by Connor Henry
You hear it all the time: Buy Low, Buy Low! In fantasy baseball this can have many different meanings, ranging from trading for Brian Dozier at the All-Star Break or drafting a Tommy John surgery victim in their second year back to buying players in dynasty leagues who’ve maybe had an “unlucky” year. Let’s dig into a couple of pitchers who fall into the latter and I think could be solid buy lows for dynasty owners this offseason:
Luis Castillo – Cincinnati Reds
Of the Top 9 pitchers in swinging strike rate Castillo, at #8, is the only player with a K/9 below 10. In fact he incredibly has a K/9 of 8.75, which puts him with Cole Hamels as the only qualified pitchers in the Top 15 swinging strike rate with a K/9 below 9. Even with the impressive bat missing numbers, Castillo threw 169 innings in 2018 to the tune of a 4.30 ERA and 1.22 WHIP, not even within shouting distance of his 3.12 ERA and 1.07 WHIP from 2017. So what has changed? Let’s compare his stats from each of the last two seasons.
As mentioned he has a huge disconnect between his swinging strike rate and K/9. Even though his bat missing ability improved this year, his K/9 went down which seems fluky. In addition he has improved his control and ended up walking about half a batter less per 9 innings, which qualifies him among the Top 30 lowest walk rates for qualified pitchers. So he’s gotten more swings and misses, improved his control and his xFIP claims he’s close to the same pitcher as last year?
The main things that affected him this year are his left-on-base rate, which has dropped below league average, and his BABIP, which has inflated up to about league average after sitting around .240 in 2017. Regarding positive regression in LOB rate, Castillo has the strikeout upside to sustain a 74% LOB rate but will he be able to suppress home runs enough? Let’s check in on his batted ball data to determine if his BABIP and HR/FB look sustainable in 2019.
After maintaining an incredibly low line drive rate throughout his rookie campaign, Castillo regressed back to the mean in 2018 and saw his BABIP rise along with it. While regression was also expected in his groundball rate he has turned into an average groundball pitcher, which combined with his slightly inflated hard contact rate is a minor cause for concern. His HR/FB stayed steady and as long as he gives up 38% hard contact I don’t see positive regression coming. Castillo was bound to regress coming into 2018 but the batted ball data suggests he’s turned into a very average pitcher when it comes to the contact he gives up.
Verdict: Luis Castillo, still only 25, possesses a high 90s fastball and a devastating changeup to go with his improving slider and sinker. After his incredible debut in 2017 he was heralded as an up and coming ace and inevitably commanded a large price tag to go along with his reputation. I believe the “real” Castillo exists somewhere in between each of the last two seasons so I’m surprisingly back in for the right price. Don’t make the mistake of overpaying for his 2017 form, but I’m betting on that strikeout rate to rise and an ERA in the neighborhood of 3.50 to 3.70.
Nick Pivetta – Philadelphia Phillies
The towering right hander garnered plenty of attention early on this season when he posted a sub-3.30 ERA through the first two months with the skills to back it up. For 3 of the next 4 months he posted ERAs above 5.40 and he seemed to take a back seat to the other young pitchers making a name for themselves. Pivetta finished 2018 with a 4.77 ERA and 1.30 WHIP while striking out over 10 batters per 9 innings and walking less than 3 per 9. In addition to his inflated ERA in 2018 he posted an even worse 6.02 ERA in 2017. Is there actually upside here?
The improvements in his underlying stats is obvious and rather impressive. He exhibited a huge swinging strike rate uptick. In addition he improved his command and therefore saw his xFIP drop below 3.50, ranking him as 14th amongst qualified pitchers ahead of names like Zack Greinke and Jameson Taillon. Despite the impressive accolades, Pivetta’s BABIP and LOB rate plummeted his value and made him unstartable once the summer months hit. LOB rate generally depends on a pitcher’s ability to strike batters out and suppress home runs and we know he can maintain an imposing strikeout rate. Therefore, let’s check in on his batted ball data next to determine if his HR/FB and BABIP are sustainable.
By all measures Pivetta made huge strides in his batted ball data this season. He limited hard contact, induced more soft contact and upped his groundball rate. Yet his BABIP held steady around .330 and his HR/FB rate dropped only slightly. With further improvement in suppression of hard contact Pivetta could have an impressive turn around in 2019.
Verdict: Perhaps even more “unlucky” than Castillo, Pivetta makes for an intriguing buy low option. He showed flashes of brilliance but was unable to extend these flashes throughout the year despite fantastic peripherals. For the right price he offers intriguing upside and I’m certainly betting on his BABIP and LOB rate settling closer to average. If any sort of good fortune comes Pivetta’s way, there’s no doubt in my mind that he can return Top 30 starting pitcher value.