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Five Buy High Pitchers

Posted By Brad Johnson On April 18, 2014 @ 4:15 pm In Head to Head,Roto,Starting Pitchers | 32 Comments

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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