When we think about fantasy baseball, we tend to think about the star players. Generally, the average fantasy baseball league isn’t incredibly deep, which means that there isn’t any reason to scout players who are being drafted significantly lower than your typical upper-echelon players.
However, that isn’t the case for all drafts. For instance, there are plenty of NFBC drafts, such as draft champions or other draft and hold formats, that go 50+ rounds. That places a lot pressure to find a needle from a player pool resembling a haystack. In other words, far more research is required to find steals late in such a deep draft.
Earlier, we took a look at four hitters that would be perfect targets for a deep league. Today, we’ll do the same, but on the pitching side of things. These four pitchers may not be Gerrit Cole or Corbin Burnes, but they are steals, based on where they are currently being drafted, and may very well be the needles you’re trying to find in a haystack. Without further ado, let us go find that needle!
Deep-League Targets: Pitchers
ADP data via NFBC drafts since 12/1
Dylan Bundy, Minnesota Twins
NFBC ADP: 445.37
Ever since he was the fourth overall pick in the 2011 draft and was considered one of the top prospects in all of baseball, expectations have been incredibly high for Dylan Bundy to solidify himself as a frontline starter. With a career 4.72 ERA, that hasn’t come to fruition, and 2021 didn’t help matters.
In 90.2 innings, Bundy posted a 6.06 ERA, had a career-low 21.2% strikeout rate, and cycled between the rotation and the bullpen. Especially coming off 2020, where he posted a 2.95 FIP and saw his stock rise significantly, this was a major disappointment; it certainly played a role in the Angels once again failing to reach the postseason last year.
So, what happened between 2020 and 2021? Really, it comes back to Bundy’s pitch mix. Both his slider (.234 wOBA allowed) and curveball (.252 wOBA allowed) have been really effective pitches for him throughout his career. On the other hand, his fastball (.373 wOBA allowed) and sinker (.402 wOBA allowed) have not been that. This is what makes his pitch usage in 2021 so troubling:
In 2020, Bundy’s fastball+sinker rate was under 42%. In 2021, that rose up to 51.6%. Meanwhile, there is a decent chance he may not have been fully healthy, as we can see by his declining fastball velocity:
After signing a one-year deal with the Twins, Bundy lands in a very strong spot for him to rebound. If his fastball velocity can get back up to where it needs to be, and, most importantly, Minnesota has him increase his breaking ball usage again, there is a lot of potential here. That may seem like a lot of “ifs”, but it isn’t as far-fetched as you may seem. Meanwhile, pitching in the AL Central, as well as the 10th-least friendly ballpark for hitters when it comes to home runs will help his home run rate. In other words, there is a lot to like here. A great way to find value in drafts is to take a chance on players falling down the draft board compared to the year before, believing a bounce back. That’s what you’re doing with Bundy here, and I’m confident he’ll turn out offering you a lot of surplus value at his current draft cost.
Reid Detmers, Los Angeles Angels
NFBC ADP: 452.33
From a former Angel to a current Angel. If the Angels are going to make a postseason run this year, and in the future, I’m sure they expect Reid Detmers to be an anchor of their rotation for years to come. After shredding the NCAA with a 36.04% strikeout rate, he was the 10th overall pick in the 2020 draft, and was expected to make a quick ascent up the majors.
That he did. Between Double-A and Triple-A (mainly Double-A), Detmers absolutely dominated. The 21-year-old posted an absurd 42% strikeout rate in 62 innings in the minors, in addition to a 5.68 K/BB ratio. That led to him being called up at the beginning of August, where he pitched 19 innings before landing on the COVID-19 list, though he did come back to pitch 1.2 innings on the final game of the season.
Those 20.2 innings didn’t go as planned. Detmers posted a 7.47 ERA, in addition to a 1.79 WHIP and a 6.36 FIP. Simply put, it wasn’t the performance you’d expect from a highly-regarded pitching prospect. At the same time, dismissing him off of 20.2 innings, especially after what we saw from him in college and in the minors, would be silly. Young pitchers are known to struggle when they first come up, and this time in the majors can serve as a good learning experience for the lefty.
