Seth Trachtman

Draft Strategy

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2017 Category Sleepers: WHIP

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

It’s never too early to prepare for your draft, and some of us draft fiends are already setting our draft dates for 2017. The hot stove league is just taking shape, but it’s still a fun time to look toward the 2017 fantasy baseball season.


For the third year in a row, I’ll be breaking down category sleepers at each of the 5x5 roto categories. The first installment of the series was batting average sleepers. This week, we’ll be looking at possible WHIP sleepers. Over 10 weeks, I will be providing a list of sleepers for each 5x5 roto category (BA, HR, RBI, R, SB, W, ERA, WHIP, K, SV).  Since the hot stove league still has a long way to go this offseason, for the next few weeks we will focus on players in categories that are less based on opportunity and more based on skill.  Other roto categories that are more dependent on opportunity, supporting cast, and batting order spot (R, RBI, SB) or team and manager (W, SV) will be discussed in the latter half of the 10-week series.


Before reading any further, it’s important to note the definition of a sleeper. In this case, it’s a player who will exceed draft day ADP AND projections in a particular category. The players are broken down by mixed league sleepers and single league sleepers.


Fantasy owners, especially those new to the game, often have a bias toward ERA given that it’s the category most often quoted as we learn the game. WHIP holds just as much eight in 5x5 roto scoring, obviously, and pitchers like Bartolo Colon can make a living on fantasy rosters for their WHIP contributions.


It’s simple enough to say that good control creates a WHIP asset for fantasy owners, but the table below is proof. The following table shows data from pitchers with at least 10 major league starts in the given year, proving just how important control is in finding pitchers who will help your WHIP.

















































Based on the yearly WHIP average at the bottom of the table, it’s clear that finding pitchers capable of producing sub-2.5 BB/9 is key when uncovering potential value for the category. With that fact in mind, here’s a rundown of names to track in 2016 for fantasy leagues of varying sizes.


Mixed League Sleepers


Miguel Gonzalez, White Sox


Through four seasons in Baltimore, Gonzalez had a career 2.9 BB/9 and 1.28 WHIP. Certainly, neither number was bad, but the righty wasn’t what we would have called a great control pitcher. In fact, the Orioles released Gonzalez just before Opening Day when they were actually in need of starting pitching. The pitching-desperate White Sox picked him up to serve as the team’s fifth starter, and Gonzalez had a strong season with a 3.73 ERA and career-best 2.3 BB/9. That’s the magic number we’re looking for, but there’s actually even greater reason for optimism.


Despite missing some time with a groin injury, Gonzalez walked only 11 batters in 79.1 innings for a 1.2 BB/9 and 1.02 WHIP in the second half. While it’s difficult to give acclaimed White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper all of the credit, Gonzalez did clearly make adjustments after joining the White Sox.  In particular, Gonzalez relied more heavily on his offspeed stuff, throwing his slider with more velocity 23 percent of the time and his changeup more than 20 percent. The sample size is still too small to be completely sold, but the trends do look positive.



Mike Leake, Cardinals


The perception that Leake was a dud in the first year of his five-year deal with the Cardinals isn’t inaccurate if we judge by the traditional stats of a 9-12 record and 4.69 ERA. However, his advanced metrics were the best of his career by almost any measure. Among them, Leake had a 4.17 K/BB ratio, 6.4 K/9, 1.5 BB/9, and 3.83 FIP. Despite showing the best control of his career, Leake had a mediocre 1.32 WHIP due in large part to a career-worst .321 BABIP.


Given Leake’s poor BABIP and above average groundball rate, it’s fair to blame some of his struggles on the Cardinals defense. St. Louis ranked near the bottom of the league in fielding percentage, and were also in the bottom 10 of baseball in Baseball Prospectus’ park-adjusted defensive efficiency. So far, they’ve only addressed these issues by announcing that Matt Carpenter will be their starting first baseman next season, but it’s likely that they will also address the outfield with Matt Holliday and Brandon Moss becoming free agents. Regardless, Leake has a career .296 BABIP and has posted a sub-1.20 WHIP twice in his career. If the control from last season is maintained, he has a chance to even exceed his career-best WHIP of 1.16 from 2015.



Joe Musgrove, Astros


Musgrove is one of the better control pitchers to come along from the minors in a while, and he already started to show his superb control in his rookie season. The Astros youngster posted a 2.3 BB/9 and 1.21 WHIP over his first 62 innings. For his minor league career, Musgrove has an incredible 1.1 BB/9 and 1.04 WHIP, showing almost perfect control over 337.1 innings.


