Risers and Fallers: MLB Pitchers
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, it is uncertain when the baseball season will officially begin. Fortunately, we were able to get at least a few weeks of Spring Training games to analyze and enjoy before the delay. Below, I look at six MLB Pitchers whose values trended up, or down, during the abbreviated spring season.
MLB Risers and Fallers will be split into two separate articles, Pitchers and Hitters, and come to you monthly once the season begins.
The Dynasty Guru’s positional rankings are noted in parenthesis.
Nathan Eovaldi, Starting Pitcher, BOS (SP #127)
Here we go again. Seemingly every year Eovaldi is on some sort of “breakout” or “sleeper” list and year after year he never really puts it together. Eovaldi followed up a promising (albeit injury-shortened) 2018 season with a clunker in 2019. Of course, he was injured again and when he returned he displayed poor command and his fastball/cutter combo was largely ineffective.
Well, it has been a different story this spring. Eovaldi spent his offseason focusing on his off-speed pitches, specifically his splitter, and has looked like a much-improved pitcher. In eight Spring Training innings, Eovaldi has struck out 12 batters, walked one, allowed only four hits, and given up zero runs. Yes, it is just Spring Training, but Nasty Nate has shown much-improved command of his secondary pitches as well as the top tier velocity we are accustomed to.
Only 30 years old and signed through 2022, Eovaldi should be a constant presence in the Red Sox rotation over the next few years. Of course, you have to expect him to miss time due to injuries, but if his spring performance is a sign of things to come Eovaldi’s arrow is pointing up and he could be a solid middle of the rotation starter for your fantasy team.
Alex Wood, Starting Pitcher, LAD (SP #148)
Wood’s season in Cincinnatti did not go as planned. Injured for most of the year, he only threw 35.1 innings and got knocked around to the tune of a 5.80 ERA in those innings. After the season, Wood made the wise decision to leave “Great American Small Park” and return to the Dodgers on a one year deal.
Wood spent the offseason with Driveline Baseball and it has already paid dividends in his limited spring innings as he has been sitting around 92-93mph with his fastball, 2-3 ticks over the 90mph he was throwing last year. The last time Wood’s velocity was near this level was 2017 (91.8mph) and that year he had a 2.72 ERA, 18.4% K-BB%, and 11.7% SwStr% – all career-best marks. He only threw 5.2 innings this spring with middling results but the fact that his velocity is up is more important at this time.
Wood was selected by Dave Roberts as the Dodgers 5th starter and if his increased velocity holds up this should be the perfect opportunity to return to his 2017-2018 form while accumulating a lot of wins.
Jordan Montgomery, Starting Pitcher, NYY (NR)
The injury bug struck the Yankees again this spring and it comes as a big boost to Jordan Montgomery. Going into the spring he seemed to be on the outside looking in for a spot in the Yankees rotation but injuries to Luis Severino (Tommy John) and James Paxton (Back Surgery) secured Montgomery a spot in the rotation. Paxton will most likely be healthy by the time the season actually begins but this still leaves Montgomery with a rotation spot.
The last time we saw Montgomery for a full season was in 2017 when he put up a 3.88 ERA over 155.1 innings. He also had a 33.2% O-Swing%, 73.9% Contact%, and 12.2% SwStr% – all in the top 15 among pitchers in 2017. That year his fastball velocity was 92mph, this spring he had been topping out at 95mph and showing the ability to miss a lot of bats, striking out 16 batters in 11 innings. It remains to be seen if he will be able to carry that velocity into the year but it is a very encouraging sign nonetheless.
When the season gets underway Montgomery will likely be the 5th starter behind Cole, Paxton, Tanaka, and Happ. If Montgomery stays healthy and performs like the 2017 version, a long-term spot in the rotation is more available than you may think. Severino will most likely miss half of 2021, Tanaka’s and Paxton’s contracts expire at the end of the season, Happ at 37 years old may not be a reliable option, and German still has a 63 game suspension to serve and his future with the Yankees after that is anything but certain.
Montgomery’s value got a nice bump due to injuries, but his performance could result in his value rising even further and he is a great buy-low candidate before he cements himself into the Yankees rotation long-term.
Dylan Bundy, Starting Pitcher, LAA (SP #128)
An offseason move to the Angels is enough within itself to get Bundy a spot in the risers section as any pitcher stands to gain from leaving the friendly confines of Camden Yards and the AL East. Playing for a team that will win some games probably doesn’t hurt either.
Bundy has consistently been among the games best in SwStr% but has never been able to put together anything better than a mediocre season as he is often burned by the long ball. While that might not change, he does stand to fare better on groundballs (which he induced at a 41.5% clip in 2019) due to the infield defense behind him. The grouping of Simmons, Rendon, Fletcher, and Pujols combined for 29 Outs Above Average in 2019 (per Baseball Savant), while the Orioles group of Alberto, Ruiz, Davis, and Villar combined for -12 Outs Above Average.
While a change of scenery is huge for Bundy, the reason he is a riser is his Spring Training performance. In 11.1 innings Bundy allowed two runs, four hits (one home run), and struck out 16 while only walking one. He has looked confident with his off-speed pitches and is making a conscious effort to throw his fastball up in the zone. I’ll throw the “it’s only Spring Training” disclaimer here. Despite that, it’s hard to ignore these numbers from a guy with his pedigree and elite swing and miss skills.
Bundy is still young at 27 years old and primed for a career year.
Blake Snell, Starting Pitcher, TB (SP #4)
Let me begin this by saying I like Blake Snell. He is still a top-10 dynasty Starting Pitcher for me and this has nothing to do with his skill set (although I would like him to walk fewer batters), but rather with the health of his elbow.
Last summer he missed almost two months after having surgery to clean up loose bodies in his elbow and was seemingly fine upon return and throughout the offseason. However, after one spring training start, Snell was concerned and said that the same elbow felt “super sore”. He got a cortisone injection, said he felt good and made another spring training start where he walked four of the five batters he faced before getting pulled. After the start, Snell said his elbow felt good, and it very well might, but it is very hard to not be concerned about it.
On the positive side, the delay to the season should give Snell plenty of time to get his elbow fully healthy, but if he comes out of the delay with another sore elbow…..
Griffin Canning, Starting Pitcher, LAA (SP #69)
Much like Snell, after his first Spring Training start, Canning experienced soreness in his elbow. The MRI revealed nothing more than normal wear and tear on his UCL but Canning was shut down for a month and given “biological injections”. Canning and the Angels have been downplaying it but this is now the third time that he has been put on the IL for an elbow issue since August of last year. There hasn’t been any sign yet that Canning is suffering from something serious but as the elbow injuries keep piling up, you can’t help but think the worst is soon to come.