Risk And Upside Lurk in Finding a #3 SP


A few weeks ago, this column explored where to find starting pitcher value for starters ranked between #16-30 in NFBC ADP. The next tier of pitchers off less stability, but there are several chances for upside, which could vault a #3 SP into the role of a #2 SP.

Injury Concerns


Danny SalazarCle131.14
Felix HernandezSea138.81
Michael FulmerDet139.41
Matt HarveyNYM142.35

Danny Salazar offers invaluable upside if he can throw 180 quality innings like he posted in 2015. Unfortunately, multiple injuries eroded a 2.75 ERA and 10.l5 K/9 in the first half of 2016. His inability to pound the strike zone (53.9 F-Strike%) continues to keep his free passes (4.13 BB/9) elevated, and batters made more hard contact (33.8%) against him in 2016. His 3.74 xFIP from 2016 falls closely to his 3.47 career xFIP, and Steamer calls for 169 innings with a 3.59 ERA, 9.75 K/9, and 12 wins. As an owner of several shares of Salazar in keeper leagues, his injury history and his control issues provide some concern.

The concerns continue in this tier with Felix Hernandez. As the velocity on his fastball continues to drop (90.5 MPH), his strikeouts (7.16 K/9) have fallen for three-consecutive years. His 2.86 ERA in the first half hid a 4.16 xFIP. He still induces a number of ground balls (50.2%), but the current version of Felix Hernandez may rely more on his swing and miss (16.6% SwStr%) change-up. For 2017, Steamer projects 203 IP with a 3.87 ERA, 7.53 K/9, and 12 wins, which may cause owners to look elsewhere at his minimum pick (#105) price.

Matt Harvey's 2016 injuries cost owners dearly and thoracic outlet syndrome clouds his outlook for 2017. Those owners that are willing to take risks can draft Harvey's projected 8.29 K/9 and 3.65 ERA in 141 IP.

A strong rookie showing has Michael Fulmer leaving the board in the 9th/10th rounds. A ground ball profile (50 %) helped him in the second half when his strikeouts (6.56) and hard contact (29.3%) fell. He made batters swing and miss (19% SwStr%) with his change-up, and he finished 2016 with a 3.06 ERA and 3.95 xFIP. Steamer sees an 11 win season with a 7.72 K/9 and 3.96 ERA. Keeper league owners are excited to see if he can find the next level in 2017.

Tenth Round

Tanner RoarkWas142.83
Dallas KeuchelHou144.72
Kevin GausmanBal148.16
Jameson TaillonPit149.9

A 16 win season has Tanner Roark moving off draft boards in the tenth round. While he increased his strikeouts to 7.37 K/9 last year, he also experienced a slight increase in walks (3.13 per 9) with a 57.7 F-Strike%. As he kept the ball on the ground (48.7%), his HR/FB (9.4%) regressed to his career HR/FB, and he dropped his hard contact rate to 24.3%. Even though Steamer predicts a similar K/9 (7.21), a higher ERA (4.16) and lower win total (11) may decrease his value. 

Dallas Keuchel's 3.60 home ERA was almost two runs lower than his 5.42 away ERA. He allowed more hard contact (31.7%) away from Minute Maid Park, and he gave up twice as many walks on the road. On the plus side, Keuchel's ground ball tilt (56.7% GB%) provides encouragement if his 16.4% HR/FB from 2016 falls closer to his 14.5% career HR/FB. If Steamer is correct, 14 wins with a 3.50 ERA and a 7.49 K/9 could provide value in the tenth round. 

Those owners hunting upside in the tenth round can turn to Kevin Gausman and Jameson Taillon. Gausman posted decent strikeout (8.72 K/9) numbers, and he recorded a 3.61 ERA with a 3.77 xFIP in 2016. Like Keuchel, Gausman's 2.67 home ERA was lower than his 4.32 away ERA due in some part to a 17.3% HR/FB away from Camden Yards and a 32% Hard% on the road. Steamer sees Gausman earning a 4.00 ERA with 11 wins and an 8.34 K/9 in 2017. 

