In fantasy circles, “starting pitching is a mess” has become a way too familiar and redundant outcry. I would not dispute that injuries have taken their toll on the depth of the position. Injuries have taken their toll at each level of the starting pitching pool, but specifically, at the top, where 14 of the Yahoo!’s top 50 starting pitchers are currently on the disabled list. However, in an odd way, those owners currently experiencing pitcher injuries might have stumbled onto a bit of good fortune, if they scouted replacements properly.
Looking inside the current top 25 among starting pitcher, you will find names like Jason Vargas, Ervin Santana, Dylan Bundy, Alex Wood, Andrew Triggs and Luis Severino. These pitchers may or may not be “real” in terms of the output that they will provide going forward. Some are more “real” than others (I rank them – Severino, Wood, Bundy, Santana, Triggs, Vargas), but there is no question that these early season waiver candidates have provided elite level production for those that scampered to the waiver wire early.
The second wave of starting pitchers that have been scooped up includes A.J. Griffin, Derek Holland, Trevor Cahill, Chase Anderson, Charlie Morton and Jose Berrios. Once again, you can take your pick of who you think is for real or not – my rankings would be Cahill, Morton, Berrios, Anderson, Griffin, Holland. The point here is that you are seeing these sort of arms that have traditionally sat on waiver wires for extended periods be scooped up in short order. This is not necessarily a bad thing – without question, everyone in that first group deserves a home based on their performance. I would argue that Cahill, Morton and Berrios are all also must own in a majority of leagues even if their ownership percentages do not presently reflect that. My point is: if you have been aggressive, then you have been able to placate your starting pitcher injuries.
With thinning depth at the position though, there are scant interesting names left for teams in active and/or deeper leagues to scoop up. This is where sometimes early injuries (and particularly in this climate) can be a blessing in disguise. These starting pitchers that would normally be available for owners with injuries in the latter months are not going to be there. They are going to be owned. The owners that end up with latter month injuries will be left to dig through the regression soaked free agents or the lowest of the buy low candidates – the discarded draftees. You with the Noah Syndergaard injury – you have already scooped Alex Wood and Trevor Cahill through your roster maneuvering. You may not have replaced Syndergaard, but you have stabilized your rotation enough to compete. The owner holding the next ticking time-bomb starting pitcher will not be so lucky and will be banging at your door asking for your starting pitching – perhaps, when Syndergaard (or injured starting pitcher X) is ready to return.
There is a final wave of free agent options (Matt Andriese (25%), Nate Karns (24%), Amir Garrett (24%), Zack Godley (21%), Jesse Hahn (20%), J.C. Ramirez (18%), Joe Biagini (13%), Eddie Butler (10%), Matt Garza (9%), Luis Perdomo (4%)), but I suspect much like we have seen with names in that second tier, the cream of this group will rise in ownership in the weeks to come. Who is the cream? The three that I like at various levels of ownership are Karns, Biagini and Perdomo.
Nate Karns: Last Monday, I tweeted out that Cahill’s ownership would climb from its 39% ownership level – it is now up to 55%. In that same tweet, I stated that owners from deeper leagues should look for the new model – Nate Karns (then 7%, now 24%). Over his last four starts, Karns has struck out 34 in 23.1 innings with a 3.09 ERA. He is coming off a two start week where he posted 22 Ks in 11.1 innings. Similar to Cahill, Karns is supporting his double digit K/9 with 50+% GB%. The best part about Karns’s line is the reason why his ownership is still low – his current 4.46 ERA, which is based on inflated 1.79 HR/9 (career 1.35) and 22.9% HR/FB (15%). Karns plays his home games in Kansas City, which has 84 Park Factor for left-handed hitters (Karns’s strong side platoon). He is going to get better.
Joe Biagini: The former Rule 5 pick and reliever has been transitioned into the rotation by a desperate Toronto team. In two starts, Biagini has gone 9 innings without giving up a home run, struck out 7 and walked none. On the season, Biagini is generating groundballs at a 58.7% clip – 59.3% in his starts. Biagini has the arsenal to start with a fastball pumping 93-94, a change that he trusts (22.5%) and two breaking pitches – a hard slider (90.5 MPH, 10.8% usage) and a slow curve (79.6 MPH, 15.8% usage). Like with other converted relievers, there are going to workload concerns and the threat of a return to the bullpen when healthy starters return, but as we have seen with Alex Wood – performance can take it out of the manager’s hands. Biagini has looked really good and at minimum, is worth a watchlist or an add and stash in most leagues.
Luis Perdomo: Of the three, Perdomo presents probably the least upside, but he also might have the safest floor. Another Rule 5 selection, started most of last year with the Padres accumulating 146 innings across 35 appearances and 20 starts. At the ripe age of 24, he is now fully entrenched in the Padres rotation. Perdomo is a sinkerballer, who is generating groundballs at a league-leading 69.5% clip and supplementing it with a respectable K/9 near 8 per. This year Perdomo has carried over his home run suppression skills from the minors. His ability to suppress hard contact is Keuchel-esque – 20.7%. With a groundball heavy profile, a league average (or slightly above K-rate) and a good home venue in the National League, Perdomo looks like an arm that could easily post a 3.75 ERA over another 160 innings. That has value in fantasy.
-I feel like annually Brett Gardner (56% Y!) gets off to a fast start and then cools. It is happening again. Gardner has 7 homers and 5 steals with a .289/.381/.521 triple slash and is just outside the top ten in runs scored with 26. I would happily cash out on Gardner if I could get any sort of value – some targets include Adam Jones, Stephen Piscotty and Dexter Fowler. Back the production from Gardner and move on, if the league will let you.
-In the last week, Jonathan Villar hit .381 with 1.099 OPS. Despite what has widely been touted as an underwhelming start to the season, Villar has 5 homers and 8 stolen bases. The strikeout rate has now dipped below 30% for the season after surging to start the year and the BABIP sits .293 for a career .341 player. He is still the leadoff hitter for one of the most dynamic offenses in baseball. If you can find a non-believer, now is your last chance to buy because the slow start is about to become history.
-With closing situations around the league in their usual state of turmoil, I think one underowned commodity/closer-in-waiting is Tommy Kahnle (5%). Kahnle has been amazing this year with 25 Ks in 13 innings. He seems to be next in line behind David Robertson, who everyone expects to be traded in due course. If you’re trying to get ahead of the game, he should be your next addition.