Four Underrated Dynasty Pitching Prospects

Pitchers in a dynasty format pose a dilemma from my point of view. Based partly on my own bad luck with Tommy John surgeries and my own research on success rates for pitching prospects, I have come to the conclusion that I must avoid paying full price for anything but the most reliable pitchers. I get my pitchers in one of two ways – I trade second-tier minor leaguers for them and I get them for free off the waiver wire before other owners do. This article shall attempt to identify a few pitchers who might be either available for free or, at the very least, a modest price. They are pitchers that I am personally optimistic about that are not listed on the The Dynasty Guru’s Top-500 list.

James Kaprielian was the first-round pick of the New York Yankees last June. He was thought of as a safe pick, one that would likely reach the majors fairly quickly with his high-80s to low-90s fastball and plus slider. Soon after being drafted, he showed a fastball that peaked in the upper 90s. An increase in velocity of eight-to-nine miles per hour is impressive, to say the least. The Yankees’ Scouting Director has gushed about Kaprielian’s development, specifically in regards to the velocity uptick, and indicated that a 2016 debut is not out of the question. For a pitcher that now has a higher ceiling than initially expected, a small investment that may pay off in four to five months seems fairly reasonable to me. He won’t be an ace but he could conceivably top out as a number two pitcher for a perennially competitive team. The AL East won’t do any favor to his ratios but he could be a solid source of counting stats across the board. Note: He reported soreness in his elbow after I had submitted this for editing. If his recovery goes poorly, you can drop him from this list.

Joe Musgrove is a personal favorite of mine. There’s just something about pitchers that throw in the mid-90s and hardly ever walk anyone that appeals to me. Musgrove fell off of most people’s radar a few years ago as injuries sapped his velocity and stalled his progress. But last year, at three levels, his K:BB rates were 23, 43, and 5. Forty-three strikeouts per walk really happened over a month-plus period of time! Needless to say, in leagues that use the ratio of strikeouts to walks, Musgrove could be a stud. Even in his time in Double-A, when his K:BB fell to a mortal 5.50:1, Musgrove maintained his excellent WHIP and ERA. Without any analysis, the player comp that came to mind was the good version of Kevin Slowey. It was comforting to look back at old scouting reports and see that Slowey never reportedly threw harder than 90-92. I believe Musgrove’s ceiling is significantly higher. For a more detailed analysis of Musgrove, by our very own Nick Doran, click here.

Spencer Adams is another control specialist that might just have enough juice to go with his propensity to deny free passes to become a fantasy asset. He’s never had a walk rate above 2.1 per nine at any level of the minors and after showing no real signs of being an asset in strikeouts in his first taste of action above rookie ball, Adams has seen his strikeout rate jump to 8.0 per nine innings. I don’t think you need to see my degree in fantasy baseball analysis to trust that more than 8 strikeouts per nine paired with less than two walks per nine is a recipe for success. I realize that it’s very early in the 2016 season, but I suspect that strikeout rate is more of a true talent statistic that stabilizes quickly. Conversely, I’m not at all worried about his extremely high WHIP driven by a ridiculous BABIP of .367. Trust the strikeouts and walks and the WHIP will take care of itself in time. To summarize the scouting reports from what I consider the big-3 of scouting – Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and Minor League Ball – Adams possesses enough polish to have a high floor and enough potential to max out as high as a number two starter. He’s young and has room to fill out so hopes of an eventual velocity increase are fairly reasonable. In fact, he threw harder in high school than he did in his first professional season. Right now he sits in the 92-93 mph range and maxes out around 96. If he can bump that up a tick he could very reasonably reach his potential.

