Skip navigation
Sign up to follow your favorites on all your devices.
Sign up

Fantasy baseball trade targets: Starting pitchers

Imanaga's early brilliance with Cubs is no fluke
Fantasy managers who gambled on Shota Imanaga in drafts should hold onto the impressive 30-year-old, who has dazzled through seven starts with a 1.08 ERA.

Trying to identify players you can “buy low” on as we get deeper into the fantasy baseball season is always a fun but stressful experience. What does “Buy Low” mean? What if the player really isn’t any good? There are so many questions at play that we need to contend with. In this article, I’ll go over one of the ways I like to identify pitchers who might be due for a positive swing in results.

SIERA is one of my favorite in-season and pre-season stats to look at. It stands for Skill-Interactive Earned Run Average and, according to its definition, it “quantifies a pitcher’s performance by trying to eliminate factors the pitcher can’t control by himself.” That means, unlike stats like xFIP or ERA, SIERA considers balls in play and adjusts for the type of ball in play to determine what a pitcher’s results “should have been” based on probability. In that respect, SIERA has been tested as the most predictive of all ERA estimators, meaning a pitcher’s SIERA right now is more likely to indicate their future ERA than xFIP or xERA, etc.

As a result, one of my favorite exercises is to create a leaderboard of starting pitchers and look at whose ERA is higher than their SIERA. I created a leaderboard of pitchers who were most underperforming their SIERA. This year, I took that a step further and I also removed all pitchers who had below league average swinging strike rates (SwStr%), Stuff+ numbers, and K-BB%. In my mind, this tells me not just which pitchers should have positive regression based on their batted ball data but also highlights to me which pitchers among that group have the best raw stuff and strikeout upside. I understand that’s double counting to a certain extent, but I am a big believer in following “Stuff” and strikeouts when trying to find pitchers who can have a run of fantasy goodness, so I wanted to test that here.

I was left with 20 pitchers who qualified but only nine are underperforming their SIERA by a margin that I felt was interesting enough to mention. I’ll cover all of those pitchers in limited detail below, letting you know if I’m buying into a resurgence for them or not, but I did also want to mention that other pitchers who this process indicates should be pitching a little better than they are: Luis Castillo, Freddy Peralta, Jared Jones, Ryan Pepiot, Cole Ragans, and McKenzie Gore. That’s a good indicator that their early performance is sustainable, and this process also indicated that Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Nick Lodolo, and Clarke Schmidt have earned their early season results.

So who are the names you may want to try and trade for?

Edward Cabrera- Marlins

21.1 innings, 7.17 ERA, 3.73 SIERA, 17.5% K-BB%, 12.5% SwStr%, 99.1 Stuff+

We won’t go long here because Cabrera left his start on Tuesday with biceps soreness and, at the time of this writing, I have no idea how long he’ll be out for. The right-hander had shown some increased command since coming off the IL and still flashed an arsenal that can get tons of swings and misses, but he remains inconsistent and erratic. He was also getting hit harder this year, perhaps because he was keeping the ball down in the strike zone more than we’d like to see. You’re obviously not going out to get Cabrera given the injury and poor performance, but I do believe he’s a name we should continue to keep an eye on because he’s just 26 years old, and I really do think there’s an ace in there somewhere. If he moves to the bullpen, he could be the next Mason Miller (without the consistent triple-digits).
Editor’s Note: Cabrera is now on the IL with a shoulder impingement.

Garrett Crochet - White Sox

40.2 innings, 5.31 ERA, 2.63 SIERA, 26.8% K-BB%, 13.5% SwStr%, 110.4 Stuff+

Poor Garrett Crochet has gone from being an afterthought to a season-saver to a failure all in the span of about six weeks. Meanwhile, the truth of his real value lies somewhere in between. Crochet has had three bad starts this season: versus Cincinnati where they were running hot, in Philadelphia, and against the Twins before they went on their long winning streak. We obviously can’t just ignore those starts but we can understand that it’s not as if he’s getting repeatedly pummeled or got lit up by the A’s.

On the season, Crochet has shown above-average command and the ability to get plenty of swings and misses. All of his pitches grade out as above-average and he even introduced a changeup more recently that has produced a 12.5% SwStr% and has allowed a solid but not great 40% Ideal Contact Rate (ICR). That gives him at least two weapons to use against both righties and lefties, and he’s shown the ability to mix and match in a given matchup, like when he went fastball/cutter-heavy to carve up the Cardinals.

It’s unlikely Crochet will get tons of wins on the White Sox and we do have to acknowledge some innings concerns given his past injuries and the White Sox not likely wanting to push him too far; however, I think Crochet is a solid buy in the short term.

Patrick Sandoval - Angels

39 innings, 4.85 ERA, 3.63 SIERA, 16.2% K-BB%, 12.2% SwStr%, 98.4 Stuff+

Early in the season, Sandoval was using his four-seam fastball around 35% of the time, which didn’t really make sense since it’s a low-velocity pitch that doesn’t miss many bats. He has always been at his best when he leans on his changeup and slider and locates them down in the zone. Well, in recent weeks, he’s dialed back the four-seam usage to 7% against the Twins, 7% against the Phillies, and just 3% on Tuesday against the Pirates. We love to see that and it has led to success for him both in the past and over the last two starts when he allowed two runs on seven hits in 12 innings against the Phillies and Pirates while striking out 17 and walking three.

