Ray Butler’s 2020 High-Value Active Players: Pitchers, Part 2

Written by: Ray Butler

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You know regular season baseball is drawing close when you arrive at the end of a publishing journey. Today, we’re releasing the final portion of my high-value active player list for the 2020 season.

The pitcher chunk of this list was so large and thorough that I basically chopped it in half; the first half of this list was published a few days ago (I highly recommend checking it out if being prepared for your fantasy drafts is your cup of tea).

Fortunately, my high-value active player list extends well past pitchers alone. I’ve also already released the infield (here) and outfield (here) portions of this content as well. I’d like to think we’ve got it going on for a tiny fish in a ginormous pond.

A brief reminder on the philosophy of this list: every player you’ve read about throughout this four-part series (infielders, outfielders, pitchers, 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).

Let’s dive in.

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.

Homer Bailey, SP, MIN. Age: 34

An extremely common theme you see amongst some of the world’s best redrafters: depending on the structure of their team, they often fill the backend of their rotation with ‘innings eater’ type pitchers who play on really good teams. The Jose Quintanas of the world, if you will. Bailey fits this description to a tee this season, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t super intrigued by this recent quote from Twins pitching coach Wes Johnson (h/t The Athletic). “You look at what he did at the end of the season with Oakland, and talking with him—I don’t want to give into all the secrets, so to speak, but I really think he’s figured some things out.” A splitter that posted an xBA of .185 with a swinging strike rate of 19.9% last season lays the foundation for 2020 success within this profile. Even if this season’s ERA is the middle ground between Bailey’s 2019 ERA (4.57) and FIP (4.11), a K/9 >8.00 and double digit wins (puke) means the 34-year-old will be more than serviceable as a backend staple on your fantasy teams this season. 2020 NFBC ADP: 482

Danny Duffy, SP, KC. Age: 31

It’s wild to me that 2020 will only be Duffy’s Age 31 season. Anyways, the left-hander isn’t elite by any stretch of the imagination, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t intrigue within this profile moving forward. Duffy spent his offseason re-tooling his slider, a pitch that already had a 14.0 SwStr% last season. The offering has ticked-up by 2-3 mph so far during Spring Training, and I can only assume Duffy is hoping to make it less hittable (.247 xBA) in 2020 and beyond. The Royals obviously won’t be anything special this season, but Duffy will headline the rotation and should meet the double-digit win threshold. With low-probability darts being thrown around the 31-year-old’s draft slot, I love the consistency Duffy should bring to Draft and Hold formats this season. 2020 NFBC ADP: 590

Kenta Maeda, SP, MIN. Age: 32

Not going to lie, I really thought Maeda’s price tag would increase more than it has since he was officially traded to the Twins earlier this preseason. Remember on Happy Gilmore when Happy learned how to putt?

That’s basically how I feel about Maeda finally getting a *real* opportunity to start for the duration of a 162-game regular season. And not to mention, he’ll still be pitching for a really good team! Generally speaking, the 32-year-old is on this list because—despite a small bump in price—the market has not fully corrected itself to reflect Maeda’s newfound opportunity. Oh, and the stuff is pretty dang good, too. 2020 NFBC ADP: 182

Staff writer Adam Ehrenreich has been killing it this preseason. He’s published both portions of his Post-Hype Pandemonium series (hitters here, pitchers here) and he recently released his outlook on fantasy first rounders… for next season

Jordan Montgomery, SP, NYY. Age: 27

They say the best time to buy is when there’s blood in the streets. But sometimes, it’s prudent to be cognizant of the door that opens when another one shuts. Here, that opening door is Jordan Montgomery, who was recently declared as ‘lock’ to make the Yankees’ Opening Day rotation following injuries to Luis Severino and James Paxton. The 27-year-old will be widely discarded as a simple filler or the ‘replacement’ until reinforcements return to full health, but there’s a lot more to story here. If you’re a prospect fiend who’s stumbled into this article because you like our site’s content, Montgomery’s curveball is incredibly effective for the same reason we hope Ian Anderson’s is someday: the pitch isn’t analytically elite by any stretch of the imagination, but an over-the-top arm slot and command of the offering allows it to play-up more than the data says it should. The southpaw’s breaker is the definition of an ‘out’ pitch; when you pair it with increased fastball velocity this spring and a placement in the rotation on one of the best team’s in baseball, Montgomery won’t have to post spectacular numbers to be an asset on the backend of your fantasy rotation. 2020 being the first full season in the left-hander’s return from Tommy John surgery means the workload will be limited, but 100-125 well placed innings pitched should mean we rake this hand’s chips back to our stack at the end of the fantasy season. 2020 NFBC ADP: 484

