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2019 Fantasy Baseball: AL West Starting Pitcher Profiles and Projections

If you’re just now tuning in, welcome to the FantraxHQ 2019 Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit. We started pumping out content on New Year’s Day and we’re gonna keep it up right until Opening Day. Of course we’ll have more fantasy goodness for you during the season, but let’s focus on the here and now. We’ve been working our way around the diamond and now come to our AL West Pitching Profiles. You can find the rest of our profiles and projections here or use the links to the right (on a computer) or further down the page (on mobile) to go to a specific position.

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AL West Starting Pitcher Profiles

The following profiles were completed by Anthony Franco. Follow him on Twitter at affranco10.

Jaime Barria, Los Angeles Angels

Jaime Barria 2019 Projections

Barria should get an opportunity to log some innings in 2019, but his 3.41 ERA wasn’t supported by the peripherals. Barria’s strikeout minus walk rate was a mediocre 9.5%, and his batted ball metrics were solid but unspecatcular. In many ways, Barria’s 2018 resembled Parker Bridwell’s 2017, and Bridwell’s bouncing around the waiver wire 12 months later. On the plus side, Barria is only 22 years old, so he’s a better long-term bet than Bridwell ever was, but he’s not especially physically projectable and his stuff is fringy across the board. Barria looks like a relatively generic strike-thrower.

Chris Bassitt, Oakland Athletics

Chris Bassitt 2019 Projections

Bassitt sat in the mid-90’s on his fastball early in his career, but in his return year from Tommy John Surgery, he was sitting at 92 MPH. Bassitt performed reasonably well in AAA in 2018, and he did a fantastic job of limiting hard contact in the big leagues, en route to a 3.02 ERA. Still, contact management for pitchers is tough to count on year-to-year, so we need more than 47 impressive innings to buy Bassitt as a guy who can outperform his peripherals long-term. In the deepest of leagues or AL-only, he’s worth monitoring, but there’s not a ton of strikeout upside here.

Trevor Cahill, Los Angeles Angels

Trevor Cahill 2019 Projections

Cahill’s a useful back-end starter. His sinker-curveball combination have resulted in strong strikeout and ground ball numbers in recent years, but he issues a few too many walks to dominate and has long been hampered by injuries. Cahill’s also been much better in the first half than the second in each of the past two years. That could be nothing, but it might just be that Cahill doesn’t have the durability to work deep into seasons. He’s a guy worth streaming while he’s hot, but don’t get too attached.

Gerrit Cole, Houston Astros

Gerrit Cole 2019 Projections

“The Astros will trade for Cole, have him lean on his high-spin curveball, and he’ll tap into all the potential he flashed in Pittsburgh.” The refrain was repeated so often it seemed it couldn’t possibly be true. Yet it really was that easy. Cole’s swinging strike jumped by nearly five percentage points inside the top ten leaguewide, a tough feat to pull off when simultaneously throwing more pitches inside the strike zone. Cole’s been durable, has elite stuff and plus control. Credit to the Astros’ player devlopment and to the player for translating the pitch repertoire chnages into on-field results. He profiles pretty comfortably as a top ten starter on draft day.

Marco Estrada, Oakland Athletics

Marco Estrada 2019 Projections

Estrada slogged through a dreadful 2018 in Toronto, offering volume but little else. His already below-average velocity waned at the end of the year, and, at age 35, he’s pretty clearly on the downside of his career. There’s some reason to believe he might have a little bit left in the tank, though. His swinging strike rate didn’t fall that far from prior seasons, and Oakland’s homer-suppressing nature and expansive foul territory best suits a fly ball specialist like Estrada. He’s a streaming option at best, but against soft lineups- especially at home- he could still be of some use to fantasy owners.

Mike Fiers, Oakland Athletics

Mike Fiers 2019 Projections

Fiers fits the A’s model for on-the-cheap pitching acquisitions. A soft-tossing, fly-ball specialist who can take advantage of the Coliseum’s massive dimensions, Fiers always throws a ton of strikes. He was especially effective following an adjustment to his repertoire after the A’s acquired from Detroit in August, running an above-average strikeout rate in Oakland. He’s 33 with below-average velocity, so there’s not a ton of ceiling here, but Fiers is a reliable back-end starter.

Marco Gonzales, Seattle Mariners

Marco Gonzales 2019 Projections

Gonzales was fantastic in the season’s first half, but his ERA jumped nearly two runs after the All-Star Break. A neck injury might have had something to do with it, but Gonzales’ velocity steadily fell from start to finish throughout the year. Gonzales throws strikes, but none of his pitches are true wing-and-miss offerings, and if his velocity doesn’t return to the low-90’s it was at the beginning of last year, he’ll be a tough bet. The projections are all in, but there’s more risk here than his projected 3.78 ERA would indicate.