Hot damn, that’s a breakout. Well, kind of. He’s thrown his changeup in the zone just 33% of the time and while it has a 22% SwStr% and 32% ICR, I get a little worried about relying aggressively on a pitch that isn’t often a strike. That has volatility written all over it. Especially when he’s throwing his slider over the middle of the plate a lot. Sandoval has a middle-middle rate of almost 10% on his slider, and he’s throwing it x-middle (meaning not inside or outside) 33% of the time, that’s way too much in my opinion. If you look at his strike zone plot on Pitcher List, you see a pitch that is not commanded extremely well, with too many sliders up in the zone or over the middle.

Patrick Sandoval Slider

So, is Sandoval better than his 4.85 ERA? Yes, I think he is. Is he going to be a breakout star for you? No, I think he’ll remain a streamer but maybe one you can keep on your bench in deeper formats and just activate when he gets a matchup against anybody that isn’t an elite offense.

Ryan Feltner - Rockies

39 innings, 5.54 ERA, 3.80 SIERA, 15.3% K-BB%, 12.3% SwStr%, 101.4 Stuff+

It’s sad that Coors Field is going to make this analysis incredibly short, but such is life. The Rockies are a bad team and they play in a bad park for pitching, so it’s highly unlikely that I’m going to want to roster one of their starters. Feltner has always been a little bit interesting and both his four-seam fastball and changeup have graded out better this season due to some approach tweaks and more velocity and drop on the changeup. His slider is also missing way more bats this year, and I kind of wish he would get traded to another team because I think there’s an interesting pitcher in here.

Jack Flaherty - Tigers

42 innings, 3.85 ERA, 2.33 SIERA, 29.4% K-BB%, 15.8% SwStr%, 97.8 Stuff+

Jack Flaherty has been on a real heater of late so he’s probably a tough guy to trade for in your league, but he qualifies for this list, so he’s getting discussed. The simple analysis here is that Flaherty lives and dies with his four-seam. In the last start against the Guardians, his fastball averaged 94.4 mph and got nine whiffs and a 46% CSW. Against the Cardinals, he sat 95.1 mph with the four-seam, got 10 whiffs, and a 51% CSW. In the start before when he allowed four runs in five innings to the Rays, his four-seam was 93.6 mph and he got six whiffs and when he allowed four runs in six innings to the Twins, he averaged 93.1 mph and got just four whiffs.

So will his velocity stay up? I mean, I don’t know. He hasn’t averaged over 94 mph on his four-seam since 2019 and that appears to be a bit of a magic number for him. The warmer weather over the summer should help, but it’s really impossible to tell if the velocity gains will hold. They did for Tarik Skubal last year, so perhaps Detroit has a training regimen and attack plan that makes velocity gains more sustainable.

Flaherty’s changeup is a below-average pitch, and while his slider and curve are both missing tons of bats, he doesn’t throw them for strikes. The slider has just a 33% zone rate and relies on a 42% O-Swing% while the curve has an even worse 30% zone rate and also relies on a 42% O-Swing%. He’s only going to consistently get those chases if he can get ahead of the count with his four-seam or if he throws a good enough four-seam that hitters have to worry about it which allows him to fool them or keep them off-balance with the breakers. I’m inclined to believe in the previous talent of Flaherty and the pitching development of the Tigers and think that this is more real than a mirage; however, if you’re wary at all of him holding this fastball velocity than now may actually be the time to trade him away.

Pablo Lopez - Twins

37.2 innings, 4.30 ERA, 2.81 SIERA, 24.8% K-BB%, 14.1% SwStr%, 99.6 Stuff+

Pablo Lopez is an ace. That’s kind of the end of the analysis here. I know people are worried about some of his rough starts to begin the 2024 season, and his 4.30 ERA may not look like that of an ace, but remember that he also had a 6.15 ERA in an eight-start stretch from April 22nd to June 1st last season and then posted a 3.15 ERA in 20 starts to end the season. This is kind of who Pablo is.

The four-seamer is still missing bats and while he could do a better job of locating it up in the zone, it’s pounding the strike zone and not giving up tons of hard contact. The sweeper is missing lots of bats but is performing worse against lefties. Last year, Pablo used the sweeper as a backdoor pitch on the outside to lefties 22% of the time. This year, he’s only doing that 8% of the time, and they’re teeing off on the pitches low and in. Maybe it’s a command issue or a gameplan issue, but the shape/movement of the pitch isn’t meaningfully different. The bigger thing is that he seems to be going through a patch where he’s struggling to get a feel for his changeup, which has just a 26% zone rate and 54% strike rate after posting a 43% zone rate and 66% strike rate last year. The changeup has been his bread-and-butter for years now, so I don’t think he’s simply “lost” the pitch. I expect him to get the feel for it back, as he did last year, and go on another hot run. Maybe now is the time to get him before he does.

