Pitching Talent for Pennies
Valuable pitchers seem to emerge out of thin air every season. Not all produce sustained value, but guys who give owners a season’s worth of above-average returns for the cost of a free agent add are extremely valuable pieces in a team’s championship puzzle. I want to spotlight a few readily available arms that have the potential to bolster your rotation and provide steady production.
Remember, the importance of identifying pitchers capable of providing a above-average innings is now greater than ever. As my colleague Kyler Jesanis recently wrote, baseball’s pitching landscape has changed dramatically. In 2017 only 54 pitchers crossed the 160 inning threshold necessary to qualify for the ERA title. Kyler attributes this change to the increased usage of relief pitchers and the advent of the 10-Day DL. No matter the reason, the one certainty in baseball is unpredictability. Injuries will happen, trades will be made, and some players will finally get lucky. These are the players owners need to identify before the rest of the league.
Here are some low-cost arms to consider in deeper formats. These guys are all living in the depths of the player pool, but they have the chance to eclipse the 160 inning threshold and post positive results.
Tyler Anderson, Colorado Rockies (Age: 28, Fantrax Ownership: 35%)
Tyler Anderson is a pitcher I simply cannot quit. For the sake of full disclosure, I should tell you that I was going to write an entire article on him. Then he put up 2.1 absolute garbage innings on Friday night. After that abysmal performance I figured readers would question my sanity if I followed through with my plan. Yet I still want the world to know that Anderson 1) is in line to throw a lot of innings, 2) owns a career 4.14 FIP and 3.81 xFIP, and 3) has historically pitched better at Coors Field than he has on the road. He has also produced results comparable to a number of pitchers who are much higher priced:
Anderson is not an ace pitcher but recall that in 2016, 12 of his 19 starts were Quality Starts. His first 202.2 career innings have no doubt been bumpy, but I think he has proven himself well worthy of deep-league consideration. And because his results haven’t always been pretty, Anderson will probably be free if you’d like to take a chance on him.
Colin McHugh, Houston Astros (Age: 30, Fantrax Ownership: 42%)
McHugh’s amazing 2014 breakout is a prime example of a pitcher coming out of nowhere to reward owners willing to take a low-risk gamble. Four years later, McHugh has been relegated to the bullpen and thus he returns to the realm of the low-risk, high reward. Forced to the bullpen on a diabolical Astros team, McHugh has seen his ownership totals take a massive drop, and this overcorrection feels strange to me. McHugh appears more likely than Brad Peacock to be dealt, and I’d wager that he is the first of the two to join the Astros’ rotation in the event of an injury.
As a result, it seems that owners have undervalued the role that McHugh will serve this season because 1) we all know pitchers get hurt, and 2) we also know that Houston is likely to be buyers at the deadline. With all this in mind, it’s not hard for me to see the stars aligning to allow McHugh to once again throw 150 innings or more. When he does he’ll reward owners with solid strikeout totals, minimal walks, and a competitive ERA.
Andrew Triggs and Nathan Karns, Oakland A’s and Kansas City Royals (Age: 29 and 30, Fantrax Ownership: Both 25%)
Both Triggs and Karns are pitchers who showed glimpses in 2017 before succumbing to season-ending injuries. Triggs needed surgery on the labrum in his hip, and Karns had surgery to repair thoracic outlet syndrome. These were not exactly minor ailments but as a result, there is a possibility that both pitchers are free on your waiver wire.
Andrew Triggs was considered a deep sleeper heading into last season after he put up 50 innings of 3.20 FIP ball in 2016. His 2017 results weren’t as good, but he was pitching fairly well until that serious hip injury ended his season. Triggs is back and in position to gobble up innings on an A’s team suddenly devoid of pitching depth. If he can stay healthy–and that’s a big if–the Athletic will be in prime position to provide some depth to the back of your rotation. Many were encouraged by the stuff he showed at spring training, and he might be a sneaky add to your rotation.
Nathan Karns has struck out over 9 batters per 9 innings pitched over the course of his 310 inning career. In 2017, he struck out over 10 batters per 9 innings across 45.1 innings. While he has already returned to the disabled list with ‘elbow issues,’ Karns is definitely a worthwhile DL stash. He is very unlikely to reach the 160 inning plateau, but will likely produce at a high level when he does pitch. One thing to watch out for is a possible future in the bullpen. Even in a bullpen role, I think Karns possesses the strikeout upside to be well worth the risk. He could immediately slide into a high-leverage role and carry value in Holds leagues.
Matt Andriese and Yonny Chirinos, Tampa Bay Rays (Ages: 28 and 24, Fantrax Ownership: 18% and 11%)
Andriese and Chirinos are two intriguing arms in a very bizarre situation. Right now both men comprise parts of Tampa’s fifth starter, a.k.a. ‘Bullpen Day.’ It is hard to imagine how the Rays’ four-man rotation experiment will work in the real world. The absurdity of it has scared off most fantasy owners and created an extremely low-risk buying opportunity for fantasy owners in desperate need of extra innings.
Andriese is reminiscent of Tyler Anderson in that he had a very solid showing in 2016, then saw injuries plague him in 2017. Like Anderson, Andriese also experienced a short leash and spent time in the bullpen after some poor early returns. Does he deserve better? Maybe not. But he is a bit better than average, and he looks to be the likely choice to enter the rotation should the staff suffer an injury. Even if he doesn’t start, Andriese will be given lots of opportunities to pitch and his final line might surprise a lot of owners.
Chirinos possesses the imagined upside of a newly promoted player. While he might soon be made to look foolish by major league hitters, he has displayed excellent control throughout his minor league career. His four-inning debut was also promising. Like Andriese, Chirinos will be called upon to throw a lot of innings as a long man on Bullpen Day. If he can avoid walking batters and keep the ball in the park, he could be a sneaky good pitcher with a 140 inning floor. If he pitches well and gets a shot to start, 160 innings could easily be within reach.