2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers: Starting Pitcher Deep Sleepers

We are finishing the 6-part series on sleepers with Part 6: Starting Pitcher Deep Sleepers.  A player’s sleeper tag is based on his Average Draft Position in Mock Draft Central (MDC) and in National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) satellite leagues thus far (out of 32 drafts). The NFBC ADP gives you a more accurate view of where these players are likely to go in real drafts, although the MDC ADP is more commonly referred to. You can find the NFBC ADP data under the “Drafts” – “Average Position” tab on the main page here.  The difference between “sleepers” and “deep sleepers” is that the sleepers are guys who I project to be definite starters in even 12-team leagues, whereas the deep sleepers are more likely to be starters in 15-team leagues, or at least that’s all you should count on them for.  I can see a lot of them outproducing that value, but you can’t count on it.


SP Erik Bedard – PIT
The first two SP deep sleepers both come from the same small-market “bad” team – the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Sleepers often come from these types of teams because they get overlooked playing on a bad team, or a team that isn’t in a large market like New York or Boston.  In Bedard’s case though, it’s more likely that he is overlooked due to his constant health concerns.  He’s never reached 200 innings in his career, and he’s only pitched more than 142 innings twice.  You can only count on him for about 100 very good innings, and anything beyond that is just a bonus.  The move to the NL will increase his strikeout rate for sure, but should also help out his ERA and WHIP – despite the fact that Seattle’s Park Factor for Runs is lower than Pittsburgh’s because Pittsburgh’s Park Factor for HRs is significantly lower than Seattle’s.  One of the problems with Bedard, other than his health, is the fact that he walks too many batters (3.34 BB/9 in 2011) and is inefficient as a result (17.2 P/IP in 2011) – this will limit his Wins potential, especially on a bad team.  He also has a swinging strike rate that has been on the decline for 3 straight seasons (though shortened seasons) and was down to 7.9% in 2011 – but I expect that to improve in the NL in 2012.  I have his line at about a 3.30 ERA/1.26 WHIP with 9.4 K/9 strikeout rate.  He won’t come by too many wins due to his injury history, inefficiency, and team, but the great rate stats he can get you at pick #315 in NFBC (#241 in MDC) make him a very intriguing deep sleeper.

SP James McDonald – PIT
McDonald was a popular sleeper pick going into 2011 based on what he did in a small sample (72 innings) in 2010.  He had a 4.02 ERA, but a 3.12 FIP as he was seemingly unlucky with a .322 BABIP.  He also had an 8.54 K/9 and former top prospect status, so people were excited for the long-awaited breakout.  But it never came.  Instead, McDonald walked more (4.11 BB/9) and struck out fewer (7.47 K/9) hitters in 2011.  He also gave up a ton of HRs – 1.26 HR/9.  There is some positive news, however.  If you break down his season into 2 halves, he looked a lot like the 2010 version of himself in the 2nd half.  1st half: 4.52 ERA – 1.59 WHIP – 4.6 BB/9 – 7 K/9.  2nd half: 3.90 ERA – 1.38 WHIP – 3.6 BB/9 – 7.9 K/9.  He’s also been getting more groundballs and giving up fewer line drives.  McDonald’s 16.9 P/IP ratio is very high, however, and he definitely needs to become a more efficient pitcher if he ever wants to stay in the game long enough to get Wins, especially with the Pirates.  All in all, this is a risky starter to throw out there, but one who has definite upside if he puts it all together… so not a bad endgame flier to take late in deep leagues.  And late is just where you can get him – #361 in NFBC and #261 in MDC.

SP Mike Minor – ATL
Of all the deep sleepers, Minor probably has the most upside to return value in even the shallowest of leagues… but you can’t count on it.  Minor is a guy who I think needs a year of consolidating his skills (in 2012) before he really breaks out (possibly 2013).  He’s a very talented young pitcher with lots of upside, but is not close enough yet to think a breakout is on the horizon.  Yet, he’ll still likely be a useful fantasy starter in 2012.  In a small sample size, it looks like Minor regressed from 2010 – striking out fewer batters while inducing over 3% less swinging strikes, walking more guys, and allowing 10% more line drives.  However, Minor was very unlucky in both 2010 and 2011, though his luck may have turned around if he played closer to a full season.  His BABIP last season was .350 – which led to a ridiculously high 10.12 H/9.  He also gave up 41% fly balls in the 2nd half last season, with a 12% HR/FB rate.  He’ll need to keep the ball in the park in order to succeed as a starter in 2012.  However, he also only walked 2.5 batters per 9 innings in the 2nd half last season while increasing his strikeout rate from 7.6 K/9 to 8.2 K/9.  Given his dominant minor league track record regarding strikeouts, I’d say Minor will be in for a strikeout rate increase in 2012… but he’ll have to induce more than 8% swinging strikes to do so.  Expect growing pains and inconsistencies along the way, but there is a dominant starter lying in wait here, and his rotation spot should not be in question.  He’s going 287th in NFBC drafts and 244th in MDC.

