Last week we identified some of the valuable hitters that you can find late in Fantasy Baseball drafts, but some of you may need some help with your late round starting pitcher selections as well. Adopting
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a strategy that has you waiting on starting pitching until the later rounds of a typical Fantasy baseball draft comes with plenty of upside, and yes, also some risk. There are plenty of pitchers who have consistently pitched well season after season, but you also have to try to pick out some of the bounce back and breakout candidates who will make their presence felt this season. The following is a combination of veterans and a few young arms you can select in the later rounds of a typical 12-team 5 x 5 snake draft. If you have any questions or comments about this article reach out to me via Twitter @joegallina.
John Lackey, SP Chicago Cubs, NFBC ADP 165
I have to give credit where credit is due and a conversation with RotoExpert Frank Stampfl opened my eyes to the consistency you get from Lackey in your starting rotation. Lackey has made at least 24 starts in every season of his 14-year career except for his rookie year, and he is showing no signs of slowing down. He equaled his career best K/9 last season (8.6), and posted the best H/9 rate of his career (6.977), good for fifth-best in the National League. Although there is some concern that we might start to see a decline in Lackey’s skills at age 38, but his velocity has remained remarkably consistent and he finished the 2016 season strong with a second half 2.76 ERA and 0.98 WHIP. Pitching in Wrigley Field agreed with him (2.62 ERA in 16 home starts), and pitching for a World Series caliber team should help Lackey post another double-digit win total in 2017.
Julio Urias, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers, NFBC ADP 168
Obviously, the Dodgers already have an ace but if Urias reaches his full potential, they may have an embarrassment of riches in their starting rotation in a couple of years. Urias started 15 games for the Dodgers, and while his debut season got off to a rough start, it was easy to see why the Dodgers are so high on him. He’s got four pitches at his disposal, including a fastball, curve, slider and change. Last season he skillfully manipulated that arsenal and mowed down hitters to the tune of 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings. A high walk rate (3.62 BB/9) contributed to his disappointing 1.45 WHIP. However, his career minor league stats (including a 1.09 WHIP) suggest that this will vastly improve. Luck could have played a factor in his unusually high BABIP (.358), and if it adjusts downward to a more normal range, his overall numbers should improve as well. One drawback to consider when drafting Urias is the potential for the Dodgers to limit the number of innings they’ll allow him to pitch. A 150-inning cap is possible; however, he has big upside, and if you have an opportunity to draft him in keeper leagues, you need to jump on it.
J.A. Happ, SP, Toronto Blue Jays, NFBC ADP 179
According to NFBC rankings, you should expect Happ to be selected somewhere around the 15th round of a typical 12-team league. However, I was able to grab him in the 20th round of a recent 15-team mock. Let’s face it, it’s unlikely that Happ will ever come close to winning 20 games again, but you could do worse than Happ as the SP5 on your Fantasy team based on his draft cost. Happ was a reclamation project of former Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage. He has three straight seasons with double-digit wins and in 63 starts over the past two seasons, he has a 3.38 ERA. Don’t worry about him getting lit up in Toronto’s hitter-friendly Rogers Centre. In 42 career starts there, Happ has a 23-13 won/loss record with a 3.22 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP. Last season alone, Happ won 11 of his 13 decisions when pitching at home, with a 2.90 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP.
Sean Manaea, Oakland A’s, NFBC ADP 180
Many Fantasy owners expected young pitchers like Jose Berrios and Lucas Giolito to emerge last season, but Manaea ended up being one of the better young pitchers of 2016. His career got off to a bit of a rocky start, as he posted a 5.85 ERA over his first 11 starts. But he found his groove and pitched to a 2.46 ERA and a .99 WHIP over his final 13 starts. He was especially tough on left-handed hitters who batted just .178 against him. One area of concern is the number of home runs he yielded last season. Manaea’s going to have to drastically lower his 13.7 percent HR/FB rate if he is to continue to evolve into an elite pitcher. Manaea has excellent control as evidenced by his above average BB/9 (2.3), which helped him maintain an overall ERA of 3.86. However, if he is going to continue to develop as a pitcher, he needs to keep the ball in the park. You can expect an ERA below 4.00 and a potential low double-digit win total from Manaea in 2017.
Blake Snell, SP, Tampa Bay Rays, NFBC ADP 245
If Snell can find a way to limit the number of free passes he gives up, he could be a very effective Fantasy starting pitcher this season. As it stands, he posted an impressive 9.9 K/9 in 19 starts last season, however, at the same time he walked 5.2 batters per nine innings, which contributed to his abnormally high 1.62 WHIP. His outstanding 5.6 percent HR/FB rate helped keep Snell’s ERA down to a better than league average 3.54. Overall, Snell pitched well last season. He alternatively used his lower to mid-90 MPH fastball along with his curve, slider and changeup, which at times had the effect of freezing hitters in their tracks. Snell is expected to pitch close to 200 innings, and based on his strikeout percentages, that means that you’ll have the opportunity to pick up an excellent strikeout pitcher very late in drafts.