I’m a firm believer in early win-now teams in dynasty leagues, usually relying on myself to pick up the breakout names to help build out my farm system rather than draft the preseason top 100 names. As a result, I’m usually a buyer at the trade deadline, seeking ways to put my team in the best position to beat other competing managers.
The MLB trade deadline is today at 4 p.m. ET and our fantasy ones are typically in the next two weeks. So rather than advising on some prospect buys, I’m turning my attention to major league starters who can help you in H2H playoffs or help boost your roto score down the stretch.
I didn’t want to highlight expensive players because if you’re like me, your prospect cache sometimes isn’t that deep and you can only cut into your major league production so much. So here are five pitchers that aren’t going to break the bank but should provide solid or better returns.
Sonny Gray - One of my favorite stat filters is pitchers who have >25 K% and >50 GB%. Strikeouts are the best form of run prevention and groundballs are another great limiter. The two thresholds above represent above-average production from each. Right now, only six pitchers meet each benchmark:
Clayton Kershaw (25.2 K%, 51.3 GB%)
Stephen Strasburg (29.6 K%, 50.9 GB%)
Charlie Morton (31 K%, 50.6 GB%)
Luis Castillo (28.6 K%, 55.6 GB%)
Frankie Montas (26.2 K%, 50.8 GB%)
Sonny Gray (28 K%, 54 GB%)
Simply put, Gray’s season is 100 percent real and you shouldn’t fear a decline the rest of the way. Gray, who was reunited with his pitching coach this year in Cincinnati, tweaked his arsenal. He made his four-seamer his primary heater, added drop to his slider and began using it when the batter was behind rather than to steal a strike. He also began attacking LHB inside more, relying on his sinker in that scenario. It’s been a revolutionary year for Gray.
Trading for him won’t be cheap. You have to hope his owner is out of the race because there’s no way a win-now team would move him. You also have to bank on his owner not looking terribly deep at his changes and hope his 2018 reputation still lingers. But Gray is a bonafide SP3 in leagues this year and is the best name on this list.
Anthony DeSclafani - Maybe it’s that skyline chili, but there’s some good juju going on in Cincinnati. Over his last five starts, Tony Disco has been fantastic. In 28.2 IP (essentially the month of July) he has a 33/7 K/BB and just four earned runs (2.20 ERA). His knuckle-curve has been a revelation this year notching a 15.6 SwStr% along with a slider at 12.6 SwStr% clip. He’s also added a tick of fastball velocity and is averaging 94.7 mph, a career best for the 29 year old.
There are two warnings, though. Despite the velo bump, his four-seamer has been rough, producing a 4.67 FIP. But in that five-game span, he’s begun changing his location.
Look at the (obnoxiously large) first heat map below. It details four-seamer usage through his June 23 start. More often than not it was middle middle and he’d try to get batters to chase up top.
But if you look at his usage in the last five starts, you see a new plan of attack. He’s going up and in with it, trying to tie the batters up. He’s preventing the barrel from being extended and his ISO (not shown) in his new attack zones correspond well.
The second thing is his home and road splits. He has a 3.40 ERA (4.12 FIP) at home and a 4.65 ERA (4.74 FIP) on the road. That five-start sample size I keep referring to had four home games. He did have two major shellackings (12 ER @MIL, @PIT) earlier this year which inflated his numbers a bit. I don’t have a clear line of reasoning fo why he’s performed better at home, but just something to consider.
If you’re wondering what his price tag might look like, I traded away Christin Stewart for DeSclafani one-for-one in a 16-team dynasty league where the other owner is rebuilding.
Lance Lynn - Much like Sonny Gray, Lynn’s season is legit. The 32-year-old is on pace to surpass a whopping 6 WAR. Lynn remains an extremely fastball heavy guy but he splits it between a four-seam, a cutter and a sinker. His high-spin four-seamer has been an excellent pitch registering a 13.1 SwStr%, fifth-best among starters with at least 800 four-seamers thrown. His curve and two-seamer generate ground balls over 50 percent and his curve in particular induces double-digit whiffs. Like DeSclafani, he’s averaging a career-high 94 mph. Though he shows some minor platoon splits (.322 wOBA vs. LHB and .267 wOBA vs. RHB), it’s still manageable enough so that you don’t have to pick and choose your starts.
And if you prefer some easy raw numbers to drive home the point, he’s gone at least six innings in 17 straight starts and has walked more than two batters in just three of those. He’s a great grab in quality start leagues, to say the least. Though his numbers might be fantastic, I expect his price to be a little cheaper than Gray because Lynn is 32 and pitches in the AL. Don’t insult the owner with a classic dynasty low ball offer where you open with Luiz Gohara just because of Lynn’s age, though. It’s a likely buy high with the confidence that Lynn keeps this up.
Michael Pineda - No, this is not an error. Pineda’s been fantastic the last month, earning a spot here. In his last five starts (30.1 IP) he has a 33/8 K/BB with a 2.37 ERA (3.23 FIP). In fairness he hasn’t faced any high-powered offense in that span (CHW, TEX, NYM, OAK). But what he’s gained is fastball velocity.
Pitchers naturally gain velocity as the season wears on, but remembers Pineda was also shaking the rust from Tommy John. He also has an elite slider which produces a 19 SwStr%.
Like DeSclafani, Pineda’s fastball is lackluster, but he’s begun using it different in the last month, targeting lefties more on the inner half of the plate and leaving fewer over the heart of the dish.
And here he is in July.
Pineda shouldn’t cost you much as his season numbers are pretty disappointing, masking his recent good run. I’d also be careful not to pay too much because despite the success, he’s still Michael Pineda.
Mike Leake - In the last two months, Leake has quietly put together a strong run. Though he’s mustered a meager 49 strikeouts in 65.2 innings, it comes with just five walks giving him a minuscule and nice 0.69 BB/9. If you need to make up ground in WHIP, he’s a low key guy to target. And aside from a 0.2 IP, 4 ER implosion at Los Angeles, (Editor’s Note: And, well, last night’s 5 ER start) he’s a good bet for a quality start.
I can’t give you any revelatory stats about Leake. He’s a consistent pitcher who is exactly what he’s showing. At the time of this writing he’s still a Mariner, but a destination to a National League park is enticing. An ERA around 3.75 and a 1.15 WHIP should be a good bet. In order to avoid paying too much for what should be the cheapest name here, ask his owner for a better pitcher and then “settle” for Leake.