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: