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By the Numbers: Pitching a case for keepers

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Last month, I ranked 14 top rookie hitters in order of their keeper value in Fantasy. Now I'm getting around to ranking this year's rookie starting pitchers in terms of their future value. Among the top-ranked of these 18 hurlers are those who merit consideration in leagues where you may only have half a dozen or so keepers, while those towards the bottom are strictly for dynasty leagues in which you can protect a much larger number of players.

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Why did I rank 18 pitchers as compared to the 14 hitters I featured in my earlier column? I had a harder time finding a cutoff point among this rookie cohort. I could have taken it further, as Jarred Cosart, Brad Peacock and Andre Rienzo missed the cut, and I left out Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal on the technicality that they were used primarily (or in Rosenthal's case, exclusively) as relievers.

Remember, these are rankings based on keeper value, so the pitchers who performed the best this year aren't necessarily the best bets to deliver value in 2014 and beyond. Based on this season's Fantasy stats as well as current and past skill indicators, here's how I would prioritize keeping starters for the years ahead.

Note: All stats are current for games played through Tuesday, Sept. 10.

1. Jose Fernandez, Marlins: I had Fernandez pretty far down my list of rookie pitchers at the start of the season, even after he cracked the Marlins' rotation due to a couple of last-minute openings. Though I appreciated Fernandez's potential, I had no idea he would make such a huge impact coming straight out of the Florida State League. Right away, he has provided well over a strikeout per inning and great command. If there's a reason to expect a slight downturn, it's that he may not replicate a 1.19 home ERA, as pitcher-friendly as Marlins Park is, or a .246 BABIP. Still, Fernandez is a worthy keeper in just about any format.

2. Julio Teheran, Braves: After struggling to get whiffs last season at Triple-A Gwinnett, Teheran got his swing-and-miss mojo back with the Braves, and he sharpened his control as well. If he can continue to maintain a low walk rate (2.4 BB/9 this year), Teheran could have a lower WHIP than Fernandez next season, even though the Marlins' rookie is besting him 0.97 to 1.20. Because Teheran leans towards being a flyball pitcher who gets his fair share of popups, he should be able to improve on his .297 BABIP. He probably won't match Fernandez for strikeouts or ERA, but in overall value, Teheran shouldn't be far behind.

3. Tony Cingrani, Reds: No secondary pitches? No problem, as Cingrani has a 2.92 ERA, even though no starting pitcher with at least 100 innings has thrown a higher percentage of fastballs, according to PitchFX data on FanGraphs.com. Higher-than-average walk (3.7 BB/9) and flyball (40 percent) rates could make Cingrani more vulnerable than Fernandez or Teheran at times, especially in his starts at Great American Ball Park, but he allows so little contact that the damage to his Fantasy stats should be minimal. With the back spasms that knocked him out of Tuesday's start against the Cubs, Cingrani might not have much value for the rest of this season, but he's worth keeping in most formats for next year and beyond.

4. Gerrit Cole, Pirates: Here's where the ranking process got interesting. Because Cole failed to achieve even an average strikeout rate, both at Triple-A Indianapolis and Pittsburgh, some owners consider him to be a disappointment. Over his eight most recent starts, Cole has struck out 46 batters in 49 2/3 innings while getting whiffs on 10 percent of his pitches. The former UCLA standout and No. 1 overall pick may not need a high K-rate to succeed, but his recent stretch and earlier minor league numbers suggest he could be capable of achieving it. If not, Cole could still be a superb control pitcher with strong ground ball tendencies, like Doug Fister. That's the lowest expectation owners should have for Cole going into next season.

5. Alex Wood, Braves: Wood's strong rookie campaign has lost some steam, as his velocity has dipped over his last four starts, and strikes have been harder to come by. The lefty has a limited track record as a starter, even in the minor leagues, but he was dominant as a reliever, and he fared well over his first six starts with the Braves. Wood hasn't had many issues with control over his brief professional career, so his recent stretch, in which he has walked 11 batters over 18 2/3 innings, should not deter owners from keeping him in 12-team mixed league formats with 10 or more protection slots.

6. Shelby Miller, Cardinals: Strikeouts have never been a problem for Miller, but he has been plagued at times by too many walks and home runs. Miller coasted through mid-June, as he allowed only 19 walks and six homers through the first 86 1/3 innings of the season. Since then, it's been a different story, as his BB/9 ratio had more than doubled and his HR/9 ratio had nearly tripled prior to Tuesday's scoreless start against the Brewers. The early part of Miller's season has shown us what he is capable of, but the more recent portion shows us the potential risks of keeping him. Given that Miller has issues with control and frequent flyballs before, it's difficult to just write them off as the passing struggles of a young pitcher.

