Rich Hill – Minnesota Twins (NFBC ADP since 4/15: 265)
After Hill had elbow surgery back in November with a June 2020 return date, it made sense he was being drafted well past the top 400. But barring a setback, the 40 year old should benefit from an early July start more than almost any other player. From 2015 to 2019, Rich Hill recorded a 2.91 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and 10.7 K/9. He had a slightly lucky 2.45 ERA last year (xERA: 3.15) and the long ball against righties was a big concern in 2019, but those homers were almost the only time they scored against him! He gave up 9 HR but just 13 ER to righties. Overall in 2019, he allowed barrels in just 2.8% of plate appearances, good for 16th in the MLB among starters and relievers. His wOBA last year was 0.292 but his xwOBA was even better at 0.269. I was shocked to see Hill projected for an ERA around 4.00 by every projection system. While injuries are always an issue with Hill, he should give you a low 3’s ERA when healthy based on recent production.
Kenta Maeda – Minnesota Twins (ADP: 162)
Maeda’s Baseball Savant page, with more red than a perfectly cooked medium rare steak, will make your mouth water.
Along with his great ability to induce weak contact, Maeda’s career WHIP and K/9 are 1.15 and 9.79, respectively. His 2019 wOBA and xwOBA were both 0.274. So why isn’t Maeda, whose expected ERA is always worse than his actual ERA, even better?
The categories which aren’t red on Baseball Savant–fastball velocity and fastball spin–are perhaps indicative of why Maeda has a 4.03 ERA over the past 3 years. According to PitchFX on Fangraphs, Maeda’s fastball averaged a meh 92.1 MPH and got hit to the tune of a 143 wRC+ in 2019 and 148 wRC+ in 2018. I have a sneaking suspicion the thing holding Maeda back is that lefties absolutely crush his fastball. In 2018, lefties had a 0.348 wOBA against him overall compared to 0.266 for righties. In 2019, lefties had a 0.319 wOBA and righties had just a 0.229 wOBA.
As exciting as Maeda seems, I think his fastball and difficulty against lefties holds him back. He is a fine pick at 162, but after diving deep, I am not expecting a low 3’s ERA breakout like some are. Give me Rich Hill 100 picks later.
Aaron Civale – Cleveland Indians (ADP: 252)
Civale popped onto my radar while researching for this article. Although he shares underwhelming fastball velocity with Hill and Maeda, he also shares excellent 2019 batted ball results.
In his rookie year, Civale gave up barrels in just 1.8% of PA, the best of any qualifying starter in the majors. His 0.269 wOBA against matched up with a 0.278 xwOBA. In his 57.2 major league innings, Civale did not have troublesome lefty/righty splits like Hill and Maeda.
Civale had four plus pitches based on results in 2019: his go-to sinker, slider, curveball, and changeup all ranked above average according to wRC+ against. His sinker has an unusual amount of spin, ranking in the 85th percentile for fastballs has been hard for major leaguers to barrel up. Even his cutter (0.792 OPS against) had a positive pVAL. His third most thrown pitch, the slider, had incredible results (5 wRC+ against). While the slider will regress to the mean, he has proven he can get people out with it in the majors.
The biggest downside with Civale is that he struck out just 7.18 batters per 9 innings. However, his curveball shows promise as a potential “out pitch”. The curveball has 95th percentile spin, an excellent 48.5% O-Swing%, and a 41.7% K%. Civale recently appeared on the Pitcher List podcast and was asked about the curveball, which he used somewhat sparingly but used more in his last four starts of the year. While Civale likes the curveball as a weapon, he stated its usage depends on gameplan, how it feels that day, and picking and choosing when to use it.
Although projection systems expect Civale to have a mid-4’s ERA and around a 1.30 WHIP, he should easily outperform that with his solid five pitch repertoire, cerebral pitch mix approach, and ability to induce weak contact.
Dakota Hudson – St. Louis Cardinals (ADP: 301)
Hudson is unlike the previous three pitchers in that his Baseball Savant page is covered in more blue than Tobias Fünke.
Hudson’s 2019 ERA was 3.35 but his FIP was over a run and a half higher at 4.93 (-1.58 E-F [ERA-FIP]). Hudson had a 11.4% walk rate, a 1.41 WHIP, and 7.01 K/9 so it is fair to say he was lucky. But no qualifying starter induced more ground balls than Hudson (56.9%), and those ground balls were hit into the best infield defense in the MLB last year.
Surprisingly, Matt Carpenter (+6 OAA [outs above average]) ranked as a top 5 third baseman, according to StatCast. He credited the improvement to shifting to the left, taking away balls in the hole as opposed to balls down the line. Less surprisingly, Paul Goldschmidt (+5 OAA), Kolten Wong (+10 OAA), and Paul DeJong (+13 OAA) are outstanding defenders as well. Rookie Tommy Edman (+3 OAA) filled in admirably at both second and third. Even though FIP does not realize this, the infield defense (+42 OAA overall) should remain the same, and if the 25 year old Hudson can keep his BB% around 10%, a sub-4.00 ERA is very attainable.
Although another FIP overperformer Jack Flaherty (-0.71 E-F) benefited from the infield defense less as his GB% was just 39.5%, the solid defense behind Flaherty is a positive to those drafting him in the top two rounds with hopes he can repeat last year.