Pitchers to Target in Deep Leagues (2019 Fantasy Baseball)

by Josh Shepardson | @BChad50 | Featured Writer
May 15, 2019

Grab Jimmy Nelson now before he makes his long-awaited return.

After featuring some SP-eligible relievers in this piece in recent weeks, I’ve opted not to do so this time. All three of this week’s highlighted hurlers are true starting pitchers. I’ve touted the headliner multiple times this year, and it might be the last call to get him with his ownership rate approaching 40% at one of the major fantasy providers and barely checking in under 25% at the other.

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Lucas Giolito (CHW): Yahoo – 38%, ESPN – 22%
Giolito’s brief IL stint leaves him short of the minimum number of innings pitched to qualify for the ERA title. With that in mind, among 125 starters with at least 30 innings pitched, the 24-year-old righty ranks 17th in strikeout rate (29.5%) and 34th in SIERA (3.83), according to FanGraphs. He’s not using smoke and mirrors to pile up punchouts, as his 11.9 SwStr% is tied for 36th. He’s also sporting a helpful 1.18 WHIP.

Giolito’s made the most of a pair of soft matchups in his last two outings, yielding only one run on seven hits and four walks across 14.1 innings while racking up an impressive 16 strikeouts against the Indians in Cleveland and Blue Jays in Toronto. However, the start before his back-to-back dominant turns is also noteworthy. He wasn’t nearly as brilliant while working around nine baserunners (seven hits and two walks) and allowing three runs in five innings, but he struck out seven facing Boston’s talented lineup. The start against the Red Sox was his first off the IL, adding to the degree of difficulty.

Giolito’s gaudy strikeout numbers haven’t come as the result of a few big showings, either. He’s struck out five or more batters in six of seven starts. Digging a little deeper provides further reason for optimism regarding Giolito’s rest-of-season outlook.

The young righty’s throwing a bit harder since his IL stint, reaching his highest average velocity (93.8 mph) on his fastball in his most recent turn. In fact, his three highest average velocity marks on the pitch have come in his last three starts. It also looks like he’s streamlining his pitch mix. In the righty’s first three starts of the year, he threw his curve 12.4% of the time. In his last four starts, he’s thrown the pitch just 4.9% of the time. FanGraphs has credited hitters with a 217 wRC+ against his curve this year, making it far and away his worst pitch. It doesn’t miss bats frequently with an ugly 3.8 SwStr%, and it’s been hammered for a 41.7 LD%. Perhaps he can get something out of the pitch by stealing strikes with it, but cutting way back on its usage in favor of his slider and changeup is wise.

Both his slider and changeup have been top-notch offerings this year. The former has a 23.6 SwStr% and -33 wRC+ against this season, and the latter has generated an 18.6 SwStr% and just a 15 wRC+ against. The dazzling combo of secondaries gives him the requisite offerings to tame lefties and righties. Giolito draws the Blue Jays in his next start, and he’s a usable option universally. I’d advise adding him anywhere he’s still available.

Corbin Martin (HOU): Yahoo – 36%, ESPN – 14%
If you told me entering the year Martin would be in Houston’s rotation before June without numerous injuries, I wouldn’t have believed you. Collin McHugh’s demotion to the bullpen opened the door, however, and here we are in May with the young righty on the starting staff. Martin checked in sixth on Houston’s team prospect list at Baseball Prospectus, cracked the back quarter of top-100 prospect lists at Baseball America (78) and MLB Pipeline (81), and ranked 50th at FanGraphs. The prospect fanfare was there, and he wasn’t overwhelmed by the bright lights in his first start.

Martin held the Rangers to just two runs on three hits, one walk, and nine strikeouts in 5.1 innings. He used a three-pitch mix that included a high-octane fastball (95.8 mph average velocity), curve, and changeup. MLB Pipeline’s scouting report says he throws a curve and slider, but both FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus mentioned a slider and no curve in their respective scouting reports entering the year. It’s possible he didn’t unleash his full arsenal in his first start. Regardless, he held the Rangers in check and generated a healthy 11.3 SwStr% in his debut. One of his swings and misses came on this nasty offering to Hunter Pence.

Martin draws the Red Sox in Boston for his next start over the weekend. I wouldn’t suggest starting him in that turn, but he’ll have a much more appealing matchup next week against the White Sox if he remains on his normal schedule. Gamers in leagues as shallow as 12-team mixers should scoop him up.

Jimmy Nelson (MIL): Yahoo – 15%, ESPN – 7%
If anyone tells you they definitively know what to expect from Nelson upon his return to the Brewers, they’re fibbing. The tall righty last toed the rubber in an MLB game on September 8, 2017. Nelson injured his shoulder on a slide back to first base that game, and he required surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff, anterior labrum, and capsule. He spent all of last year rehabbing. Shoulder injuries are much trickier to return from than elbow injuries. Nelson’s nearing an opportunity to become the latest success story.

He’s made two rehab appearances at the Triple-A level with a third on tap for Friday. The results aren’t particularly encouraging, but he worked his way up from 3.1 innings in his first start to 5.1 in his second. After walking four in his first rehab start, he cut that down to just one in his second. However, he also hit two batters. On the plus side, he’s struck out 20.0% of the batters he’s faced while generating an 11.9 SwStr%. Ideally, he’ll improve in his next turn, but that’s obviously not a given. In deeper leagues, playing the wait-and-see game simply isn’t an option. Instead, gamers with a free IL spot or deep benches and a bench spot to burn should scoop him up now and monitor his progress.

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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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