Starting Pitcher Position Preview - Returning From Injury (Part 2)
Ivar G. Anderson takes a look at a few pitchers who will make their return this season after missing most or all of the 2019 season.
While the start of the season is now up in the air, there is still hope that the 2020 MLB season will be played in one form or another. Therefore, let us continue to prepare for the upcoming draft season by taking a look at some starting pitchers coming back from the IL and/or surgery.
Note: Projections are based on while not best-case scenarios, better than 50% prognostications (closer to 80%). In other words, not the ceiling but far from the floor.
The 27-year-old southpaw is coming back from 2018 Tommy John surgery (TJS), and his manager has indicated that he is locked into the rotation, initially as the fourth starter but given the delay in the start of the season and the pending return of his teammate that is profiled immediately below, that could shift to the fifth starter sooner rather than later. With just 35 innings pitched (IP) under his belt the past two seasons, do not expect him to throw a huge number of innings. The limited workload will have an impact on the rediscovery of his command and control, but he should be able to contribute nearly a strikeout per inning.
Projections: 130 IP/4.50 ERA/1.35 WHIP/122 K
James Paxton NYY
Paxton had back surgery to remove a cyst in February, and the most recent prognosis was that he would be back on the mound by mid-May. He has a mid-90 MPH four-seam fastball which he mixes with a cutter and curve. No arm worries, so expect the lefthander to return excellent peripherals to go along with significant swing and miss production while toeing the rubber this coming season. He should also come at a discount in drafts due to not being a full participant in the spring prior to the current shutdown of baseball operations on the field.
Projections: 150 IP/3.84 ERA/1.19 WHIP/165 K
Mike Clevinger CLE
The 29-year old righty is the ace of the Cleveland staff and is poised to return to that role, assuming he can avoid the IL this season. He was sidelined twice in 2019, first with a back strain at the beginning of the year, and followed that with an ankle injury. He is now coming off surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee but was on track to be on the bump to begin the season, with the delay engendered by the pandemic situation. He features three plus pitches, beginning with a mid-90s fastball, and backed up with an effective slider and change (and a so-so curve). The injury history is a concern, to be certain, but when he is on the hill, he is an SP1 who may come at a tad of a discount in this year’s drafts.
Projections: 170 IP/3.04 ERA/1.12 WHIP/185 K
Michael Kopech CHW
Another pitcher coming back from TJS in 2018, he was never exactly a command and control specialist before going under the scalpel in September two years ago. He is also a flyball pitcher, so his ERA is going to be inflated as some of the free passes touch the plate when the ball leaves the yard. He is a good source of Ks, though, when he is on the mound for the White Sox. He is also only 23 years old, going on 24 at the end of April, so the rookie righty is one to keep tabs on going forward, if you are not willing to take a chance on his projected mediocre peripherals this year.
Projections: 110 IP/4.20 ERA/1.32 WHIP/123 K
Lance McCullers Jr. HOU
The Houston right-hander missed all of 2019, undergoing TJS to repair his elbow, and will be on an innings limit this coming campaign. He has (had) a 94 MPH fastball but it is his devastating curve that is his best offering, freezing hitters. He is primarily a groundball inducer, which limits the number of dingers he allows, allowing for useful peripherals in fantasy. Durability, though, is a concern, despite his status as a third starting pitcher in the Astro rotation.
Projections: 140 IP/3.45 ERA/1.26 WHIP/145 K
Taijuan Walker SEA
Walker was shut down early on in 2018 with forearm tightness that was later diagnosed as an ulnar strain that required TJS. A familiar refrain in this article, to be sure, as it the concern that his command and control will be suspect for a time upon his return to the Mariner rotation. In 2017, he was breaking out with his best season effort as a major leaguer, with a useful 3.49 ERA, although the 1.33 WHIP is a tad inflated. He is also not more than an average K producer, with an 8.14 K/9 ratio. As a late-round arm to bolster a fantasy rotation, he is worth taking a flier on in 2020.
Projections: 140 IP/4.45 ERA/1.39 WHIP/125 K
These articles will continue, as we are planning to continue our positional profiles leading up through the start of the regular season, whenever that occurs. Next installment, this article will take up a handful of late round SP5/6 types of arms that are worthy of your consideration as your draft winds down.
As ever, good luck and godspeed in all your fantasy efforts. You can contact this writer with your questions regarding starting pitching or other fantasy baseball issues at firstname.lastname@example.org