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More-For-Your-Money Series Pt 3: Undervalued Starting Pitchers for 2015

starting pitchers

Continuing on our theme from earlier, when we talked about two undervalued infielders and two more undervalued outfielders, let’s now focus on undervalued starting pitchers.

There are plenty of theories out there on how and when to build your pitching staff. I tend to be in the “Do Not Pay” for saves camp. There are usually numerous in-season closer changes, so being aggressive on waivers and drafting of few bottom-tier closers can be an effective strategy.

When it comes to the starters, I usually try to grab two of the top 20 starters, focusing on pitchers ranked in the 10-20 range. I then build the rest of my staff with undervalued pitchers that I forecast to have a low WHIP and strong strikeout rates. This is where your homework will pay off.

Let’s take a look some of the stats and trends that we can use to uncover some undervalued starters.

Undervalued Starting Pitchers

The majority of the top-end pitchers have a few common qualities besides having a strong ERA and WHIP. A strong strikeout rate and good control is a good start. It helps to look under the hood at some other underlying stats to help predict the common Rotisserie 5×5 categories.

I prefer my starters to have a K/9 of at least 7.5 and a BB/9 of no more than 2.5. There are some luck factors that we can look at to determine the sustainability of performance, these include LOB%, BABIP, and HR/FB%. The two starters that I will look at appear to have decent floors with some upside potential.

Brandon McCarthy, L.A. Dodgers

Season
Team
IP
W
L
K
ERA
WHIP
K/9
BB/9
2012
Athletics
111
8
6
73
3.24
1.25
5.92
1.95
2013
D-Backs
135
5
11
76
4.53
1.35
5.07
1.40
2014 1H
2 Teams
116.1
3
10
96
4.80
1.38
7.43
1.62
2014 2H
Yankees
83.2
7
5
79
3.01
1.12
8.50
1.29
2014
2 Teams
200
10
15
175
4.05
1.28
7.88
1.49

McCarthy greatly improved his strikeout rate last year, while maintaining his impeccable control. His numbers last year were much better with the Yankees than they were with the Diamondbacks. A lot of this had to do with bad luck during his Diamondback days. His first start with the Yankees came in the first half; the remainder of his first half consisted of stats from the Diamondbacks. We will examine the luck factors after we take a look at the sustainability of McCarthy’s strikeouts.

Year
Team
FB%
CT%
CB%
CH%
F-Strike%
SwStr%
2012
Athletics
38.8% (90.7)
39.7% (90.3)
19.0% (79.5)
2.5% (85.3)
67.20%
7.10%
2013
D-Backs
45.5% (90.8)
34.8% (89.7)
14.8% (78.2)
4.2% (82.7)
67.60%
5.90%
2014
2 Teams
61.5% (92.9)
13.9% (91.0)
23.9% (81.4)
0.7% (87.2)
67.50%
8.80%

The increase in McCarthy’s strikeouts appears to be from two factors. First, McCarthy experienced a pretty decent pick up in velocity. His fastball (majority were classified as a sinker according to PITCH f/x) gained over 2 MPH after being relatively flat over his career until last year. He also relied upon his fastball more than he had in the past.

Secondly, his first-strike percentage stayed consistent, his swinging-strike percentage jumped materially. As long as McCarthy can maintain his increase in velocity I believe his K/9 will be sustained at his new 2014 level.

Year
Team
BABIP
AVG
LOB%
GB/FB
LD%
GB%
FB%
HR/FB
2012
Athletics
.295
.262
77.10%
1.15
24.40%
40.50%
35.10%
8.10%
2013
D-Backs
.320
.292
68.70%
1.78
24.70%
48.20%
27.10%
10.30%
2014 1H
2 Teams
.346
.297
66.20%
2.59
22.80%
55.60%
21.50%
18.80%
2014 2H
Yankees
.301
.250
79.00%
1.63
22.60%
48.00%
29.40%
13.70%
2014
2 Teams
.328
.278
70.90%
2.13
22.70%
52.60%
24.70%
16.30%

Luck was not on McCarthy’s side last year. Overall in 2014, his BABIP against was a career high, as was his HR/FB% allowed. This led to an inflated ERA, despite a manageable WHIP.  You can also see that within 2014, the majority of the bad luck occurred while pitching for Arizona. Regression should be McCarthy’s friend in 2015. The increased velocity on his sinker allowed McCarthy to become an even more extreme groundball pitcher.