If the first three players on this list are notable for their low risk profile and high floor, Dylan Cease is the opposite. He has immense upside and extreme risk. For starters, he already has had one Tommy John surgery, although he seems to have recovered nicely as long as throwing 100 mph is considered “nice.”  His one abbreviated season showcased both the best and worst in Cease. He struck out more than a batter an inning, barely gave up half a hit an inning but really struggled to consistently throw strikes. This is a player that you make room for in a deeper dynasty league where 150-plus prospects are rostered. As the Dynasty Guru, Bret Sayre, says, “when you’re betting on distant arms, go stuff first, stuff second, and everything else third when assessing future fantasy value.” Unlike the players above, who if they regress there shouldn’t be a lot of hesitation in dropping them, Cease is the type of prospect that you’ll have to be patient with. It might take him years to refine his control and develop effective offspeed pitchers but the payoff could be great. He reminds me a little bit of Robert Stephenson circa 2014-2015 but with slightly worse control. If that’s the type of pitcher he develops into he’s worth rostering in a dynasty format.

Everyone loves to prospect for future aces in dynasty fantasy baseball. Everyone dreams of having a rotation headlined by the next Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale, and Madison Bumgarner. But that’s easier said than done. I put a lot of eggs in the Dylan Bundy basket several years ago due to thinking along these lines and I was left with nothing but a diminished trade chip this winter. My favorite kind of pitching prospect is the one that costs you nothing. Depending on the size of your league, I’d expect these four pitchers to mostly be available. Investing in any prospect, much less the pitching variety, is a very risky business. In my opinion, you could do a lot worse than the three safe bets and one wild card detailed above.

 

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The Trade Block Commandments

On the morning of the second month of the fantasy baseball season there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the trade block, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in your dynasty league trembled. Then the Commissioner led the people out to meet with The Dynasty Guru, and they stood at the foot of the trade block. The trade block was covered with smoke, because the Dynasty Guru descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole trade block trembled violently. As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, the Commissioner spoke and the voice of The Dynasty Guru answered him. 

And The Dynasty Guru spoke all these words:

“I am The Dynasty Guru, who brought you out of redraft leagues, out of the land of poorly constructed trade blocks.

“You shall have no other blogs before me.

You shall not make for yourself a trade block lacking meaningful information. Your trade block should include actual players offered, positions or stats requested, or at least a comment with meaningful information.

You shall not consider ‘serious offers only’ as meaningful information if you are only offering waiver wire-caliber depth pieces.

Remember the trade block and keep it updated. Do not be the person whose trade block lists Alex Rios and Greg Holland and has not been touched since August 2015.

You shall not seek to deal your depth for a top player if you are not willing to deal equal value. A combination of middle relievers, right handed platoon bats, and AAA catchers will not return you an SP2 no matter how many paragraphs of justification you belligerently write in your trade proposal.

You shall honor the trade block and keep it holy by including in your trade proposals or conversations the actual players, stats, or skills referenced in your potential partner’s block. The team who has Paul Goldschmidt at 1B and is offering to trade Justin Bour is not interested in dealing you Goldy so that he can slot Bour at first, and you are not going to convince him to do so.

You shall not covet the player you just traded away, even if the team you traded him to already moved him for more than you got in return.

You shall not collude.

You shall not whine.

You shall not veto.

You shall monitor the trade block and leverage it to improve your team and your relationship with the other members of your team. The trade block is a conversation starter, not a conversation avoider, and you shall treat it as such and honor those who respect your trade block with thoughtful counter-proposals.”

Stocking the Scout Team: Third Base

The third base position holds some of the most promising young players in baseball, headlined by Nolan Arenado, Manny Machado, and Kris Bryant. Prospects just a couple of years ago, they’ve now graduated and are dominating the big leagues. It will be nearly impossible for the next crop of third base prospects to reach the heights those three already have, but names such as Joey Gallo, Rafael Devers, and Ryan McMahon are quite exciting. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot of prospect depth behind them, though that doesn’t mean there aren’t some intriguing players out there. You probably haven’t heard them yet, but it may be time to keep an eye on these five under-the-radar third base prospects.

