Don't sleep on Nick Pivetta
By traditional metrics, Nick Pivetta's first two seasons have been terrible, yielding a 15-24 record with a 5.33 ERA and 1.40 WHIP. But despite the mediocre results, Pivetta has been making strides on the mound and could be poised for a breakout. Last year saw most of his defense-independent metrics take a step in the right direction, as he increased his strikeout rate from 9.5 K/9 to 10.3 K/9 while lowering his walk rate from 3.9 BB/9 to 2.8 BB/9. He also did a better job keeping the ball in the yard by improving his ground-ball rate from 43.8% to 46.7% and slashing his home run rate from 1.7 HR/9 to 1.3 HR/9. Accordingly, his 3.80 FIP was nearly a full run better than his 4.77 ERA, and his 3.42 xFIP was even stronger. Pivetta's struggles have largely been the byproduct of bad luck, as his .329 BABIP and 17.0% HR/FB ratio are both the fourth highest in baseball since 2017 (min. 250 innings), while his 68.1% strand rate is the seventh lowest. With better luck and continued improvement, Pivetta could shave a full run off his ERA in his third season, making him a quality mixed league arm rather than just an NL-only one - especially if he's able to build off his strong spring thus far (2.38 ERA, 0.88 WHIP).
Taking a closer look at Rhys Hoskins
Rhys Hoskins burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2017, smashing 18 home runs and driving in 48 runs in just 50 games while slashing a robust .259/.396/.618. That left fantasy owners salivating at what he could do after a full season, and he didn't disappoint, blasting 34 homers with 38 doubles and 96 RBIs in 153 games last year. His rate stats all decreased significantly, however, falling to .246/.354/.496 as his strikeout rate went up (from 21.7% to 22.7%) and his walk rate went down (from 17.5% to 13.2%). Despite maintaining a similar approach at the plate, his hard-hit rate tumbled from 46 percent to 34.5%, which partly explains why his HR/FB ratio plummeted from 31.6% to 16.0%. More than half of his batted balls were hit in the air last year, however, so if he's able to square up pitches a little better he could easily threaten 40 homers. The 26-year-old should also benefit from a much-improved supporting cast, which now includes Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen, and Jean Segura. So while Hoskins may have left fantasy owners wanting more last year, he still has the potential for a monster 2019.
Andrew McCutchen still going strong
While no longer the perennial All-Star and MVP-caliber player that he once was, Andrew McCutchen still wields a potent bat at age 32. He's belted at least 20 homers in eight straight seasons and has remained exceptionally durable, exceeding 150 games played in eight of his last nine campaigns. Plus, after years of declining stolen base totals, he's back to being a factor on the bases with 25 thefts in 2017-2018 combined. McCutchen appears in line for another strong season after joining the Phillies, which may be the strongest lineup he's ever been a part of. He should also receive a nice boost from Citizens Bank Park - where he's a career .278/.331/.541 hitter - after spending the bulk of his career in the more pitcher-friendly PNC Park. His average appears unlikely to return to prior levels, however, as his BABIP has hovered around .300 over the past three seasons - well below his career mark of .326. He's also striking out more than he used to with the two highest K rates of his career coming in 2016 and 2018. Fantasy owners should pencil him in for around 20-25 homers, double-digit steals, and an average in the .260 range.
Is Nick Castellanos the Tigers' top hitter?
With Miguel Cabrera in decline, Nicholas Castellanos has arguably surpassed him as Detroit's top fantasy option. After a solid start to his career, Castellanos has emerged as one of the American League's better hitters over the past three seasons, batting .285/.336/.495 while averaging 22 homers and 83 RBIs per season. Those numbers were more valuable when he was manning the hot corner, but they still play even after moving to the outfield full time in 2018. He still appears to be maturing as a hitter after posting the highest walk rate (7.2%), line-drive rate (28.8%), and hard-hit rate (47.9%) of his career last year while adopting a slightly more pull-heavy approach, which helped produce personal bests in batting average (.298), OBP (.354), and SLG (.500). At 27 years old, Castellanos is squarely in his prime and should be headed for another strong campaign as a centerpiece of Detroit's lineup, especially after a strong showing in spring training thus far (.333/.355/.567).
