Finding valuable players in the later rounds of drafts is crucial. I analyze the previous year to find potentially undervalued players statistically each year. Generating that list is less about scouting and more about a player’s production during limited time last year. For pitchers, the methodology focuses mainly on finding pitchers who can command a strike zone, generate lots of strikeouts and limit their walks. This year, there are potentially three pitchers who meet my criteria and I’ll be analyzing one of them, Sonny Gray (OAK), today to see why he may or may not be a deep fantasy sleeper this year.
Why He’s Here
Sonny Gray played college ball at Vanderbilt where he impressed scouts enough to be picked 18th overall by the A’s in 2011 and was pitching in Double-A later that season. He pitched well in the minors but wasn’t unworldly. In 2013, he pitched in Triple-A for half a season where me maintained a 3.42 ERA and 1.32 WHIP before being promoted to the majors. Once getting to the majors, he turned into an ace-like pitcher as evidenced by the stats below.
|Age||’14 ADP||’13 IP||’13 ERA||’13 WHIP||’13 K/9||’13 BB/9||’13 SIERRA||’13 BABIP|
It’s hard to expect a young pitcher to continue pitching with such a low ERA and WHIP but the encouraging sign is his strikeout ability mixed with an ability to limit walks. Those two traits indicate a bright future ahead for Sonny as he progresses into his second major league season.
Why He Might Fail
One of the ways to gauge whether a pitcher was lucky or not is to look at LOB% and BABIP for the pitcher. In this case, Gray was leaving more players on base than is typical and a lower than average BABIP and these are both signs of a bit of luck. Neither number was in the extreme but the fact that both numbers leaned on the side of being “lucky” may be part of the reason that both his WHIP and ERA were much lower than his minor league averages (3.66 ERA, 1.36 WHIP).
The initial projections from Steamer and Oliver have Gray pegged as being fairly average this year with underwhelming strikeout rates, ERA and WHIP. While it’s harder for projection systems to predict younger players, the fact that they don’t see much within his minor and major league numbers is certainly a sign that we might want to temper expectations.
At the end of last season, Gray broke his finger and underwent surgery to repair it. Luckily it was on his non-throwing hand so it shouldn’t be a major concern but it’s something to monitor leading up to the draft.
Why He Might Come Through
Sure, there are some things that are prone to luck when it comes to a pitcher’s performance but strikeouts and walks are not among them. The fact is that Gray dominated the strikezone last year. Looking at his K/9, BB/9 and K/BB, his 2013 numbers look very similar to Stephen Strasburg and Jose Fernandez which is certainly nice company to be among for a young pitcher. He struggled in 2012 with his strikeouts in the minors but had put together similar strikeout and walk numbers throughout minors aside from that. If he can continue to maintain above nine strikeouts per nine and below three walks per nine then he should have no trouble being an elite pitcher in 2014.
Looking at his xFIP, FIP and SIERA numbers from last year, they suggest that he may have been aided by luck slightly as we talked about earlier but he still was pitching great. If those numbers are any indication, he should remain being a pitcher with around a 3.00 ERA going forward.
I don’t expect a full season in 2014 quite like Gray’s half season last year. But, I do expect Gray to greatly outperform his current draft slot. I think a realistic expectation is a 3.30 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and a good dose of strikeouts along the way. Getting those type of numbers out of a starting pitcher towards the tail end of your draft is quite nice. I expect his draft stock to keep rising from now until draft day though so that will certainly affect whether he is worth reaching for or not. Regardless, I see a lot of good in this young pitcher.