Pitchers to Target in Deep Leagues (Fantasy Baseball)

by Josh Shepardson | @BChad50 | Featured Writer
Apr 11, 2018

Nick Pivetta has already amassed 12 strikeouts in just 9 2/3 innings

Typically, I try to tout pitchers in this piece who are owned on under 20% of fantasy rosters. However, I’m slightly skirting my own rules to circle back to a flame-throwing youngster who was included in last week’s piece. Consider it a last call for scooping him up for basically free.

He’s joined by a handful of young pitchers who all call the National League East home, coincidentally. Two of those NL East pitchers are relievers with starter eligibility, and the duo happen to be teammates who are thriving in their new roles this season.

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Reynaldo Lopez (CWS): Yahoo! – 26%, ESPN – 22%
Last week, I suggested adding Lopez. I noted an increase in velocity in his first start of the year as well as a change to his repertoire from last season. One of those two things stuck.

In his second start, his average four-seam fastball velocity dropped. In his first start, the pitch had an average velocity of 97.25 MPH, per Brooks Baseball, and it dropped to a still strong 95.12 MPH in his second start. A two-MPH drop might seem like a red flag for injury, but looking at the flame-throwing righty’s game-by-game velocity readings at Brooks Baseball reveals Lopez’s velo has oscillated a few ticks from start to start, so this doesn’t look alarming. Furthermore, Lopez pitched well holding the Tigers to one unearned run on two hits, five walks, and five strikeouts.

What did stick was the usage of his new slider. Brooks Baseball and FanGraphs disagreed in pitch classification in his first start, but both deemed it a slider in his second start. In fact, he used the pitch more in his second start.

He threw it roughly 35% of the time versus Detroit. With the Tigers lineup featuring six right-handed batters and three hitters who batted left-handed against Lopez, he rarely had a reason to turn to his changeup. He throttled back the usage from 18% in his first start to 1.1% in his second start.

After two strong starts, Lopez’s ownership rate is likely to continue to rise. This is likely the last time his ownership rate will be low enough to include him in this piece, barring poor play that would render him an inferior option to roster anyway.

Sean Newcomb (ATL): Yahoo! – 19%, ESPN – 10%
Newcomb pitched 100.0 innings in 19 starts for the Braves last year, and he has pedigree as a guy who ranked on Baseball America’s and MLB Pipeline’s top-100 prospect list three times each and twice appeared on Baseball Prospectus’ top-101 prospect list, per Baseball Reference’s Prospect Rankings section. The 24-year-old southpaw had two tough tests to open the year. In his first start, he drew Washington’s loaded lineup and struggled. In his second start, he dominated the Rockies in Colorado holding them scoreless on five hits, zero walks, and nine strikeouts. Overall, he’s punched out 15 batters in 10.1 innings. The southpaw’s below-average control (12.5% BB% for the Braves last year and 9.1% BB% this year) has followed him up the ladder, but so has his ability to work around free passes with strikeouts.

The lefty’s spotty control will result in the occasional clunker, but his ability to strike out more than a batter per inning is quite useful. He should be rostered in 12-team mixed leagues and deeper formats, and he’s a viable streamer in shallower leagues, too.

Nick Pivetta (PHI): Yahoo! – 10%, ESPN – 4%
Pivetta was never a highly-touted prospect like the aforementioned Newcomb, but he did post some intriguing numbers in the minors.

Initially, he struggled mightily at the Double-A level in his first taste of that level in 2015. In 22 starts repeating the level in 2016, though, he spun a 3.41 ERA (3.75 FIP and 3.69 xFIP), 1.20 WHIP, 8.0% BB%, 21.6% K%, and 9.7% SwStr%, per FanGraphs. He concluded that season with a stellar showing in five starts at the Triple-A level, and he made five even more impressive starts at the Triple-A level last year.

In his 10 starts at the Triple-A level spread across 2016 and 2017, the righty twirled a 1.91 ERA (2.49 FIP), 1.01 WHIP, 5.4% BB%, and 28.6% K%. Perhaps he should have garnered some more love in prospect circles. Having said that. he was knocked around in 26 starts for the Phillies last year.