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The Need for Speed

It makes sense that in a traditional 5×5 roto league each statistic carries the same amount of weight. However a funny thing has happened in the last few years of fantasy baseball. Since 2011, stolen bases have been slowly trending down league wide. The scarcity of steals has, in turn, skyrocketed the value of guy like Dee Gordon and Jose Altuve (although, I guess Altuve is a power hitter now, which is insane and awesome), and has made the plight of Billy Hamilton both excruciating and endlessly interesting. With the price of steals going up, it’s more important than ever for dynasty league owners to scour prospect lists and stat lines to try to project sources for future steals. I’m hoping to help with the process.

There are some obvious names shooting up prospect lists with clear plus speed and stolen base potential, but we’re going to try to unearth a few names that are more under the radar. For this reason, you won’t see Trea Turner on this list (although I really like him, and you can read about it HERE). You also won’t see Raul Mondesi, Jr. on the list nor will there be a spot for DA GAWD Victor Robles. I could sound really smart and just toss these names out there and call it a day. These guys are going to be good, and should make an impact on the basepaths once they get the call. But what’s the fun in that (and clearly I’ve never gone out of my way to sound smart)?

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Trader’s Corner: Shut Your Hole

We are three weeks into the season now. Chances are you already know what your team’s biggest hole is by now. It may not have been so obvious before the season started, but now that each MLB team has played 20 games it is apparent which players are going to get to play and which are going to ride the pine.  We know who the big breakout players are (Trevor Story, Vincent Velasquez, Aledmys Diaz, Eugenio Suarez, Drew Smyly). The flukes have started to fade (Jeremy Hazelbaker). The bounceback players have bounced back (Wil Myers, Jay Bruce, Dexter Fowler, Mat Latos, Gio Gonzalez, Matt Moore). And some stars have already signed up for long stints on the Disabled List (Kyle Schwarber, Carlos Carrasco, A.J. Pollock).

If your team has a gaping hole in your starting lineup then shut it! Don’t delay. Every week you wait means critical production from that slot will be lost. Most fantasy leagues end up being close at the end. You don’t want to finish a close second in October and come to the realization that if you had just plugged that glaring weakness a bit earlier you would have won. Be aggressive. Find a trade partner that can help you optimize your lineup for maximum production all season long. Don’t wait until it’s too late. The season will move more quickly than you think.

Let’s take a look at some teams who are shutting their holes. Lots of good trades to vote on this week. Addison Russell is Continue reading

Fantasy Rebounds: Trumbo and Bruce

2016 has seen a number of former stars get off to hot starts. Players that had been nearly or completely given up on are not only challenging the assumption that their days as a fantasy mainstay are gone but are actually laying claim to a new status as a key member of a fantasy team. Two such players are profiled below.

Mark Trumbo established himself early on in his career as an all-or-nothing type player. When you’re hitting 30 home runs per year this is acceptable, but when you struggle to hit 20 home runs, as he did in 2014 and 2015, you become more of an or-nothing hitter. He’s the sort of player that I would have had no interest in prior to drafts this season. Yet, three weeks into the season, Trumbo has been the fifth-best hitter in fantasy baseball. Obviously he hasn’t transformed into the hitter that is prorated to hit 60 home runs, but is any of it real?

His approach at the plate seems to have changed. Both his strikeouts – 24 percent to 16 percent –  and walks – 6.6 percent to 3.7 percent – are down significantly in the early going. This is supported by PitchFX.

Trumbo PitchFX

He is swinging at a lot more strikes in the strike zone and laying off a much higher percentage of pitches outside the strike zone. This would explain both the change in walk and strikeout rates. He’s swinging at more strikes which means fewer deep counts which means fewer chances to strikeout or walk. Even better, he’s making more contact when he does swing. While his increased swing rate on pitches in the strike zone is probably a good thing, his decreased swing rate on balls is definitely promising. In the heat maps below, you can see the change in swing percentage.

Trumbo Heat Map

Next, let’s take a look at his batted ball profile to see what it can tell us.

