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Fantasy Baseball's 2020 Breakout Pitcher Will Be...

Every fantasy baseball owner would love to find the next impact arm in Major League Baseball. Shawn Childs breaks down which pitcher will break out in a huge way this season.

Each fantasy baseball season, the goal is to find the best impact arms late in drafts to help compliment the foundation of your starting rotation. Most of the time, these types of breakthrough pitchers come from the minors. Sometimes they are top pitching prospects that struggle early in their career in the majors most likely due to command issues.

Here’s a look at the biggest movers in SIscore from 2018 to 2019:


Note: I used 100 innings minimum for 2018 pitching stats in the majors. Last year, each pitcher listed pitched a minimum of 140 innings. If a pitcher didn’t meet the innings requirement in 2018 for this graph, I gave them a -5.00 rating for SIscore.

Some of these arms ranked highly while being drafted inside of the first five rounds in the 2019 draft season. Other breakout pitchers came from the mid-levels of drafts to the waiver wire. Here’s a look at the ADPs for the top five breakout pitchers last year:

Lucas Giolito (510) was a 50-50 coin flip to be drafted in deep leagues while finding his way back into the free-agent pool in mid-April due to a hamstring issue. His 90 walks over 173.1 innings in 2018 looked to be a massive obstacle to help in ERA and WHIP in 2019.

Shane Bieber (139) came out of the minors with elite command, but no one saw him pushing his strikeouts (259) to an elite level. Sharp fantasy owners gravitated toward his ability to control WHIP and were rewarded handsomely with an impact season.

Hyun-Jin Ryu (190) pitched well in 2018 (1.97 ERA), but his success came over 82.1 innings. He proved to be a great value in drafts while offering an edge in ERA (2.32) and WHIP (1.01).

Lance Lynn (486) struggled for the Yankees and Minnesota in 2018 (4.77 ERA) despite showing growth in his strikeout ability (9.2 strikeouts per nine). A move to Texas suggested more risk while owning a 200-inning resume in his early career with the Cardinals.

Sonny Gray (291) also escaped from the Bronx with too many beatings in 2018 (4.90 ERA) only to make a big step forward last year for the Reds (2.87 ERA and 1.08 WHIP).

Both Homer Bailey and Marcus Stroman went from huge liabilities to neutral arms in 2019. Gerrit Cole (24), Jack Flaherty (57), Stephen Strasburg (60), and Luis Castillo (110) all pushed higher after being top 25 starting pitchers drafted in 2018.

Chris Paddack (313) was identifiable while having a much higher ADP in the live draft season in the high-stakes market. In a way, his next step this year should parallel the growth of Shane Bieber.

Mike Soroka (392) came into 2019 with breakout pedigree, but a late-March shoulder issue pushed back his arrival time to the majors, along with his draft value.

Domingo German (399) earned a starting job in April after a couple of injuries to Yankee starting pitchers. He struggled in New York in 2018 (5.57 ERA over 85.2 innings).

Jake Odorizzi (403) rebound from a couple of down seasons (4.14 and 4.49 ERA) to set a career-high in wins (15) with growth in his ERA (3.51).

Half of the above pitchers played for a winning team, which is a must for help in the win category.

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For my breakout pitcher this year, I’m looking for someone that can make 30 starts with a chance at 180 or more innings. I want my selection to be drafted in 2021 at least six rounds higher than this season.

Here are my top five choices and their respective current ADP:

Sean Manaea (178) pitches for a winning team in the right ballpark with the hopes of building on his second-half success in 2018.

Mitch Keller (236) offers an explosive fastball paired with a swing-and-miss curveball. With 151.2 innings under his belt in 2018, he should make a full season of starts with plenty of strikeouts.

Dustin May (249) lost some momentum in March due to a lat issue, which is going to cost him some time in April. His opportunity to start for the Dodgers may require an injury to another arm and some good innings at AAA. Last year May pitched 141.1 innings over 24 starts.

Sandy Alcantara (260) comes into this year with 197.1 innings pitched for the Marlins in 2019, but his high walk rate (3.7) and low strikeout rate (6.9) pushes him under the radar.

Johnny Cueto (315) falls into the Lance Lynn mold of 2018. He has a major league resume of success and is coming off Tommy John surgery. Cueto pitches for a lousy team, but early success could lead to a favorable trade to a contender. The offseason reports have been positive, and he looks motivated to have a comeback season.

I can’t choose Jesus Luzardo (124) or Julio Urias (157) based on my requirement of making a full season of starts. Both of these arms will be impactful when on the field in 2020. Also, I used Dinelson Lamet as my breakout arm in 2018 only to see him blow out his right elbow before the start of the year.

Without a doubt, the arm I view as the breakout arm in 2020 is Dustin May. I identified him in the Dodgers outlook in mid-February while giving him this closing line, “Almost a gift based on ADP (244). I expect a sub 3.50 ERA and 175 strikeouts with double-digit wins.”

His lat issue is a concern for sure, but I don’t want to overlook his explosive upside.

Last year Lucas Giolito struggled over his first three starts (6.19 ERA and 1.500 WHIP over 16 innings) while leaving his fourth start with a hamstring injury. His success last year came over the final five months of the season. Mike Soroka made his major league debut in 2019 on April 18th.

May comes into 2020 with an electric sinking fastball (96.0) and an exceptional cutter. His command was elite in the minors (2.0 walks per nine), and he followed through with the Dodgers in 2019 (1.3 walks per nine). May will get his share of strikeouts (8.8 per nine in the minors) while offering more upside once he develops a trusted breaking pitch.

Over four seasons in the minors, he went 24-17 with a 3.50 ERA and 394 strikeouts over 403.2 innings. May pushed his way from AA to the majors last year while not losing a beat on the big stage (3.63 ERA and 32 Ks over 34.2 innings).

He’ll continue to add more velocity as he fills out. May came into 2019 at 6’6” and 180 lbs. In the minors, he did have some risk against lefties (.268), which was also the case with the Dodgers (18-for-52 or a .346 batting average with one home run).

Los Angeles is going to win over 100 games in 2020, and any starting arm that pitches a minimum of six innings is going to win close to half of their starts.

As of now, May has a fading ADP (259) due to his injury, which creates a better buying window. The regular season starts on March 26th, giving him some time to get back on the mound.

With 30 starts (probably less now), May had the makings of an arm with a sub 3.50 ERA and 175-plus strikeouts.

The Dodgers have depth in starting options, which allows a fantasy owner to roster Alex Wood (ADP – 388) as a possible handcuff in April. If Wood finds his 2017 rhythm for Los Angeles (2.72 ERA), a fantasy owner may very well hit on two backend breakout type arms. Tony Gonsolin is a second possible option if he beats May to a starting job due to his injury.

In the end, May is the right kind of arm to invest in as a breakout pitcher. I expect a pop in his strikeout rate, which in turn will make him tougher to hit. Buy the cloudiness while expecting many bright days on the mound over the final five months of the season. 

For more game-breaking advice from Shawn Childs, a 5-time high-stakes fantasy baseball national champ, subscribe to FullTime Fantasy. Use coupon code EDGE25 to receive 25% off your monthly season-long subscription & gain a cash-winning edge with FullTime Fantasy.