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Fantasy Baseball Pitchers to Avoid (2020)

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

Consciously or subconsciously, we all have players who we like and we dislike. Throughout our prep, we identify the guys we hope are there when our picks come around or the guys who we want to throw out in an auction to get money off the board, knowing we want no part of them. We’re going to be looking at pitchers who you need to avoid.

Now, that’s not to say that you’re going to avoid them entirely. Just like in trade negotiations and really anything in life, everyone has a price. The guys below are players that I’m looking to avoid 99 percent of time, but if they fall to a place where I feel comfortable enough taking them, I’ll take the leap.

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Liam Hendriks (RP – OAK)
It’s almost like we don’t learn as a community. We gravitate toward the pop-up closer who put together a career year in the prior season and we expect the same level of production from them going forward. Closers are so volatile year to year and it’s especially so when it comes to the Oakland A’s. Let’s take a look at their saves leaders over the past seven seasons:

2019: Hendriks
2018: Blake Treinen
2017: Santiago Casilla
2016: Ryan Madson
2015: Tyler Clippard
2014: Sean Doolittle
2013: Grant Balfour

Balfour was the saves leader in 2012, too, making him the last Athletic to lead the team in saves in back-to-back years. One thing Hendriks did do was add velocity across the board last year, as well as increase the spin on his fastball.

Could the gains stick for Hendriks? Sure, they could, but let’s not forget that in 2018, he was designated for assignment for the fifth time in his career, so there’s not a lot of track record outside of 2019 that we can go off of. He’s the pop-up closer that you need to avoid.

Stephen Strasburg (SP – WSH)
What a year it is where we are pushing down injured pitchers, but we aren’t really pushing down Strasburg at all, who is arguably the pitcher with the most injury concern each year. What’s more, he is coming off of a year where he threw 209 regular-season innings on top of 36 innings in the playoffs, so he has the workload carryover concern for 2020.

In 2014, Strasburg threw 215 innings. He followed it up with 127 in the next season. Three out of the five projection models have Strasburg hitting 200 innings again, but it seems like a risky gamble for a 31-year-old who is coming off of the highest workload of his career. Add to the workload and injury concerns that his 2019 velocity and movement most resembled that of Pablo Lopez, Jake Arrieta, Jorge Lopez, and Tyler Mahle. Strasburg is a top-12 pitcher still, yes, but you should look to pair another higher-end SP with him as insurance.

Madison Bumgarner (SP – ARI)
Bumgarner showed signs of his former self before the dirtbike injury and before the apparent secret rodeo life (please give us a Vice documentary on this) with his return to the mound in 2019. His velocity returned on his fastball and cutter, not to mention posting the highest velocity of his career on his sinker. His walk rate returned to the elite status we expected as he had the 11th-best mark in baseball. 

Yet, the return with his velocity and walk rate didn’t make him a great pitcher. He had a high hard-hit rate and he had one of the highest (tied for 20th worst) HR/9 last season. Though his velocity was up, here’s how his pitches ranked in velocity/spin among pitchers who threw at least 250 pitches last year:

Fastball: 461st/118th
Sinker: 256th/42nd
Cutter: 125th/48th
Changeup: 332nd/344th
Curveball: 217th/119th

On top of that, he’s leaving the relative safety of Oracle Park (ranked the third-best pitcher’s park for wOBAcon and xwOBAcon) to Chase Field (eighth-best). It’s not like he’s going to Coors Field, but it’s a hit, nonetheless. 

Sean Doolittle (RP – WSH)
This isn’t a pick-on-the-Nats post. Doolittle saved 29 games last year and that could drive his ADP this year in similar fashion to Eduardo Rodriguez and his wins. The issue with Doolittle, though, is that he’s not only battling knee tendinitis, but the Nationals quietly and effectively revamped their bullpen — especially the backend of it. With the additions of Will Harris and Daniel Hudson, the Nationals could be a full-blown committee when it comes to saves this year. 

While teams are moving away from the lefty/righty philosophy that they’ve carried for a long time, it’s still worth noting that Doolittle is the only lefty of the three saves contenders. If you grab Doolittle in your draft, be sure to grab Hudson or Harris if you’re in a deep league to give yourself a fallback plan. 

Other pitchers to avoid:

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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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