It’s not the culmination of my life’s work, but it is the culmination of the finding aces series. The premise of this series was to identify pitchers showing traits similar to breakout pitchers from the past and ultimately locate the players who will make that value jump in 2020. We’ve discussed 30+ pitchers in the series (links to all articles at the bottom) since the calendar turned and today, I’m providing my top four pitchers with ADPs outside of the top 120 with SP2 upside for the 2020 fantasy season. There were a few landmarks I was seeking out in my analysis of who can reach this peak aside from them having the data points from our series research:

  • Pitchers who will throw 160 innings – Only 3 pitchers who finished as an SP2 on the 2019 Razzball player rater threw less than this. They either came excruciatingly close to this figure (Jake Odorizzi -159) or won 60%+ of their games started which is highly unlikely to occur (Mike Clevinger and Domingo German).
  • Pitchers on average or better teams – The lowest win total among the 2019 SP2s was 11. Only a single SP2 finisher was on a team that won less than 75 games (Lucas Giolito). Pitchers on bad teams struggle to hit this landmark.
  • Pitchers who will strike out 160+ batters – Only one pitcher completed an SP2 season in 2019 without crossing this threshold (Mike Soroka).
  • Pitchers with a WHIP under 1.24 – More baserunners lead to more runs against. Only one 2019 SP2 had a WHIP over this threshold and his success was largely wins driven (Eduardo Rodriguez).

Here are the final four pitchers that I believe can be aces in 2020:

Max Fried – By now the Razzball audience has certainly pieced together that my 2020 fantasy baseball ship will be anchored to Max Fried. I originally touched on Fried in January. Grey wrote up Max Fried as a sleeper. These previous articles discuss many of the reasons for my optimism, but I will boil down the major components one last time. In the 2nd half of 2019 Fried pitched to a 3.63 ERA and 1.22 WHIP with a 3.12 xFIP. His strikeout rate exploded to 10.21 K/9. He added a slider prior to the start of the season and progressively threw it more throughout the year. He has added the necessary third pitch to reach elite pitching territory, and I expect him to continue to lean into his off-speed arsenal. Fried detractors will point towards his statcast data showing elevated hard-hit rates and exit velocity. The problem with using that data just on a surface level is that he gives up contact at a low rate. He allowed a 75.5% contact rate in 2019, good for #23 in the MLB among starters. The pitchers covering the top 20 of contact rate is a who’s who of fantasy aces. Fried has the simple recipe needed for a successful fantasy pitcher. He plays on a winning team. He strikes batters out. His walk rate is improving. He has multiple plus off-speed pitches. He throws hard (and is throwing harder every year). He gives up less contact than the average pitcher. My final projection for Max Fried is 14/190/3.6/1.23.

Jake Odorizzi – Grey loves Odorizzi. Son loves Odorizzi. I love Odorizzi. Odorizzi has been around forever it seems, but he is only 29 years old as of this writing. He made his first MLB appearance at 22 and became a full-time major leaguer at 24-year-old. He has averaged 165 MLB IP per season with an ERA of 3.88, 1.24 WHIP, and an 8.6 K/9. How many MLB pitchers in 2019 had 160 innings pitched with those ratios? 21. Jake Odorizzi is not a sexy pick, but he made strides in 2019 that deserve to be recognized. His velocity on all his pitches, not just the fastball, increased by almost 2 MPH. It is my belief that the reason for the velocity increase is not purely mechanical, but the Twins embracing his inability to get through the order clean a 3rd time (6.38 career ERA facing batters a 3rd time) and communicating that expectation with Odorizzi. This allowed him to pitch at a higher effort in the pitches he threw. In his time with the Rays, Odorizzi averaged close to 100 pitches per game started, but since joining the Twins he is averaging less than 95. The Twins offered him $18MM to pitch in 2020. They have embraced the situation and fantasy owners should as well. Odorizzi has a final projection of 14/175/3.75/1.22 for a fringe SP2/SP3 finish. Don’t forget he just did it last year!

Kenta Maeda – Back-to-back twinkies! There are similarities between Odorizzi and Maeda, namely the noted struggles on the 3rd time through the order. While these struggles are undeniably true for Odorizzi, in Maeda’s case it seems to be an overstatement. His career ERA the third time through the order is 4.85. For comparison, Gerrit Cole’s career ERAs the 3rd time through the order? 4.32. Aaron Nola? 4.57. Trevor Bauer? 4.84. You get the point. Major league hitters are very good and when they see a pitcher multiple times, they are going to hurt them more. If you can get past that issue, Maeda has a nice set up for 2020. In my opinion, there is a single above average lineup in their divisional opponents in the Chicago White Sox. However, the White Sox will be one of the more strikeout prone teams in the MLB. Maeda’s statcast data shines with top 4% exit velocity in 2019 and a CAREER .226 xBA. That career xBA figure coupled with a 9+ K/9 is incredibly rare. There were only 15 pitchers in 2019 with 450 plate appearances against and an xBA under .226. Maeda has a 3-pitch mix that makes him a viable starting MLB pitcher. His contract is oddly incentive laden, which the Dodgers frequently manipulated. However, I doubt the Twins will be willing to manipulate his innings in the same manner with a firmly open competitive window even when Rich Hill and Michael Pineda return. He just needs volume and I believe he will receive it. My final projection is 13/170/3.8/1.17.

