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MLB Barometer: There's Always Next Year

Vlad Sedler

Vlad Sedler covers baseball and football for RotoWire. He is a veteran NFBC player and CDM Hall of Famer, winning the Football Super Challenge in 2013. A native Angeleno, Vlad loves the Dodgers and Kings and is quite possibly the world's only Packers/Raiders fan. You can follow him @RotoGut.

After the dust settles on the 2015 baseball season and we begin prep for 2016 fantasy drafts, there will be but one friendly reminder - that elite starting pitchers are the most stable and reliable position. The league’s best SP are safer than the hitter options, and you’d better get two of them within the first seven rounds. Injuries and the occasional shutdown via Tommy John will inevitably strike a few from this group per year. The group of top 25 starters will always have newcomers and dropouts. But for the most part, the best starting pitchers are your best bet at stability and having value returned or exceeded.

Among the group of 22 starters selected in the first 100 picks in post-March 1 NFBC leagues, over 70 percent of them will likely return or exceed their ADP slot, or fall within two rounds (24 picks: 12-teamers). Most starters will have about five or six starts remaining, but we are at a late enough point in the season to assume the range where most end-of-season numbers will end. Some of the pitchers on the list could have rough outings, get hurt, or shut down, but it shouldn’t affect 2016 ADP too drastically.

In the chart below, the two columns on the right are the round and overall pick I would project these pitchers to fall come next March. Several factors may skew these projections by the end of the season and next March (offseason trade / new home park, upgraded/downgraded offenses, injury, etc.). In the end, we are just having fun with assumptions here, and also driving home the point while the stats are fresh in our mind - that the majority of the top 22 starting pitchers are elite, reliable, and have earned their keep among the top 100 overall picks.

12-team NFBC (post-March 1 drafts)
Pitcher 2015 ADP (round) 2015 ADP (overall)   2016 ADP (round) 2016 ADP (overall)
Clayton Kershaw 1 4   1 2
Felix Hernandez 2 13   3 36
Max Scherzer 2 14   2 13
Stephen Strasburg 2 22   5 60
Chris Sale 3 27   1 12
David Price 3 28   2 23
Madison Bumgarner 3 32   2 24
Corey Kluber 3 34   4 39
Johnny Cueto 4 38   5 58
Matt Harvey 4 46   4 37
Zack Greinke 4 47   2 19
Jordan Zimmermann 5 53   9 102
Jon Lester 5 53   6 65
Cole Hamels 5 60   5 56
Jeff Samardzija 7 74   11 130
Gerrit Cole 7 76   3 31
Julio Teheran 7 83   11 129
James Shields 8 86   10 118
Sonny Gray 8 88   5 59
Tyson Ross 8 93   10 117
Jake Arrieta 9 99   4 38
Jacob deGrom 9 100   3 27


New in Top 100 (for 2016)
Pitcher 2015 ADP (round) 2015 ADP (overall)   2016 ADP (round) 2016 ADP (overall)
Jose Fernandez 18 212   3 33
Chris Archer 14 167   4 40
Noah Syndergaard 28 334   5 53
Dallas Keuchel 19 218   5 55
Carlos Carrasco 9 107   6 64
Michael Wacha 11 127   6 66
Danny Salazar 24 279   7 74
Carlos Martinez 23 267   7 75
Steven Matz undrafted 387   8 86

From the list of 22, we would expect only five (Zimmermann, Teheran, Ross, Shields, Samardzija) to drop out from the list of SP1/SP2 options. Guys like Archer, Keuchel and Syndegaard should easily join the list of top options as SP1’s, with quite a few other pitchers like Wacha, Carrasco, Salazar and possibly Martinez and Matz, drafted among the top 100. Kershaw will could be easily be taken first overall in more leagues next year. It may be fair to assume that King Felix and Scherzer will no longer be the uncontested second and third overall pitchers taken with Greinke, deGrom and Sale joining the upper crust. Jose Fernandez should find his rightful place among the top 10 again, 23 months removed from TJ surgery as of Opening Day 2016.

