STARTERS: 2019 Sleepers

This column—along with the one that will run in this space in two weeks—will help you target undervalued starting pitchers.

Sleepers can be defined in a lot of ways. Here, we'll look mostly at established SP who could be ready to break out in 2019.

Our next look at undervalued SP will help you target cheaper SP who warrant attention in your end-game.

A breakout target in one league could be an end-gamer in another. As a result, we'll give you a wide selection of guys to choose from so that you can put them into your league context and bid appropriately.

Last season in this space, we spotlighted guys like Blake Snell (LHP, TAM), Trevor Bauer (RHP, CLE), Jose Berrios (RHP, MIN), Patrick Corbin (LHP, WAS), Mike Foltynewicz (RHP, ATL), and Aaron Nola (RHP, PHI), all of whom increased their values significantly in 2018.

With an eye towards identifying established SP who could take a big step forward this year, here is a list of the most skilled SP who earned between $5 and $15 in 2018:

75+ BPV, R$ $5-15, 2018*

Name                League  Ctl  Dom   HR/9  GB%  H%   S%   SwK%  FpK%  5x5 $  BPV
==================  ======  ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ===  ====  ====  =====  ===
Stripling, Ross         NL  1.6  10.0   1.3  45%  34%  82%   12%   69%    $10  160
Strasburg, Stephen      NL  2.6  10.8   1.2  44%  32%  74%   12%   61%     $8  145
Marquez, German         NL  2.6  10.6   1.1  47%  32%  73%   13%   65%    $15  144
Tanaka, Masahiro        AL  2.0   9.2   1.4  47%  29%  74%   14%   68%    $14  136
Maeda, Kenta            NL  3.1  11.0   0.9  40%  34%  72%   15%   63%     $6  132
Eovaldi, Nathan         AL  1.6   8.2   1.1  46%  30%  70%   11%   64%     $7  128
Syndergaard, Noah       NL  2.3   9.0   0.5  49%  33%  76%   14%   59%    $14  128
Hill, Rich              NL  2.8  10.2   1.4  39%  28%  74%   11%   65%    $11  125
Porcello, Rick          AL  2.3   8.9   1.3  44%  30%  68%    9%   67%    $14  122
Flaherty, Jack          NL  3.5  10.8   1.2  42%  27%  76%   14%   57%    $14  120
Heaney, Andrew          AL  2.3   9.0   1.4  41%  31%  70%   12%   65%    $10  120
McCullers, Lance        AL  3.5  10.0   0.8  55%  29%  69%   14%   60%    $10  118
Gonzales, Marco         AL  1.7   7.8   0.9  45%  32%  70%   10%   66%    $11  117
Rodriguez, Eduardo      AL  3.1  10.1   1.1  39%  32%  74%   11%   61%    $10  115
Castillo, Luis          NL  2.6   8.8   1.5  46%  29%  70%   14%   61%     $5  111
Junis, Jakob            AL  2.2   8.3   1.6  42%  31%  72%   10%   63%     $6  111
Sanchez, Anibal         NL  2.8   8.9   1.0  45%  27%  79%   11%   66%    $14  108
Wood, Alex              NL  2.4   8.0   0.8  49%  31%  72%   11%   69%     $7  107
Buchholz, Clay          AL  2.0   7.4   0.8  43%  27%  86%   10%   68%    $13  100
Hamels, Cole            NL  3.1   8.9   1.4  45%  30%  76%   12%   60%     $8  100
Fiers, Mike             AL  1.9   7.3   1.7  39%  28%  79%    9%   66%    $14   96
Sabathia, C.C.          AL  3.0   8.2   1.1  44%  31%  76%   11%   61%     $8   89
Minor, Mike             AL  2.2   7.6   1.4  34%  27%  68%   10%   58%    $11   89
Cahill, Trevor          AL  3.4   8.2   0.7  53%  28%  69%   12%   57%     $6   88
LeBlanc, Wade           AL  2.2   7.2   1.3  37%  28%  74%   10%   63%    $11   85
Boyd, Matt              AL  2.7   8.4   1.4  29%  27%  67%   11%   58%     $9   85
Keuchel, Dallas         AL  2.6   6.7   0.8  54%  31%  73%    9%   60%     $6   84
Holland, Derek          NL  3.5   8.9   1.0  40%  30%  76%   11%   63%     $6   83
Manaea, Sean            AL  1.8   6.0   1.2  44%  26%  72%   10%   64%    $15   82
Urena, Jose             NL  2.6   6.7   1.0  50%  27%  69%    9%   59%     $6   78
Gibson, Kyle            AL  3.6   8.2   1.1  50%  29%  76%   12%   58%    $11   78
Bumgarner, Madison      NL  3.0   7.6   1.0  43%  29%  78%    9%   64%     $5   77
*min 40 IP

Let's take a closer look at a bunch of guys in each league who could be ready to take a big step forward in 2019, with a focus on those who have never posted an elite-level MLB season in the past. We'll also sprinkle in some additional breakout targets not included in the list above.
 

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Shane Bieber (RHP, CLE) might be considered an end-gamer in shallow leagues, but in deep leagues, he's someone who could deliver significant profit. Behind his mediocre 4.55 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in 2018 were some elite skills: 9.3 Dom, 1.8 Ctl, 47% GB%, 143 BPV. A 36% H% was the primary reason for his bad stats. While he doesn't have the stuff of a rotation anchor, his excellent control and ability to keep the ball on the ground give him the building blocks of a 3.50 ERA pitcher.

