Pitchers to Target in Deep Leagues (2019 Fantasy Baseball)
This week’s pitcher selections are headlined by a 30-year-old starter who’s proving a helpful member of his team’s rotation after spending a few years honing his craft abroad in a hitter-friendly league. He’s joined by a repeat visitor from the first week of the season as well as that player’s teammate.
Merrill Kelly (ARI): Yahoo – 21%, ESPN – 16%
I was reluctant to tout Kelly after his first start because he failed to miss bats and enjoyed some good fortune on batted balls. He was outstanding in his second start, though, and there were even some positives in his last turn’s worst start to date. Through three starts spanning 19.0 innings, he’s totaled a 3.79 ERA (backed up by his ERA estimators), 1.05 WHIP, 4.0 BB%, and 22.7 K%, per FanGraphs. The 30-year-old righty’s 9.0 SwStr% isn’t overly impressive, but a 17.4 SwStr% on his changeup gives him a put-away pitch. The depth of his arsenal (four-seamer, cutter, sinker, curve, and changeup) should allow him to earn some looking strikeouts if his sequencing keeps hitters off balance.
His curve also has some promise as an additional bat-missing weapon. After inducing just one whiff on 36 thrown in his first two starts, he generated three empty swings on 13 in his most recent start, according to Brooks Baseball. Out of 211 curves thrown a minimum of 50 times this year, per Baseball Savant, Kelly’s ranks 35th in average spin rate (2,738 rpm). He projects to make his next three starts at Chicago against the Cubs, at Pittsburgh, and at home against the Yankees. He’s fringe-rosterable in 12-team mixers, but he should be owned in all leagues deeper than that.
Lucas Giolito (CHW): Yahoo – 7%, ESPN – 5%
If I’m not careful, I’m going to be labeled a Giolito apologist. In all seriousness, he has made one good start out of three, but he should probably be cut some slack after his most recent turn. As Lucas’ father, Rick, noted on Twitter, it was pouring at Yankee Stadium during the young righty’s most recent start. Rick mentioned no one was sharp, and to support that point, opposing starter J.A. Happ’s Zone% and F-Strike% were both more than five percent worse than his marks for the season.
Giolito’s four-seamer continues to feature increased velocity from this time last year, and he’s getting ahead with strike one at a higher rate this season (55.4 F-Strike% last year and 60.0% this season). He’s also throwing exactly half of his pitches in the strike zone this year compared to a 43.7 Zone% last year, so his walk rate should improve. The 24-year-old righty still hasn’t completely figured it out, but he’s shown enough promise to continue holding out hope in dynasty and deep keeper leagues. Furthermore, he’s still worth rostering in 14-team mixed leagues and deeper. He’s startable on Wednesday night — and streamable in even 12-team mixers — at home against a Royals team he dominated to start the year. After that, he’s projected to draw the lowly Orioles and Tigers, so there’s potential for him to string together a few good starts against soft competition.
Ivan Nova (CHW): Yahoo – 2%, ESPN – 2%
With a favorable upcoming schedule for the Pale Hose, it probably shouldn’t be a complete surprise to see another of their hurlers get the nod. Nova is projected to draw the Tigers in Detroit, the Orioles in Baltimore, and the Tigers in a home start for his next three turns. While Tyler Glasnow is rightfully getting a ton of attention for pitching at an extremely high level since being dealt away from Pittsburgh last year, another former Bucco has quietly done some nice things.
In three starts spanning 15.1 innings, Nova has tallied an ugly 5.28 ERA that’s in stark contrast to his 2.29 FIP, 3.63 xFIP, and 4.06 SIERA. The veteran’s ERA ballooned as a result of one messy start against Seattle’s — at the time — scorching hot offense. His other two outings were one-earned-run quality starts. Among the points of interest in Nova’s profile are a 54.0% GB rate, continued elite control (4.6 BB% this season), and tantalizing gains in swings outside the zone and swinging-strike percentage. Both respective marks are the highest of his career, but before dismissing the gains as a three-game fluke, consider the fact he’s scaled his fastball usage way back (66.9% in 2018 and 57.4% this year) and re-introduced a slider to his arsenal. He last threw the pitch in 2013 at just a 1.4% rate after throwing it 14.0% of the time in 2012. The slider has a gaudy 21.7 SwStr% this year, and his changeup and its 17.9 SwStr% gives him a second put-away pitch. Nova also still throws his curve, and his pair of breaking balls should make him death on right-handed batters this year.
Despite the solid swinging-strike percentage on his changeup, it’s a below-average offering that has prevented him from keeping left-handed batters in check. Nova should be sat against extremely lefty-heavy lineups or offenses featuring a handful of talented lefties near the top of the order. Detroit and Baltimore lack such left-handed hitting talent, making him a solid add for this three-game stretch in 14-team mixed leagues and deeper. He’s even a viable streamer in 12-team mixers for pitcher-needy gamers.