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FanRag Sports Fantasy Baseball Guide 2017: Starting Pitchers Buyer Beware

06 October 2016: Boston Red Sox Starting pitcher Rick Porcello (22) [7065] leaves the game during the fifth inning of the American League Divisional Series Game 1 between the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field in Cleveland, OH. Cleveland defeated Boston 5-4. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)
(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

We asked our fantasy staff which starting pitchers they would caution against drafting at their current ADP. Here’s what they had to say. And remember, if you missed our Top-75 fantasy starting pitcher rankings, you can catch them here.

WHICH STARTING PITCHER WOULD YOU CAUTION AGAINST DRAFTING TOO HIGH, GIVEN RANK AND ADP?

 

Al Melchior: Fantasy owners can get a little hung up on strikeouts sometimes, but I give our community credit for appreciating Jose Quintana despite his very ordinary K-rates. Few starting pitchers have been steadier. Quintana’s ERA has ranged from 3.20 to 3.51 over the past four seasons, and his strikeout rate has hovered between 19.7 and 21.6 percent. In three of the last four years, he has virtually been the definition of a league-average control pitcher, throwing between 63 and 64 percent of his pitches for strikes.

Quintana ranked 20th among starters last year in Roto value, and given his record of consistency, it seems entirely reasonable that he is being drafted 25th among starting pitchers, according to NFBC ADP.

At least, at first glance it does.

Yet, right below our noses, something changed for Quintana last season. Part of what made him so successful in 2014 and 2015 was his ability to get hitters to chase after his curveball, particularly when it was outside the strike zone. Whereas the chase rate on errant curveballs was 36.2 and 38.8 percent in ’14 and ’15, respectively, that rate fell to 32.8 percent last year. When opponents connected with the curve, they mashed it for a .204 Iso, as compared to the .068 and .084 marks compiled against him in the previous two seasons. The 14.4 mph velocity differential between his fastball and curveball was the largest of Quintana’s career, and it could have made it easier for batters to spot the curve than it had been in the past.

Maybe the gap in velocities is something Quintana will address. Maybe it’s not even the cause of the drop in his whiff rate and the rise in his rate of extra-base hits allowed. What we do know is that a 79 percent strand rate and 19 percent foul ball rate helped Quintana to keep his ERA and strikeout rate afloat, and it’s asking a lot for him to repeat both of those rates, both of which were career-highs. Without those aberrant strand and foul rates, Quintana’s ERA could have matched or exceeded his 4.03 xFIP.

One could argue that Quintana deserves a pass for a sagging whiff rate and surging Iso, since he had been so consistent beforehand. He is going just ahead of Rick Porcello and Julio Teheran in drafts, but I’d rather take either of them, as they have given me fewer reasons to doubt they will strike out roughly eight batters per nine innings in 2017 (while posting similar walk and ground ball rates to boot). I would also rather target either of the next two starters in ADP – Gerrit Cole and Rich Hill – both of whom have shown greater upside than Quintana did in his peak years of 2014 and 2015.

I don’t view Quintana as a serious bust candidate, but I do think he at least warrants the “Buyer Beware” label. Not only is there the risk of him having a substantially higher ERA than he has had over the last four seasons, but if he remains with the White Sox, he could fail to reach 10 wins, just as he did every season prior to last year.

Statistical credits: FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference.

(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

Greg Jewett: What a difference a year makes for Kyle Hendricks‘ fantasy value. As drafts finished last year, his ADP sat at 214 overall with a range of 143 as a high pick and 286 representing the bottom. After winning 16 games with a 2.13 ERA and a third-place finish in the Cy Young voting, any window of buying low on Hendricks no longer exists. Presently, he will be the 16th pitcher off the board on average at pick 65 with a high pick of 35 and low of 82. His low pick this year represents a 60-spot jump compared to his peak pick last year.

Riding improved command, a strong defense and underlying statistic surges, Hendricks turned in a potential career-year in 2016. Hendricks’ BABIP improved by 46 points, his strand rate rose by over 11 points with his ERA dropping from 3.95 in 2015 to 2.13 last year. Can this be sustainable?

