Return From the IL Part 1
Updated: Feb 14
In this series, I will take a look at 14 starting pitchers that spent the majority of the 2019 season (<36 MLB IP) on the Injured List. This article will highlight the first four ordered by their NFBC ADP (5x5 15 team leagues). Injuries can often create surplus value opportunities, but sometimes the affinity for a player can supersede his injury concerns, which can overcast the potential discount.
These first couple players don’t come with much of a discount given either their perceived potential or their track record. I feel like the consensus is there is less room for error in the early stages of the draft, thus it is likely worth taking the time to weigh the risk (variance) vs. reward.
Luis Severino (58.80 ADP 34/84 MIN/MAX) 2019 IP: 12
If you were in an early draft last year you likely had to spend quite a bit of draft capital in order to pencil in Luis Severino into your rotation. Having turned in 193.1 and 191.1 innings pitched (both 5+ fWAR seasons) in 2017 and 2018 respectively, he seemed like a lock for another 180+ IP in 2019. Unfortunately, the injury bug had other ideas as it bit him hard in Spring Training. Inflammation in his right shoulder rotator cuff zapped most of his season, which tells me it was not a minor issue, and during his summer rehab, a Grade 2 lat strain made sure he wouldn’t see more than 12 big league innings.
I love Severino’s profile. He has a strong frame at 6’2”/215 and features a power fastball (6+ pVAL in 17&18) with a wipeout slider (17 pVAL in 17 and 13.5 in 18). His changeup has shown enough flashes for me to believe that it could become a decent third offering, especially if he can connect with new pitching coach Matt Blake or new ace Gerrit Cole. And while it was only 12 innings, he did have his velocity and looked more like his old self. He is definitely someone to monitor come springtime.
The ceiling (top 10 SP) is surely part of the reason as to why his ADP hasn’t dipped too much. However, we can’t mention the ceiling without mentioning the floor, and sadly we saw that floor in 2019. There is no telling if the shoulder issues will pop back up, or if, even worse, it was a precursor to an elbow issue. This tells me Severino is a very high variance player coming into 2020, and in other words, could be a risky selection if you are spending a top-four round pick on him. I’m much more comfortable taking a shot on the Yankee if he is my second SP, and in the pick 60-80 range (rather than his upper range of 34-54). If you are drafting him as your ace I think you may be asking for trouble.
Shohei Ohtani (85.63 ADP 61/147) 2019 IP: 0
Friendly reminder that Shohei Ohtani is only 25 years old. I’m a huge fan of what Ohtani brings to the table. The latest on his ledger is taking the 2019 season to rehab from Tommy John surgery, while also casually squeezing in 425 PA good for a 123 wRC+. If you weren’t sold already, in 2018 he put up a 151 wRC+ in 367 PAs while also pitching 51.2 innings with 10.97 K/9 and a 3.31 ERA (3.56/3.53 FIP/xFIP). This guy is special. In daily leagues I’m trying to buy Ohtani anywhere I can (if you are in a league with me pretend I didn’t just say that).
In weekly roto leagues such as the NFBC, realistically we can’t get too crazy. He isn’t likely to pitch a boatload of innings coming off the injury, we should expect some rust as most need some time to regain their feel, and if the Angels play his schedule close to the vest it can be a pain to try and pinpoint the best way to utilize his skillset.
Now get that wet blanket off me! Why I am still be buying is because I believe the innings he does pitch will be quality, and if he’s still on the board in the 120-147 pick range (8-10th round) I’ll have more shares than I’m anticipating. Steamer projections have him down for 110 innings with a 3.78/3.93 FIP/xFIP and an 11.1 K/9. Buckets of strikeouts with a good ERA and WHIP on a team that just added Anthony Rendon (good for wins) should be quite valuable. Sign me up for that.
Note: I do have to mention that I have to pump the brakes on Ohtani a bit given the news his throwing program has been ramped down.
Corey Kluber (88.97 ADP 61/108) 2019 IP: 35.2
Going just three picks later on average is the Klubot. With his recent change of address to Texas, much has been made of what his 2014-2018 seasons were like, so I will not bore you with more of those stats. I love Kluber’s toughness, and what he brings to the game, but I’ve always wondered what would happen if his breaking ball and/or cutter negatively regressed. With the terrible fastball (-8.7 pVAL in 19) he’s always had there is no velocity crutch for him to lean on.
The 35 innings Kluber pitched in 2019 gave us a glimpse of what he looks like when the breaker and cutter are not as sharp as days past (5.80/4.06/4.88 ERA/FIP/xFIP-1.65 WHIP!). A savvy Kluber would have likely did his best to make adjustments, but a line drive broke his right forearm in May, and an oblique strain during his rehab ended any hope of a return.
There’s definitely a possibility that Kluber is reenergized going to Texas with their revamped rotation and new ballpark, but I don’t see myself having a ton of shares unless he’s either at or even past his maximum (108 currently) pick. It’s not that I don’t like him, but it’s more so that I think you can get his skill profile much later. I’d much rather use my pick in this area for someone I think has the potential to reach another level of production, such as James Paxton (91.6 ADP), or Brandon Woodruff (93.09 ADP).
Jesus Luzardo (119.91 ADP 85/174) 2019 IP: 12
The Peruvian lefty was off to a hot start in Spring Training before he was slowed by a shoulder strain that held him out until June. What once looked like he might make the big league team out of camp turned into an MLB debut in September. Still only 22 years old, there is plenty of upside to still dream on.
Luzardo’s pitch mix consists of a plus fastball that sits in the mid 90s (T98) that he can command to both sides of the plate, a plus changeup with great fade, and an already average curveball that has potential to be more (see GIF above for a glimpse).
I do wonder how much his IP workload may be managed, as he did only pitch a combined 55 IP across four levels in 2019. He did pitch 108 innings in 2018, so maybe he could stretch a bit past that, but I doubt the A’s are going to want to push him, especially after his injury riddled 2019. Steamer has him projected for 147 IP and I think that may be a bit high. Similar to Ohtani, his skills suggest he should pitch quality innings if he can stay on the mound. He gave us a taste during his three innings of shutout ball in the playoff game against the Rays, and boy was that fun to watch!
I’d love to see a season of health for Luzardo as he is very fun to watch. However, I’m undecided if I’ll be drafting him much as his ADP is in a “bunch" with some SPs I am really high on, such as Frankie Montas (121.03 ADP), Zack Wheeler (123.51 ADP), and Zac Gallen (127.09 ADP). If he slips into more of that 150-170 ADP range, and I can grab one of the aforementioned names then two rounds later take Luzardo, I’m liking how that sounds quite a bit. Add in a bulk IP SP such as Miles Mikolas later in the draft and that could be a solid trio. If he gets some more hype over the winter and pushes that 85 minimum pick, then I may admire his 2020 season from afar.
That wraps up the first four of 14 starting pitchers I will highlight that are coming off major IL stints this year. The next article will touch on the next five SPs by ADP, including fan favorite Lance McCullers Jr., and potential comeback phenom fireballer Michael Kopech. Keep an eye out for that one, and thank you for reading!
* ADPs listed are as of 12/18
Statistical credits: FanGraphs, Baseball Savant, Baseball Reference.
Cover photo credit (pre-edit): Elsa, Getty Images