10 Breakout Pitchers for 2020 (Fantasy Baseball)
Last week, we asked our writers to provide their breakout hitter candidates for the 2020 fantasy baseball season. Next, we’ll check in on the pitchers they expect to develop into stars during the upcoming campaign.
Q: Which pitcher do you see breaking out into a star this season?
Brandon Woodruff (MIL): ECR – SP26 / ADP – SP27
Woodruff had a mini-breakout of sorts last year, but it is easy to miss because he threw just 121 2/3 innings due to a strained oblique suffered in July. When healthy, Woodruff was one of only eight pitchers who threw 100+ innings with a K/9 over 10.0 and a BB/9 below 2.3, and the other names on the list are a who’s who of fantasy aces: Gerrit Cole, Chris Sale, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Jacob deGrom, Shane Bieber, and Walker Buehler. Woodruff’s ERA (3.62) and WHIP (1.14) were also quite good but would have been even better if not for an inflated .320 BABIP allowed. In fact, he had the biggest differential between his ERA and FIP (3.01) of any pitcher with a sub-4.00 ERA. It remains to be seen whether he’s capable of holding up over 200+ innings, but he’s a strong bet to throw 180 or so. As a National League pitcher with a 98 mph fastball, solid secondary stuff, and good control, Woodruff has all the makings of a top-tier fantasy starter.
– Andrew Seifter (@andrew_seifter)
Julio Urias (LAD): ECR – SP51 / ADP – SP47
Entering the 2015 season, Urias was rated the best left-handed pitching prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline and a season later at 19 years old, he became the youngest starting pitcher to debut in the majors since Felix Hernandez in 2005. He’s been somewhat forgotten since then, as injuries and a domestic violence suspension have clouded what was once considered an indisputably bright future. He’s still only 23 years old and pitched to a 2.49 ERA in 2019, allowing the lowest average exit velocity against among all qualified MLB pitchers. He may start the season in a bullpen role, but I think this could be his breakout year for a Dodgers team with World Series expectations.
– Daniel Comer (@DanComer404)
Dinelson Lamet (SD): ECR – SP39 / ADP – SP40
Lamet appears to finally be healthy and ready to put forth a complete season for the upstart Padres. In an injury-riddled 2019 season, he made just 14 starts but pitched very well. His K/9 jumped from 10.94 in 2017 to 12.95 a year ago while his BB/9 dropped from 4.25 to 3.70 in 2019. He improved his FIP from 4.35 in 2017 to 3.91 last season all while his BABIP against jumped from .261 to .311. That tells you his ability to pitch is finally catching up with his raw stuff. This becomes very evident when you look at his 14.0% swinging strike percentage in those 14 starts. That would have tied him for ninth place in Major League Baseball if he had enough innings pitched to qualify.
– Joe Buttgereit (@joebuttgereit)
Jesus Luzardo (OAK): ECR – SP48 / ADP – SP38
I love some of the other names mentioned in this article like Dinelson Lamet and Julio Urias, but I’m going with an even younger pitcher. Jesus Luzardo was said by the A’s last spring to be already the best pitcher in the organization and could possibly start on Opening Day. This top prospect has absolutely shredded the minor leagues then looked excellent in his debut last year. Much like Walker Buehler back in 2018 and Chris Paddack last year, I’m expecting Luzardo to hit the ground running as one of the top-15 starting pitchers right away. Granted, his innings will likely be capped around 150, but while he is on the field, fantasy owners should be getting star-like numbers.
– Bobby Sylvester (@bobbyfantasypro)
Brad Keller (KC): ECR – SP136 / ADP – SP145
Big and strong at 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, Keller is risky in leagues that value wins as a category. He plays for a weak Royals club, but Keller throws a 94 mph fastball, a slider, and a changeup in a repertoire that works. He is only going to improve with experience. I think he is a back-end-of-the-rotation starter for your fantasy team with upside.
– Bernie Pleskoff (@BerniePleskoff)
Frankie Montas (OAK): ECR – SP37 / ADP – SP34
In an environment where we are seeing more home runs hit than ever before, it is really hard for a pitcher to succeed unless he can get strikeouts and keep the ball on the ground. Last season, we saw just 11 qualified pitchers post strikeout rates above 25% and ground ball rates above 45%. Most of those names are fantasy studs (Strasburg, Darvish, Corbin, Castillo, Kershaw, Nola, Sonny Gray). Frankie Montas was having one of the most dominant seasons in the league before his suspension, posting a 3.47 xFIP with a 26% strikeout rate and a 49% ground ball rate. He is going very late in drafts, and he has legitimate ace upside.
– Jon Anderson (@JonPGH)
Dustin May (LAD): ECR – SP82 / ADP – SP64
May is my top pitcher prospect to draft and should build off a great debut in 2019. His MLB 19.2% K-BB% is above average and consistent with his metrics in the minors, and he was able to limit hard contact in his first go-around. His 64 percent strand rate was nine percentage points below the league average. If that number regresses, and he continues to suppress homers (as he has throughout the minors), he could finish as a top-35 pitcher. Given that he tossed about 135 innings in 2019, 155 is a very reasonable jump. If the Dodgers give him some leash and progress him to 175 innings, you’re looking at a top-24 pitcher.
– Carmen Maiorano (@cmaiorano3)
Griffin Canning (LAA): ECR – SP62 / ADP – SP69
I might be a year early on Canning, but I am drafting him everywhere because of how late he is going. As of right now, his ECR on FantasyPros is 198, and his ADP is 223. I have him as a top-50 starting pitcher with the potential to be even better if the Angels provide him with some run support. He flew through the minor leagues after being drafted in 2017 and tossed more than 90 innings for the Angels last season. Even though Canning had a 4.37 FIP last year, his advanced metrics show a young hurler who uses four pitches effectively with good velocity and swing-and-miss stuff. In 2019, his slider had an XBA of .209 and a 45.2% whiff rate. His curveball was arguably even better at .177 and 34%. There could be a few hiccups along the way due to his general inexperience, but the potential for a breakout season is there.
– Mike Maher (@mikemaher)
Zac Gallen (ARI): ECR – SP41 / ADP – SP35
His outstanding numbers in a small sample size will likely inflate his perceived value, but Gallen is in position to outperform his raised expectations, and it starts directly with said sample size. At 24 years old, Gallen may not double his innings total in 2020, but he should see it increase dramatically. His strikeout rate shows no signs of decreasing — it hovered around 10.5% through three seasons of Triple-A ball and last year’s Major League debut — and he is entering his key development years already with an excellent foundation. Among all starting pitchers with at least 70 innings in 2019, Gallen ranked in the top-10 for soft-hit percentage and top-20 for K/9 and HR/9.
– Mario Mergola (@MarioMergola)
Kenta Maeda (MIN): ECR – SP57 / ADP – SP49
Maeda was arguably the biggest winner of the Mookie Betts mega-deal since the Twins figure to finally let him loose. Talent is obviously very important for your fantasy players. So is situation. What often gets overlooked is opportunity. With the Dodgers, Maeda was routinely underutilized, averaging just 24 starts over the past three years. He was often healthy enough to start more regularly, but Los Angeles simply didn’t need him to. Minnesota does. Maeda is a good pitcher as evidenced by his slider, which held hitters to a .155 batting average against and a .210 wOBA. Take a good pitcher, give him a chance to reach a new career-high in innings pitched, and you have a formula for fantasy success. Expect to see his 188 NFBC ADP (since January 1) rise as we inch closer and closer to prime draft season.
– Brendan Tuma (@toomuchtuma)