NL Starting Pitcher Sleepers (2019 Fantasy Baseball)

by Elliott Baas | @ElliottBaasBB | Featured Writer
Feb 7, 2019

Zack Godley has the strikeout skills to rebound from a rough 2018.

With pitchers and catchers due to report in less than a week, fantasy baseball draft season is just around the corner. We’re going to help you get ahead of the competition by offering up some juicy starting pitcher sleepers in the National League. All drafted after the top-75 pitchers, per FantasyPros’ consensus average draft position, they present good values come draft day.

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Zack Godley (ARI) – Consensus ADP: P87
Zack Godley was expected to reach the next level in 2018, but things quickly spiraled out of control, literally, as Godley had an untenable 10.2% walk rate and a bloated 4.74 ERA. Even with those struggles, there were plenty of positive takeaways. He pitched to a 3.82 FIP and had a solid 23.4% strikeout rate. Godley’s curveball, the pitch that drove his 2017 breakout, still dominated last season. Batters hit just .192 against it with a 20.1% swinging-strike rate and 53.7% ground-ball rate. Despite his poor surface stats, Godley is an above-average strikeout and ground-ball pitcher, two desirable traits in any major league hurler.

Godley was the victim of some bad luck last season; he had a .324 BABIP against and 67.5% strand rate. Those metrics are considered mostly out of a pitcher’s control, and both were significantly above the league’s averages. The low strand rate adds up pretty easily when combining Godley’s walk issues with his high BABIP against. He allowed a ton of baserunners last season and had an ugly 1.45 WHIP to show for it. Walks will probably always be an issue, mainly because he throws his curveball over 35% of the time. If he can get his walk rate under 9%, as he did in 2017, Godley could have another great season in 2019.

Kenta Maeda (LAD) – Consensus ADP: P91
Kenta Maeda moved to the bullpen mid-season thanks to the Dodgers’ wealth of starting pitching, but he slots back into the rotation now that they traded Alex Wood. Maeda was dominant as a starter last season, posting a 3.85 ERA, 3.30 FIP, and 10.62 K/9. Despite his performance, his bullpen stint seems to have put Maeda in the back of fantasy owners’ minds, as he is being drafted as the 91st pitcher off the board. It’s hard to even call him a sleeper since he’s proven his ability as a starting pitcher in past seasons. However, his ADP suggests owners have forgotten about him. Maeda boasts a solid five-pitch mix that includes two strikeout pitches in his slider and changeup, both of which Maeda threw more often to much success in 2018.

The biggest concern for Maeda should be innings, as he only threw 125.1 last season and has never thrown more than 175.2 in a season. Keeping his job as a starter shouldn’t be a problem, as Dave Roberts confirmed that Maeda will rejoin the rotation in 2019. Health is the biggest knock, as he has spent time on the disabled list in each of the last two seasons, but never missed more than two weeks of action. Although owners should expect more missed time, his performance when healthy makes Maeda a good value at his current ADP.

Joe Musgrove (PIT) – Consensus ADP: P121
Musgrove is something of an anti-Godley in that he has always been an elite control artist. Even as a minor leaguer, Musgrove never had a walk rate above 5%, and that ability carried over last year with a 4.7% walk rate in 115.1 innings. He gets it done with a five-pitch mix, boasting an above-average slider and changeup. Although Musgrove posted an uninspiring 7.8 K/9 last season, there is more strikeout potential in his profile. He had an 11.5% swinging-strike rate in 2018, and both his changeup and slider had swinging-strike rates above 16%. Pair those two secondary pitches along with a 94 mph heater, and there may be untapped strikeout upside.

He’s already got superb control and should limit home runs while pitching in Pittsburgh, meaning strikeouts are the only missing component in the good pitcher trifecta. Musgrove missed time with three separate ailments last season, but if healthy the 26-year-old could make strides towards becoming a mid-rotation piece in 2019 for both the Pirates and fantasy investors.

Trevor Richards (MIA) – Consensus ADP: P241
Trevor Richards is a pitcher that will go undrafted in most standard leagues, and perhaps even in some deeper leagues. (He doesn’t have an ADP on two of the five sites that factor into the consensus ADP.) On the surface, he appears to be a back-end rotation filler for the rebuilding Marlins, who didn’t show much last season. The former independent league pitcher finished 4-9 with a 4.42 ERA and 1.07 HR/9 last season, and his peripherals won’t blow anyone away, either. Richards had a 4.28 SIERA and 2.41 K/BB ratio in 2018. Despite those uninspiring numbers, Richards does have one thing that makes him very interesting (or at least worth paying attention to), and that’s an elite changeup. In 2018, batters hit .165 against the pitch with a .119 ISO and a monster 24.2% swinging-strike rate. To put things in perspective, batters hit .259 with a 16.8% whiff rate against Max Scherzer‘s changeup, .138 with a 16.5% whiff rate against Jacob DeGrom‘s changeup, and .177 with a 15.2% whiff rate against Zack Greinke‘s changeup. Richards’ changeup confounded batters as well as those of elite aces, and that alone makes him worth a late-round flier in 2019.

As good as Richards’ change is, the rest is a work in progress. His other two pitches, a four-seam fastball and curveball, are below-average pitches. Batters hit over .300 against both of them. His fastball averages just 90.8 mph, and that’s likely not getting much higher. The absence of a second good pitch is the reason he struggled at times in 2018, and Richards will need to develop one of them to better complement his changeup. However, any time an unknown pitcher displays an elite skill, they deserve to be on the fantasy radar. Richards is a good pitcher to draft late or at least watch early in the season. If nothing else, he should be a solid source of strikeouts, but with a step forward he could become a nice find for fantasy owners this upcoming year.

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Elliott Baas is a correspondent at FantasyPros. For more from Elliott, check out his archive and follow him @elliottbaasbb.

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