Daniel Norris, SP, DET. Age: 27

Circa 2014, long before the thought of Prospects 365 had even been conceived and during a time in which I was only beginning to dabble in fantasy baseball, Daniel Norris might have been my first-ever prospect crush. If only I had been initiated in the TINSTAAPP doctrine before the wide-spanning archetype began to broke my heart. Six years and 426.1 big league innings pitched later, Norris has posted a putrid 4.54 career ERA and a measly 1.9 fWAR in parts of four big league seasons. That changes in 2020. After struggling to remain healthy in past seasons, the southpaw finished his 2019 campaign healthy. The 4.49 ERA and 14.3 K-BB% last season were thoroughly pedestrian, but good health meant Norris was finally able to fully utilize his offseason workout and conditioning regimen. The 27-year-old reported to Tigers camp in great shape and visibly stronger than in season’s past; you can dream about an uptick in fastball velocity if you’d like (90.8 average velocity last season), but I’m more hopeful he increases his changeup and slider usage in 2020. Norris combined to throw the pair of pitches 41.8% of the time last season, and I’d love to see that percent jump to 50-60% this season. You’ll learn before Opening Day that I’m sneakily high on the Tigers exceeding expectations this season; if I’m right, Norris will play an underrated role in making that happen. 2020 NFBC ADP: 665

Michael Pineda, SP, MIN. Age: 31

Pineda officially returned from Tommy John surgery last season, but his workload was involuntarily restricted when he was hit with a 60-game suspension due to a positive test for a banned diuretic. According to Razzball’s Player Rater, Pineda ranked 175th amongst all fantasy players and 65th amongst pitchers in 2019 despite the shortened campaign. A portion of his suspension will carry over to this season, but the right-hander should still surpass the 146.0 IP total he posted last season. Despite these facts, the 31-year-old currently has an ADP around 300 and is the 117th pitcher being selected on average. The AL Central should be a bit improved in 2020, but it still won’t be an offensive gauntlet compared to divisions like the AL East, NL East or NL West. Pineda is now locked-in to a two year contract with the Twins, and he has a skillset that should hold-up nicely throughout the second half of his big league career. He’ll serve the remainder of his PED suspension to begin the 2020 season, but he’ll be a cog in fantasy rotations throughout the entirety of the summer. VIP NFBC ADP: 297, 2020 NFBC ADP: 305

David Price, SP, LAD. Age: 34

The hesitance with Price heading into the 2020 season centers on durability: the left-hander has only surpassed the 110.0 IP mark once since 2016. But I think the fantasy world is reading too much in the 34-year-old’s injury last season. Price developed a cyst in his left wrist throughout the month of July. The ailment hindered the southpaw’s performance until he was finally shutdown in early August. He briefly returned and made an appearance on September 1st, but Price was once again shutdown before undergoing surgery to remove the cyst later that month. The injury was not baseball related, and the Red Sox fully expected the 34-year-old to enjoy a normal offseason leading up to a new season. This is a different universe than the elbow scare Price endured in 2017, but the price tag (69th pitcher off the board) would make you think we should expect far less than a full workload. Hitting pay dirt on this inclusion would basically mean Price performs similarly to (now former teammate) Eduardo Rodriguez this season. Assuming good health, I love the chances of that happening—especially now that he’ll be pitching on the best team in the National League. VIP NFBC ADP: 188, 2020 NFBC ADP: 180

If pitching is your ‘thing’, you’ll love new staff writer Cory Ott’s introductory article for the site. The piece focuses on the relationship between Swing-Miss% and expected batting average. You can read it here

Trent Thornton, SP, TOR. Age: 26

I was really beginning to think the offseason additions of Chase Anderson, Tanner Roark, Shun Yamaguchi and Hyun-Jin Ryu had thrown a wrench into this plan, but recent reports suggest Thornton is viewed as the favorite to secure the final spot in the Jays’ Opening Day rotation. And that’s splendid, because the current ‘free’ price tag may be one of the best bargains of draft season. The name of the game for the 26-year-old is arsenal consolidation. Thornton’s best two pitches last season—by far—were his slider and splitter. Unfortunately, he only threw the two pitches 36% of the time combined. As the pair’s usage increases, so will the right-hander’s success. The fastball has a spin rate in the 88th percentile, but an uncorrelated vertical movement likely means the pitch has spin efficiency that’s not fully optimized. This is a fixable flaw, so better fastball outcomes—paired with increased slider + splitter usage—would mean Thornton enjoys a bit of a breakout this season. Despite the uncertainty about his Opening Day role, he’s worth a flier in the end game of your redrafts. VIP NFBC ADP: 596, 2020 NFBC ADP: 676

