2017 Fantasy Baseball Man Crushes – Pitchers (Spring Training Edition)
February 24, 2017 | Doug Shain
2017 Man Crush List – Pitchers (Spring Training Edition)
Baseball season is almost here. Pitchers and catchers have reported, Spring Training games start this weekend, and the temperature is slowly starting to warm up. That means it’s time to take a look at who we should be targeting in our upcoming Season Long Fantasy Drafts.
Many articles you are going to read will focus on Sleepers and Studs or Same Faces/New Places (the typical springtime tropes) but not this article. This article is about me. Well, not so much about me but more about my man crushes. To me, a man crush is a player that I probably like a lot more than you do and whom I’m going to make sure to try to grab for one reason or another.
I generally find that most of my man crushes tend to be pitchers, which is why this first Man Crush article will focus solely on that position. Pitchers tend to have one of two attributes that make them a man crush of mine. The first is a ridiculous draft value. I crush hard on those types of players because I love a good value. I also love to draft them because when I do, and they do well, it’s a total ego boost; “I knew that guy was going to crush it this year and you didn’t.” 2016 Ian Kennedy is a perfect example of this type of player. He wasn’t getting drafted anywhere but he had great tools and was going to a situation that was lights out for him. It felt very good to have him on many of my teams. The second attribute that my man crush pitchers tend to have is a high strikeout upside. I get so caught up in the sexiness of a 12K game that I often overlook things like a high walk rate or propensity to give up a ton of home runs. My 2015 man crush pitcher going into drafts was definitely Danny Salazar. He is the true definition of a boom or bust, high ceiling, low floor kind of play. He’s the bungee jumping of fantasy pitchers. You know that rope could break but if it doesn’t then it’s going to be a hell of a ride.
I’m going to keep this list to a reasonable number with only 6 players (mimicking a real pitching rotation plus a closer). In order to do this I had to omit a number of players I really liked (most notably Vincent Velasquez, James Paxton, and Jon Gray) but it takes away from the specialness of the list if I just name every pitcher in baseball. I reserve the right to change my man crush list as we move through Spring Training and we actually get to see the players play. As for right now, these are my guys.
Without further ado, here is my 2017 Season Long Pitcher Man Crush list (Spring Training Edition):
Taijuan Walker (Arizona Diamondbacks): I’ve always loved Walker, and for a brief period of time he looked really good in Seattle. That all changed last year when he really struggled. Every important statistic took a step backwards in 2016 for Walker (aside from ERA, but we’re smarter than that). His walk rate went up, his FIP went up, his K/9 went down, his hits per nine went up, his home runs per nine went up, and his WHIP went up. Also, he’s moving from a pitcher’s park in Seattle to a hitter’s park in Arizona. So, why do I like him? First of all, he’s still so much younger than you realize. It seems like Walker has been around forever but he doesn’t even turn 25 years old until August. Second of all, he gets to pitch in the National League now. That means no more DH and a lot more pitcher’s hitting against him. I can see him shaving at least a run off of his ERA this year. I also think his K/9 rate starts to improve this year as well. His ML-best K/9 is 8.3 but in the minors he was solidly over 10K per 9 innings. With the added benefits of experience and NL hitting, he’s got a lot going in his favor. You aren’t going to need to get Walker to anchor your pitching staff either as his down year and shift to Chase Field could scare off a lot of potential drafters (he’s currently the 64th pitcher off the board in NFBC drafts). I’d love to have him at my #3 in an NL-only league or a solid #5 in a mixed-league.
Matt Moore (San Francisco Giants): Matt Moore always had a lot of promise but struggled the last couple of years in Tampa Bay. That all changed when he was traded to San Francisco at the deadline last year. We finally got to see what type of pitcher Moore could be over the last few months of the 2016 season. While the ERA remained the same, two numbers really stand out to me to show that he improved as a pitcher. The first is a decrease in his FIP from 4.51 in Tampa Bay to 3.53 in San Francisco. The other stat is a greatly improved K/9 rate (from 7.5 to 9.1). If we can get Moore to pitch more in line with his FIP, and to maintain that K-rate, then he’s going to be provide a great value to you in drafts, especially if he can work on controlling his walk rate (a painful 4.2 after the trade to the Giants). Right now Moore is the 45th pitcher off the board in NFBC drafts, while I would have him firmly inside my top-40 pitchers (an ok #3 for you but an ideal #4).