Breaking it down by projected ADP next year, by round:

1 – Kershaw, Sale
2 – Scherzer, Greinke, Price, Bumgarner
3 – deGrom, Cole, Fernandez, Felix
4 – Harvey, Arrieta, Kluber, Archer
5 – Syndergaard, Keuchel, Hamels, Cueto, Strasburg, Gray
6 – Lester, Carrasco, Wacha
7 – Salazar, Martinez
8 – Matz

We are always careful to make huge leaps ahead of ADP with our picks. For the most part, ADP lists should be used as a rough guide to assess how far we can play ‘draft chicken’ with some of our targets. Some don’t mess around and grab the players where they want them. Such was the case with folks who made the correct assumptions on the breakouts of Cole, deGrom and Arrieta. Though all three technically ‘broke out’ last year, their 2015 season’s will cement them as legitimate SP1’s come next spring.

Keep this list in your back pocket and let’s how it stacks up with actual ADP lists / draft results next spring. After another season of reliability from baseball’s best pitchers, we should feel even more comfortable about building around two anchor SP and letting our competition “wait on pitching because I feel comfortable with the pitching pool later”.

RISERS

Edwin Encarnacion (1B, TOR) – The Blue Jays offense has continued to roll, averaging nearly nine runs over their last 11 games, including four games where they’ve scored 12 or more. Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Encarnacion are fantasy’s top three offensive producers in August and also happen to hit back to back to back in the middle of this nightmare lineup. Encarnacion and Donaldson are tied for second behind Mariners’ Nelson Cruz (12) in August homers with 11, and Bautista has 10. Ency scored the ‘hat trick’ against the Tigers on Saturday, knocking three balls out, along with 9 RBI – finally having the week fantasy owners who drafted him at the end of the first round having been waiting for. Ency has averaged 37 homers over the last three seasons. The one he hit on Sunday was his 30th – a bit off pace – but he has missed a dozen games this year dealing with minor bumps and bruises (shoulder, finger, back). Despite always being considered an injury risk and turning 33 in the offseason, Ency is one of the fantasy baseball’s safest first round picks. He has an incredibly discerning eye at the plate (12 percent walk-rate, 17 percent strikeout-rate) and has arguably three of the league’s top hitters batting ahead of him in the lineup.

Travis d'Arnaud (C, NYM) – d’Arnaud caught a bad break (literally) in April, fracturing his hand and missing 46 games. After less than two weeks of action, d'Arnaud hyperextended his left elbow, and missed another 32 games. He has been doing his best to make up for lost time, slugging five homers with 13 RBI, 14 runs and a .935 OPS this month. He struggled upon his return (4-for-23 from July 31 through August 8), but made minor adjustments, including standing closer to the plate for his at-bats. d’Arnaud had a reasonable NFBC ADP of 178.36 and was on a small target list of value second catchers in drafts this year along with Wilson Ramos (183.70), Yasmani Grandal (198.28) and Derek Norris (234.79). Without the setbacks, d’Arnaud could easily have already reached the 20 HR mark and be involved in the discussion of breakout catchers. Playing on a big stage in New York on a Mets team that is surging at the right time, d’Arnaud will be on the radar for folks looking to draft a slugging catcher with upside somewhere in the rounds 7 to 10 range.

Joe Kelly (SP, BOS) – Kelly has been quite the enigma this season. Kelly came over to the Red Sox via the Cardinals at the trade deadline last summer in a deal for John Lackey. Kelly had a solid spring training and was the sneakiest option of NFBC drafts based on his potential, arsenal and extremely cheap price (476 ADP, undrafted in most Main Event leagues). He started the year off decently over his first two starts (11:4 K:BB, 3 ER in 12.2 IP), but then gave up at least 5 ER in four consecutive outings. The bottom fell out for Kelly a week before Memorial Day when he got shellacked for 7 ER against the Twins before getting pulled in the second inning. It’s been quite the opposite set of results since August 1, where his ERA rose to a season-high 6.11. In the five starts since, Kelly has reduced his ERA by a full run (4.94) and has six wins this month – the most for a Red Sox pitcher since Pedro Martinez in 1999. Ironically, Kelly’s recent success coincides with him working on his delivery with Martinez himself. Kelly has wicked velocity on his fastball and two-seamer (the latter tops out at almost 100 mph), but has been doing a better job mixing in other pitchers (changeup, cutter, splitter).  He now works with rookie catcher Blake Swihart and acknowledges he has been more of a ‘thrower’ instead of ‘pitcher’ most of his career and earlier this season. Kelly is back on the radar in 12 and 15 team leagues and lines up for a home start this week against the Phillies.

