Blake Snell Is Quickly Becoming an Elite Starting Pitcher in Fantasy Baseball

Snell has been fantastic and ranks among the 10 best fantasy starters in baseball. Can he carry his first-half success into the rest of the season?

Living in St. Louis, Anheuser-Busch InBev -- the World's largest brewer -- has been a staple in the community for years. In fact, it's rare when you don't know someone -- a friend, a family member, or a neighbor -- that hasn't been connected to Anheuser-Busch in one way or another. It's the lifeblood of the city.

But in recent years, a craft brewery surge has occurred in St. Louis. Hundreds of breweries are popping up all over the city, and some are doing some really great stuff. As of December 2017, the number of craft breweries has doubled to 81 and nearly 50 more are planned to open soon. Some places are hitting their stride right away, producing some awesome beers, while others need some time to get things going. However, many have turned into some national powerhouses -- they just needed some time to get there.

Baseball can be like craft beer. When a player is drafted as an early round pick, especially one with a high pedigree, not only are we impatient to rush them to the Marjors but we expect them to be superstars in year one. For every Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, and Bryce Harper, there are infinite examples of players that aren't immediately on their path to stardom as a rookie.

Blake Snell is a very good example of this. After going off the board as the 19th pick overall of the Tampa Bay Rays in 2011, Snell made his Major League debut in 2016, but he struggled significantly. He showed some signs of improvement last year, but he has finally put some things together in 2018.

Season IP ERA WHIP K Rate BB Rate Opp Avg. Hard-Hit Rate Fly-Ball Rate
2016 89.0 3.54 1.62 24.4% 12.7% .266 31.3% 36.1%
2017 129.1 4.04 1.33 21.8% 10.8% .232 32.9% 37.8%
2018 108.2 2.24 1.01 28.6% 9.5% .178 34.0% 38.8%

There's some interesting numbers here, and the growth is impressive. Snell's outstanding season places him 8th among starting pitchers on ESPN's Player Rater and 13th on our player rater.

Is he legit? Let's dig in and find out.

Past Seasons

Snell burst onto the scene in 2016 and pitched on an extended stay for 89 innings; the big issue was his control. Snell walked 12.7% of hitters, which led to a 1.62 WHIP.

Furthermore, in the last two years, Snell's zone rates of 40.1% (2016) and 36.7% (2017), respectively, would have placed him in the bottom three of qualified starting pitchers. His first-pitch strike rate has been similarly unimpressive. In the same timeframe, Snell posted rates of 57.6% (2016) and 53.8% (2017), which would put him in an illustrious group of the bottom five of all qualified starters.

The good news is that Snell still struck out a decent amount of batters and he limited hard contact well below the league-average rates. Showing how tough the lefty is to hit, he posted impressive swinging-strike rates of 10.9% and 10.8%, respectively, in the two seasons leading up to his 2018 breakout.

What's going on in 2018?

Explosive Jump

The following showcases the top 15 qualified starting pitchers in ERA and where they rank in several other key metrics.

Top 15 SP

Snell's 11 wins ties him for 3rd-most in the Majors this season, and his ERA is 6th-best in the league. He's also been pretty strong in the strikeout department, and his 13.6% swinging-strike rate places him in the top five. In other words, he's been a boss in 2018.

Snell's fantastic ERA does seem to be helped by a very robust strand rate (87.1%). With a league average strand rate of 73.3%, Snell's league-best rate indicates he is probably getting a bit lucky, as evidenced by a 3.59 skill-interactive ERA (SIERA).

Snell is also struggling with command a bit. His zone rate (39.4%) and first-pitch strike rate (54.9%) have marginally improved from 2017, but would still rank him among the league's worst qualified starting pitchers.

With these numbers in front of us, how should we be treating Snell in fantasy?

Rest of Season Projections

There's no ignoring how good Snell has been in 2018, as he is firmly in the Cy Young discussion for his impressive first-half performance.

Our projections don't expect Snell to keep up this pace, but they do project him to pitch well over the remainder of the season. If we add on another 93 innings pitched, giving him a cool 201 2/3 for the year ( which would be a career-high), we think that will come with an additional 98 strikeouts, 3.58 ERA, and 1.24 WHIP.

Snell's top-10 ERA is likely to regress a bit. And while that inning total may scare folks off, keep in mind that across all levels in 2017, Snell recorded 173 1/3 innings pitched, so the jump up in workload isn't as drastic as one might think.

If he met that projection, that would also give Snell a total of 221 strikeouts. For some perspective, only seven pitchers met that threshold last season, so Snell would join some pretty elite swing-and-miss company. The lefty hurler may be about a year away from firmly sticking in that elite ace category, but his growth trajectory indicates he is a top-notch fantasy commodity, especially when you consider his 2018 ADP (196.53).

In keeper league formats, enjoy the benefits of what's likely a low-cost investment for a stud starting pitcher. If you aren't in that type of league, though, how you treat Snell could depend entirely on your areas of the need in both personnel and statistical categories.

If Snell, as a late-round value, isn't a top-two or -three starter on your squad, maybe look to deal him for some offensive help if you need it. Otherwise, hold on and hope that he continues to improve as a pitcher and a fantasy asset.