Four notable starting pitchers appear on our most dropped list, and all are available in over half of ESPN leagues.
Give us your thoughts on these players moving forward and whether or not they're worthy of a pickup if they've been dropped in someone's league.
Eric Karabell on Marcus Stroman
I think Stroman has been one of the more overrated fantasy pitchers the past few seasons, as his strikeout rate and WHIP simply do not match up with expectations of those in his ranking class. Stroman was a 15th-round pick in ESPN Average Draft Position (ADP), top 40 among starters, and he did finish last season as the No. 27 starter on the Player Rater, but his numbers were volume driven. That tends to worry me.
However, the Stroman we saw pitch seven effective innings versus Atlanta on Tuesday is eminently capable of further reducing his 5.90 ERA, which was 6.50 entering Tuesday. Stroman induces many ground balls and surpassed 200 innings the previous two seasons, which has value, but we would surely like more whiffs. I cannot claim Stroman as a top-40 starting pitcher, but top 60 makes sense for now, until he shows more consistency. He will move up in my next rankings. Still, there are others with more potential I would prefer to invest in, including Shane Bieber, who I seem to have invested in for just about every one of my teams.
Tristan H. Cockcroft on Shane Bieber
I'd say that I don't understand why Bieber has been dropped in more than 10 percent of ESPN leagues, but he's facing the New York Yankees in his final start of the traditional "first half," he doesn't have a rep for being a "future Cy Young candidate" and, perhaps most importantly, there's that whole "Bieber" tie, so this proves that people who play fantasy clearly aren't Justin Bieber fans. Too late now to say sorry. (Hey, I only promised I wouldn't make Trevor Story puns.)
Seriously, though, this is just a pitcher with more upside than he's receiving credit for and is being treated as a streaming starter. And no, I wouldn't use him against the Yankees either, if I could avoid it. In his defense, though, and regarding his rest-of-season prospects, Bieber has among the sharpest control of anyone in baseball, his 3.8 percent walk rate fifth-best among the 178 pitchers with at least six starts and his 39.4 percent called strike rate second-best among that same group. Even better: He's one of only six pitchers in the past 100 years to walk no more than one batter while making each of his first six big-league appearances in a starting capacity. Bieber does come with the danger of an unusually high hit rate thanks to his tendency to hit the strike zone frequently, but his walk rate helps make up for it and he's not much of a fly-baller, which helps keep him from being one of the riskiest pitchers for allowing homers. His BABIP is also .380, which is outrageously high even accounting for these traits, so improvement in that department should be expected.
I think Bieber is capable of a sub-four ERA in what should be another 10, maybe 12, starts, with what could be 55-plus strikeouts and a 1.25 WHIP for a team that should rank among the best in run support (read: wins!). He's a top-60 fantasy starter for me, useful for the vast majority of his matchups, so yes, I'd pick him up.
AJ Mass on Sonny Gray
In his last five starts, Sonny Gray has posted an ERA of 9.00, with a BAA of .368. It's easy to write this off as a midseason slump, save for the fact that prior to this recent run of failure, his ERA was still a gaudy 4.81, though his BAA was a much more respectable .254.
Part of his lack of success in pinstripes is a result of the change in ballpark, moving to New York. For his career, he has managed a 3.50 ERA and .235 BAA at Oakland Coliseum and a dismal 6.78 ERA and .281 BAA at Yankee Stadium. His home/road splits for 2018 reflect his trouble in the Bronx -- 8.25 ERA, .329 BAA. While his road numbers are far from ideal, they are at least somewhat acceptable from a No. 5 starting pitcher in fantasy -- 4.07 ERA, .247 BAA.
I think there's a combination of issues at play here. One of the main differences in Gray's success (or lack thereof) at home is the amount of foul territory to be found. In Gray's best season (2015), his defense reached double-digits in terms of foul popups caught when he was on the mound. So far this season, that number stands at only three.
Additionally, Gray's fastball isn't working quite as well as in the past, and the over-reliance on his cutter over his four-seamer seems to be a result of poor mechanics. That can be fixed -- but the issue is time. If Gray doesn't pitch well Wednesday night in Baltimore, he might be ticketed for a new role in long-relief.
Luis Cessa would be the likely candidate to take over his spot in the rotation if that happens (and if so, I'd grab the youngster at that time), but I'm actually optimistic that Gray is about to turn things around -- at least enough to be used presently as a streaming option/matchup play when he's on the road, beginning Wednesday night versus the woeful O's.
Kyle Soppe on Clayton Richard
I'm not sure that Richard is an above-average pitcher. In fact, I'm pretty sure he's not ... but I'd still put him on the end of my roster if I'm a head-to-head contender for one reason and one reason only: innings. Much the way you chase volume in any other fantasy sport (minutes in basketball, touches in football, etc.), I'm doing it here, as efficient pitchers who go deep into games is becoming a rare breed.
Expectations for any one start need to be kept in check, but with the low ceiling comes a high floor that is tough to find on the wire in competitive leagues. He leads the league with a ground ball rate over 57 percent, and while the strikeout upside is low, the fact that his swing-and-miss rate is up nearly 2 percentage points from his career average is noteworthy. Richard ranks as a top-10 pitcher in terms of fewest pitches per inning, a skill that has allowed him to get at least 21 outs on seven different occasions since the beginning of May, a total that only four pitchers have topped (all guys you may have heard of: James Paxton, Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, and Chris Sale). I don't think you win your league because of Richard, but I don't think you lose it because of him either and that holds value while you wait for something more appealing to pop up on the wire.