7. Michael Wacha, Cardinals: To go by Wacha's track record as a professional, he would seem to be a more valuable keeper than Miller, but he is less of a known quantity. While Miller produced three full seasons of work in the minors before playing his first full year in the majors, Wacha has all of 152 1/3 innings between the minors and majors. Wacha, like Miller, has had sporadic problems with control, and he is also prone to allowing flyballs. He also hasn't shown the same knack for getting strikeouts, but the differences in their peripherals are not substantial. My preference for Miller over Wacha is simply based on his having a longer track record, but both pitchers need to be protected in many keeper formats.

8. Kevin Gausman, Orioles: If I had made this list during the first half of the season, Gausman probably would have ranked among the top three or four. After prospering during an eight- game stint at Double-A Bowie, Gausman has been less than impressive both at Triple-A Norfolk and in Baltimore. Though we're still dealing with a small sample of innings, his performance raises some doubts about his keeper value. On the positive side, Gausman has a healthy 11 percent whiff rate with the O's, and he is likely to improve on a 61 percent strand rate, which has contributed to his 6.30 ERA. Still, FIP projects that Gausman would have a 4.75 ERA with better luck, and I have to admit, the Orioles' recent track record with highly-touted pitching prospects makes me a little nervous.

9. Zack Wheeler, Mets: Prior to the start of the season, I projected Wheeler would finish with a 3.96 ERA, so his actual 3.38 mark has caused me to reconsider his long-term value. Wheeler did come out of the gate with the control issues that I expected from him, but he put together a recent five-game stretch in which he threw strikes consistently and issued only six walks over 32 1/3 innings. If Wheeler can sustain that kind of control, he could make good on his top-of-the-rotation potential, but I worry that he could cycle through period of good and bad walk rates, much like Jeff Samardzija has.

10. Danny Salazar, Indians: Throws really hard. Makes batters look as if they're hitting with a fly swatter. Rarely misses the strike zone. Based on what we've seen this year, Salazar has as much upside as anyone on this list (even Fernandez), but how will he do once he's allowed to pitch more than four or five innings with regularity? That uncertainty keeps Salazar from being a must-keep pitcher, but there are still plenty of formats in which he will be worth protecting.

11. Dan Straily, Athletics: Straily's stats have been nothing special this season, but there are still signs that he could have a major breakout at any time. It's actually a bit of a mystery as to why Straily owns a pedestrian 7.3 K/9 ratio, when he's been getting whiffs on 12 percent of his pitches, and his past history suggests he can whittle down his 3.2 BB/9 ratio. With a 37 percent ground ball rate, it's not surprising that Straily has been amenable to allowing homers away from O.co Coliseum, as he has yielded 10 of them in 73 road innings. That could be a chronic issue, but we should at least expect Straily to dramatically improve his 3.82 home ERA.

12. Sonny Gray, Athletics: During his brief time in the majors, Gray has been the more successful of the A's rookie starters. While Straily had the more impressive season in the minors last season, it's Gray who has delivered the better results during his brief time in the majors. He has already established himself as the superior ground ball pitcher, and if he can keep up his strikeout per inning pace, he will surpass Straily in terms of Fantasy value. Since Gray's major league track record is all of 43 innings long and he doesn't possess whiff rates as impressive as Straily's, it's premature to leapfrog him over his more experienced teammate in these rankings.

13. Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dodgers: The elder statesman of this group, Ryu is tied with Miller for the most wins (13) of any pitcher in this rookie class. Ryu ranks just 14th among rookie qualifiers in K/9 ratio (7.5), but he's been able to overcome that by limiting walks (2.5 BB/9) and homers (0.7 HR/9). Because Ryu has stranded 78 percent of his baserunners -- a rate he won't likely repeat with regularity -- he has probably been a little fortunate to have an ERA that's barely peeking above the 3.00 line. He still can have some Kris Medlen-type appeal, but without the drama over whether he'll be delegated to a bullpen role.

14. Chris Archer, Rays: Archer hasn't been the type of pitcher that his minor league numbers led us to believe he would be, but that's turned out to be a good thing. The hard-throwing 24-year-old has gone from being a wild pitcher with strikeout potential to the Sunbelt's version of Gerrit Cole. Through his first eight starts this year, Archer had walked nearly a batter every other inning, but in 11 starts since then, he's issued only 13 bases on balls over 67 1/3 innings. With a 6.0 K/9 over that period, Archer has been subpar as a strikeout pitcher, but improved control has enabled him to post a 2.94 ERA and 1.01 WHIP since his transformation. If we could trust that the change is a lasting one, it would be safe to rank him above Ryu and possibly Straily and Gray, too, but it's hard to elevate Archer based on an 11-game trend.

