Deep League Sleeper: Can Felipe Paulino Finally Emerge?

by Dave De Wit

Felipe Paulino hasn’t pitched in the major leagues since June of 2012. He has a career ERA of 4.93, is coming off of Tommy John surgery and will now be pitching half of his games at the hitter-friendly US Cellular Field since recently being signed by the Chicago White Sox. Yet, Felipe Paulino is a pitcher you should own in deep leagues.

The 30-year-old right-hander hasn’t had great success in his brief major-league career from a run prevention standpoint, but he has shown excellent strikeout ability. In just under 400 total innings, Paulino has had a 21.1 percent strikeout percentage (nearly a strikeout per inning), and peaked at 25 percent during his last MLB season before getting injured. That strikeout rate puts him in the neighborhood of what pitchers like Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, and CC Sabathia have done over their past 400 or so innings, making him a great source for super cheap Ks.

Paulino gets his swings and misses from his slider and change-up, allowing him to strikeout batters on both sides of the plate. His secondary pitches play off of his mid-90’s fastball, which is one of the fastest heaters among starters in the league. Thankfully, since returning from the disabled list late in 2013, he has maintained the velocity that he showed before going under the knife. Now, after signing with the White Sox and seeing Hector Santiago get traded away, Paulino has a realistic shot to take that strikeout rate to the starting rotation.

Unfortunately, Paulino’s bat missing stuff comes with a down side. Like many fringy strikeout starters before him, he struggles to find the strike zone. His career 9.4 percent walk percentage has shown no signs of improving and, given that control takes a while to come back after Tommy John surgery, will almost certainly be a problem for Paulino in 2014.

Other than his walk rate, Paulino struggles have been due to bad luck. He has had a career .335 BABIP (.295 was league average last year) despite posting a 17.9 percent line drive rate (well below the league average of 21.3 percent). Due to his bad fortune, he has long been a pitcher whose pitching indicators have outperformed his actual statistics.

Considering that his numbers are similar with men on base and with the bases empty, there is no reason to think that he has a problem pitching from the stretch. This means his high BABIP could very well be the result of just dumb luck, and could easily improve going forward.

Ultimately, Paulino’s performance next season will come down to his BABIP and home run rate (which has been right at league average over his career). His high walk percentage along with his new homer-friendly park will make him prone to some blowup starts, but his amazing strikeout ability and expected improvement in BABIP makes him a pitcher worth taking a chance on late in AL-only and deep league drafts.

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