On a per inning basis, I won’t argue with you that San Diego’s Dinelson Lamet is one of the best in the game. His high strikeout totals entice fantasy owners, but a lot of missed time over the years rubs off some of the shine that is Lamet. In 2020, he was excellent. He logged two starts, just two less than 2019, and went 3-1 with a 2.09 earned run average and a sparkling 0.86 WHIP. He was able to keep the WHIP down by a career low walk rate, and the strikeouts were actually at a career high as well, so he didn’t have to sacrifice one for the benefit of the other.
However, he’s likely to not be ready for Opening Day, so we are left with the same question surrounding Lamet once again. Are his elite abilities on a per inning basis worth an early pick, given his injury history?
Before we get into his lengthy injury history, his 2020 season should be celebrated. He was phenomenal. He increased his strikeout rate up to 34.8 percent, all while dropping his walk rate to 7.5 percent. He did it on the back of his slider, that per Baseball Savant’s run value, was the best pitch in baseball last season. When you look at FanGraphs’ pitch value, his slider registered a 20.0 last year, and between 2017 and 2019, it combined to achieve a 24.7 value.
One last thing about his slider; in 2020, it registered a .080 batting average (.096 xBA) and an immense 47.2 percent whiff rate.
The other thing about his repertoire that’s interesting is that his sinker doesn’t generate ground balls like the pitch normally does. In 2019, the launch angle against the pitch was eight degrees, but it ballooned to 25 degrees in 2020. As expected, it resulted in more ground balls and it actually induced the highest fly ball rate of his three pitches.
Most of his batted ball profile was similar to recent years, and nothing too significant jumps off the page via Statcast. Despite allowing a higher exit velocity on fly balls and line drives in 2020, home runs weren’t an issue for him in 2020, which is the first time in his career his HR/9 was below 1.40. It was 0.65 in 2020. This will happen when you posted HR/FB rates in previous years of 14.8 percent and 19.7 percent, but then it drops to just 7.9 percent in a shortened season. That will certainly help.
No one is denying Lamet’s ability on the mound. I’ve been anti-drafting Lamet in recent years solely due to injury history and risk, not because of his potential or performance when on the bump. So, I’d be remiss if we didn’t detail his injury history.
- Elbow strain in 2017
- Elbow strain in 2018
- Missed 2019 due to Tommy John Surgery
- Biceps tendinitis that forced him to miss 2020 postseason
When he was on the mound last year, he was performing at a Cy Young level. However, some of the shine from his season is lost considering that he missed the end of the year with yet another injury. Per NFBC data, he’s the 33rd pitcher (28th starter) off the board, and at face value, it looks like a great bargain, given the fact that he is elite on a per-inning basis. However, there’s a lot of risk with Lamet, and there’s already concern that he’s not going to be ready for Opening Day.
He’s likely going to be your team’s second starter, and that’s a hefty price to pay for someone who has made more than 15 starts in a season just once, and has never thrown more than 153.1 innings in a single season. In fact, if we go back to his minor league career, he’s topped 100 innings just three times (2015, 2016 & 2017).
Drafting pitching is hard enough these days and undertaking known risk so early in your league’s fantasy baseball draft is incredibly risky. I don’t want to make assumptions — because you know what they say about people when they assume — but no one is knocking Lamet’s talent. His talent has never been the issue, like I’ve said numerous times. The lengthy injury history is a bit unsettling in the top handful of rounds.
If you take Lamet, you’re signaling to your league that your team is operating under the first or worst mentality. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you take Lamet as your SP2, you better backload your rotation with proven arms that can eat innings to offset Lamet’s reduced workload or another unfortunate injury.