When it comes to being a successful dynasty league manager, many different aspects factor in. One of those is acquiring players when their value is lower than it should be. Yes, hitting on some buy-low players is crucial in dynasty leagues. It separates the men and women from the boys and girls. The champions from the contenders. Plus, it’s a great feeling to get a player for cheap and reap the rewards when they outperform the price you paid for them.
Below are several pitchers that have the chance to give you that feeling. That warm and fuzzy feeling that gives you all the tingles. These are the pitchers I’m looking to acquire this offseason while their value is lower than usual. Some are due to injuries, others due to poor performance. Whatever the reason, all of them have big bounceback potential in 2020. Capitalize now before someone else in your league does.
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Dynasty Buy-Low Targets: Pitchers
Trevor Bauer (SP – CIN)
Over the last few years, Trevor Bauer has turned into one of my favorite pitchers in the Majors. In addition to having good stuff on the mound, his baseball IQ and pitching IQ is off the charts. Seriously, go find some video of him breaking down pitches and mechanics. It’s highly entertaining. That combination of stuff and pitching IQ made his breakout 2018 campaign not overly surprising. Sure, cutting your ERA in half is a tough task in general, but Bauer had been hinting at a breakout before 2018. Then, unfortunately, his ERA climbed right back up to his pre-2019 levels last season and was over six in his 10 starts with the Reds after a mid-season trade from Cleveland.
Even with the inflated ERA with Cincinnati, Bauer still managed a 68/19 K/BB ratio in 56.1 innings, which was a better ratio than he had in 24 starts with Cleveland. Despite the 6.39 Cincy ERA, his being with the Reds is a big reason why I’m including him in this article. The Reds added Derek Johnson as their pitching coach before the 2019 season, plucking him from the Milwaukee Brewers coaching staff.
Johnson was the Vanderbilt University pitching coach years ago and helped revitalize the Brewers pitching staff in 2018. Then in Cincinnati, he worked more of his magic while Milwaukee’s staff took a step back. In 2018, Milwaukee ranked 5th in team ERA (3.73) while Cincinnati ranked 24th (4.63). Take Johnson out of Milwaukee and drop him in Cincinnati and both teams changed dramatically. The Brewers dropped to 16th with a 4.40 ERA while the Reds rose all the way to 8th with a 4.18 mark. His influence and guidance were seen in the individual performances of four Reds pitchers below as well. And while Mahle’s ERA did rise a tad, he showed great improvement in his command and control.
|Pitcher||2018 ERA||2019 ERA||2018 K/9||2019 K/9|
You have to love a pitching coach like this having the chance to work with a pitcher the caliber of Bauer. A full off-season and Spring Training together gives me a ton of confidence in a bounceback campaign from Mr. Bauer. These are two of the top pitching minds in the game. Is a return to Bauer’s 2018 numbers in the cards? Probably not. But I’d bet a high amount of cash that Bauer performs better in 2020 and it wouldn’t shock me at all if he flirted with top-20 SP status by the end of the season.
Michael Kopech (SP – CHW)
Just as we got a little taste of how good Michael Kopech can be, Tommy John snatched him out of our grasps and out of our 2019 viewing pleasure. Just a couple of years ago, Kopech was arguably the top pitching prospect in the game. With a lethal fastball/slider combination, Kopech’s upside and future outlook were off the charts, even if his command and control weren’t always there.
Michael Kopech's 1st career strikeout against Miguel Sano.
Slider down after plenty of great inside heaters. pic.twitter.com/RrXBcuAjvD
— Nick Pollack (@PitcherList) August 22, 2018
The 2018 season was a perfect example of that. In his 82.1 innings before te Triple-A all-star break in July, Kopech walked 56 batters for a puke-worthy 6.1 BB/9. After the break, he pulled a 180 so fast it induced a whiplash epidemic across the country. In 44 post-ASB innings, Kopech walked a mere four batters for a much more eye-pleasing 0.8 BB/9. Was it a small sample size? Sure was. But that type of turnaround cannot be ignored.
Ultimately, Kopech likely settles in somewhere in the middle of these two extremes with so-so command and control that will be inconsistent at times, but not a major hindrance. Kopech has the stuff to develop into an elite fantasy asset and all reports have been positive post-surgery including in Fall Instructs where his velocity was reported as being back to pre-injury levels. The buy-low window here is about to be slammed shut, so act quickly.
Alex Reyes (SP – STL)
I’ll beat this drum into the damn ground if I have to. If you’ve watched Alex Reyes pitch for two seconds, there’s no denying the elite upside that oozes from his pores all over the pitching rubber. Yes, all the intangibles here stink like a newborn diaper, but the upside is undeniable. We always have to weigh risk against reward when acquiring players in fantasy baseball, and taking on too much risk usually ends up burning us in the long haul. But when that risky player, like Reyes, can be acquired for dirt cheap, why not? At this point, you can likely acquire Reyes for next to nothing as I’m sure the Reyes owner in your dynasty league is fed up with him at this point.
Let’s look at the pros and cons of Mr. Reyes. First, the positives. Reyes has an absolutely filthy arsenal capable of carving up even the 1927 New York Yankees when he’s brought his A-game to the ballpark. He’ll throw up to five pitches in any start with his fastball, curveball, and changeup all grading as plus or better with his 4-seamer sitting in the mid to upper-90’s with movement. We don’t have much statcast data to go off of due to his sporadic time at the Major League level, but that entire trio of pitches are dynamic and each can be used as an out pitch.
Now, the negatives. And there’s a lot of them. To start, Reyes hasn’t been the most durable pitcher around. Shoulder, hand, and pectoral issues have been the main culprits, costing him big chunks of time over the last few seasons. Included in there is a broken pinky after punching a wall following a start for Triple-A Memphis early in 2019. All the injuries and questionable choices make Reyes a very risky fantasy asset, but again, the upside is undeniable and his price is likely as low as it will ever be. If he’s not able to put it all together, you move on knowing you didn’t give up much to get him. But if he does, the reward could be massive compared to what you gave up.
Matthew Boyd (SP – DET)
Going from a sell-high to a buy-low candidate in half a season is impressive. But that’s what we have here with Matthew Boyd after a 2019 season that was really two seasons in itself. As you can see below, Boyd started out the season in dominant fashion with a 2.85 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and 10.9 K/9 through his 12 starts in April and May. That put him in fantasy ace discussion and everyone that added him or drafted him as a late-round flier looked like a damn genius. That very moment in time was a perfect sell-high opportunity. Hopefully, you did so as Boyd didn’t have an ERA below 4.43 in any month the rest of the way.
Even with the ratios ballooning from June through September, Boyd remained a strikeout machine with a 12.0 K/9, placing himself among the best in the league. When looking deeper, it does seem that Boyd overperformed to start the season, but there was also some bad luck in the final 2/3 that makes him a good buy-low candidate in dynasty leagues. Despite having an ERA if 5.90 and 4.70 in June and July, Boyd’s xFIP marks sat at 3.30 and 2.65 respectively, signaling that he was fairly unlucky in those months.
There’s really no excuse for August and September though. However, a rising walk rate and home run rate are the main culprits there. I mean, 14 HR allowed in six August starts? That’s a bit crazy. If Boyd can cut down on the long balls and keep his walk rate in check, this is still a very valuable pitcher due to the strikeout potential. In all reality, Boyd is likely a 3.50 ERA/1.20 WHIP type of pitcher capable of well over 200 strikeouts over a full season.
Corey Kluber (SP – TEX)
From 2014 to 2018, Corey Kluber was one of the top-5 starting pitchers in baseball. During that time, he never posted an ERA above 3.49 or a WHIP above 1.10 while recording 200+ innings and 200+ strikeouts in every season. In fact, Kluber’s ERA was below three in three of those five seasons including an AL-leading 2.25 mark in 2017. Following that was a 2.89 ERA in 2018 before his injury-riddled 2019 season that saw his ERA spike to almost six.
Did Kluber fall off a cliff in his age-33 season? Heck no. Pitchers of this caliber don’t go from ace to terrible overnight. Yes, his first seven starts of the 2019 season were terrible, but Kluber’s worst two months throughout his career have been April and May. Not to 2019’s extent, but history proves that Kluber was likely going to settle in and pitch at a high level at some point. He was never given that chance, however, as a broken forearm sidelined him for a big chunk of the season and then a strained oblique during rehab ended his 2019 campaign.
