Pitchers to Target in Deep Leagues (2019 Fantasy Baseball)
One previous visitor to this piece joins a couple of fresh faces this week. One of those newcomers moves into his team’s rotation after spending time in the bullpen. The other is on a new team following a recent trade.
Michael Pineda (MIN): Yahoo – 39%, ESPN – 18%
Pineda delivered an electric performance in his last start of the first half, holding the Rangers to just one run on five hits and one walk with nine strikeouts in six innings. The start extended his streak to four straight games with five or more strikeouts. He’s been in good form since returning from a short IL stint.
In six starts (prior to Tuesday’s turn against the Mets) since returning from knee tendinitis, Pineda has totaled 33.2 innings with a strong 3.21 ERA (3.80 SIERA), 1.10 WHIP, 3.7 BB%, and 25.0 K%, according to FanGraphs. He’s pitched at least five innings in each of those six outings, held the opposition to three runs or fewer in five, and yielded just one run in four of those starts. The 30-year-old righty’s stellar strikeout rate during that stretch is supported by a 13.9% SwStr rate.
Looking ahead, Pineda has middle-of-the-road matchups against the Mets and Athletics in his next starts this week. The Mets and A’s rank 15th and 13th in wRC+ against right-handed pitchers this season at 101 and 98, respectively. After that, he has a pair of cupcake road matchups against the White Sox (tied for 20th in wRC+ against righties at 88) and Marlins (29th at 78). Pineda’s a worthy addition in leagues as shallow as 12-team mixers.
Daniel Ponce de Leon (STL): Yahoo – 28%, ESPN – 2%
Ponce de Leon will replace Michael Wacha in the rotation against the Pirates on Wednesday afternoon. The 27-year-old righty is an interesting pitcher when thrown under the microscope. He’s almost certainly not as good as his 2.37 ERA in 64.2 MLB innings split between eight starts and 10 relief appearances since 2018. Therefore, he also obviously can’t be expected to continue pitching to his 1.98 ERA as a starter for the Cardinals or 1.99 ERA this season. Having said that, he might not be as mediocre as his 4.06 xFIP and 3.85 SIERA in the rotation either.
I tend to lean toward ERA estimators when projecting a pitcher’s performance going forward, but Ponce de Leon has a lengthy history of smashing them throughout his minor league career. In 35 starts (and one relief appearance) spanning 180.2 innings at the Triple-A level since 2016, the righty owns a 2.74 ERA and 4.38 FIP. In Triple-A, he’s demonstrated spotty control with a 12.0 BB%, but he’s tallied a respectable 23.5 K% and a 1.28 WHIP aided by a .267 BABIP. He’s totaled an unsustainable .227 BABIP in his major league starts, but the regression might not be severe. He has held big-league hitters to a 26.3% hard-hit rate in his starts while coaxing a solid 14.0% infield-fly rate.
I suspect his true talent level is just north of a 4.00 ERA, and his 4.13 ERA projection from ZiPS is most closely in line with my leanings. Ponce de Leon is worth an add in 14-team mixers, and he could quickly play himself into usefulness in 12-team mixers, too.
Homer Bailey (OAK): Yahoo – 13%, ESPN – 6%
If you told me at the beginning of the season that there would come a point when I’d suggest adding Bailey, I would have called you crazy. It would have been painful doing so since I was once a big fan, but he appeared clearly washed up entering 2019. Instead, he’s pitched respectably enough for the Royals to trade him to the A’s.
So, before diving into Bailey’s work specifically, let’s take a look at the changes pitching for the A’s instead of the Royals. First, he joins a significantly better offense that should, theoretically, provide him more run support and enhance his likelihood of garnering wins. The A’s are tied for ninth in wRC+ (104), and the Royals rank 23rd (86 wRC+). The 33-year-old righty will also be treated to a significant park upgrade. Kauffman Stadium suppresses homers at a greater rate than Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum — with the former’s park factor for taters at 0.828 and the latter’s at 0.846 — but Kauffman actually enhances run scoring (1.045) while the Oakland Coliseum depresses it (0.921). Chalk that up to a positive home park shift for Bailey.
These positives come at the cost of a downgrade in defense. Yet defensive metrics remain less reliable than offensive metrics, and the drop appears small. FanGraphs ranks the Royals second in defense this year and the A’s sixth. In 2018, the Royals also ranked second in defense with the A’s in the next spot behind them. Bailey gets a bump in value from moving to the A’s.
As for the righty’s work this year, it’s mostly unexciting. However, it’s gotten more palatable as the year has worn on. His 4.80 ERA in 18 starts spanning 90.0 innings certainly doesn’t scream fantasy relevance, and his ERA estimators aren’t particularly promising either. In his last six starts, though, he’s totaled 35.0 innings of 2.83 ERA baseball. Yes, his 4.84 SIERA suggests bumpier days on the horizon, but his 1.23 WHIP, 8.9 BB%, and 19.9 K% during that stretch aren’t terrible. Furthermore, his 62 wRC+ allowed and 19.6 SwStr% on his splitter indicate he has one excellent offering to lean on, and perhaps a change of scenery and new coaching staff can pull a bit more out of his other offerings — which are all admittedly awful. Bailey is only a deep-league option, but he’s worth a speculative add in 14-team mixers or larger.