Brandon Pfaadt - Diamondbacks

41 innings, 4.61 ERA, 3.27 SIERA, 20.6% K-BB%, 11.8% SwStr%, 102.1 Stuff+

I know Pfaadt is on this list, but I simply don’t believe in him. The sweeper is a great pitch, no question about it. It has a 23% SwStr% and only allows a 30% ICR. He can also command it for strikes. There’s nothing not to like. Pfaadt has also been going to the sinker more this year, particularly against righties, throwing it 34% of the time to right-handed hitters, after using it just 15% in 2023. That’s great because the sinker allows just a 27% ICR to righties, so he has a good strike pitch and swing-and-miss pitch.

So why don’t I believe in him? Well, he’s actually doing WORSE this season against lefties and I didn’t think that was possible.

Pfaadt splits


The sinker does not work against lefties, with him throwing it just 9% of the time and allowing an 86% ICR. Yes, 86%, albeit in a very small sample size. The sweeper is also way worse against lefties, understandably so since it breaks into their hot zones, but the pitch has a 50% ICR to lefties and a 25% HR/FB rate. As a result, Pfaadt has to throw his four-seam more to lefties and that is a pitch that continues to give up a lot of hard contact while only posting a 6% SwStr%.

I love the sinker/sweeper pairing to righties and I think Pfaadt can be really good against right-handed-heavy lineups, but he’s going to continue to struggle against lefties and that makes me wary of treating him as anything other than a streamer.

Tanner Bibee - Cleveland Guardians

36.1 innings, 4.46 ERA, 3.72 SIERA, 16.7% K-BB%, 11.5% SwStr%, 102.6 Stuff+

We’ve come to another pitcher that I don’t fully believe in. Now, I believe in Bibee’s 3.72 SIERA more than his 4.46 ERA, but if you’re searching for that 2.98 ERA from 2023, I just don’t think that’s ever coming back. In my preseason starting pitcher rankings, I said: “I have some concerns that Bibee elevates his breaking balls a lot, which, logically to me, is a potential issue because breaking balls up in the zone are much easier to hit than out of the zone below. However, hitters also didn’t hit his curveballs up in the zone in 2023 and, at some point, I need to acknowledge how good he was as a rookie... Bibee did have a sub-25% strikeout rate, so I think we could be looking at a 23% strikeout rate pitcher with an ERA around 3.70.”

Well, that feels like pretty good analysis if I don’t say so myself. That 3.70 ERA is right in line with his SIERA and even though Bibee’s strikeout rate has stayed around 25%, we have seen his elevated breaking balls become an issue. He’s doing a better job of not throwing his slider in the upper third of the zone; however, he’s throwing it middle, or belt high, more than last year, at 24% he’s also throwing it x-middle 23%, meaning he’s not getting it outside to righties nearly as much as we’d like. As a result, the slider is allowing a 37% ICR and 15% barrel rate after posting a 29% ICR and 5% barrel rate last year.

It’s the same story with his curve, which he’s not throwing up in the zone as much but is still throwing belt-high about 22% of the time. He has a .300 batting average allowed and a 25% barrel rate on the pitch, even though we have to acknowledge the small sample size since it’s his least-thrown pitch. With him also throwing his fastball belt-high more than last year, he’s seen the ICR on his fastball jump from 42% to 52% and the barrel rate go from 4.6% to 7.7%.

It’s really all about locations with Bibee. I believe in him more than I believe in Pfaadt, and I think I’d be more inclined to trade for Bibee because I think the foundation is there for him to be a top-30 pitcher, but he needs to stop throwing his breaking balls over the middle of the plate as much.

Chris Sale - Braves

36.2 innings, 3.44 ERA, 2.77 SIERA, 24.1% K-BB%, 15.4% SwStr%, 111.2 Stuff+

I’m not sure we can do anything with this information because the person who has Sale in your league is probably incredibly happy with how he’s done so far. However, this just points to the fact that the early results are earned and could even improve. There may be some concern about how many innings Sale will throw this year, and that’s totally justifiable, but in a climate where seemingly healthy pitchers are ending up on the IL every day, I don’t think we should punish Sale more for injuries than others. If the person who has Sale in your league is concerned about durability or innings, maybe float an offer and see what happens.

I’ll tell you that some of the names on this list that most over-performed their SIERA and could be guys you could look to trade away (for the right price) are: Cristian Javier, Reynaldo Lopez, Kutter Crawford, Ronel Blanco, Logan Gilbert, and Luis Gil. Maybe there’s a deal where you could unload one of those pitchers and get Sale back.

Bobby Miller - Dodgers

11.2 innings, 5.40 ERA, 2.99 SIERA, 24% K-BB%, 11.2% SwStr%, 125.6 Stuff+

There’s nothing actionable here, but I just wanted to highlight that Bobby Miller also made this leaderboard with a 5.40 ERA and 2.40 SIERA that comes with a 24% K-BB%, 125 Stuff+, and 11.2% SwStr%. Nobody dropped him when he got hurt, and you’re unlikely to be able to trade for him if you don’t have him, but if he is on your team, you also likely shouldn’t be worried about the early hiccups.