Breakout Candidates: Pitchers (2020 Fantasy Baseball)
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Every year, a handful of pitchers go on runs where they… well… don’t give up many runs. The difference in 2020 is that those stretches might just actually be the entire season. In 2019, we saw Jack Flaherty go on a 60-plus game tear that resulted in one of the best second halves in MLB history. Gerrit Cole’s entire 2019 run was one of the best by a starting pitcher recently. So who can explode onto the scene and pull off something similar in 2020? The following breakout pitchers just might have a chance.
Max Fried (SP – ATL): ECR – 130 / ADP – 133
There’s just so much to like about Fried. Let’s start with the fact that he finished 2019 with a 24% K rate, 6% BB rate, and a 53% GB rate. That line alone is mouthwatering in today’s MLB. There is a reason why Fried’s FIP and xFIP were significantly lower than the 4.02 ERA he finished with last year. He has nasty stuff and the ability to vary the speeds of his pitches, which is something many young pitchers don’t have. The icing on the cake is that now, in a shortened season, Atlanta won’t even have to worry about an innings limit for him. Watch out for a major breakout this season from the young hurler.
Jesus Luzardo (SP – OAK): ECR – 139 / ADP – 116
To be blunt, Jesus Luzardo should be a top-75 pick. He’s a stud, and now with no innings limit, he will strike out the world. If you missed hearing about this guy last year, jump on the bandwagon right this second, or else it’ll be too late. Luzardo went scorched-earth in six games in the majors last season, and he will pick up right where he left off this year — just in a starting role. There is absolutely no reason why Luzardo can’t have just as good, if not better numbers than other young pitchers like Walker Buehler, Jack Flaherty, and Chris Paddack; he’s that good, folks. You might get a few strange reactions if you draft Luzardo in the top-100, but he will be worth every penny.
Frankie Montas (SP – OAK): ECR – 117 / ADP – 109
I put Frankie Montas right below Luzardo to emphasize the fact the Montas is somehow being drafted over him right now. Don’t get me wrong, I love Montas, which is why he is on this list. But everyone around the A’s organization will tell you that Luzardo is already the better pitcher, period. Anyway, I digress.
Frankie Montas was having a splendid 2019 before his suspension. He did come back and throw a gem in his one post-suspension start just for good measure too. Much like Max Fried, Montas also had an incredibly high GB% at 49% last year. And again, like Fried, Montas struck out 26% of the batters he faced. That’s a great combination that sets Montas up wonderfully for 2020. If he can keep his BB% at an otherworldly 5%, there’s no reason why he can’t pitch to just above the 2.63 ERA he had last season. Of course, his 2019 suspension does loom over his upside ever so slightly, but his breakout potential inarguably outweighs the risks as a pick outside of the top-100 overall.
Brandon Woodruff (SP – MIL): ECR – 97 / ADP – 85
If we were still dealing with a 162-game season, I would shy away from Brandon Woodruff due to health reasons. One would think Woodruff should have a much better chance of staying healthy for 60 games, however. The metrics all looked great for Woodruff in 2019 before he got hurt. In a quick rundown, he had a great K%, great BB%, good GB%, and kept the ball in the park. The only reason his 3.62 ERA was so high was due to his ridiculously inflated .320 BABIP. Batters made a lot of medium contact against him, 44% of the time, and the ball just happened to find holes. Woodruff might be the most straightforward case of all on this list. If he stays healthy, he will be good. Hopefully, the 60-game season will help his case.
Dinelson Lamet (SP – SD): ECR – 126 / ADP – 123
This is another simple case — Lamet seems as good a bet as any to shatter his ADP. To sum it up, he had Tommy John surgery in early 2018, returned in late 2019, pitched very well overall, and is poised to break out in 2020. Any more questions? Managers can put it in the books that Lamet will have a crazy-high K% and an ERA somewhere in the 3.00’s. Seriously though, his post-T.J. 2019 saw him have a 33% K rate. That’s absurd. If Lamet can bring down his walks and home runs, which will admittedly be tough to fully do, he could turn into an ace.
Taylor Rogers (RP – MIN): ECR – 109 / ADP – 102
Find me one single shred of evidence that says Taylor Rogers can’t finish as the number one overall closer in 2020. I dare you. Rogers has lowered his ERA every single season since he debuted in 2016. That trend will be hard to continue, however, as he had 2.63 and 2.61 ERAs in the past two seasons. Having said that, Rogers should be up for the challenge. Pitching in a weak AL Central, his 8.18 K/BB ratio and 50% GB rate might keep him from giving up a run for weeks at a time. It wasn’t discussed much because no one seems to talk about the Twins, but Taylor Rogers actually had seven different occasions where he went multiple weeks without giving up an earned run in 2019. Seriously, Rogers could make it all of the 2020 regular season while only giving up a few earned runs. If last year didn’t count as his breakout, this season will.
Seth Lugo (RP – NYM): ECR – 253 / ADP – 246
There was practically nothing about Edwin Diaz’s 2019 season that bested Seth Lugo’s. I blasted the Mets for refusing to give the closing job to Lugo last season, and if Diaz struggles again, the Mets will have no time to screw around with him this year. Some writers are beating the drum for an Edwin Diaz rebound, but why? In 2019, he basically walked over a batter per inning, gave up a million home runs, and had zero control of his pitches. Barring a complete 180, the closing job for the Mets very well might be Seth Lugo’s by September at the latest. Lugo had a fantastic 2.70 ERA with a nice 33% K rate in 2019, and 2020 could be the breakout year for him like we’ve seen of other older relief pitchers the last few seasons.