What fantasy value do Justus Sheffield have in 2019?

A couple of days ago the New York Yankees sent a package of prospects, including LHP Justus Sheffield, to the Seattle Mariners for more experienced James Paxton. Every baseball fantasy owner knows the importance of finding hidden value, so why not take a look at what we can expect from Justus Sheffield in 2019.

Before the trade Justus Sheffield was ranked number 1 on the Yankees prospect chart, and he immediately become the highest ranked prospect for the Mariners. In Seattle it is now clear they will try for a rebuild, and get younger talent who can help the team win in the future. For Sheffield this was not a bad trade if you are looking at potential playing time, and fantasy value in 2019. He has a much greater chance to get a spot in the rotation in a rebuilding team, compared to the Yankees who have to be seen as a legitimate contender at the moment. They need to improve their starting pitching right now, and the future is something you worry about later.

The 22-year-old Sheffield has somewhat struggled with his command so far, but has threes plus pitches. His fastball can reach up to 95+ and he can throw it for strikes. The slider is his best pitch for a strike but his change can also be useful. The ability to throw strikes in the MLB today, cannot be ignored. Overall, he has the tools to become a major league starter in 2019.

To make a projection for next season it is always wise to see what the player did in 2018. Sheffield made his MLB debut for the Yankees late in 2018. He only got 3 games but not as a starter so his stats at the MLB level, is of no real use to make a prediction about the future. But with that said he played 2.2 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 SO, 14 BF, 2.625 WHIP and 10.13 ERA. In the minors he played most of the year at AAA for Scranton Wilkes-Barre (88 IP) but also got some innings under his belt at AA Trenton (28 IP). He had a SO/9 at 8.6 in AAA and 12.5 in AA. The ability to throw strikes will be a key to success at the highest level for Sheffield, he has an aggressive approach and for fantasy owners you always look at high strikeout rates when evaluate new pitchers. Sheffield has a chance to give you a healthy dose of strikeouts. The BB/9 in AAA was 3.7 and 4.5 at AA. HR/9 in both minor leagues levels was 0.3.

One aspect of the trade you cannot overlook as a fantasy owner is that pitching in Seattle at their stadium is much better compared to Yankee Stadium. If you want to make a guess, it is probably easier to pitch in Seattle if you look at the aspect of outside pressure, compared to a strong team in the Bronx that wants to win the World Series.

What makes baseball unique is that not all stadiums are equal. Some are better for pitchers and some favors the hitter. Comparing Yankees Stadium to Safeco Field is quite the difference. In 2018 ESPN looked at the difference in Runs scored, a high number favors the hitter (above 1). Yankee Stadium had 1.126 and Safeco Field 0.846. So, the Stadium factor is something that will help Sheffield.

A pitcher can only control his on performance. Maybe that is to basic for you, but some baseball fans seem to forget that. The outcome of fantasy relevant stats are not always reflective of the pitcher only. Team defense have a major implication on how much production you get from the starting pitcher spot. Right now we can not really predict how good the Mariners defense will be in 2019, simply because they are in a rebuilding mode. Their team could look drastically different 2018 compared to 2019. This is of course something we need to take into account, when we think about Sheffield.

You can debate how important the stat “Wins” is for the pitcher. He sometimes plays a major factor in a win, but sometimes so many things can go wrong that he cannot do anything about. A rebuilding Mariners 2019 will probably mean that Sheffield, if he starts, will get less wins compared to if he would have pitched for the Yankees.

If you look at Sheffield in 2019 from a fantasy team owner perspective it is a big difference if you are in a standard or dynasty league. He is still a prospect and has not really performed at the biggest stage. But in a dynasty league, you sometimes need to look at the future more than the immediate result you can get. To have any value this season he needs to start games, it is as simple as that. Fangraphs projects he gets 24 starts, and that might be optimistic. So much will depend on if he can get a good start to the season, and do the Mariners start him in MLB level right away or do they want him to develop in AAA in spring?

Around 20 games started would be a reasonable prediction and if you look at his tools and his minor league stats in 2018 a good guess would be 8 strikeouts/9. To expect above a strikeout per inning is probably not possible at this moment, however he has the tools to miss bats and could improve throughout the year as he gets more comfortable. He has somewhat struggled in BB/9 in 2018 but for a young pitcher it is not something to panic over at the moment. In 2019 with Mariners a guess would be around 4 BB/9, and that would be more than acceptable. To predict wins is always hard, but let us say this, the Mariners will probably not be a team above .500. That will reflect the chances of a 10 win season, but can he come even close to that it would be more than okay.

Let us summarize what we think about the 2019 season for Justus Sheffield in MLB.

  • 20 Games started
  • Less than 10 wins
  • 8 K/9
  • 4 BB/9

Are these stats good enough for a standard league? Well, we have to say no. Because you will probably find better alternatives in your draft or on the waiver wire. But in a dynasty league there is considerably upside here, and the move to Safeco Field and Seattle is something that will help his career moving forward. In a dynasty league we recommend to pick him up, because he can already now be a factor, but has a bright future ahead of him.

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