When looking at deep league starting pitchers, we’re looking at players going past pick 400. Some of these starting pitchers struggled or suffered injuries in 2020, and thus, they’re falling in drafts. Make sure to check out fellow FantraxHQ writer Jorge Montanez’s article – 7 Late-Round Starting Pitchers Worth a Gamble posted in late December.
After digging through NFBC ADP, I’m finding several deep league starting pitchers with an ADP in the 400-500 range that pique my interest. Who knows, we may even dig farther down past pick 500 for some gems in the last few rounds of some best ball or deep leagues. A common theme with these deep league starting pitchers – they don’t go deep into games and struggle to pitch the second or third time through the order. That said, each of these pitchers provides us with reasons for optimism worth their ADP past pick 400.
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Deep League Starting Pitchers to Consider Past Pick 400
Luke Weaver, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks
NFBC ADP: 399.47
Okay, I’m cheating a little bit since Luke Weaver’s ADP crept up into the top 400 picks. On the surface, Luke Weaver’s 2020 6.58 ERA and 1.56 WHIP in 52 innings looks gross. Weaver’s 23.3% strikeout rate dropped from 26.5% in 2019, while his 7.6% walk rate jumped from 5.4% in 2019. In 2019, he missed quite a bit of time with right forearm tightness, which is concerning for pitchers. He made 12 starts in 2019, up until the end of May, and 11 of those came before the injury. Weaver made one final appearance in mid-September 2019, where he totaled two innings with one strikeout. In 64.1 innings (2019), Weaver finished with a 2.94 ERA and 1.07 WHIP.
Weaver’s 63.2% LOB% in 2020 lowered from 78.6% in 2019. Factor in the low .292 BABIP allowed in 2019 compared to his .349 BABIP in 2020. When we add those two factors plus the increased walk rate, Weaver appeared a bit unlucky in 2020. I like that he’s added the cutter more into his arsenal over the past two seasons. Although Weaver’s pitch mix and usage looked relatively the same, he lowered the cutter usage by 2%. We also noticed the zone rate on the cutter changed significantly. In 2019, Weaver pounded the zone with his cut fastball, which boasted a 62.6% Zone% compared to a 34.2% Zone% in 2020. Another potential reason for the increased walk rate.
Weaver’s Pitch Results
Another notable plate discipline stat for Weaver involves the higher zone contact rate for his changeup, one of his best pitches. The swinging-strike (18%) and whiff rates (34%) on the changeup remained about the same in 2019 and 2020. That said, maybe Weaver struggled with the feel for the cutter and changeup. Regardless, when hitters make a ton more zone contact (+13%) on a pitcher’s best pitch, it’s likely that shows up in the surface stats.
Similarly, batters chased four-seamer less in 2020 with a 24.1% O-Swing% in 2019 and 19.5% in 2020. Hitters also smacked around his four-seamer a ton more in 2020. We can see the results below. We’ll note that the expected stats on the four-seamer finished almost identical the past two seasons, so Weaver likely suffered tough luck in 2020.
Luke Weaver reached a career-high 136.1 innings in 2018 with the St. Louis Cardinals, so the innings projections are a reasonable concern. The BAT projects Weaver to toss 141 innings with a 4.73 ERA and 1.35 WHIP. Sure, the projected ratios make us cringe, but Weaver should likely finish somewhere between his 2019 and 2020 numbers. I expect him to produce better ratios than the projections. Weaver tops the list of deep league starting pitchers.
Carlos Martinez, SP, St. Louis Cardinals
NFBC ADP: 417.44
Carlos Martinez struggled in 2020 due to Covid-19 symptoms and an oblique injury. So it’s easy to give him a pass with his 9.90 ERA (5.21 xFIP), 2.10 WHIP, 16.3% strikeout rate, and 9.6% walk rate in 20 innings. Even the 47.6% LOB% and .366 BABIP allowed screams outlier season with a career 75% LOB% and .303 BABIP. In 2019, the Cardinals used Martinez as a reliever, and he racked up 24 saves in 27 opportunities with a 3.17 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. He hasn’t totaled significant starter like innings totals since 2015-2017, where he averaged 193.1 innings partly due to injuries.
