STARTERS: 2020 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 2020. 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 Shane Bieber (RHP, CLE), Matt Boyd (LHP, DET), Luis Castillo (RHP, CIN), and Joey Lucchesi (LHP, SD), all of whom increased their value significantly in 2019.

With an eye towards identifying established SP who could take a big step forward, here is a list of the most skilled SP who earned between $5 and $15 in 2019:

75+ BPV, R$ $5-15, 2019*

Name            Lg  Ctl  Dom   HR/9  GB%  H%   S%   SwK%  FpK%  5x5 $  BPV
==============  ==  ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ===  ====  ====  =====  ===
Sale, C         AL  2.3  13.3   1.5  43%  33%  65%   15%   66%    $13  200
Glasnow, T      AL  2.1  11.3   0.6  50%  27%  84%   12%   58%    $11  175
Boyd, M         AL  2.4  11.6   1.9  36%  33%  71%   15%   64%    $12  156
Darvish, Y      NL  2.8  11.5   1.7  45%  28%  72%   14%   62%    $14  154
Woodruff, B     NL  2.2  10.6   0.9  45%  33%  71%   12%   61%    $12  153
Hill, R         AL  2.8  11.0   1.5  50%  29%  89%   11%   65%     $5  152
Snell, B        AL  3.4  12.4   1.2  39%  35%  70%   18%   68%     $6  149
Montas, F       AL  2.2   9.7   0.8  49%  31%  80%   12%   61%    $13  143
Stripling, R    NL  2.0   9.2   1.1  50%  31%  74%   11%   68%     $5  141
Marquez, G      NL  1.8   9.1   1.5  49%  31%  65%   13%   64%     $7  141
Weaver, L       NL  2.0   9.7   0.8  41%  30%  76%   12%   62%     $5  140
Price, D        NL  2.7  10.7   1.3  41%  35%  71%   12%   68%     $5  140
Fried, M        NL  2.6   9.4   1.1  54%  34%  74%   12%   64%    $11  132
Syndergaard, N  NL  2.3   9.2   1.1  48%  32%  68%   13%   66%    $10  130
Paxton, J       AL  3.3  11.1   1.4  38%  33%  76%   15%   65%    $14  127
Pineda, M       AL  1.7   8.6   1.4  36%  30%  71%   13%   64%    $12  123
Bumgarner, M    NL  1.9   8.8   1.3  36%  30%  71%   12%   69%    $15  122
Yarbrough, R    AL  1.3   7.4   1.0  44%  27%  60%   11%   65%    $14  121
Wheeler, Z      NL  2.3   9.0   1.0  43%  33%  71%   11%   66%    $11  121
Houser, A       NL  3.0   9.5   1.1  53%  31%  74%   10%   61%     $5  120
Maeda, K        AL  3.0   9.9   1.3  41%  26%  67%   15%   65%    $15  117
Musgrove, J     NL  2.1   8.3   1.1  44%  31%  66%   12%   65%     $8  116
Ray, R          NL  4.3  12.1   1.5  37%  32%  74%   14%   59%     $8  116
Nola, A         NL  3.6  10.2   1.2  50%  30%  74%   11%   62%    $14  115
Bauer, T        NL  3.5  10.7   1.4  38%  30%  69%   13%   59%    $10  115
DeSclafani, A   NL  2.6   9.0   1.6  43%  29%  75%   10%   61%    $11  112
Mikolas, M      NL  1.6   7.0   1.3  47%  31%  71%   10%   66%     $8  110
Chirinos, Y     AL  1.9   7.7   1.6  43%  25%  71%   11%   63%    $12  108
Urias, J        NL  3.1   9.6   0.8  39%  27%  81%   14%   60%    $10  107
Tanaka, M       AL  2.0   7.4   1.4  48%  30%  69%   11%   69%     $9  105
Pena, F         AL  3.2   9.4   1.5  42%  27%  66%   13%   58%     $5  104
Peacock, B      AL  3.0   9.4   1.5  39%  28%  71%    9%   63%     $6  104
Gallen, Z       NL  4.1  10.8   0.9  39%  29%  81%   13%   67%     $5  102
Matz, S         NL  2.9   8.6   1.5  47%  31%  74%   10%   56%     $5  101
Gray, J         NL  3.4   9.0   1.1  50%  32%  76%   12%   64%     $7   99
Bassitt, C      AL  2.9   8.8   1.3  41%  28%  74%    9%   62%    $12   98
Lucchesi, J     NL  3.1   8.7   1.3  47%  29%  70%   11%   62%     $8   98
Leake, M        NL  1.2   5.8   1.9  47%  30%  75%    9%   63%     $6   96
Stroman, M      NL  2.8   7.8   0.9  54%  31%  78%   11%   57%    $12   95
Roark, T        AL  2.8   8.6   1.5  36%  33%  74%    9%   57%     $6   94
Lyles, J        AL  3.5   9.3   1.6  40%  30%  75%   11%   63%     $9   91
Bailey, H       AL  2.9   8.2   1.2  44%  31%  68%   11%   63%     $8   91
Smith, C        NL  3.5   9.9   1.9  26%  26%  72%   13%   60%     $7   86
Happ, J         AL  2.7   7.8   1.9  40%  29%  69%   11%   59%     $6   85
Young, A        NL  2.9   7.7   1.5  48%  26%  78%   13%   60%     $5   85
Kelly, M        NL  2.8   7.8   1.4  42%  30%  71%   10%   58%     $6   84
Civale, A       AL  2.5   7.2   0.6  40%  26%  80%    9%   62%     $5   80
Means, J        AL  2.2   7.0   1.3  31%  27%  75%   10%   63%    $14   76
Miley, W        AL  3.3   7.5   1.2  50%  30%  75%   10%   56%    $10   75
*min 40 IP

