Ray Butler’s 2019 High-Value Active Players: Pitchers

Written by: Ray Butler

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You’ve already read about the hitters who will help you win your fantasy league this season. Now, let’s dissect the pitchers who will do the same in 2019.

A reminder: Some of you will likely ask yourself the same question as you read through this list: “How can a player with a ____ ADP be a high-value player?” Simple. I believe that all players on this list will outperform their draft-day value this season, and that includes players whose ADP currently sits more favorably than others.

One more reminder: As you’ll notice, some of the players listed below will have a ‘February 1st ADP’ and a ‘Current ADP’. Players with both designations were originally released and sent to P365 VIP members on February 1st. Of course, the hope is you’ll see the benefit subscribers had by seeing this list early and consider becoming a VIP member in the future. It’ll also be fun to witness the changes in ADP with these players between now and Opening Day.

Let’s dive in…

Cody Allen, RP, LAA. Age: 30

The closer game is quite fickle, and Allen’s fantasy stock is currently paying quite the toll following a poor 2018 campaign. The 30-year-old was admittedly flawed from a mechanical standpoint last season, and the velocity of his dynamic fastball/curveball combination dropped an entire mile per hour. Now away from Cleveland and in Anaheim, manager Brad Ausmus has already named Allen the Angels’ closer for the upcoming season. One of my favorite closer-related exercises is to evaluate 9th-inning arms as they relate to team win totals. Westgate Las Vegas currently projects the Angels at 81.5 wins this season, so Allen figures to receive plenty of opportunities to rank amongst the best closers in baseball in 2019. The right-hander is only a season removed from posting a 2.94 ERA and 32.6 K%. Take advantage of the ADP here. 2019 Projection: 68 IP, 3.76 ERA, 83 K, 3.4 BB/9, 31 SV. February 1st ADP: 154, Current ADP: 165

Shane Bieber, SP, CLE. Age: 23

The right-hander has always had fantastic command, but it’ll be what he’s commanding that could propel Bieber closer to top-100 overall territory. The 23-year-old’s best two pitchers are his slider and curveball, yet he only threw the two pitches 38.8% of the time combined after being promoted to the big leagues last season. Meanwhile, opposing batters hit .310 and whiffed only 15% of the time versus Bieber’s four-seam (which accounted for 57.5% of his pitches). The pitch usage is bound to change in 2019; when it does, Bieber could soar to heights that were once perceived throughout the industry (myself included) as unattainable during his prospect days. Even if the right-hander continues to throw his fastball too often, the unlucky .356 BABIP from 2018 should positively regress, which means the ERA/xFIP discrepancy is likely to shrink this season. 2019 Projection: 167 IP, 3.71 ERA, 174 K, 1.6 BB/9. February 1st ADP: 154, Current ADP: 151

Tyler Glasnow, SP, TB. Age: 25

There were three pitchers in 2018 who struck out at least 27% of the batters they faced while also posting a 49.8 GB% or better (min. 100 IP). The first two were Aaron Nola and Walker Buehler. The third? Tyler Glasnow. The right-hander only started eleven games last season, and they all came after he was traded from Pittsburgh to Tampa Bay in the Chris Archer trade. The 25-year-old figures to be slotted with Blake Snell, Charlie Morton and Blake Honeywell to form one of the most interesting rotations in all of baseball this season. Fun, random fact: Glasnow has the largest gap (amongst all pitchers in the big leagues) between his actual fastball velocity and his perceived fastball velocity (2.6 MPH). I think the right-hander finally connects all the dots in 2019. 2019 Projection: 148 IP, 3.65 ERA, 172 K, 4.1 BB/9. February 1st ADP: 173, Current ADP: 158

As you can see below, Glasnow has added a pause to his windup mechanics this spring. The right-hander has claimed the hesitation helps him remain consistent with his timing (h/t Lance Brozdowski). 

