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Trading Up: Mid-Tier and Bargain Buys (Pitchers)


This article is the third in our series on trade targets for the second half of the season. Part 1 focused on players generally ranked in the top 50. Part 2 focused on mid-tier and bargain targets for offense. This installment focuses on pitchers ranked outside the top 50. Part four will focus on players to target for specific categories rather than positional improvement.

For these pitchers, I’ve included both ownership levels and consensus rank (CR) to indicate their current valuation and reputation.

After each player listed, I’ve tried to include an account of one-for-one trades that I’ve actually seen. However, I’ve only done that if I’ve noticed some pattern within the market, and there are examples to represent how the player is perceived. Unfortunately, some of these players have been traded infrequently or only in complex deals, which makes it impossible to provide sample trades to reflect their perceived value.

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Starting Pitchers with over 50% Ownership

Alex Wood (85%, CR 134)

Originally, this spot was dedicated to Eduardo Rodriguez, but his injury forced me to upgrade Wood from Honorable Mention into my starting buy-low lineup, and there’s no doubt that Alex Wood’s stock is down. While other pitchers on this list have had some deeply encouraging performances in the last two weeks, Wood has had back-to-back six-inning, three-run outings. He earned only ten total strikeouts in those two games and did little to reassure owners after his lackluster first half. That makes a perfect opportunity to buy. Wood’s 3.92 ERA is well above his 3.46 FIP and 3.51 xFIP. He’s walking fewer batters than any point in his career. His K-BB% is a strong 16.9%. His O-Swing% is third among qualified pitchers at 35.9%, sitting right between Chris Sale and Carlos Carrasco. However, this is where the hype train slows a bit. Wood’s velocity is down this year, as is his swinging-strike rate, his K%, and his hard-hit rate is up by 10%. Last year, Wood was pitched like an ace. This year, he was drafted like a guy with the ability to finish in the top-20 starting pitchers. His ERA has hovered around four, and he’ll barely surpass his 150 strikeouts from last year. Those issues are already built into his price and reflected by the rise in his FIP and xFIP versus his numbers from 2017. Don’t buy him thinking that he’ll be a top-75 player the rest of the season. Buy him believing he can be a top-100 player, but that his floor is 150, which is where he’s at right now.

One-for-one trades in exchange for Brandon Crawford, Jose Peraza, and Salvador Perez.

 

Jameson Taillon (75%, CR 139)

In the case of Wood and Gonzales, it’s less likely either one will dramatically change the trajectory of your season because of the limited upside relative to their costs. They’re stable but undervalued assets. Taillon, on the other hand, looks like the type of player who is available for almost nothing and could turn into a top-20 pitcher. There are several reasons for optimism: Taillon’s ERA (3.91) has lagged behind his FIP (3.60) and xFIP (3.56) all season long. In May, he started throwing a slider as a brand new pitch, and it has already provided significant results for his ability to get outs. Moreover, his .291 xwOBA is 11th between Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas. It’s easy to forget that Taillon has been through Tommy John surgery and testicular cancer in the last three years. It’s a miracle that he’s a major league pitcher at all. The further he gets from those physical traumas, the better he’ll be. In the marathon of a 162-game season, the improvement may not happen this year. However, he’s been excellent recently, assembling a 3.17 ERA, 3.26 FIP, and 3.27 xFIP. Fortunately, that’s been disguised by a handful of erratic and subpar performances in that timeframe. Unless an owner is watching Taillon’s rolling averages, they probably won’t have recognized the continued improvement since the start of the season. Taillon is being traded for an interesting set of players. All of the names below are guys I’ve seen dropped in 12-teamers, but each one has real upside. The message to me is simple: Taillon is available for next to nothing. His name value makes owners feel as though they can’t drop him, but they will readily part with him if given any potential value.

One-for-one trades in exchange for Kyle Tucker, Denard Span, Joey Gallo, and Rougned Odor

 

Marco Gonzales (66%, CR 281)

Gonzales has taken major steps forward this year by using his curveball more and introducing a cutter as his primary fastball. The changes have rendered his four-seam fastball more effective as well. Results have been obvious. However, Gonzales remains relatively underappreciated because of the prevailing attitude that Seattle is not all that good, Gonzales’ position as a number two starter, and his relatively mundane strikeouts. Steamer doesn’t predict much for him, but that makes sense given that he finished 2017 with a 6.08 ERA. Conversely, he currently owns a 3.27 FIP and 3.48 xFIP. Those numbers are aided by his strong 16.5 K%-BB% and ability to keep the ball on the ground (46.1 GB%). All of the above has helped Gonzales to control games in a way he hadn’t been able to previously. He’s a viable SP3 who is often traded like an SP4 or SP5.

One-for-one trades in exchange for Yasmani Grandal, Christian Yelich, Shane Greene, and Adam Jones.

 

Starting Pitchers at or under 50% Ownership

We’re moving into the realm where players can be added rather than having to trade for them. If you find yourself needing to trade for one of these players, it’s an opportunity to do a package trade and get back two players you want, while treating the pitchers below as a "sweetener" or "throw-in." You know this type of trade: Act as though one of these players is the secondary piece you're targetting rather than a player who is just as important as the other guy.

