Pitching sleepers for 2011!

Last week I pointed out several sleepers and draft day bargains that could be had for offensive players, so this week I’ll turn the tables and focus on pitchers.

To reiterate, I’ve heard many different definitions on what exactly qualifies someone as a sleeper. Some say that it’s simply a player whose statistics for 2011 are projected to be significantly better than his previous season. Others argue that a sleeper is merely someone whose expected value is far superior to his average draft position (ADP). Another camp may believe that it’s a player who will make a strong fantasy impact, but isn’t considered to be a relevant option or targeted in drafts.

Here’s a very simple rule that I try to follow when building my pitching staff: If a pitcher doesn’t have high strikeout potential, he’s basically worthless to me in 5×5 roto leagues.

While guys who won a lot of games last year or had sparkling ratios may seem appealing, a pitcher’s strikeouts per nine innnings (K/9) and strikeouts-to-walks (K/BB) ratio are much better indicators of true skill, dominance and future effectiveness. I’m not saying that guys like Tim Hudson, Trevor Cahill and Fausto Carmona can’t be helpful, but their low K rates keep them from being elite options and, therefore, shouldn’t be counted on to lead your staff.

Here are a few guys that you may not be thinking much about whom I would consider targeting in upcoming drafts.

Brandon Morrow (Mock Draft Central ADP: 158): As of now, Brandon Morrow is the 44th starting pitcher going off the board, behind players like Jair Jurrjens, John Lackey, and Scott Baker. I believe that’s absolutely absurd. Morrow posted a 10.9 K/9 last season, and that number jumps as high as 13.0 in eight starts after the All-Star break. His stuff is among the best in the league, and if he can cut down on the walks, he could end up being a top-15 pitcher this year.

Mike Minor (ADP: 256): Minor owns an electric left arm that allowed him to post a 9.5 K/9 in his nine-game stint in Atlanta last season. As of now, he’s considered the favorite to win the fifth starter spot and possesses tremendous upside. Well worth the gamble as a fifth or sixth starter in deep leagues.

James McDonald (ADP: 339): McDonald is another former highly-regarded prospect who can now be considered a post-hype sleeper. He strikes out just under a batter an inning and fared very well after his trade to Pittsburgh last season. He’s guaranteed a rotation spot, and it wouldn’t be surprising me at all to see him end up with 175+ Ks and solid peripherals.

Chris Young (ADP: 329): This one depends on just how risk-averse your strategy is. When fully healthy from 2006-2008, Young was among the game’s best with good ratios and around 8.5 K/9. He’s discounted due to those injuries, but if he can bounce back, he’s a very solid arm to round out your rotation.

Erik Bedard (ADP: N/A): Here’s another guy who’s attempting to come back after major injuries but still possesses major upside if he can stay healthy. Bedard owns a career 8.8 K/9 and had sparkling ratios to go along with it until injuries derailed his time in Seattle. If he’s healthy when spring training rolls around, you could do a whole lot worse than taking a flyer on this guy.

Homer Bailey (ADP: 331): Another post-hype sleeper, it seemed like Bailey finally started to put it all together in the second half last season. He posted an overall 8.3 K/9 last year that jumped up to 9.1 after the All-Star break. The important thing to watch here is what Dusty Baker decides to do with his rotation. Edinson Volquez, Johnny Cueto and Bronson Arroyo are locks, which leaves Bailey, Travis Wood and Mike Leake competing for the final two2 spots. Each of them has nice upside in their own right, but be sure to monitor this battle as spring progresses.

Yunesky Maya (ADP: N/A): A 29-year-old Cuban defector who only pitched 21.1 innings of organized ball before his brief cup of coffee with the Nats last year. Though he struggled, he definitely has a major league arm and has blazed his way through hitters in the Dominican Winter League. If he can win a spot in the Nationals’ rotation, he’s another guy who’s currently going undrafted that could pay tremendous dividends.

Once again, power arms are the best way to build your pitching staff. Ks are the one stat that show a pitcher’s true dominance and have less fluctuation from year to year. It’s a much better idea to gamble on guys with high strikeout upside than rounding out your staff with Mark Buehrle and Livan Hernandez types.

