Here in 2016, we’re in an era of fantasy baseball that is dominated by pitching which is putting even more of an emphasis on finding sleeper pitchers each year. If you unearthed Jake Arrietta from the middle rounds last year then you were one step ahead in your fantasy chase and, well, you could have known to target him if you read my same article last year. Finding elite pitchers in the early rounds doesn’t require much thought but finding top-shelf talent in the middle or late rounds takes a bit more research and skill.
Last week, I talked about my search for the best sleeper hitters and it is a system that involves setting certain thresholds for success and seeing what hitters went over those benchmarks last year in order to predict sleeper success. Much like my sleeper hitter system, I did my fair share of research to find appropriate benchmarks that would generate a list of pitchers who met a certain criteria of success. This ends up eliminating my own subjectivity and keeps the system honest and true each year.
In determining the areas that I’d use for benchmarks, I basically thought about the areas that the pitcher has the most control over in a single at-bat and that involves throwing strikes, avoiding contact when batters swing and not walking batters. After the ball hits the bat, there are a myriad of different results that are sometimes out of the pitcher’s control so I tried to make my benchmarks specifically focus on finding pitchers who could dominate in the areas that they do have control over. This system generated Matt Harvey as a buy-low name before he became a star and other names such as Sonny Gray and Jake Arrietta in the past couple years as well.
As I stated above, the idea behind this system is to create appropriate benchmarks that can deliver a solid list of pitchers who can generate strikes and avoid walks. Based on my research, these are the parameters that I created to generate a list of elite pitchers who are poised for a big year:
- Swinging Strike % Above 8.5
- Contact % Under 82.5%
- Strikes/Balls Above 1.65
- K-BB Diff Above 17.5%
- Under 30 years old
The first three stats here are focused on pitch-by-pitch success. Swinging Strike Percentage shows the percentage of pitches in which the pitcher was able to make the batter not only swing but miss. Contact percentage isn’t much different than the name suggests as it measures how often the pitcher allows the batter to make contact. Strikes/Balls is a stat that I kind of invented on my own but it shows the ratio of strikes thrown compared to balls thrown by the pitcher. I’ve found that self-made stat to correlate well with current and future walk rates. The final stat here focuses on results. K-BB Differential is another custom stat and subtracts the pitcher’s BB% from their K%. Outside of actual statistics, I’ve found that pitchers over 30 are a bit less reliable in becoming a “sleeper” so I narrow the list to only pitchers under 30.
When first generating this list, it spits out most of the top pitchers in the game so I eliminate those pitchers and narrow it down to the groups that are found in the later rounds after the top talent is off the board.
The 2016 Potential Sleeper Pitchers
After applying all of those filters, I get a narrow list of six pitchers who have elite ability but are being drafted a bit later at the moment.
- Danny Salazar (CLE) – Salazar isn’t a deep sleeper by any means as he is being drafted 79th overall in drafts currently on average (and the 24th pitcher taken) but he has the talent to move up the ranks this year to become a top 10 pitcher. I had him on this list last year and he had a bit of an odd start to the year but put together a solid resume as the year went on.
- Masahiro Tanaka (NYY) – Tanaka is similar to Salazar as he’s not exactly a hidden commodity but he is being taken a even a little bit later (106 ADP, 31st pitcher taken). Tanaka is a bit of a post-hype sleeper as he was supposed to be an elite talent but hasn’t fully delivered on that hype yet so his price tag is probably a bit lower than it should be. At only 27 years old, this may be the year that he fully breaks out.
- Drew Smyly (TB) – Now we’re getting a bit deeper in the draft. Smyly delivered elite peripherals last year but injuries limited him to 66 IP. Those 66 innings were fairly magical though with 10.4 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9. If those numbers continue, Smyly might be one of the best draft bargains in 2016.
- Michael Pineda (NYY) – Luck wasn’t Pineda’s friend last year as evidenced by his high BABIP rate and high HR/FB rate. If those numbers regress to normal, Pineda has the potential to be a pitcher with a sub-3.00 ERA in 2016.
- Raisiel Iglesias (CIN) – Iglesias is still being found pretty late in drafts but he may continue to rise as more people do their research on him. His numbers have the makings of an ace but he just doesn’t have the track record yet. Now is the time to buy low.
- Jerad Eickhoff (PHI) – As a Phillies fan, I’m happy to see a Phillie here as this fanbase needs something to cheer for. Eickhoff was stellar in 51 IP of major league ball last year. He’s being found very deep in drafts currently but last year’s brief stint had ace-like quality to it.
I’ll be posting deeper insights into some of these pitchers as the preseason goes on but, in the meantime, what do you think about this group of six pitchers? Any pitcher in particular seem like a great value?