30 May Did You Sneakily Buy an Ace Pitcher?
By: Lucas Biery – Follow me on twitter @BieryPlox33
There are many different ways to ‘skin the cat’ in fantasy baseball, meaning any strategy ‘could’ work, but typically a few foundation stud hitters and a an ace pitcher are required to win big in any competitive league. The starting pitchers coming into 2018 were more expensive than they have been possibly ever, considering there were typically 4 of them going in the first round of 15 team leagues. Some owners even bought multiple aces, leaving the other owners scrambling to find alternatives.
Some of these later round guys have performed like aces, or pseudo aces (top 25 or 30 SP’s.) Essentially guys you will never take out of your lineup, or must starts. I will discuss 8 guys who fit that bill.
The first guy in this group is Gerrit Cole. Currently he’s the 6th ranked player in fantasy baseball per Yahoo (5×5 roto leagues). This former uber high end prospect is finally spreading his wings– in Houston. His K Rate has gone up tremendously, spiking from a paltry 19.4% and 23.1% to an absurd 40% k rate now. I think it’s safe to say you have a burgeoning ace in Cole.
This next ‘Stro is a bit tougher to figure out: Charlie ‘Ground Chuck’ Morton. The 34 year old journeyman has oddly found a home in Houston, and has surged to a career season. The owners who snagged him late in their drafts are reaping the vast benefits. He’s ringing up opposing batsmen at an absurd rate, a career best 31 percent strikeout rate. That’s almost double what he did in ’15 with the Pirates, but in ’16 and ’17 he put up a nice K rate of 26%. The issue has been durability, he has not pitched over 150 IP since 2014, and though we aren’t expecting the Wainwright types of workhorses in the current fantasy baseball landscape, volume from an ace has to be there, especially in a deeper league. All in all, Morton’s skill changes appear to be legit, though the durability is a concern to me. If I could trade him for a more reliable guy in the SP12 to SP16 range, in addition to a small upgrade elsewhere, I’d be all over that. He’s performing in the top 6 of all SPs thus far, so a trade like that is plausible. Yes, Chuck is a ROS ace, but a high(er) risk one due to age and health track record.
Verdict: Hold in shallow leagues where replacement level is adequate, but sell in deep leagues where innings certainty is more valuable.
The humidor has hindered some, and rejuvenated others, like Patrick Corbin. Corbin is still at an age where traditional aging curves may suggest he could breakout, at only 28 years old, the Arizona lefty has been dealing. He’s sitting with an 11.5 K/9 and a 2.5 era. His Home Run to Fly Ball rate is sitting at a very low 1.04 when it has been at 1.23 and 1.39 in the past two years. That generous HR/FB rate coupled with a forgiving strand rate of 85% (his career rate is around 75%) has fueled his success. The low HR/FB rate and strand rate allow for this guy to put up great numbers. His career babip is over .300, while his season babip is .232. That should regress towards his career rate, thus bloating his era. I don’t buy the projection systems stating that his era will rise over a 4 era, but something around 3.7-3.9 isn’t out of the question. I’d sell Corbin while the surface numbers are still sexy.
Verdict: Sell high.
The next rising stud SP thus far in ’18 is Sean Manaea. He’s young, has been a bit of an innings eating machine, and has some upside. But I’m low on him due to his lack of K upside. He’s striking out only 18.9 percent of the batters he is facing. I believe the former Indiana State Sycamore has a ton of value as a real life arm, but in fantasy those lack of strikeouts will really prove to be problematic. He has truely improved his walk rate, cutting it in half since last season, so I believe he’s improving, but the lack of strikeouts isn’t acceptable from a staff ace.
Verdict: Sell High.
The next potential ace in the making Miles Mikolas. The owners that are invested have sank hardly any capital into the 6 foot 5 righty, yet he has rewarded them handsomely with a ridiculous 2.2 era and 6 big wins. He’s a Manaea clone, a guy who limits free passes, induces loads of grounders and has performed well above expectations in 2018. Projection systems have the moustachioed Mikolas being over a 4 era ROS, which I think is a bit unfair. I don’t think The Lizard King would draw much interest trades, and should be provide a useful 3.6-3.8 era, so while he isn’t an ace, I would hold.
Verdict: Explore his market, but most likely hold.
The polarizing Trevor Bauer has been a supremely useful SP through 2 months of baseball, providing his owners an electric 2.35 era, coupled with a boatload of K’s. The ever tinkering righty has limited home runs to an absurd extent, he has a puny .42 HR/9. This clearly won’t sustain, given the righties’ track record, but where will that rate land? Projection systems have him around his career mark of 1.1, bloating his era to an adequate 3.7-3.8 era with a ton of K’s. Wins could be where Bauer returns lots of value for fantasy owners. Granted chasing wins isn’t a smart bet, it’s one fantasy owners must do, and in the putrid AL Central, they could be abundant for Bauer. He isn’t an ace, but should remain steady ROS.
Even year: it applies to the San Francisco Giants and Kate Upton Rival Rick Porcello. Coming off a dreadful 2017, Ricky P has been stellar in 2018. He’s limiting walks, keeping balls in the yard, and the surface stats reflect it, with his era at a decent 3.7. Projection systems have Porcello’s era bloating up over 4, and that’s with his HR/9 doubling to 1.3 off his current .6 HR/9. This isn’t totally fair, as Porcello has a career high in GB rate, thus cutting his HR rate down greatly. Porcello has proven to be a horse, with nearly 430 IP in ’16 and ’17 combined. The innings certainty, coupled with a boatload of potential wins on the Red Sox, make him a candidate to remain pretty useful. I’d buy Porcello, as his owner probably doesn’t believe in this recent resurgence.
Verdict: Hold or buy if the price is right.
This next crop of guys are much more exciting than the previous, as they were all high end prospect. Jose Berrios has been a tantalizing prospect for years, and could possibly be cementing his way in the top 20 of SPs. Unlike previous pitchers in this article, Berrios has been closer to ordinary than to stud, his ERA sits at 3.8. On the positive, Berrios has been limiting his walks, inducing more soft contact than ever, and striking batters out at a respectable rate of 25%. Projection systems have him around a 4 era, but given his upside and prospect pedigree, I believe there’s a lot more coming from the 24 year old.
These arms could go a variety of ways, and all come at different price points. If you can identify the correct guy, you really could boost your pitching staff tremendously. Happy hunting.