Ray Butler’s 2020 High-Value Active Players: Pitchers, Part 1

Written by: Ray Butler

Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365

New month, new redraft content.

Today, we roll out Part 1 of the pitcher portion of my 2020 high-value active player list. This release consists of more than 3000 words, covering pitchers (last name spanning from A to M) who I firmly believe will help you win your fantasy leagues this season.

A brief reminder on the philosophy of this list: every player you’ll read about throughout this three-part series (infielders, outfielders and pitchers) is a player I expect to outperform their NFBC ADP by at least 20.0%. This means if a player has a ADP of 100.00, we’ll consider his inclusion a success if they finish the season as a top-80 overall player (I use Razzball’s Player Rater to make those determinations).

Before you dive-in and read the first half of my favorite, value-driven pitchers for the upcoming fantasy season, make sure you’re up to date on my high-value infielders (here) and outfielders (here) who will lead you into the black in 2020. Yes, we’re a prospect-based website. Yes, the money we’ll help you make in your redraft leagues will look and spend the same as anywhere else you read fantasy baseball content this preseason.

We’re less than a month away from Opening Day. Sixteen high-value pitchers await you below. Away we go….

Note: The “2020 NFBC ADP” attached to each player is their ADP since January 1st. The “VIP NFBC ADP” attached to each player was their ADP when this list was emailed to VIP members on New Year‘s Day.

Tyler Beede, SP, SF. Age: 26

As you read this list, you’ll notice a common theme amongst several of the pitchers: throw your best pitches more and your worst pitches less. For too long, decision makers did their organizations a disservice by mandating pitchers build their arsenals around the fastball. It was simply assumed—for no better reason than ‘that’s how it’s always been done’—that a pitcher needed to throw his fastball more frequently than any other pitch, regardless of the outcome. As baseball slowly creeps away from that notion—or at least shows a willingness to—it becomes easier to dream on a pitcher like Beede. As you can see from the embedded tweet below, the 26-year-old finds himself in rarified air in the swinging strike rates of individual pitches; his curveball, changeup and slider all posted a SwStr% greater than 15.0% last season. So why are the 2019 numbers—a 5.03 ERA and 12.8 K-BB% in 117.0 IP—so forgettable? Lack of command may be the biggest culprit here (and the likeliest reason Beede will never ascend to the level of some of the pitchers on the list below), but there’s also a bit of unoptimized usage. It’s unfair to ask a pitcher to drastically alter their usage without the change eventually causing an adverse effect to their outcomes, but I would love to see Beede’s fastball usage drop from 56.1% in 2019 to ~40-45% in 2020 and beyond. The extra 10-15% would be distributed to his curveball (one of the best curveballs in the big leagues last season) and changeup. Sneakily, I think this optimization would also help mask Beede’s command issues. The Giants’ rotation lacks both depth and star-power, so I assume the 26-year-old will have a comfortable leash to begin the 2020 season. There’s a little less margin for error here than most of the names included on this list, but as you’ll see below, the upside is unmistakable. VIP NFBC ADP: 420, 2020 NFBC ADP: 458

Matthew Boyd, SP, DET. Age: 29

I look at the ADP and think it’s a decently steep price to pay for a two-pitch starter who posted a 4.56 ERA last season, then I remember a ~170 ADP means Boyd is somehow the 60th pitcher off the board. Yeah, we’re in. Boyd is Patrick Corbin Lite: a southpaw who’s armed with one of the game’s best sliders amongst starting pitchers. Both members of this comparison should increase their slider usage to above 40% in 2020, which should lead to natural growth for both pitchers. But the hype extends even further for the 29-year-old, who spent his offseason recreating his curveball in hopes of becoming less predictable in 2020 and beyond. Boyd’s breakout 2019 campaign was masked by a second half ERA of 5.51, which raised his season-long ERA to 4.56. The left-hander was plagued by the long ball last season (1.89 HR/9), but some improvement in that area and positive regression with fastball outcomes means we cross the finish line with this inclusion. For what it’s worth, Boyd’s pre-ASG ERA last season was 3.87. His season long xFIP was 3.88. That range is my expectation for the 29-year-old’s ERA in 2020. If he’s successful in implementing a reliable third pitch this season (his four seam and slider accounted for 86.0% of his usage last season), Boyd could quickly become one of the best starting pitchers in all of baseball. VIP NFBC ADP: 167, 2020 NFBC ADP: 168

Staff writer Adam Ehrenreich recently published both portions of his 2020 Post-Hype Pandemonium series, outlining the hitters and pitchers he considers sleepers and breakout candidates for the upcoming season. 

