Fantasy Baseball: 4 Buy-Low Pitchers Who Can Help You Down the Stretch
The fun of the MLB trade deadline has passed, and suddenly we’re in August and the fantasy playoffs are near.
Now the outlook has gone from rostering upside to needing immediate results as we try to make a run at the postseason -- either to get a bye or to clinch a playoff berth. Matchups down the stretch matter a ton, as does recent performance.
Let's take a look at four starting pitchers who may be cheap or free to acquire and can help your season-long teams as the regular season winds down. This article is specifically for leagues in which the regular season ends at or around the end of August.
Vincent Velasquez, Philadelphia Phillies
Vincent Velasquez is one of the more frustrating pitchers in all of baseball. His stuff is obviously great, and he shows it with his clip of 10.7 strikeouts per nine (K/9) and a 12% swinging-strike rate, but his struggles with command limit his upside.
Still, Velasquez’s 4.18 SIERA and career high 20.9% homer-per-fly-ball rate (HR/FB) show that there’s been a bit of bad luck baked into his 4.40 ERA. Since June 1st, Velasquez has been a better version of himself. The ERA is still frustratingly mediocre at 4.19, but when it goes with a 49:12 strikeout-to-walk ratio (K:BB) in 38 2/3 innings with a 14% swinging strike rate, VV is very useful for fantasy teams.
His schedule for the rest of August is great -- he'll face road matchups against the Arizona Diamondbacks, San Francisco Giants, and Miami Marlins, and home matchups against the San Diego Padres and Pittsburgh Pirates. All of those teams rank 14th or worse in WRC+ for the season, including two in the bottom three of the league in Miami and San Francisco.
Velasquez may prove to ultimately be the same frustrating pitcher he’s always been and deliver a couple gems with a couple duds to match, but there’s enough intriguing parts of his profile that I’m adding him everywhere I can.
Jeff Samardzija, San Francisco Giants
After a disappointing 2017 and a disastrous 2018, Jeff Samardzija has been sort of forgotten by the fantasy community, so it may come as a bit of a surprise that Samardzija is coming off a July that was one of the best months of his entire career. In 38 2/3 innings last month, Samardzija posted a 2.09 ERA with a 35:7 K:BB ratio, which is the best month-long K:BB ratio for Samardzija since July 2017.
When in his prime, Samardzija combined the different variations of his fastball with a very good slider. After struggling with that pitch a year ago, it’s returned to being his best pitch this season, with the slider registering a pitch value of 8.8 on the year, after sitting at -1.5 a year ago. The slider regaining its swing-and-miss touch along with Samardzija completely ditching his curveball -- which has registered negatively in back-to-back seasons -- has been the key to his resurgence.
His August schedule isn’t great as he’s slated to face the Washington Nationals, Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs, and San Diego Padres at home, with a road matchup against the Arizona Diamondbacks, but with the improvements Samardzija has shown, I may be willing to give him a chance against those tougher matchups if he can prove they're legitimate with a good start to the month against Washington. Plus, Oracle Park always helps his cause.
Brad Keller, Kansas City Royals
Brad Keller started his season very disappointingly. Most of his professional career, Keller has showcased average control, so when we entered June and Keller was sporting a 42:48 BB:K ratio in 71 innings, fantasy owners, for the most part, decided they were done with Keller. However, since June 2nd, Keller has found his control and been largely the pitcher we thought he’d be with 68 innings of a 3.44 ERA and a 51:16 K:BB ratio.
This pick is mostly about his beautiful schedule for the rest of August as Keller is scheduled to face the Detroit Tigers, New York Mets, Oakland Athletics. and the Baltimore Orioles (twice). In that stretch, Keller has three matchups against teams that rank in the bottom-five in season-long WRC+, with those being the Detroit game and two Baltimore matchups. Against teams that rank in the bottom-five in WRC+ on the season. Keller has shown himself as somebody who can take advantage of those great matchups with 61 1/3 innings of a 2.49 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and a solid 52:22 K:BB ratio, resulting in a 7.6 K/9 against those teams.
I wouldn’t feel good about Keller against Oakland or New York, but with the numbers Keller has put up against subpar opponents this season. I’d be adding him for the starts against Detroit and Baltimore.
Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees
Masahiro Tanaka is really going through a rough patch right now. A 10.59 ERA in his last 26 1/3 innings has led him to being benched or dropped by frustrated owners who now see a 4.78 ERA on the season. Mentioning him here is based primarily on taking advantage of over-reactionary fantasy owners.
Before this rough stretch started, Tanaka sported a 3.21 ERA with an 85:21 K:BB ratio in 98 innings. He legitimately had been the best version of himself we’ve seen since 2016. Tanaka will face the Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays, Oakland Athletics, Cleveland Indians, and Seattle Mariners in August, and those are all teams that Tanaka would have been in fantasy lineups against before this stretch -- with no questions asked. There hasn’t been any sharp decrease in velocity or change in his pitch repertoire to cause this rough stretch, so I’m willing to take a bet on the talent.
Fantasy owners made a similar decision when German Marquez went through a rough stretch that was capped off with an 11-earned run performance versus the Los Angeles Dodgers, and since then, Marquez has thrown 20 innings of a 1.80 ERA with a 22:2 K:BB ratio. In no way would it surprise me if Tanaka has a similar stretch in him over the next month.