Don't trust Jordan Zimmermann
It's hard to remember now, but Jordan Zimmermann was one of the National League's better pitchers during the first half of the decade with the Nationals, compiling a 3.14 ERA over nearly 1,000 innings with Washington from 2011-2015. His tenure with the Tigers has produced vastly dissimilar results, however, as age, injuries, and the transition to the American League have rendered him largely ineffective. In three seasons with Detroit spanning just under 400 innings, the former two-time All-Star has gone 24-28 with a 5.24 ERA, a 4.88 FIP, and a 1.41 WHIP. His strikeout rate dropped from 7.4 K/9 with the Nats to 6.4 with the Tigers even as league-wide strikeout rates have continued to climb, and his home run rate has increased in four consecutive years from 0.6 HR/9 in 2014 to 1.9 HR/9 last year. While last season was his best with Detroit thanks to improved peripherals, he still posted an underwhelming 4.52 ERA and 4.88 FIP. On the eve of his age-33 season, Zimmermann is clearly no longer the pitcher he once was and should be avoided in most fantasy leagues, especially after posting a 4.73 ERA through his first four spring training starts.
Can Niko Goodrum build off solid debut?
Not too many people paid attention to the Tigers last year, so you might've missed the fact that they had one of the AL's more exciting rookies in Niko Goodrum. A late-bloomer at age 26, he latched on with Detroit after being released by Minnesota and showed what he could do over a full season, slashing .245/.315/.432 with 16 homers and 12 steals in 444 at-bats. He also showed great versatility in the field, playing all four infield positions (except catcher) as well as both corner outfield spots. His success has carried over into 2019, as he's off to a hot start this spring, batting .325/.372/.550 - suggesting last year's breakout may not have been a fluke. His bat could also show improvement if he's able to cut down on last year's 26.8 percent strikeout rate, which could happen now that he has a full season under his belt. Goodrum projects as a solid power/speed option with multi-position eligibility, making him an asset in most fantasy leagues.
Around the League:
Marco Gonzales (SEA) - Mariners lefty Marco Gonzales won his first start of the season Wednesday against the A's after allowing four runs (three earned) on seven hits (two homers) and one walk with four strikeouts over six innings. Gonzales got off to a bumpy start, allowing Oakland to score in each of the first three innings while yielding a pair of long balls. He settled down during the middle innings, however, and Seattle's bats picked him up with nine runs to secure the win. Gonzales was also highly efficient with his pitches, needing just 69 to complete six frames while throwing 51 for strikes. The 27-year-old southpaw should be well-rested for his next start, which is slated for March 28 at home against the Red Sox.
Mike Fiers (OAK) - A's righty Mike Fiers lost his first start of the season Wednesday against the Mariners after allowing five runs on four hits (one homer) and two walks with three strikeouts in three innings. Fiers started strong with a pair of scoreless frames before running into trouble in the third, when Seattle jumped on him for five runs -- four of which came on Domingo Santana's grand slam -- and took the lead for good. Fiers got the quick hook after just 58 pitches (35 strikes), so he should be well-rested for his next start against the Angels at the end of the month, where he'll look to return to the form that produced a 12-8 record with a 3.56 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP last year.
Hunter Strickland (SEA) - Mariners closer Hunter Strickland converted his first save opportunity of the season on Wednesday against the A's. Brought in to protect a 9-7 lead in the bottom of the ninth, Strickland logged a 1-2-3 inning while notching a pair of strikeouts to secure Seattle's first win of 2019. While not a dominant closing option due to his lackluster strikeout totals (7.3 K/9 last year), Strickland should be a solid source of saves at the back of the Mariners bullpen this year, especially if he trims last season's 4.2 BB/9 rate.
