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Draft Prep

Steal a Deal on 4 Mispriced Pairs: Starting Pitchers Edition

Starting Pitchers, Justin Verlander, Keith Allison

Earlier, we talked about mispriced pairs of infielders and outfielders. Now, we move on to the starting pitchers.

This is where there seems to be more volatility, both in terms of the projections themselves and the actual rankings. I like my starters to have a lot of strikeouts, few walks, and an ability to limit hard contact. You also need to consider luck factors such as BABIP and anomalous HR/FB%.

There are a lot of starters to choose from — roughly 150 as of Opening Day.

Depending on your league settings, there should be a number of usable starters on the waiver wire all of the time ready for your streaming pleasure.

I find the best strategy is to take one or two studs, find value with the mid-tier hurlers, then take a few chances with the bottom end of your rotation. If your late fliers bust, there is no regret tossing them into the garbage and finding another arm on waivers.

Mispriced Pairs of Starting Pitchers in 2015

The consensus ADPs and stat projections are from www.fantasypros.com. I used their Zeile projections, which basically are consensus projections from a variety of sources. The projections for K-BB%, SwStr%, and the batted ball data are career averages; they are not intended to be projections.

Let’s now take a look at some mispriced pairs of starting pitchers. In all the cases, the lower priced pitcher is expected to provide nearly identical statistics.   

The Arms in New Surroundings

Jon Lester, Chicago Cubs, ADP 40

IP W L K ERA WHIP K-BB% SwStr% BABIP LD% HR/FB% ADP
2013   213.1 15 8 177   3.75   1.29 12.2% 8.4% .300 19.6% 8.3%
2014   219.2 16 11 220   2.46   1.10 19.4% 9.9% .299 20.6% 7.2%
2015 proj.   211.0 14 10 194   3.25   1.17 13.6% 9.2% .301 19.3% 9.4% 40

James Shields, San Diego Padres, ADP 73

 IP W L K ERA WHIP K-BB% SwStr% BABIP LD% HR/FB% ADP
2013   228.2 13 9 196   3.15   1.24 13.5% 9.8% .298 23.2% 8.6%
2014   227.0 14 8 180   3.21   1.18 14.5% 9.5% .295 20.7% 9.7%
2015 proj.   212.0 13 10 187   3.33   1.17 14.8% 10.1% .297 19.6% 11.2% 73

James Shields is moving to the friendly confines of Petco Park. According to ESPN.com’s MLB Park factors Kauffman Stadium ranked 11th in terms of runs scored, while Petco ranked 29th. Shields is a durable vet, he has logged at least 200 innings for eight consecutive years. Shields is not flashy, but he continues to provide solid numbers across the board. He will also benefit from an improved Padres lineup that should result in a few more wins.

Jon Lester has also been a workhorse, throwing at least 190 innings for seven consecutive years. He had a great 2014 campaign, especially compared to his prior seasons. He recorded a WHIP under 1.20 for the first time in his career and he also had an ERA under 3.20 for the first time. Lester’s projections are rightly forecasting a decent amount of regression for the upcoming season, since none of the underlying metrics point to sustainability.

Given the ADP gap, take Big Game James, avoid the southpaw, and sleep like a baby.

The Breakout Bout

Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves, ADP 67

IP W L K ERA WHIP K-BB% SwStr% BABIP LD% HR/FB% ADP
2013   185.2 14 8 170   3.20   1.17 16.2% 10.5% .288 21.2% 10.1%
2014   221.0 14 13 186   2.89   1.08 15.3% 10.7% .267 21.3% 8.1%
2015 proj.   202.0 12 11 170   3.40   1.16 15.0% 10.3% .276 21.6% 9.1% 67

Phil Hughes, Minnesota Twins, ADP 139

 IP W L K ERA WHIP K-BB% SwStr% BABIP LD% HR/FB% ADP
2013   145.2 4 14 121   5.19   1.46 12.3% 8.5% .324 22.7% 11.1%
2014   209.2 16 10 186   3.52   1.13 19.9% 8.8% .324 23.2% 6.2%
2015 proj.   194.0 13 11 165   3.69   1.16 13.9% 8.5% .300 21.0% 9.4% 139

Julio Teheran improved on his impressive 2013 rookie season. However, his year over year increase in innings and the resulting bump in counting stats, masked a K/9 decline and was aided by a surprisingly low BABIP. The Braves are in a rebuild and they will be hard pressed to be win their fair share of games this year.