Let's take a closer look at several guys in each league who could be ready to take a big step forward in 2020, 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

Dylan Bundy (RHP, LAA) no longer will be drafted as a potential ace in most leagues. Indeed, his 287 ADP profiles him as a mid-rotation arm according to the market. But there is still breakout potential here worth speculating on, especially given his perception by the market. He is getting a fresh start in LAA, and his rate of whiffs has inched up as he has entered his mid-20s. His propensity for gopheritis should be lessened by getting out of BAL. Don't give up on him.

Griffin Canning (RHP, LAA) already is having elbow soreness this spring after experiencing the same late in 2019. If healthy, he's a legitimate breakout target given his elite swing-and-miss stuff. If it turns out his elbow issue is temporary, use it as a reason to get him cheap. If not, he's still a great investment in a keeper league.

Tyler Glasnow (RHP, TAM) was plagued by a forearm strain in 2019, just as it looked like he was ready to become a legit rotation anchor. When healthy, few had better skills than Glasnow did: 11.3 Dom, 2.1 Ctl, 50% GB%, 175 BPV. His ability to pile up strikeouts and keep the ball on the ground makes him a future SP1 if his arm can handle that workload.

Andrew Heaney (LHP, LAA) finds himself as a breakout target again in 2020 drafts. While we can never bank on good health from him, he was electric when healthy in the second half of 2019: 11.4 Dom, 2.3 Ctl, 35% GB%, 155 BPV. And his 15% SwK% for the 2019 season confirms that he has the stuff to pile up strikeouts.

Reynaldo Lopez (RHP, CHW) posted some ugly stats in 2019 (5.38 ERA, 1.46 WHIP in 2019). Still, he showed flashes of his SP2 upside (100+ BPV in April, July, September). In addition, his command sub-indicators soared in the 2H (13% SwK%, 64% FpK%). He's another high-upside arm that carries a lot of profit potential at his current market price (295 ADP).

Frankie Montas (RHP, OAK) dealt with a PED suspension in 2019, but before that, his skills were excellent (143 BPV). Even if his drug use played a part, we can't dismiss the swing-and-miss splitter that he showed prior to his suspension. It's a weapon that helped his K/BB against lefties get above 1.5 for the first time in his career, and then some (5.2 Cmd vL). He carries sneaky breakout potential in 2020.

Jose Urquidy (RHP, HOU) was a command artist in the minors in 2019, a strength he displayed after getting to the majors too (5.7 Cmd with HOU). He's excellent against lefties (7.3 Cmd vL) and missed bats at a pretty strong clip at the MLB level (12% SwK%). He could provide a mid-3s ERA and a low WHIP in 2020.

Ryan Yarbrough (LHP, TAM) is another pitcher that is getting overlooked in many leagues (263 ADP). His skills surged in the second half of 2019 (135 BPV in 81 IP), and he got more swinging and first-pitch strikes during that period too. He also pounded the strike zone in 2019 (33% ball%).
 

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Sandy Alcantara (RHP, MIA) also is being drafted as a fourth or fifth SP in many leagues. While Alcantara's 2019 season didn't come with good underlying support, tuck away the 35/9 K/BB in 42 IP that he posted in September. And in the second half of 2019, he got ahead of hitters (64% FpK%) while maintaining the double-digit swinging strike rate he displayed all season. He also goes through stretches where he keeps the ball on the ground at a high rate. At age 24, Alcantara carries some hidden breakout potential.

Max Fried (LHP, ATL) posted league-average stats for most of 2019. But his skills came alive in the second half: 10.4 Dom, 2.4 Ctl, 52% GB%, 152 BPV. That strikeout rate was backed by a 13% SwK%. He also keeps the ball on the ground at a top clip (54% GB%). There could be a 3.00 ERA and 200 strikeouts coming here.

Zac Gallen (RHP, ARI) also dominated in September 2019, albeit in a small sample size (22/5 K/BB in 19 IP). He routinely pounds the strike zone and has good enough stuff to generate whiffs in bunches. And he already knows how to get out lefties (3.0 Cmd vL). He's a legit breakout target that is being drafted that way in the market (130 ADP).

Dinelson Lamet (RHP, SD) showed off his stuff late in 2019. His skills over 14 starts in the second half were electric: 12.9 Dom, 3.7 Ctl, 36% GB%, 147 BPV. He was totally unhittable in September (35/8 K/BB in 22 IP). And his command sub-indicators were just as dominant: 15% SwK%, 66% FpK%.

German Marquez (RHP, COL) had the makings of a premium breakout target at this time in 2019, but after pitching well in Coors Field in 2018, those fortunes reversed last season. Still, Marquez is just 25, and his 141 BPV from last season gives him a realistic shot at a sub-3.50 ERA.

Joe Musgrove (RHP, PIT) turned his skills from good to great between the first and second halves of 2019: 9.4 Dom, 1.9 Ctl, 45% GB%, 140 BPV in 2H. He can go through bouts of giving up homers in bunches while pitching from the stretch. If he can solve that issue and stay healthy, his first sub-4.00 ERA will follow.

Caleb Smith (LHP, MIA) looked like a budding rotation anchor early in 2019 (11.2 Dom, 2.7 Ctl, 29% GB%, 135 BPV in 1H). He struggled with a hip issue after that. If healthy, Smith has the stuff to overperform his current 226 ADP, especially if he can find a ground ball pitch to reduce the bouts of gopheritis that tend to plague him.

Julio Urias (LHP, LA) once was the top SP prospect in the game before shoulder issues sidelined him. He pitched mostly out of the bullpen in 2019 with good results, including a 100+ BPV in four of six months. Urias is another emerging SP that was filthy in September (18/4 K/BB in 12 IP). Few young SP are better plays for 2020 than Urias, assuming his arm is sound.

Brandon Woodruff (RHP, MIL) was on his way to a breakout in 2019 before an oblique injury cost him most of the second half. He was consistently dominant, putting up a 130+ BPV in each of the four months he pitched. And check out his ground ball rate by month: 38%, 43%, 47%, 49% GB%. Woodruff could emerge as a reliable SP2 in 2020.


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