Fantasy Baseball 2018: 5 Sleeper Starting Pitchers

 

White Sox

CHICAGO, IL – SEPTEMBER 03: Lucas Giolito

Starting pitching is a tough position to draft for. After the top 10 or 15 names, it’s a roll of the dice. If you are looking for a sleeper, here are five to choose from.

Fantasy drafts are a tale of two halves. In the first half, you draft your stars and starters. The players that will carry you throughout another successful (or disappointing) season. The second half is all about risk and upside. Those players you are hoping have a breakout season. A sleeper, if you will.

Finding the right combination of stars and sleepers is the key to success. You can’t have a team with all superstars because, well, there aren’t enough to go around. And you can’t have a team with all sleepers because if enough of them fail, you will not even sniff the playoffs let alone a championship.

Starting pitching is one of the deepest positions in fantasy baseball. With five, or six, starters per team, there is a minimum of 150 starters to draft. Granted, you may not want to draft the No. 5 starter of a bad team. Most leagues only allow five pitchers to start and a couple of bench options, with 10-12 teams that a maximum of 90 starting pitchers drafted.

There were plenty of pitchers that were either drafted late or undrafted that ended up being great assets to fantasy baseball. Luis Severino was one of them. He had a 260.0 ADP in ESPN leagues and finished sixth among starting pitchers on the Player Rater. Robbie Ray was another. He was a 22nd round pick and finished ninth.

You’re not looking for the next Clayton Kershaw, but you are looking for a pitcher that won’t hurt your pitching numbers with multiple bad starts and no opportunity to recover. Here are five starting pitchers that will fall in drafts, making them sleeper picks in all formats.

HOUSTON, TX – OCTOBER 21: CC Sabathia

After three straight seasons of poor performance, CC Sabathia has posted back-to-back good seasons. Last season was his best since his 2012 All-Star season.

Sabathia also went undrafted in ESPN leagues. Yet, finished as the No. 46 starting pitcher on the Rater. He posted a 3.69 ERA, 1.271 WHIP, 7.3 K/9, 3.0 BB/9 and a 14-5 record. His 14 wins were the most since 2013.

With back-to-back seasons with a 50 percent groundball rate, a five percent drop in his fly ball rate and 61 percent first-pitch strike, Sabathia is still performing well enough to be drafted in most league formats.

Sabathia is back in New York after signing a one-year deal. As the No. 4 starting pitcher, he has low expectations entering 2018. If you can draft him with one your final picks, he will serve you greatly.

ARLINGTON, TX – SEPTEMBER 25: Starting pitcher Collin McHugh

Collin McHugh didn’t pitch a full season as he dealt with a posterior impingement of his right elbow. He made his return on July 22 and did well in his 12 starts.

McHugh finished with a 3.55 ERA, 1.295 WHIP, 8.8 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 and a 5-2 record. He also threw five quality starts.

If you compare his shortened 2017 season to his 33-start 2016 season, the numbers look very similar. His strikeout and walk rates were roughly the same. McHugh lowered his home run rate despite seeing a seven percent increase in his fly ball rate and nine percent drop in ground ball rate.

McHugh saw an increase in his swinging strike rate and a decrease in his contact rate. While the numbers probably would have looked different over a full season, it’s good to know he wasn’t bothered by the injury once he returned.

According to Roster Resource, McHugh will start the season in the bullpen as a long reliever. The Astros have Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers, Charlie Morton and Brad Peacock as the expected starters. If the team acquires Gerrit Cole, that will solidify McHugh as a reliever.

Regardless, McHugh will hold starting pitcher eligibility in most league formats. So, with shorter appearances, he should still be effective in 2018.

CHICAGO, IL – JULY 06: Starting pitcher Zach Davies

Zach Davies disappointed his owners in his first four starts of 2017. He allowed a combined 18 earned runs on 29 hits and 10 walks while striking out 16 in 19.2 innings. He had an 8.24 ERA after those starts.

From that moment on, 29 starts, Davies posted a 3.41 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 108 strikeouts and 45 walks. If you added Davies at the beginning of May, you were rewarded with a decent season from someone who ended up being the No. 48 pitcher on the Player Rater.

Davies did not last long in most of his games, averaging 5.8 innings per start. If you play in a league that tracks innings pitched, you may want to avoid Davies.

Davies posted a five percent increase in his groundball rate and a five percent decrease in his fly ball rate. While he may not have been able to induce a lot of strikeouts, Davies was able to get himself out of most of his jams, evident by his 74.2 LOB rate.

Like the other two pitchers mentioned, he is a good back-end rotation piece with upside for decent ratios and support with strikeouts.

CHICAGO, IL – AUGUST 22: Lucas Giolito

Lucas Giolito joined the Chicago White Sox last offseason in the Adam Eaton trade. He pitched in just seven games but looked really good in those games.

Giolito made his first start with the White Sox on August 22 against the Minnesota Twins. He threw six innings, giving up four runs on six hits while striking out four batters. Giolito finished the season with a 2.38 ERA, 0.949 WHIP, 6.8 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9.

He had three seven-inning outs and just one start that did not reach six innings. Even though he had just seven starts, Giolito showed why the Washington Nationals drafted him with the 16th pick in the first round of the 2012 draft.

Only 22-years-old, the White Sox have a potential ace on their hands. The Chicago rotation does not look good on paper. James Shields sits atop the rotation. This is one of those cases where there is just one starting pitcher worth drafting.

The small sample size may deter fantasy owners from drafting Giolito. But, that gives you a chance to draft him late and reap the benefits from a dominant season.

BOSTON, MA – SEPTEMBER 04: J.A. Happ

J.A. Happ has traveled the country during his 11-year career. This is his second stint with the Toronto Blue Jays and performed better this time around.

Last season, Happ posted a 3.53 ERA, 1.314 WHIP, 8.8 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9. While his ratio stats went up compared to 2016, he was able to strike out more batters on a per-start basis.

Happ induced more ground balls and fewer fly balls. He did finish with a higher HR/FB rate, which hurt his ERA. Pitching in the AL East will do that to a man. Now with Giancarlo Stanton joining the fray, the numbers could get worse.

Streamer projects Happ to finish with a 4.39 ERA and 1.33 WHIP. While I agree with the WHIP, I think the ERA is a little high. I’m leaning towards a 3.75-3.80 ERA for the 35-year-old.

Happ was the highest drafted of the five last year and finished as a top-55 pitcher. He is also the highest rated among Fantasy Pros, 55th. The strikeouts and walks look good but the fly balls could hurt his value some. There’s a reason why he’s fifth on my list.

NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 16: CC Sabathia

All five of these pitchers have some question marks to their game. Whether it’s the teams they pitch against, their home park or just their game itself, there’s a reason why they are my sleeper picks this season.

However, there are some positives to their game. Strikeouts, low home run totals, or just eating up innings. Depending what your pitching staff needs, these five can contribute in one way.

Just don’t yell at me when they have one or two nine-run, three-inning games this season.