The Undervalued (and Overvalued) Pitchers of 2019

We live in the golden age of baseball data. When I started playing fantasy baseball decades ago, I never would have imagined having so many stats at our disposal. The wonderful thing about having all of this information is that it can help us come up with data-driven systems for finding our fantasy baseball sleepers.

A few weeks ago, I told you about the benchmarks that I use to find my potential sleeper pitchers. The idea of that system was to find someone who will take a big jump forward in 2019. Winning your fantasy drafts isn’t just about finding super sleepers though. It’s also about just finding good value players to fill your team with. That is precisely why I also devised another set of benchmarks that will help us find pitchers in the later rounds who are being undervalued.

The Data Used In My Selection Process

Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference are treasure troves of pitch-by-pitch stats. I ran studies with their data to find the stats that would correlate best with success the following year. These are the stats that I settled on based on my research:

  • K-BB% – This stat had the strongest correlation to the next season’s ERA, WHIP and K/9 in my tests. It is the percentage of strikeouts per PA minus the percentage of walks per PA.
  • Contact% – This is a measurement of how often a batter made contact when swinging on pitching from this pitcher.
  • Swinging Strike% – Accounting for all pitches thrown, this is how many times the opposing batter swung and missed.
  • Ball In Play% – Of all the strikes thrown by the pitcher, this looks at how many of those were from balls hit into play. (from Baseball-Reference)
  • Strikes to Balls Ratio – I take the number of strikes the pitcher threw and divide by the number of balls thrown.
  • 0-2 Counts Forced% – Out of all of the pitcher’s batters faced, this measures how many of them went to an 0-2 count. (from Baseball-Reference)
  • Hard Hit% – Of balls hit against the pitcher, this is a measurement of quality of contact for each of them. (from Fangraphs)

The 2019 Benchmarks

Using those stats, I then look at the league averages for that year and set benchmarks that are above or below those averages, based on the standard deviations for that stat. For the stats that correlate most strongly, the benchmarks are more stringent. While looking for 2019’s undervalued pitchers, I used these benchmarks for their 2018 stats:

  • K-BB above 14.9%
  • Contact under 76.8%
  • Swinging Strike above 10.8%
  • Ball-in-Play under 27.5%
  • Strikes-to-Balls Ratio above 1.68
  • 0-2 Counts Forced above 24.4%
  • Hard Hit under 36.4%

Of these seven benchmarks, I narrow my list down to the pitchers who qualified in at least six of them.

Does It Really Help Find The Best Pitchers?

In 2018, the 37 fantasy starting pitchers who had met my criteria the previous year had a 3.57 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 9.7 K/9 between them. Meanwhile, those that did not meet the benchmarks had a 4.14 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 8.0 K/9 between them. That trend is not limited to last year, as the pitchers who meet the benchmarks have performed better than their counterparts every year (see the breakdown here).

The other benefit to this system is that it will tell you which pitchers to avoid. Pitchers being drafted in the top 125 picks over the last two seasons performed much worse if they did not meet these benchmarks. Those 21 pitchers had 3.89 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 8.98 K/9 in those seasons. On the other hand, the 37 pitchers in that range who did meet the criteria had a 3.23 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 10.03 K/9 between them. So, while this system can help you find undervalued starters, it also gives an indication of which high-drafted starting pitchers may under-perform.

2019 Results

For 2019, I have 143 starting pitchers that may be drafted this year while also having stats from last year to analyze. Only 35 of those pitchers met my criteria, with a majority of them appearing in the early rounds. Here is how it breaks down based off current average draft position data:

1-125 ADP 126-175 ADP 176-225 ADP 226-300 ADP 300+ ADP
# SP Drafted 30 16 12 13 81
# Meeting MC Criteria 22 4 2 2 5
% Meeting MC Criteria 73% 25% 17% 15% 6%

The type of pitchers who meet this criteria typically have an elite skill set and that’s why so many are taken in the early rounds. There are 13 pitchers being taken after the top names are gone though and those will be our undervalued heroes.

2019 Undervalued Pitchers To Target

Okay, we finally got here. We got to the point in the article where we actually identify the pitchers who are being undervalued this year.  Here are the lucky thirteen:

126 to 175 ADP Range

Chris Archer, PIT
Masahiro Tanaka, NYY
Cole Hamels, CHC
Nick Pivetta, PHI

176 to 225 ADP Range 

Hyun-Jun Ryu, LAD
Kenta Maeda, LAD

226 to 300 ADP Range

Tyler Skaggs, LAA
Ross Stripling, LAD

300+ ADP Range

Dylan Bundy, BAL
Vince Velasquez, PHI
Tyler Anderson, COL
Caleb Smith, MIA
Domingo German, NYY

Nick Pivetta and Ross Stripling are the only ones that also appeared on my previous sleeper list so they get a double gold stars. Chris Archer is one that I continue to find intriguing as the projection systems also have a lot of love for him. He may end up on a lot of my teams. The Dodgers’ pitchers in the middle-range both have lots of potential but basically just need to stay healthy. Most of the end-of-draft options have all disappointed us with their actual numbers but there’s hope for rebounds for them. They may likely go undrafted in your drafts but just keep a close eye on them and snatch them up if they show signs of life.

2019 Early Round Busts To Avoid

As I mentioned earlier, the pitchers being drafted in the early rounds that did not meet this criteria tend to perform at a notch below their peers. It’s not to say that they won’t have good seasons but they may not be worth the high price tag they have this year. There were 8 pitchers being drafted in the top 125 that did not meet my criteria this year:

  • Clayton Kershaw, LAD
  • Miles Mikolas, STL
  • Corey Kluber, CLE
  • Jameson Taillon, PIT
  • Zack Greinke, ARI
  • Madison Bumgarner, SF
  • Zack Wheeler, NYM
  • David Price, BOS

While I won’t say they are all guaranteed busts, using caution on all of these pitchers in your drafts is advised. They have a high price tag and may not prove to be worth it.

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