I hope this was again helpful and somewhat informative. Check back next week as I break down important position battles to monitor during spring training. Feel free to comment or post any questions you may have.

Print Friendly
 Share on Facebook0Tweet about this on Twitter0Share on Google+0Share on Reddit0Email this to someone
« Previous: This annotated week in baseball history: Jan. 16-Jan. 22, 1960
Next: Matt Cain sacrifices goats »


  1. Will said...

    You consistently get me linking to player pages and then, more than once, adding them to my draft lists (I’m a real stars and scrubs guy w/ auctions). So, thanks.

    Just one bit of quasi-insider info: Maya also destroyed international leagues, and then came herre and, even against low-minors players, he not only did poorly but in his own words made clear that he had been used to throwing junk outside the zone and then watch batters swing and miss, but once he played here was stunned to realize that such things aren’t in the cards w/ American league pros… which is why I had the misfortune of watching one of his Sept. starts, where he walked a bunch of guys first, and so had to start throwing it down the pipe, resulting in some rather pretty home runs.

    In other words, I’m not so sure the Dominican league tells us any more than the international leagues did before his signing.

    Otherwise, I love your list, and hope the above helps!

    (P.S. Jordan Zimmermann is just awesome to watch… he genuinely possesses ace stuff)

  2. Dave Shovein said...

    Thanks Will,

    Very interesting point on Maya, but I still believe that if he wins a spot in the rotation that the upside is there if he can learn to harness his stuff better. I worry that after the trade for Gorzelanny though that he may be the odd man out.

    As far as Zimmerman goes, I’m a huge fan of his as well and is someone that I have already been targeting in early drafts!

  3. Josh Shepardson said...

    Great article Dave.  I, like you, look to round out my rotations with high K/9 pitchers who show signs of being able to improve in the ratios department.  One thing I would mention though, is that not all low strikeout pitchers are built the same, a guy like Hudson is much less appealing to me than Cahill because it’s established what Hudson is.  On the flip side of the coin, Cahill posted solid strikeout numbers in the minors, and given his previous scouting reports, track record in the minors, etc. there is hope for a spike in K/9 at somepoint, if he’s able to harness a true wipe out pitch.  Just thought I’d toss my two cents out there.  Like I said, great read though.

  4. Chris said...

    Good article… I am keeping minor and zimmerman for $6 in a nl only keeper league. I was just offered coghlan $11 and Latos $11 for Wandy $13 and Tabata $6.  Am I an idiot for not being sure if i should take it? Is Latos that much better that I should do it no matter what?

  5. Dan W. said...

    Nice article…I’m wondering where one should draw the line when taking sleepers/upside pitchers in a draft? For instance, If someone drafted several of these pitchers in the same draft they would certainly have tremendous potential but also a healthy dose of risk. Is it better to just swing for the fences or to take some solid veterans to limit the potential downside? Where do you rank a guy like Tommy Hunter who has had a good win/loss record in his young career and solid peripherals without dominating stuff?

  6. Dave Shovein said...

    @ Josh: Thanks for the kind words. I agree that it was probably a bad idea to lump Cahill into that group because of the strong K numbers at AAA, but some pitchers never seem to translate that success at the big league level. That being said, I’ve already taken Cahill in two of the three drafts I’ve had this season, so I do recognize the value he possesses.

  7. Dave Shovein said...

    @ Chris: Personally, I would hang on to Wandy and Tabata myself. I know that many people are valuing Latos as a top 20 SP this year, but he’s had huge inning jumps each of the last 2 years and was awful in 7 starts in September/October. If you subscribe to the Verducci Effect, he’s definitely a player to be cautious about this season.

    On top of that, I think that Tabata will return more value than Coghlan, so it seems like a no-brainer to me.

  8. Dave Shovein said...

    @ Dan W: Obviously you have to weigh the potential risk vs. reward with every player you draft. You can’t afford to take chances on 7-8 guys in the same draft, because even if a few of them hit you’ll still come up short trying to compensate for the ones that missed.