Jaime Garcia (SP, STL) – The 29-year-old lefty has had a long injury history, dating back to his 2008 Tommy John surgery. Garcia missed big chunks of the last two seasons and was ready to start the 2015 season in the Cardinals’ rotation, but hit the disabled list immediately and returned for two starts at the end of May. Garcia was incredibly effective in the month of June (35 IP: 4 ER and 24:2 K:BB) before going on the DL (groin) for another month. Since returning on July 24, Garcia has made seven starts – allowing one or no runs in four of those starts and no home runs allowed in all six August starts. Heading into September, Garcia has incredible ratios (2.03 ERA, 0.97 WHIP) despite subpar strikeouts (64 K in 93 IP). Garcia doesn’t offer much velocity on his fastball (90.4 mph), but keeps batters guessing with a mix of five solid offerings, including secondary pitches (changeup, slider) that garner a 17 percent ‘whiff’ rate per Brooks Baseball. His xFIP of 3.17 is nearly double the ERA, but Garcia is an extreme groundballer (64.7 percent this year) and calls a nice pitchers’ park home with good run support. He’s been a gem this year despite the limited innings and will be on our radar for the mid-rounds next season if no health issues again.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Eduardo Escobar (SS/3B, MIN) – Playing almost every day now and earned some time in the two-hole. Hit over .400 last week including a two-game stretch where he hit three home runs (eight on the year now). Hitting .295 with 18 runs scored in August and worth adding in 15-team leagues.

Francisco Lindor (SS, CLE) – FAAB’d for pennies on the dollar compared to fellow rookie Correa, but he’s no truffle. Since August 1, slash is .385/.427/.947. Swiped three bags in a single game last week and in a lovely lineup spot between Kipnis and Brantley which is worth its weight in fantasy gold.

Blake Swihart (C, BOS) – Two four-hit games in August and an inside-the-park extra inning home run last week. Hitting .295 versus RHP but has improvements to make against the lefties. Just don’t forget I was the first one to call him ‘America’s Swihart’ last year!

Jean Machi (SP, BOS) – One of this week’s top risers because he’s the new ninth inning guy in Beantown (for now) with Koji Uehara out and Junichi Tazawa dinged up and more hittable than a Mercedes parked near Aldon Smith. A 1.39 WHIP and ERA over 5.00 but was one of the most steady relievers in the NL over the last two years – 2.50 ERA / 1.10 WHIP in 119 IP. Either way, it’s all about the saves.

OTHER RISERS

Gregory Polanco (OF, PIT), Franklin Gutierrez (OF, SEA), Odubel Herrera (OF, PHI), Jonathan Lucroy (C, MLW), Kris Medlen (SP, KC), Mike Fiers (SP, HOU), Trevor Rosenthal (RP, STL)

 

FALLERS

Mike Trout (OF, LAA) – Never would I imagine having to lead off my group of fallers with the undisputed number one fantasy pick this spring. Trout has been one of the least productive hitters this month after jamming his wrist trying to make a routine catch against the Astros on July 26. In the month of August, Trout was hitting .194 (.694 OPS) with just one home run and six runs batted in before Sunday’s 4-for-4 game where he was a HR shy of the cycle. Despite the power outage, Trout still ranks sixth in the majors with 33 homers and eighth (among qualified hitters / 100 GP) with a .393 OBP, but his batting average has dipped below the .300 mark and the RBI (74) are well below expectations. Continued struggles will put others like Clayton Kershaw, Paul Goldschmidt, Bryce Harper and Josh Donaldson in the conversation for the top pick in fantasy drafts next year. One positive note regarding his wrist, for what it’s worth, is a double Trout roped on August 13 – coming off the bat at 114.1 mph – his third hardest hit of the season. Sunday’s game was another great sign as September begins and Trout makes a hard press towards the first 40 homer season of his career.