McCarthy will be pitching for the Dodgers in 2015, which should also give a boost to his numbers given the move away from the hitter parks of Chase Field and Yankee Stadium and into the more pitcher-friendly environment of Dodger Stadium. According to ESPN’s Park Factors, last year, Chase ranked second, Yankee Stadium ranked 20th, while Dodger Stadium ranked 27th in terms of runs.

His early ADP according to www.fantasypros.com is the 62nd SP and 222nd overall. I forecast a top-40 SP season with projections of 13 W, 170 K, 3.50 ERA, 1.20 WHIP over 200 IP.

Drew Smyly, Tampa Bay Rays

Year
Team
IP
W
L
K
ERA
WHIP
K/9
BB/9
2012
Tigers
99.1
4
3
94
3.99
1.27
8.52
2.99
2013
Tigers
76
6
0
81
2.37
1.04
9.59
2.01
2014
2 Teams
153
9
10
133
3.24
1.16
7.82
2.47

Smyly was a starter for the majority of 2012 and 2014, while he worked exclusively out of the bullpen in 2013. He projects to be a starter in 2015 for the Rays. Smyly has consistently had a strong strikeout rate along with great control.

Year
Team
FA%
FT%
FC%
SL%
CH%
F-Strike%
SwStr%
2012
Tigers
49.0% (91.4)
6.9% (91.3)
9.2% (86.3)
26.9% (80.1)
7.7% (82.6)
58.70%
9.00%
2013
Tigers
36.3% (90.7)
20.6% (90.9)
26.0% (85.2)
13.6% (79.2)
3.2% (79.6)
59.10%
10.70%
2014
2 Teams
26.9% (90.1)
23.4% (89.8)
13.7% (85.3)
30.6% (77.8)
5.3% (80.9)
62.50%
9.90%

Smyly has maintained a solid swing-strike percentage while increasing his first-strike percentage. He seems to be focussing more on his slider and two-seamer and less on his cutter and four-seamer.

Year
Team
BABIP
AVG
LOB%
GB/FB
LD%
GB%
FB%
HR/FB
2012
Tigers
.295
0.244
71.00%
0.97
18.90%
39.90%
41.30%
10.30%
2013
Tigers
.290
0.218
80.70%
1.12
17.90%
43.40%
38.80%
5.30%
2014
2 Teams
.278
0.237
79.30%
0.84
20.00%
36.60%
43.40%
9.50%

Nothing extreme jumps out in terms of Smyly’s batted ball profile and his luck factors. This leads to a sustainable profile going forward.

His early ADP according to www.fantasypros.com is the 56th SP and 192nd overall. I forecast a top-40 SP season with projections of 12 W, 160 K, 3.40 ERA, 1.15 WHIP over 175 IP.

Final Look at Undervalued Pitchers

I think the biggest risk to both McCarthy and Smyly is the amount of innings pitched. McCarthy has not exactly been a model of health and Smyly threw a career high 153 innings last year.

Both of these pitchers won’t do anything that will blow you away. However, their solid, stable assortment of stats will provide great additions to your staff. Even if they do not achieve my projected innings pitched numbers, their rate stats and K/9 will still be a positive.

Data contained in all the charts courtesy of www.fangraphs.com

Drew Smyly Photo Credit: Keith Allison

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Fabian Taylor

Fabian Taylor lives in Vancouver, BC. In his previous life, he traded natural gas for a couple firms in Calgary. He now trades stocks, bonds, and commodities out of a float home office. Family, finance and Fantasy Sports -- Is there anything else?
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