Pitchers to Target in Deep Leagues (2019 Fantasy Baseball)
The All-Star break is a nice opportunity to recharge the batteries from setting lineups on a daily basis, but that doesn’t mean gamers should take a break from looking to improve their roster. This week’s deep-league pitcher suggestions include a reliever with starter eligibility who’s returned to lights-out form in the pen after struggling in the rotation to open the year. He’s joined by a young righty who wasted little time reminding gamers of his strikeout upside in his first start of 2019 after missing all of last year rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. The last suggestion is a high-upside righty who’s on the mend and taking his rehab to the upper minors for his next start.
Collin McHugh (HOU): Yahoo – 22%, ESPN – 34%
McHugh’s ownership rate at ESPN would normally keep him out of this piece since it’s over 25%, and his upside doesn’t warrant the special exception status of others I’ve skirted the rules for in the past. He gets the nod, though, because his ownership rate there (and at Yahoo, for that matter) is almost certainly inflated by lame-duck managers. McHugh’s demotion to the bullpen, without a doubt, resulted in him being cut by competitive gamers in many leagues. With that in mind, he fits the spirit of this piece.
Downright filthy in Houston’s bullpen in 2018, McHugh earned a rotation spot in the spring. The veteran righty was solid as a starter in 2017 and wanted an opportunity to start again this year, so the decision doesn’t look awful even in retrospect to his early-season struggles. Back in the bullpen since making his first relief appearance on May 12, McHugh’s been sharp. In nine relief appearances spanning 11.0 innings, he’s spun a 1.64 ERA (2.80 SIERA), 0.91 WHIP, 7.0 BB%, 32.6 K%, and 13.3 SwStr%, per FanGraphs. He’s also recorded two holds, so it’s possible he’ll help more than just ratios and strikeouts in leagues using holds or saves/holds as a category.
Dinelson Lamet (SD): Yahoo – 19%, ESPN – 6%
Lamet made his much-anticipated return for a challenging start on July 4 against the Dodgers in Los Angeles. He certainly would’ve been forgiven if knocked around, but he turned in a respectable effort, holding them to three runs on three hits, two walks, and seven strikeouts in five innings. The 26-year-old righty’s velocity was fine in his first big league start back from Tommy John. According to FanGraphs, the heater had an average velocity of 95.3 mph — it was 95.1 mph in his rookie season in 2017. He threw the pitch 50% of the time against the Dodgers, and he turned to his slider on the other half of his offerings.
Lamet coaxed eight swinging strikes in 80 pitches, netting two whiffs on his four-seamer and six on his slider, according to Brooks Baseball. Even before his elbow injury, he was largely a two-pitch pitcher who threw his changeup only 5.0% of the time in his rookie season. His limited repertoire will make him susceptible to left-handed heavy lineups until or unless his changeup takes a big step forward. After striking out 28.7% of the batters he faced in 21 starts spanning 114.1 innings in 2017, Lamet returned to high-strikeout form in his return. Gamers in need of strikeouts should give him a look, but beware of lefty-loaded lineups and understand the ERA risk he poses to your fantasy squad.
Danny Salazar (CLE): Yahoo – 19%, ESPN – 2%
Salazar has long battled injuries even dating back to his days in the minors, and he last pitched in an MLB game during the 2017 postseason. He’s made two Rookie Level rehab starts, and his next start will be on Thursday at Double-A. Zack Meisel of The Athletic reported that Salazar topped out around 93 mph in his first rehab outing. In a fantasy article for Yahoo after Salazar’s second rehab start, Dalton Del Don stated he’s “reportedly throwing 95/96 mph.” The reported step forward in velocity is promising for Salazar’s outlook.
The initial thought was Salazar would return to a bullpen role for the Indians, but per Cleveland.com’s Paul Hoynes, manager Terry Francona said he’ll remain on a “five-day starter routine and see how he responds to it.” Salazar’s ceiling is higher as a starter, so this news enhances his stashing worthiness. He deserves a look in leagues as shallow as 12-team mixers, and savvy gamers with a spot to spare should scoop him up before Thursday’s Double-A start. If he dazzles in that appearance, hype will follow and drive up his FAAB cost or potentially cause you to get sniped by another owner. If he fizzles out or suffers a setback, dump him for an alternative.