Seth Trachtman

Draft Strategy

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2018 Category Sleepers - ERA

Thursday, January 11, 2018


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 four articles in the series were batting average, WHIP, home run, and strikeout sleepers. This week, we’ll be looking at ERA 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.

 

Also, there are references to two ERA metrics below: FIP and SIERA. You can read more about FIP here and SIERA here.

 

 

Mixed League Sleepers

 

Walker Buehler, P, Dodgers

 

Buehler? Buehler? We should prepare to hear that cheap joke on baseball broadcasts, as the Dodgers 2015 first-round pick has a chance to be a star very soon. He emerged as an elite prospect last year, posting a 3.35 ERA in 88.2 innings between three minor league levels and making an impact as a reliever for LA late in the year. Buehler had a gaudy 12.7 K/9, seeing most of his work at Double-A Tulsa. While the youngster struggled in his eight major league relief appearances, Buehler showed dominant stuff with a fastball averaging 98 mph and a great curveball.

 

Buehler’s great stuff, along with an extreme groundball rate above 50 percent at every pro stop, makes him comparable to Mets ace Noah Syndergaard. The groundballs should also help Buehler suppress his ERA, if his ability to miss bats wasn’t impressive enough. While there is a consensus that Buehler has ace potential, his ADP in NFBC is near pick 375 because of questions about his opportunity. The Dodgers could still make some rotation additions, but they’ve already shipped out Brandon McCarthy. Plus, a rotation that includes Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Alex Wood, Kenta Maeda, and Hyun-Jin Ryu doesn’t exactly scream durability. If the current starting five holds, 20 starts this season could be a conservative estimate for Buehler. That’s not to say there won’t be hiccups, as we saw with his control issues last season (4.2 BB/9 at Triple-A, 7.7 BB/9 in LA), but the strikeout rate and grounders could make Buehler a breakout ERA sleeper, especially for the price.

 

 

Tyler Chatwood, SP, Cubs

 

Chatwood was a popular name early in free agency, and the Cubs pounced by handing him a three-, year, $38 million contract despite leading the NL in losses with Colorado last season. His control has been an issue for much of his career, posting a 4.2 BB/9 that increased to 4.7 BB/9 last season, but the upside outweighed the risk for Cubs brass. In particular, the Cubs saw a pitcher with a career 3.31 ERA on the road and an elite 55 percent groundball rate. With one of baseball’s best infield defenses behind him, there was optimism Chatwood would be a fit on the North Side.

 

Of course, there is one other major factor that probably made the Cubs even more optimistic. Chatwood’s velocity was way up last season, averaging 95 mph, two mph above what he produced when returning from Tommy John surgery in 2016. Chatwood did make eight appearances in relief, contributing to that average increase, but the improvement was significant nevertheless. Chatwood also came along well in September after the bullpen hiatus, with a 3.12 ERA and 2.10 K/BB ratio. The mediocre control probably won’t ever make Chatwood a WHIP asset, but there’s enough ERA and win upside to take a chance on Chatwood, especially with an economical ADP near 325.

 

 

Masahiro Tanaka, SP, Yankees

 

It’s difficult to call a pitcher one year removed from the fantasy top 20 starters a “sleeper,” but Tanaka should be able to easily exceed his ADP (111) this season. His ERA metrics show that last year’s 4.74 ERA was a fluke, as he posted a 4.34 FIP and 3.52 SIERA. Tanaka’s career-worst 1.8 HR/9 was disturbing, and his ERA could remain highly variable pitching his home games at Yankee Stadium, but the positive signs remain. Tanaka had a 9.8 K/9 and K/BB ratio of 4.73, even better than what he produced in 2016. He also came along well in the second half of the season, with a 3.77 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and 10.7 K/9 in 76.1 innings.

 

Among the positive signs for Tanaka was slightly increased velocity and a slider that he was more inclined to lean on throughout the season, throwing it a career-high 31 percent of the time. For a pitcher with past elbow issues, that’s a sign that he was healthy. Tanaka’s career ERA now stands at 3.56 despite last year’s struggles, and there’s possibly even more upside now that he’s showing elite strikeout ability. While we are focusing on ERA, Tanaka’s supporting cast in New York could also put him in contention to lead the league in wins, and the floor in that category seems high, averaging 13 wins per season already.

 

 

Jeff Samardzija, SP, Giants

 

Samardzija is another former high-end arm who can still be considered a sleeper this season, much like Tanaka. The Shark’s struggles last season were arguably more befuddling than Tanaka, losing 15 games while posting a 4.42 ERA. On the plus side, Samardzija did lead the NL with 207.2 innings, making it five straight seasons reaching the 200 inning mark. He also had the best BB/9 in the league (1.4) and surpassed 200 strikeouts for the third time. An All-Star and sub-3.00 ERA starter in 2014, Samardzija has been a constant source of frustration over the last three seasons, but last season’s ERA metrics lead to optimism with a 3.61 FIP and 3.63 SIERA.