Matt Harvey, Los Angeles Angels

Matt Harvey 2019 Projections

Even after his trade to the Reds, Harvey wasn’t good. He wasn’t as bad as he had been in New York in recent seasons, but the narrative about Harvey’s focus and dedication seems overstated. What’s really hurt Harvey has been his body, which might be more damning. Gone is the pitcher who could touch 101 with a wipeout, low-90’s slider. Harvey still throws reasonably hard, but 95 might not be enough to overcome his mediocre in-zone command or below-average changeup. Primarily a fastball-slider pitcher, Harvey struggled with left-handed hitters last season and he hasn’t posted an above-average strikeout rate in three seasons. Leaving Cincinatti might help him keep the ball in the yard a little bit, but the overall package is still underwhelming. Harvey’s more name value than anything else at this point.

Andrew Heaney, Los Angeles Angels

Andrew Heaney 2019 Projections

Heaney stayed healthy for the first time in his career, and he quietly authored a solid season. He got a solid amount of chases and whiffs, resulting in exactly a strikeout per inning. Never a ground-ball specialist, Heaney’s been a bit prone to the home run ball over his career, and nothing about his raw stuff is especially eye-catching. Still, he’s gotten results when healthy, and nothing in his peripherals screams regression, even if he has largely hit his ceiling. His 195 innings projection is rather optimistic, but an ERA around 4.00 with double-digit wins and 175 strikeouts is pretty reasonable.

Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

Felix Hernandez 2019 Projections

The high volume of innings Felix worked in his 20’s has more than caught up to the King. He’s still only 32, but his numbers make it seem as though we’re witnessing the twilight of his career. It’s now been three years and 300 innings since Hernandez’s last strong season, as his 4.93 FIP since the start of 2016 suggests. Last year, his once-vaunted fastball was down to 90 MPH, and, just as importantly, his changeup is now only five MPH slower than his fastball, so hitters can cover both pitches. Those who know Felix laud his work ethic, so it’s worth monitoring to see if he can regain some velocity, but if he comes out of spring training, throwing 89 MPH, he’ll have a hard time sticking in the rotation all season.

Josh James, Houston Astros

Joshua James 2019 Projections

James always struck out the world in the minor leagues, but a few factors combined to keep him off prospect radars. He was old for every level at which he played, he had command problems that seemed they would relegate him to the bullpen and his raw stuff was closer to average. For whatever reason, James’ stuff took off last season, and his performance forced the Astros’ hand eventually. In only 23 innings, he earned his way onto a loaded postseason roster, The arsenal stands out. James touched 103 MPH out of the bullpen in the postseason, and he’s got two viable secondaries, so he’d start on most teams. His role for this team, though, isn’t clear. Houston might elect to keep him as a multi-inning relief weapon to keep his innings down in preparation for another postseason push, and for as electric as the stuff is, he still issues a few too many walks to profile as an ace. There’s still value in 100 dominant swing innings.

Yusei Kikuchi, Seattle Mariners

Yusei Kikuchi 2019 Projections

Kikuchi has drawn some Patrick Corbin comps. An elite athlete with a low-90’s fastball and wipeout slider from the left side, his upside is substantial, and he has a strong track record of performance at the world’s second-highest level. Kikuchi comes with some risk, too, though. He has a lengthy injury history and his workload in Japan was heavily-managed. Seattle plans to take a cautious approach themselves; Kikuchi will throw no more than one inning every fifth start, so any owners will need to closely monitor his schedule so as not to be caught off guard. Still, on an inning-per-inning basis, Kikuchi’s an exciting talent.

Mike Leake, Seattle Mariners

Mike Leake 2019 Projections

Leake consistently runs one of baseball’s lowest strikeout rates, but he’s as good a bet as any for a high volume of innings. He doesn’t issue walks, he keeps the ball on the ground and he doesn’t give up a ton of hard contact. Leake isn’t an exciting starter, but he’s consistent, and there’s a chance for a slightly lower ERA if he can strand a few more baserunners.

Wade LeBlance, Seattle Mariners

Wade LeBlanc 2019 Projections

LeBlanc enjoyed something of a career resurgence in 2018. Even with modest strikeout totals, he’s long excelled at limiting hard contact, and he’s back in Seattle’s pitcher-friendly confines. The Mariners’ team defense should be solid, although one underrated position swap might uniquely affect LeBlanc. A nibbler, LeBlanc relies on getting called strikes just off the black, and Seattle’s replaced a good pitch framer, Mike Zunino, with arguably MLB’s worst pitch framer, Omar Narvaez. I’d still take LeBlanc to outperform his projected 4.47 ERA based on the contact management, but the downgrade in catcher defense alone might push his ERA north of 4.00.