Trumbo Batted Ball.png

Two factors that will certainly regress are propping Trumbo’s performance up into the stratosphere. An unsustainable BABIP of .375 and the aforementioned HR/FB rate of 28 percent. I’d expect his BABIP to revert back to his career norms of .275 to .300, perhaps at the lower end of that range if he continues to value contact over good contact. I would therefore expect his batting average to level out in the .275 to .280 range. However, I do believe that his power is back and he can be counted on for 30-plus home runs.

Next up is my former fantasy baseball man-crush, Jay Bruce. After years of holding on to him, waiting for the inevitable MVP season, I finally bailed during an extensive rebuild. Soon after, I felt fortunate to have sold at a relative peak value. The bat that once hinted at 30-plus home runs yearly went nearly silent as his average dipped into the law .200’s and his home runs dropped to career lows. In the early going, Bruce seems to have rediscovered his batting ability. Like with Trumbo, there are some signs that his excellent performance to date is legitimate.

First, I took a look at his plate discipline. According to PitchFX, he is swinging less often, both at balls in and out of the strike zone. I’d call this a neutral observation but the big takeaway that I see if a much higher contact rate, driven by a 28 percent increase in contact rate of ball out of the strike zone.

Bruce PitchFX

This could be a good or bad trend in the longer term. I took a look at his batted ball profile to see if I could glean more information to inform my opinion.

Bruce Batted Ball

Bruce seems to have dramatically changed his batted-ball tendencies. Gone is the pull-heavy hitter who rolled ground ball after ground ball into the shift. The new Bruce goes up the middle nearly as much as he pulls the ball while also adding to his opposite field tendencies. Replacing the ground balls and fly balls are line drives. His BABIB of .310, a huge increase over 2014 and 2015’s .250 to .270, is right in line with his established career rates to that point. It is certainly maintainable if he continues to use all fields. The only concern I had was the increase in swings at balls out of the strike zone. My hypothesis was that these were the balls he had begun to take to the opposite field. The answer lies below.

Bruce Heat Map

Obviously we’re dealing with small samples, but so far there is an increase in swinging at balls low and away. Somewhat disturbingly, his most common sector to swing and miss at is that low and away pitch that he used to pull right at the shifted second baseman. So far he’s 0 for 9 on pitches in that region with 8 ground balls. This approach has resulted in his walk rate dropping from a barely respectable 8 percent all the way down to 1%. Quite frankly, that sucks.

So here’s the deal. Bruce’s improvement is real, at least so far. But he needs to be a little more selective. If he can maintain his contact rate and line drive rate he’s going to be a fantasy asset. But he’s on a slippery slope, swinging at so many balls low and away, especially since he’s not experiencing much success when he does. The good news is that that one sector is basically the only region in which he’s expanded the strike zone. Every other sector out of the strike zone has been offered at less often by Bruce. After two years of futility, if I’m a Bruce owner, I’m ecstatic that he’s showing signs of life. His improvements have been real and if he can shore up that last weakness in pitch selection he will be back to being a star.

A Holistic Approach To Trade Evaluation

 

As the bard Dave Barry once wrote “The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status, or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we all believe that we are above-average drivers.” The same goes for all fantasy baseball players’ belief that we are above-average trade negotiators. Each of us may not think we’re the  best at trading in our particular leagues, but none of us thinks we’re the worst or even the median. How can you tell, then, if you’re an above-average trader? And once you realize you’re NOT above average, how do you improve?

The best description of trading I’ve ever read was by Mike Newman, of the dearly-departed website and newsletter RotoScouting. “A fair trade is one in which both owners are hesitant to pull the trigger,” he once wrote, and while the sentiment is by no means unique to him, he articulated it perfectly. You can test this perspective in the polls of the Trader’s Corner pieces Nick Doran writes here at TDG– many trades have a clear winner or loser, but the best trades may be the ones where neither side is fleeced. Continue reading