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Trading Up: Pitching Category Targets

This article is the fourth in our series on trade and acquisition targets for the second half of the season.

Part 1: Top-50 Players to Target
Part 2: Mid-Tier and Bargain Targets on Offense
Part 3: Mid-Tier and Bargain Pitchers
Part 4: Offensive Category Targets
Part 5: Pitching Category Targets

Each section focuses on players who offer strong value for that specific category while not crippling a team in other categories.

Editor's Note: Get any full-season MLB Premium Pass for 50% off, with exclusive access to our season-long articles, 15 in-season lineup tools and over 200 days of expert DFS research/tools. Sign Up Now!



It is worth noting that with only about ten to twelve starts left per starting pitcher, it may take two pitchers to make a sizeable change in some categories, especially ratio stats. For ERA and WHIP, in particular, your best strategy may be to move an offensive player for an SP1 or SP2, and then target one of the players below.

There is a section on saves and closers at the end, but the primary guidance there is to watch the trade market in these final 48 hours. For each profiled player, 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.

Each player profile provides a rest-of-season projection for the player. Areas of particular strength are bolded. Areas of particular weakness are listed in red. Projections are arranged as W/ERA/WHIP/K/QS. 

Projected rest-of-season averages for starting pitchers in a 12-team league:

Wins: 4
ERA: 3.86
WHIP: 1.23
Strikeouts: 53 (roughly 8.25 K/9)
Quality Starts: 5



Dallas Keuchel: Keuchel’s 3.53 ERA is right in line with his career numbers, but his strikeout numbers are the lowest they’ve been in the last three seasons. He only has eight wins this year, but he’s averaging 6.2 innings per start for the Astros, so he should own at least two more wins this year. That’s ignoring the fact that the Astros have one of the stronger bullpens in baseball. Keuchel has consistently pitched well, he plays for an elite offense, and he has the benefit of a strong relief corps to defend his wins. Fortunately for buyers, those aren’t fully reflected in his trade trends and his rankings, so his value remains somewhat depressed.

ROS Projection: 7/3.60/1.20/56/7


J.A. Happ: Happ might be the best bargain for owners looking to acquire wins. The logic is the same as Keuchel’s: Solid ERA, an MLB-best relief corps, and a high-scoring offense. The trade to New York helps with those last two. Happ’s ERA is likely to be around fantasy average, but it should be better than his current 4.18. At the very least, he won’t have to pitch against the Yankees anymore. His 2018 ERA against all teams other than the Yankees is 3.59. He’s recently been traded for Jose Martinez, Anibal Sanchez, and Kyle Shwarber.

ROS Projection: 6/3.87/1.20/63/5

Honorable Mention: Zack Godley and Jose Quintana



Charlie MortonNormally, we’d be looking for strong pitchers on poor teams, but the best player to fit that description is Jacob deGrom, whose price remains as high as any pitcher other than Max Scherzer. Paradoxically, Morton is an excellent pitcher on a great team. He just happens to be old. Morton is my second favorite target for owners focusing on ERA. He’ll likely regress towards 3.30 or 3.40, but that’s better than most pitchers available at his price. Morton has a wide range on the trade market, but I’ve seen him exchanged straight up for Travis Shaw, Miguel Andujar, and Asdrubal Cabrera. He does pose a legitimate injury risk. However, like Keuchel, the Astros don’t have to overexpose Morton. He’s also in line for strong win numbers and strikeouts.

ROS Projection: 6/3.38/1.21/56/6


Miles Mikolas: See the WHIP section.

Honorable Mention: Alex WoodVince Velasquez



WHIP is a difficult category to target because of the category's high correlation to successful and high-value pitchers.

Miles Mikolas: Mikolas’ price has risen slowly, but steadily all season. Despite that, he still offers the best value for ERA and WHIP. So far this season, he’s produced a 2.83 ERA and 1.07 WHIP.  Meanwhile, his FIP, xFIP, and SIERA all suggest regression because they’re based off batted-ball expectations that struggle with pitchers like Mikolas, who benefits from his ability to manage hard-contact and keep the ball on the ground. I put his write-up in WHIP though because he offers elite value in this category. While I still think it’s reasonable to expect some regression for his ERA, he is still good enough that he deserves to be a primary recommendation in both categories. Interestingly, Mikolas gets traded for other pitchers with better name-brands and “higher ceilings.” He’s gone in exchange for Chris Archer, Mike Clevinger, and David Price.

