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2018 Fantasy Baseball: 3 Late-Round Starting Pitcher Sleepers

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Clayton Richard Photo Credit; Phoca2004

The Statcast era is upon us in Fantasy Baseball and while barrels are the trendy thing to look at when assessing offensive talent, the prevention of barrels is just as important.

Sure, many names towards the top of that particular ranking are not suited for a Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep article — you don’t really need me to layout the reasons why Corey Kluber, Max Scherzer, and James Paxton are good.

However, there’s no shortage of intriguing starting pitching options either. In fact, if you caught me in a mood in which I’d yearn to promote this article’s SEO value, I might dare call those options “starting pitcher sleepers.”

3 Great Late-Round Starting Pitcher Sleepers

Here are a few late-round pitchers who sat among the league-leaders in lowest Brls/PA% (barrels missed per plate appearance), and are currently going outside the Top-200 according to early NFBC ADP.

Blake Snell, Tampa Bay Rays (ADP 216.8)

If there’s one thing I can never get enough of in Fantasy Baseball, its post-hype prospects. Blake Snell was awful to begin the 2017 season. I would say he allowed the second-most walks per nine in the year’s first-half to truly illustrate my point, but I can’t, because he didn’t nearly last long enough in the majors to have the innings to qualify.

You’d have to shorten your parameters up to 50 innings for his 5.88 BB/9 to have any bearing. Snell was also unable to pick up a win in any of those 10 outings. Again, it was pretty bleak.

Yet, by season’s end, Snell would finish with the fifth lowest Brls/PA among the 118 starters with 350-plus batted-ball events at a pristine 2.9%.

That figure likely coincided with a fantastic run following his recall. In 77.1 innings after the All-Star break, Snell pitched to a 3.49 ERA, 3.56 FIP, and he saw his K%-BB% rise from a putrid 4.7% in the first-half to 15.7%. The young lefty also saw his swinging-strike rate spike in September, posting a tantalizing 14.1% for the month — good for ninth-highest overall.

Obviously, your Draft Day thought process on Snell will come down to your perception of his control issues. There’s a reason the old adage “the best pitch in baseball is strike one” stuck around long enough to become old – it’s true.

Snell saw his opponent’s wOBA skyrocket from .238 when starting a hitter with an 0-1 count, to .361 when the batter got the upper hand with a 1-0 count. That’s concerning when Snell’s 53.8% first-pitch strike rate was the fourth-lowest of any pitcher to throw 100-plus innings in 2017. Still, I don’t mind shooting for this kind of upside past pick 200. If you’re like me and feel incomplete because you can’t even consider taking another flyer on Carlos Rodon this year due to injury, do the next best thing and take a chance on Blake Snell.
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J.A. Happ, Toronto Blue Jays (ADP 255.7)

Remember when J.A. Happ, coming off a career revitalization in Pittsburgh, signed with the Blue Jays and won 20 games in 2016? Yeah? Well, judging by his current ADP, a lot of people don’t, or at least they’re unwilling to subscribe to the theory that he might have been better last season.

Happ’s ADP entering 2017 was just inside the Top-200 in NFBC draft rooms. People were rightfully tepid to trust that another magical 20-win year was on the horizon for the then 34-year-old and, technically, they were proven correct. Injuries held Happ to just 25 starts in 2018, however, when it was all said and done, the southpaw had a career-best groundball rate, a better FIP than the prior season, and a 26.7% opponent hard-contact rate very much backed up by a minuscule barrels per plate appearance figure of 3.0%.

Really, if you ignore his first three starts, 16 innings where he pitched to a 4.50 ERA despite a 20:0 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and his next two starts coming off the DL, a pair of games against the Reds and A’s where he was clearly not at 100 percent, you’re left with some great numbers. Those numbers were 120 innings pitched, a 3.15 ERA, a 3.32 FIP, and just 0.8 home runs surrendered per nine innings.

It’s understandable to look at the elder statesman of Toronto’s rotation and not see incredible upside, yet I’d warn to take Happ’s floor for granted. It appears to me that the market inefficiency this season will be the value of veteran players and Happ’s current ADP situation will definitely be one to follow.

Residing in Happ’s SP tier are flashier, younger names like Patrick Corbin, Sean Manaea, and Alex Reyes — guys that I like (I really, really like Corbin), but guys that I’d also expect to see gather some helium as we get closer to late March.

You know who’s not going to all of a sudden be racing up draft boards? Boring old J.A. Happ. So grab him at pick 250 and try to avoid cackling with glee as you do.

Clayton Richard, San Diego Padres (ADP 501.2)

This one might seem a little insane, but stick with me — I’ll bring it around. Clayton Richard is not regarded by many as a Fantasy Baseball piece. In fact, I might be the only one. It’s tough when you’re not the best “Clayton” in your own division, and it’s not even close. However, Clayton Richard has an elite trait. How many other players with ADPs outside the Top-500 can make the same boast?

Richard is a groundball savant. Among the 58 pitchers to qualify in 2017, the veteran’s 59.2% groundball rate was third-best in baseball and second-best in the National League.

Not shockingly, this skill equated to Richard being among the best in barrel suppression with opposing hitters managing a barrel on just 3.3% of plate appearances — only Zach Davies had a lower rate among SP with over 600 batted-ball events last year.

[bctt tweet=”Clayton Richard exploited the same principal that you do when taking that sweet, sweet Tinder profile selfie: it’s all about the angles.”]

The 34-year-old was one of five pitchers, among the 94 with over 400 total batters faced, to keep opponents’ average launch angle under three degrees. Considering the spectrum in which a ball can be barrelled spans from 50 degrees to eight degrees — that’s pretty important.

Richard’s groundball rate also rose when specifically focusing on his results from August forward. Over a 64-inning run, Richard pitched to a 3.52 ERA (validated by a 3.70 FIP), with a 61.9% groundball rate and 20.7% strikeout rate. The latter statistic might be the most important. Richard struck out 7.88 batters per nine in the season’s final two months — not exactly a number that would blow anyone away, but a figure that’s no longer a drain on one of your pitching categories. Plus, it’s a rate that starts making Richard look very comparable to Marcus Stroman, who is currently going at pick 125.1 on average.

Whether this is more of an indictment on Stroman’s value rather than praise for Richard is a completely rational argument. Yet, the fact remains that the San Diego starter is way too undervalued heading into 2018. Richard is an innings eater in a good ballpark with a easily identifiable skill set. Even if you don’t scoop him up with your final pick, make sure to keep an eye on Clayton Richard as he inhabits the waiver wire.

Hopefully, you can use this list of late-round starting pitcher sleepers to help fortify your Fantasy Baseball lineups! Also, check out my article on “A Surprising Trio of 2018 Fantasy Baseball Bust Candidates”!

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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