Julio Urías, SP, LAD. Age: 23

“I swear this is the year for Julio Urías” is the current house-favorite to be written on my tombstone someday. But the outlook is awfully appetizing for the 23-year-old in 2020: he pitched 79.2 IP of healthy baseball last season, the Statcast numbers tell us the stuff is very, very good, and the Dodgers seem intent on inserting Urías into their starting rotation this season. Granted, the left-hander almost certainly won’t eclipse the 175.0 IP mark in 2020—Los Angeles won’t be careless with his workload and they have an abundance of organizational depth to keep the 23-year-old fresh throughout the season—but 150-160 innings of healthy statistics (that volume is bullish compared to projection systems) on one of the best teams in baseball means Urías will outperform the label of ‘58th-ranked pitcher’ he’s attained to this point in draft season. VIP NFBC ADP: 156, 2020 NFBC ADP: 158

Spencer Turnbull, SP, DET. Age: 27

If you’ve been reading my content long, you know I often enjoy rewarding viewers who actually read through an entire article instead of simply thumbing through to see if I discuss any players on their fantasy team(s). If you belong in the former category, here’s a little nugget for you. C.J. Cron made the infield portion of this list. JaCoby Jones and Cameron Maybin both made the outfield portion of this list. Matt Boyd made the first half of the pitcher list. Now I’m including both Daniel Norris and Spencer Turnbull in the second half of my pitcher list? And both Casey Mize and Matt Manning should pitch for the team at some point this season? And you’re telling me the Tigers’ current win total prop sits at 56 games? I normally back the truck in on these types of props with poor teams, but in the opposite direction. I’ll find it hard to not pound the over here, though (an article with all prop picks will be published soon). As for Turnbull, the stuff is nasty (as is evidenced by throwing four pitchers with a CSW% >25.0%.) and the Command+ of 98 means we’re hopefully due for a slight downtick in walks as the 27-year-old grows more comfortable in his second season as a big league starter. There is both strikeout viability (the 22.3 K% last season should increase in 2020) and the ability to induce ground ball contact at an appetizing rate (48.3% last season) within this profile. The putrid 3-17 record helped ruin my bold prediction that Turnbull would be a top-50 starting pitcher last season. A little more run support would help him accomplish this feat in an underrated fashion this season. 2020 NFBC ADP: 516


Austin Voth, SP, WAS. Age: 27

The biggest hurdle this inclusion has to climb might be securing a spot on the Nationals’ Opening Day rotation. Voth is currently fighting Joe Ross for the title of SP5 for the defending champions; the 27-year-old could begin the season in a long-man role, but smart money is on the right-hander attaining the necessary volume for fantasy relevance over the course of the regular season. Voth’s 43.2 IP sample in the big leagues last season might have been small, but it was also explosive and impressive. The right-hander struck out 25.3% of the batters he faced, allowing a .209 BA (.214 xBA) and 3.30 ERA (3.79 FIP) in the process. A look under the hood is somehow even more impressive: three of Voth’s four pitches—his curveball, slider and changeup—all induced a whiff rate north of 30 percent. The fourth pitch—a fastball the 27-year-old threw 60.5% of the time—induced a .196 BA (.221 xBA). We need to witness a larger sample before we fully buy-in, but Voth won’t need to pitch 200 innings this season to out-earn his current ADP. If the breaking ball usage increases and he earns a legitimate opportunity in the Nationals’ rotation at some point this season, Voth could be one of the sport’s most surprising breakouts in 2020. VIP NFBC ADP: 485, 2020 NFBC ADP: 516

Asher Wojciechowski, SP, BAL. Age: 31

What? An Orioles starting pitcher on a high-value active player list? Who posted a 5.30 FIP and 5.61 xFIP last season? Wojciechowski is never going to be a superstar at the big league level, but he can be better than he was last season. He can also (easily) outperform his current 689 ADP, and that makes him a no-brainer inclusion on this list. The path to success here is quite simple: usage optimization. Wojciechowski induced expected batting averages of .224 (29.0 Whiff%) and .236 (36.3 Whiff%) on his curveball and slider respectively. Those are easily his best two pitches according to those metrics. The right-hander threw the pair of pitches 44% of the time combined. No bueno. In a perfect world, that usage will rise to at least 55-60% in 2020. Again, that improvement won’t make Wojciechowski a breakout star, but it will make him formidable at the backend of your fantasy rotation this season, meaning he’ll easily outperform his current, dart-throw price tag. VIP NFBC ADP: 708, 2020 NFBC ADP: 720

Check out my recently-released top-20 prospects for the 2020 season.

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Featured image courtesy of USA Today Sports

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