A few days back, I was challenged by a league-mate to build a league average rotation that was constructed only of starters drafted after the 200th pick. It wasn’t an easy task—I had to wade through the weeds a bit to find six competitive hurlers—but the list below actually came out quite good for what I had expected. Whether or not the Top Six would actually comprise a league average rotation, I’ll leave that to the readers to decide.
Expanding on that, I thought this would be a good opportunity to build on the heels of last week’s theme of the top 10 late-round outfielders—giving me the opportunity to make a list of cheap, valuable hurlers who can be priority trade or free agent targets for people in need. Therefore, the list was expanded to 10—even if it got a little bit ugly after the Top Six.
While this crop is not as talented as the outfielders were, there are still some gems to be found.
Here are the rules:
• ESPN Average Draft Position (ADP) was used. All starters must have been drafted, on average, below 200.
• FantasyPlayerRater.com’s roto points calculator was used to establish the value and, therefore, final rankings of the selected pitchers
• Pitcher values are based upon their regressed projections for standard 5×5 roto leagues (ERA, WHIP, W, K, SV)
The Top Six
1) Jonathon Niese
Projected Line: 3.492 ERA, 1.275 WHIP, 13.03 W, 167.13 K, 195.41 IP
FantasyPlayerRater.com value: +1.811 points above average
Rotation Fit: Good #3 Starter
Every season, there are a few guys who fall through the cracks.
Everyone on this list fell to a certain extent, but Niese slipped the furthest. He is also the most valuable. If you want bang-for-your-buck, Niese is one of the most valuable players in the league—averaging a 228.0 draft position, 78th among starting pitchers.
There’s a couple reasons why he’s available this late. For one, he dramatically underperformed his expected ERA last year (4.40 ERA, 3.41 expected ERA). Second, he doesn’t have any single overwhelming skill. Third, he’s got a smallish body of work and lacks the name recognition of his contemporaries.
No, he won’t blow you away in any category, but he’s above average everywhere. He generates ground balls, has decent strikeout rates, and keeps the free passes low. For a player available in 80 percent of leagues, you can’t ask for much more. However, if there’s one thing to watch, its whether the porous defense behind him can keep his BABIP down. I’ve projected a .3024 BABIP for him, but you never know.
Bottom line, Niese is a gem that most owners are ignoring. His ADP suggests a fifth or sixth starter. FantasyPlayerRater.com has his line worth 1.8 points above average, suggesting a solid number three starter. I think that’s an appropriate valuation and it rightfully places him as the best pitcher on this list.
If he’s available in your league, pick him up. If you need to get him via trade, he should come relatively cheap. From what I’ve seen, most owners don’t know what they have in him.
2) Mike Minor
Projected Line: 3.708 ERA, 1.326 WHIP, 12.54 W, 173.67 K, 192.33 IP
FantasyPlayerRater.com value: +0.939 points above average
Rotation Fit: Solid #3 Starter
Minor is a nice pitcher who suffers many of the same detractors that people see in Niese: he hasn’t been around that long, he didn’t have a plus ERA in 2011 (4.14 ERA), he lacks name recognition, and struggles with his BABIP.
Don’t let that deter you. Go after him and don’t look back.
One point above average seems appropriate for him, which would place him as a solid number three. However, he’s received more attention than Niese as a sleeper, so he may be more difficult to pry away from some owners. Regardless, he should be owned in all leagues and you shouldn’t hold back in your pursuit of him.
3) Francisco Liriano
Projected Line: 3.921 ERA, 1.356 WHIP, 12.01 W, 185.71 K, 198.51 IP
FantasyPlayerRater.com value: -0.057 points below average
Rotation Fit: Fringe #3 – Mid #4
Liriano is probably the most polarizing guy on this list. He had a sensational 2010, was drafted high as a result, and followed it up with an absolute stinker.
As a result, Liriano garners widely divergent opinions. If he can repeat his 2010 season—as some believe (though, I don’t count myself among those)—he’s a fringe #1 to high #2, easy. In fact, my projection based on his 2010 season has him at 4.93 points above average: 3.107 ERA, 1.251 WHIP, 14.13 W, 214.4 K, 194.15 IP.
But this isn’t 2011 and we can’t forget last season. Liriano is a boom or bust draftee now and that’s the way it is.
If we were rating on potential alone, he’s #1 by a wide margin. Realistically though, he’s fourth That -0.057 point estimation seems reasonable to me, but if you ask someone else, you’re likely to get a very different opinion. Take Rotochamp for example. They have him a -2.71 points. Ugly.
