2017 Fantasy Baseball, Knocking on the Door: National League Staring Pitchers
As we did with the other positions, we have to profile some younger pitchers that didn’t quite make the cut for the top 36 slots amongst NL starters. Some probably already were better than some of the pitchers listed but because of limited exposure it was difficult to give them an appropriate ranking. So, in this edition, we will look at their career numbers to date and then adjust accordingly. Like with the position players, we will also look at their barriers to launch. Since some of them have more career starts than what you would likely get in one full season, we will look at the percentage of starts that ended in a quality starts.
Adam Conley— Miami Marlins (12 wins, 3.82 ERA, 1.363 WHIP, 183 SO, 38.8% QS)
Conley has been pretty steady in two partial seasons as a starter. In all likelihood, he would settle in somewhere as a fourth or fifth fantasy starter, but there is always the possibility that he can take another step forward this season. He had only 25 starts last season, but looked like a workhorse at times. He slightly outperformed the ERA estimates last season, so it is probably best to force him to show us that he can be a frontline pitcher before betting on it.
Barriers to Launch: Conley sported a high WHIP primarily because of a higher than normal walk total. He sported a 4.19 walks per nine innings rate last season. He will never be a frontline starter as long as that continues.
Jerad Eickhoff— Philadelphia Phillies (14 wins, 3.44 ERA, 1.136, 216 SO, 65.9% QS)
The opening question is how Eickhoff was left off of the established list. He threw 197 innings last season and flew under the radar with 11 wins and a 3.65 ERA. The simple answer is that he is probably better than that, so limiting him to that ranking would probably be unfair. Unlike Conley, he was durable last season and seemed to pitch deeper into games. The only drawback to his game is that he surrendered 30 home runs last season.
Barriers to Launch: The floor is pretty high on Eickhoff, but he could be limited by his ability to keep the ball in the ballpark. He is worth a late round pick because he should at least take the ball every fifth day.
Brandon Finnegan— Cincinnati Reds (15 wins, 3.81 ERA, 1.317 WHIP, 200 SO, 45.7% QS)
Finnegan was the first player in baseball history to pitch in the College World Series and the MLB World Series in the same season. For most people that is nothing but a random fact in history, but it does indicate how he was fast tracked to the big leagues. 2016 represented the first full season in the big leagues and represented the same kind of ups and downs as you would expect from a pitcher in his first full season. The question comes down to how much we growth we can expect in year two.
Barriers to Launch: The personal ceiling for Finnegan is pretty high. He may not have absolute ace potential, but he could develop into a top of the rotation arm and he could do it quickly. The problem for him will be what the support he can expect in Cincinnati.
Robbie Ray— Arizona Diamondbacks (14 wins, 4.65 ERA, 1.452 WHIP, 356 SO, 34.4% QS)
Admittedly, players knocking on the door find themselves in two categories. They are either players that have little to no track record or they are players that have one, but we expect to take a step forward. Officially, Ray has two seasons to his credit, but last season just didn’t come together for him. If we ranked him by his numbers he would rank at the very bottom. He likely has a better ceiling than that and we can hope that a new season brings new opportunities for him. A look at his strikeout rate itself reveals the cause for hope, but other things need to fall into place for him.
Barriers to Launch: Ray has been held back by his walk rate and his home run rate, but he also has had an abnormally high batting average on balls in play (BABIP) throughout his short career. He sported a .355 such average last season. If that approaches a more reasonable .300 average then he could be a good bottom of the rotation candidate.
Vincent Velasquez— Philadelphia Phillies (9 wins, 4.19 ERA, 1.313 WHIP, 210 SO, 38.7% QS)
When you look at most younger pitchers you’ll notice that they have a lower percentage of starts end in a quality start. Part of the maturation process is learning how to conserve your energy to get deeper into games and how to get by on lesser stuff. Everyone remembers his brilliant 16 strikeout effort in April of last season. No one has denied his potential for brilliance, but they have doubted his ability to repeat it and stay on the mound throughout the season.
Barriers to Launch: Velasquez struggled through health throughout his tenure in the Astros system and that continued last season as he made only one start in September. The Phillies shut him down after that. Getting through a season healthy will be the important next step.
Julio Urias— Los Angeles Dodgers (5 wins, 3.39 ERA, 1.455 WHIP, 84 SO, 20.0% QS)
Like most young pitchers, Urias will have to learn how to maximize his efforts. He had 15 starts and only managed three quality starts. That happens when you only average five innings per start. Surely, some of that could explained through the Dodgers trying to preserve his arm for the future, but some of that comes through wasting too many pitches trying to strike everyone out. His .365 BABIP gives us hope for the future that he will have a more reasonable WHIP moving forward and if he is able to shave a walk per nine innings off of his walk rate he could be a dominant pitcher.
Barriers to Launch: The trouble with younger pitchers is that you never quite know when they will get it. It took Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and Tom Glavine between two and four seasons to get it, but all three are now in the Hall of Fame. Who knows whether Urias will be on the short or long end of that estimate. He could be one of those that never quite gets it. That’s part of the fun of gambling on young pitchers.