Fantasy baseball season is nearly here, so to kick-start your 2016 draft prep, SI.com’s fantasy baseball expert Michael Beller will give a snapshot of certain players who may not necessarily be a breakout, a sleeper or a bust (all of which we’ll preview in the upcoming weeks), but could still prove influential this season.
The player: Raisel Iglesias, SP, Reds
• The 2015 stats: 16 starts, 95 1/3 innings, 4.15 ERA, 3.28 xFIP, 1.14 WHIP, 104 strikeouts, 26.3% K rate, 7.1% BB rate
• The SI rank: No. 102 overall, No. 32 starting pitcher
• The consensus rank (FantasyPros): No. 132 overall, No. 38 starting pitcher
• The skinny: Iglesias has been everyone’s favorite sleeper this winter, so by time draft season rolls around, he’s more undervalued than true sleeper. No matter what tag you give him, it’s certain that Iglesias is a rising talent with the ability to be a top-30 starting pitcher this year and eventually, if all goes right for him, a true fantasy ace.
The Reds jerked Iglesias around a bit last season, shuttling him from Cincinnati to Louisville and rotation to bullpen multiple times before he finally stuck in the big league rotation on July 11. His first start upon becoming an official, locked-in member of the rotation wasn’t great— he gave up five runs on eight hits with just two strikeouts in a loss to the Marlins. His second start, however, was much better. In that outing, Iglesias held the Cubs mostly at bay, surrendering two runs while fanning eight batters in 5 2/3 innings. It was a sign of things to come.
Iglesias would go on to flash his elite strikeout stuff from the final two months of the season. He whiffed 104 batters in just 95 1/3 innings and posted a 26.3% strikeout rate. He didn’t throw enough innings to qualify for the leaderboards, but if he did that strikeout rate would have been good for 11th in the league, sandwiched between Francisco Liriano and Tyson Ross. That’s awfully good strikeout company.
The 26-year-old righty peaked during a three-start stretch in late August and early September. In outings against the Diamondbacks, Brewers and Cubs, Iglesias struck out 33 batters in 21 innings, surrendering six earned runs on 10 hits and eight walks. He fanned at least 10 batters and finished seven innings in all three games, as well. Paul Goldschmidt, Ryan Braun, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant combined to go 1-for-10 with four strikeouts against Iglesias, the one hit being a Rizzo home run.
Let’s take a look at a few of those whiffs against elite talent.
Take another look at the Rizzo strikeout, paying particular attention to Iglesias’s arm slot on the pitch. He’s somewhere between three-quarters and sidearm, and that’s not accidental—Iglesias will be able to exploit that skill throughout his entire career, making him even more deceptive, which is a trait we don’t see often from a power righty.
Of course, it’s not just the swing-and-miss stuff that makes Iglesias so intriguing for fantasy owners and confounding for opposing hitters. He posted a 47.2% ground-ball rate for the entire season, and if you isolate for his 12 second-half starts, it jumps to 53.1%. He throws four different pitches—a four-seamer, two-seamer, slider and changeup—and used all at least 14.2% of the time last season. His four-seamer will touch 96 and 97, but it sits at an average of 92.9 mph with good horizontal movement, about 6.5 inches in on a right-hander on average. That helps to explain why righties hit just .163 against his four-seamer last season.
Righties also can’t touch the slider. They managed a .169 batting average against it to go with a 23.3% whiff rate. Lefties were just as clueless against it, hitting .194 with a .258 slugging percentage and 13.5% whiff rate. They, too, foundered when Iglesias threw his change, hitting .244 with a .098 isolated slugging percentage, 14.5% whiff rate, and 67.6% ground-ball rate. Iglesias can attack righties and lefties to both sides of the plate with multiple pitches. That’s the stuff of frontline major league starters.
No one in this neighborhood of the rankings is without issues, and two red flags jump out when evaluating Iglesias. First, and most obvious, is the longball. Iglesias surrendered 11 homers in his 95 1/3 innings last year, posting an HR/9 that would have been 26th in the majors, and HR/FB ratio that would have slotted 10th. That, in itself, is not a death sentence. A sampling of pitchers with the 20 worst HR/FB ratios from last season includes Dallas Keuchel, Carlos Carrasco, Chris Sale and Danny Salazar. Still, it’s something he needs to work on, specifically with respect to his slider. While it was a devastating strikeout pitch, particularly to righties, when it was bad, it was very bad. Righties touched him for five homers and a .204 ISO on the slider.
The second issue is the performance of his fastball, both the four-seamer and two-seamer, against lefties. He naturally favored the two-seamer when he lacked a platoon advantage, given its natural inclination to tail away from a left-handed hitter. They still managed to hit .349 against the offering, while posting a .267 batting average and .467 slugging percentage against the straighter four-seam fastball. Their line-drive rate against the two, which only counts the 74 balls they put in play, was a combined 37.8%.
Looking at the overall picture, however, the good significantly outweighs the bad. Iglesias’s average draft position sits at 150.02, meaning he’s coming off the board in the middle of the 12th round of a typical 12-team draft. He’s priced as No. 4/5 starter, but can be a legitimate No. 2 on a winning fantasy team.
• The best-case scenario: Iglesias was merely scratching the surface of his ability in 2015. He takes a giant leap forward, keeps the ball in the yard, while posting a strikeout rate in the high-20s and ground-ball rate north of 50%. He ends up being a top-25 fantasy starter, and one of the few players worth paying to watch in Cincinnati.
• The worst-case scenario: Iglesias’s home-run issues get worse, and he still can’t find a reliable fastball against lefties. He’s still able to strike out nearly a batter per inning, but he does so with a mid-4s ERA and below-average WHIP, thanks largely to all the balls sailing over the fences.