Last week we took a look at five Post-Hype Sleeper hitters (click here to view), but what about on the pitching side? Which pitchers have struggled enough to potentially fall off the radar? Let’s take a look at four pitchers who may not cost much, but could rebound and be a productive option in 2023:
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Post-Hype Sleepers To Target
Mitch Keller – Pittsburgh Pirates
There was a time when Keller was considered among the top pitching prospects in the game. Those days are long behind us. Over the past four years, he’s amassed 329.1 IP in the Majors, pitching to a 5.00 ERA and 1.57 WHIP. He showed signs last season, with a 3.91 ERA over 159.0 IP, but even better things could be ahead.
Keller showed a significant improvement in his groundball rate, going from 40.4% in ’21 to last year’s 49.0%. The move from just a four-seam fastball to incorporating a sinker into his arsenal (22.40% in ’22) likely has a lot to do with it. That’s a big step forward, though that alone isn’t enough to convince us. There are a few other questions that need answering:
- Can he generate enough strikeouts (7.81 K/9 in ’22)?
- Can he consistently throw strikes (3.91 BB/9 for his career)?
- Is there something to his bad luck (.353 career BABIP)?
He posted a poor 8.7% SwStr% overall in ’22 and his best swing and miss pitch was his slider (a modest 13.36% Whiff%). His slider was never really discussed in the scouting reports as he was advancing toward the Majors. Just look at this scouting report from 2019, courtesy of MLB.com:
“He touched 99 mph in his one-inning Futures Game start and often touches 97-98 mph, while sitting in the 93-96 mph range. Thrown with excellent sink, Keller gets a lot of groundball outs, but also elicits swings and misses with both his fastball and his plus 11-to-5 downer curveball. He’s worked hard to improve his changeup, and while it’s still not as good as his two plus offerings, it gives him a third Major League average offering.”
He only threw his curveball 15.45% of the time last season, which is interesting for a pitch that was considered his best coming up. However, as the season progressed we started to see it more and more:
- August – 20.38%
- September – 18.80%
- October – 21.51%
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that he posted a 2.06 ERA over 35.0 IP in September/October. While the strikeout numbers didn’t follow (7.97 K/9) one would think that utilizing his best pitch more will continue to lead to more success. There are signs, as his SwStr% sat at 9.1% and his O-Swing% 30.0% from August 1 through the end of the season. He showed strikeout stuff in the minors, and as he continues to adjust that could continue to improve.
He’s always shown control (2.9 BB/9 in the minors). With the improvements in his groundball rate along with a 27.9% Hard% the luck should come around. More strikeouts are the key, and with the move to incorporate his curveball more don’t be surprised if that follows. He’s never going to live up to the hype once bestowed upon him, but he has Post-Hype Sleeper written all over him.
Cade Cavalli – Washington Nationals
The former 22nd pick in the 2020 draft has moved quickly through the Washington system, reaching the Majors in 2022. It was just one start, and it was disastrous as he allowed 7 ER over 4.1 IP against the Cincinnati Reds. There are a few factors that could be causing fantasy owners to lose hope:
- Recency bias, with fellow Nationals’ former first-round pick Jackson Rutledge struggling
- A shoulder issue that cost him the final month of 2022 and could linger into the start of 2023
- The struggles the only time we’ve seen him
- Questions about being able to maintain his delivery, which has led to some control issues
There’s no questioning his pure stuff, as described by MLB.com:
“The 6-foot-4 right-hander sits 95-97 mph with his fastball and is capable of touching triple digits. The four-seamer relies more on velocity than movement, considering it can come in fairly straight, but that level of heat still makes it a promising pitch. His mid-80s curveball breaks sharply downward and has separated itself as Cavalli’s best breaker over his upper-80s slider that features late cutterish break. His upper-80s changeup has been a work in progress in pro ball but has developed enough fade to be a pitch to hold off lefties.”
For most of the questions, a strong showing this spring would go a long way. In regards to the control, he did post a 3.62 BB/9 over 97.0 IP at Triple-A in ’22. That included walking 2 or fewer in 14 of his 20 starts. While it’s not a given, with his explosive stuff (he had a 12.5% SwStr% at Triple-A) and ability to generate enough groundballs (43.1%) the upside is there.
He may not be an ace, but he should get ample opportunity and has the stuff to be successful. Let others ignore him, you should be able to get ample value from the Post-Hype Sleeper.
Ian Anderson – Atlanta Braves
Over his first 30 starts (between 2020 and 2021) Anderson posted a 3.25 ERA. Along with that came strikeouts (9.24 K/9), groundballs (49.9%), and enough control (3.75 BB/9). Instead of taking the next step in 2022, he imploded. In 22 starts he posted a 5.00 ERA.
It would be easy to ignore the hype that was once bestowed upon him, but the underlying metrics still support significantly better numbers:
- Groundball Rate – 47.9%
- Swinging Strike Rate – 12.3%
- Hard% – 28.7%
The control took a step back (4.35 BB/9) and the strikeouts weren’t there (7.82 K/9). The key is going to be the production of his four-seam fastball. It had been tremendous over his first two seasons (.216 BAA), but last season opponents hit .303 against it. His velocity was pretty on par (94.0 mph), so the improvements may have to come from his mechanics.
Luckily that appears to be the case, as Justin Toscano of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently reported:
Over the offseason, Anderson made multiple mechanical changes. He tried to clean up his delivery and keep a better posture. He also sought to be a bit calmer on the mound. Then there’s the mental side.
“I think the mindset has definitely changed a little bit as well,” Anderson said. “And I’m looking forward to kind of put that into practice here.”
Last season he spent time in the minors and his season ended prematurely due to injury. The motivation is clearly there, as is the stuff. He’s going to have to battle to win the fifth spot, but at some point he’ll get a shot. Knowing what he’s done and what he’s capable of, don’t miss the opportunity of this Post-Hype Sleeper.
Clarke Schmidt – New York Yankees
This one may be a bit of a reach. With injuries starting to mount for the Yankees’ rotation (Nestor Cortes and Frankie Montas), could Schmidt transition back to a starter? He’s primarily been a reliever in the Majors, but Schmidt was once a well-regarded pitching prospect. Prior to 2020, Prospect 361 had him ranked as the Yankees’ #3 prospect, at the time saying:
“The arsenal is solid with a fastball that sits 92 to 95 MPH, a solid slurvy slider and an average change-up that still needs some work. There’s some funk in his delivery and when he controls the arsenal, everything plays up.”
In 2021 he added a second breaking ball to the mix. He threw both a slider and the original “slurvy” pitch that had been classified as a curveball. The slider became his most used pitch, and opponents hit just a .178 BAA and .274 SLG. Couple that with a curveball (.067 BAA, .089 SLG), as well as a changeup that he uses on occasion, and the secondary stuff is there.
The issue is that opposing hitters beat up on his fastball, to the tune of a .611 SLG, as well as his sinker (.458 SLG). It’s the production of that which will be key.
This is a long shot, but the potential is there if he can win himself a spot in the rotation. Keep an eye on him, because while he didn’t get the hype of some others he still could be classified as a Post-Hype Sleeper.
Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball, MLB.com, Baseball Reference
Who are your favorite post-hype pitching sleepers? Drop some names in the comments below. For more great analysis check out the 2023 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit!