Four Breakout Pitchers for 2018 Fantasy Baseball
The total number of runs scored in baseball has increased in each of the past four seasons. This continued surge in offense will make constructing and maintaining a viable Fantasy starting rotation something you’ll need to focus on for the entire season. You’ll obviously want to roster as many proven veterans who’ve historically made big-time contributions to roto Fantasy lineups on your team. However, there are several young starting pitchers who’ve already enjoyed some big league success, and others who are likely to pitch their way onto a big league rotation at some point this season. I’ve identified five such breakout pitchers, all with the potential to outperform their Fantasy ADPs.
Dinelson Lamet, RHP, Padres
Lamet got off to a slow start last season, compiling a 6.40 ERA and a 2.2 HR/9 rate over his first nine big league starts. However, over his next 12 starts, he posted a 3.38 ERA and a .197 BAA. One area in which Lamet showed improvement last season was HRs allowed. Over his first 45 innings, he gave up 11 home runs, for a 2.2 HR/9 rate. Over the final 69.1 innings of the season he allowed just seven bombs; a rate of just .91 per nine.
Lamet throws a mid to upper 90 MPH fastball and a slider that features late movement. He has been extremely effective against right-handed bats, but lefty hitters have given him trouble in the past. His changeup is still evolving and should help him fare better against left-handed hitters. The fact that he’ll pitch his home games at Petco Park, which saw the second-fewest runs per game allowed in 2017, should help his overall progress this season. Fantasy Baseball DFS players should be aware that he was a much better pitcher at home (ERA and WHIP of 4.19 and 1.069) than he was on the road (4.95 ERA and 1.42 WHIP), which is typical of Padres pitchers.
Luke Weaver, RHP, Cardinals
After posting a 5.70 ERA over 36.1 innings for the Cardinals in 2016, Weaver lowered his HR/9 rate and posted a respectable 3.88 ERA for the Cards in 60.1 innings last season. He had better control over his changeup and it made his fastball, with its’ velocity up a tick compared to 2016 (93.4 MPH in 2017, 92.4 MPH in 2016), much more effective. Weaver’s 49.4 percent groundball rate was more in line with his minor league batted ball stats, and helped limit the number of home runs he yielded. Weaver held opposing batters to a 25.9 percent hard hit rate last season.
Weaver didn’t pitch enough innings to qualify as a league leader but for comparison’s sake, Max Scherzer led all pitchers with his 26.5 hard hit rate against. Weaver’s 2017 FIP, xFIP, and SIERA all suggest that he pitched better than his 3.88 ERA, and his 10.89 K/9 in 96.2 big league innings is impressive. He’s likely to have a spot in the Cardinals’ starting rotation for a majority of the season, and could well exceed his early preseason 111 NFBC ADP.
Luis Castillo, RHP, Reds
Castillo was promoted to the big leagues straight from the Reds’ Double-A affiliate in late June of last season. He was so impressive that by late August manager Bryan Price announced that he’d already secured a spot in the 2018 Reds starting rotation. Castillo gave up three runs or less in all but two of his 15 big league starts last season, and he held opposing hitters to a .198 batting average.
He’s got great stuff, including a fastball and sinker that both hit the upper 90 MPH mark, an 88 MPH changeup, and an 85 MPH slider that he’s working to improve this offseason. Castillo induces an above average number of groundballs (58.8 GB rate in 2017), which should help him in the home run friendly confines of the Great American Ball Park. After notching 170 innings last season, Castillo should be ready to pitch a full season in the big leagues in 2018.
Michael Kopech, RHP, White Sox
Kopech is another super talented White Sox prospect who could potentially join Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez by mid-season to form a young pitching rotation with plenty of upside. Kopech will likely start the season at Triple-A but he has electric stuff, including a fastball that tops out at 100 MPH with late- breaking action and a slider that has real swing and miss potential.
Missing bats is his specialty. Kopech has regularly posted double-digit K/9 rates in his minor league career. While he’s had issues with his control, his walk rate improved as last season progressed. If Kopech continues to harness his wildness, he can develop into a middle of the rotation starting pitcher with ace potential.
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