Dylan Cease – The deepest shot of them all… Kerry Klug touched on Cease in his team preview. I wrote up Cease approximately a month ago, since that time my infatuation has only grown. I stated Cease was my favorite dart throw pitcher in standard mixed leagues, but he has become a player that I am upset if I don’t leave the draft with. I have him on 30-40% of the teams I’ve drafted so far, and it is simply not enough. I’m willing to draft him around pick 200 at this point. That’s how much I love Dylan Cease. Why? Well… Dylan Cease has a fastball that averaged 96.5 MPH in 2019. It was his only pitch with a negative pVAL. That is right. A rookie pitcher who had 3 positive secondary pitching values (look the curveball was a 0.1, sue me)! His batting average against, slugging against, and home run rate all far exceed his deserved numbers. If you look at Cease compared to pre-2019 Tyler Glasnow there are similarities in walk rate, swinging strike rate, and overall arsenal. I urge you not to put much emphasis on spring training games, but Cease has not walked a single batter in 6 innings. He had two or less walks in 7 out of his last 10 MLB starts in 2019 it is a trend. He has an arsenal capable of embarrassing major league hitters. He offers very little downside. If he can’t throw strikes cut him, but the upside is simply to immense to miss out on. Many great power pitchers flirted with the similar walk rates until they had extended run in the MLB. I expect the same for Cease. It wouldn’t be fair to provide a projection for Cease that showed an SP2 pitcher as his likelihood of doing so is significantly lower than the rest of this list, but he has the potential to touch 200 strikeouts in 170 innings with higher upside in ratios than drafters are giving him credit for.

Links to the series:

Finding Aces I

Finding Aces II

Finding Aces III

Finding Aces IV

Finding Aces V

 
  1. Brian Kelder says:
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    speaking of Aces, I was counting on Verlander as a keeper. I already have DeGrom and Castillo as good SP options. should I instead, in a roto, keep Goldie, Suarez, or Machado over Verlander?

    • Pat

      Pat says:
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      Keep for as long as you want and no difference in value (i.e. lose the round they were draft in)? If so, I’d take Machado. In a perfect world JV is throwing by mid-April and fine all year… I don’t see that happening. Why take the risk even before the draft?

  2. happyharry says:
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    Hey Man, thanks for all the pitching write ups! 12 team, H2H, 6X6 with Holds. How would you rank theses pitchers for Holds, and who is the best out of the young SP’s?
    Holds:
    Ty Buttrey, LAA
    Aaron Bummer, CWS
    Scott Barlow, KC
    Tyler Duffey, MIN
    Emilio Pagan, SD

    Young SP’s….Cease, Pearson or Yarbrough?

    • Pat

      Pat says:
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      Pagan/Bummer/Duffey/Buttrey/Barlow

      I’m not very in on Pearson. He hasn’t thrown more than ~100 in a pro season. I think the ceiling is way higher on Cease and the floor is way higher on Yarbs. Take whichever you think fits your team construction or the spot you’re drafting them best.

  3. Shifty says:
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    Ugh the secret was out on Maeda in my recent draft and he went for far too much for my liking.

    How do you feel about Cease’s running mate – Kopech?

    • Pat

      Pat says:
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      I like him… I have a feeling he has a really hard IP limit. Already had walk issue, now gotta get the cobwebs out of the arm… I don’t have him anywhere, but I play in a lot of no N/A or IL league so I need the bench spots.

  4. jon says:
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    Please Rank:

    Luke Weaver
    Marcus Stroman
    Andrew Heaney
    Chris Archer
    Dylan Bundy
    Gerrit Richards

    thank you!!!

    • Homers got the runs says:
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      I have the 1st and 4th overall picks in my keeper League where we keep 14 players. We have no prospect spots so not many prospects are held. I was wondering if it would be wise to pick up Pearson with the 1st pick? Also I didn’t keep any 2nd base eligible players and the best ones available are Biggio, and Wong, McMahon, Kingery and Edman. Would you pick Biggio with the 4th pick?

      • LenFuego says:
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        How many reserve spots does your league have?

        Pearson is certainly getting a lot of buzz this spring and has a very high upside, but I would not expect to see him in the majors until at least mid-season. If a high-upside pitcher who you cannot rely on to contribute in 2020 is useful in your league, he certainly fills the bill.

