Let’s look at pitchers who rank much higher in our dominance statistics than where they are being drafted. These statistics work better in-season because there’s a reset in the offseason that can alter a pitcher’s effectiveness; so how a pitcher fared the prior year is generally not as bettable as how a hitter fared. Still, it’s more predictive than the fantasy category stats because dominance stats are the foundation upon which category success is ultimately built.
The conceit here is that you want pitchers who are getting Ks in four pitches or less, generating 1-2-3 innings and inducing swings and misses at rates better than the league average rates.
So two things here in looking for these underrated starting pitchers:
1. We’re looking at the Yahoo rank among starting pitchers, NOT overall average draft position (ADP).
2. We’re also noting where the pitcher ranks among all pitchers with at least 1,500 pitches during 2017 in overall dominance ranking (that factors in all three of those statistics cited above).
In short, we’re looking for pitchers whose dominance ranking among pitchers is much higher than where people are drafting them among starting pitchers.
Let’s go cheapest to most expensive.
Chase Anderson (Yahoo! SP rank 54, Inside Edge dominance rank 16): Fantasy baseball is not buying the 2.74 ERA or 12 wins in 25 starts or even the above-average K/9. But remember, we’re looking beyond the categories. Anderson’s swing and miss is above average and his 1-2-3 innings are significantly above. That latter stat means that he works more efficiently and thus has a better chance to pitch deeper into games and get wins. He is not going to have the strand rate he had last year. The ERA indeed will correct. But he should be the 40th pitcher off the board even with that baked in; 54 is a massive over-correction.
Kenta Maeda (50, 14): Maeda beats the league averages in dominance across the board and had an ERA that underperformed his peripherals — the opposite of Anderson. Yet drafters are not believing that, either. Picky, picky, picky. Maeda has upside in both ERA and WHIP and pitches for a top team in a great park and should be pitcher 35-to-40 off the board. That’s 3-to-4 rounds of ADP value. I can almost guarantee he’ll be the most attractive name in your queue at some point. When he is, pounce.
Zack Godley (32, 4): I really like Godley, god-like in dominating hitters. Let’s go through it: 19% of Ks in four pitches or less (average is 14%). He had 45% of completed innings go 1-2-3 and average is 37%. Swing and miss was 23% compared with league-average 17%. Make him the 25th pitcher in your draft and you will get him. This is the top call here for me: get Godley.
Masahiro Tanaka (24, 12): The gap between dominance and draft ranking is more narrow here and I know Tanaka had extreme homer problems. That’s going to remain a problem because if hitters sit on his fastball, he’s in trouble. But Tanaka’s splitter is as good a finishing pitch as any in baseball and the Yankees offense and bullpen are top-shelf — so wins should be plentiful. I think the bet here is that the homer rate comes down a little, resulting in about a 25% reduction in taters — call it about 26 instead of 35. That’s 13 expected runs wiped away. So pencil in Tanaka with solid Ks and WHIP and wins and about a 4.10 ERA.
James Paxton (21, 7): He’s being discounted for injury risk. But the consensus projection is 150 innings or so. Take it. Last year, there were only 58 pitchers who qualified for an ERA title. Their average innings was 184, according to my research for The Wall Street Journal. So just accept that Paxton’s innings limits are being too severely discounted given that the game has very recently changed so radically. It’s hard to project anyone for over 215 innings since that total last year would have led baseball.
Dallas Keuchel (18, 8): I’m all in on Houston pitchers. They have hitting, defense, the most run-suppressing park in baseball…. Keuchel has great control and gives up a bunch of ground balls so he’s very tough to score on. But he’s no contact pitcher: 20% swinging strikes should result in a K/9 over 8.0. And with less innings, wins per innings becomes a big stat and Keuchel is going to do very well here. He should be a top 15 pitcher off the board and is going about a round too late on average. Make him 15th on your list and you’re almost sure to get him.