Fantasy Baseball: Rest-of-season expectations for Shohei Ohtani and the top rookie pitchers
Heath Cummings looks at the top five rookie pitchers in Roto so far and what we should expect moving forward.
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The impact of young starting pitching on Major League Baseball this year has been breathtaking. It seems every week we have pitchers not just making their debut, but also making an impact in Fantasy. It's created a whirlwind of waiver wire activity and has been a blessing for anyone who focused on hitting early in the draft. Upside pitchers have been available all year on the waiver wire, even if they haven't always been reliable.
But now that these young studs are on your roster, what should you expect moving forward? Will they be roster mainstays, or should you deal them for someone with a safer floor? Below I took a look at the top-six rookie pitchers by Rotisserie ranking this season and what I expect for the future.
Josh Hader hasn't just been the best rookie pitcher so far this year, he's been one of the best pitchers in baseball. He's struck out 56.1 percent of the batters he's faced, and incredibly, his FIP (0.99) and SIERA (1.04) are actually lower than his ERA. He's recorded at least four outs in 11 of his last 12 outings and has multiple strikeouts in all of them. His season-long ranking is aided by the saves he picked up while Corey Knebel was out, but I still expect he'll pick up a few saves with Knebel healthy.
At the beginning of the year I hoped we'd see Hader as a starter by the All Star Break, but with his success in this role it's seeming less likely. While I wouldn't expect him to be this good rest of season, it's only because we don't expect anyone to do this. He was dominant in 2017 in a similar role and I expect he'll continue to be dominant for as long as he stays healthy.
Expect an ERA below two with one of the best strikeout rates in the majors. He'll be a major asset in Rotisserie leagues and a No. 2 reliever in points leagues. Hader is a strong hold.
Let's start with this: I was wrong about Shohei Ohtani, kind of. I questioned whether he could have an immediate impact as both a pitcher and a hitter ... and he's been phenomenal at both. But he's still been a bit of a frustration for owners in weekly leagues with an uncertain pitching schedule. Ohtani has pitched like a borderline ace when he's been on the mound, but in Roto leagues (his better format) he's the No. 54 pitcher overall. Will it get any better?
Assuming Ohtani avoids blister problems for the rest of the year I do think we'll get a few more innings out of him. The Angels have 101 games left on the schedule, so I'd expect 16 more starts from Ohtani. Assuming six innings per start, that would give him 96 more innings this year, which puts him on pace for right about 140 innings total. The problem is, that's closer to his ceiling than his floor. It's certainly possible I've underestimated his starts by one or two, and he finds a way to get to 155 innings. But the way the Angels have handled him so far it also seems just as possible he falls a start or two short of that mark. And again, this is all assuming good health.
Expect good ratios, a ton of strikeouts, and even more fun watching him do something no one has done in the modern era. But don't expect Ohtani to become a top-25 pitcher in Fantasy. After he dominates the Royals on Wednesday I'd be seeing just how high I could sell him.
If anything, Walker Buehler has been more valuable this year in Fantasy than Ohtani. Sure, he ranks lower (65th), but he was in the minor leagues until late April. Since joining the Dodgers, Buehler has been consistently spectacular. He's made eight starts and allowed more than two runs twice, one of which came at Coors Field. Buehler was expected to strike people out, and he has, but it's the ground ball rate (54.2 percent) and control (2.15 BB/9) that has really taken him to the next level. Can he stay there?
I don't have very many worries about Buehler's actual production. His peripherals suggest the performance is legit, but like Ohtani he has major innings concerns. Last year he threw 98 innings. Total. This season, between Triple-A and the majors he's already up to 59. While Dave Roberts has thus far brushed aside questions about a hard cap on Buehler's innings, conventional wisdom suggests he won't top 150.
My expectation is that Buehler continues to pitch well for as long as the Dodgers allow it. He's averaging about 5.2 innings per start which would give him about 17 more for the rest of the year if the team really wants to push it. That should get him to September pretty easily, and the Dodgers have always been liberal with their use of the DL for starting pitchers. He doesn't have top-25 upside because of this limitation, but he could get pretty close.
If you find someone that views Buehler as a No. 2 starter in Fantasy, I'd be willing to make the deal. Otherwise, I'm holding.
Okay, so this name is a surprise, right? Jaime Barria isn't even in the Angels current rotation, but if history is any indicator he'll be back sooner rather than later. In Barria's seven outings this year he's allowed two or fewer runs six times. While he has shown great control, he's mostly been really fortunate.
The Angels rookie has a 3.89 FIP and a 4.12 SIERA, which isn't too shabby in today's environment, but is also pretty underwhelming when it comes along with a 20.4 percent strikeout rate. So how is he the fourth best rookie pitcher for Fantasy? He's won five of his seven starts.
There's regression coming in terms of BABIP and strand rate once Barria rejoins the rotation. I expect he'll continue to bounce in and out of the rotation and eventually settle around a league-average ERA. He's a fine stash in a deeper league, but if he comes back and continues this run I'd be willing to accept just about any offer I received for him.
Caleb Smith is more what we typically expect from rookie pitchers. He has big-time swing-and-miss stuff but he's struggled with control and consistency. Smith already has five starts this year with more than seven Ks and fewer than three runs allowed. He also has four starts where he's failed to record an out in the fifth inning.
The control issue plagued him at times in the minor leagues, so we shouldn't expect he'll fix that any time soon, but he's undervalued even if he doesn't. He's still available in 30 percent of leagues, so he's a buy in the sense that you should add him where available. I expect similar results from Smith rest of season and he's the No. 68 pitcher in Roto leagues so far.
Ryan Yarbrough may have slid under your radar because of those wacky Rays and their strategy of starting relievers. But he's quietly been a very solid part of their pitching staff. Yarbrough has thrown at least five innings in each of his last six games, and in four of those games he gave up a combined three runs. He's been good each of the past two years in the minor leagues, and the Rays don't have anyone coming for his job anytime soon.
The Rays' strategy hampers Yarbrough in points leagues and crushes him in quality start leagues, but actually makes it more likely he'll pick up wins than he otherwise would, because he's in games later. While he does likely have some regression coming in terms of BABIP, he still looks like a slightly above average pitcher based on the peripherals.
Yarbrough is still just 24-percent owned, which is way too low. In points leagues he'll be an above average reliever most weeks, and he should help you even more in Roto because of the reasons we talked about above. I expect an ERA right around four with close to a strikeout per inning. If you're in a league that is 12 teams or deeper and need pitching help, he's probably available and worth an add.
Two more to buy
Buy Jack Flaherty and Seranthony Dominguez. Flaherty hasn't thrown enough innings to make this list but I expect he may be the Cardinals second-best starter from this point forward. Dominguez is the best pitcher in the Phillies bullpen and has collected a pair of multi-inning saves recently.
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