To call 2014 a renaissance for Phil Hughes would be an understatement. The secret to his success was throwing strikes. He walked 16 batters in over 209 innings. Think about that for a moment. If he can maintain his epic control and improve on his strangely  poor home numbers, 2015 should confirm the career reversal.

Since the 70 ADP gap is not justified, take the Twinkie and bypass the Bravo.

The Youngster Clash

Sonny Gray, Oakland Athletics, ADP 75

IP W L K ERA WHIP K-BB% SwStr% BABIP LD% HR/FB% ADP
2013     64.0 5 3 67   2.67   1.11 18.0% 9.5% .276 19.5% 8.3%
2014   219.0 14 10 183   3.08   1.19 12.1% 8.7% .277 18.5% 9.4%
2015 proj.   203.0 13 10 174   3.41   1.25 13.4% 8.9% .277 18.7% 9.2% 75

Lance Lynn, St Louis Cardinals, ADP 127

 IP W L K ERA WHIP K-BB% SwStr% BABIP LD% HR/FB% ADP
2013   201.2 15 10 198   3.97   1.31 14.2% 9.5% .314 22.5% 7.4%
2014   203.2 15 10 181   2.74   1.26 12.6% 8.4% .290 19.6% 6.1%
2015 proj.   196.0 14 10 176   3.42   1.25 14.4% 9.2% .306 21.4% 7.9% 127

Sonny Gray burst onto the scene in 2013, but he seemed to take a small step back last season as his K-BB% declined dramatically. He is an elite groundball pitcher, ranking fifth among qualified starters. He is being drafted as if he is a fantasy ace, but none of his numbers suggest that should be the case.

Lance Lynn does not do anything that jumps off the page at you. He has at least 180 strikeouts in all of his three full seasons with the Cardinals. His ERA last year seemed a little lucky given his low HR/FB% and high LOB%.  The projections take this into account and even with that factor, the 50 plus ADP gap is just wrong.

Take the Redbird, avoid the A and you won’t be feeling gray.

The Veteran Brawl

Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers, ADP 132

IP W L K ERA WHIP K-BB% SwStr% BABIP LD% HR/FB% ADP
2013   218.1 13 12 217   3.46   1.31 15.3% 10.5% .316 22.7% 7.8%
2014   206.0 15 12 159   4.54   1.40 10.5% 8.7% .317 19.8% 6.8%
2015 proj.   204.0 13 11 182   3.86   1.29 14.8% 9.7% .291 20.2% 7.8% 132

Francisco Liriano, Pittsburgh Pirates, ADP 188

 IP W L K ERA WHIP K-BB% SwStr% BABIP LD% HR/FB% ADP
2013   161.0 16 8 163   3.02   1.22 15.0% 13.2% .290 24.2% 8.3%
2014   162.1 7 10 175   3.38   1.30 13.6% 13.6% .280 18.7% 11.6%
2015 proj.   167.0 11 9 171   3.52   1.29 13.8% 13.0% .301 19.7% 10.6% 188

Justin Verlander still has a lot of backers. I am not sure if it is what he has done in the past or his popular girlfriend. Verlander has had a great career, but all of those innings, including the numerous post seasons, seem to be catching up to him. He is striking out fewer batters and he is becoming much more hittable. According to PITCHf/x, last year he recorded his fifth consecutive annual decline in velocity.

Francisco Liriano’s biggest problem is staying healthy; he has yet to record a 200 inning season in his career. When he is on the mound he has been very good. His swinging strike rate ranked second only to Clayton Kershaw last year. His other issue continues to be the base on balls, if he ever gets that under control, elite status awaits him.

The ADP gap is just plain wrong. Pick the Pirate and avoid trying to tame the Tiger.

Conclusion

Overvalued/Undervalued
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Whether it is Lester and his mega deal, or the flashy youngsters Teheran and Gray, or even Verlander and his brilliant resume, Fantasy players keep finding ways to overpay for name value. Once you really look into their statistics, you will see that they are not very different than their cheaper pair.

Think of your team as a group of players that produce numbers, this will make it easier to avoid the lure of the headlines. Do the right thing by seeking out value and buying the guys on sale.

Data courtesy of www.fantasypros.com and www.fangraphs.com

Justin Verlander Photo Credit: Keith Allison

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