Five Buy High Pitchers

Yesterday we looked at some sell high hitters. At the outset, I noted that selling high is mostly a thing of past – everybody knows it’s good to buy low and sell high. And everyone is a lot smarter about their player evaluation too. These days, the cool kids are buying high. To buy high, one need only identify which top, breakout performers are likely to remain among the top players. Sometimes, owners will sell these players at a relative bargain in their haste to sell high.

I look for pitchers who have a strong whiff rate and excellent K/BB ratio. Isn’t that what you look for?

Masahiro Tanaka: I advised against drafting Tanaka for a couple reasons. He was an unknown quantity entering the season and everybody was bullish. He was being drafted like an ace but scouting reports read like Kyle Lohse was a possible outcome. After watching his first three starts, I’m confident in strongly recommending him.

Tanaka reminds me of a right-handed Cliff Lee – he’s an elite command and control guy. If he wasn’t, his stuff would only play at the back of a rotation. So far, his whiff rate has been a phenomenal 16 percent, but that has to regress, right? Half his balls in play have been on the ground, and he isn’t walking anybody. What more can you want?

Tanaka is the real deal, which means it’s going to hurt to acquire him. Maybe a slumping star like Prince Fielder would get the job done. The best case scenario would probably be a package headlined by Matt Kemp.

Johnny Cueto: The oft-injured Cueto was in the midst of a breakout 2013 season when injuries beset him once again. He’s definitely a risk to hit the disabled list this season, I’d put the odds at around 45 percent. If you can get that risk priced into his acquisition cost, Cueto is a great buy high candidate. Prior to last season, I had him tabbed as a possible Roy Halladay in the making. Cueto’s strong whiff and walk rates are complimented by a 50 percent ground ball rate. The total package is stingy when it comes to runs allowed.

The injury risk should keep his price at a reasonable level. Someone like Brandon Phillips or Mike Napoli might get you close.

Scott Kazmir: He was banged up this spring and that was all the excuse I needed to take a pass on Kazmir. His velocity is down one mph, yet his whiff rate is up. My biggest concern was regression in his walk and whiff rates. It’s still early, but my fears have been allayed. He’s generated a 12 percent whiff rate while walking just 5.5 percent of hitters. With his home park and a decent offense supporting him, he should be a good fantasy starter for as long as he’s healthy.

Kazmir shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg to acquire. Any decent mid tier outfielder should do the trick unless your league has an unusual balance between hitters and pitchers.

Michael Pineda: When the Yankees acquired Pineda, they were paying for a flamethrower with some control. Three years later, Pineda is showing a more nuanced approach with an average fastball under 92 mph and good offspeed stuff. He’s working as an extreme fly ball pitcher, which really doesn’t fit in his home park. We should also expect some regression in his walk rate. Of all the buy high candidates, Pineda is the trickiest. I can imagine owners asking way more than he’s worth by failing to factor in the home run risk.

Pineda is back, but I perceive that some owners think he’s more than he is. As such, buying high might be a problem. Honestly, I would price him similarly to Kazmir. As an added bonus, there’s a chance that he’ll recover some of his velocity later in the season. It sometimes happens with guys returning from injury.

Michael Wacha: One of the biggest red flags with Wacha’s 2013 season was his two pitch repertoire. This year, he’s complementing his 94 mph heater and dirty change up with a curve ball and cutter. He throws those two pitches a combined 23 percent of the time, which is the same frequency of his change up. Now that he’s giving hitters four pitches to think about while continuing to command and control the zone, he looks like a monster.

Unlike Kazmir, Wacha is going to cost that proverbial arm and a leg, but he might be worth it. He could match Cueto’s output without the injury risk and may even outperform Tanaka. You’re going to have to send out inquiries on your own – I imagine his cost will vary greatly by league.

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Brad is a former collegiate player who writes for FanGraphs, MLB Trade Rumors, The Hardball Times, RotoWorld, and The Fake Baseball. He's also the lead MLB editor for RotoBaller. Follow him on Twitter @BaseballATeam or email him here.

32 Responses to “Five Buy High Pitchers”

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  1. soamx says:

    Pineda’s fastball has gone up every start, he hit 97 a couple times in his last game.

    The home runs are still a concern, but he’s mixing in his changeup more then ever which should help him out with left handed hitters. He’s just got the one injury as opposed to Cueto and Kazmir who are oft-injured so I think I’d rather have Pineda at this point over those two.

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  2. stonepie says:

    cueto’s twist scares me too much to trade anything of real value. kazmir’s everything does.
    tried to buy tanaka before his cubs start, didnt work. i think the window has closed for most owners and you’ll have to pay a premium price.

