Digging for Diamonds: Back-End Rotation Options
One of the most important adjustments you can make over the course of the season involves taking advantage of favorable streaming options and waiver wire starters to maximize your return on pitching investment. This is obviously easier said than done when you play in a deep dynasty league, where the waiver wire is a ghost town of has-been’s, never-will-be’s, and probably Bronson Arroyo at some point. Finding cheap arms is a difference-making pursuit, though, and to that end let’s take a look at some of the pitchers who check in with an ADP north of 300 – meaning they’re outside the top 80 and likely undrafted in most standard 12-team leagues. In deeper dynasty leagues, these are guys that won’t cost a lot to acquire and may just make for solid targets in low-impact trades or as throw-in components to larger deals. Let’s go under the hood and see how much hidden value there may be in the largely scorned arms these guys make their livings with.
Charlie Morton, RHP PIT (SP #102, ADP of 363)
I wrote about my affinity for Morton in one of my TDGX draft recaps, and I will happily take another opportunity to extoll his virtues in this space. Morton’s 62% groundball rate (not a typo) last year was the product of an absurd sinker he threw over 70% of the time (also not a typo). His two-seamer was worth 6.2 runs above average last year. The problem with having a single knockout pitch with that kind of movement, though, is that it can lead to significant splits without a strong secondary pitch to back it up. And sure enough, despite Morton’s quiet excellence last year he threw up some pretty gnarly splits: he held righties to a paltry .247 wOBA, while lefties tattooed him to the tune of a .380 mark, and his xFIP was almost two full runs lower against right-handed hitters. Enter Charlie Morton’s new toy, a slider he re-developed this off-season and debuted this week. It’s obviously a whopping one game sample so far, but he knocked his curveball usage down from a about 22% last year to less than 10% in his first start of 2014, while deploying a slider 16% of the time after not throwing it at all last year. If he can show some improvement against lefties, even marginal, over his next handful of starts I would recommend pouncing quickly before the word gets out.
Tyler Skaggs, LHP LAA (SP #104, ADP of 369)
Skaggs apparently scrapped a bunch of mechanical tweaks that had been thrust upon him in Arizona, and lo his velocity did return. Skaggs already has an outstanding curveball – one that thrived in his Major League trial last year even despite a fastball that rated…not well. That fastball struggled against big league hitters in part because it came in at a decidedly average 89 mph. Reports out of spring training had him hitting the 93-94 range with consistency though, and if that indeed holds into the regular season watch out. His change-up has been consistently rated by scouts as a plus offering to boot, and if Skaggs is suddenly pairing two strong off-speed offerings with that kind of velocity he has the potential to do a lot of damage very quickly. Pay close attention to his radar readings and early reports on his fastball command, and if both are looking positive make your move.
Henderson Alvarez (SP #111, ADP of 391)
Alvarez acquitted himself well in his first season down Miami way, as his strong groundball tendencies (53.5% rate) combined with a miniscule (and lucky) 2.6% HR/FB rate to drive a 3.59 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. He features stellar control, with a 2.37 BB/9 rate last year that was directly in line with his 2.30 career rate. But one of the more interesting things about his season last year involved his home/road splits. Specifically, they were reverse splits. Small sample size caveats apply, but his road numbers (3.43 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, five-to-one K:BB over eight starts and 44 innings) were much stronger than his home performance. The K:BB ratio in particular sticks out. His home mark was 33:22, while he put up a 25:5 mark on the road. And delving further into the weeds of meaninglessness, he finagled a 12:3 mark in 14 spring training innings. It’s never a good idea to get too riled up about spring stats, but past findings do indicate that K% and BB% can be predictive for starting pitchers. And coupled with his efforts away from Crayola Canyon last year, it’s enough to intrigue. Monitor his control out of the gate, and if he’s showing an uptick in K’s while continuing to hold his walks in check he may just be on to something.
Jenrry Mejia (SP #117, ADP of 402)
There’s very little in the way of helpful statistical analysis to be done of Mejia, as his relevant sample as an MLB starter is all of 27 innings from last year. But those 27 innings were phenomenal, and they included the deployment of a most deadly weapon that Mejia had not previously featured: a slider. He ditched his curveball in favor of this baby, and boy does that look like a great call. He mustered swings-and-misses on 27% of his sliders, which is almost double the league average rate of around 15%. He’s also got an above-average change-up in the fold, to go along with some of the sickest movement you’ll find in a two-seamer: over 11 inches of two-plane movement, according to Brooks Baseball. The whole package of stuff is top-of-the-rotation good. But he’s never been able to stay healthy long enough for it to much matter. If you’re trying to win your league this year he’s not a great player to be targeting on account of the health concerns and the likelihood he gets shut down due to an innings limit. But if you’re playing for the future Mejia’s exactly the type of high-upside arm that could be a whole lot more valuable heading into next season if he can make it through this year healthy.