Keeper league owners enjoyed Jameson Taillon's 3.38 ERA and 52.4% GB% in 2016. While Taillon's LOB% may fall from 78.4% in 2016, finding the strike zone (61.7% F-Strike%) early will continue to help him keep his walks (1.47 per 9) to a minimum. Steamer calls for more of the same in 2017 with 11 wins, a 3.51 ERA, a 7.95 K/9, and a 50.2% GB%. 

Stroman and Lackey leave in the 11th

Marcus StromanTor163.61
John LackeyChC164.88
Julio UriasLAD164.96
Steven MatzNYM167.54

Marcus Stroman offers similar value and more experience at pick #163. His 60.1% GB% helps at Rogers Centre, where he owns a career 3.49 home ERA. His 3.41 xFIP provides confidence in his ability to lower his 4.39 ERA from 2016. He ability to create swings and misses (9.3% SwStr%) in 2016 kept his 7.32 K/9 in line with his career 7.34 K/9. Steamer predicts that Stroman will lower his ERA to 3.69 while keeping his strikeout numbers (7.37 K/9) and win total (11) similar to last year. 

John Lackey provides the most experience of the four. According to PITCHf/x, his cutter produced a swinging strike 23.1% of the time, which bumped up his strikeouts to 8.69 K/9. A 2.62 home ERA in 2016 may not hold when compared to his 3.91 xFIP at Wrigley Field. The projections foresee Lackey holding some of his strikeout gains (8.21 K/9) with a higher ERA (3.88) and wins (11) that are similar to 2016 totals. 

Although Julio Urias is a gem in keeper leagues, Steamer thinks that Urias will be limited to 96 IP in 2017. An innings cap could hurt his value in redraft leagues, but he should post throw a decent amount of strikeouts (9.31 K/9) in those innings. He is predicted to win 7 games with a 3.34 ERA. 

Steven Matz posted a 3.40 ERA with a 3.30 xFIP in 132 IP in 2016. He should be fine to start the season on time after having bone spurs removed from his elbow last October. Finding the strike zone early (64.9% F-Strike%) lowered his BB/9 to 2.11. His ability to keep the ball on the ground (51.1% GB%) should continue to help him post decent numbers as Steamer sees 164 IP from Matz with 10 wins, a 3.40 ERA, and 8.77 K/9. If he stays healthy, he could reward those owners that buy him at at pick #167. 

Value at the low end

Raisel IglesiasCin171.12
Sean ManaeaOak173.13
Matt MooreSF178.16

Owners can find value with the last three picks of SP 31-45. Raisel Iglesias may close in Cincinnati. With a 9.92 K/9 and a 2.53 ERA, Iglesias will look to reduce his free passes (2.99 BB/9 and 53.5% F-Strike%). His 11.6% SwStr% in 2016 illustrates his capability to post his projected 9.92 K/9. While Steamer predicts a higher ERA (3.34) in 2017, 33 saves will work at his current price. 

Several pundits are calling for big seasons from Sean Manaea and Matt Moore. Manaea threw first-pitch strikes 64.8% of the time while posting an 11.8 SwStr% in 2016. RHB created hard contact (33.7%) with 17 HR against him in 2016. Steamer's projections of 9 wins with a 7.99 K/9, 3.04 BB/9, and a 4.04 ERA may disappoint some potential owners. 

Base on balls (3.27 per 9) continue to pile up for Matt Moore, even though he threw more first-pitch strikes (61.8%) in 2016. A move to the NL helped his 3.63 ERA in the second half, which was partially aided by a 6.9% HR/FB during that span. When facing batters for the third time through the order, Moore's walks (10.2%) increased while his strikeouts (7.26 K/9) decreased, which led to a 4.65 FIP and 5.06 xFIP against those hitters. Steamer sees Moore earning 10 wins with an 8.48 K/9 and a 3.61 ERA. 

Recap

Depending on the level of risk that owners want to take on while building their rosters, there are several options with upside in finding a #3 SP. Danny Salazar may offer the biggest upside of the group while Marcus Stroman and John Lackey could provide solid value at their current prices. As I already own shares of Julio Urias and Michael Fulmer, I will try to spread the wealth to Steven Matz and Marcus Stroman over the next month of drafts.
Fantasy Baseball SP Risk Upside