Sonny Gray, SP, CIN. Age: 29

There’s something to be said for being around people that help you thrive, and Gray reuniting with his college pitching coach Derek Johnson in Cincinnati could be exactly what the right-hander needs to return to form. The 29-year-old hasn’t struck out a batter per inning since 2013, so the upside here is a little lower than most of the other pitchers on this list. However, while Great American Ballpark isn’t exactly a pitching safe haven, at least Gray is away from the AL East and Yankee Stadium. There was a sizable discrepancy (0.80) between Gray’s ERA and xFIP last season, and it’s more than feasible he returns something that resembles his 2017 numbers. Note: Gray was scratched from starting the Reds first Spring Training game with elbow soreness, but he’s already resumed throwing and expects to be ready for Opening Day. 2019 Projection: 148 IP, 3.83 ERA, 138 K, 3.2 BB/9. February 1st ADP: 299, Current ADP: 273

Andrew Heaney, SP, LAA. Age: 27

The left-hander isn’t as much of a breakout candidate in 2019 as he is under-appreciated for his solid campaign last season. Fully returned from Tommy John surgery, Heaney struck out a batter per inning and posted a 4.15 ERA in 180 IP in 2018. The numbers become even more intriguing when you see the southpaw’s 3.68 xFIP. The 27-year-old is a good bet to finish this season with an ERA under four, though I am slightly concerned about the exponential workload increase last season and how it’ll affect Heaney in 2019. Note: Heaney’s next Spring Training appearance has been pushed back due to elbow discomfort. However, the left-hander has not been shut down, and no additional tests have been ordered. Heaney experienced a similar soreness during Spring Training last season, then he threw 180 IP with a strikeout per inning during the regular season. He considers the ailment minor and expects to return to action soon. 2019 Projection: 172 IP, 3.94 ERA, 167 K, 2.5 BB/9. February 1st ADP: 169, Current ADP: 164

Josh James, SP, HOU. Age: 26

You know the old saying: The best time to buy is when there’s blood in the streets. In this instance, the blood in the streets is James’ currently strained quadricep, which has indefinitely sidelined the right-hander and all but eliminated him from the Astros’ rotation competition this spring. But while the injury may alter James’ role on Opening Day, it’s unlikely to burden him deep into the season. Looking at the right-handers pre-2018 numbers and thinking ‘ah, he could very well regress back to those numbers’ would be, quite frankly, shortsighted and unfair to the strides James has made on and off the field. I do think the 26-year-old’s walk rate at the big league level is due for a little regression this season, but James should still be incredibly valuable even if the BB/9 is closer to four than it is to three. He’ll be pitching in front of one of the most analytically-savvy defenses in baseball, so I trust the Astros to help James remain consistent and full of upside regardless of whether it’s from the rotation or the bullpen. 2019 Projection: 98 IP, 3.68 ERA, 118 K, 3.7 BB/9. February 1st ADP: 199, Current ADP: 194

Kenta Maeda, SP, LAD. Age: 30

Distance (away from a steady spot in the starting rotation) makes the heart grow fonder, and Maeda is ready to explode back onto the scene this season after ping-ponging back and forth between the Dodgers’ rotation and bullpen in 2018. The right-hander utilized his slider and changeup more often last season (both the cutter and curveball usage decreased), and the pair finished the season as Maeda’s most valuable pitches (125.1 IP). Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts axed any gray area concerning Maeda’s role this season at the beginning of Spring Training a couple of weeks ago— he will officially return to being a full-time starter in 2019. Though the 30-year-old’s 28.8 K% last season will likely decrease as he’s forced to attack hitters differently in longer outings, there’s still a ton of value to be had for a pitcher currently (and perplexingly) being drafted outside the top-200. Mainstream projection systems universally support this claim. 2019 Projection: 141 IP, 3.73 ERA, 153 K, 2.8 BB/9. Current ADP: 214

Trevor May, RP, MIN. Age: 29

Following Tommy John surgery that forced him to miss the entirety of the 2017 season, May transitioned from the starting rotation to the bullpen upon his return last season. The right-hander was dynamite once he was reinstated from the DL, striking out 35.0% of the batters he faced while posting a 2.46 xFIP in 25.1 IP (24 appearances). The Twins have added Blake Parker and also roster Taylor Rogers, but I think May has the inside track on the closer’s role in 2019. I predicted Blake Treinen to return top-10 RP value last season, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see May accomplish that same feat this season. The 29-year-old will be one of the bullpen-surprises throughout the league this season. 2019 Projection: 67 IP, 3.34 ERA, 81 K, 2.4 BB/9, 29 SV. February 1st ADP: 246, Current ADP: 266