Detmers’ fastball is not one to be particularly impressed with- it allowed a .472 wOBA. However, he knows this; he threw it less than 40% of the time last year. On the other hand, he has two strong off-speed pitches that he can lean on. His vertical slider was his main put-away pitch (35.1% putaway), while it allowed a .224 xwOBA. Furthermore, he features a loopy curveball with above-average vertical and horizontal movement, which also had a 19.3 MPH velocity separation from his fastball. Simply by the eye test, it passes with an “A”:
Reid Detmers, Gorgeous Curveballs. 😍 pic.twitter.com/5NTDmeLMYE
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 1, 2021
With these two off-speed pitches, Detmers has the capability to miss bats (26.3% whiff), despite the lackluster fastball. Heck, he could afford to go to a true three-pitch mix, leaning on those two breaking balls that are so distinct from one another. With better command, I expect his 18.8% strikeout rate to regress positively in a big way; he had an 11.5% strikeout rate and the whiff rate was above average. Furthermore, his ERA was also inflated by an absurdly high 2.18 HR/9 and a .328 BABIP. In the end, I expect his talent to win out. Projections have him for just under 100 innings pitched, but with the state of the Angels rotation, as well as Detmers’ prospect pedigree, I don’t see that being the case. Even if he’s on an innings limit, you should be getting plenty of strikeout upside, which is quite valuable outside of pick #450. If you want this year’s Trevor Rogers? Detmers can be it. If you want that type of ceiling on your pitching staff, take that chance. It’s a low-risk, high-reward proposition; my favorite kind!
Kyle Freeland, Colorado Rockies
NFBC ADP: 585.58
These next two names aren’t even being drafted in the first 39 rounds of a 15-team draft! Picking a Rockies pitcher is always a risky proposition. However, if you can get over the mental negative stigma of them, particularly in a draft and hold, Kyle Freeland can offer a lot of value for your team
Overall last season, Freeland posted a 4.33 ERA, while he posted a 20.4% strikeout rate; his hihgest rate since 2018. Those are pedestrian numbers, but I want fo focus on the improvements he made as the season went on. Freeland didn’t pitch until May 20 due to a shoulder injury. However, after the first month, he was lights out.
From June 22nd on, Freeland posted a 3.24 ERA, as well as a 16.1% K-BB ratio. Then, there’s a notable pitch-mix change he made throughout the season, which likely played a role in the elevated results:
Freeland’s curveball is an absolute weapon. It allowed a .204 xWOBA, and had a 41.5% whiff rate last year. His slider, on the other hand, had just a 19.9% whiff rate. It’s clear that the curveball is his best pitch by far and by raising the usage of it every month, particularly down the stretch, we saw the path to extra strikeout upside from the 28-year-old:
Freeland might not sound like the most appealing option at first, but there is some untapped upside here if he continues to lean on his curveball. Sure, he’s not someone who is going to blow batters away or emerge as an ace, but he’s being drafted with the 585th pick in drafts currently. Based on what he can offer to your team, that’s a tremendous bargain! Look past the team he plays for, and buy the improvements he made last year!
Jose Quintana, Pittsburgh Pirates
NFBC ADP: 600.19
Another former Angel appears on the list! When the Angels signed Jose Quintana to a one-year, $8 million contract, they imagined him being a steady contributor to their rotation. Unfortunately, that did not happen. In ten starts as an Angel, Quintana posted an 8.23 ERA, while he finished with a 6.43 ERA overall.
That being said, one season isn’t enough for me to write off Quintana completely. Before this season, there had only been one time where he posted a FIP over 4.00, while he’s generally been a solid innings eater, able to pitch 170+ a season, throughout his career. Should that all go away just because of one poor year? I don’t think so.
Furthermore, Quintana’s 11.8% walk rate was the highest of his career by a notable amount. We should see that regress positively for him this season, while his .378 BABIP allowed and 1.71 HR/9 were alarmingly high, based on career averages. Line-drive rate allowed can be fluky from year-to-year, and with his 29% line-drive rate going down next year most likely, the BABIP and HR/9 should go down naturally with it.
Then, there’s Quintana’s landing spot in free agency. After signing a one-year deal with the Pirates, he ends up in the perfect spot for him to rebound. PNC Park is the third least-friendly ballpark for hitters when it comes to home runs, per Baseball Savant, while Quintana should have the opportunity to once again be a full-time starting pitcher. With a great ballpark and with a new team, potentially one that can get the last bit of juice out of him, there’s a lot to like here. In fact, I see a lot of similarities here to Anthony DeSclafani last year. If that sounds appealing you, take a flyer on Quintana; his current draft price means he’s practically free, and we like intriguing players that are free.
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