Carlos Martinez uses a four-pitch mix of a four-seamer, slider, changeup, and sinker. The slider and changeup prove consistently nasty. In 2018 and 2019, his slider and changeup finished with swinging-strike rates above 15% and whiff rates of 35% and above. Across those two seasons, Martinez’s slider recorded a 37.7% CSW% (min. 450) and a 29.8% CSW% (min. 375), according to Alex Chamberlain’s leaderboard. The BAT projects him for a 4.33 ERA and 1.37 WHIP with a 7.32 K/9 and 3.52 BB/9 in 158 innings. Yes, the projected ratios and strikeout to walk rate looks gross. However, I like the arsenal, especially with an ADP past pick 400, and thus, expect him to bounce back in 2021.
Garrett Richards, SP, Boston Red Sox
NFBC ADP: 434.31
I know our fearless leader Eric Cross loves the pitching staff the Red Sox keep adding together. Joking, of course, but in a way, we have some sleepers in Nathan Eovaldi, Garrett Richards, and the post, post, post-hype sleeper in Nick Pivetta. The Red Sox recently signed Richards to a one-year, $10 million contract pending a physical. The words, pending physical, describe his journey over the past five years. Granted that it’s all small samples from 2016-2020, but Richards recorded an ERA of 2.34, 2.28, 3.66, 8.31 (8.2 IP), and 4.03 in those seasons. Can you believe Richards didn’t land on the injured list during the entire shortened 2020 season? Hopefully, he stays healthy in 2021.
Richards still throws gas with a four-seamer averaging 95.1 mph that he uses 46.3% of the time. In the past, he sprinkled in a sinker and a curveball a bit more. However, in 2020, Richards used his four-seamer and slider over 84% of the time. It’s no surprise his slider records a ton of swings and misses with a 20.8% swinging-strike rate and 39.5% whiff rate in 2020. Richards pounds the zone with the four-seamer at 56.9% but doesn’t miss a ton of bats with a 5.7% swinging-strike rate.
From 2016-2020, Garrett Richards totaled 198.2 IP, a 24.6% K%, 9.5% BB%, & a 3.53 ERA. The 4-seam & slider combo is sucking me back in with a 441.62 NFBC ADP over the past month.
His slider in 2020:
-.264 xwOBA#FantasyBaseball pic.twitter.com/ncJ8wFeLdO
— Corbin (@corbin_young21) January 25, 2021
I like him as a deep league starting pitcher as long as he keeps this ADP. Later in the draft, I’ll take the risk with a guy like Richards due to his upside. From 2016-2020, the often injured Richards totaled 198.2 innings with a 3.53 ERA (3.88 xFIP), 9.29 K/9 (24.6%), and 3.58 BB/9 (9.5%). On a per-inning basis, he produces. Overall, I think he’s worth snagging late in drafts.
Alec Mills, SP, Chicago Cubs
NFBC ADP: 483.31
Interestingly, the soft throwing streamer in Alec Mills holds an ADP near pick 500. It’s interesting because he recorded quality starts in five of 11 games started in 2020 with three outings where he put up 22 scoreless innings. Though Mills never struck out a ton of batters, he recorded a 1.17 and 1.16 WHIP in 2019 and 2020 across 98.1 innings. In that small sample on 98.1 innings, Mills totaled a 3.84 ERA (4.38 xFIP) with an 8.05 K/9 (22%) and 2.75 BB/9 (7.4%). Sure, the strikeout and walk rates look ordinary, but that’s not why fantasy managers roster him.
Mills pitches to contact with the second highest Contact% at 82.7% in 2020 behind Jon Lester. His sinker and four-seamer have contact rates above 85% in his career. When looking at heat maps, Mills locates his sinker and four-seamer to opposite sides of the plate. Meanwhile, he tosses his changeup or swing and miss pitch down or below the zone. If you’re looking for decent ratios with mediocre strikeout rates, then target Mills as a late-round flier.
