Ahhh sleepers — we all love ’em, we all want ’em, and we’ll search far and wide to find ’em.
The allure of grabbing a player just before he breaks out is powerful indeed, and Fantasy Baseball players spend long hours poring over box scores, split stats, transaction logs and injury updates to try to identify the “Next Big Thing” while he’s still “Just Another Guy.”
Well, hopefully, this article on starting pitcher sleepers will save you a bit of that fuss. (Plus, we posted an article this weekend on the six ways you can find starting pitcher sleepers.)
We identified a handful of starting pitchers who could be on the cusp of moving from the Bargain Basement to the Penthouse Suite (okay, maybe a balcony cabin, but still.)
5 Starting Pitcher Sleepers for 2015
The starting pitching talent pool is deep this year, and there is plenty of opportunity to make a late-round splash for a learned and savvy Fantasy Baseball aficionado … and that would be you, wouldn’t it? Thought so — read on, quiz kid.
Jose Quintana, Chicago White Sox
Quintana has quietly (which is the way baseball-related things have happened on Chicago’s South Side over the past two years) posted back-to-back strong seasons, but his lack of wins and the fact that he pitched for a non-contender caused his efforts to fly under most radars. He was also the victim of some bad luck: his 21 quality starts last season resulted in just nine victories, and only nine qualifying American League pitchers received less run support than Quintana.
The Southside southpaw doesn’t have dominant stuff, but he generates strikeouts through outstanding command of a decent low-90s fastball and good secondary pitches. His change-up has become a bigger part of his repertoire over the past two years, and his improved comfort level with the pitch helped him to hold right-handed batters to just a .253/.299/.354/.653 slash line in 2014. He dramatically improved his susceptibility to the home-run ball last season, allowing just 10 dingers in 200.1 innings of work. You can watch him work his magic against the Minnesota Twins last September in this video highlight package.
Quintana just turned 26 years old, so he should be entering the prime of his career. The additions of Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche should provide a boost to the White Sox offense, which in turn should help Quintana convert more quality starts into victories. Despite his solid performance over the past two seasons, and some optimistic signs for 2015, though, Quintana is ranked only 52nd among starting pitchers by Tristan H. Cockroft over at ESPN.
In the recent Fantasy Sports Trade Association Experts Draft, though, Quintana left the board at pick 211. Quintana isn’t flashy, and he won’t give your team eye-popping strikeout numbers or microscopic ratios, but what he can do is provide consistent, quality performance that will almost certainly come at a bargain-basement price on draft day.
Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland Indians
Good night, have you seen what Carrasco did in the second half of the 2014 season? If you haven’t, go take a look right now; I’ll wait. Simply put, Carrasco was one of the best pitchers in baseball after the All-Star break, and his status as a former top prospect should signal that this hot streak may be a trend rather than a fluke.
Carrasco struggled in the early part of the 2014 campaign, but some changes in his approach — most notably a switch to a full-time “stretch” delivery — after being demoted to the bullpen turned him into a different pitcher when he returned to the rotation in early August. Carrasco’s fastball sits in the mid-90s, but it’s his 89-MPH “change-up” and 87-MPH slider that induced swings and misses (9.4 K/9) and a stellar ground-ball rate (52.8 percent) last season.Mike Podhorzer wrote about Carrasco’s remarkable turnaround over at Fangraphs, and he seems to think that some big things are in store for Carrasco in 2015.
— Bradley Smith (@Buckeye_Brad) January 29, 2015
Carrasco’s “breakout” does appear to be the real deal: this is a pitcher who owns plus stuff but had never been able to put all of the pieces together. The development of his secondary pitches has made his good-not-great fastball a legitimate weapon, and there’s little reason to believe that he won’t keep rolling in 2015.
The relative anonymity of pitching in Cleveland should help to depress his 2015 value, but this may be the last year that you’re able to obtain Carrasco at a bargain price. He is currently ranked as the 45th starting pitcher (179 overall) over at ESPN, but he left the board at pick 135 in the recent FSTA Experts Draft, so the trend here is clearly upward. Cleveland’s fielding is still rather sketchy, but perhaps shortstop Jose Ramirez and/or Francisco Lindor can help bring some stability to what was baseball’s worst defensive unit in 2014.
Marcus Stroman, Toronto Blue Jays
Editor’s note: On March 10, the Blue Jays announced that Stroman had suffered a torn ACL in his left knee and is expected to miss the entire 2015 season.
Stroman was Toronto’s first-round draft pick back in 2012, and he ascended through the Jays’ farm system in short order, while displaying outstanding command and a wicked strikeout pitch. He averaged 10.6 strikeouts and just 2.4 walks per nine innings during his minor-league career.