His 6.02 ERA was the third highest among starting pitchers who pitched at least 130 innings in 2017. Woof.

The advanced metrics were more kind, though. Hand his 4.87 FIP, 4.26 xFIP, and 4.32 SIERA as well as a 5.41 DRA, according to Baseball Prospectus, were more indicative of how well he pitched. Sure, they still weren’t fantasy-relevant numbers in almost any format, but it’s possible if he’d pitched to his true talent level last year, there would have been some buzz surrounding him entering his sophomore campaign.

Pivetta’s 2017 largely flew under my radar. However, Scott Spratt’s 10 Bold Predictions for 2018 post at RotoGraphs did put him on my radar as a watch option out the chute this year, and Pivetta’s first two starts have made him worthy of ownership in 14-team mixers or larger as well as some 12-team mixers.

The 25-year-old righty’s average four-seam fastball velocity of 94.4 MPH thus far is tied for 20th highest among all starting pitchers. He backs his cheddar with a pair of breaking balls — slider and curve. He’s entirely scrapped the changeup, but after it posted an ugly run value last year, per FanGraphs, it’s probably a wise move.

The lack of a changeup would be more alarming in regards to his ability — or perhaps inability — to get out lefties if he only threw one breaking ball, but having two breakers gives him a chance to change speeds and keep opposite-handed hitters off balance. I’m aware of his huge reverse platoon split last year, but his pitch mix doesn’t support that, making it highly possible it was a one-year fluke. Also, his Minor League splits support the notion last year’s reverse split in “The Show” was an oddity as opposed to something that’s sustainable.

The second-year big-leaguer has an outstanding 13.5% SwStr% and 30.8% K% through two starts, and they nicely complement his 2.79 ERA (1.48 FIP, 2.65 xFIP, and 2.46 SIERA), 1.14 WHIP, and 5.1% BB%. The right-hander’s two turns have only totaled 9.2 innings, so don’t go overboard falling in love with his numbers, but scoop him up if you’re pitcher needy or have dead weight on your roster you can cut for a higher-ceiling option.

Luiz Gohara (ATL): Yahoo! – 9%, ESPN – 8%
I called out Gohara as a stash option in this week’s Fantasy Baseball Weekly Planner, and I want to reiterate the fact he’s a strong stash while also providing a quick update. Gohara is slated to pitch three innings in an extended spring-training game Thursday, and David O’Brien of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution adds that he could pitch in a High-A game soon. Forward-thinking gamers whose roster hasn’t been ravaged by injuries would be wise to scoop the young southpaw out of the free-agent pool now.

Robert Gsellman (NYM): Yahoo! – 5%, ESPN – 4%
Seth Lugo (NYM): Yahoo! – 2%, ESPN – 2%
It looks like the Mets might have struck gold thanks to their surplus of healthy starting pitchers to open the year. Gsellman and Lugo started 22 and 18 games, respectively, for the Mets last season. This year, they both open in the bullpen, and the right-handed duo’s stuff is playing up in shorter appearances.

Gsellman’s four-seam fastball’s average velocity has risen from 93.71 MPH last year to 95.04 MPH this year, and his sinker’s jumped from 93.3 MPH to 94.48 MPH, according to Brooks Baseball. Lugo’s velocity has risen, too. Lugo’s four-seamer’s velocity has ticked up from 91.97 MPH to 94.01 MPH, and his sinker has nudged up from 91.14 MPH to 92.75 MPH.

With enhanced stuff in the pen, they’ve done an elite job of missing bats (14.3% SwStr% for Gsellman and 16.5% SwStr% for Lugo), and the bat missing has resulted in robust strikeout rates (37.5% K% for Gsellman and 30.4% K% for Lugo). In addition to striking batters out at high clips, the two are coaxing worm burners at elite rates (61.5% GB% for Gsellman and 58.3% GB% for Lugo).

If picking just one of the two relievers, I’d lean Gsellman’s way. However, both can help fantasy squads in ratios and strikeouts, and they have potential to chip in holds in leagues that count them. They also both have the added benefit of being starting pitcher eligible, hence their inclusion in this particular piece.

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Josh Shepardson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Josh, check out his archive and follow him @BChad50.

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