Seth Trachtman

Draft Strategy

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2018 Category Sleepers - WHIP

Thursday, December 21, 2017


It’s never too early to prepare for your draft, and some of us draft fiends are already setting our draft dates for 2018 or even drafting now. The hot stove league is just taking shape, but it’s still a fun time to look toward the 2018 fantasy baseball season.

 

For the fourth 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. However, WHIP is just as important, with recent pitchers like Bartolo Colon and Josh Tomlin making 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 to finding pitchers who will help your WHIP.

 

BB/9

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

 

1.12

1.01

1.12

1.10

1.14

1.5-2

1.17

1.21

1.11

1.17

1.17

2-2.5

1.27

1.23

1.22

1.23

1.24

2.5-3

1.30

1.30

1.33

1.31

1.28

3-3.5

1.37

1.35

1.40

1.32

1.41

3.5-4

1.43

1.48

1.39

1.40

1.45

4+

1.56

1.57

1.49

1.52

1.47

Avg

1.37

1.34

1.30

1.28

1.32

 

 

 

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 eight names to track in 2018 for fantasy leagues of varying sizes.

 

Mixed League Sleepers

 

Jakob Junis, SP, Royals

 

It’s apparently rebuilding time in KC, and Junis is one of the organization’s most intriguing young pitchers. He was one of the team’s bright spots in 2017, posting a 4.30 ERA in 98.1 innings, including 16 starts. That followed a great start of the year at Triple-A Omaha in which he posted a 2.92 ERA in 12 starts, with 86/15 K/BB in 71 innings. Junis was at his best after the All-Star break with KC, going 7-1 with a 3.55 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and 52/9 K/BB in 63.1 innings, showing elite control.

 

With a fastball that averages only 91 mph, Junis leans heavily on his slider, throwing it 31 percent of the time during his rookie debut. Using his extreme flyball tendencies, he took full advantage of Kauffman Stadium and the Royals strong defensive outfield with a 40 percent flyball rate. Home runs were still a problem for Junis, particularly early in the year, but he allowed only six long balls in 63.1 innings after the break. For the purpose of his fantasy value, Junis’ control is what makes him most intriguing, with a sub-1.0 BB/9 after the break and 2.1 BB/9 for his minor league career. Junis is far from dominant, but could serve well as a back of the rotation starter if the control he showed late last season keeps up.

 

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Brent Honeywell, SP, Rays

 

The Rays have resisted the temptation to promote Honeywell to the majors, and with their current pitching depth, he will be hard pressed to break camp on the 25-man roster. Fortunately for Honeywell, the Rays could be in for another rebuild after moving Evan Longoria to San Francisco. Honeywell is coming off a dominant season between Double- and Triple-A, going 13-9 with a 3.49 ERA and 172/35 K/BB in 136.2 innings. Again, the former second-round pick showed exemplary control with a 2.3 BB/9 for the year, and his 11.3 K/9 was the best of his four-year professional career.

 

Honeywell mixes his mid-90’s fastball with a unique repertoire that includes a screwball, and his career 1.08 WHIP and 2.0 BB/9 shows the polish that he’s had at a young age. He will turn 23 at the end of March, and should get a long look in spring training after making 24 starts at Triple-A Durham last season. At the time of this writing, Tampa Bay has six starting candidates clearly ahead of Honeywell (Chris Archer, Blake Snell, Jake Odorizzi, Matt Andriese, Jake Faria, Nate Eovaldi), not to mention minor leaguers Ryan Yarbrough and Jose De Leon, so it will be difficult for Honeywell to make the rotation out of spring training again this year. However, he will almost certainly be a big part of the 2018 squad and a fantasy contributor later in the year.

 

 

Miles Mikolas, P, Cardinals

 

St. Louis added pitching depth by signing Mikolas to a two-year contract earlier this month. The former Padre and Ranger has done well for himself in Japan over the last three seasons, with a 2.18 ERA and 0.99 WHIP over 62 starts. His success directly correlates with his great control, posting a 1.5 BB/9 for the Yomiuri Giants. That control isn’t out of the ordinary for Mikolas, who posted a 1.8 BB/9 in six minor league seasons.

 

It’s notable that Mikolas was rarely used as a starter in the States until the Rangers added him in 2014. His struggle to miss bats was exposed with a Rangers, posting a 6.0 K/9 in 10 starts. The reports indicate that Mikolas’ slider has improved in Japan, resulting in nearly one strikeout per inning last season. Whether that strikeout rate spike can hold remains to be seen, but the Cardinals were convinced enough to give him $15.5 million and hope that the terrific control can continue. If nothing else, we can certainly see the upside in his WHIP.

 

 

Andrew Moore, SP, Mariners

 

Moore threw 59 innings for Seattle last season with mixed results. At age 23, he went just 1-5 with a 5.34 ERA in his major league debut, struggling to miss bats with a very mediocre 4.7 K/9 and awful 2.1 HR/9. However, the rookie’s minor league control also held at the highest level, with an elite 1.2 BB/9 and strong 1.15 WHIP. The former second-round pick’s control was his calling card prior to his promotion, with a 1.6 BB/9 in three minor league seasons, resulting in a 1.08 WHIP.