4) Phil Hughes
Projected Line: 4.153 ERA, 1.321 WHIP, 14.13 W, 155.94 K, 196.06 IP
FantasyPlayerRater.com value: -0.323 points below average
Rotation Fit: Solid #4
Hughes finds himself in much the same boat as Liriano—he was fantastic in 2010, awful in 2011, and his ranking has suffered because of it.
And just like Liriano, if you think he can repeat his 2010 performance, he belongs far higher than this.
I don’t think the Phil Hughes of 2010 returns, but I also don’t think he’ll be that far off. His above line doesn’t look like much, but with the Yankees’ bats behind him, he levels up from a number six to a solid number four.
Hughes will earn more than his share of wins and won’t hurt your elsewhere. You can do much worse with the fourth pitcher in your rotation.
5) Jhoulys Chacin
Projected Line: 3.7443 ERA, 1.4177 WHIP, 13.413 W, 160.21 K, 194.15 IP
FantasyPlayerRater.com value: -0.359 points below average
Rotation Fit: Solid #4 – Solid #5
My projections like him and the valuation above makes sense, but you’re not alone if rostering a pitcher with a projected WHIP north of 1.40 alarms you—it should. And while he loses 1.59 points from the WHIP alone, he does makes some of it back with decent Ks, wins, and ERAs. After all, you roster players for what they do for you as a whole and not about what they do in one particular category.
Putting it that way, I feel better about recommending Chacin as a number four. However, I’m also concerned with how he finished the season last year, and therefore lowered his threshold to being a solid number five.
Give him a go in your leagues, and know that I have him on a team or two as well—though, in full disclosure, that has something to do with my nostalgia for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox.
6a) Jake Peavy
Projected Line: 4.051 ERA, 1.283 WHIP, 12.18 W, 161.81 K, 194.47 IP
FantasyPlayerRater.com value: -0.173 points below average
Rotation Fit: Solid number six until he gets injured, Solid number 3 or 4 without the health problems
OK, this one needs some explaining.
Yes, I think Peavy is a better pitcher than both Hughes and Chacin.
No, I don’t think Peavy makes it through the whole season. The above line was generated purely for comparative purposes.
Though his final line didn’t prove it last year, Peavy was actually an effective pitcher and should have a reasonably successful 2012 until he gets injured.
But that’s just the thing, isn’t it. He’s going to go down at some point and you’re going to need to pick up a replacement when that happens. So, enjoy him while he’s healthy and be ready with a backup.
6b) Vance Worley
Projected Line: 3.7148 ERA, 1.356 WHIP, 12.07 W, 146.94 K, 195.95 IP
FantasyPlayerRater.com value: -0.835 points below average
Rotation Fit: Solid #5
Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: Vance Worley will not exceed 8.00 strikeouts per nine this season. In fact, I don’t think he passes 7.00. It just can’t be done with an 87.2 percent Contact rate.
However, he’ll still be a useful pitcher and shouldn’t cost much to acquire. I’d prefer to slot him in as a number six pitcher—and potential wise, that’s where he belongs. But, when the dust settles on the season and the under-performers have pulled down your fantasy team’s overall line, Vance Worley will probably rank as your fifth best pitcher. Also (and this is a point of personal philosophy), I don’t think there’s anything wrong with rostering a “below average” starter. In fact, for leagues who typically roster six starters per team, starters four through six should be below average—by default.
Think of him as a guy who will compile counting stats and won’t hurt you anywhere. Just be aware that his ceiling is very low.
Rounding Out the Top 10
8) Derek Holland
Projected Line: 3.982 ERA, 1.442 WHIP, 14.30 W, 150.71 K, 192.46 IP
FantasyPlayerRater.com value: -1.069 points below average
Rotation Fit: Solid #5
9) Gavin Floyd
Projected Line: 4.118 ERA, 1.349 WHIP, 12.15 W, 164.85 K, 196.40 IP
FantasyPlayerRater.com value: -1.074 points below average
Rotation Fit: Solid number five
10) Bud Norris
Projected Line: 3.998 ERA, 1.421 WHIP, 10.19 W, 171.01 K, 190.00 IP
FantasyPlayerRater.com value: -1.168 points below average
Rotation Fit: Solid—Fringe number five
11) Ryan Dempster
Projected Line: 4.118 ERA, 1.402 WHIP, 11.42 W, 167.79 K, 193.96 IP
FantasyPlayerRater.com value: -1.622 points below average
Rotation Fit: Solid #6
12) Johan Santana
Projected Line: 4.101 ERA, 1.350 WHIP, 11.65 W, 144.8 K, 190.86 IP
FantasyPlayerRater.com value: -1.661 points below average
Rotation Fit: Solid number 6