15. Kyle Gibson, Twins: What is a pitcher who earned a minor league demotion with a 6.53 ERA and 1.75 WHIP doing on this list? Some prospects who eventually do well get their major league careers off on the wrong foot, and I think that was the case with Gibson. He certainly could have had better control, and his minor league stats tell us that this is the one thing we should have been able to count on. Gibson also had a respectable 9 percent swinging strike rate, and while that doesn't bode well for a high strikeout rate, it means we can expect more than a 5.1 K/9. He did do a good job of inducing grounders, posting a 51 percent rate, and Gibson can't be faulted for allowing a .340 batting average on those ground balls. He could wind up succeeding more than Archer as a pitcher who gets by through limiting walks and extra-base hits.

16. Martin Perez, Rangers: Perez hasn't put up big strikeout numbers since Double-A, so it's not much of surprise that he hasn't done so this year. His stock his risen, though, as he -- like Archer -- has remade himself as a control artist. While Perez should be kept in deeper dynasty leagues, there is a strong chance that his production will fall off next season. His 9-4 record has been helped by 5.9 runs of support per nine innings, which is the third-highest rate among pitchers with at least 80 innings. Perez could also see his 3.60 ERA rise, as xFIP projects that it would be over half a run higher with less help from luck and defense.

17. Wily Peralta, Brewers: Peralta started the season looking like a young version of Jake Westbrook. Though he got his share of grounders, Peralta's command was shaky, and it showed up in his ERA and WHIP. Since June 21, however, Peralta has found the strike zone more regularly, and he has struck out a distinctly un-Westbrook-like 7.2 batters per nine innings. His 1.19 WHIP over that period might be about as good as it gets, barring a reduction in walks, but Peralta is now missing enough bats to be a threat (in a good way) in the ERA and wins categories.

18. Tyler Skaggs, Diamondbacks: Though Skaggs doesn't throw hard, he has been fairly consistent in delivering strikeouts at every level. He has had some low-grade problems with control and some monumental issues with home runs during his stints with the Diamondbacks. While he was highly flyball-prone during his brief trial with the Snakes last year, the same cannot be said for this year's seven starts, but 16 percent of his flyballs have left the park. That's a rate that should improve over time, and if all breaks well, Skaggs could be a more productive pitcher in Fantasy than several of those included on this list. We just need a bigger sample size to determine whether he will be a safe bet to reduce the .451 slugging percentage he's allowed to date over his big league career.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Al Melchior at @almelccbs . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Cardinals' Rosenthal considering abandoning the windup
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1:01 am ET) Cardinals reliever Trevor Rosenthal is considering ditching the windup this season, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Rosenthal had trouble against the first batter he faced last season, and believes he may be able to get around that by pitching from the stretch. The idea has been discussed, but it's unclear if Rosenthal will follow through with it. 

He did stress that getting ahead of batters is his main goal this season. "Working ahead (in the count). Making quality pitches early in the count. These are the big goals for this year," he said. 

The 24-year-old posted a 3.20 ERA over 70 1/3 innings last season.


Blue Jays' Martin: Pirates 'were going to do everything they could'
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:37 am ET) Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin says the Pirates did everything they could to try and re-sign him, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Martin signed a five-year, $82 million deal with Toronto, but said the Pirates really pushed to keep him around. "They were going to do everything they could," Martin said. "They were pretty vocal about that. But then it comes to a point where, as an organization, if you're thinking business-wise, you can't stack all your chips and then leave yourself vulnerable for later."

Martin also admitted that the opportunity to be a role model in Canada was a big reason he signed in Toronto. "The opportunity to play in Canada, for my family to be able to watch me play, to be a role model for younger Canadians and be that guy, it's a better fit for me overall for that reason," he explained.

In the end, the money and a fifth year led Martin to the Blue Jays. "[The Pirates] were pretty vocal, and I think that they definitely wanted me back. It was just a feeling that Toronto wanted me a little bit more," he said.

The 32-year-old hit .290/.402/.430 over 379 at-bats last season.


Rockies' Wilin Rosario receives positive reviews at first base
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(3/3/2015) Rockies catcher Wilin Rosario received positive reviews after playing first base on Tuesday, according to MLB.com.

Rosario showed off his athleticism, saving two possible errors during the appearance. The club is trying to work Rosario in at the position after signing Nick Hundley in the offseason. Rosario has been taking extra fielding practice at first during camp. Rosario is expected to see equal time at first and behind the plate this spring.