ROS Projection: 5/3.29/1.10/49/6


Masahiro Tanaka: If you only need to improve your WHIP and don’t need ERA help as well, Tanaka is a strong value. Expect Tanaka’s ERA to continue lagging behind his xFIP and SIERA. He simply gives up too many home runs per flyball. He can command quality pitches, and he’s talented enough to generate strikes and keep men off base, but he is prone to lapses that end in home runs. He should offer above-average strikeouts and wins with a fantasy-average ERA, but his true value is WHIP. He’s recently been traded straight up for Adam Jones, Daniel Murphy, and Tyler Anderson, all of whom are talented, but the range leads me to believe owners are frustrated enough they want some semblance of value but not much.

ROS Projection: 6/3.88/1.16/59/4

Honorable Mention: Stephen Strasburg (on DL)


Anyone pitching against the Padres, White Sox, or Phillies. All three teams have K-rates over 25%. The Padres, in particular, have one of MLB’s worst offenses and its highest strikeout rate at 25.5%.

Robbie Ray: Ray may or may not end the season with a respectable ERA. He’ll probably get his final season-long number near his career average of 4.17, but he’s not going to be the Cy-Young candidate that many owners and analysts expected him to be. He’s been plagued by injury and shaky command again this season, but his swinging-strike rate remains an excellent 13.1%. He could reasonably maintain his 12.02 K/9 rate for the rest of the season and provide another five wins. If he can stay healthy, he should offer more strikeouts than Gray or Castillo. He’s been moved in trades for Wilson Contreras, Justin Smoak (in an OBP league), and Raisel Iglesias.

ROS Projection: 5/3.87/1.26/72/4


Jon Gray: This year, Jon Gray has been the champion of innings with multiple strikeouts and multiple runs. His ownership levels and trade value has been erratic, and he’s still unowned in many leagues. In his two starts since returning from AAA, he’s been excellent (1.25 ERA), but he’s shown glimpses of excellence during other short stints. However, Gray has consistently managed to strike batters out. His 13.2% swinging strike rate support the legitimacy of his 28.2 K% and 11.09 K/9. In all likelihood, he’s going to be better than his 5.16 ERA and 1.37 WHIP, but you can’t count on league average numbers in either category. Fortunately, if you’re buying him for the strikeouts, you don’t need regression towards the mean in either one of those. You might get that positive regression and a true SP2, but right now, you can buy Gray for his strikeouts alone.

ROS Projection: 4/0/3.91/1.29/64/5


Luis Castillo: Castillo is owned in just over 50% of leagues, so he is largely available on waiver wires and the trade markets. His season-long K/9 is only 8.56, but his swinging strike rate is 14.0%, tied for fifth among league leaders. The plate discipline numbers indicate that he’s due for an increase in his strikeout rate. Unfortunately, he’s been almost as erratic as Gray this season, but he hasn’t been as consistent with the strikeouts. If he’s available on the waiver wire or at a negligible cost, he should be a cheap source of strikeouts the rest of the way.

ROS Projection: 5/0/4.01/1.25/60/4

Honorable Mention: Nick Pivetta, Freddy Peralta, Mike Foltynewicz

Quality Starts

Andrew Heaney: The Angels offense and season are a mystery to me, and it’s possible Heaney could earn another seven wins this season or another 3. Currently, he’s sitting at an even .500, but he has 13 quality starts in his 19 games. Admittedly, Heaney has had a few awful starts this season, but outside of three terrible games, he’s been a model SP3. Even with those poor starts, he still owns a 3.64 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP. Heaney’s innings pitched per start is a relatively mundane 6.1. However, once we remove those three games, Heaney’s average jumps to 7 IP/S. For leagues that value quality starts over wins, that’s a huge value that is being obscured by modest numbers elsewhere.

ROS Projection: 4/3.70/1.20/58/7


James Shields: Shields is old, unflashy, and available almost everywhere. Despite owning a 4.53 ERA, Shields has managed to earn a quality start in 59% of his starts this season. That number is comfortingly close to his career number of 61%. This year, he’s limiting home runs and hard contact. His strikeout numbers are the worst of his career, but he can still generate swings and misses when he needs them. If you can tolerate substandard production elsewhere, he's a free target who should add another six quality starts to your roster.

ROS Projection: 3/4.30/1.31/50/6


I don't recommend trading for anyone. It is the MLB trade deadline though, so watch the news feed. Currently, the Mets have an unstable situation with Anthony Swarzak and Robert Gsellman. Swarzak is the primary target here, but they’re both owned well under 50%. In addition to closers for sub-.500 teams, keep a particular eye on Keone Kela and Raisel Iglesias. They’ve been linked to and scouted by specific teams. If they’re moved, the guys under them offer strong opportunities for saves. For Kela, I’d snag Jose Leclerc. For Iglesias, Jared Hughes would be my first acquisition, but Amir Garrett’s strikeout ability is closer to the traditional closer.


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


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