Steven Brault, SP, PIT. Age: 27

Much like Joe Musgrove (who is making a return appearance on this list; you can read about him below), it’s easy to buy at least a small bump in performance for Brault moving forward thanks to a complete overhaul in decision making in Pittsburgh. I’m not here to claim the southpaw’s fastball is a magical pitch that will cure all issues beginning in 2020 (though it does have above average horizontal movement), but the impending (well, hopeful) extinction of Brault’s sinker (.341 xBA, .381 xwOBA with 13.5% usage in 2019) from his repertoire should allow some underlying positives—like an awesome cutter, serviceable changeup and interesting slider—to shine through this season and beyond. A late offseason signing of Derek Holland will certainly give Brault some competition in cracking the Pirates’ Opening Day rotation, though the latter should assumedly hold a higher priority within the organization moving forward. The 27-year-old has been one of my favorite dart throws post-pick 700 in draft-and-holds this preseason, and you should keep an eye on the Opening Day role when making early-season plans in your weekly FAAB leagues. VIP NFBC ADP: 713, 2020 NFBC ADP: 719

Dylan Bundy, SP, LAA. Age: 27

Really thought Bundy being traded to the Angels (and the subsequent hype) would keep him off a high-value list like this one, but the right-hander is currently the 120th pitcher being selected in redrafts on average. Maybe the steam is more underground than we think? This inclusion is quite simple. Perhaps more so than any player in the big leagues, Bundy needed a change of scenery. He received it, but the updated price tag doesn’t reflect it. Of course a fastball velocity that’s diminished over the past two seasons is concerning, but it was the command of the pitch (or lack thereof) that led it to being punished last season. I’m hopeful we might see an uptick in velocity and/or fastball command with alterations that can be utilized and implemented by the Angels’ R&D department. But even if the fastball remains a subpar pitch, an increase in slider usage (23% last season) will lead to natural growth within this profile. Along with a nice home park bump following his exit from Camden Yards, the 27-year-old is a prime candidate to return top-225 (top-90 pitcher) value in 2020. VIP NFBC ADP: 308, 2020 NFBC ADP: 278

Corbin Burnes, SP/RP, MIL. Age: 25

Burnes has been the talk of the town on our site recently, as the right-hander was featured in the third and final edition of my 2020 Vision series. The potential here is immense; regardless of the 25-year-old’s role on Opening Day (it currently appears as though he may begin the season in Triple-A), it’s likely he’ll have the opportunity to make an impact on the Brewers’ staff at some point in 2020. Even if you’re only grabbing a few shares in Draft and Holds, when everything clicks for Burnes, the entirety of the baseball world will know about it. Make sure you’ve read my deep, analytical dive on the right-hander. VIP NFBC ADP: 457, 2020 NFBC ADP: 544

Dylan Cease, SP, CHW. Age: 24

I figured the thought of a sophomore season surge would keep Cease off this list, but he’s currently the 111th pitcher off the board on average, and there’s too much upside to pass up at that price. Command is the main thing hindering the 24-year-old from stardom at the big league level. You know that; I know that. But there’s also another, more interesting burden within this profile: spin efficiency. Cease’s fastball doesn’t have it, so the pitch’s 93rd percentile velocity and 87th percentile spin rate don’t perform anywhere close to its potential (.297 xBA, .507 xSLG last season). On their face—and as a pitch Cease threw 47% of the time in 2019–those numbers should disqualify the right-hander from being included on a list like this one. But spin efficiency flaws are at least slightly fixable, and it appears the White Sox (or an outside party) took a close look this offseason at Cease’s release point as well as the way his fingers impact the ball at release. Fully optimized efficiency would likely mean the 24-year-old’s fastball becomes one of the best heaters in the big leagues. Partially optimized efficiency would mean the fastball is at least serviceable in an arsenal that also consists of two above average breaking balls and an above average changeup. Early this spring, the 24-year-old has been pleased with his ‘cut-less’ fastball, which alludes to improved spin efficiency. Throw in the fact Cease will be primarily caught by Yasmani Grandal (an above average framer) in 2020, and our path to profit becomes clear. VIP NFBC ADP: 294, 2020 NFBC ADP: 290

Yu Darvish, SP, CHC. Age: 33

Darvish is currently 23rd pitcher being selected in 2020 redrafts, but there’s a path to being a top-15 pitcher this season. In all likelihood, this would make him a top-50 overall player in 2020. The 33-year-old’s second half from last season lays the foundation for this inclusion: 81.2 IP, 2.76 ERA, .199 BAA, .254 wOBA. More important than any of those numbers is the fact Darvish only walked eight batters throughout that sample after walking 49 in 97.0 IP in the first half. The right-hander’s current ADP (72.4) partially accounts for the bounce back, but if you fully believe in the strides Darvish made post-ASG, that price is a steal. He’ll be one of my most-rostered players this season. I’m all in. VIP NFBC ADP: 67, 2020 NFBC ADP: 62