Andrew Heaney (50%, CR 228)

It upsets me that Andrew Heaney is owned in only 50% of leagues. My wife tells me that I shouldn’t get angry about what other people do with their pretend baseball teams, but I can’t help myself. Heaney tends to be a command pitcher who utilizes his changeup and slider to get batters out. His value isn’t necessarily that we should expect him to dramatically improve this season, but that there is good reason to expect he’ll continue to perform at this level. Moreover, 11 of his 43 ER this season came in two road starts against Boston and Seattle. Heaney’s schedule for the rest of the season is relatively neutral, just avoid starting him at Houston and Seattle, and he should manage to return strong SP3 numbers for you.

One-for-one trades in exchange for Shane Bieber, Rich Hill, Travis Shaw, Mike Foltynewicz.

 

Nick Pivetta (37%, CR 185)

Pivetta, like Taillon, is another high-upside acquisition relative to his current cost. His 4.58 ERA is well above his 3.74 FIP and 3.39 xFIP. Like Heaney, there are notable home and away splits, especially against stronger teams, but two of Pivetta’s worst three starts have come at home, so his issues are murkier. On the other hand, Pivetta is a more dominant pitcher with the ability to generate strikeouts at a higher rate. Pivetta appears to have been playing with his pitch mix this season, and he’s had poor results when he’s gotten away from his slider. If he can harness his pitches while continuing to use the slider as the backbone of his approach, he should finish with over around 200 Ks, while pulling his ERA back in line with his FIP and xFIP.

No representative one-for-one trade samples.

 

Kyle Gibson (36%, CR 253)

It seems like nobody wants Kyle Gibson. Age, history, employment by Minnesota have all conspired to make a pitcher with 115.2 innings of 3.42 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and 114 strikeouts owned in less than 40% of leagues. Kyle Gibson is a different pitcher than he used to be, and if he had only taken three years in Japan to refresh his brand (a la Miles Mikolas), fantasy owners would be giving him more consideration. Gibson has added velocity to all of his pitches, is controlling them better, and using them to induce more swinging strikes and poor contact than ever before in his MLB career. Last season, he didn’t have a single pitch with a positive P-Val. This year he has three, and his slider has been one of the best in baseball. If you want, you can think of him as a poor man’s Miles Mikolas. Gibson is due for a little more luck; his Pythagorean expectation has him with another two wins. Plus the Twins’ pitchers have the second easiest ROS schedule.

One-for-one trades in exchange for Dylan Bundy and Adrian Beltre.

 

Andrew Suarez (23%, Unranked)

After a poor May, Andrew Suarez has delivered a 2.28 ERA, 2.97 FIP, and 3.25 xFIP. His 15.5% K-BB% is good enough if he can maintain it, but Suarez’s real strength is the ability to keep the ball on the ground. His 52.5% groundball rate is eighth among pitchers with at least 80 IP. He’s been getting positive production from his pitches all season. Particularly, he uses a four-seamer and slider thrown at similar speeds from similar arm angles to get outs.

One-for-one trades in exchange for Blake Parker and Albert Almora Jr.

 

Zack Wheeler (22%, CR 384)

If you look at Wheeler’s starts since May 22, he looks like a top-40 pitcher: 3.63 ERA, 3.24 FIP, 3.86 xFIP. The reason to pick that date is that Wheeler showed a noticeable uptick in velocity. In fact, his velocity since that date has been the best of his career. It’s been good enough to earn him a 33.6% O-Swing rate and an 11.4% swinging-strike rate. The only concern is whether he can keep the walks under control. Still, Wheeler is an interesting option considering that he appears to be healthy finally and enjoying an increase in his velocity.

One-for-one trades in exchange for Asdrubal Cabrera and Jose Urena.

 

Honorable Mention

Miles Mikolas (87%, CR 142) - Fantasy owners don't trust starting pitchers with low strikeout totals. If strikeouts aren't your number one priority, what do you care.

Zack Godley (77%, CR 158) - Godley has given owners plenty of reason not to trust him. In a deep league, you may be able to capitalize on that if someone is trying to get rid of him.

Shane Bieber (51%, CR 353) - Just ahead of Blake Snell in K-BB%, but his prospect status may make him a poor value.

Jon Gray (47%, CR 225) - The peripherals aren't wrong about him, but the results may be in his head by now.

Matt Harvey (30%, CR 362) - 3.64 ERA since his move to Cincinnati, but expect some regression.

Ervin Santana (17%, CR 366) - Still on the DL. Still a sneaky source of value.

Seth Lugo (15%, CR 385) - When the Mets trade Syndergaard, they just have to put Lugo back in the rotation right? Not necessarily, but monitor the situation. Obviously, someone will get injured sooner or later. It's the Mets.

Nick Kingham (11%, CR 355) - I believe in Kingham. It's the Pirates' organization that concerns me.

 

Relief Pitchers

With the trade deadline coming up, it’s a terrible idea to go out and target any reliever who might be considered a buy-low right now. If you are looking for wildcards who might be available at steep discounts, these two are real possibilities. Honestly, I feel ugly about the three names below, but if you feel compelled to trade for relievers, I’m going to recommend David A. Marcillo’s piece from last week. His Reddit AMA may also be particularly helpful to owners.

Jeurys Familia (84%, 200) - One-for-one trades in exchange for Kenta Maeda and Jesse Winker

Roberto Osuna (45%, 228) - One-for-one trades in exchange for Adam Jones and Marcus Semien

Victor Arano (24%, UR) - One-for-one trades in exchange for Ian Happ and Brandon Nimmo

 

Feel free to ask questions or run trades by me @D_Emerick on twitter.




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