        I see virtually no difference between Biggio, Kingery and Edman, and not much difference with the other two available 2Bs. If you think at least one or two of those guys will make it back to your 3rd pick and there is a player at another position you are higher on available at the 4 slot in the 1st round, I would be comfortable taking that player and waiting a round to pick up a 2B.

        • Homers got the runs says:
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          6 reserve spots. I am loaded with my 14 keepers so waiting a month or so shouldn’t kill me. I like Biggio the most as OBP is a category.

          • Pat

            Pat says:
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            OBP makes a big difference in everything I just said below haha. Biggio is a clear winner in that format.

      • Pat

        Pat says:
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        I agree with everything LenFuego said. I think Pearson depends on a couple of things how deep your benches are and how much you care about looking forward. If you have a competitive team I’d pass. He has never throw 100 IP in a pro year. I think you can do better 150 picks or so into the draft. In terms of the 2nd baseman I’ve grabbed all of them somewhere this pre-season, but I think it depends on who your other keepers are on offense and who fits. McMahon more power + Coors R+RBI, Wong steals + potential leadoff, Biggio the power/speed combo w/ runs potential, Kingery a little bit of everything an maybe the most guaranteed speed since he isn’t losing everyday job unless he hits .210. Edman has tons of upside and BA, but will there be any power and he is a super utility guy. I think this is a team construction question, or do what LenFuego says and see who makes it back to you in round 2 and take them.

    • Pat

      Pat says:
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      I’ve got them Stroman/Heaney/Bundy/Weaver/BIG GAP/Richards/Archer as of the last rankings. I’ll have a refreshed rankings out next Monday. I will say these guys are all a little different so it would depend on the rest of your staff. Weaver might be the only guy I have trending downwards due to team being “mindful” of workload. Hope that helps.

  5. LenFuego says:
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    Good stuff, Pat. What is your source for 3rd time through the lineup ERAs? I would love to find a site that has that as part of stats that I can sort, rather than having to go to individual player pages to look it up.

    • Coolwhip

      Coolwhip says:
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      Not sure where Pat goes, but I find order breakdowns on the splits page via fangraphs

      • Pat

        Pat says:
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        That’s where I go. It’s a little down the list LenFuego so it can be a bit hard to find.

    • Pat

      Pat says:
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      Also, I realized what exactly you wanted after I posted the other comment. If you don’t want to go to individual pages. Go to Leaders >> Splits Leaderboards. It’s in the batting order drop down. Just put in any other adjustments you want and click update in it will give you all pitchers meeting requirements.

  6. Coolwhip

    Coolwhip says:
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    Nice work Pat, good data.

    I’ve been huge on Odorizzi for awhile too. You could say he’s our pitching mascot. I too want all the Frieds and Odorizzis.

    • Pat

      Pat says:
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      Thanks for the read! We go down with the ship together.

      • Tom says:
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        Unfortunately, I think for both of you, last year was the year to target Odorizzi, he basically cost you nothing last year. This year his ADP is way up and if he delivers on that great, but his upside given his ADP seems limited. The ship sailed last year on Odorizzi and I’m glad I was on board in almost every league I participated in. This year I’m out.

        • Pat

          Pat says:
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          Last year certain had more upside at cost. Still just going in the 15th round of 12s! The 24th SP (SP2) goes off the board in the 7/8th. Lotta room to capture some value.

  7. Harley Earl says:
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    No mention of Julio Urias?

    I think you’re missing the boat! Kid’s got great stuff!!

    • Pat

      Pat says:
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      He was on the short list that missed the cut. My only hesitation? That the Dodgers are going to stop him around 140-150 regular season innings. There is no doubt in my mind if he gets to 180 he will be an SP2.

      • Harley Earl says:
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        Oh you’re definitely right.

        He will be held down to about 150 innings. Next year he’ll have a chance to really take a step forward, albeit if he remains healthy.

  8. HamPorter says:
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    Good Stuff Pat,

    Deep AL only roto keeper league. I have one spot for Civale or Yonny Chirinos, who do you think has more upside this year? I’m back and forth on them. Thanks for the help!

    • Pat

      Pat says:
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      Yonny for me. Civale seems like an implosion waiting to happen, but he was really good last year.

  9. Big Magoo

    Big Magoo says:
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    Count me in on the Odorizzi train. Already have three shares. The lack of volume will probably keep him out of the top 20 SPs, but as long as he maintains the increased velo, I don’t see any reason why he isn’t a top 30-40 guy. Good stuff.

    • Pat

      Pat says:
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      I have at least 3 as well. Glad we are on the same page.

  10. Grey

    Grey says:
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    You had me up to Cease, but the other three I want on every team

    • Pat

      Pat says:
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      “But it’s a package deal…” – Dylan as the car leaves the driveway

  11. Edward Mazur says:
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    Wheeler Lamet, Fried, Gallen, and Urias available at the turn in a straight draft. which two are you taking?

    • Pat

      Pat says:
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      Fried and Wheeler for me.

Comments are closed.