Chicago’s defense will defray some of the regression, but to what level must be determined. Hendricks pitched 10 more innings in 2016 than the season prior with only three more strikeouts. The collapse of his BABIP allowed his WHIP to drop below one for the season. Part of the success behind his strong second half lied within strand rate. Hendricks finished with a 90.7 percent left-on-base percentage after the All-Star break. A jump of this proportion cannot be repeated.

Shifting to his batted ball data, Hendricks’ contact rate dropped to 76.6 percent but sat in the low-80s in his prior two seasons. Any migration toward his old rates with a rise in BABIP along with correction in strand rate, and Hendricks could see his ratios change. Using his xFIP of last year as a road map, a potential jump to its 3.59 finish could represent the worst-case scenario. In 2015, Hendricks finished with a 3.25 xFIP, which may be more representative of his ERA for this year.

Hendricks should see regression to the mean with his ERA going up along with his FIP returning to its pre-2016 level of 1.10 or higher. Does this sound like the profile of a top-20 pitcher for fantasy in 2017? Herein lies the crux of paying full price for his breakout season. Due to the impending backslides in ratios along with simple regression to the mean, it does not seem prudent to take Hendricks at the going rate.

This should not be seen as gloom and doom for his overall value. Hendricks plays on the defending World Champions, so wins should reach the low-to-mid teens. But due to the low ceiling on a rise in strikeouts paired with the price to roster him in NFBC ADP, Hendricks’ potential to provide a return on investment seems unlikely. Last year he represented one of the best buys at pitching; this year, the tables have turned. Tread carefully if taking Hendricks as your anchor for fantasy in 2017.

Statistical Credits: Fangraphs.com, BrooksBaseball.net, Baseball-Reference.com, hosted.stats.com

(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

Jim Finch: I seem to be in the minority when it comes to Rick Porcello. Back in November I listed Porcello as someone to sell high on in dynasty leagues, and I’m doubling down on that advice and saying stay away from him in 2016.

Now, I don’t hate Rick Porcello (well, maybe a little). If he were available after the top-50 starting pitchers were off the board I might consider him. However, he is not being valued that way this year due to his Cy-Young status. Currently, Porcello is the 26th starting pitcher off the board, making him a borderline number-two starter. He has even been reached for at 68 overall – that’s round six in a 12-team league.

This is the same guy with a 326 ADP in 2016 that was lucky to crack the top-50 on any rankings in the past. In six of his of his eight major league seasons, he has an ERA of 3.96 or higher. Of those six seasons, his best WHIP was a 1.28; the rest are 1.34 or higher. People are looking at him and thinking he finally broke out. But did he really, or was it just a career-year?

There was no change in his arsenal; he threw the same pitch mix. The only difference was this year he had a positive rating on all but his curveball. His fastball, changeup and slider totaled 31 runs above average combined. The contact rate was up to 82.9 percent; that ranked in the bottom-10, and his contact rate has been in the bottom-20 in seven of his eight seasons. And that increased contact was to all his pitches; not one pitch showed improvement here according to his Pitchf/x data.

The contact rate went up despite the better results, both inside and outside the zone. If not for his .268 BABIP, the results could have been much worse when you factor in his career-high 48 percent swing rate.

His HR/FB ratio was the third-best among qualifiers even though his fly ball rate was 5.5 percent higher than 2015 and over eight points higher than his career average. The ground ball rate continues to drop as does the soft contact, and the hard contact has been above 30 percent the past two years.

I’ve heard the arguments about him changing the grip on his curveball (a negative pitch last year), his spin rate on the fastball, the change in sequencing of his pitches, etc. He made some of those adjustments in 2015 and the results weren’t there, so why should I believe that they work so well now? If this were a young pitcher making adjustments and showing incremental improvements you might have something.

Porcello basically exploded out of nowhere doing very little different. The ERA may have been 3.15, but the xFIP and SIERA put it closer to 4.00. Maybe some of those changes he made could result in numbers similar to his first half (3.66 ERA, 1.17) WHIP, but that’s a best-case scenario and far from numbers you would expect from someone with his ADP. Let someone else take Phil Hughes 2.0.

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