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Stroman reached the big leagues last May, just three days after his 23rd birthday, and struggled mightily while pitching out of the bullpen. His ERA stood at a cool 12.79 after five appearances, which earned him a trip back to the minors, and apparently out of the minds of many fantasy owners. The youngster returned to the bigs less than two weeks later, and immediately staked his claim to a spot in the Toronto rotation. In 20 games as a starting pitcher, Stroman posted a stellar 10-6 record, 3.29 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, while fanning 103 batters and walking just 27 in 120.1 innings of work.
Stroman made a significant change in his pitch selection as the season went on, relying less on his four-seam fastball and significantly more on his two-seam sinkerball. This chart from BrooksBaseball.net tells the tale:
Stroman’s sinker sits at around 93, and its great downward movement produced a ground ball rate of 53.8 percent, which was exceeded by only 11 pitchers with at least 120 innings pitched. His newfound put-away pitch stands to become even better in 2015, as highly-regarded pitch-framer and pitcher-handler Russell Martin will be behind the dish for the Jays this season.
Stroman’s biggest drawback is his lack of size — he’s listed at just 5-foot-9 — and it’s not known whether his diminutive stature will cause him to wear down over the rigorous course of an entire season. Stroman is currently ranked by Tristan H. Cockroft of ESPN as the No. 47 starting pitcher, and 161st player overall, but the youngster left the board at pick 159 during the recent FSTA Experts Draft. The Jays have added some offensive pop this offseason, which should open up the possibility of more wins for Stroman in 2015.
Brandon McCarthy, Los Angeles Dodgers
There’s an awful lot to like about McCarthy’s move to Los Angeles: He’ll be pitching in one of baseball’s most hurler-friendly parks, and of course, he won’t have to deal with facing the DH in the National League. While these factors would probably rate a slight fantasy bump in and of themselves, when combined with McCarthy’s outstanding performance during his time with the Yankees last season, they qualify the veteran as a bona fide fantasy sleeper.
How good was he? McCarthy arrived in the Bronx via trade in early July, and proceeded to post a 2.89 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and a stellar 82:13 K/BB ratio in 90.1 innings of work for the Yankees. The bigger news, though, was that for the first time in his 10-year career, McCarthy stayed healthy long enough to reach 200 innings pitched. Injury woes have been McCarthy’s bane during his career, but last season he not only stayed on the field, he actually experienced a rather significant jump in his velocity, as shown by this table from Brooksbaseball.net: Numbers represent MPH of various pitches; column to the left is the month and year of the readings.
Does McCarthy’s jump in velocity signal that he is ready to deliver on the promise he showed so many years ago? Perhaps…and it’s encouraging that he posted a career-best 7.88 strikeouts per nine innings, while allowing just 1.49 walks. His ground-pounding style should play very well in Chavez Ravine, and his new team should provide a decent amount of run support to further bolster his fantasy stock. McCarthy is ranked way down at number 79 among starting pitchers on Tristan Cockroft’s board, so he should be available very late in your draft. Don’t be afraid to take a flyer on McCarthy, as he could provide some rather substantial returns on a minimal investment.
Derek Holland, Texas Rangers
Holland suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee last January, and his subsequent surgery and rehab cost him five months of the regular season – by which time, virtually no one was paying attention to the woeful Rangers. Holland was dominant upon returning to the bump, though, logging a 1.46 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and racking up 25 strikeouts in 37 innings of work. His 2015 strikeout rate figures to be much better than his ’14 numbers would indicate, as he fanned 189 batters in 213 innings back in 2013.
Holland’s injury caused him to fall off many fantasy radar screens, but bear in mind that this is the same guy who posted a tidy 3.42 ERA and serviceable 1.29 WHIP – along with the aforementioned 189 Ks – back in 2013. He won 16 games and logged a 3.95 ERA in 2011, and he averaged just over 195 innings pitched during the three seasons prior to his injury – which, incidentally, was due to a rather freakish accident involving his dog. Holland is 28 years old, and should be entering the prime of his career. The lefty has developed a wicked slider that generates plenty of swings and misses, and he should receive solid run support from his teammates – especially if Prince Fielder returns to form. Here’s a look at just how good Holland’s slider has become: the numbers represent opponents’ batting average against various pitches.
Holland is currently ranked as the no. 72 starting pitcher, and he is just outside the overall top 250 on Cockroft’s board at ESPN; he was selected with the 259th overall pick in the recent FSTA Experts’ Draft. He should be available very late in your draft, and he makes a very nice low-risk, medium-reward selection as you fill out your fantasy staff. One caveat with Holland: his home park is decidedly hitter-friendly, and his career splits reflect that.
Other Potential Starting Pitcher Sleepers to Consider
While they didn’t receive profiles in this article, there are several other starting pitchers who are definitely candidates to outperform their 2015 draft-day cost. Some players I will be targeting this season are Tony Cingrani, Jesse Hahn, Drew Smyly, Danny Salazar, Drew Hutchison, Michael Pineda and Taijuan Walker.
Derek Holland Photo Credit: Mike LaChance
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