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.