Carlos Rodon (Chicago White Sox): The breakout season is coming for Rodon, and I think it’s going to happen this year. Much like with Walker and Moore, we’ve seen flashes from Rodon that show what he can be capable of when he reaches his potential. The most interesting thing I see with Rodon is that Julio Urias is going 13 pitcher spots before him in NFBC drafts (Urias is the #40 pitcher while Rodon is the 53rd pitcher off the board). This boggles my mind. Isn’t Urias’ upside this year essentially Carlos Rodon’s 2016 season? Why would I pay for that when I can just go and get Rodon, with another year of experience under his belt, multiple rounds later? Look, I’m all about the shiny new toy but Rodon is only 24 years old and he made a dramatic improvement last year in the one area I was most concerned about him: walk rate. He went from a 4.2 BB/9 in 2015 to a 2.9 BB/9 in 2016. While that 2.9 number isn’t stellar, it is trending in the right direction. What was impressive was that he was able to increase his K/9 from 9.0 in 2015 to 9.2 in 2016. These two stats show me that he wasn’t giving up what makes him special (his ability to strike batters out) to fix what was hurting him (his control). I think Rodon makes a serious run at being a top-30 pitcher this season based on his current trajectory, and the only thing that might keep him from that is a lack of wins due to a depleted offense. On the other hand, Chicago has the pieces to surprise so don’t be shocked if you get 12+ wins out of Rodon with improved peripheral stats. With where he’s being drafted now, I’m going to own him in almost every league I’m in as he’s a clear #4 for me with #2 potential.
Tyler Anderson (Colorado Rockies): Has there ever been a pitcher who has controlled Coors Field like Anderson did after his call-up to the big squad last year? I know it’s a small sample size, but every time Anderson pitched at home he was a DFS darling. Let’s look at those home/road splits:
Home: 5-2 with a 3.00 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 7.8 K/9, and 0.92 HR/9
Away: 0-4 with a 4.71 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 7.7 K/9, and 1.00 HR/9
Those splits, considering the home games are at Coors Field, don’t even seem real. If Anderson can maintain his high level of play at high altitudes while improving his numbers away from the Rocky Mountains, then he should easily outperform his current ranking of 102nd pitcher off the board in NFBC drafts. At this point he’s basically waiver wire fodder or an end game flier. I say you grab him everywhere you can towards the end of drafts and if he’s bad, you cut bait in May. You’re going to invest very little into him at your draft so it’ll be painless to cut him if need be. On the other hand he could be the type of pitcher that, even in a streaming type of situation, can win you a week in a head to head league or give you valuable counting stats in the right matchup.
Mike Montgomery (Chicago Cubs): I personally have very little feel for Montgomery but Joe Maddon has come out this off season and said he feels very strongly about Mike Montgomery. I know we have to account for some coach speak here, but Maddon is a very good evaluator of talent and if he puts a guy into his rotation, that guy generally performs well. He did that last year with Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks, and he’s done it in previous years with the Tampa Bay Rays. Let’s not forget that at one point Montgomery was a major prospect in the Royals organization. We’ve seen pitchers like this, in the right situations, bloom later in their careers. Montgomery is only 27 years old and has all of 65 games of Major League experience. In the 38 innings he pitched for the Cubs after they acquired him, he was able to average a strikeout per inning and maintain an ERA under 3.00. His command was a little iffy, giving up 5 HR and averaging nearly 5 walks per 9 innings in his short Chicago career, but that is the type of thing that can improve with more experience. One more thing to keep in mind as it relates to his relationship with Maddon: After Montgomery’s time in the KC minor league system he did pitch for the Rays minor league teams for parts of two seasons. Maddon knows the kid and he brought him to Chicago for a reason. If Montgomery does indeed make it into the rotation for the Cubs, then I’d make sure to keep a very close eye on him after drafts as an early-season waiver wire add (or a last round flier).
Ken Giles (Houston Astros): From July 1 until September 23 (a day he got blown up for 6 runs), Giles saw his ERA drop from 4.91 to 3.47. That’s a pretty significant drop for a player that only pitches one inning per appearance. What this shows is that all the negativity surrounding Giles’ early season struggles should have dissipated, for the most part, by season’s end. Now we head into 2017 and Giles seems to be the clear cut close for an Astros team that could very easily win 90+ games this year. If he’s able to maintain his post-July form, then he should be in line for the type of season we expected from in in 2016; top-5 close potential. For right now Giles is going as the 10th closer off the board in NFBC drafts, which is probably about right. I could make a case for you to draft him as your #1 closer and maybe the 7th closer picked. The reason I have him on this list is that I think he’s going to end the year as a top-3 closer and maybe even better. I will go out of my way to make sure he is on most of my teams, and my relief corps are going to live and die with him.
Who are your 2017 Pitcher Man Crushes? Hit me up on Twitter (@bankster17) to let me know. I answer everyone that writes to me and I love to hear feedback from my readers. Keep an eye out for a Batter’s version of the 2017 Man Crush list in the coming days and weeks (along with all the other great Fantasy Baseball articles here at The Fake Baseball). Happy drafting!