The 26-year-old hit .267/.305/.435 over 382 at-bats last year.


D-backs' Yasmany Tomas does well in spring training debut
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/3/2015) Diamondbacks third baseman Yasmany Tomas went 1-for-2 in his spring training debut against Arizona State. The Cuban born player thought he did just okay for his first game.

"Everybody knows it was my first day," Tomas said. "It was a good day. I put in the hard work to see it happen, and it felt like overall a good day."

Tomas played in five innings on the day. Manager Chip Hale said he thinks Tomas is right where he expected him to be offensively.

"With the bat, I thought this was how he would look," Hale said. "He looked very comfortable. He looked very relaxed."


Diamondbacks' Goldschmidt not concerned about hand this year
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(3/3/2015) Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt is not concerned about his hand this year, according to MLB.com.

Goldschmidt saw his first game action since last season on Tuesday, singling in his first at-bat since August 1. Goldschmidt missed the final two months of 2014 due to a broken hand, but said the injury has not been an issue during camp. 

"It was the last thing on my mind," Goldschmidt said. "It's not the first time I've gotten hit. It's not the first time I've gotten injured. Hopefully it doesn't happen again, but chances are something is going to happen in the future."

Goldschmidt has been wearing a small pad in his batting glove in order to prevent the injury should he get hit in the same spot. He's used the pad during batting practices, and said he doesn't even feel it. 

The 27-year-old hit .300/.396/.542 over 406 at-bats last season. 


Athletics' Craig Gentry hoping for a fast start in 2015
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(3/3/2015) Athletics outfielder Craig Gentry is hoping for a fast start in 2015, according to the Bay Area News Group.

Gentry missed time early last year with a back injury, but feels refreshed this season. "Last year was definitely frustrating, because you want to be here with your new team, and I wasn’t healthy," Gentry said. "Now I feel great and I’m really excited about this season."

Gentry stressed that he's working on stealing bases this spring, as he plans to be aggressive once the regular season begins. "I want to be aggressive and practice is what does it. I need to work on getting jumps, trying to read the pitcher and all of that."

Gentry, 31, hit .254/.319/.289 over 232 at-bats last season. 


Phillies' Chad Billingsley expected to be out until late April
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(3/3/2015) Phillies pitcher Chad Billingsley is not expected to be ready until late April, according to MLB.com.

Billingsley is coming off two elbow surgeries, and is behind to start camp. Billingsley was expected to compete for a spot in the team's rotation if healthy. The 30-year-old owns a career 3.65 ERA over 1,175 1/3 innings.  


Diamondbacks' Ender Inciarte fighting for a spot
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(3/3/2015) Diamondbacks outfielder Ender Inciarte is hoping to prove he deserves a spot, according to azcentral.com.

Inciarte flashed potential during the second half of the season in 2014, but is on the fringes of the 25-man roster this spring. For right now, he's open to any role the team will give him.

"There's a lot of competition here, but you only control what you can control," Inciarte said. "I know I can play defense. I know I can run. And I know I can hit. I've just got to do my job. I want to have a chance to play, but I'm ready to take any opportunity they give me or any role."

Manager Chip Hale praised Inciarte's versatility, saying Inciarte is "the type of player you like to have because he can do so many different things."

Inciarte knows the odds are against him, but knows whatever decision the team makes will be for the best. "I know whatever happens is going to be the best thing for me," he said. "I know if I go to Triple-A, I'm going to do my best and find my way back."

The 24-year-old hit .278/.318/.359 over 418 at-bats last year. 


Phillies' Chase Utley able to workout on Tuesday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(3/3/2015) Phillies second baseman Chase Utley was able to work out on Tuesday, according to MLB.com.

Utley did not participate in workouts on Monday due to a sore ankle. He's expected to miss a few spring games due to the injury, but the fact that he was able to put in work on Tuesday should be seen as an encouraging sign.

The 36-year-old hit .270/.339/.407 over 589 at-bats last season. 


Giants' Tim Lincecum encouraged after first appearance
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(3/3/2015) Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum is encouraged after making his first spring appearance, according to MLB.com.

Lincecum can on in relief on Tuesday, giving up one run in one inning of work. He struck out two batters, and generally felt good about the outing. "I felt pretty good out there," Lincecum said. "My fastball had some life and my changeup was good at times."

Manager Bruce Bochy seemed to agree, saying he believed Lincecum had good command of his fastball. 

Lincecum is expected to open the season in the team's rotation. He posted a 4.74 ERA over 155 2/3 innings last year. 


 
 
 
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