After looking at category-specific fantasy trade targets among hitters last week, we now turn our attention to the hurlers who could move the needle in specific categories during the second half of the season.
ERA: Sandy Alcantara (SP, Miami Marlins), Framber Valdez (SP, Houston Astros), Ryan Helsley (RP, St. Louis Cardinals)
Alcantara can impact a fantasy team’s ERA more than any other pitcher by virtue of his propensity for volume. The right-hander was one of four starters to reach the 200-inning threshold last season and leads the Majors in innings so far this year. He also ranks sixth among qualified pitchers in ERA since the outset of 2021.
Valdez has an elite ground-ball rate that leads to a mediocre WHIP but a low ERA. Since finding his footing as a Major Leaguer at the outset of the 2020 season, he has logged a 3.06 ERA. The southpaw won’t dominate the category, but his contributions could make a difference in tight races and his trade value should be reasonable.
Relievers with an especially low ERA can have an impact on that category despite throwing fewer innings Such is the case with Helsley, who has posted remarkable ratios (0.73 ERA, 0.68 WHIP) so far this season. Having an inconsistent role that occasionally includes save chances should keep a lid on his trade value.
WHIP: Justin Verlander (SP, Houston Astros), Aaron Nola (SP, Philadelphia Phillies), Jordan Montgomery (SP, New York Yankees)
In 90 starts as a member of the Astros, Verlander has logged a remarkable 0.84 WHIP. He won’t come cheap on the trade market but is the safest source of WHIP help that can be acquired.
Nola has taken his control skills to new levels this season (1.1 BB/9 rate) which has led to a career-best 0.93 WHIP. The right-hander is worth the premium return on the trade market for those who need WHIP and strikeouts help.
Montgomery is a poor man’s version of Nola, as someone who has taken his control skills from good to great (4.7 percent walk rate in 2022). The fact that he has a low number of wins (three) and a modest strikeout total (76) should keep his trade value in check.
Strikeouts: Tyler Mahle (SP, Cincinnati Reds), Charlie Morton (SP, Atlanta Braves), Cristian Javier (SP/RP, Houston Astros), Hunter Greene (SP, Cincinnati Reds)
Mahle should have a reasonable trade cost by virtue of having produced subpar ratios this year (4.48 ERA, 1.30 WHIP). But he owns a solid 9.9 K/9 rate and has been better than many managers realize since the beginning of June (3.03 ERA, 1.19 WHIP). The fact that Mahle is serving a brief IL stint could further drive down his trade value.
Morton is a similar case to Mahle, where his poor start to the season is still holding his overall ratios back (4.21 ERA, 1.22 WHIP). The veteran righty has been stellar of late, striking out 62 batters while posting a 2.82 ERA in his past seven starts. Some Morton managers are no longer open to trading him, but he remains available for a reasonable return in some leagues.
Javier has gone bananas in the strikeout category of late, racking up 34 whiffs across 19 innings in his past three starts. If he had enough innings to qualify, his 34.1 percent strikeout rate would rank third in baseball. Now locked into a rotation spot, he should be among the strikeout leaders down the stretch.
Many managers will not be able to handle the ERA damage that will come from rostering Greene (5.70 ERA) down the stretch. But those who have some wiggle room in that category can likely acquire him for a small return and enjoy the benefits of his elite heat and swing-and-miss skills (28.9 percent strikeout rate).
Saves: Liam Hendriks (RP, Chicago White Sox), Tanner Houck (SP/RP, Boston Red Sox), Jhoan Duran (RP, Minnesota Twins)
A healthy Hendriks is worked as hard by his manager as any closer in baseball. The right-hander seems to have recovered from a June forearm injury, and he is among the favorites to lead the Majors in second-half saves despite ranking ninth in that category right now.
For those who can’t afford the premium investment in someone such as Hendriks, Houck is a speculative option. The right-hander has given Boston little reason to doubt he can handle the closer’s role, posting a 15:2 K:BB ratio in 10.2 innings since the moment he got his first save chance on June 10. Houck should be reasonably priced on the trade market and may be among the second-half saves leaders if Boston does not trade for a veteran closer.
Duran is someone whom I have written about often this season, so I will keep this short. The rookie is one of the best relievers in baseball and should help in both ratios categories during the second half. He is also the best option to close games for a team that is in a tight divisional race. I expect Duran to lead Minnesota in saves from this point forward.