FAAB Top Targets (Pitchers): 5/23/14
Last week, FAAB Top Targets urged owners to invest in Trevor Bauer, Drew Pomeranz, and Drew Hutchison. All pitched extremely well in their ensuing starts. This week five other names will be put under the microscope. They include two prospects on the cusp of making their season debuts, a former top prospect resurrecting his career in the midwest, a promising young starter about to return from the DL, and a hitter turned pitcher who’s now closing for a first place team. In general, all pitchers mentioned in this column are unowned in the majority of CBS, ESPN, and Yahoo fantasy leagues.
Noah Syndergaard, RHP, New York Mets
$5 (8% Yahoo / 1% ESPN / 40% CBS)
Each week brings us closer to the amorphous Super Two deadline, and closer to the major league debut of the next stud starting pitching prospect. The New York Mets’ Noah Syndergaard was a preseason Top-10 starting pitching prospect. He brings an elite fastball/curveball combination to the table, with a vastly improved change-up. As an active member of the online Mets community, Chris Blessing continues to tout the right-hander. In Triple-A, Syndergaard is honing his fastball command, an area Chris Blessing identified in early 2013, a point echoed recently by the New York Post. Behind Zack Wheeler, Dillon Gee, and Jonathan Niese, ample opportunity exists for Syndergaard to break into the Mets rotation. He represents an immediate upgrade over both Rafael Montero and Jacob deGrom. As with Bauer last week, bid early or risk Syndergaard’s value tripling once he gets the call.
James Paxton, LHP, Seattle Mariners
$4 (25% Yahoo / 12% ESPN / 68% CBS)
James Paxton’s first start of the 2014 season made fantasy owners take notice. A seven inning, zero run, nine strikeout game has a way of doing that. His ownership percentage skyrocketed. Unfortunately, a lat strain suffered in his next start has sidelined Paxton since. Paxton has always had easy velocity for a southpaw to pair with a knee buckling curve, but it was the lack of a third pitch which caused many to question his ceiling. ROTOscouting’s Mike Newman noted last spring Paxton’s arm would slow when throwing his change-up rendering it below average. ROTOscouting’s Ben Flajole points out the Mariners spent the off-season encouraging their young pitchers to adopt the cutter. So while Paxton continues to refine his change the cutter gives him another ground ball generating weapon. As Paxton begins his rehab assignment now is the time to strike. A southpaw with plus velocity and a 58% career major league ground ball percentage is a must own — especially in a run suppressing home ballpark.
Phil Hughes, RHP, Minnesota Twins
$3 (30% Yahoo / 23% ESPN / 64% CBS)
Once thought to be the next great New York Yankees ace, Phil Hughes was never able to deliver on that promise in the Bronx. Signing as a free agent with the Minnesota Twins to start in pitcher-friendly Target Field this winter seemed was an ideal move. Mike Newman thought so too and discussed him as a buy low candidate last winter (before the revamped website). Hughes’ ERA is higher at home than on the road (3.68 vs. 2.52) but all other peripherals show Target Field is directly helping Hughes’ career revival. His OPS against is 144 points lower at home and 23% below the league average for OPS+. For a pitcher generating ground balls only one-third of the time, a home run suppressing ballpark is essential. Target Field ranks in the upper half of parks in limiting home runs while Hughes’ former home surrenders home runs at a 78% higher rate. But the main reason for Hughes’ resurgence has been his disappearing walk rate. His 7.83 K/BB ratio is among the league leaders and more than twice as high as his previous career best. He’s walked only six batters all year. Judging by his ownership percentages, the last few years of under performance continue to resonate with fantasy owners. Capitalize on their mistake and pounce. While a better play at home, Hughes’ improved command also leaves him worthy of starts on the road in the right match up while making him one of this week’s FAAB Top Targets.
Jimmy Nelson, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers
$1 (1% Yahoo / 1% ESPN / 4% CBS)
One of the biggest surprises of the 2014 season has been the performance of the Milwaukee Brewers and their starting staff. Currently ranking fourth in the National League in ERA, WHIP, and batting average against, there doesn’t appear to be much need for improvement. But closer examination shows four starters that are significantly outperforming their FIP and a rotation well below the average National League starting pitcher in K/9 (7.23 vs. 7.48). Regression is coming. When it does the Brewers have an arm in Triple-A ready to help. Jimmy Nelson [FULL SCOUTING REPORT] doesn’t have the sexy track record of other top pitching prospects, having ranked only once in the Baseball America Top 100 (#96 this year) since being drafted in 2011. But Nelson has dominated opponents so far this year registering a 1.71 ERA, 0.931 WHIP, 9.0 K/9, and 3.41 K/BB. More important than the numbers are the improvements Nelson is making. After struggling with a 7.24 BB/9 in his first taste of Double-A in 2012 he has trimmed that number to 2.6 BB/9 this year. When ROTOscouting’s Mike Newman scouted the Brewers prospect in 2013, he noted the same natural movement of his fastball and slider that he displayed in Newman’s 2014 look. But Nelson was missing a reliable third pitch, lacking confidence in a change-up. This season the change-up has become a legitimate third pitch for the right-hander. While Newman sees the change peaking as a fringe average offering, three average to above average pitches make Nelson an intriguing workhorse and mid-rotation starter. While he may lose out to Mike Fiers when the Brewers need a sixth starter initially, dynasty and keeper league owners should invest minimally in Jimmy Nelson now.
Sean Doolittle, LHP, Oakland Athletics
$4 (49% Yahoo / 43% ESPN / 55% CBS)
In the last week alone, three teams have changed closers. While the Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox were choosing among a handful of mediocre options to replace mediocre closers, the Oakland Athletics replaced ten million dollar closer, Jim Johnson, with Sean Doolittle. Doolittle has been one of the league’s best set up men since completing his transformation from outfielder to pitcher in 2012. After pitching 69 innings and posting 1.6 WAR in 2013 Doolittle entered this season as an integral part of the A’s bullpen. During the offseason he scrapped his curveball in favor of a slider. So far he has yet to surrender a hit on the pitch he uses just under 17% of the time. His primary pitch continues to be his four seam fastball against which opponents are hitting only .227. Doolittle’s four-seamer has increased in velocity each month this season and is averaging 96.1 mph in May. Unlike the closers for the Orioles and the White Sox, Doolittle has a chance to stick, leaving him one of this week’s FAAB Top Targets.
FAAB Top Targets: Making Adjustments
Two themes dominate this week’s column. The first is pitchers continuing to refine and expand their repertoire. Adding another pitch or improving on an existing one can be the difference between a replacement level arm and one owners covet. The second theme is not focusing solely on name value. Fantasy owners have to put aside biases and adjust expectations when analyzing pitcher values. Objectively and methodically looking at data to find the best pitching bargains is the goal of FAAB Top Targets.
23 May 2014 / Brian Molter / 1
Tags: FAAB Top Targets
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