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  3. Matt says:

    Cueto owner here, and I’d be offended if somebody offered me a package highlighted by Mike Napoli for him. I’m in a relatively shallow league — 10 team 19 player rosters and Mike Napoli has been on waivers all season. 1B is too deep, he’s hard to roster without C eligibility

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    • bill says:

      Agreed. Proud Cueto owner in one league and am pursuing him in another and it’s costing an arm and a leg to even open discussions.

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    • Mark says:

      Proud Cueto owner as well. In my league he went undrafted as did Kazmir. His numbers compare to King Felix so far and if healthy he could do that over a full season. The people who passed on him regret it.

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    • philthebluntman says:

      Just traded cueto for mauer. Feel pretty good about it.

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  4. james says:

    I wouldnt give up an established player like fielder for a pitcher with only 3 starts. Despite his pedigree, its april, cold and league hasnt seen enough of him. Dice-k had nice 3 starts to open his US career and he was an average pitcher by the end of the year.

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  5. nellyson says:

    Wil Myers for Scott Kazmir?

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  6. Redlegs says:

    Not sure I get the ‘injury risk’ label. It’s fairly obvious that the original injury never healed, but Dusty wanted his ace to pitch.

    One other trip to the DL in his career, I think. Lower ERA since 2010 than anyone not named Clayton Kershaw.

    Napoli?… shizz… you must be the guy who offers Rajai Davis and JJ Hardy for 1st round talent.

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    • Grant says:

      As a Cueto owner in multiple dynasty leagues, I agree with your assessment of his injury last season. If they had given him time to let if fully heal the 1st time, he probably wouldn’t have reinjured it. Unfortunately the only way to test those types of injuries is to test it. Now that it has healed, I wouldn’t be very worried about it.

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  7. Walkswith4balls says:

    I traded an arm and a leg for Wacha (Tulo). It’s a steap price, but I thought with Troy’s injury history and Wacha’s sky-high ceiling, it made some sense. Barring a serious injury, he’ll be my keeper for awhile.

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  8. Andrew says:

    Swapped Cueto for Cliff Lee in a QS league instead of wins. I absolutely love cueto, very underrated, ONLY concern is injury and lack of IP.

    Cliff Lee super stable every year, elite command and control and QS instead of wins helps.

    This was a keeper league, so that factored in for the guy but I think this helps me win this year.

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  9. Andrew says:

    And I must add that Cliff Lee isn’t keepable and Cueto has a mid teens pick attached with him.

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  10. Andrew says:

    That’s what I thought as well Brad. Thanks!

    Absolutely love this site and the quality of articles y’all constantly produce.

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  11. Jeff says:

    I want to play in your league if you think Brandon Phillips would do the trick for Johnny Cueto.

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      I think I have an article topic for next week. We accept a 70/30 hitter/pitcher split in draft season, but it goes out the window once we’re in season. Relative to other MI, Phillips doesn’t have to be as good as Cueto is relative to SP for the trade to make sense. At least in an absolute sense, obviously an owners specific needs and surplus are relevant.

      I’ve penciled in this topic for my Thursday slot next week. Y’all can discuss but I’ll withhold further comment until then.

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      • bob dole says:

        Recency of performance feels a lot more important for pitchers than it does for hitters. I’m not sure if that bears out in terms of predicting future performance or not, but it’s psychologically difficult to “sell high” when you are getting strong performances from a SP and have reason to believe that performance can continue. As an owner of Cueto and Kazmir, it would definitely take more than what you’re suggesting to pry either from me, even as I recognize both are injury risks.

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  12. Compton says:

    Thanks for the insight, Brad. Always very helpful.

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  13. Ayo says:

    “he’s an elite command and control guy. If he wasn’t, his stuff would only play at the back of a rotation.”

    Really? Didn’t know the ML was full of back of the rotation guys with 93 mph fastballs and elite 80 grade splitters.

    Guess Kershaw’s stuff would also relegate him to being in the back of the rotation if he didn’t have elite command. Y’know, ‘cuz he “only” throws around 93 with an elite 80 grade curve.

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      His splitter wouldn’t be 60 grade without the command and control of it, let alone 80. The minors are full of players who can reach 93 and could throw a splitter if they knew where it was going. MLB rotations are also chock full of guys with similar velocity and occasionally great secondary pitches.

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      • Brad Johnson says:

        According to Brooksbaseball, his splitter has 40-50 grade movement on it.

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      • Ayo says:

        Regardless, the argument’s a nonstarter. That line of reasoning applies to every pitcher ever except the very,very select few who managed to dominate, hell, even merely succeed without command.

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      • Brad Johnson says:

        It’s not an argument, it’s an observation. You’re entirely correct. So am I. None of his stuff is 80 grade or even 70 grade without location and sequencing. And that’s why I recommend buying him, he has the necessary command and control for his stuff to play up.

        A guy like Justin Verlander in his prime has much better stuff, so he needs less command and control to make the opposing lineup look bad. That he has it is why he is/was elite instead of good.

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