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5 Young MLB Pitchers at Career Crossroads

By Matthew Kirkeby - 7 years ago in MLB News

5 Young MLB Pitchers at Career Crossroads

Early Season DFS can parallel full season fantasy baseball, due to the lack of sample data in the current season.  Statistically speaking, most numbers take a month or two to stabilize, which means that you can’t use them as accurate predictors of future performance until a month or two into the season when there is enough data.  Because of that, it helps to formulate your opinions based on prior season data, and adjust accordingly as more games are played each season and 2017 numbers start to mean more than prior season numbers.

To that end, I’d like to discuss a few young, developing pitchers with live arms and elite level upside, who are trying to put it all together in 2017.  The range of outcomes on these pitchers is very wide.  Any one of them has the talent to be a top 5 pitcher in the MLB if they learn to curb their issues and maximize their talent, but they could also fade back into relative anonymity if they don’t continue to grow and develop.  Most likely they will be somewhere in between.  Let’s see what their numbers suggest.

Carlos Martinez:

This 25 year old fireballer has now had two full seasons as a starter and is at an interesting point in his career. The fantasy baseball market was all over him in the preseason last year, thinking he may take “the leap” and appropriately betting on his high velocity arm, which had flashed greatness in 2015.

His numbers last year, however represented a step back. His K/9 went down from 9.22 to 8.02 while his BB/9 stayed a little worse than average. This translated to a 3.61 FIP, which suggests he not be the type of pitcher you’d expect to keep pitching at that 3.04 ERA. He has also shown clear signs of a platoon split, yielding a .322 wOBA against lefties, despite yielding a solid .243 wOBA against righties.

2017 Prognosis:

I would be wary of using Carlos Martinez in any of my DFS lineups over the first two months. He could still improve, but you shouldn’t pay for him like he’s an ace until he shows signs of it. If he gets cheaper due to struggles, we can reassess his usefulness later.

Unless he develops a new pitch, you will definitely find value on playing left-handed batters (LHB) against him all year.

Danny Duffy:

After a few years of unexciting performance, Duffy started the season in the Royal’s bullpen. He was reintroduced to the Royal’s rotation as a new man. His walk rates went from average to an elite 2.10 BB/9, and his K/9 went from ugly to amazing at 9.42 K/9. A lot of that seemed to be tied to retaining his bullpen velocity that had him regularly topping out at 97 mph from a lefty.

There are also platoon split concerns evidenced by his .325 wOBA vs. righties, masked by his .201 wOBA against lefties. Further, 26 of his 27 Homeruns last year were allowed to righties. His groundball rate of 36% screams fly ball pitcher, so Kaufman Stadium is a good place to help him hide that.

The market will be high on him based on some amazing games he threw last year so he probably won’t be cheap. Duffy probably won’t keep that 97 mph velocity much longer as he sat closer to 93 mph in earlier seasons and velocity gains like that usually don’t stick. I still like him this season and believe in those control gains.

2017 Prognosis:

I would not be afraid to buy him at home or in a pitcher friendly stadium, but I would absolutely avoid too many right-handed power bats. His starts against teams with little right-handed power could be worth elite level prices and he should still be cheaper than that.

Platoon splits are real. I will play cheap right-handed power bats against him routinely.

Danny Salazar

Statistically speaking, Salazar had a very strange year. He increased his K/9 spiked from a career 9.6 to a career high 10.55. That could mean regression is coming, however his above average BB/9 rate shot up to a frightening 4.13 BB/9, which suggests he just pitched out of the zone a lot more. While it appeared to work early in the season, his 3.87 and 3.75 FIP suggest his early second half struggles are simple regression. He finished the year early due to injury, however, and players often try to play through injury, so those numbers may have context.

Though a right-handed pitcher, he showed a reverse platoon split last year, featuring a wOBA of .330 vs right-handed batters (.273 vs. LHB). Also, despite a respectable groundball rate of 48% last year, his career homerun per fly ball rate is 12.0%, so it’s safe to say he struggles with suppressing homeruns.

2017 Prognosis:

Considering his pedigree and electric stuff, there is clearly more upside than last year’s final numbers and I would love to see value on him early in the year. He is an elite talent pitching for the incumbent World Series runner up; if his early season DFS price tag is commiserate with last year’s 3.87 ERA, there could be serious value on him early in the season.

I’d be comfortable finding value on right-handed power hitters against him all year. If his walk rate stays high, I’d use right-handed hitters with a good OBP too.

Aaron Sanchez:

Sanchez had a clear breakout performance with a 3.00 ERA and a 15-2 record, so it’s probably safe to say he won’t be cheap in DFS to start the year. His 2.95 Walk rate is nice for a young live armed talent like Sanchez who never showed himself capable of keeping this number below 4.0 in the minors. But couple the risk of his BB/9 regressing to career norms with a below average 7.55 K/9 and he starts to sound like someone who will be overvalued early.

Nevertheless, a 54% groundball rate has always been a skill and his stuff is electric so good strike out rates could come and he’s only beginning his second full season in the starting rotation. He also hasn’t been exploited by either side of a platoon (.292 wOBA vs. LHB, .260 wOBA vs RHB). Sanchez is clearly a high value asset long term; he is just not an obvious DFS guy as of yet.

2017 Prognosis:

Sanchez only has one full year under his belt and it was a very good one, so long term, his star is very bright. Nevertheless, the career trajectory of a pitcher can be slow developing even for the best pitchers, so I’m not likely to use him much this year in DFS. The chance that he will have to fight through some growing pains as the league adjusts to last year’s film, makes Sanchez very unreliable, at least until we get some fresh stats on him. I won’t to play him until his price tag starts to drop or his stats stabilize and show reliable signs of growth.

Just because I am not bullish on him in DFS does not mean I am looking to fade him with bats. He is still an electric arm who generates above average groundballs and has no exploitable platoon splits. There will be better options on the board.

Michael Fulmer:

Fulmer is a big time prospect who was most known coming up for his wicked curveball. What makes Fulmer so interesting, is that he didn’t use that curveball last year in his stellar rookie campaign. Young pitchers are often asked to develop a third pitch, often a change up, to at least keep the hitters off balance and hopefully neutralize platoon splits. The change up Fulmer, developed, however, showed incredible numbers against, generating whiffs on 19% of swings to go with a solid 47.8% groundball rate.

He shows negligible splits to either handed batter (.295 wOBA vs RHB, .276 wOBA vs LHB) and has pitched well both at home and on the road. He also illustrated excellent control with a 2.38 BB/9 rate in his first year in the majors.

2017 Prognosis:

Fulmer’s outlook is similar to that of Aaron Sanchez, with one big difference: his minor league track record supports 2016’s solid BB/9 rate, which suggests it is much more likely to stick. Further, if he starts throwing his curveball this year, he could render much of the scouting tape on him useless for batters, who have yet to see what may be his best pitch. I will be very selective because he did over perform his numbers last year, but I will happily pay for him in DFS any time I can get good value on his price. He looks special.

Good luck if you decide to fade him with hitters. I see no reason to mess with him as of now. We can revisit this when stats stabilize and we reevaluate pitchers.


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