Just a reminder that Corey Kluber's curveball – @CKluber – was maybe the most dominant pitch of 2018:
.144 wOBA (1st)
.104 BA (1st)
19.7 SwSt% (4th)
39.3 K% (10th) pic.twitter.com/Tmxrytsr7o
— Alex Fast (@AlexFast8) December 15, 2019
A big reason for Kluber’s poor start was a heightened walk rate along with a less effective cutter and curveball which have been his bread and butter offerings throughout his career. Each pitch has been a highly-effective offering each year for Kluber but dropped down to around league average in 2019. And that walk rate I mentioned jumped from 4.0% to 8.9% in 2019. If you believe in long track records, Kluber’s signals that his seven starts in 2019 were fluky and unlucky with a .370 BABIP. Kluber is still just 34 and has basically the same pitch mix and velocity that he had throughout his dominant five-year stretch. Sure, the velocity has been slowly dropping, but only minimally. We’re not done seeing Kluber pitch at a top-20 level. Mark my words.
Edwin Diaz (RP – NYM)
Let’s throw a reliever into this mix, shall we? After posting one of the best single seasons by a closer in Major league history with 57 saves, 15.2 K/9, and 1.96 ERA in 2018, Diaz fell off a cliff quicker than Wile E. Coyote. Was he tricked by Road Runner too? Or was the quick drop off due to something else? Granted, it would be nearly impossible to replicate his 2018 success, but Diaz’s 2019 5.59 ERA, nearly 3x his 2018 mark, was one of the biggest surprises of the 2019 season. This was the guy being drafted as the top overall reliever in most fantasy leagues and found himself dropped in some leagues later in the season due to his retched performance.
On the surface, Diaz’s season was a major disappointment, but when we dig further, it doesn’t look as bad and offers plenty of hope for a bounceback performance in 2020. First off, Diaz’s FIP and xFIP didn’t match up with that inflated ERA, sitting at 4.51 and 3.07 respectively. On top of that, his BABIP shot up from .281 to 3.77, HR/FB rate from 10.6% to 26.8%, and LOB% regressed from 82.5% to 76.2%. All while having basically the same pitch mix and velocity. Both his fastball and slider went from being well-above-average pitches in 2018 to neutral or worse pitches in 2019. In 2018, the wOBA on Diaz’s fastball and slider were .238 and .190 respectively. Those numbers jumped to .325 and .387 last season.
The BABIP and HR/FB are what stand out the most to me. Those are massive jumps usually not seen from pitchers of this caliber. Will Diaz be able to return to 2018 levels? Maybe not, but all indications are suggesting a nice bounce-back season in 2020. His strikeout rate is still elite and Diaz had the 10th highest K%-BB% marks in the Majors for pitchers with at least 50 innings. Some ratio stabilization would make him a top-5 fantasy reliever once again. And don’t forget, Diaz is still only 25. There’s still plenty of time for him to remain an elite dynasty reliever.
Others to Consider
Chris Sale (SP – BOS): The arm issues are worrisome, so tread lightly here. However, only a handful of pitchers can match the pure upside that Chris Sale brings to the table. If the Sale owner in your dynasty league is looking to jump ship, sneaking in with a buy-low offer wouldn’t be the worst thing you could do.
Mitch Keller (SP – PIT): While I’ve never been a huge Mitch Keller supporter, he’s better than what he showed with Pittsburgh. A 7.13 ERA will frighten most off, but Keller was pretty unlucky and had a few blowups that really inflated that ERA. A 3.19 FIP and 3.47 xFIP give me confidence in a productive 2020 season from Keller. There’s also zero percent chance his .475 BABIP doesn’t come down significantly.
Carlos Martinez (SP/RP – STL): Simply put, Carlos Martinez is a talented arm that has more value in the rotation than the bullpen. All indications are that he’s going to move back to the rotation in 2020 so buying on him now is recommended.
Luis Severino (SP – NYY): Luis Severino is one of the most talented pitchers in the game. He proved that in 2017 and 2018 before shoulder issues derailed his 2019 season in a big way. Severino was limited to a mere three starts but pitched well in those starts. Hopefully, the rest has done his shoulder a world of good and we’re in store for another great Severino season in 2020. Although, I hope my Red Sox rough him up a bit when he faces them.
Media Credit: Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire, Baseball Savant, Baseball-Reference, Pitcher List, Alex Fast.
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