Jesus Luzardo, Oakland Athletics

Jesus Luzardo 2019 Projections

Scouts have lauded Luzardo as a potential top-of-the-rotation starter, a characterization with which our own Eric Cross has agreed. Plus stuff, command, results- Luzardo’s got it all. He’s not going to go 200 innings next year, but his upside is electric, and there’s a chance he could be in the majors by April. Luzardo does have a Tommy John Surgery on his record and the error bars on projections are highest for players who have never been in the majors, so there’s still risk here, but Luzardo’s inning-per-inning upside is stellar.

Lance Lynn, Texas Rangers

Lance Lynn 2019 Projections

Lynn was great out of the bullpen for the Yankees at the end of 2018, but he’ll start again in Texas. While Globe Life’s hitter-friendly nature is especially harmful to a fly-ball pitcher of Lynn’s ilk, the AL West might be a better environment for Lynn than thought at first glance. He’s long been quite good against right-handed hitters, while his lack of a third pitch has killed him against lefties. His AL West rivals, though, skew right-handed. Houston and Anaheim had the fewest and second-fewest, respectively, plate appearances by left-handed hitters against right-handed pitching in 2018. Oakland and Seattle were both in the bottom ten. Lynn’s projected opponents are the players against whom he’s had the most success. Maybe that’s what Texas was thinking throwing $30 million his way.

Collin McHugh, Houston Astros

Collin McHugh 2019 Projections

McHugh was stellar out of the bullpen in 2018, and Lance McCullers’ injury gives him a chance to start again in 2019. It’s not so simple as to extrapolate his numbers from 2016, his most recent full season as a starter. McHugh picked up a slider in 2017, fazing out a less-effective cutter in the process. Without a changeup, he’ll probably always have some trouble with left-handed hitters, but he was far more than a right-on-right specialist out of the bullpen. Obviously. he won’t replicate his 2018 numbers over (hopefully) 200 innings, but the bullpen transition might’ve obscured the fact that McHugh’s a better pitcher now than he used to be. He’s flying under the radar right now, but he shouldn’t be.

Yohander Mendez, Texas Rangers

Yohander Mendez 2019 Projections

Mendez only just turned 24, so there’s plenty of time for him to turn his career around. The arrow is pointing decidedly down right now, though. He’s fallen off top prospect lists because his stuff has backed up, and he was dreadful both in AAA and the majors in 2018. He’s still a wait-and-see guy, but owners who recognize the player because he appeared on a few top 100 lists two years ago need not fall for the name value trap. For now, Mendez is just another guy.

Daniel Mengden, Oakland Athletics

Daniel Mengden 2019 Projections

Mengden’s got over 230 big-league innings with a career 17.6% strikeout rate. It’s tough to get excited about a pitcher who gives up that much contact, especially one who doesn’t consistently keep the ball on the ground. His bottom-line results weren’t bad last season, but his Statcast metrics don’t paint the picture of an expert contact manager. It seems likely that Oakland’s elite defense helped Mengden as much as any pitcher in 2018. While he’ll still have Marcus Semien, Matt Chapman and company behind him next year, Mengden could find himself squeezed out of the rotation by pitchers with better swing-and-miss stuff.

Shelby Miller, Texas Rangers

Shelby Miller 2019 Projections

Miller showed better raw stuff in a brief cameo last season than he did back in 2015, when he was one of baseball’s most promising young starters. That, coupled with his age (28), might give him the greatest upside of anyone on Texas’ staff. Of course, there are myriad reasons why Miller’s no more than a deep league upside flyer. His command has gone haywire over the over the last three years for whatever reason, and Tommy John surgery cost him nearly two years that he could’ve spent trying to figure things out. Desperate for strikeouts or in an AL-only? Take a shot, but don’t be surprised if Miller never again finds the promise he showed a long time ago.

Mike Minor, Texas Rangers

Mike Minor 2019 Projections

Minor’s the best bet of any Ranger starter in 2019, even if he’s not the highest-upside guy. He showed he could once again handle a starter’s workload, and he handled right and left-handed hitters alike. His per-inning performance was nowhere near what it was in 2017, when he worked out of the bullpen, but Minor fills up the strike zone with above-average stuff. He’s a fly ball pitcher in Arlington’s bandbox, so there’ll be some home run troubles, but he’s got a solid floor with sneaky upside in pitcher-friendly parks. If Texas falls out of contention and ships Minor to a contender midseason, all the better.