Collin McHugh, SP, HOU. Age: 31

Relegated to the bullpen last season, McHugh suddenly became one of the most valuable players on the Astros’ active roster. The 33.2 K% was easily McHugh’s career high, and the 1.99 ERA and 2.6 BB/9 in 72.1 IP completed a jaw-dropping reliever profile for the 31-year-old. Since the completion of last season, Charlie Morton has signed with the Rays, Lance McCullers Jr. has been lost to Tommy John surgery and Dallas Keuchel is likely headed elsewhere in free agency. These occurrences, plus Josh James’ recently strained quadricep, means McHugh is viewed as a favorite to be transitioned back to the starting rotation. Starting pitchers moving to the bullpen for a stint before returning to the rotation is a more popular tale than you’d think, and there’s been quite a bit of success associated with it. Season-long projection systems seem to be keeping this in mind, and McHugh is included on this list because his ADP doesn’t resemble the pitcher the numbers say he will be this season. 2019 Projection: 158 IP, 3.87 ERA, 171 K, 2.9 BB/9. February 1st ADP: 276, Current ADP: 223

Joe Musgrove, SP, PIT. Age: 26

This isn’t an original thought, but if the ADP of the pitcher listed right below Musgrove is too rich for your blood, you should consider the Pirates’ right-hander. Musgrove’s moderate strikeout means he’ll never be a truly-elite option on your fantasy staff, but the sturdy floor means he’ll positively contribute to your team without ever costing you an entire matchup. Basically, in order for Musgrove to be a high-value player in 2019, he simply has to stay healthy. Injuries 1) delayed the start of the 26-year-old’s 2018 campaign and 2) ended his season early. But while he was healthy, the right-hander posted a 3.59 FIP and 1.8 BB/9 in 115.1 IP. Matt Modica has been all over the Musgrove/Pivetta comparison on Twitter, and I must say I couldn’t agree more. 2019 Projection: 164 IP, 3.58 ERA, 157 K, 2.1 BB/9. February 1st ADP: 236, Current ADP: 215

I’m also a fan of this from Baseball Prospectus’s Rob Silver:

All of that brings us to….

Nick Pivetta, SP, PHI. Age: 26

Picking Pivetta as a high-value commodity in 2019 has turned into a bit of a mush pick, but it’s hard to look at the right-hander’s peripherals from last season and think he won’t make positive strides this season. Pivetta struck out 27.1% of the batters he faced in 2018 (188 in 164 IP). He is also a darling of two of my favorite predictive pitching stat, ERA-xFIP (1.35) and K-BB% (19.7%). The Phillies’ defense was historically bad last season, and hindsight shows they didn’t do a good enough job aligning to Pivetta’s improvement in GB%. The 26-year-old will receive more support defensively this season if for no other reason than it would be hard to give him any less. The sequencing and process obviously won’t be the same, but Pivetta posting 2018 Luis Severino numbers this season shouldn’t really surprise us too much. 2019 Projection: 183 IP, 3.51 ERA, 209 K, 3.0 BB/9. February 1st: 154, Current ADP: 151

Trevor Richards, SP, MIA. Age: 25

Realizing he possessed an elite pitch at the big league level, Richards increased his changeup usage by nearly 20% during the second half of the regular season in 2018. The results? The 25-year-old struck out 6.8% more batters (up to 27.2%) and posted a second-half ERA under 4.00 (3.97 to be exact). Not improving the walk rate from last season would mean Richards may never truly be elite, but as the changeup usage (hopefully) continues to rise (and he’s working to add a curveball and cutter this spring), the right-hander could flirt with a strikeout per inning while keeping his ERA south of four. It should coincide with a decrease in fastball usage, which had a -14.0 pitch value last season. Richards is a no-brainer at his current ADP. If he goes undrafted in your league, keep an eye on his pitch splits early in the season. 2019 Projection: 149 IP, 3.97 ERA, 145 K, 3.5 BB/9. February 1st: 421, Current ADP: 492