Matt Chapman (OAK) - A's third baseman Matt Chapman went 2-for-5 with a double, a three-run homer and two runs scored Wednesday against the Mariners. Chapman kicked off the season in style by roping a double in his second at-bat before bringing home three runs on his first home run of the year in the 7th inning, cutting Oakland's deficit to 9-7. The 25-year-old has displayed promising power thus far with a .233 ISO over his first two seasons, setting the stage for a possible 30-homer/100 RBI campaign in 2019, especially if he's able to turn some of last year's 42 doubles into homers.
Stephen Piscotty (OAK) - A's outfielder Stephen Piscotty went 1-for-4 with a solo homer vs. the Mariners on Wednesday. After launching a career-high 27 homers last year, Piscotty took Marco Gonzales deep in his first at-bat of 2019 to stake Oakland to a quick 1-0 lead in the first inning. He didn't get any more hits after that, but it was still a promising start for the 28-year-old slugger, who has the potential for 30 homers and 100 RBIs after topping 20 bombs and 80 ribbies in two of the past three seasons. He also provides solid batting averages (.268 lifetime) and on-base skills (career .341 OBP).
Khris Davis (OAK) - A's designated hitter Khris Davis went 1-for-4 with a two-run homer Wednesday vs. the Mariners. After Seattle roared ahead with a five-run third inning, Davis answered with a two-run shot off Marco Gonzales in the bottom of the frame to make it a one-run game. Davis, who has increased his home run total every year since entering the majors in 2013, paced both leagues in round-trippers last year with 48. With three straight seasons of at least 40 homers and 100 RBIs under his belt, Davis is one of the most dangerous and reliable sluggers in baseball.
Domingo Santana (SEA) - Mariners outfielder Domingo Santana went 1-for-5 with a grand slam Wednesday against the A's. Santana made his only hit of the game count, putting Seattle ahead for good with his third-inning grand slam and making a strong impression with his new team. After managing just five home runs and 20 RBIs in 85 games last year, the 26-year-old is looking to rebound to his 2017 form, which saw him bash 30 homers and steal 15 bases while batting .278/.371/.505. With a ceiling like that, Santana should not be ignored in fantasy drafts this spring.
Tim Beckham (SEA) - Mariners shortstop Tim Beckham had a monster day at the plate Wednesday, going 3-for-3 with a two-run homer, three runs scored, and a walk against the A's. Batting in the eight-hole for his first game with Seattle, Beckham helped pace his new team to a 9-7 victory with his two-run homer in the fifth, which proved to be the difference. Beckham has displayed solid power for a shortstop since debuting in 2013, posting a .173 ISO while smacking as many as 22 home runs in 2017. While his contact skills (.252 average) and on-base abilities (.304 OBP) leave something to be desired, his pop makes him a solid fantasy choice in deeper leagues.
Dee Gordon (SEA) - Mariners second baseman Dee Gordon hit the ground running (literally) on Wednesday, opening the season by going 1-for-4 with a run, an RBI, and a stolen base against the A's. Gordon helped spark Seattle's 9-7 victory with a key run and RBI while also swiping his first bag of the season. With 309 career thefts and five straight seasons of at least 30, Gordon is still one of the game's top stolen base threats at age 30, and a valuable fantasy commodity as a result.
Marcus Semien (OAK) - A's shortstop Marcus Semien went 1-for-2 with an RBI, a run, and two walks vs. the Mariners on Wednesday. Semien reached base three times in the losing effort, as his teammates were only able to bring him around once. While he's unlikely to reach base very often (career .310 OBP), Semien still retains fantasy value in most leagues because of his power/speed combination, which has produced double-digit homers and steals in four straight seasons. Still in his prime at 28, Semien is a high-floor fantasy option that shouldn't cost too much on draft day.
Jesus Luzardo (OAK) will be shut down for 4-6 weeks with a muscle strain in his shoulder. Luzardo has ascended towards the top of every prospect report, including ours. He wasn't expected to make the team for financial reasons, so this will likely set him back 2-4 weeks off of what could have been. Projecting somewhere between 120-130 innings this year isn't far off of the 150 we had projected before the injury. Obviously he'll come much cheaper in drafts now, but he's still worth a late round grab and stash.
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