Prioritizing The Waiver: Which Young Starting Pitchers Are Worth Targeting?

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There have been a slew of young starters either being recalled or making an impact on an MLB mound.  Who should we trust?  Who should we ignore?  Let’s take a look at a few of the names and prioritize our waiver wire targets:

1) Zach Plesac – Cleveland Indians

Pleasac’s ceiling isn’t as high as some of the other names listed here, but in terms of 2020 his impact could be the greatest.  Let’s not forget that the 25-year old spent 115.2 innings as part of the Indians’ rotation in 2019, and that experience should go a long ways toward him making the necessary adjustments.  While the results weren’t all that impressive (3.81 ERA, 6.85 K/9), there was more potential than that and he clearly put things together in his first start:

8.0 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 0 BB, 12 K

Obviously he’s not that good, but there also was a clear alteration in his approach.  It was just one start, but his fourseam fastball usage was down considerably from ’19 (50.61% to 37.76%) while his slider usage soared (18.83% to 32.65%).  Considering his slider is his best swing and miss pitch (40.63% Whiff% in his first start) while opponents have a .333 SLG against it for his career, there’s reason to believe it will continue. 

2) Nate Pearson – Toronto Blue Jays

Pearson is among the elite pitching prospects in baseball, and he presented himself well in his MLB debut:

5.0 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 2 BB, 5 K

Of course it’s just one start, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t note his pitch selection:

  • Fourseam Fastball – 53.33%
  • Slider – 40.00%
  • Changeup – 4.00%
  • Curveball – 2.67%

In other words he was primarily using two pitches, and given his potential home run issues (39.5% groundball rate in the minors last season) that’s going to be an issue.  He needs variety to keep opposing hitters honest, and if he doesn’t make that alteration the performance is going to suffer.  He has the upside and ceiling to be the best pitcher on this list, but there will be growing pains and for 2020 he can’t take the top spot (it’s a different story in dynasty formats).

3) Spencer Turnbull – Detroit Tigers

One of our favorite preseason sleepers, Turnbull has strung together a pair of solid starts to open 2020. Over 11.0 IP he owns a 2.45 ERA and 1.00 WHIP, with 14 K vs. 5 BB, facing off against the Reds twice. That fact is the true key, as we noted in a recent “10 Important Stories”:

That’s highly important, considering how much he struggled more and more times through the batting order:

  • First Time – 3.75 ERA
  • Second Time – 5.80 ERA
  • Third Time – 4.32 ERA

So being able to stymie the same team, so close together, brings hope moving forward. Let’s not forget that last season he posted an 8.86 K/9, 3.58 BB/9 and 48.3% groundball rate, as he struggled with some poor luck (.333 BABIP, 68.3% strand rate).

There’s enough here that he’s well worth targeting.

4) Cristian Javier – Houston Astros

Taking on the Dodgers in his first MLB start he was spectacular, allowing 1 ER on 2 H and 1 BB, striking out 8, over 5.2 IP.  In 113.2 IP last season in the minors he showed that tremendous swing and miss stuff, but it was the only skill he really displayed:

  • Strikeouts – 13.46 K/9 (16.9% SwStr%)
  • Control – 4.67 BB/9
  • Groundballs – 28.4%

As we’ve seen with Robbie Ray swing and miss stuff is nice, but you need another skill if you truly want to excel.  Control issues + Fly Balls will eventually catch up with him, especially considering this writeup we had prior to the season:

“The stuff isn’t premium, which suppresses his grade, but the upside is there to be a solid mid-rotation starter.”

We gave him a C+ grade entering the season, and we’d be skeptical now.

5) David Peterson – New York Mets

Peterson is set to make his second MLB start this afternoon against the Braves, coming off an impressive debut (5.2 IP, 2 ER, 7 H, 3 K, 2 BB). While the southpaw didn’t generate many groundballs, he’s done a good job of that coming up through the minors (52.6% at Double-A in ’19). He may not be a true difference maker, but there is some upside. As we said prior to the season, when we gave him a “C+” grade:

“A 2017 first round pick, Peterson’s numbers at Double-A weren’t overly impressive (4.19 ERA, 1.34 WHIP), but the underlying metrics scream of significantly better success.  His 9.47 K/9 was backed up by a solid 13.7% SwStr%, and his 52.6% groundball rate and 2.87 BB/9 will play well (though it had been better previously).  He may not be an elite starter, but as a southpaw he should be a solid one for the back of the rotation.”

The problem is that once Marcus Stroman returns, will Peterson stick in the rotation? Both Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha have struggled, so it’s possible if Peterson is going well. However that question does have to further temper expectations.

6) Brady Singer – Kansas City Royals

The Royals have a lot of strong pitching prospects, and while Singer is solid he’s behind names like Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar and Kris Bubic (though that one is close).  Here’s what we had to say about Singer prior to the season, when we gave him a C+ grade:

“The biggest question facing Singer is whether or not he’ll be able to stick in the rotation, or if his delivery and limited arsenal (he currently is a fastball/sider pitcher) will lead to him shifting to the bullpen.  For now the Royals have reason to continue to try and develop him as a starter, as he’s shown he can generate groundballs (50.9%) to go along with strong control (2.37 BB/9).”

Interestingly in his first two starts in the Majors he’s shown more swing and miss stuff (11.1% SwStr%), though both his control (3.60 BB/9) and groundball rate (46.2%) has taken a step backwards.  It’s only two starts, but it’s still noteworthy for a 2018 first round draft pick who hadn’t pitched above Double-A.  The upside is limited, but it’s enough to put him on radars.

Sources – Fangraphs, ESPN, Brooks Baseball

6 COMMENTS

    • I’m a big Canning fan. He’s more of a “certainty” than Chatwood, but there’s some risk. Just for this season, I’d still put him at the top, just because the rookies are tough to trust

  1. Hey Prof,
    I’m in a two-catcher league and Gomes is killing me. The position is pretty picked over at this point given the high roster limits on players. So, would you drop Gomes for any of the following: Maldonado, Heineman, or Stassi? Is there another catcher (with less than 20% ownership that might be better instead)? Or would you just go with Gomes. Thank you as always!

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