Alcides Escobar (SS, KC) – Even with 30 games to go, it’s safe to say Escobar has been a disappointment this season. His 175 ADP was a reasonable price as the 11th shortstop off draft boards. The only positives are a career-best strikeout-rate (10.6 percent) and that he is likely to surpass his career-high in runs scored – sitting at four runs shy of his career best (74) set last year. Escobar continues to lead off for the Royals despite a .303 OBP and he is light on the base paths as well – just 13 SB so far despite stealing 31 and 35 in two of his last three seasons. It’s also obvious by the OBP that Escobar doesn’t take a walk often (4.5 percent rate) and his .260 average this year is slightly below his career average (.263). Hit .285 in 2014 and .295 in 2012 – the every-other-year thing looks like a trend. Outside of the occasional stolen base, Escobar has turned into a one-category contributor, yet will be drafted as a top 12 shortstop again next season due to the lack of depth at the position.

James Shields (SP, SD) – Let it be known that despite our unstoppable offense in the NFBC Main Event, Andrew and I don’t deserve to win the overall title with Shields as our SP1. Shields has been a huge disappointment in ‘pitcher-friendly’ PETCO, allowing 26 homers (HR/9 over 1.40) with a paltry 3.76 ERA. Shields is also allowing a .355 OBP-against versus left-handed hitters this season. A far cry from the term ‘ace’, Shields has allowed five earned runs and four walks in two of his last four outings – at home against the Reds and on the road against the Nationals. The velocity on his fastball lately has been down a tick from earlier this season (1.1 mph drop, from 91.4 to 90.3). Shields’ strikeout-rate has been elite (25 percent), but that’s about the only bright side. He had a nice outing against the Phillies on Sunday, but when the 2015 season is said and done, Shields’ ratios and low win total (just three in his last 16 outings) makes him a bust at his 90 ADP as the 26th pitcher taken.

Dan Haren (SP, CHC) – The Cubs probably wish they had gone in a different direction at the trading deadline as Haren has been a disaster in the Cubs’ rotation thus far. In every one of his five August starts, Haren has allowed at least one homer and three earned runs (five in his latest outing). Haren is tied for the major league lead with 29 homers allowed and has allowed a yardtripper in 31 percent of his starts. Haren did start the year off nicely with the Marlins and has a respectable 1.15 ERA. But the Cubs are making a run at the Pirates for a wild card berth and can’t afford the risk Haren poses every fifth start. Jacob Turner is still on the 60-day DL and Travis Wood was moved to the bullpen for good reason. Haren will have a chance to bounce back for a home start against the Reds this Tuesday. Then it’s two tough road games against the Cardinals and Phillies the following week.

DISHONORABLE MENTIONS

Brett Gardner (OF, NYY) – I jinxed the Yankees’ supposed ‘leader’ hard last month. Shocking how one could be that bad hitting second in that lineup - .200/.298/.548 with just one home run in August. Hitting .205 since the All-Star break after a monstrous June (.352, 5 HR, 18 RBI).

Alex Rodriguez (3B, NYY) – Either the new synthetic ‘roid has worn off, or the long season has caught up to him. Or maybe it’s just a slump. Just 12 hits in 81 at-bats (.148) in August. Either way, four more homers and ARod becomes only the second player in history to hit 30 homers at age 40 or older (Darrell Evans slugged 34 in 1987).

Cesar Hernandez (2B, PHI) – Second base gig fully solidified with the Utley deal, but hasn’t taken well to it since the trade. Hitting .192 over the last three weeks. The 25-year-old has 19 SB and 51 R and should continue to contribute in those categories, and has multi-positional flexibility.

Hector Santiago (SP, LAA) – One of the biggest surprises of the late rounds this draft seasons. Posted a 2.33 ERA before the break and 5.23 in 41.1 IP since. His last couple of opponents were doozies (DET, TOR) and he lines up for a solid two-step against two offenses he’s fared well against – the Rangers (2-0, .178 oBA in 24 IP) and the Athletics (1-0, .222 oBA in 11.2 IP).

OTHER FALLERS

Domonic Brown (OF, PHI), JT Realmuto (C, MIA), Jed Lowrie (3B/SS, HOU), Jesus Montero (1B, SEA), Ivan Noval (SP, NYY), John Danks (SP, CHW), Jimmy Nelson (SP, MLW)