Need Rotation Help for the 2018 Season? Don’t Doubt Dinelson.

Written by: Ray Butler

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Dinelson Lamet was never a top 100 prospect. The right hander never sniffed the title of a top 10 prospect in the Padres organization. He’s logged only 412.2 total innings pitched throughout all levels of professional baseball. His journey to The Show wasn’t chalked full of glitz and glamour. The 6’4 Dominican might be the definition of unheralded.

Yet, Dinelson Lamet may be the reason you win your fantasy league in 2018.

Most of the 2017 regular season stats aren’t going to jump off the page at you. A 4.57 ERA. A 1.24 WHIP. A 4.25 BB/9. Forgettable, right? But let’s take a deeper look…

Of course, if you’re looking for positives, look no further than Lamet’s 10.94 K/9 and and 28.7 K%. The FIP (4.35) is nearly a quarter of a run better than the ERA, and the xFIP (4.20) is even lower. That’s a little better, yeah?

Then we stumble upon our first eye-opening advanced analytic.

Despite 2017 being his first season in the big leagues, Lamet ranked fourth amongst all MLB pitchers in wOBA (weighted on base average) against right handed hitters. First, second, and third? Max Scherzer, Brad Peacock, and Corey Kluber. Fifth and sixth? Luis Severino and Clayton Kershaw. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a list you don’t mind being on.

Unfortunately for Lamet, not all MLB batters are right handed. Lefties knocked him around, triple slashing .258/.365/.502. In a word, that’s problematic. Now, what’s one of the main reasons that some right handed pitchers dominate right handed hitters but struggle against lefties? We’ve finally arrived at the thesis of this post:

Dinelson Lamet is ‘developing a league-average offspeed pitch’ away from being a top 30 fantasy starting pitcher, if not better.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. Bullpens and pitching graveyards are chalked full of pitchers who couldn’t develop third pitches. But don’t get it twisted, I’m not offering fresh advice to the Padres’ flamethrower. Lamet, whose main arsenal consists of an overpowering fastball and a devastating slider, began developing his offspeed deliveries after being sent to Minor League camp last season because he knew it was a necessity to remain a starting pitcher at the big league level. He struck out Michael Conforto with a changeup in his career MLB start. But self admittedly, Lamet threw his changeup as nothing more than a ‘show me’ pitch during the 2017 MLB season. The stats back the claim up: According to FanGraphs, the Domincan Republic native’s changeup accounted for only 4.5% of his total pitches last season.

The continued development of an offspeed pitch or pitches (which, in turn, would allow for much more effective versus lefties) might determine just how good Lamet can be. It will undoubtedly be a focal point for the 25 year old when pitchers and catchers report on Valentine’s Day.

Continuing down the path of optimism, Steamer projections think Lamet will lower his ERA to 4.16 this season (in 140 IP) while maintaining a K/9 comfortably over 10. But Steamer isn’t the only projection system high on Lamet. Check out this excerpt from a piece written by ESPN’s Dan Szymborski (on potential breakout candidates for the 2018 season) on ZiPS’ outlook on Lamet:

“ZiPS is a huge fan of Lamet, seeing him put up a league-average season for the Padres in his first full season in the majors in 2018. Lamet’s walk rate is on the high side, but I suspect that reflects the fact that he’s still fairly inexperienced for a 25-year-old, with only 412 ⅔ innings at all professional levels, rather than a fundamental inability to throw strikes. He actually threw strikes at a league-average rate despite 4.3 walks a game in 2017.

What Lamet is still missing is a good off-speed pitch, and while they’ve been working on his changeup, it remains a work in progress. As a rookie, he used it very sparingly in the majors, but if it ever clicks — and it’s a team priority — Lamet has very real ace potential.

Key breakout stat: 17 percent shot at a 4+ WAR season”

The piece is chalked full of thought-provoking nuggets, but perhaps most interesting is that Szymborski notes that Lamet is still relatively green (Lamet has only logged 412.2 IP as a professional. As a random comparison, former top prospect Lucas Giolito has totaled 564.1 IP as a professional and is only 23 years old), and that Lamet has a 17% chance of posting a 4+ WAR season. 17% may seem low (it’s actually surprisingly high when you consider Lamet had was worth 1.3 WAR last season), but let’s say the right hander breaks out and posts a 4.0 WAR during the 2018 season. The two pitchers closest to a 4.0 WAR (a mark that only 20 MLB pitchers achieved in 2017) last season? Justin Verlander and Jose Quintana.

Now, let’s say Lamet were to slightly underperform the 17% chance of a 4.0 WAR and instead posts a 3.5 WAR. Comparable pitchers last season? Yu Darvish, Michael Fulmer, and Marcus Stroman. If Lamet underperforms by a larger margin and totals a 3.0 WAR? That’s comparable to the 2017 performance of Gerrit Cole, Patrick Corbin, and Ervin Santana. My point? Of course we want to shoot for the stars, cross our fingers, and hope Lamet completely breaks out and has a 2018 season worthy of a 4.0 WAR. However, even if he misses the 4.0 mark (which, according to ZiPS, only has a 17% chance of happening anyways) by a full point or even more, he’s still useful in every fantasy format.

Of course, there’s always an outside chance that the 2017 season was the best that Dinelson Lamet has to offer. If he’s already plateaued, he’ll probably eventually transition to the bullpen. He’d still hold value in real life, but his fantasy stock would diminish. With all things considered, and with the hypothetical development of an average (or better) offspeed arsenal, I think it is more likely that Lamet eventually mimics (from a skill standpoint) a right handed version of Robbie Ray or Carlos Rodon. A plus to that comp, (knock on wood) would be that Lamet, unlike Rodon, has been able to stay healthy throughout his professional career.

An underrated part of Lamet’s outlook that’s gone unmentioned in other articles and think pieces about the young right hander? The Padres are in a position that allows for a plethora of patience with Lamet. They can afford to allow him to continue developing an offspeed offering while remaining a big league starting pitcher. Heck, there’s a decent chance he gets the nod to be San Diego’s Opening Day starting pitcher. That’s no small feat for a 25 year old who’s been a big leaguer for less than a calendar year. It also speaks to the organization’s confidence in Lamet that they’ve reportedly balked at any trade discussions this offseason in which a potential trade partner included the young fireballer.

At the end of the day, Dinelson Lamet has two paths to becoming an above-average MLB starting pitcher. 1) He can improve his command and throw more strikes with his fastball and slider. Naturally, more strikes would lead to a lower BB/9, which makes any pitcher more valuable. This path, however, would force Lamet to become much more efficient against left handed hitters with his current pitches, which isn’t impossible but seems decently improbable with only a two pitch arsenal. 2) The offspeed repertoire becomes dependable. Even if it’s just average, it may be enough for Lamet to become (at least) somewhat of a stalwart amongst starting pitchers in fantasy baseball. Playing for a patient organization that realizes the need for a third or fourth pitch for a pitcher who’s still learning the nuances of pitching in the big leagues, I like our chances with path #2.

With a current ADP of ~220 in the fantasy baseball world despite the undoubted upside, Lamet is well worth the risk as a back-end-of-the-rotation arm. I’ll be looking to add him in any format I can; you should too.

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