 

The long ball has been a consistent issue for Samardzija, but his elite control can still limit much of the damage. While there’s reason to doubt Samardzija based on his history of underachievement, the skill improvement we saw last season is clear. His 6.41 K/BB was easily the best of his career and more than double what he produced in 2016 when he had a 3.81 ERA over 32 starts. Currently with an ADP near 141, Samardzija’s price is extremely reasonable given his elite durability and very positive metrics.

 

 

Single League Sleepers

 

Dakota Hudson, P, Cardinals

 

Hudson certainly won’t be opening the season in the Cardinals rotation, but that doesn’t mean he won’t have a chance to help later this season. The 2016 first-round draft choice is coming off an excellent first full year in the pros, going 10-5 with a 3.01 ERA in 25 starts between Double- and Triple-A. There is rightfully major concern regarding his lack of strikeouts, posting a 5.7 K/9, but Hudson has the sinker to make up for that shortcoming.

 

Throwing a mid-90’s sinker, Hudson’s groundball rate hovered around 58 percent at both minor league levels last season. That’s elite and should give him the ability to stick around the majors regardless of the development of his secondary stuff. His ultimate upside will be determined by his ability to develop an out-pitch, and that fact alone is even more reason that he should get additional minor league seasoning early in 2018. Still, the grounders should help limit the damage when he does arrive to the majors, as we saw last season with only seven home runs allowed in 152.2 innings.

 

 

Luis Perdomo, SP, Padres

 

Perdomo was also mentioned in this section last year, but he didn’t quite deliver on his promise as a fantasy asset. The former Rule 5 draft choice did show improvement, lowering his ERA from his rookie season by more than a run, as he did a much better job of keeping the ball in the park. It has been a task for Perdomo to develop secondary stuff to complement his nasty mid-90’s sinker, but the high groundball rate does show promise in the meantime.

 

Perdomo’s 62 percent groundball rate last season was second to only Marcus Stroman, helping him produce a groundball-to-flyball rate of nearly 3.00. The ERA metrics also slightly beat his final ERA, with a 4.40 FIP and 4.45 SIERA compared to his 4.67 ERA. The project for Perdomo now is improving his control (3.6 BB/9) and in particular, developing a pitch that will nullify lefties, who had an OPS above .800 against him. In any case, Perdomo’s upside is limited with a 6.5 K/9 through two seasons, but the outstanding sinker does give him acceptable ERA potential for NL-only leagues.

 

 

Dillon Peters, SP, Marlins

 

The Marlins didn’t have much strong, young talent to promote last season, and that won’t change much in 2018 unless they get some pieces back for their current trade chips. However, one of the intriguing players they did promote late in 2017 was Peters. Peters had a 5.17 ERA in six starts with the Marlins, but before that point the lefty cruised through hitters at Rookie Level, High-A, and Double-A. He went 7-3 with a 1.57 ERA in 13 starts, including a 1.97 ERA in nine starts at Double-A Jacksonville. That performance came following a breakout 2016 season in which Peters went 14-6 with a 2.38 ERA in 128.2 innings between High-A and Double-A.

 

The 5-9 lefty tops out in the low-90’s, but his groundball rate has been a major asset, above 50 percent at most stops and 63 percent in the majors. His struggles in the majors notwithstanding, Peters has also shown very good control in the minors with a 2.4 BB/9 last season and 1.4 BB/9 in 2016. The Marlins would likely benefit from giving him more time in the upper minors, but they might not have that luxury given what they have available in the majors at the moment. At worst, the control and high groundball rate make Peters intriguing as an NL-only flier.

 

 

Clayton Richard, SP, Padres

 

For all Richard’s struggles last season, including an NL-worst 15 losses and 240 hits allowed, there was a lot to like. The veteran lefty was reliable, making 32 starts and falling just short of 200 innings, while leading the NL in batters faced. That durability was rewarded with a two-year, $6 million extension, and the Padres have reason to expect improvement this season.

 

For the second straight year, Richard had an elite groundball rate, finishing near the top of the league at 59 percent. He also showed more than acceptable command, with a 2.56 K/BB ratio and career-high 6.9 K/9. Richard’s 4.79 ERA was a liability, but his ERA metrics were much better. Richard had a 4.23 FIP and 4.06 SIERA, both of which would have been acceptable as ERAs in deep NL-only leagues. Grounders do tend to produce a higher BABIP than normal, but certainly not the .351 BABIP we saw from Richard last season. If the command and groundball rate can hold, Richard has a chance to be a viable single league option for ERA in 2018.



You can find Seth Trachtman on Twitter @sethroto.
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