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3 Notable Overvalued Pitchers To Monitor In 2018

overvalued pitchers
Photo Credit: Rich L. Wang

There’s a lot of players in the MLB. 750 at any given time to be exact.

So, it stands to reason that occasionally, one or two of these players would be incorrectly valued by the public as a whole. Let’s be honest, like umpires, we are all far from perfect.

Keeping that in mind, here are a few big-name pitchers that the consensus rankings have overvalued heading into the 2018 season.

3 Overvalued Pitchers

Clayton Kershaw, SP, LAD

With the amount of Fantasy Baseball content being pumped out just weeks removed from Opening Day, it’s important to remember there’s a difference between “overvalued” and “bust”. Clayton Kershaw is most assuredly not the latter. We are dealing with a pitcher who posted a 3.09 FIP last season and somehow that number was a blemish on his career ratios. However, it’s not hard to overvalue someone who we’ve all just accepted is, without question, the top pitcher in Fantasy Baseball. I’m not here to say Kershaw isn’t a Top-5 SP, yet, I truly don’t believe he’ll be SP1 in 2018 (where’s he’s currently being drafted in NFBC) and so: he’s overvalued.

The statistical case for Kershaw regression is sturdy, but the argument for passing over the perennial Cy Young candidate is more about the other pitchers residing in his tier than the man himself. Max Scherzer has somehow managed to increase his strikeout rate in every single season he’s played for Washington – and it started at 30.7%.

Chris Sale was the only pitcher in baseball to rack up 300-plus strikeouts in 2017 and that was all while leading the league in FIP and SIERA. Corey Kluber held a 1.62 ERA across his final 23 starts of last year and did so while maintaining a 36.2% strikeout rate. Its the longevity of the trio that really makes the case, though.

Scherzer, Kluber, and Sale sit first, second, and fourth in innings pitched over the past four seasons, all clocking in well over 800 thrown. Kershaw ranks 19th at 755. Call it a nitpick if you must, yet that’s how you have to separate players at this high a level.

Kershaw has surpassed 200 innings only once since 2014. Injuries were a factor last season and it’s reasonable to have some worry in the back of your mind for any player entering their 30’s, however, its unlikely the southpaw breaks that 200-inning plateau even with a clean bill of health in 2018. The Dodgers exploited the 10-Day DL more than any other team the past year and I see no reason why they don’t do it again.

Alex Wood, Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Julio Urias, Tom Koehler, Walker Buehler, Henry Owens, and Brock Stewart round-out one of baseball’s deepest organizational pitching wells, all ready to spell an ace that has already seen back issues begin to arise. There’s no doubt that on an inning-by-inning basis, Clayton Kershaw is the most valuable pitcher in baseball, but volume is also of the utmost importance.

Seeing “Kershaw” on the board to start your Fantasy team has been a comforting hallmark of the last half-decade. 2018 is the year that stops. Put aside a declining ground ball rate, look past a massive spike in his HR/9, ignore the highest strand rate in baseball since the turn of the millennium – this all comes down to innings. In 2017, Kershaw threw 175 at the highest of quality. That was good for SP4 in standard 5×5 formats behind, you guessed it, Kluber, Scherzer, and Sale. I don’t predict the next six months will play out any differently.

Corey Knebel, RP, MIL

As a rule of thumb, its generally been established throughout Fantasy Baseball that drafting from the back end of a tier is where you wanna be. In my opinion, nowhere is this more important than when it comes to relievers. Yes, some RPs can separate themselves from the pack with ridiculous strikeout numbers, yet, at the end of the year, 65-70 innings isn’t a large sample and the stats can get a little funky in those circumstances. This is my main fear with Corey Knebel.

It’s difficult to knock people for getting excited about the 26-year-old, flame-throwing, right-hander. Knebel racked up 39 saves for Milwaukee in 2017 and tied Craig Kimbrel for the most strikeouts as a reliever with a whopping 126. However, unlike Kimbrel, those strikeouts come with a bit of uncertainty.

Knebel, among the 36 RPs with a 14% or higher swinging strike rate, was one of only three to do so with a chase rate below 30%. Now, by no means are whiffs garnered inside the strike zone worth less than those accumulated on “pitcher’s pitches,” yet it’s just simply more dangerous when batters are swinging at hittable offerings.

In contrast, Kimbrel not only managed a 37.4% chase rate (Top-10 among relievers) last season, but his 19.8% swinging strike rate was well above the rest of the pack. Really, considering Knebel’s inability to throw consistent strikes overall, a few more swings at pitches in the dirt wouldn’t be an unwelcome sight.

Knebel walked 4.74 opposing hitters per nine innings last year, getting behind in counts on the first pitch just under half the time. That’s a whole lot of traffic on the bases. Luckily for him, he also had the league’s third-highest strand rate at 91.9% – buckling down to allow a .121 opposing average with men on base.

