Pitchers to Target in Deep Leagues (2019 Fantasy Baseball)
A southpaw featured in last week’s piece kicks things off this week. He’s joined by a grizzled veteran who’s been in good form since a return from the IL. A young righty who previously received a shout-out gets the nod again. The suggested pitching additions are rounded out by a pitcher who was once one of the top prospects in baseball but owns a 4.61 ERA in over 500 career innings.
Framber Valdez (HOU): Yahoo – 33%, ESPN – 0%
Joining Houston’s rotation in place of the demoted Corbin Martin, Valdez tossed a gem against the Orioles on Saturday. The 25-year-old lefty held the O’s to just one run (a solo homer) on five hits, zero walks, and seven strikeouts. He induced a grounder on 83.3% of the balls put in play against him, and his velocity didn’t take a sizable hit working as a starter as opposed to out of the bullpen. Yes, Valdez has thrown harder at times from the pen this year, but his average fastball velocity of 92.6 mph, per FanGraphs, matched his mark from his last relief appearance June 3. It also matched or exceeded his average velo from six other relief appearances.
Valdez primarily used his heater and curve, much like he did in the bullpen, but he sprinkled in his changeup 4.8% of the time after going four straight relief appearances without using the offering. He’ll likely need the pitch to be at least average (or close to average) and avoid getting knocked around by right-handed batters, and I’d tread carefully using him against lineups with a bunch of top-shelf righties before seeing how he handles them. His next start comes Saturday versus the Blue Jays, so feel free to use him universally.
Perhaps the most promising aspect of his lone start was his continued success getting strike one at a high rate. Valdez has posted an F-Strike% of 60.0% or better in 11 straight games, and he got ahead of Baltimore’s hitters with strike one 70.4% of the time. Surrendering zero walks helped bring his walk percentage for the season into single digits (9.4%). There’s still promise for him whittling away at the walk rate even more, but if he’s simply able to maintain that clip, he should avoid major clunkers. Valdez’s strikeout rate shows promise for growth, and his 59.1% GB rate for the season will serve him well avoiding the long ball. He is a solid back-of-the-rotation option in 12-team mixed leagues or larger formats.
Anibal Sanchez (WAS): Yahoo – 29%, ESPN – 7%
Sanchez revived his career last year, and after three excellent starts since returning from the IL, his ERA this season is 3.92. He’s pitched at least five innings in his last three starts and yielded one or no runs in each of those turns. During that three-game stretch, he’s totaled a 1.04 ERA (3.94 SIERA), 0.69 WHIP, 4.8 BB%, and 24.2 K%. Yes, two of those starts have come against the White Sox, but couple his recent good form with last year’s success, and he’s worth a look for pitcher-needy gamers in 12-team mixers or larger formats. His next start will come at home against the Diamondbacks on Sunday. Arizona ranks 20th in wRC+ (89) against right-handed pitchers this year, according to FanGraphs, so it’s a plus matchup for the veteran righty.
Sandy Alcantara (MIA): Yahoo – 14%, ESPN – 5%
A few weeks ago, I touted Alcantara following his shutout of the Mets. Since discussing him then, he’s made four starts that have each gone at least five innings. He pitched 23.0 innings in those turns and amassed a 2.35 ERA (5.46 SIERA), 1.26 WHIP, 12.9 BB%, 17.2 K%, and 51.6 GB%. The young righty’s ERA is aided by three of the four runs allowed in his last start being unearned. The numbers are rather underwhelming beyond his sparkling ERA, but the parts continue to tease a total package that’s top-50 SP quality.
The 23-year-old righty’s pitch repertoire gives him the goods to take a monumental leap forward. He doesn’t have a notable platoon split with a .305 wOBA allowed to lefties and a .309 wOBA allowed to righties, and he has three offerings that have a swinging-strike percentage north of 13.5% in his sinker (13.6%), changeup (14.3%), and slider (14.7%). Additionally, his sinker (61.3 GB%) and changeup (55.8 GB%) give him a pair of pitches to avoid the long ball in homer-friendly road venues. At home, he’s treated to MLB’s toughest park to score runs in with a park factor of just 0.826. Alcantara will likely struggle to get the run support needed to pick up many wins from his horrendous offense, but that’s all that puts him behind Valdez for my favorite highlighted pitcher in this week’s piece.
Dylan Bundy (BAL): Yahoo – 11%, ESPN – 26%
In 2018, Lucas Giolito had the worst ERA (6.13) among qualified pitchers. As I’ve previously said while touting him during his crazy breakout year, he was arguably the most highly touted pitching prospect of my life. The second-worst ERA among qualified pitchers last year belonged to Bundy (5.45), who is one of the few pitchers who caused me to include the “arguably” qualifier in the last sentence. Popped by the Orioles with the fourth pick in the 2011 MLB Draft, Bundy earned high praise from all reputable prospect evaluators. He appeared to be on the fast track to reaching The Show for good when getting there for a couple of relief appearances in his first pro season. Bundy shoved the ball down the throats of Low-A and High-A hitters, and he wasn’t overmatched in three turns at the Double-A level that season, either. He entered pro ball with a fastball that reportedly sat in the upper-90s and secondary offerings that received glowing reviews.
Bundy missed the entire 2013 season, eventually undergoing Tommy John surgery in late June that year. He pitched 41.1 innings the following season and just 22.0 innings in 2015. During that stretch, Bundy also dealt with a shoulder injury in addition to recovering from Tommy John. Despite missing a lot of developmental time while battling back from injuries, he made the majors in 2016 with 38.2 innings pitched at Double-A and zero innings pitched at Triple-A. He’s flashed upside at times, but his fastball velocity has diminished greatly and sits at an average of only 91.0 mph.
I mention Giolito in this write-up to provide an example of an elite prospect figuring things out after facing initial struggles. I don’t expect Bundy to duplicate Giolito’s degree of success, but the O’s righty has quietly put together a solid stretch. In seven starts spanning 41.2 innings since the beginning of May, he owns a 3.02 ERA (4.43 SIERA), 1.03 WHIP, 6.5 BB%, and 21.3 K%. Bundy’s strikeout rate falls well short of the expectations that should accompany his 12.6% swinging-strike rate. Furthermore, he boasts an elite put-away pitch in the form of his slider, which has a jaw-dropping 23.9 SwStr%. His changeup also has a strong SwStr rate at 16.5%, so he should be able to pile up strikeouts against left-handed and right-handed batters alike.
The primary reason I’m optimistic about Bundy continuing to pitch well is his decision to scale back his fastball usage (45.8% in his last seven starts) in favor of his curve (9.2%), changeup (20.6%), and slider (24.4%). He’s wisely using his best offerings more often, and he’s pitching more effectively as a result. Bundy’s floor is the lowest of the pitchers discussed this week, and I’d rank him behind the other three in order of adding preference. However, he might finally be scratching the surface of his untapped upside. Bench Bundy for Saturday’s next start against the Red Sox, but after that, he faces the Mariners at pitcher-friendly T-Mobile Park (0.902 for runs) and a righty-heavy Padres’ lineup that’s tied for 22nd in wRC+ (85) against right-handed pitchers this year. Bundy’s worth a start in 12-team mixers or larger leagues at Seattle and at home against the Padres.