Here are ten pitchers you should consider putting on your radar for Draft Day, if you haven’t already.
By “sleeper,” I am referring to those pitchers whom I believe will significantly outperform their draft rank / dollar cost on Draft Day. This does not mean that these pitchers will all have huge seasons, just that they should each produce more bang for your buck than your competitors might expect.
Also, some of these pitchers have already enjoyed very successful seasons, but are perceived to have had a “down” year last year (some of whom actually did.) There is no reason to believe, however, that any of these pitchers won’t improve at least modestly, if not significantly, in 2012.
In no particular order, then, here they are:
1) Brandon Beachy: By this time next year, Beachy could realistically be the #2 starter in the Braves rotation. Beachy struck out 169 batters in just 141 innings last season, while walking just 46. He will probably be pushed up around 190 innings, resulting in a little over 200 K’s, an ERA probably in the 3.50 range, a nice WHIP, and double-digit wins. A solid mid-round pick.
2) Madison Bumgarner: A terrible April resulted in Bumgarner being dropped in several fantasy leagues last year, but those who scooped him up in May enjoyed a fine final five months from this young stud. Still just 22-years old, he gives the Giants three young aces that rival the Phillies rotation.
Bumgarner’s ERA, K’s and WHIP might not trend further down in 2012, but his relatively low win total (13) last year and the deep pool of pitchers available could cause Bumgarmer to be overlooked in some leagues. Oh, and those 13 wins? Consider that number to be his floor, not his ceiling.
3) Jordan Zimmerman: Rotation mate Stephen Strasburg will garner all the attention in 2012 (which is why he is does not appear on this list of sleepers), but Zimmerman’s performance will be key to the National’s overall improvement as a team this year. And there is little reason to expect to be disappointed by what Zimmerman has to offer.
Just 25-years old, Zimmerman posted an impressive ERA of 3.18 last season, with a WHIP of just 1.15, in 161 innings last season, which was his first full season following Tommy John surgery. It often takes about two years for a pitcher to completely come back from this surgery, so look for Zimmerman’s strikeout rate to improve a bit this year as well; he averaged a K per inning in 2009. Also, he should make around 30 starts or so, which means he should just about double his win total (8) from last season.
4) Derek Holland: After a mediocre first half in which he posted an ERA over 4.00 and a WHIP over 1.40, Holland really matured in the second half last year, posting a 3.21 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP after the All-Star break. Holland will be no lower than the Rangers’ second best starter this year, and may become their de facto ace.
While his win total (16) might not improve significantly, his strikeout totals should rise while his peripherals should look more like the second-half of last season than the first half.
5) Jonathon Niese: Depending on if you utilize an N.L. only or a mixed-league format, this 25-year old Met’s pitcher might not even be drafted on Draft Day in your league. His high ERA (4.40), and WHIP (1.41) and, of course, the team he pitches for will scare off many potential bidders.
But Niese averaged nearly 8 K’s per nine innings, and three K’s per walk. Even with the fences being moved in over at Citi Field, Niese’s peripherals point to a declining ERA and WHIP in ’12, and perhaps, with luck, a few more wins.
You could do worse in the late rounds, and some people will.
6) Neftali Feliz: Because he is transitioning into the Ranger’s rotation this year after being their closer the past two seasons, many owners will be skeptical that Feliz will be able to make the transition smoothly.
But Feliz has now pitched a combined 162 innings in the Majors over the past three years, nearly the total of many full-time starters. Turning just 24-years old this May, Feliz should be young enough and healthy enough to be stretched out to an equivalent amount of innings this year.
While you shouldn’t expect many complete games (if any), you are looking at a pitcher who has averaged just 5.4 hits / 9 innings in his career while averaging a strikeout an inning.
More to the point, there is precedent for a closer transitioning successfully back to the starting rotation. In 2001, Derek Lowe saved 24 games for the Red Sox. The following season, he posted a 21-8 won-loss record, the best of his career. In 2004, John Smoltz, in his third year as the Braves’ closer, Smoltz saved 44 games. Transitioning back to the rotation, he posted a 44-24 record over the next three seasons.
Feliz may actually see a drop in his Draft Day status from a year ago because, no longer a known commodity as an elite closer, the uncertainty some owners will feel about his new role will provide savvy owners like yourself the opportunity to acquire him on the cheap.
7) Max Scherzer: Scherzer has the stuff to some day approach 200 K’s in a season. At age 27, that could happen as early as this year. Although he posted a reasonable number of wins in 2011 (15), his ERA 4.43 and WHIP (1.35) are higher than one would expect, given his background and potential.
His high strikeout rate ( 8 / 9 innings) and relatively low walk rate (2.6 / 9 innings) point to a pitcher who was somewhat unlucky (despite 15 wins) last year.
Look for his ERA to drop under 4.00 this year, and for his WHIP to drop back under 1.30. He may not win more than 15 games again this year for the Tigers, but his improvement in his other peripherals should help your team with what some owners will view as a surprisingly successful performance out of Scherzer.
8) John Danks: After a dismal 2011: 8-12, 4.33, 1.34, lots of owners will be avoiding John Danks (not to mention many other White Sox players.) But there is no reason to believe that the soon to be 27-year old Danks won’t bounce back to his performance of the previous two seasons, characterized by an ERA around 3.70, 210 innings pitched, 150-160 K’s, and double-digit wins.
Folks, we’re not looking at a staff ace here, but slotted into the number four or five spot in your rotation, you should do just fine.
9) Brandon Morrow: Weren’t we here last year? Yes, many writers, including yours truly, predicted Morrow would have a breakout year in 2011. The only thing that got broken, however, by those who owned him last year, though, were many fantasy owners team ERA’s and WHIP’s.
Still, Morrow struck out 203 batters last year in just 179 innings, averaging a league-best 10.2 K’s / 9 innings. Clearly, the stuff is there for Morrow to take the next step up to being a fantasy baseball stud. And after last season’s debacle (11 wins, 4.72 ERA), many owners will be spooked away from him. Let him drop as far as you reasonably can, but don’t be afraid to grab him if it becomes clear the other owners are avoiding him like the plague.
10) David Price: How does David Price make it onto a sleepers list? Didn’t he finish 2nd in Cy Young voting in 2010? Yes, and that’s exactly why he earns the number #10 spot on this list. The 2011 model of David Price finished the year with a dismal 12-13 record (down from 19-6 in ’10) while pitching for a very good team. His ERA rose from 2.72 to a more pedestrian 3.49.
Now the good news. Price actually improved his walk ratio last year from 3.4 down to 2.5 / 9 innings, and his K rate rose slightly from 8.1 to 8.7 / 9 innings as well. Price should finish the year as one of the top ten pitchers in the Majors, but he might not be drafted as such. Therefore, if you play your cards right, you could land a #1 level pitcher in a round typically associated with #2 starting pitchers.
Next up in this series, Fantasy Baseball Sleepers, 2012: The Hitters
- Second-half pitchers often carry success into next season (sportsillustrated.cnn.com)
- Swing Out Sister (citifield.wordpress.com)
- You: Fantasy Baseball Mock Draft: 10 Starting Pitchers Worth a Late-Round Flier (bleacherreport.com)