Still, much of that specific success can be attributed to an insane 46.1% strikeout rate in those “clutch” situations. Strikeouts will always at least partially justify outlier-type strand rates, but, again, if Knebel sees his K/9 start hovering more around his 2016 total of 10.47, and that .214 BABIP with runners on jumps up even a touch – his ERA and WHIP will suffer.

In the eight appearances in which Knebel allowed multiple walks in 2017, he surrendered at least one earned run on five occasions. There’s a chance those outings are less sporadic in 2018 if he continues working back from 1-0.

There’s no doubt that Corey Knebel has electric stuff. There’s also little question that he’ll maintain his job as the Brewers’ closer for the entirety of the coming season. Those two factors alone give Knebel a level of safety as an RP that you can center your Fantasy staff around. However, going off the board at RP3 in NFBC formats, I can think of many relievers I trust at the same level, if not more, going much later in drafts. Instead of using a fourth or fifth round selection on Milwaukee’s back-end guy, wait a couple of rounds and take Roberto Osuna, Ken Giles, or even Edwin Diaz. You’ll be glad you did.

Johnny Cueto, SP, SF

Home runs were not the same in 2017, of this, we can all agree. Debate as many CT scans as you wish, but when 54 of the league’s 58 qualified pitchers are giving up at least 0.9 HR/9, it’s hard to say something’s not at least a little fishy and it’s even harder to single out one pitcher specifically for struggling in the madness. Still, it’s also difficult to find much evidence to get too excited about Johnny Cueto even when you negate the sudden home run issues.

From 2011 to 2016, Cueto threw 1,109 innings across 166 starts for the Reds and Giants. Over this span of time, his ground ball rate sat at an above average figure of 48.1% and he surrendered 0.71 long balls for every nine frames thrown. Smash cut to last season when opposing hitters demolished Cueto’s sinker – all averaging out at 1.34 HR/9, a pedestrian 39.4% ground ball rate, and a 4.52 ERA when the year came to a close.

Now, this was a season cut short by injuries. Much like Aaron Sanchez, blisters were to blame for some of Cueto’s downfall, yet, unlike Sanchez, who I included in my list of possible bounceback pitchers for 2018, I’m a little less optimistic that health was the sole factor to blame for Cueto’s misfortune.

I see a lot of Felix Hernandez in Johnny Cueto. In 2016, Hernandez, always a prime example of pristine control, began walking an obscene amount of batters juxtaposed to his career numbers up to that point in time – a classic domino effect situation. It was the first season his average fastball velocity had fallen below 91 mph and though he hadn’t been pumping the four-seam in there consistently at 96 mph since as far back as 2010, it was at that point his fastball was no longer able to live in the zone.

His HR/9 numbers began to rise, so, he began having to nibble on the corners. Walks soon followed. Cueto, who has also seen his fastball velocity steadily drop since 2014, may have found himself in familiar territory to Hernandez when his BB/9, which had sat below 2.00 per nine in both 2015 and 2016, suddenly shot up to 3.24.

The upside is also just missing from a pitcher with as many question marks as Cueto currently has. Going only a few picks outside the Top-150 on average in NFBC drafts to this point in March, Cueto is one of only five pitchers being taken inside the first 160 picks who Steamer doesn’t project to average at least 8.00 strikeouts per nine innings. The other four? Dallas Keuchel, Kyle Hendricks, Marcus Stroman, and Sonny Gray – four SP who all had 50% or higher ground ball rates last season. Essentially, Cueto is the only pitcher in the group without an elite skillset. Forgive me if that doesn’t sound overly appealing on draft day.

Name value, nostalgia, and AT&T Park are keeping Johnny Cueto’s value alive. While the now 32-year-old has always been among the craftiest pitchers of the last decade, I’m not sure deception will keep Cueto from continuing down the path of decline he appeared to turn to last season. Yes, there’s a chance that a blister-free Cueto on a better Giants team rebounds and once again finds his footing in 2018, but I’m willing to let another owner take that chance.

 

Garion Thorne
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Garion Thorne

Garion Thorne grew up in Toronto in the mid-2000s as a Jays, Raptors, Dolphins fan, so you know the only championships he cares about are of the Fantasy persuasion. Garion was a Host/Senior Analyst at the FNTSY Sports Network, most of the time taking a specific focus on Fantasy Baseball and deep baseball analytics. You might have also stumbled across his work for the New York Daily News, the Associated Press, USA Today's HoopsHype, or NBA.com. Garion keeps a FanGraphs tab open in his browser at all times and he has never seen a bunt he agreed with.
Garion Thorne
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