Fantasy Baseball 2018: 3 Breakout starting pitchers

 

MILWAUKEE, WI – AUGUST 02: Luke Weaver

There are a lot of starting pitchers added and dropped throughout the season. Here are three that you should draft late and expect good things from.

The 2017 MLB Playoffs are in full swing but that leaves us fantasy owners with nothing to do until April. That’s why we at Just Fantasy Baseball are already looking towards next season. Starting pitchers are the most added and dropped players in fantasy. Because they only pitch once every five days, owners drop their bottom-tier guys for a one-time add to start on a certain day.

Owners use that strategy for two reasons. One, they are down in the major pitching categories and need to play catch up in either head-to-head or roto leagues. Or two, their depth isn’t strong enough and are looking to find that one pitcher to carry their team to victory.

The second point is what this article is going to be about. I have three starting pitchers who will be available late in drafts, showed signs of good performance this year and will break out even further in 2018. While that sounds very specific, there are a lot of pitchers that fit those qualifiers.

Some of the pitchers that went undrafted in ESPN leagues were Luis Severino, Chase Anderson and Zack Godley. All three of them finished in the top 30 among starting pitchers on the Player Rater this season.

The three pitchers I picked for this article finished outside the top-70 on the Rater. It wouldn’t make sense to pick a top-30 pitcher as a breakout pitcher for next season. No, these pitchers had great performances but weren’t pitching long enough to qualify for a top 30 spot.

Before I get into my three, here are some honorable mentions.

Luis Perdomo (SDP)

Lucas Giolito (CWS)

Josh Hader (MIL)

Now, onto the three starting pitchers I think are headed for a breakout season in 2018.

NEW YORK, NY – SEPTEMBER 28: Jacob Faria

The Tampa Bay Rays have always been good at developing starting pitchers. James Shields, David Price, Chris Archer. Now, Jacob Faria may be on that list. He made his debut on June 7 against the Chicago White Sox.

Faria pitched 6.1 innings and allowed one run on three hits and two walks with five strikeouts. He finished the season with 11 starts, posting a 3.43 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 4.12 FIP, 8.7 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9.

The major stats look good. The sub-3.50 ERA while pitching in the American League East is a good sign. I think we should see a reduced walk rate as he becomes more comfortable in the majors.

Faria’s batted ball numbers leave a lot to be desired. He had a 40.0 fly ball and 38.3 ground ball rate. Opposing batters made good contact off of his pitches, 48.9 medium and 31.2 hard hit rates.

Faria should be a starter drafted with high upside. He may even go undrafted in some leagues. He will likely rank inside my top 60 with a 21st round ADP. I think he can finish inside the top 40 by the end of the season.

CHICAGO, IL – AUGUST 13: Starting pitcher Luke Weaver

The St. Louis Cardinals rookie Luke Weaver made some starts in 2016, posting a 5.70 ERA and 1.596 WHIP in nine appearances. He wouldn’t rejoin the Cardinals rotation until July 3 of this season.

He was a different pitcher in this stint in the majors. In 13 games, 10 starts, Weaver had a 7-2 record, 3.88 ERA, 3.17 FIP, 1.26 WHIP, 10.7 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9.

That is a very good line. The only thing that could improve would be the WHIP. He allowed 59 hits in 60.1 innings. His low walk rate and high strikeout rate will offset any damages the hits cause but it’d be nice to see it around 1.17.

All four of the Cardinals division rivals finished in the bottom half in batting average this season. Weaver had a 49.4 ground ball rate compared to a 26.9 fly ball rate. It does help that all four of the Cardinals division opponents finished in the bottom half in team batting average.

Weaver will enter the season with a higher ranking than Faria, around No. 40, but that doesn’t mean I should exclude him. That ranking only means that I am a believer in his skills and should be someone to target as a No. 4 starting pitcher in 2018.

ARLINGTON, TX – OCTOBER 1: Daniel Mengden

Oakland Athletics sophomore pitcher Daniel Mengden pitched more in 2016 than in 2017 but his numbers greatly improved this season.

In 2016, he had a 6.50 ERA, 1.611 WHIP and 4.1 BB/9 with 72.0 innings pitched. This season, just 43.0 innings, Mengden posted a 3.14 ERA, 1.047 WHIP, 6.1 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9.

Mengden wasn’t a big strikeout pitcher, evident by his strikeout rate and 8.9 swinging strike rate. He didn’t create a lot of swings and misses either, 26.5 O-Swing rate and 43.7 swing rate. That’s likely to happen when his fastball averages 92 MPH.

He had a 39.2 ground ball rate and 79.2 LOB, or strand, rate. So, any mess that Mengden got himself in, he was able to get himself out of it.

The A’s are in a rebuild, likely a few other teams. The average age of the rotation was 25.5 years old, with Mengden being the youngest at 24.6 years. I think his performance to end the season, four quality starts in last five games, earned him a spot in the rotation.

He will likely rank inside my top 90, making him a last-round draft pick or one of the first players to add off the waiver wire.

OAKLAND, CA – JULY 19: Jacob Faria

There were plenty of other players deserving mention on this list. Though, Faria, Weaver and Mengden ended their respective seasons on a high note and their stock is rising for the 2018 season.

I like to use my late-draft picks on a mixture of veterans with a high-enough floor and young players with a high ceiling. Finding that right balance is tough because we can only guess what the floor and ceilings can be.

These three pitchers fit the latter perfectly with their potential to be top-40 pitchers.

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