Today was supposed to be Opening Day across Major League Baseball. And as with the games on the field, fantasy seasons worldwide would also be getting underway. But just as the games are in limbo because of the coronavirus, so too are our fantasy leagues. Because we have some extra time this season to prep for our fantasy baseball drafts, SportsIntel’s Matt DeSaro will offer his insights for leagues that have yet to draft. Today, we highlight starting pitchers with boom or bust potential in 2020.
The sudden outbreak of the coronavirus worldwide has put all major sports on hold, but that shouldn’t stop us from using the time we have to our advantage. It is a perfect opportunity to craft a league-winning strategy for your MLB fantasy draft. As with any season, there are many attractive options at the starting pitcher position, but busts are lurking in the shadows. This cheat sheet aims to highlight a few players to target and a few to avoid based on current ADP numbers.
Jordan Montgomery NYY| 299 ADP – Target
The New York Yankees desperately need some help as preseason injuries are already wreaking havoc on their pitching staff. With Luis Severino out for the year, James Paxton likely to be on the IL opening day, and Domingo German still suspended, options must be explored.
Enter 27-year-old southpaw Jordan Montgomery. He is expected to open the season as the Yankees No. 4 option behind Gerrit Cole, Masahiro Tanaka, and J.A. Happ.
Montgomery emerged as a quality starter in 2017, going 9-7 with a 3.88 ERA and 1.23 WHIP in 29 starts. He made just six starts, however, in 2018 before requiring Tommy John surgery, returning to go 2-0 with a 3.62 ERA in two starts late last year.
There are a number of experts who are suspicious of Montgomery due to his long layoff after surgery. This is actually great news for me, and I hope that more reporters dog him and continue to push his draft stock lower. His current ADP is hovering right around 300, but I firmly believe he is a Top-150 player by the end of the season. I am not worried about his recovery from Tommy John because he has already made two starts last year and has proven he is healthy.
Montgomery has also had a great spring so far, highlighted by his last outing where he retired all 12 batters he faced in a perfect 4 innings of work. Scouting reports say his bullpens have seen an uptick in velocity and his control has been on point. His spring so far has seen the lefty walk just a single batter while fanning 16 in 11.0 innings pitched. He has been already guaranteed a starting position by Brian Cashman and barring injury, will likely stick around even after Paxton returns.
Trevor Bauer CIN | 67 ADP – Avoid
A ton of players took a chance on Bauer last year after he impressed with a 2.21 ERA with 221 strikeouts in 175.1 innings of work in 2018. They were instead rewarded by a 4.48 ERA in 213 IP. His strikeouts were still there with 253, and they probably will be again this year. That is his bread and butter and the biggest reason to draft him in fantasy leagues in the first place. The issue is that while his 2018 season wasn’t a total aberration from him usual performance, it was mostly his ERA. I think he would have seen an ERA regression no matter what last season, but the move to the Great American Ballpark did not help any. It is already regarded as a hitters’ park and with Bauer’s fly ball tendencies, I’m actually surprised his ERA wasn’t closer to 5.00.
In seasons where Bauer has pitched at least 150 innings, his ERA has been: 4.18, 4.55, 4.26, 4.19, 2.21, and 4.48. See a pattern here?
Now I’m an optimistic guy, and I have won many an MLB fantasy years drafting bounce-back candidates. I should also add that I really like Trevor Bauer as a pitcher and once even helped him get his drone out of a tree. While that is a story for another day, the point is I have a lot of love for the guy, and he IS a fantasy asset. But not with a Top-75 pick. If he is still on the board in the 10th round in your 10-team league, then I say pull the trigger. But don’t be tempted to reach for him to repeat his 2018 excellence. I expect him to be marginally better this year than last, but I still don’t see him as a Top-30 starter to target.
Julio Urias LAD | ADP 153 – Target
Urias’ biggest hurdle to fantasy relevance has already been jumped as he will begin the year in the Dodgers rotation. At one point in time, he was considered the best pitching prospect in baseball at just 19 years of age. But shoulder issues and a 20-game suspension for pushing a woman have left many wanting.
But the kid can throw.
His ability to get swings and misses is truly elite and while his command has been a bit of an issue, he possesses all the tools needed to be a great pitcher.
Since undergoing anterior capsule surgery in 2017, the Dodgers were very cautious with their young talent and allowed him to pitch just 15 innings in 2018. The kid-glove treatment continues in 2019 when Urias worked primarily out of the bullpen and pitching just 79.2 innings in 37 appearances. But he excelled. He posted a 2.49 ERA with 85 strikeouts in those appearances, which included eight starts.
He enters 2020 with his rotation slot in hand and while he is unlikely to exceed 175 innings, they will likely be high-quality innings. You could do a lot worse with the 150th pick in your draft and I would even be ok with reaching a bit to grab him if the front end of your rotation is already set.
Jack Flaherty STL | ADP 23 – Avoid
Now let me be clear here as I am well aware of how good Jack Flaherty is. The guy is a beast and I would love to have him on my team. But, not with a Top-25 pick.
The Cardinals young ace had a second half to 2019 which was nothing short of historic. He spun a 0.91 ERA, 0.72 WHIP and 11.2 K/9 in his final 15 starts. Amazing numbers to be sure, but they are not sustainable.
Despite his obvious skill, luck also played a factor in his second-half dominance last year. He posted an absurdly low .254 wOBA, which was 24 points less than his .278 xwOBA. This ranked him in the Top-10 in the league in the differential between the two. Additionally, he finished in the top three of batting average on contact but was projected to fall way outside the Top-25. While some say it is better to be lucky than good. The ideal outcome is to possess both.
Those numbers suggest a level of regression that will still keep Flaherty among the top assets in the game, but outside the Top-25 in my opinion. Expect a lot from him but not enough to justify drafting him as a top-five starter in 2020.