Seth Trachtman

Draft Strategy

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2019 Category Sleepers: - WHIP

Friday, December 28, 2018

It’s never too early to prepare for your draft, and some of us draft fiends are already setting our draft dates for 2019 or even drafting now. The hot stove league is just taking shape, but it’s still a fun time to look toward the 2019 fantasy baseball season.


For the fifth 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 Matthew Boyd and Daniel Mengden 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.


1.5 max 1.12 1.12 1.01 1.12 1.10 1.14
1.5-2 1.14 1.17 1.21 1.11 1.17 1.17
2-2.5 1.18 1.27 1.23 1.22 1.23 1.24
2.5-3 1.27 1.30 1.30 1.33 1.31 1.28
3-3.5 1.30 1.37 1.35 1.40 1.32 1.41
3.5-4 1.37 1.43 1.48 1.39 1.40 1.45
4+ 1.48 1.56 1.57 1.49 1.52 1.47
Avg 1.27 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 2019 for fantasy leagues of varying sizes.


Mixed League Sleepers


Shane Bieber, SP, Indians


Bieber was called up by Cleveland in late May and spent more than half the year in the starting rotation. The former fourth-round pick’s promotion came less than two years after he was drafted out of UCSB, and he earned that promotion with his unbelievable control. Bieber has a career 2.24 ERA and 260/19 K/BB in 277 minor league innings, and finished last year with a 1.47 ERA and 77/7 K/BB in 79.2 innings between Double- and Triple-A.


Unfortunately, Bieber’s minor league success didn’t exactly carry over to the majors with a 4.55 ERA in 114.2 innings in Cleveland. Despite the mediocre ERA in his rookie campaign, Bieber walked only 23 batters, good for an elite 1.8 BB/9. Still, his 1.33 WHIP didn’t help fantasy owners in mixed leagues with his unlucky .356 BABIP. The ERA metrics show a much better pitcher with a 3.23 FIP, 3.30 xFIP, and 3.45 SIERA. That would indicate Bieber could be a popular sleeper going into draft day, and his floor is high given the already elite control. His current NFBC ADP is significant at 163, meaning he’s being drafted right behind the likes of Eduardo Rodriguez and Rick Porcello, but the peripherals were superior to that duo last season.



Robbie Erlin, P, Padres


If you’re a very long-time reader, you’ll notice this isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned Erlin in this spot. He was listed a mixed league sleeper way back in 2016. Better late than never, as the lefty showed last season. After a few years working his way back from Tommy John surgery, Erlin threw 109 innings for San Diego last season and got 12 starts late in the year. The results were ugly in his 12 outings with a 6.23 ERA and 1.46 WHIP, but Erlin did have 44/8 K/BB in 56.1 innings. He was far more effective as a reliever, posting a 2.05 ERA in 27 appearances, but the strikeouts and walks were nearly identical (44/4 K/BB in 52.2 innings). For the year, Erlin’s BB/9 was an amazing 1.0 with an excellent 1.14 WHIP.


Now the question is Erlin’s role in 2019, and as a result, what impact he will have on fantasy rosters. The left-hander did average nearly two innings per relief appearance, so he has the potential to help even if he’s not starting. However, at this point the Padres have only shed Clayton Richard from last year’s rotation and haven’t yet added a veteran into their rotation mix. Joey Lucchesi and Eric Lauer are locked into rotation spots at the time of this writing, so the hope here is that the team gives Erlin another shot to start as they continue to build toward being competitive. Either way, Erlin has proven his elite control at the MLB level after posting a 2.0 BB/9 for his minor league career, and has the potential to be a nice WHIP asset in 2019.



Merrill Kelly, P, Diamondbacks


The rebuilding Diamondbacks recently signed Kelly to a two-year, $5.5 million control as Zack Greinke continues to be mentioned in trade rumors and Patrick Corbin has left for Washington. At the time of this writing, Kelly is in the picture for a rotation spot after spending four years as a starter in Korea. During that time, he averaged nearly 30 starts per season with a 3.86 ERA and 641/206 K/BB in 729.2 innings. His 2.5 BB/9 for his career overseas is a vast improvement over the 3.3 BB/9 that he showed in five minor league seasons in the Tampa Bay farm system. Steve Gilbert from goes into more detail about Kelly’s repertoire, but it certainly sounds like the Diamondbacks have plans for him in the starting rotation.


The obvious comparison is Miles Mikolas, a former minor leaguer who honed his craft in Japan before signing with the Cardinals and dominating last year. That’s really where that comparison should end, though, as Mikolas signed for nearly three times as much money and came over from Japan with a 1.1 BB/9 in 2017. Still, Kelly’s control has become a strength since leaving the United States, and he also has the advantage of facing MLB hitters in his first time around the league after being away for so long. Kelly is currently outside the draft conversation with an ADP near 600 in NFBC, but he is a pitcher to track early in the year as a possible waiver addition.



Michael Pineda, SP, Twins


Remember me? Pineda signed a two-year deal with the Twins last offseason as he rehabbed from Tommy John surgery. It sounded like he would return to the majors in September, but a knee injury ended that plan. The big right-hander should have a clean bill of healthy entering spring training, and Minnesota is counting on him in the rotation behind Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson. While he’s rightfully known as a power pitcher, averaging 94 mph on his fastball when we last saw him in the majors back in 2017, Pineda also has outstanding control. He has a 2.1 BB/9 for his MLB career and peaked at 1.2 BB/9 in 2015.


