Pitchers to Target in Deep Leagues (2019 Fantasy Baseball)
There are no repeat visitors from last week’s piece, but Frankie Montas and Lucas Giolito should be held in the respective leagues where I recommended adding them. Matt Harvey, on the other hand, is a drop. This week’s highlighted pitchers are all grey beards, as the entire quartet is north of 30 years old.
Michael Pineda (MIN): Yahoo – 25%, ESPN – 16%
Pineda hits the upper bounds of ownership rate (25%) for inclusion in this piece. He’s also the youngster of the highlighted pitchers as a 30-year-old righty. The former Mariner and Yankee spent the entire 2018 season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, and he also had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder back in 2012. In other words, he has a pair of significant procedures in his rear-view mirror, but his most recent is far less worrisome than the former.
The veteran’s heater is down approximately two ticks from his last season in the majors, but his velocity has fluctuated from month to month in past seasons. More importantly, it hasn’t limited his effectiveness through his first two starts. The Twins have handled him with kid gloves, limiting him to 40 pitches in his first start and 80 pitches in his second, per ESPN. Despite the limited work, he made those pitches count by allowing only two runs on five hits and two walks with 10 strikeouts across nine innings. He picked up a win in his most recent start in Philadelphia against the Phillies’ loaded lineup.
According to FanGraphs, Pineda’s racked up an impressive 13.3% SwStr rate that supports his gaudy 31.3 K%. His control has returned post-TJ surgery with a 6.3 BB%, and he’s coaxed grounders on half of the balls put in play against him. Pineda has routinely posted ERA estimators that are much better than his ERA, and problems with yielding taters have been the biggest culprit in his most recent healthy seasons. Now that he no longer calls Yankee Stadium home, it’s possible — if not probable — his gopher-ball issues will regress closer to his career mark.
However, Pineda has also struggled to strand baserunners. His LOB% has bounced around from below average in the minors and majors to average or better. His 72.5% LOB rate in 2017 was nearly identical to the league average of 72.6% that year, per FanGraphs. Pineda is worth rostering in standard mixed leagues and anything larger as a likely helper in WHIP and strikeouts. He has the attainable potential to be an asset in ERA, too, if he can maintain an average strand rate and enjoy some home-run regression.
Trevor Cahill (LAA): Yahoo – 7%, ESPN – 6%
In the offseason, I first sang the praises of Cahill here. I once again touted him later in the offseason here. After three starts in 2019, I maintain that he has top-50 SP skills yet is grossly under-owned in fantasy leagues. The 31-year-old righty struggled a bit on Opening Day against his former team, the A’s, coughing up four runs on six hits and one walk with three strikeouts in six innings. He has since made back-to-back quality starts against the Mariners’ white-hot offense and Brewers’ loaded lineup. In those two starts combined, he yielded only three runs on eight hits and one walk while recording 13 strikeouts. He should be universally rostered. In fact, I have him rostered in a 10-team standard mixed league.
CC Sabathia (NYY): Yahoo – 6%, ESPN – 6%
Sabathia isn’t the elite, front-of-the-rotation starter he was at his peak, but he’s reinvented himself nicely. The grizzled vet began regularly using a cutter in 2016, and he’s recorded a 3.76 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 20.0 K% in 481.1 innings since fully embracing that offering. The lefty’s ERA estimators (4.31 FIP, 4.25 xFIP, and 4.35 SIERA) suggest he’s been a bit lucky, but that’s not necessarily the case. Among pitchers who’ve thrown a minimum of 400 innings since 2016, no one has limited hard contact better than Sabathia (26.7%), and his soft contact (24.4%) has been the best as well.
In 29 starts spanning 153.0 innings last season, Sabathia totaled a 3.65 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, and 21.1 K%. Those are rock-solid marks that look legitimately repeatable. The lefty is expected to be activated from the injured list Saturday and replace Jonathan Loaisiga in the rotation. Forward-thinking gamers with an IL spot to work with can get a little sneaky and stash Sabathia now, and then use the free spot for streaming purposes prior to his activation. Furthermore, he can be left in an IL spot for his first start back and then activated for his next turn after he proves he’s back to full health.
Clay Buchholz (TOR): Yahoo – 6%, ESPN – 2%
Buchholz’s excellent 2018 season was one of last year’s more surprising happenings. In 16 starts spanning 98.1 innings for the Diamondbacks, he cooked up a dazzling 2.01 ERA and 1.04 WHIP. The ERA estimators (3.47 FIP, 4.01 xFIP, and 4.08 SIERA as well as a 3.74 DRA, according to Baseball Prospectus) weren’t as flattering, but they were solid if unspectacular. The 34-year-0ld righty wasn’t signed until the first week in March, and he opened the year on IL in order to work on his conditioning. He made one start for Triple-A Buffalo, coughing up five runs (three earned) on four hits (all homers) and zero walks with five strikeouts. Limited to 70 pitches, it’s unlikely he makes the leap to a full 100 pitches in his first turn with the Blue Jays. I wouldn’t advocate using him in his start, scheduled to take place Saturday against the Rays. However, he’s a worthy addition in leagues larger than 14-team mixers and AL-only formats.