Frankie Montas, Oakland Athletics

Frankie Montas 2019 Projections

Montas’ strikeouts don’t match up with the raw velocity. It seems like a spin problem; he’s got middle-of-the-road fastball spin, which is the worst place to be. Higher spin usually causes fastballs to feel like they “jump” on hitters, lower spin results in heavier sink, while mid-level spin typically yields a flat pitch. Combine the mediocre spin with a lack of a third pitch and below-average command, and Montas probably doesn’t have as much upside as one might expect at first glance. His projections aren’t especially impressive and his solid ERA last season was the product of an unsustainably low HR/FB rate. Montas isn’t as interesting as the radar gun and run prevention might make him seem.

Justus Sheffield, Seattle Mariners

Justus Sheffield 2019 Projections

Sheffield’s got a power arm, a plus slider and should pitch 140-150 MLB innings if he stays healthy. He’s long had impressive strikeout rates in the minors, and that stuff should translate to the game’s highest level. He’s not a finished product, though. Presently, Sheffield’s command is below-average, so he’ll be a high-variance performer next season. Owners will just have to ride the waves that come with a raw but talented player trying to find his footing, and in the aggregate, they should expect something resembling league average performance. That wouldn’t be too shabby for a 22-year-old.

Tyler Skaggs, Los Angeles Angels

Tyler Skaggs 2019 Projections

Skaggs is entering his age-28 season. and his career-high in innings pitched is 125.1. From a performance standpoint, though, 2018 looked like a bit of a breakout. Skaggs set a career-high in swinging strike rate, largely on the heels of a significantly improved four-seam fastball. His velocity and spin remained largely the same, but Skaggs added around three inches of cut to the fastball, and opponents’ slugging percentage on the pitch dropped nearly .150 points as a result. Skaggs has a solid three-pitch repertoire and above-average command. He’s no guarantee to stay healthy, but no pitcher is. If you want to bet on talent alone, Skaggs is an interesting sleeper.

Drew Smyly, Texas Rangers

Drew Smyly 2019 Projections

It’s tough to do much of anything with Smyly out of the gate. Over the course of his career, he’s been good when healthy, but it’s been over two years since his last professional pitch. He should be healthy right out of the gate, and he’s one of the few players whose spring training performance might actually mean something. If the low-90’s fastball comes back, he’s a solid sleeper. Until then, though, he’s a deep league flyer at best.

Framber Valdez, Houston Astros

Framber Valdez 2019 Projections

Valdez has long been pegged as a future reliever by scouts, and he did little to change that narrative in 2018. He walked nearly 16% of opposing hitters in the majors and used his third pitch sparingly. His 2.19 ERA was a mirage, but Valdez could be an exciting reliever. His elite sinker has long allowed him to run absurd ground-ball rates, and his curveball might be especially lethal against left-handed hitters. Still, he’s not going to close in Houston unless things go terribly wrong, so he can be left off radars in all but the deepest of leagues early on.

Justin Verlander, Houston Astros

Justin Verlander 2019 Projections

Since being traded to the Astros, Verlander has a 2.32 ERA with nearly eight strikeouts per walk in 248 innings. From a performance standpoint alone, there’s a compelling case he’s the AL’s best pitcher. The stuff’s still elite, too. Per Statcast, he’s got 99th percentile fastball spin, 95th percent curveball spin and a 95 MPH fastball. He pitches in a pitcher-friendly home park and has baseball’s best offense to support him. The profile’s almost spotless, with age (36 by Opening Day) the only mark against him. Given that he’s shown no signs of wearing down yet, though, he’s still a bona fide ace, with a case to be the second starter off the board in 2019.

Edinson Volquez, Texas Rangers

Edinson Volquez 2019 Projections

Volquez is 35 years old, hasn’t pitched in a year and a half due to Tommy John Surgery and signed with a team who pitches in a bandbox. He had pitched horribly for the two years leading up to his injury, and, for as many innings as he’s logged in his career, he’s only ever had one great season. That came over a decade ago. Volquez should be off even the deepest of fantasy radars.

Forest Whitley, Houston Astros

Forrest Whitley 2019 Projections
Whitley’s the consensus top pitching prospect in baseball. Prospects with five above-average or better pitches are unheard of, and Whitley combines that repertoire depth with above-average command and a frame which he’s worked diligently to reshape over the past few years. The only drawback here was a stimulant suspension to start 2018. From an on-field perspective, it’s not all that concerning. Whitley was his usual dominant self after the suspension, and, while reports on this are fuzzy, it seems that the stimulant involved wasn’t being used as a performance-enhancer. The only lasting impact it could have is on Whitley’s 2019 workload, since the organization might have to be more cautious in ramping him back up. Whitley won’t break camp with the big-league club for service and workload reasons, but something similar to Walker Buehler’s 2018- 140 innings with an ERA around 3.00- isn’t out of the question. He’s worth a draft-and-stash.

Digging these AL West Starting Pitcher Profiles? For more great rankings, strategy, and analysis check out the 2019 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit. We’ll be adding more content from now right up until Opening Day!

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