Last week’s column delved into some potential bargains to be found in the Senior Circuit, and this week I’ll follow up with some picks for the American League. For whatever reason, this list is heavy in pitching. Perhaps that is because I’m thinking that American League pitching is undervalued due to perception of league strength, or perhaps because I just see fewer undiscovered offensive gems in the AL. Once again I’m attempting focus on players who may be available outside of the top 100.
Dan Haren. After several years as one of the safest stud pitcher picks available, Haren experienced a down year in 2011. Among the statistically savvy, the chasm between Haren’s peripherals and glamour numbers was the subject of much discussion. With Anaheim in the midst of a rare non-contending season, all was quiet on the western front as Haren’s BABIP woes began to succumb to the law of averages, enabling him to right himself. His move to the AL will certainly not go unnoticed in his numbers, but he’s still a workhorse and strong source of strikeouts, WHIP and wins. And, remember, the AL West is not the AL East. Plenty of fantasy players will not overreact to Haren’s down season, but plenty will. Going into 2011, I view Haren similarly to how I viewed Cole Hamels coming into 2010, as a proven stud who was the unfortunate recipient of bad luck that is unlikely to continue. Haren may not slip outside the top 100, but this is the cheapest he’ll come.
Ben Zobrist. Zobrist is another player who didn’t have as poor a season as the raw numbers indicate. Zobrist suffered a big drop in BABIP despite a generally similar batted-ball profile. Maybe his 2009 mark was a bit high, and maybe his homer total was a bit flukish too, but I still have faith in Zobrist. Zorilla pulled off a rare feat in 2009, he busted badly enough to eliminate any doubt the “he was a fluke” crowd had and push plenty of the fair-weather supporters off the wagon, while still retaining a fair amount of his undervalued core skills, and therefore giving the bargain hunter a reason to believe. Zobrist swiped 24 bags and put up 152 combined runs and RBI. What killed his value was that he hit at ghastly .238. If you just correct a bit for BABIP, which would have had added benefits in runs and RBI, you’re talking about quite nice production for a player who is still eligible at 2B (along with OF and 1B). I still like Zobrist, and as a bargain middle infielder as opposed to a pricey trend pick, the price is much more attractive.
Max Scherzer. I was all in on Scherzer going into last year. He was one of my favorite late-round picks and in some cases I was even able to ride out his detour to the minors. Upon his return, Scherzer ostensibly dominated. In his post-demotion portion of the season, Scherzer pitched 153.2 innings of 2.46 ERA baseball, racking up 158 punch outs and compiling an 11-7 record. That’s downright King Felix-ish. Scherzer has had some troubling injury history, but the sky is limit for this kid, who Oliver happens to love. I can see a Scherzer hype train brewing in the offseason, but if he doesn’t get outed as a super sleeper, he’ll be one of my favorite bargain pitching targets again.
Colby Lewis, Ricky Romero, and Brandon Morrow. This list of names represents three pitchers who may be questioned as flukes. I believe in this trio of fairly inexperienced power arms. I owne Lewis in a few leagues this past year and watched a lot of him. He is good; that’s all I can really say. I also happened to catch a fair amount of Blue Jays games and was impressed with Romero as well. Morrow represents the biggest uncertainty of the three, but the potential is quite enticing. He made progress with his walk rate last year, but it is still too high. He also benefited from an unsustainably low homer rate. Morrow is somewhere in that A.J. Burnett in his Florida days territory. I do believe that, at least up until his injury, he was making progress as a starting pitcher and should continue to do so. He’s worth a gamble when filling out your rotation simply because of the strikeout potential. A final word on Morrow and Romero here, don’t overstate the effect of having to deal with Boston, Tampa Bay and the Yankees. Sure, that’s about a third of the schedule, but Toronto is not all that far away from being a very good team. This team would compete in any other division, and they will win games for quality starting pitchers. None of these three players will break the bank, but they all project to fill out a staff quite nicely in the later rounds.