Pitchers to Target in Deep Leagues (2019 Fantasy Baseball)
This week’s pitching options are headlined by a tantalizing southpaw who’s nearing his first taste of the bright lights in The Show. He’s joined by a former uber-prospect making his return to this piece. The third highlighted pitcher is an extremely low-owned option who’s a dice roll even in deep leagues.
Jesus Luzardo (OAK): Yahoo – 29%, ESPN – 8%
Back in early March, Luzardo was one of the prospects I suggested stashing. Just a few weeks after I penned that piece, he suffered a shoulder strain that derailed his opportunity to break camp with the A’s and kept him sidelined until roughly a week ago. After throwing 33 pitches in the first start for High-A Stockton, he built his pitch count up to 52 in his second, per MiLB.com.
The 21-year-old lefty has been brilliant in the low minors since returning from injury, yielding only one run on six hits and zero walks with 11 strikeouts. He’s also generated a silly 24.7 SwStr%, according to FanGraphs. Stockton play-by-play broadcaster Zack Bayrouty tweeted that Luzardo’s fastball topped out at 99 mph and sat 95-96 mph. It’s probably safe to say Luzardo’s shoulder isn’t bothering him anymore or sapping his stuff.
The prospect thoroughly dismantled Double-A hitters in 2018. In 16 starts spanning 78.2 innings, he rattled off a 2.29 ERA (2.89 FIP and 3.19 xFIP), 0.97 WHIP, and 27.7 K%. Luzardo backed his gaudy strikeout rate with a 13.5 SwStr%. He encountered some struggles in four Triple-A appearances, but he maintained a solid 23.4 K% while bumping his swinging-strike percentage up to 14.1%. An unsustainable .469 BABIP and out-of-the-ordinary 66.2 LOB% helped create a sizable gap between his 7.31 ERA and his ERA estimators (4.62 FIP and 4.14 xFIP). Furthermore, and, more importantly, his work at Triple-A did little to discourage prospect evaluators. He entered this season ranked 13th among prospects at Baseball Prospectus, 12th at MLB Pipeline, and seventh at Baseball America.
MLB Pipeline gives Luzardo a mouth-watering set of grades on his pitches that includes a 55 on the 20-to-80 scale on his curve, 60 on his changeup, and 65 on his fastball. In addition to earning eye-catching grades on his repertoire, he ties it together with 60-grade control. Luzardo’s next chance to impress will come in a Triple-A start for Las Vegas on Saturday, Susan Slusser of San Francisco Chronicle reports. Slusser speculated that Luzardo could be an option for the A’s rotation sometime next month. Instead of waiting until he’s called up and potentially getting sniped or having to pay through the nose in FAAB, gamers in leagues as shallow as 12-team mixers would be wise to scoop him up now.
Dylan Bundy (BAL): Yahoo – 11%, ESPN – 25%
Last week, I extensively wrote up Bundy in this piece. His ownership rate has remained the same at Yahoo and actually dropped one percent at ESPN despite another good-ish start in a challenging matchup. Bundy took the loss against the Red Sox and ceded 10 baserunners (eight hits and two walks) in five innings, but he worked around ducks on the pond and held Boston to three runs (two earned) while striking out eight. In that start, he generated an impressive 13.3 SwStr%, his fourth straight start with a swinging-strike rate over 13.0%.
Bundy’s run of success has featured a reduction in fastball usage, which I discussed last week. That remained the case against the Red Sox, as he threw the pitch only 45.9% of the time. However, he threw another interesting wrinkle into his pitch mix. Bundy used his curveball a season-high 22.5% of the time, easily surpassing his previous high of 13.7% back on April 21. His curve has a 31 wRC+ posted against it this year, the lowest of any of his pitches. It’s not a huge swing-and-miss offering with only an 8.3 SwStr%, but it’s a strike-stealing offering with only a 34.8 Z-Swing%. It also serves the purpose of keeping the ball on the ground with a 50.0 GB%. If it’s a pitch he’s willing to toss in more frequently, it could help Bundy take his game to another level.
I’ve already gushed about his slider and change, and both remain put-away pitches with a 23.9% and 17.1% SwStr rate, respectively. The 26-year-old will look to keep things going in his next start Thursday at Seattle. The matchup has become a bit easier as a result of the Mariners trading slugger Edwin Encarnacion to the Yankees. I’m bullish on Bundy’s rest-of-season outlook and suggest adding him in leagues as shallow as 12-team mixers.
Tyler Beede (SF): Yahoo – 1%, ESPN – 0%
Beede’s a two-time first-round pick in the MLB Amateur Draft, but he’s rarely performed like a top-flight prospect. In 2018, he was tattooed for a 7.05 ERA in 74.0 innings at Triple-A, and his 6.11 FIP and 5.85 xFIP weren’t anything to write home about either. This year, however, he’s been far more successful at the same level. In 34.2 innings spread across seven starts, he’s recorded a 2.34 ERA (3.54 FIP and 4.04 xFIP), 1.10 WHIP, and 34.8 K%. Among pitchers in the upper minors (Double-A and Triple-A) who’ve pitched at least 30 innings this year, his strikeout rate is tied for 16th. He’s avoided lumber with an impressive 15.3 SwStr%, validating his sky-high strikeout rate.
Beede’s play has earned him some time in the bigs, but it’s been a bumpy ride to date with a 6.67 ERA (5.26 SIERA) in 28.1 innings for the Giants. Although he’s found the sledding tough overall, he’s coming off of his best start of the year after holding the Dodgers to one run on three hits, five walks, and seven strikeouts on Monday. Beede’s control — or lack thereof often times — is the biggest hurdle he’ll need to clear in order to be a viable fantasy option and stick in San Francisco’s rotation. He has a putrid 15.8 BB% this year, and he walked 15.6% of the batters he faced at the Triple-A level last year. He did, however, whittle his walk rate down to a palatable 9.9% in Triple-A this year.
Among the promising nuggets in his plate discipline numbers in his limited time with the Giants this season is a 67.6 F-Strike% that’s well above the league average of 60.8%. If he’s able to get ahead, he’ll likely have some wiggle room to post a lower than league-average Zone% without tallying a bloated walk rate. The 26-year-old righty also has a couple of pitches that have put-away potential, too. He’s posted a 16.3 SwStr% with his curve and 18.2 SwStr% with his changeup.
Beede’s next two starts project to come against the Diamondbacks, first in Arizona on Saturday and then at home on June 27. The Diamondbacks rank 20th with an 89 wRC+ against righties this year, per FanGraphs. He’s a Hail Mary play only in leagues larger than 14-team mixers even in that favorable matchup, but he could pitch himself into a more stable deep-league option in short order.