Often, control is the last thing to return for pitchers making a comeback from Tommy John surgery, but Pineda has had ample time after undergoing the procedure in July, 2017. An extreme flyball pitcher, Pineda was always a poor fit for Yankee Stadium, resulting in a career 1.3 HR/9 in New York that peaked at 1.9 HR/9 in 2017 and kept his ERA above 4.00 in three straight seasons. Target Field is far more favorable in that regard for pitchers, but won’t completely cure those issues. In other words, Pineda remains an ERA risk, but he also has a career 1.19 WHIP and fantasy owners have been forgetting about him in early drafts. Pineda’s ADP is 405 overall, and he’s just the 153rd pitcher drafted. Even with a history of injuries, that seems far too low for the upside.



Single League Sleepers


Brett Anderson, SP, Free Agent


Anderson had a bit of a resurgence in his 10th MLB season last year at age 30, posting a 4.48 ERA in 17 starts with Oakland. The oft-injured lefty has long had very good control with a 2.4 BB/9 for his career, but he took it to a new level last season with a career-best 1.5 BB/9 over 80.1 innings. Remarkably, that innings total was actually the fifth highest of his MLB career, which says a lot about his inability to stay healthy over the years. He also remained an extreme groundball pitcher with a 56 percent groundball rate, helping Anderson post a viable 4.17 FIP and 4.13 SIERA for the season.


The control was a drastic improvement over what we saw the previous two seasons from Anderson in the majors, but Anderson did have a 3.69 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, and 2.3 BB/9 when he last held fantasy value in 2015. The injury history should prevent Anderson from garnering more than a one-year deal this offseason, but his recent control improvement and continued ability to produce an elite groundball rate does make him a worthy flier if he signs somewhere with a solid infield defense. However, with a career 6.5 K/9 that was down to just 5.3 last season, he’s unlikely to help beyond deep leagues.



Jordan Lyles, P, Pirates


Lyles recently signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Pirates, and as things stand now he has a shot to be their No. 5 starter. The right-hander earned that contract after a career year in 2018, posting a 4.11 ERA in 87.2 innings between starting and relief for the Padres and Brewers. The improvements he made last season were enough to intrigue the Pirates, with improved velocity over the last two seasons and decreased use of his sinker and slider last year in favor of his curveball and changeup. Those adjustments showed in his career-high 8.6 K/9 and 1.27 WHIP.


What does Lyles offer as a starter for Pittsburgh? He made only eight starts in San Diego last season with a 4.79 ERA, but he still showed excellent command of the strike zone with a 3.64 K/BB ratio (40/11 K/BB) in 47 innings. The overall results in the rotation were mixed due to his inability to keep the ball in the park, partially a result of throwing fewer sinkers, but his control was very good overall in the starting role and during his time in San Diego with a 2.4 BB/9 prior to getting traded. If last year’s adjustments continue, Lyles is not only an interesting flier for WHIP but also a potentially viable NL-only pitcher, in general, if he wins a rotation spot.



Nick Neidert, SP, Marlins


There’s no doubt opportunity can be had in Miami with a team that continues its strip down and rebuild. The return that the organization got from trading their big trade chips last offseason is still up for debate, but Neidert looks like one of the most promising players. Acquired from Seattle in the Dee Gordon trade, Neidert had a breakout 2017 season and continued his ascent last year with a 3.24 ERA, 9.1 K/9, and 1.8 BB/9 in 152.2 innings at Double-A Jacksonville. The former second-round pick has a career 1.7 BB/9 in the minors.


Considering that Neidert is mostly a changeup artist that barely hits 90 mph on the radar gun, there is legitimate concern about his upside in the majors. He also has just average groundball tendencies, but pitching in a big ballpark like Miami should help. The Marlins haven’t been shy about pushing their top prospects in the past, and it doesn’t sound like the organization is going to be aggressive in adding more pitching this offseason. A good look at Triple-A would probably do Neidert some good, though it shouldn’t shock anyone if he breaks camp in the Marlins rotation or shortly afterwards. The control makes the right-hander a candidate to help in NL-only leagues immediately.



Chris Paddack, SP, Padres


While Neidert could help early on in 2019, Paddack is more a second half play. Arguably the best pitching prospect in a loaded Padres farm system, Paddack’s command is nothing short of unbelievable. He returned from Tommy John surgery last year to post a 2.10 ERA in 17 starts between High-A and Double-A with 120/8 K/BB in 90 innings. That’s the best control we’ve seen from Paddack as a pro but not unprecedented for him. During 2016, he had 71/5 K/BB in 42.1 innings at Low-A.


Unlike Neidert, Paddack’s stuff projects as MLB quality, without question. His fastball flashes mid-90’s, and Paddack also features an outstanding changeup. Durability is obviously a big question mark for the soon-to-be 23-year-old, as he’s never thrown more than 90 innings as a pro, so the coming year will be especially big for him. Still, the control we’ve seen to this point isn’t often seen in pitchers not named Shane Bieber, and it’s certainly possible we’ll see Paddack in San Diego during the second half of the season.

You can find Seth Trachtman on Twitter @sethroto.
Email :Seth Trachtman

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