Danny Duffy, SP, Kansas City Royals
NFBC ADP: 498.31
If Danny Duffy’s ADP sticks right under pick 500, then buy, buy, buy. Duffy made an intriguing pitch mix change in 2020. He increased his changeup usage to 15.2% from 11.5% in 2019. On the flip side, Duffy lowered his four-seamer (39.4%) and slider (17.2%) usage in 2020 from using the four-seamer at 44.2% and slider at 26.3% (2019). Looking at his career, he often adjusted his pitch mix usage year over year. In 2020, Duffy finished with a 4.95 ERA (4.94 xFIP), 1.33 WHIP, a 23.6% strikeout rate, and a 9.1% walk rate. Sure, the ratios look ugly, but that’s due to a couple of blowup starts where Duffy allowed 12 earned runs in two starts. Although Duffy’s a bit volatile, it’s baked into his ADP, so he falls on the list of deep league starting pitchers.
Let’s dig a bit deeper to find a few reasons for optimism. In 2020, Danny Duffy finished with three pitches that ended with double-digit swinging-strike rates in his four-seamer, slider, and changeup. Both his slider and changeup have a career 13.6% and 14.2% swinging-strike rate over his career. Duffy’s four-seamer recorded a higher swinging-strike rate (10.3%) in comparison to his career 8.4%, likely due to a 28.5% O-Swing% up from 21.4% in 2019. Even Duffy’s 51.2% O-Contact% compared to his career 70.8% probably contributed to the higher swinging-strike rate on his four-seamer. With such a late ADP, target Duffy late in drafts as a streaming pitcher.
Adrian Houser, SP, Milwaukee Brewers
NFBC ADP: 454.97
With this one, I feel less confident, mostly because Adrian Houser uses a fastball-heavy approach that’s mediocre. In 2020, Houser finished with a 5.30 ERA and 1.50 WHIP with a 17.9% strikeout rate and 8.5% walk rate. The ERA explosion likely occurred due to regression in his LOB% with a 61.2% LOB% in 2020 compared to a 76.2% LOB% in 2019. Houser performed relatively well in 2019 and recorded a 3.72 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 25.3% strikeout rate, and 8% walk rate. That season, Houser started in the bullpen and then started in over half of his appearances. When looking at his splits, he struggled much more as a starter than as a reliever. He didn’t pitch well the second and third time through, yikes.
That said, it looks like the Brewers know that since Adrian Houser averaged 4.45 innings per start in 2019 and 5.1 innings per start in 2020. Keep in mind that the Brewers used Houser as an opener in 2019 a few times, but they also pulled Houser quickly if he struggled.
Houser’s Fastball-Heavy Approach
In 2020, both Houser’s sinker and four-seamer recorded double-digit swinging strike rates. His sinker had a 10.3% swinging-strike rate, and his four-seamer had a 12.8% swinging-strike rate. Although his sinker induced a ton of ground balls with a career 69% groundball rate, the swinging-strike rate jumped from 7.2% in 2019. His sinker caught my eye because it ranked 5th with a -11 run value amongst all pitchers, including relievers. Interestingly, the leaderboard includes three Brewers pitchers ranked inside the top-7 with a negative run value on a specific pitch. The other two Brewers – Devin Williams and his changeup with a -13 run value (No. 3) and Corbin Burnes and his cutter with a -11 run value (No. 7).
Adrian Houser projects at the backend of the Brewers rotation. He’s not an exciting option, but someone that should eat innings with an ERA near 4.50. If he can get his K-BB% (17.3%) close to his 2019 numbers, then he’s a streamable option based on the matchup. The BAT projects Houser for a 4.65 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, a 7.36 K/9, and 3.18 BB/9 in 150 innings. Maybe if he makes a slight pitch mix change where he increases the curveball or changeup usage, we could see better results since both have decent vertical movement. Not everyone can succeed like Lance Lynn with a fastball-heavy approach, but Houser is worth considering in deep leagues. Houser’s also another pitcher using seam-shifted wake to his benefit, and in his case, it’s the sinker. It’s something to monitor and dive deeper into at a later time.
For you seam-shifted wake heads, Glenn Healey has a must-read article out. It features a table of ‘side force movement leaders’ & it’s a bunch of interesting names benefitting from SSW.
— Eno Sarris (@enosarris) January 7, 2021
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