 

We can’t understate the fact that Moore’s inability to miss bats and extreme flyball rate gives him big ERA downside, as we saw last season. Moore’s 49 percent flyball rate ranked 15th highest among pitchers with at least 50 innings and could continue to pose a big problem outside of Safeco Field. Still, Moore did start to come around late in the year, posting a 3.48 ERA and 6.1 K/9 in 20.2 innings during September, doing a better job of keeping the ball down after some minor league adjustments. The upside is very limited without the ability to miss bats, but Moore’s Josh Tomlin-like peripherals could make him usable in mixed leagues.

 

 

Single League Sleepers

 

Paul Blackburn, SP, Athletics

 

Traded by Seattle straight up for Danny Valencia last offseason, Blackburn found pitching in the majors to be just as easy as the minors. During his rookie debut, Blackburn posted a 3.22 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in 10 starts. That continued his minor league trend, with a career 3.21 ERA and 1.25 WHIP over six seasons. Despite the success, Blackburn’s early ADP in NFBC is just better than 700 due to his inability to miss bats (3.4 K/9).

 

Like A’s teammate Kendall Graveman, Blackburn gets by on strong command and an excellent groundball rate. His 56 percent groundball rate last season is on par with what we’ve seen from Blackburn in the minors. His .273 BABIP in the majors does show a high degree of luck. In other words, it will be difficult for Blackburn to survive with his currently atrocious strikeout rate. The control will hopefully continue to improve and offset the batted ball karma, after posting a 2.7 BB/9 for his minor league career and 2.5 BB/9 in his major league debut. Blackburn sits as a very cheap backend starter for either ERA or WHIP in single leagues despite missing all of September with a hand injury.

 

 

Tom Eshelman, SP, Phillies

 

A small part of Philadelphia’s return for Ken Giles from Houston two years ago, Eshelman could turn out to be its greatest contributor for the Phillies. The former second-round pick had easily his best season as a pro in 2017, going 13-3 with a 2.40 ERA and 0.97 WHIP in 23 starts over 150 innings between Double- and Triple-A. While he had a solid 2.1 BB/9 between High-A and Double-A in 2016, he took his control to another level last season with a 1.1 BB/9. The pro performance is on par with what Eshelman did as an amateur at Cal State Fullerton, walking a total of 18 batters in 376.1 innings with a sub-2.00 ERA in all three of his college seasons.

 

There’s nothing about Eshelman’s stuff that demonstrates he’s more than a fifth starter, but it’s also rare to see pitchers with control as good as Eshelman. After 18 starts at Triple-A, Eshelman has earned a long look in spring training, at the very least. The ceiling is just a fifth starter, especially considering Eshelman’s 6.1 K/9 last season, but the control could make him a WHIP asset in NL-only leagues.

 

 

Ryan Merritt, SP, Indians

 

Merritt continues to befuddle major league hitters, yet he’s rarely seen a prolonged opportunity in Cleveland. He made headlines in the 2016 ALCS by throwing 4.1 scoreless innings against the Blue Jays, but that still wasn’t enough to earn him more than five major league appearances for last year’s great Indians squad. He now has an ERA well below 2.00 in 36.1 major league innings, including the playoffs, but the Indians are clearly nervous about exposing Merritt. He has a Jason Vargas-like fastball that averages just 87 mph, but Merritt has been effective against minor league hitters during his career with a 3.33 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and 1.5 BB/9.

 

The time to give Merritt a longer look should be coming soon. He’s now made 47 starts at Triple-A over three seasons, with a 3.48 ERA and 1.7 BB/9 at that level. Not surprisingly, Merritt has struggled to miss bats in the upper levels of the minors but is surely deserving if an opportunity, if not in Cleveland than elsewhere.

 

 

Brent Suter, P, Brewers

 

Suter made a splash for the Brewers last season, though his NFBC ADP above 500 shows that fantasy owners are far from convinced. He posted a 3.42 ERA in 81.2 innings between starting and relief, with a K/BB ratio near 3.00, 2.4 BB/9, and 1.29 WHIP. Perhaps the skepticism is due to his late major league arrival, making his debut in 2016 on the cusp of turning 27. Or it could be his sub-par velocity, with a fastball that averaged just 86 mph last season and was actually a significant improvement over his 2016 debut. Even with the age and velocity red flags, Suter has been consistently successful in the minors (3.42 ERA, 1.29 WHIP for his career) and thrown strikes with a 1.4 BB/9 in three seasons at Triple-A.

 

The Harvard alum might not bring much velocity on his fastball, but he certainly trusts it. He used the pitch about 70 percent of the time with the Brewers last season, unlike a pitcher of similar ilk, Jason Vargas, who throws his fastball less than 50 percent of the time. One would think major league hitters would eventually catch up to the slow fastball, but that has yet to occur, as shown by his 2.42 ERA in September. Judging by the early offseason signings of Jhoulys Chacin and Yovani Gallardo, the Brewers don’t completely trust Suter for a rotation spot, but that doesn’t mean he won’t get an opportunity, especially with Jimmy Nelson (shoulder) set to miss the start of the year.



You can find Seth Trachtman on Twitter @sethroto.
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