SP Jonathon Niese – NYM
His 0.333 BABIP (3rd highest in MLB) and 67% LOB% masked significant skills growth in 2011.  His  BABIP comes in large part due to the fact that he allowed hits 27% of the time on soft/normally hit fly balls and pop ups, while the average pitcher allows hits on about 10-12%.  Niese also improved his walk rate from 3.21 BB/9 in 2010 to 2.52 BB/9 in 2011 while improving his strikeout rate from 7.67 K/9 in 2010 to 7.89 K/9 in 2011.  He improved his groundball rate from 47.7% in 2010 to 51.5% in 2011.  I expect both the BABIP and LOB% to normalize in 2012 and lead to much improved results.  At age 25, he still has plenty of time to have his big breakout year – could be 2012.  Next step is reaching 200 innings in a season… but this will only be his 3rd year starting after all.  To nab Niese, you’d have to take him around pick #305 in NFBC and around #241 in MDC.

SP Henderson Alvarez – TOR
Alvarez is like a younger, improved Mike Leake.  Elite control has been his calling card throughout the minors and it transferred nicely to the majors as well with a sterling 1.13 BB/9 rate in 64 innings last season.  Though Alvarez has a 93.3 MPH fastball and good change-up, he lacks the ability to miss bats (6.4% swinging strike rate) because he has only one other pitch – a lackluster slider.  His strikeout rate in the minors was consistently between 6.25-6.75 K/9 and then 5.65 K/9 in the majors.  However, this offseason Alvarez began working on a new cutter/slider combination pitch that he will use in 2012 to try to keep hitters more off-balance.  Alvarez is also an elite groundball pitcher – getting 53.5% ground balls.  His problem, like many groundball-centric control artists is that when the ball is hit in the air, it’s a HR far too often – 15.1% HR/FB rate in 2011 (1.13 HR/9).  Working against him are that his  BABIP was a little low (.281) for a groundball pitcher, his LOB% was a little high (77.2%), and he’s 22 years-old so he’ll likely hit some bumps along the way.  Though he probably won’t reach 200 innings in his first full season in the Jays’ rotation, anyone who can post a 5 K/BB ratio with a groundball rate of 50% will be a good pitcher.  He’s a better pitcher than Leake and Collmenter, but while they pitch in the NL, Alvarez pitches in the AL East where he has to face Boston, New York, and Tampa… just take that into consideration because you might be benching him more than you’d like.  Still, I see him with a line of 3.85 ERA/1.20 WHIP and a 6.3 K/9 – so he should help you in rate stats (ERA/WHIP), but he’ll be a little lackluster in counting stats (wins and strikeouts).  He’s going 385th in NFBC drafts and 255th in MDC.

SP Felipe Paulino – KC
I actually wrote about Paulino being a sleeper last season.  The guy possesses a 95 MPH fastball and the ability to strike people out… what he didn’t have was good control, the ability to strand runners, and luck.  Through 34 starts the last 2 seasons his FIP was between 3.44 and 3.69 (despite ERAs a run or more higher).  In fact, his .341 BABIP was the highest in the majors in 2011 (ahead of Lackey, Niese, and Nolasco).  His 70.8% LOB% was a bit low as well, though not extraordinarily low for a pitcher of his skill set.  The problem lies within the fact that in 3 partial seasons (2009-2011), through 51 starts, Paulino has consistently had high BABIPs (.361-.331-.341) and low LOB% (67.6%-58.5%-70.8%).  Now, you could just say it’s a small sample size or that he was just unlucky each season, but I feel like maybe he just doesn’t possess the ability to really be a good PITCHER yet.  He’s a good thrower – he has great velocity and can strike guys out – but his pitch selection and pitching mentality aren’t quite there yet.  I mean, if we could just pencil him in for normalized BABIP (around .300) and LOB% (around 73%), then you’d likely have a breakout pitcher here – something along the lines of 3.60 ERA/8.5 K/9.  Clearly, most fantasy owners aren’t expecting those kinds of numbers, though.  Paulino does have control issues as well… his walk rate was 4.52 BB/9 in 2010.  However, he lowered that to 3.55 BB/9 in 2011, so he could still be growing and developing as a starter.  In fact, Paulino was much better as a starter than reliever in 2011 (and for his career) as his ERA as a starter was 4.26 while his overall ERA for 2011 was 4.46.  He also only had 2 starts out of 20 last year that could really be described as disastrous (6 ER in 4 IP and 5 ER in 5 IP), showing he won’t really wreck your ERA in a single start as some risky starters do.  Paulino, though maybe a bit raw and still growing, is very talented… he’s got a lot of upside potential and is someone you should take a flier on late in deep drafts because if he puts it all together, you’ve got another stud starter for your rotation.  He goes 394th in NFBC drafts and 336th in MDC.

SP Hisashi Iwakuma – SEA
There are 3 things that you need to know about Iwakuma: 1. Everything in this article  2. He has elite control.  3. He pitches in SafeCo.  Just look at what Doug Fister did there last season (3.33 ERA/1.17 WHIP) – that’s likely his upside.  Then look what Fister did there in the previous 2 seasons (4.1 ERA/1.28 WHIP) – that’s probably closer to what you should expect, along with a strikeout rate around 5 K/9 like Fister as well.  I know, it’s nothing to get excited about, but consider that he’s going 446th in NFBC drafts and not even being drafted in MDC.  I see no reason to take old stiffs like Randy Wolf, Aaron Harang, and Kyle Lohse over Iwakuma… late in drafts it’s often best to take guys who you’re not sure what they’re going to give you instead of guys who you know what they’re going to give you – and it’s not good.

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