a silver lining to his current groin strain. It was unlikely that he could handle a full workload this season anyway. He only threw 18 innings in '20. If he's ramped back up to 2019 levels (101.2 innings across three levels), that still only translates to 18-20 starts. Whatever manager selects him in the salary cap draft should expect that volume as a max, whether the missed time comes early, late, or both.

 

Closers

Don't pay for closers. The good ones aren't good for long. The bad ones become good again. More than half the teams rotate through them at the drop of a hat. Starting the season with closers on a roster is important though. Even if you feel comfortable being able to acquire them repeatedly as the season goes on, you don't want your fantasy team to fall too far into the hole (in roto leagues). Anthony Bass (RP, MIA) is going for $3 and will likely be the Marlins' closer on Opening Day. Tanner Scott (RP, BAL) could be Baltimore's closer now that Hunter Harvey is on the 60-day IL and will only cost $2 on average. There are a few other closers who are in a similar boat.

All of them may be out of the job by summer or earlier. Some may pitch poorly but continue to garner save chances. Whatever the case, come away from the draft with closers to start accumulating the category. From there, the draft is only the first step to competing in saves, but this way won't cost you much of your budget at all.



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