Fantasy Baseball

The Feel of Cotton: Jharel Cotton

I have mentioned before that I was introduced to fantasy baseball through the Head-to-Head Categories format.  I have never seen the appeal that many fantasy baseball purists find in Roto.  I recognize the flaws of the Head-to-Head system, the frustration of losing in the playoffs to a team that was out-and-out not on your team’s level.  Sometimes a team backs into the playoffs and goes on a wild run through the playoffs and manages an unlikely (and perhaps, undeserved) championship.  I recognize and embrace these flaws in the Head-to-Head format, however, it is undeniable that the Head-to-Head format keeps a greater percentage of the league engaged for a longer period of time.

But then there are those moments where the Head-to-Head format is fantastic: like when you are the team, beset by poor luck, that manages to get in on the final day of the season.  Or when in the playoffs, you come against one of your biggest rivals (and podcast co-host) and on the final day of your playoff matchup, you are poised to overtake them…  At least momentarily….

Then Jharel Cotton happens…  Fourth career start, 7 innings, 5 Ks, no walks, 3 hits, 1 earned run against a vaunted Texas lineup.  It’s over.  You are muttering to yourself about how Cotton Weary from Scream was the actual killer because he just ended your season.  You are immediately counting the days until Tom Brady returns from suspension to aid your fantasy football team.  It is a tough existence.

And, by the way, Mr. Cotton that was a terrible first impression.  Now, one could be endlessly bitter at this result and swear revenge against Jharel Cotton.   However, we would never do anything that foolish (or at least we try not to – we all have fantasy grudges). Today, I will tell you why Jharel Cotton deserves your attention despite being the 71st Starting Pitcher and 266th overall player according to ADP.  I will tell you why he is a value that price despite a microscopic sample of 29.1 MLB innings and at least one fantasy kill on his record.

Personal experiences aside, Cotton has a very interesting skillset, which is likely to produce profitable results for his fantasy owners.  Sporting average velocity from the right side (92-94 MPH), Cotton’s fastball has good rise with some backspin and generates plenty of infield flyballs (24.4 IFFB%), in a vein similar to Marco Estrada.  However, let’s remember Cotton gets to generate these automatic outs in Oakland, where the foul territory is vast and pop-ups are less likely to find the safe haven of the seats.  Remember, infield flyballs are a great weapon for a pitcher – they are essentially automatic outs when they land in the field of play.

Cotton pairs this fastball with a change that has a velocity gap of 15 MPH and plenty of vertical drop.  In addition to generating above average whiffs (18.2%), Cotton’s changeup also generates above average grounders for the pitcher (60.0%).

Cotton has also incorporated a cutter, which has a 4 MPH velocity gap from his fastball and produced a ton of swings and misses (21.92%).  This whiff percentage is over double the league average for swinging strikes on cutters (9.7%).  The pitch is successful because it presents a different type of movement (cutters have more horizontal movement) that Cotton was able to command and the pitch appears similar to the fastball.  Thus, while Cotton primarily presented hitters with vertical movement due to the rise on the fastball and drop on the change, the cutter presented a different velocity than his fastball and a different movement type that really throws hitters off.  In addition to the fastball, change and cutter, Cotton can also mix-in a curveball.

In the minors, Cotton always showed a propensity for good K-rates, topping 10 K/9 across most of 2015 and 2016 when with the Dodgers.  However, interestingly, upon being dealt to the A’s, the K-rate at AAA dropped to 8.45 K/9 (from 11 K/9), but his walk rate  also dropped to 1.64 BB/9 (from 2.96).  Now, when it comes to K-rate and walk rate, this could be small sample noise, but it continued at the MLB level.

Trimming the walk rate, even if it costs Cotton some strikeouts, is imperative because Cotton is likely to give up his fair share of homers given his flyball profile (0.78 GB/FB).  If he is putting less guys on base via the walk, he can carry an above average home run rate and still be an asset in ERA and WHIP.  Plus, I think the whiff rates on the cutter and changeup will bring the K-rate up from the 7.06 K/9 in the small MLB sample to more in line with the 8.45 K/9 that he sports in AAA with the A’s.

With 165 innings last year, Cotton should be in line for close to a full workload unless the A’s are trying to keep his service time down.  I have Cotton ranked as the 57th overall pitcher and expect his ADP to rise as the season approaches.

My projection: 188 innings, 3.49 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 171 Ks.


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