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Innings Limits to Monitor (2020 Fantasy Baseball)

by Michael Waterloo | @MichaelWaterloo | Featured Writer
Feb 12, 2020

What makes a pitcher valuable? Well, there are a few things that you want to look for when deciding which arms you want to draft. Of course, you want someone who is going to get strikeouts (please, please use K% instead of K/9 as a better indicator), and you especially want those who are getting swinging strikes (SwStr%). If your pitcher is striking guys out, they are limiting the number of balls in play that the defense has to be counted on to make.

You also want someone who is going to limit hard contact or induce a lot of groundballs. 

But more than any other metric, you want innings. Well, you want good innings and not just innings, but let’s look at the top 10 pitchers off the board based off NFBC, and you look at their last full season innings total and their projected innings total (in parenthesis):

  1. Gerrit Cole (NYY): 212.1 (202)
  2. Jacob deGrom (NYM): 204 (205)
  3. Justin Verlander (HOU): 223 (204)
  4. Max Scherzer (WAS): 172.1 (202)
  5. Walker Buehler (LAD): 182.1 (194)
  6. Mike Clevinger (CLE): 126 (197)
  7. Jack Flaherty (STL): 196.1 (192)
  8. Shane Bieber (CLE): 214.1 (198)
  9. Stephen Strasburg (WAS): 209 (200)
  10. Blake Snell (TB): 107 (179)

There are only two pitchers not listed (Mike Minor and Trevor Bauer) who are projected to throw for 200 innings this year, and only 10 pitchers not listed (Bauer, Minor, Zack Greinke, Lance Lynn, Madison Bumgarner, Eduardo Rodriguez, Marco Gonzales, Aaron Nola, Patrick Corbin, and Jose Berrios) who threw 200 innings last season.

Elite innings matter, and it’s why those top couple of tiers of pitchers are so coveted early in drafts. 

But not everyone is able to have the luxury of throwing near 200 innings or getting one of those guys. That doesn’t mean, however, that they aren’t valuable on a per-start or a per-innings basis. You just need to be mindful when you construct your roster and have some players who may get skipped, sent down, or shut down in order to preserve their arms.

We’re going to take a look at some of those players below to give you an idea of how many innings you can expect from them, whether they are coming off an injury or if they are young guys who will be looking at the expected 30 inning increase year over year.

Check out our early consensus rankings for 2020 fantasy baseball drafts >>

Lance McCullers (SP – HOU)
McCullers is returning from Tommy John surgery, and all indications are that he’s going to be ready by Opening Day. The Astros have already announced that McCullers will be the third starter behind Verlander and Greinke, but he’ll be on an innings limit (yes, even with Dusty Baker). His career-high is 128 innings, so you can expect around 135-140 in his first season back.  

Shohei Ohtani (DH/SP – LAA)
Like McCullers, Ohtani is returning from Tommy John surgery. But unlike McCullers, he played last year as a near-elite hitter. Joe Maddon hasn’t announced how the Angels plan to use Ohtani this year on the mound and in the field, but pitching once a week as part of a six-man rotation seems like the likeliest outcome. The expectation should be around 120 innings for Ohtani in 2020. 

Chris Paddack (SP – SD)
Surprisingly, Paddack threw 140.2 innings last year, despite rumors of him being shut down in early September. The Padres were careful with his workload, and they should be again this season. You should expect the Padres to let Paddack approach 175 innings this year.

Dinelson Lamet (SP – SD)
Lamet is a strikeout machine, but there are warts that come along with him. He pitched 97 innings last year across three levels after missing all of 2018 with Tommy John surgery. His career-high is 153.1 in 2017 across two levels. He should approach 160 innings this year if he can hold up, and there’s a path for him being a closer in the future. 

Tyler Glasnow (SP – TB)
Glasnow has shown his dominance since arriving in Tampa Bay, but he got hurt again last year, and he threw just 63 innings across two levels. The Rays have the depth (of course) to be cautious with Glasnow, but he should throw between 150-160 innings this year. 

Sean Manaea (SP – OAK)
We were unsure if Manaea would even pitch in 2019 after he suffered a serious shoulder injury in 2018, which are often more troublesome and worrying than elbow injuries. Yet he threw 66 innings, and he hit 158.2 and 160.2 in 2017 and 2018, respectively. Manaea should come close to 170 innings this year for the A’s. 

Aaron Civale (SP – CLE)
Civale is our first real young guy on this list who we are banking on the team to bring him along incrementally with his innings. He threw 131.1 last year across three levels, and if he’s successful and can maintain his spot in the rotation, we should be looking at close to 160 innings this year. 

Zac Gallen (SP – ARI)
There’s no injury concern with Gallen, but the Diamondbacks came out and said that he has to “earn” his spot in the rotation. Because why not stuff Mike Leake in there for useless innings, right? 

Dylan Cease (SP – CHW)
Cease is a great bounceback candidate this year with the White Sox, but he’s another young guy who will have his innings limited due to his age, long-term outlook, and bumps along the way. 

Griffin Canning (SP – LAA)
Canning battled elbow inflammation in 2019, which held him to 105.1 innings across two levels. He’s locked into an improved yet underwhelming rotation, but the Angels won’t let him throw more than 135 innings in 2020.

Julio Urias (SP/RP – LAD)
It’s crazy to think that Urias is still only 23 years old. After throwing only 14.2 innings in 2018, Urias threw 79.2 for the Dodgers as he went back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen. He finally seems to have a rotation spot locked down, but the Dodgers will likely limit him to fewer than 150 innings this year. He’s a great value late, though.

Taijuan Walker (SP – FA)
Walker first needs a team to land on, but he’s coming back from Tommy John surgery himself. His usage will depend on where he lands, but he’s a name to watch. 

The rookies

MacKenzie Gore (SP – SD)
Michael Kopech (SP – CHW)
A.J. Puk (SP – OAK)
Jesus Luzardo (SP – OAK)
Nate Pearson (SP – TOR)
The only two that we know for sure will be in the big leagues this year are Puk and Luzardo in Oakland. They were both announced as starting pitchers for this upcoming season, but both battled injuries in 2019. Puk could be moved to the bullpen to limit his workload, while Luzardo could be skipped or shutdown altogether toward the end of the season depending on where the A’s are at in the standings. 

Gore could break camp with the team after we saw how they handled Paddack last year, but the smart money would be on a midseason call up. Kopech has Noah Syndergaard-type stuff (what we hoped we’d get from Syndergaard, at least) but he, too, is coming off of Tommy John surgery. Pearson is a wild card at best. He could be up in May, or he could be up in September for a cup of coffee. 

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Michael Waterloo is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Michael, check out his archive and follow him @MichaelWaterloo.

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