Dylan Bundy (RHP, BAL) will be avoided in many 2019 drafts due to the horrible season he posted in 2018 (5.45 ERA, 1.41 WHIP). His current 297 ADP reflects that frustration. But if you can get him at that level, jump on it. His rates of swinging and first-pitch strikes are soaring. His skills in 2018 (109 BPV) were torpedoed by a career-worst 33% H% and 18% hr/f. And he has become dominant against RH bats (5.5 Cmd vR). With a tweak against lefties, Bundy could finally deliver on his rotation-anchor upside.

Matt Boyd (LHP, DET) is another pitcher that isn't receiving much intrigue in 2019 drafts (323 ADP). But owners looking for a darkhorse breakout speculation could do worse than speculate on Boyd. He posted some really enticing skills in the second half of 2018: 9.1 Dom, 1.8 Ctl, 27% GB%, 122 BPV. His velocity ticked up by two mph and he did a better job of attacking hitters and missing bats.

Nathan Eovaldi (RHP, BOS) continues to carry a lot of risk due to his long injury history. As he nears age 30, he only has one 200+ IP season under his belt. But he showed in 2018 why he used to be considered a top pitching prospect: 8.2 Dom, 1.6 Ctl, 46% GB%, 128 BPV. He was lethal against RH batters (10.8 Cmd vR). He missed more bats than at any other point during his career, and his combination of elite velocity and steady groundball rate gives him the ingredients to stick as an upper-rotation pitcher.

Tyler Glasnow (RHP, TAM) also carries significant upside. Many owners are speculating on it in 2019 drafts (165 ADP), and for good reason. He was electric as a SP during the final two months of 2018. He also broke a 2.0 Cmd against lefties for the first time in his career. If he can accelerate those gains, Glasnow could deliver on his ace potential.

Andrew Heaney (LHP, LAA) is another low-durability starting pitcher whose gains in 2018 suggest he hasn't peaked yet. Heaney posted the best skills of his career (120 BPV) and generated high rates of first-pitch (65% FpK%) and swinging (12% SwK%) strikes. His 180 IP was by far the highest in his career, so he remains a high-risk investment. But he's one whose skills suggest he could become a $15 pitcher in 2019.
 

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Luis Castillo (RHP, CIN) is one of the better SP breakout targets in the game. He finished the 2018 season with a flourish (2.63 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 136 BPV in 2H) after struggling at the beginning of the season. In fact, check out his BPV by month over the final four months: 93, 128, 139, 141 BPV.

Anthony DeSclafani (RHP, CIN) is being avoided in many leagues (404 ADP) after a 2018 season where he produced a 4.93 ERA. But he's another post-hype pitcher that got better late in the season. Take a look at his skills after July 1: 8.7 Dom, 2.2 Ctl, 42% GB%, 118 BPV. If his health cooperates, DeScalfani could finally post his first double-digit value season.

Jon Gray (RHP, COL) has a profile that is similar to that of Dylan Bundy (RHP, BAL). Both entered the big leagues with a ton of promise. Both have failed to deliver on that upside on a consistent basis. But owners who avoid either of them due to getting burned by them in the past are making a mistake. Gray's command sub-indicators in 2018 were the best we've ever seen from him (13% SwK%, 63% FpK%). He has posted a 120+ BPV in consecutive seasons, including a 3.0+ Cmd against both lefty and righty bats. There remains legit hope for a 3.50 ERA, 200K breakout.

Joey Lucchesi (LHP, SD) looked like a budding rotation anchor at times during the 2018 season, even though his aggregate stats (4.08 ERA, 1.29 WHIP) might not have reflected it. Lucchesi's skills blossomed in the second half of 2018: 10.6 Dom, 2.5 Ctl, 43% GB%, 144 BPV. That growth was hidden by a 35% H%. Don't be surprised if Lucchesi delivers a double-digit return in 2019.

German Marquez (RHP, COL) might be the best SP breakout target in the game heading into 2019. His skills showed tons of growth from 2017 to 2018, where he posted these excellent skills: 10.6 Dom, 2.6 Ctl, 47% GB%, 144 BPV. He was one of the game's best pitchers in the second half of 2018 (190 BPV, 2.45 xERA). Marquez is a legit budding ace.

Joe Musgrove (RHP, PIT) is someone who has been soured upon by prospective owners due to his lack of durability and inability to crack a sub-4 ERA. If his health cooperates, he has the goods to finally fulfill his SP2 upside. His skills have gone from good to near-elite during his three seasons in the majors (102, 106, 116 BPV). He pounds the strike zone (30% ball%, 68% FpK%) and misses bats (12% SwK%).

Nick Pivetta (RHP, PHI) also owns a history of so-so surface stats (4.77 ERA, 1.30 WHIP in 2018). But he's another arm who could deliver significant value in 2019. His skills last season were excellent: 10.3 Dom, 2.8 Ctl, 47% GB%, 135 BPV. They were kept hidden due to an inflated hit rate, which began to regress over the final two months of the season (31% H% in Aug, 27% H% in Sept).

Ross Stripling (RHP, LA) has a great opportunity to build upon his 2018 mini-breakout (3.02 ERA, 1.19 WHIP in 122 IP). His skills have grown by leaps and bounds in each of his three MLB seasons: 76, 126, 160 BPV. He throws a lot of strikes, misses bats, and keeps the ball on the ground. And he stymies both LH and RH bats (5.0+ Cmd vL/R). Stripling is a very good buy at his current 229 ADP.


Click here to subscribe

  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.