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2019 Fantasy Baseball: Starting Pitcher Sleepers

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There are a lot of sleeper options at the starting pitcher position, but who should you being paying attention to in 2019?

League Championship Series - Boston Red Sox v Houston Astros - Game Four Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

I will start off this post by apologizing for missing my outfield sleepers post last week. I had some personal issues I had to take care of, but Heath did a great job filling in my place while I was gone. I’m back this week, however, and ready to give you some potential sleepers at the starting pitcher position. There are obviously a lot of quality sleeper options, so I didn’t get to hit on all of them. To keep this post from being 30 names long, I decided to hit on my favorite sleeper options at the position. Some guys that were not covered in this post that could be potential steals based on their ADPs include Shane Bieber, Jon Gray, and Ross Stripling. Obviously if you have any questions you can reach me on Twitter, and I will try to get back to you whenever I get time. Now lets get into the list.

Aaron Sanchez, Toronto Blue Jays (ADP: 396.2)

Sanchez is basically the younger version of Rich Hill, as he seems to be put on the injured list throughout the season continually. He let many fantasy owners down the past two seasons after his post an ERA of 3.00 which led the American League in 2016. His struggles the past two seasons can mostly be pinpointed to an increased fly ball rate and health. There were some encouraging signs last season, however, as he posted a career low contact rate of 77.4% and his ACES score was in the 90th percentile among all starting pitchers last season. With his arsenal, he could be a steal with an ADP around pick 400 if he can stay healthy.

Caleb Smith, Miami Marlins (ADP: 457.1)

I was big on Smith coming into last season, and I’m even higher on him this season. He missed a large part of 2018 due to injury, but over his 77 1/3 innings pitched he showed some serious strikeout potential. He posted a 27.0% strikeout rate, 75.6% contact rate, and 11.6% swinging strike rate. The two major concerns with Smith are his high fly ball rate and command issues. When it comes to his fly ball rate, I’m not too concerned—at least not when he is pitching at home. His home park in Miami is the second best pitcher’s park in the league, and a lot of his fly balls were hit at launch angles higher than fifty degrees. That is very important because balls hit at this angle are rarely home runs, and have a BABIP below .100. This high fly ball rate may actually be a positive, and it may sound crazy but his .276 BABIP from last season could actually not only carry over to 2019, but might actually be lower. Now for his command issues, his swing rate, zone rate, and chase rate are more indicative pitcher whose walk rate would be around 8.0% to 9.0%. His problem is his inconsistency with the strike zone. He would go from walking only one batter one game to walking six in the next. His inconsistency is his most concerning trait, but I’m willing to bet on a player whose ADP is outside the top 400.

Josh James, Houston Astros (ADP: 197.4)

Are you guys tired of me talking about Josh James yet? Well, too bad! With an ADP around pick 200, James is being severely undervalued. Over three levels last season he had an incredible 35.6% strikeout rate, and he will likely have a strikeout rate over 30.0% at the Major League level in 2019. After watching him pitch and with the ninth best ACES score last season, I genuinely believe in his skill set and think his contact rate should stay below the 70.0% mark this season. There still seem to be some concerns on whether he will be in the starting rotation or not, but it seems pretty clear that even with Miley signing James will be the Astros’ number five pitcher in 2019. With this type of potential, I would not be surprised to see James finish inside the top 30 starting pitchers.

Kenta Maeda, Los Angeles Dodgers (ADP: 225.2)

Maeda will likely be a top 30 starting pitcher option up until August when the Dodgers ultimately shut him down for the season. He should continue to post strikeout rates around 25.0% while also maintaining a healthy walk rate. His 3.81 ERA seemed to be due to some bad luck last season, as his .321 BABIP and 3.22 FIP suggest. I really like Maeda as a quality starting option and think he should be going more around pick 150 rather than outside the top 200.

Merrill Kelly, Arizona Diamondbacks (ADP: 471.8)

Kelly is someone who has not gotten much attention this offseason, and it could work out quite well for those looking for a high floor pick outside the top 450. The 30-year-old was drafted back in 2010 by the Tampa Bay Rays and has spent the last four seasons playing in Korea. He has a five-pitch mix, but none of those being plus pitches. He has decent command and will get a chance to compete for a spot in the starting rotation this spring. He’s not super exciting, but a high 3’s or low 4’s ERA with a strikeout rate lingering around league average is what I expect. That is pretty good value for someone with an ADP approaching 500.

Mike Soroka, Atlanta Braves (ADP: 303.1)

Soroka has been shut down to start the spring, and likely won’t have a spot in the rotation to start the season, but that has not stopped me from getting excited about his potential 2019 output. He has three plus pitches that pair nicely with his above-average command. The one mark against him was his inability to post a high strikeout rate. He answered those concerns by posting a 24.1% strikeout rate across three levels in 2018. With a 77.8% contact rate in the Majors last season and a deadly three-pitch mix, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him post a strikeout rate around 23.0% in 2019 if he is healthy.

Nathan Eovaldi, Boston Red Sox (ADP: 169.0)

I mentioned Josh James’ ACES score early in the post, and Eovaldi is the only player ahead of him that is being taken outside the top 150. If you follow me on Twitter, then you know I am a big fan of Eovaldi and think he could become a top 30 starting pitcher by season’s end. The addition of his cutter pairs nicely with his triple-digit fastball high in the zone. His arsenal is indicative of someone who could strike out a quarter of the batters he faces, but his 80.1% contact rate seems to contradict that statement. To become the fantasy star I want him to be, he will likely need to start to miss more bats. Even if his peripherals stay the same in 2019, then he will likely be a quality option based on his ADP as his peripherals are quite similar to Miles Mikolas’ last season. I will be taking Eovaldi around pick 100, and hoping that his arsenal will bring back top 30 production at the pitcher position.

Tyler Glasnow, Tampa Bay Rays (ADP: 167.8)

Glasnow seemed to improve his command immensely after coming over to the Rays. His walk rate went from 14.0% with the Pirates to 8.4% when he was traded to the Rays back in July. He has always had tremendous potential and was seen as the top pitching prospect just a few years ago. During his first spring start, Lance Brozdowski of Prospects Live noted that he has added more hesitation to his to his windup, which should hopefully help with his control. If Glasnow can keep that walk rate in single digits, then we could be looking at this year’s Blake Snell.

Vince Velasquez, Philadelphia Phillies (ADP: 379.3)

It seems like we having been riding the Velasquez train as a potential breakout ever since he made his Major League debut with the Astros back in 2015. He has a pretty good five-pitch mix and evenly distributes the use of each pitch. This helped him post a 75.3% contact rate and a 25.6% strikeout rate. He has struggled with command at times, which is likely due to batters’ low chase rate against him. He does pound the zone and gets a lot of swings, however, so I expect his walk rate to stay in single digits in 2019. Velasquez still has a lot of potential at 26 years old and should have a spot in the rotation barring a poor spring or injuries.