Eduardo Rodriguez, SP, BOS. Age: 25

I like Rodriguez for a couple of reasons this season. 1) I’ve been a fan of the southpaw for a long time, but I’ve been afraid to hype him too much due to his spotty injury history. For the first time in seemingly forever, Rodriguez has spent an offseason training and developing instead of rehabbing one of his various, past ailments. 2) The 25-year-old was quietly really solid in 2018, yet his current ADP doesn’t fully reflect it. The left-hander posted a 3.90 xFIP last season while striking out 26.4% of the batters he faced in 129.2 IP. If that’s the ceiling, it’s plenty valuable. But there’s reason to believe Rodriguez may be capable of taking another step forward this season, and it’s mostly centered around the fact the 25-year-old has been working with Chris Sale and Pedro Martinez to ‘revamp’ his slider, a pitch Rodriguez threw only 8.8% of time last season. If it becomes a viable weapon that can be added to his fastball-changeup-cutter arsenal, Rodriguez could return top-20 SP value this season. 2019 Projection: 135 IP, 3.63 ERA, 155 K, 3.2 BB/9. Current ADP: 152

Anibal Sanchez, SP, WAS. Age: 35

Basically left for dead in the fantasy world, Sanchez practically ditched his slider and sinker in favor of a cutter and higher-frequency changeup. The results were beautiful, as the right-hander struck out 24.4% of the batters he faced while posting a 7.0 H/9 and 2.83 ERA in 136.2 IP. Now, the veteran will take his place at the end of an elite Nationals rotation, signing a 2 year. $19 million contract this offseason. Batters will be better prepared to face Sanchez’s new arsenal and sequencing this season, but the same K% with an ERA an entire point higher (perhaps in the 3.75 range since the .255 BABIP from last season will regress) would still make the 35-year-old a bargain at his current ADP. Pitching in a staff alongside the likes of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin shouldn’t hurt either. 2019 Projection: 153 IP, 3.75 ERA, 140 K, 2.8 BB/9. Current ADP: 279

Max Freeze tweeted this about Sanchez before the new year…

Julio Urias, SP/RP, LAD. Age: 22

I’ve been conducting the Julio Urias Truther train since the southpaw underwent major shoulder surgery in 2017, so of course he’s going to make this list now that he’s seemingly healthy and once again ready to contribute at the big league level. However, this inclusion probably isn’t for everybody. With as much as the Dodgers manipulate the disabled list and the revolving door that cycles their relievers between Triple-A and the big leagues, if your fantasy league doesn’t have any minor league spots, Urias might not be for you in 2019. However, if you can swing it, I love the potential role for the 22-year-old this season. He won’t start the season in the starting rotation. Heck, he might even start the season in the minor leagues. But once he gets his footing in Los Angeles, Urias will be a multi-inning swingman who should post gaudy strikeout numbers. He’s also likely to accrue some starts at some point in 2019. In general, I could see the left-hander totaling around 80-90 IP with 10-11 K/9 this season. Seeing as the acquisition price is only a small step above ‘free’, Urias could become a prized commodity throughout the regular season. 2019 Projection: 85 IP, 3.62 ERA, 98 K, 3.2 BB/9. February 1st: 262, Current ADP: 292

Luke Weaver, SP, ARZ. Age: 25

Weaver’s fastball and changeup combined to comprise more than 82% of the right-hander’s pitches in 2018, and he spoke recently about his unfortunate predictability last season. Within that article, you’ll also read that Weaver bought a Rapsodo pitch-tracking camera this offseason in hopes of improving his curveball and cutter. Early returns this spring have been positive. We’re only a season removed from Weaver being drafted as a top-30 starting pitcher while possessing an ADP inside the top-115 overall. And while I’m not predicting his numbers resemble those of a pitcher drafted that highly, I do believe we’ll see some noticeable improvements in sequencing and variation this season. It’ll go largely untalked about because the Diamondbacks will be thoroughly forgettable this season, but I think Weaver flirts with a top-60 SP return in 2019. 2019 Projection: 163 IP, 4.12 ERA, 150 K, 3.2 BB/9. Current ADP: 308

It’s also #ProspectListSZN here at P365, and the first 80 prospects from my #P365Top200 have already been released. Check out my #121-140 prospects here, #141-160 prospects here, my #161-180 prospects here and my #181-200 prospects here

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Featured image courtesy of photographer Richard Rodriguez and Getty Images

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