Pitchers to Reach For (2020 Fantasy Baseball)
We are literally days from baseball! Or, if you want to be sad, also weeks and probably months away. No matter – now is a great time to determine who the experts like, relative to their draft-day price. Given the uncertain nature of Opening Day and how many games are going to be played, my projections below won’t include innings pitched, wins, or total strikeouts.
This likely shortened season pushes up all those pitchers that had innings limits, which we detail here. Let’s first look at some guys that can serve as ratio stabilizers in the middle of your rotation.
Jose Urquidy (SP – HOU)
ECR: 61 (5 spots above ADP)
Projection: 3.87 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 24% K-rate
Urquidy had a solid cup of coffee for the Astros over 41 innings last year, posting a sub-4 ERA and 1.10 WHIP. He really stepped up in the postseason, allowing just one run over ten total innings, including his masterful outing against the Nationals in the World Series. This performance helped lock him into a rotation spot heading into 2020.
Urquidy has always been a control maestro, consistently posting sub-5% walk rates in the minors. He has also shown the ability to limit hard contact, allowing an average exit velocity of 85.5 MPH in 2019, along with a minuscule 29.2% hard-hit rate. This average exit velocity ranked 23rd in all of baseball, with a minimum of 100 batted ball events. While I expect him to slightly regress in contact management as hitters figure him out, I expect him to have a higher strikeout rate than Hendricks. Urquidy had a 16% swinging-strike rate in the minors last year and had a 24% strikeout rate on the heels of a 12% swinging-strike rate in the majors. With the likely shortened season, Urquidy’s ECR should jump, given that he won’t face a strict innings threshold.
Joe Musgrove (SP – PIT)
ECR: 56 (26 spots above ADP)
Projection: 3.76 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 22% K-rate
Musgrove and Urquidy are eerily similar pitchers in terms of the above projections, but Musgrove has a deeper arsenal that should help him pitch deeper into ballgames. He features six pitches that he threw at least eight percent of the time last year, and there is evidence that shows pitchers with more pitches do not incur the TTO (times through the order) penalty.
While Musgrove has a career 4.37 ERA, all of his ERA indicators suggest that his ERA should be significantly lower – somewhere in the high 3’s or very low 4’s. Finally, he was quite unlucky last year, posting a 63.2% strand rate – 10 percentage points above the league average. If that strand rate can regress toward the mean, Musgrove’s projection is well within reach. He was battling some shoulder soreness a couple of weeks ago, but that should be near full-strength with the additional time off.
Other Soft-Tossers I like:
Kyle Hendricks (SP – CHC)
ECR: 39 (11 spots above ADP)
Projection: 3.37 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 20.6% K-rate
I’ve given my two cents on Hendricks here.
Anibal Sanchez (SP – WAS)
ECR: 96 (48 spots above ADP)
Projection: 4.07 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 21.4% K-rate
If you choose to target strikeout upside for your SP2-4, Sanchez makes for a great late-round target to provide ERA and WHIP stability.
Kenta Maeda (SP – MIN)
ECR: 44 (28 spots above ADP)
Projection: 3.58 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 27% K-rate
This reach is mostly about a change in scenery. Maeda is slated to step in as the number two starter for the Twins, which is a big step up from his fringe rotation status with the Dodgers over the past several years. Maeda had innings pitched incentives in his contract, causing the Dodgers to manipulate his innings in August and September while having huge divisional leads. This year, I’m expecting Maeda to stay in the rotation the entire year (especially with the shortened season), given that the Twins are likely to be challenged by the Indians and/or White Sox.
While Maeda doesn’t get a park boost with his new home, he gets to face lighter-hitting teams in the AL Central. Every team in the ALC finished in the bottom half of the league in wRC+ – though we can reasonably expect the White Sox and Indians to jump a few spots (or several) in 2020.
Caleb Smith (SP – MIA)
ECR: 59 (8 spots above ADP)
Projection: 4.10 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 26.5% K-rate
You can read more about why I’m a believer in Smith here, especially as an SP5.
Brendan McKay (SP – TBR)
ECR: 66 (51 spots above ADP)
Projection: 3.72 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 26.5% K-rate
McKay is a consensus sleeper in the industry, and even more so because he won’t be facing an innings limit in the shortened season. While some drafters may be concerned that Ryan Yarbrough (who I am also a fan of) and Yonny Chirinos are the current fourth and fifth starters, the Rays’ rotation is nearly guaranteed to have injuries between one or all three of their aces.
We can see that McKay did not reach is potential in the majors last year.
If McKay had not made his big league debut last year, we would be talking about him in the same breath as Jesus Luzardo. We know that McKay has shown the ability to suppress homers, along with striking out batters at an elite rate. I’m banking on McKay’s true ability to shine through his year.