Pitchers to Target in Deep Leagues (Fantasy Baseball)

by Josh Shepardson | @BChad50 | Featured Writer
Jun 13, 2018

This week’s pitching suggestions are an especially lightly-owned group. The highest ownership rate among them is a 22% ownership rate for a certain rookie right-hander at Yahoo!, but, otherwise, the rest are owned in under 15% of Yahoo! and ESPN leagues. Furthermore, an included southpaw is a true deep-league suggestion with an ownership rate south of five percent at ESPN and Yahoo!.

*The stats included are as of June 12, and they do not include stats accumulated in that day’s starts for a couple of the pitchers highlighted below who were the starting pitchers that night.

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Jaime Barria (LAA): Yahoo! – 22%, ESPN – 12%
At the time of writing, Barria hasn’t gotten the ball for his Tuesday night start. And, short of him suffering an injury (which would result in me deleting his inclusion, anyway), I’m going to be a fan of rostering him in 12-team mixed leagues or larger regardless of the results. He’s earned that type of faith by pitching very well in his first seven starts. Sure, the advanced metrics aren’t as glowing as his 2.48 ERA, but they’re not bad, either. In seven starts spanning 36.1 innings entering his start last night, the 21-year-old righty tallied a 3.87 FIP, 4.32 xFIP, and 4.11 SIERA, per FanGraphs, as well as a 4.15 SIERA, according to Baseball Prospectus. Again, those aren’t elite numbers, but they’re solid in deeper formats. Perhaps more importantly, though, there are some other intriguing numbers within his statistical profile.

The rookie is besting the league average walk rate (8.6% BB% in 2018) with a strong 6.1% BB%, and his 20.4% K% belies his much more impressive plate discipline numbers. Among starters with a minimum of 30 innings pitched this year, he ranks second in O-Swing% (37.4%) and 23rd in SwStr% (12.4%). In other words, he’s doing an elite job of getting hitters to fish out of the zone and doing an excellent job of coaxing empty swings. That’s a pretty nifty combo, and coupled with his aversion to walks and solid — with potential for more — strikeout numbers, he looks like a pitcher who should be rostered in 12-team mixers and deeper formats.

Mike Montgomery (CHC): Yahoo! – 14%, ESPN – 9%
Yu Darvish‘s DL trip prompted the Cubs to push their swing-man southpaw into the rotation, and all he’s done is shine in three starts. A trio of starts spanning just 17.2 innings isn’t a large sample, obviously, but it’s good and shouldn’t be ignored. He’s pitched at least 5.2 innings in all three of his starts, and he’s surrendered one run or fewer in each of his turns. He’s been a ground-ball inducing machine with a 62.3% GB% and a single-game low of 53.8% GB%. He’s been a below-average source of strikeouts in his three starts with only a 15.2% K%, but he’s offset the low-punchout total with an elite 3.0% BB%, and his plate discipline numbers provide optimism for at least a league-average strikeout rate going forward.

Montgomery’s enticed hitters to chase at an insane 41.7% O-Swing%, and his 11.7% SwStr% in his three starts is outstanding, too. The Pirates struck out just one time in six innings in his last start, yet Montgomery still managed to net a 40.7% O-Swing% and 10.5% SwStr%, so it’s not as if Montgomery’s incapable of missing bats. In his three starts this year, he has a 1.02 ERA (3.22 FIP, 3.95 xFIP, and 3.77 SIERA) and 0.74 WHIP. This year’s work is off-the-charts good and unsustainable, but he was at least respectable starting for the Cubs last year as well. In 14 starts spanning 69.1 innings for the Cubs last year, he totaled a 4.15 ERA (3.94 FIP and 4.01 xFIP), 1.14 WHIP, 7.3% BB%, 19.6% K%, and 59.2% GB%. The 28-year-old lefty is making a case to remain in the rotation even after Darvish returns, and Tyler Chatwood‘s smoke-and-mirrors show is begging for regression that could make the decision to leave Montgomery in the rotation even easier. Like Barria, Montgomery should be rostered in all 12-team mixers and deeper leagues.

Zack Wheeler (NYM): Yahoo! – 12%, ESPN – 10%
Wheeler entered last night’s start on a nice little roll. In his last four starts prior to last night’s turn in the rotation, he’d pitched at least six innings in each, struck out four or more in each, and allowed two earned runs or fewer in three of four. During that four-game stretch, he’d tallied a 2.52 ERA (2.54 FIP, 3.71 xFIP, and 3.61 SIERA), 1.12 WHIP, 4.8% BB%, 23.1% K%, and 9.5% SwStr%. Wheeler brings plus fastball-velo (95.9 MPH average fastball velocity in that four-game stretch, per FanGraphs) to the table with a pair of breakers (slider and curve) and a changeup and splitter (according to both FanGraphs and Brooks Baseball).

I’m not as bullish on Wheeler as I am on Barria and Montgomery, but he’s a viable option in 14-team mixers or deeper. Having said that, I believe he’s a better pitcher than his full-season 4.57 ERA, and I think his 3.77 FIP, 4.02 xFIP. and 4.00 SIERA are better indicators of his ROS outlook. Although, last night’s messy start (not all his fault, Paul Sewald served up a grand slam to Ozzie Albies upon relieving Wheeler’s bases-loaded mess) provides a reminder that he’s not a risk-free option.

Jason Vargas (NYM): Yahoo! – 4%, ESPN – 1%
We’ve now reached the deep-leagues portion of the piece. Though, I like Vargas a pinch more than his aforementioned rotation mate. The crafty southpaw doesn’t bring the electric arsenal to the table that Wheeler possesses, but he’s started to settle into a groove after opening the year on the disabled list. In the 35-year-old’s last four starts spanning 18.0 innings, he’s totaled a 3.50 ERA (2.66 FIP, 3.65 xFIP, and 3.74 SIERA), 1.11 WHIP, 6.7% BB%, 24.0% K%, and a 11.1% SwStr%. During his recent run of success, the formula for success has been fairly straightforward. He’s getting ahead of hitters with a 65.3% F-Strike% in his last four starts, and he’s nibbling with just a 38.7% Zone%. Given Vargas’ lack of electric stuff, it’s a smart approach if he can keep hitters off balance while stealing strike one. The southpaw’s also done a fantastic job of avoiding hard contact with just a 28.9% Hard% allowed.

The veteran lefty doesn’t have much room for error, and things can go south quickly. Look no further than last year for evidence of that. He earned an All-Star berth with a 2.62 ERA (3.80 FIP and 4.78 xFIP) and 1.15 WHIP in the first half of 2017 before imploding for a 6.38 ERA (5.94 FIP and 5.16 xFIP) and 1.60 WHIP in the second half. Vargas has only a 35.6% GB% this year and history of allowing fly balls at a high rate, so I’d advise sitting him in the game’s most homer-friendly parks. On the plus side, his home park, Citi Field, has the 10th lowest park factor for homers (0.941).

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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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