While Musgrove does really mix up his pitches, he’s far from just smoke and mirrors. His fastball averaged nearly 92 mph in his rookie season, and he has the ability to reach the mid-90’s. He threw his fastball less than 50 percent of the time in his major league debut, relying heavily on his slider and mostly dominating right-handed hitters. His early issues against lefties and keeping the ball in the park are concerns, but the control Musgrove showed in his debut was encouraging.



Ivan Nova, Free Agent


The projection for Nova at this point is difficult without knowing where he will pitch, but there’s reason to be excited about his improvements late last season in Pittsburgh. Working with pitching coach Ray Searage, Nova pitched the best of his career. Over 64.2 innings and 11 starts, Nova walked only three batters (0.4 BB/9) and had a 1.10 WHIP. He also remedied his long-time home run issues, allowing only four home runs after moving to the NL and getting away from Yankee Stadium.


The mention of Nova has a disclaimer since we don’t know where he will end up in free agency at the time of this writing. Obviously, the most favorable situation would be remaining in Pittsburgh, where Searage apparently helped him succeed more often by pitching to contact with a good infield defense complementing his career-high 1.93 GO/FO rate, along with a neutral NL park. Still, as Edinson Volquez and J.A. Happ have shown, Searage’s lessons can be carried after pitchers leave Pittsburgh.



Single League Sleepers


Matt Boyd, Tigers


The Tigers charged hard for a playoff spot late in the year, due in part to contributions like that of Boyd. The lefty had a 3.86 ERA and 1.22 WHIP over 63 innings during the second half, posting a 3.44 K/BB ratio and 2.3 BB/9. The momentum should put him in the lead for a rotation spot entering 2017.


The solid control that Boyd showed isn’t foreign to him. He had a career 2.2 BB/9 in the minors, along with a 2.44 ERA and 1.01 WHIP. His track record made him a top prospect included in the David Price trade, along with Daniel Norris. Boyd still has significant issues keeping the ball in the park, which could prevent giving him consideration in mixed leagues, but the control he showed during the second half is favorable for his WHIP.



Luis Cessa, Yankees


Cessa’s future role is up in the air, but he showed enough in his rookie debut to get a long look in the spring. While Cessa is a control pitcher, he did average nearly 95 mph on his fastball in the majors while pitching between the rotation and relief. As a starter, he had a 4.01 ERA and walked only eight batters in 51.2 innings (1.4 BB/9). However, he also had trouble keeping the ball in the park, with a whopping 11 home runs allowed over that time.


A flyball pitcher, it’s not a surprise that Cessa had so much trouble keeping the ball in the park at Yankee Stadium. He’s also had issues missing bats in the minors, with a mediocre 7.4 K/9 for his career. Realistically, Cessa profiles best as a fifth starter, but his 2.0 BB/9 in the minors and strong streak with the Yankees makes him intriguing for AL-only leagues if he finds a rotation spot.



Brent Honeywell, Rays


Rays starting pitchers have been rumored in trades this offseason, but the organization’s great pitching depth isn’t just at the major league level. They also have strong minor league pitching depth, led by Honeywell. The 2014 second-round pick had another brilliant season, this time sharing time between High-A and Double-A with a 2.34 ERA in 20 starts. He had a 2.0 BB/9 for the season and more than one strikeout per inning. Honeywell has made headlines because he throws a screwball, a pitch rarely seen in baseball these days, and he can also reach the mid-90’s on his fastball. He’s a great WHIP prospect with a career 1.9 BB/9, and could even help in mixed leagues during 2017. However, the traditionally conservative Rays are likely to give Honeywell at least a half season in the minors with only 10 starts at Double-A under his belt.



Brock Stewart, Dodgers


Stewart had a great year in the minors during 2016, but was overshadowed by several other elite Dodgers pitching prospects. The former sixth-round pick had a 1.79 ERA between three levels, showing pinpoint control for the second straight year. Stewart had a 9.6 K/9 and 1.4 BB/9 for his minor league season over 21 starts, and his BB/9 went down to 1.1 over 50.2 innings at hitter-friendly Triple-A Oklahoma City. He did struggle in 28 innings with the Dodgers, though it’s worth noting that Stewart allowed only four earned runs over his last five appearances (19 innings).


While Stewart will get a long look in spring training, he’s more likely to start the year in the bullpen or minors if he sticks in LA, given their immense starting depth. That’s certainly not a best-case scenario if you’re looking for fantasy help, but the always active Dodgers very well could move Stewart this offseason as they look to plug holes on their major league roster. Either way, his emergence in the minors and late last season makes him a name to watch.

You can find Seth Trachtman on Twitter @sethroto.
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