Sleepers & Busts: Starting Pitcher
Searching for the ever-elusive fantasy baseball gold and kryptonite, we continue a series on sleepers and busts with starting pitchers.
Besides identifying who we feel is being under- or overrated in drafts, we are going beyond our own projection system and rankings to find a favorite and least favorite to tweak their stat prediction.
SLEEPER: Brandon McCarthy
The Dodgers brought the 31-year-old right-hander on a four-year, $48 million deal after he finished last season on a roll with the Yankees. Upon being traded from Arizona to New York last summer, McCarthy brought back the cutter that had been scrapped by the Diamondbacks and used it to help him to the best half-season of his career. McCarthy went 7-5 with a 2.89 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and sparkling rates of 8.2 K/9 and 1.3 BB/9 in his 14 starts with the Yankees. McCarthy has been victimized by a high HR/FB% over the past two seasons while pitching in homer-friendly Chase Field and Yankee Stadium, so it should help to be moving to spacious Dodger Stadium. Combine that with his new-found ability to generate strikeouts (7.9 K/9 last season after 5.1 in 2013) and his tremendous control (four straight seasons with walk rates under 2.0 BB/9) and we should have a stalwart even in shallow mixed leagues. We have bumped up McCarthy’s projections to 12 wins, 3.55 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 148 strikeouts in 178 innings, putting him at No. 37 in our rankings while his ADP is 66th.
BUST: Justin Verlander
Yeah, so another spring has come and another set of excuses for why Verlander struggled the past season and how it’s going to change this year. Don’t fall for it. Verlander has been the epitome of a workhorse for each of his nine seasons in Detroit, averaging 33 starts and 219 innings – and that’s not even including the postseason! The core surgery he had last off-season is being blamed for his struggles last year, but that ignores that his velocity declined for five straight seasons. Once utilizing four plus pitches, his curve and change have suffered in effectiveness along with his fastball. The only offering of his that showed a positive pitch value last season was his slider, which was always his fourth-best pitch to begin with. Even if he gets back some of that velocity like the reports coming out of spring training would have you believe, Verlander has a long ways to go before becoming even a useful pitcher in mixed leagues. On the heels of a 3.46 ERA and 1.31 WHIP in 2013, Verlander’s 4.54 ERA and 1.40 WHIP ruined many a fantasy season last year. Concerned that he may have some shoulder issues as the root cause for the diminished stuff, we still have Verlander projected for a respectable line of 14 wins, 3.87 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 178 strikeouts, but that’s good enough for a No. 70 ranking while his ADP is 34th. Let someone else take the risk.
Mike Fiers: The Brewers’ soft-tosser with the funky, over-top-top motion is being overlooked after putting up spectacular numbers between Triple-A and the majors last season. We have Fiers ranked No. 30 while his ADP is 54th.
Collin McHugh: After his unlikely breakout last season, the 27-year-old hasn’t gained the trust of the fantasy community yet, but we’re got the Astros righty ranked No. 31 while his ADP is 51st.
Drew Smyly: The 25-year-old lefty came to the Rays last summer in the David Price deal, then dazzled down the stretch with a 1.70 ERA and 0.76 WHIP in seven starts with Tampa Bay. Panned at the time of the deal, the Rays may get the last laugh. We have Smyly ranked No. 39 while his ADP is 53rd.
Danny Salazar: We were on board for a Salazar breakout last season and it didn’t happen, but we’re not abandoning the 25-year-old flame-thrower. He still must secure a spot in the Indians rotation this spring, but we love his strikeout rate (projected 9.7 K/9) and have him ranked No. 44 while his ADP is 67th.
Nate Karns: How about a guy with a non-existent ADP who is virtually guaranteed a roster spot to start the season and has some nice minor-league stats (3.45 ERA, 10.3 K/9) as well. We have moved him up to No. 134 and his ADP is 216.
Adam Wainwright: First there was the second-half fade and reduced strikeout rate, then the off-season elbow cleanup surgery, and now an abdominal injury is interrupting his spring preparations. We still have Wainwright projected for a very solid season, but consider us worried as our No. 20 ranking shows when compared to his ADP of 12th.
Jeff Samardzija: After a breakout last season spent between the Cubs and Athletics, Samardzija was dealt to the White Sox in his walk year. He has a big contract to play for, but we don’t like the ballpark and what being in the AL will likely do to his strikeout rate (8.6 K/9 with Cubs, 8.0 with the A’s). We have him ranked No. 25 while his ADP is 16th.
Doug Fister: The Nationls righty’s strikeout rate dropped from 7.6 and 6.9 in two seasons with the Tigers to 5.4 last year in his introduction to the NL. His 2.41 ERA was far below his 3.85 xFIP and we expect that to manifest itself in this year’s numbers, so we have Fister ranked No. 46 while his ADP is 38th.
Chris Tillman: The Orioles 26-year-old has been benefiting from a lot of good luck the past three seasons, using abnormally-low BABIPs to fuel ERAs of 2.93, 3.71 and 3.34 while his xFIPs have soared above at 4.34, 3.88 and 4.20. There aren’t enough strikeouts here to fall back on if the ERA starts heading north, so we have him ranked No. 75 while his ADP is 63rd.