Kyle Gibson, SP, TEX. Age: 32

I started an article on 32-year-old this offseason that I never got around to finishing. It was based on this premise: Gibson should become a right-handed Patrick Corbin. The latter has basically become a star behind his dynamic slider, a pitch he threw 37% of the time last season (one could argue he should throw it even more moving forward). But Gibson’s slider is just as effective, and it actually induced a higher Whiff% than Corbin’s slider last season (52.6% to 52.0%) despite unoptimized usage (20.8%). Despite possessing the earth-shattering pitch, the right-hander was mired in mediocrity last season (4.84 ERA, though the 4.26 FIP and 3.80 xFIP are interesting) because—simply put—he didn’t throw his slider enough. Gibson’s sinker allowed a batting average of .302 with an xBA of .311 (12.4 Whiff%). He threw the pitch 11% more than he threw his slider, a pitch that posted allowed a batting average of .175 (.168 xBA) with a gargantuan whiff rate. Assuming the slider usage increases to north of 30% (I assume the Rangers will prioritize this after inking him for three years and $28 million), the output here should be much better than a pitcher currently being selected after Mychal Givens and Nate Pearson. Sometimes, it really is that easy. VIP NFBC ADP: 355, 2020 NFBC ADP: 375

Cole Hamels, SP, ATL. Age: 36

The deeper I dig into Hamels’ implosion last season, the easier it becomes to believe the left-hander simply returned from an oblique injury more quickly than he should have. Toby Guevin (you probably know him as @batflipcrazy) recently noted this on Twitter.

The Braves are bringing the 36-year-old along slowly this spring after he aggravated his throwing shoulder while using weighted balls this offseason; even if the southpaw’s 2020 debut is delayed a few weeks, Hamels is primed for a bounceback campaign this season. Armed with one of the game’s best changeups and a solid infield defense in Atlanta, the left-hander should pile-up the wins (irrelevant in player evaluation, extremely relevant in most fantasy leagues) this season—all while posting underrated WHIP, ERA and strikeout numbers. Hamels has all the necessary tools to be a top-75 pitcher in 2020. Make sure you buy the current dip in price thanks to the impending delayed debut. VIP NFBC ADP: 248, 2020 NFBC ADP: 278

Ryan Helsley, RP, STL. Age: 25

If you’ve been paying attention to early-drafting, high-stakes leagues—even 12-teamers—you’ve likely begun to notice a trend: Helsley has become a consistent, late-round dart throw. Thats’s right; even with an ADP of 670.75 since the new year, the 25-year-old is being selected within the top-360 players in meaningful NFBC leagues. Why? Despite the fact the Cardinals are stretching Helsley out as a starter this spring, there’s a growing belief amongst those who are connected that the right-hander has a legitimate shot at breaking camp as St. Louis’ primary closer. Of course, Helsley being named as closer would be dreadful to the countless Giovanny Gallegos shares selected at around pick-200, but the 25-year-old has the stuff (.294 xwOBA and three pitches—his cutter, curveball and changeup—with a SwStr% >14.0%) to take the role and run with it. If Gallegos is eventually awarded the job, Helsley is a quick casualty in the first FAAB run; if the dark horse wins out, he’ll be one of the best picks you make in your drafts this preseason—especially in draft and holds. 2020 NFBC ADP: 671

Elieser Hernandez, SP, MIA. Age: 24

Another ‘free’ price tag with a chance for a huge ROI in 2020. This is quite simple. If Hernandez musters at least 100.0 IP this season, this inclusion will hit pay dirt. If Hernandez musters at least 100.0 IP and benefits from positive regression with the outcomes of his fastball, he has a chance to be one of the biggest breakouts of the 2020 season. There are a lot of ingredients here that make the 24-year-old’s current ADP a steal: his fastball (53.6% usage in 2019) is not a great pitch, but it was a victim of unlucky outcomes last season (.404 wOBA, .341 xwOBA). Both the slider (33.3%) and changeup (11.4%) are legitimate pitches, the former piling-up swings and misses while the latter induces a lot of soft contact. I would love to see the right-hander combine to throw the pitches about 10% more than he throws his fastball, but even a similar mix should lead to a much-improved ERA than his 2019 output (5.03). Improved home run suppression (2.84 HR/9) would also help us cross the finish line here. VIP NFBC ADP: 614, 2020 NFBC ADP: 641

