Fantasy Baseball: 4 Pitchers You Should Avoid in 2020
The calendar has flipped to December, and fantasy football playoffs have started. That can only mean one thing for fantasy baseball enthusiasts -- it's time to start prepping for the 2020 season.
And if you aren't using early NFBC draft data, you are falling behind. Whether your draft is starting in a month, of the slow draft variety, or you are a March drafter, the NFBC kicked things off November 1st, and we have tons of data to comb through.
Using that data, here are four pitchers with an average draft position (ADP) that's just too high. All four of these guys will be hurlers I'll have a tough time rostering as their current cost.
Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals
ADP: 17.82 (Round 2)
Starting Pitcher Rank: 4th
This is personally painful to write. Look, I love everything about Max Scherzer. He's wildly consistent -- from 2010 to 2018, Scherzer fired 185 or more innings in every season. That's a bankable statistic that is extremely hard to project in today's game. Keep in mind that only 24 starters reached that mark last season.
And these aren't ordinary innings -- these are juicy, hold-your-breath, appointment-viewing innings when Scherzer takes the pill. Over that nine-year span, the intimidating hurler with different colored eyes posted a sub-3.25 ERA in six of those seasons, and he whiffed 230 or more batters in each of the last eight seasons.
And I'm telling you not to draft him.
He's turning 36 next season, and there were signs of wear and tear last year. There was the neck ailment in the playoffs. He landed on the Injured List twice in July with back ailments. All of this led to just 27 starts, his lowest number since 2008, along with a pedestrian -- for him -- 172 1/3 innings.
While the strikeouts remained at a strong rate (35.1%), the hard-hit rate spiked to 35.7% -- the worst mark of his career and well above his career average of 28.8%.
I'm not saying Scherzer won't be good in 2020, but I am asking you to tread cautiously with the 18th overall pick. For the first time in a while, there are reasons to be skeptical of Scherzer.
Jack Flaherty, St. Louis Cardinals
ADP: 25.76 (Round 3)
Starting Pitcher Rank: 7th
First, the St. Louis writer (me) picks on the St. Louis native who just won a World Series. Now, he picks on the ace of his hometown St. Louis Cardinals?
Settle down folks -- and hear me out.
First, there's no doubting that Jack Flaherty was an absolute monster down the stretch last season. He's a huge reason the Cards even made it to the NLCS with one of the worst offenses in the league (19th in team wOBA for the season).
After emerging as a budding star in 2019, firing a 3.58 xFIP over 151 innings in asserting his moniker as staff number-one, he followed that up with a sophomore campaign that included 196 1/3 innings, a 3.64 xFIP, 29.9% strikeout rate, and 7.4% walk rate. In the second half of the year, Flaherty rocked a pristine 0.91 ERA over 99 innings pitched, including a 33.9% strikeout rate.
Yeah, fam, he was good.
While Flaherty's slider has developed into one of the league's elite pitch offerings -- nearly a "money pitch" by the boys over at The Pitcher List, with a 43.9% O-Swing Rate, 36.5% Zone Rate, and silly 23.5% swinging-strike rate -- he's not without warts.
The improvement in Flaherty's walk rate was significant from 2018 to 2019, it still remains to be seen if it is something we can bank on. His 9.6% walk rate in 2018 was certainly nothing to write home about, and his 10.8% walk rate in his 2017 cup-of-coffee started the command concerns. His first-pitch strike rate in 2019 (60.4%) ranked him 46th among 61 qualified starters, though he wound up with a solid 7.1% walk rate.
Flaherty is also a pitcher with essentially two offerings -- a fastball and a slider that he combines to throw over 70% of the time. It's a big reason why his skill-interactive ERA (SIERA) of 3.68 ranks just 12th best in the league, and not higher.
Like Scherzer, Flaherty could continue to take strides forward, but with a limited pitch offering and command (and control) concerns, SP7 feels like a bit of a high draft-day cost.
Lucas Giolito, Chicago White Sox
ADP: 54.24 (Round 5)
Starting Pitcher Rank: 16th
Last season was the year of the breakout for Lucas Giolito, and the former first-round draft pick finally lived up to the hype that's accompanied his career.
And by all means, when glancing at his 2019 numbers versus any other year, it represented a major step forward. Over 176 2/3 innings, the righty boasted a 32.3% strikeout rate, 15.0% swinging-strike rate, and an outstanding 1.06 WHIP.
How did he do it? Giolito essentially shelved his curveball, showcasing a changeup that was one of the league's best pitches -- he posted a 22.2% swinging-strike rate while throwing it in the zone 52.5% of the time on 733 offerings. Yup, that'll play.
Unfortunately, some of Giolito's past haunts cropped up again. Namely, an inflated walk rate and a problem with right-handed batters. Last year, righties smacked him for a 35.4% hard-hit rate and 38.4% fly-ball rate. Pair that with an 8.4% walk rate, and a big fly can certainly burn you.
His home field isn't pitcher friendly, either, ranking 11th in park factor and fifth in home run factor a season ago.
As the SP16, Giolito is a tough sell for me.
Trevor Bauer, Cleveland Indians
ADP: 84.71 (Round 7)
Starting Pitcher Rank: 24th
I was the conductor on the Trevor Bauer hype train at this time a year ago, and I can fully admit it -- I was dead wrong.
And while there was bound to be some negative regression for Bauer in 2019, the wheels completely fell off. After a 2018 season that saw Bauer rock a 30.8% strikeout rate over 175 1/3 innings, including a 2.44 FIP and 2.21 ERA, Bauer destroyed fantasy owners who likely invested high draft equity to own him (waves hand) with a 4.48 ERA, 4.34 FIP, and a still relevant 27.8% strikeout rate over 215 innings pitched.
So what gives? If you can step back in nearly category, Bauer did it. The walk rate rose back up to 9.0%. The hard-hit rate soared to 41.3%, along with the fly-ball rate jumping to 40.4%. That led to a career-worst 1.44 home runs per nine (HR/9) innings pitched, and when there's plenty of free passes given out on top of that, your ERA skyrockets.
Despite whiffing a career-best 253 hitters, Bauer may be a problem of his own tinkering -- he threw five different pitches 7.0% of the time or more, and he leaned more heavily (per Brooks Baseball) on a cutter (16.2%) that was absolutely demolished last season for a .462 slugging percentage.
Clearly, Bauer is a guy who can be counted on for high-strikeout totals, but if he buries your staff in traditional categories like ERA and WHIP (1.25), it's hard rostering him as an SP2, which is his current price.