    Typically, I try to reserve those type of risks for the later and reserve rounds of a draft, where the potential to destroy your team is minimized.

    As far as Tommy Hunter is concerned, he’s one player that personally I’m not very high on. Yes, he did win 14 games last year, but wins can be a byproduct of the team and can fluctuate greatly from year to year. And while his ratios were solid last year, they were also better than anything he had demonstrated in the minor leagues, and therefore may not be sustainable.

    Thanks again for reading, make sure to check back next week!
    Plus, with a strike out rate of 4.8/9, I just believe there are more useful arms that could be hard around the time Hunter is being drafted.

  9. Dan W. said...

    Thanks for the response, I agree about needing to balance pitching risk with some more reliable arms. As far as Hunter goes I’m just citing him as an example but isn’t there something to be said for a player who has seemingly improved after reaching the bigs? I don’t think it’s out of the question for a player to blossom (especially a pitcher) when he starts receiving better tutelage at the major league level. The bank account increase might also have an effect on motivation smile.

    I also agree with you that wins are more variable from year to year than other pitching categories but less so than what the consensus seems to be. Wins are largely a byproduct of a team’s performance, true, but Hunter (for example) still pitches on a good team. I tend to think this makes his win total more likely to repeat itself than for those pitchers who happen to play for mediocre or poor teams.Thanks again and keep up the good work.

  10. Michael said...

    I am in an 8 team NL only dynasty league $300 salary cap.  I have 6 pitchers I can keep up to 4 SPs.  Greinke $10, Billingsley $21, Wandy $13, Jhloulys Chacin $10, Cueto $15, Hudson $11.                              RPs: Marmol $22, Nunez $9, Hanrahan & Meek $10 each                             Hitters Keeping: Ian Stewart $18, Cargo $14, Holliday $14, Kemp $17, Stubbs $14                               Was thinking Greinke, Billingsley, and Chacin plus all RPs and Hitters

  11. Dave Shovein said...

    @ Michael: I would probably agree with all of them, it depends on when you have to have your keepers in though. If Pittsburgh has settled on their closer by then, I’d give some thought to throwing back whomever doesn’t win the job (I’m thinking Meek), and keeping Wandy.

    This is assuming your league is standard 5×5 and doesn’t count holds though. Hope this helps!

  12. Dave Shovein said...

    If it’s just between the two of them, I would definitely keep Cahill. Young is a great sleeper if you can get him at a reduced value later, but the injury concerns make him much riskier.

  13. peric said...

    Kind of disagree with @Will above.

    Maya possesses the same repertoire as Livan Hernandez and brother El Duque with a lot more velocity and less experience. Learned the pitching craft at the same school.

    Maya is a 5 pitch guy who relies a lot on the sinking effect. He is only known for throwing hard tight inside.  Maya really hadn’t pitched in a year and a half / two years and one could see he was pretty rusty but he wanted to come up to the majors as soon as possible. The mistake Mike Rizzo made was allowing that without more time in AAA/AA. Rizzo won’t make that mistake twice and Maya could start out in the AAA Syracuse rotation.

    Maya looks like a #3 guy in Rizzo’s 2011 rotation with Gorzelanny and Zimmermann at the top 2 spots. Both power pitchers with highest K/9 of all starters.

    I suspect Jason Marquis could be the “odd-man out” instead of Maya. But that might not happen until the season gets further along. If Marquis pitches well he becomes trade bait for a contending team needing starting pitching. If he doesn’t you’ll likely see Maya a lot sooner.

    Livo isn’t getting any younger so you have to assume he won’t be in his usual slot in the rotation as the season progresses but will be used more as a rubber armed spot-starter swingman out of the bullpen.

    Ladson of mlb.com thinks that’s how they will use Gorzelanny. I sincerely doubt that but its pretty typical of Ladson. Like you Rizzo believes in power pitching first. Its why Garret Mock is still on the 40-man. Its why JD Martin is not.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>