Adrian Houser, SP, MIL. Age: 27

Of course Houser is on this list. I wrote the definitive hype piece on the right-hander this offseason. There’s no way he should be the 103rd pitcher off the board this preseason, so make sure to collect your earnings post pick-250. VIP NFBC ADP: 266, 2020 NFBC ADP: 255

Josh James, SP/RP, HOU. Age: 27

If speculative inclusions aren’t your cup of tea, feel free to continue scrolling. After all, if the scenario you’re about to read about doesn’t come to fruition, we’ll likely take an easy L here. But when you tell me a pitcher whose arsenal mostly consists of three pitchers—a fastball, slider and changeup—that all posted swinging strike rates higher than 14.0% last season (98.4% combined usage) might transition back to the rotation for one of the league’s best teams, I’m all ears. James worked to shorten his arm action this offseason in hopes of improving his command and endurance, and most consider the 27-year-old the odds-on favorite to secure the final slot in Houston’s Opening Day rotation. Should James accomplish the feat, he’ll have to consistently perform to his potential to the keep the likes of Framber Valdez, Forrest Whitley and Cristian Javier at bay, but I shouldn’t have to convince you to be intrigued by a pitcher who posted the Statcast measurements and rankings you see below—especially if he takes the ball every fifth day for the Astros this season. 2020 NFBC ADP: 352

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Mitch Keller, SP, PIT. Age: 24

It’s unfathomable that we’re paying a higher price for Keller than Adrian Houser, but the 89th pitcher off the board on NFBC still gives us plenty of room for profit. I wrote a 2019 postmortem on the ultra-unlucky Keller this offseason. I feel even better about the outlook after a leadership change in Pittsburgh. VIP NFBC ADP: 228, 2020 NFBC ADP: 233

Lance Lynn, SP, TEX. Age: 32

No pitch in baseball was thrown more frequently last season than Lynn’s four-seam fastball, and we raked-in a boatload on our shares because of it. But it appears the market hasn’t totally corrected itself yet (the 32-year-old is currently the 46th pitcher off the board in 2020 redrafts), so I’m not above pulling the same gag twice when necessary. In an era in which pitch analysts often lose their voices because they scream so frequently for pitchers to throw their fastball less, the opposite is true about Lynn. The right-hander threw his four seam 52% of the time last season, inducing a .218 BAA and a 30.7 Whiff%. According to FanGraphs’ Pitch Values, Lynn’s heater was the 6th-best fastball in the big leagues last season. That’s a better fastball rank than that of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Jacob deGrom amongst many others. The foundation for a repeat performance is set in stone here, and a more frequent use of the curveball (.212 BAA, 37.8 Whiff% with a 12.5% usage in 2019) will help keep hitters in flux this season. The Rangers’ new ballpark being less of a launchpad should serve as a nice bump as well. VIP NFBC ADP: 129, 2020 NFBC ADP: 125

Joe Musgrove, SP, PIT. Age: 27

Musgrove broke a lot of hearts last season—including mine. Two reasons I’m riding with him again in 2020: the slider is still ridiculous (the curveball and changeup are good too), and the Pirates have finally transitioned into the 21st century. The name of the game for the 27-year-old will be improving the implementation of his fastball this season. The heater is a high-spin pitch, but it often cuts due to imperfect spin efficiency. Last season, the result was a pitch thrown 37.5% of the time with a BAA of .300 (.299 xBA) and an xSLG of .545. Yikes. The right-hander must either increase the spin efficiency of the pitch (attainable if it’s a focal point of his offseason) or decrease the frequency in which he throws it. Thankfully, the rest of the arsenal is extremely savory. The fact Musgrove only threw his slider 22% of the time last season is a crime on par with the world’s worst atrocities; if the fastball usage decreases, it will hopefully mean he’s throwing his slider more often. Along with the slider, Musgrove’s curveball and changeup also induced whiff percents greater than 30.0%. The curve especially is a pitch I hope he utilizes more often than the 9.5% usage last season—especially against left-handed hitters. With optimized usage and a more efficient fastball, the 27-year-old should easily outperform his current ADP as the 82nd pitcher off the board. We said the same thing last season, but there are definitely breakout ingredients within this profile. VIP NFBC ADP: 217, 2020 NFBC ADP: 212

Make sure you’ve read the infield and outfield portions of my 2020 high-value active player list! 

If this article caught your attention, you’ll probably enjoy reading about the players who were likely most affected by juiced ball last season. You can also check out the latest portion of my 2020 top-200 prospect list here.

Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365

Featured image courtesy of photographer Quinn Harris and USA Today Sports

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