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Pitchers to Target in Deep Leagues (2019 Fantasy Baseball)

by Josh Shepardson | @BChad50 | Featured Writer
May 29, 2019

Josh James can help deep-league gamers in his current bullpen role.

Sometimes, rules are made to be broken. A couple of weeks ago, I was loose with my inclusion of Lucas Giolito in this piece, but I suspect gamers who were still able to add him after I touted him yet again were glad I did so. This week, I’ve opted to highlight a hurler with a 39% ownership percentage at both Yahoo and ESPN. However, I’ve granted myself that freedom because he’s a pitcher who should be universally owned. To make up for my loose approach with his inclusion, I’ve included five pitchers this week instead of the customary three. In other words, I’m not shortchanging gamers in deep leagues.

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Kyle Gibson (MIN): Yahoo – 39%, ESPN – 39%
Gibson’s a pitcher I was extremely bullish on coming into the season. He had a rough-ish start to the year, allowing three earned runs in under six innings in each of his first three outings, but he’s been excellent since. In his last seven starts, he’s allowed more than three earned runs just one time, and he only coughed up four earned runs in that turn. He’s also pitched five or more innings in each of those starts.

Gibson has been one of the better pitchers in baseball over the last 30 days. Among starters who’ve pitched a minimum of 10 innings in that time frame, he ranks seventh in xFIP (2.76), tied for eighth in SIERA (3.16), and 18th in strikeout rate (28.8%), according to FanGraphs. He’s also done an elite job of avoiding free passes (4.1% BB%), rattled off a 1.04 WHIP, and validated his gaudy strikeout rate with a 14.2 SwStr% that’s tied for 14th. There’s no way he should be available in over 60% of Yahoo and ESPN leagues. He’s worthy of universal ownership.

Griffin Canning (LAA): Yahoo – 31%, ESPN – 10%
Canning received the nod here last week. He’s since twirled five innings of one-run ball on three hits and two walks with five strikeouts at home against the visiting Rangers. The rookie recorded his lowest swinging-strike percentage in his last turn, and it was still an eye-catching 11.6%. The youngster is pitching at a high level, and I trust him enough to suggest starting him against the A’s in their pitcher-friendly stadium.

Mitch Keller (PIT): Yahoo – 22%, ESPN – 1%
Keller’s debut in the second game of Monday’s doubleheader against the Reds got off to a dreadful start. The rookie righty coughed up six runs in the first, but he settled in to throw three innings of scoreless ball after. The 23-year-old righty struck out seven of the 21 batters he faced, demonstrating some promise despite the awful start. Keller’s a highly touted prospect who entered the season ranked 26th in the top-100 prospects at Baseball America, 19th at MLB Pipeline, and 18th at Baseball Prospectus. On the 20-to-80 scouting scale, MLB Pipeline graded his changeup with a 50, curve with a 55, and fastball with a 65 while tossing a 55 on his control and a 60 overall grade on the young starter.

In nine starts spanning 47.0 innings at Triple-A to open the year, he totaled a 3.45 ERA (4.17 FIP), 9.9 BB%, 27.6 K%, and 11.0% SwStr%. He’ll add to those numbers since the Buccos opted to send him back down. He’ll have to remain in the minors for 10 days unless Pittsburgh places another player on the IL. Those odds increased after Jordan Lyles exited Tuesday’s start with hamstring discomfort. Keller showed enough promise to warrant holding a few more days in 14-team mixers or deeper to see if Pittsburgh places someone on the IL in advance of Saturday’s need for a starter. Pitching-needy gamers in 14-team mixers or larger with weekly lineup moves may even want to hold him another week to see if he’s called up after the minimum 10 days in the minors.

Josh James (HOU): Yahoo – 10%, ESPN – 6%
This may be odd to read considering I’m including him as a suggested add in deep leagues, but James is owned in a higher percentage of leagues than he should be. He’s truly only an option in leagues larger than 14-team mixers, but it’s probable he’s available in a number of competitive deeper leagues. James was a popular breakout pick in the preseason — for full disclosure, I loved his upside before a spring training injury eliminated him from the rotation mix — and it’s likely some of his ownership is the product of lame-duck managers auto-drafting him and doing nothing with their roster.

Regardless, let’s turn our attention to James’ 2019 season. Instead of keeping him stretched out as a starter in the minors, the Astros have opted to carry him in their bullpen and use him in low-leverage situations. He’s recorded zero holds and saves this year, so he doesn’t get a value boost in leagues using holds or saves-plus-holds categories. The 26-year-old flamethrower, however, is a candidate for boosting strikeouts and helping ratios in mixed leagues deeper than 14 teams. He had an up and down April, but he’s been lights-out this month. In eight relief appearances in May, he yielded his only two runs in one outing. He’s pitched multiple innings in half of his appearances, and he’s struck out multiple batters in five of eight sightings. James has totaled a 1.38 ERA (2.37 SIERA), 0.92 WHIP, and 41.2 K% in 13.0 innings this month. His value would skyrocket if forced into the rotation, but, for now, he’s just a deep-league option.

Dylan Cease (CHW): Yahoo – 5%, ESPN – 2%
It’s almost time for the calendar to turn to June, and that means there should be an influx of prospects reaching The Show in the next month or two. Cease is one of the more exciting young prospects honing his craft at Triple-A, and he could be called upon around the All-Star break to provide the White Sox’s rotation a major lift. Cease entered the year ranked 38th among prospects at Baseball America, 26th at Baseball Prospectus, and 21st at MLB Pipeline. He should be a big mover up midseason prospect lists thanks in part to graduations from the preseason lists, but also due to his own outstanding play.

In eight starts spanning 40.0 innings, he has a 3.38 ERA (3.47 FIP), 1.38 WHIP, and 28.7 K%. His WHIP is inflated by a .370 BABIP and a 9.0 BB%. The 23-year-old righty’s eye-catching strikeout rate isn’t the product of smoke and mirrors, as he has a 14.1 SwStr%. His strikeout ability is what’s most intriguing about him for fantasy purposes, and the lack of obstacles in front of him for debuting this summer helps his outlook in re-draft leagues. In leagues with an N/A spot for prospects or unsigned players, Cease makes for a strong stash universally. In traditional leagues without that roster spot, Cease is better left on the wire and monitored in anything shallower than a 14-team mixed league.

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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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