The key to winning at fantasy baseball is finding players who will outperform their draft position. This will be the first of a series of articles addressing undervalued and overvalued players that you should be targeting in your draft.
Due to the relative shortage of offensive talent, the trendy strategy the past few years has been to collect your bats early in the draft and find pitching later. It’s absolutely a viable strategy but for it to work you need to hit big on undervalued starting pitching. Let’s take a look at who fits the bill this year.
Drew Hutchison, Blue Jays
Some of the prospect shine has come off after a 4.48 ERA, 1.26 WHIP season in 2014 but underneath those numbers shows a very talented pitcher. 9.0 K/9 and a 2.9 BB/9 ranks are very respectable peripherals for a first full season in the major leagues. There is much reason to believe that the walk rate will be improved as well. For one, the acquisition of Russell Martin should have ramifications across the entire Blue Jays staff. He’s not only considered a very good game-caller but he’s also a significant upgrade in the pitch framing department over Dioner Navarro. Secondly, 2014 was Hutchison’s first full year after Tommy John Surgery in August 2012 and his stuff showed marked improvement throughout the season. His swinging strike percentage climbed from 9.8% in the first half, to 12.4% in the 2nd half, 7th best in all the majors among qualifying pitchers. With all of that seemingly behind him, he’s a strong target for a breakout in 2015. There’s a good chance you can find him available near the end of your standard leagues.
Brandon McCarthy, Dodgers
Andrew Friedman apparently has the same faith I do. Stung by a ridiculous .345 BABIP in Arizona last season, McCarthy’s stock plummeted so far that Vidal Nuno seemed like a good idea. Things normalized in New York as McCarthy tossed a 2.89 ERA and 1.15 WHIP for the Yankees, proving that his 2014 Arizona experience (5.01 ERA) was a complete fluke. As a pitcher who lacked the strikeout rates adored by fantasy owners, McCarthy has never gotten much respect in drafts over the years and I don’t think he will this year either. Over the past few seasons he’s slowly ditched his cutter for more of a sinking fastball and that’s led to an increase in ground balls and strikeouts. Now he’s in a big park with a good team that jettisoned some of their worst defensive players (Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez). That could be the perfect recipe for him to put up career best fantasy numbers in ERA, Ks, and Wins. He’ll likely fall further down the board than his true value suggests and you should be the one there to catch him. He should be available after the 20th round in your 12-team standard leagues.
Phil Hughes, Twins
Getting out of Yankees Stadium will help any fly ball pitcher, unless you’re now on the Minnesota Twins and you have their atrocious outfielders behind you. I don’t think the majority of fantasy owners out there will appreciate just how good Hughes was last season. Hughes posted an 8.0 K/9 with an absurd 0.7 BB/9 rate. He’s one of the few pitchers in the game who can throw the ball wherever he wants, whenever he wants. The only problem is he needs someone to catch the ball. Thanks to the help of Chris Colabello (-7 DRS in 123 Innings), Jason Kubel (-9 in 353), Chris Parmelee (-10 in 387), the Minnesota Twins turned in the worst defensive outfield in the majors last year with a combined -50 DRS. And it’s not all roses here for Hughes as the Twins signed the aging Torii Hunter whose best days defensively are way behind him, but a slight regression to the mean would do wonders for Hughes. His .324 BABIP is just not sustainable for a pitcher like himself. Anything better than last year will give him a low 3 ERA and a WHIP that could threaten to go below 1.00. He’ll likely be drafted in the 16th-17th round of most 12-team leagues and you’d be wise to reach a little higher than that to pick him off.
Chase Anderson, Diamondbacks
This is a bit more of a speculative play for deep-deep leagues as Arizona’s recent roster overhaul has forced Anderson to the edge of their rotation. I’m not in any front office but I think there’s good signs here for Anderson and the the Diamondbacks should not give up on him just yet. Anderson was not a big prospect by any means (2011, 9th round out of college) but after working his way up the D-Backs farm, he landed on the big league roster in 2014 and made an immediate impact. His 8.2 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 deserved much better in the National League than a 4.01 ERA . His solid First Pitch Strike (F-Strike%) rate last year has me believing his BB/9 (and therefore WHIP and ERA), will be lower in 2015.
It’s long been established that F-Strike% is a repeatable skill that correlates to itself year-to-year and also correlates strongly to BB/9. Anderson possessed a very admirable 63.4% F-strike% last season. Based on the above chart (Starting pitchers since 2002), this should put him in the 2.6-2.7 BB/9 rate. If he improves on this skill, there could be even more gains here. In shallow leagues he’s probably not an option but worth keeping an eye on if you get hit with injuries. In deeper leagues Anderson is worth a flyer on the back-end of your draft.
Next article: 2015 Fantasy Busts: Starting Pitching