START BY BUILDING A STARTING ROTATION, PART 4 OF 4 -RANKINGS 78-101, 2014
The draft is finally winding down, and everyone at the draft table is starting to get a bit antsy for it to end so they can crack open a good brew and get to trading. Some guys sit back and look at the team they have assembled so far and, satisfied, they load their queue and put the last few rounds on autopilot so they can leave the draft room. But, some of us continue to sit there making every single draft pick count right to the end. I think most fantasy veterans would agree many drafts are won in the middle rounds. Anyone can build a pretty good core in the first ten rounds, but the middle rounds are where we separate ourselves for the most part. But, I think the late rounds can be a gold mine of players who can help you build your stats early in a Roto League and help you win a few extra categories in a Head to Head, if not now, then later in the season.
I’m not one of those owners who spend the last three or so rounds filling my bench with mediocre multi-position eligible hitters to serve as “backup” infielders or outfielders or “Monday/Thursday fill-ins.” Were this real baseball, that would be important, but in Fantasy, a “back-up” second baseman, to me, is a wasted roster spot. And, am I doing myself any favors by having Maicer Izturis on my bench because he can fill in at 2b, 3b or SS, giving me similar mediocre stats at each of those positions when needed? Well, no, in case you were wondering. Sometimes I’ll draft and stash a guy like Will Myers last season, or Ryan Howard which will be like making a trade in June without giving anyone up, but for the most part I am looking for useful arms in the end game. I want closers in waiting. I want some middle relievers to plug-in when I have no one starting. And, finally, I want to add a SP or two who are either fast starters like Kyle Lohse who I can drop later to spot start, or maybe a rookie hurler that I believe in that has fallen to the end rounds, or a former stud coming back from injury. Next week we’ll talk about relievers, but this week, let’s talk about some SP that you don’t want to forget about at the end of the draft, or early in the season.
Please don’t get too hung up on my rankings at this point. I’m ranking them because that is what we do, no? But, these next 25 or so pitchers could be listed in any order really, and I won’t spend a lot of time on any of them. Well, that is the plan anyway, we’ll see. The goal here is to find that diamond in the rough that everyone else forgot about. The first dozen or so we’ll call my sleepers. These are mostly young and unproven guys with some pedigree or post hype sleepers, any one of whom could blossom into a mid-rotation starter or even an ace, if not out of Spring Training, then by June 1st. The next dozen or so are veteran “innings eaters” who make for good spot starters in shallow leagues, or good rotation filler in deeper leagues. These guys will not dominate and give you 200 k’s, but they probably will give you 200 innings or so and seldom get blown out, keeping your ratios intact. Plus Major League teams still give them millions of dollars, keeping their rotation spots fairly safe.
After all that, I’m going to list some other pitchers that you may forget about on draft day. These are guys that are coming back from seasons lost to surgery, but have top of the rotation skill sets, or are starting pitchers who will be there on the wire if you need a spot start and know how to play the matchups to exploit their splits. If they have burned me in the past, I will conveniently leave them off this list, unless their name is Aaron Harang. Anyone who plays against me knows that I have an unhealthy need to keep on trusting him to find that promise he had so many years ago, before Dusty Baker burned him out one fateful night using Harang for 4 innings in an extra inning game. He’s never been the same since, but as long as MLB teams keep giving him the ball, I will hold out hope, even if it is for only one good start, before he goes to whatever fishing hole millionaire ex Starting Pitchers go to. Hey, I have issues, what can I say? So, let’s go, before I start talking about my unhealthy obsession with BJ Upton.
78. Zack Wheeler( 23): The other Met Rookie Ace. Good news: Mid 90’s fastball. Bad news: 4.0 Walks per 9 Innings. If he gets the 2nd stat fixed, watch out, especially in 2015 when Harvey comes back to join Wheeler and……
79. Noah Syndergaard(21) to form an imposing threesome at the top of a rotation that should also include Jon Niese and either Rafael Montero(23) or Jenri Mejia, and will remind Mets fans of Seaver, Koosman and Matlack (Yeah, I’m that old) . Syndergaard is polished for his age and sports a 10.2 K/9 in the minors. If he can cut back on his own 4.75 K/BB issues we’ll see him by June and forget all about RA Dickey who was traded for him. Montero has a few less MPH on his Fast Ball, but unlike the other two sports a BB/9 less than 2.0 in the minors and, like Syndergaard, is a dark horse for NL ROY if he gets the call early enough. After what happened with Harvey, Mejia’s injuries, and years of other bad luck injury wise, I think the Mets will be very careful with this bunch.
Before I got to see them pitch a bit in 2013 I thought Julio Teheran(23), 80. TaiJuan Walker(21) and Jameson Taillon(22) were all the same guy. But that is what happens to guys with ADHD who have words banging around in their heads all the time. TaiJuan, pronounced like the Island off of China is compared to another ex-Met Ace, Dwight Gooden, and could be 2014’s Jose Fernandez pitching in friendly SAFECO in Seattle. He has an Ace-like 10.2 K/9 in the minors and pitched pretty well in his cup of Joe with Seattle in 2013. (Why does it always have to be Joe?) He’s starting Spring Training a bit hurt, but they say he’ll be ready to go in April when they need a 5th SP. I don’t think he’ll see the minors again after that. Pittsburgh’s Taillon is not quite as polished as TaiJuan (see what I mean?), but he sports a mid-90’s heater with 9.0 K/9 and solid control, but only projects as a mid-rotation starter.
81. Drew Smyly (24) of Detroit is not a rookie, and has already had some success as a SP before Detroit used him successfully as their lefty specialist in 2013 due to need and a crowded rotation. This season they traded Doug Fister to make room for Smyly to start again, and he is one of my sleepers for 2014, plus I like his name 🙂 (ha, I couldn’t resist). In his two years in the majors his k/9 is exactly 9.0 with 175 K’s in 175.1 IP and a BB/9 of 2.50. He may be on an innings limit after pitching 76 innings last season and less than 100 MLB innings the season before. How can he not succeed surrounded by 2 Cy Young winners and Anibal Sanchez?
Did anyone else miss the quietly amazing season put up by Atlanta’s 82. Alex Wood (23)? Maybe I was confused by the amazing season put up by Chicago’s Travis Wood(27)? No, the only thing amazing about Travis Wood was how on earth he managed a 3.11/1.15 line with barely a 2.0 K/BB. But, Alex started the season as a reliever and then shined, (shone?) (tomato/tomahto), (Taillon/TaiJuan)….um in 11 2nd half starts, sporting a 9.0 K/9 and matching the other Wood’s ERA at 3.13, but with a slightly higher WHIP. Anyway, enough about the other Wood. Alex is the one who was a 2nd round pick in 2012 and was virtually unhittable in 24 minor league starts before he got the call. He has an above average ground ball rate and keeps the homers down as well. Because of that, he is another of my 2014 sleeper picks, and if I’m in an auction I will call out Travis’s name first hoping someone will drop $10 on him. Hey, at least that is not as bad as Ryan Braun, RP, KC. How many auctions were paused over that gaffe?
Speaking of sleeper picks, and quietly good seasons out of the blue, 83. Tyson Ross (26), not to be confused with career back-up catcher David Ross, or Cody Ross, or Ross Bumgarner, or….ah you get it, Ross was one of SD’s best SP in 2013. Well, it is a short list anyway after Cashner and Ross, but his season was especially great considering he pitched to an ERA of nearly 7.0 and a WHIP of nearly 2.0 in 13 starts with the A’s in 2012. In 2013, he gained velocity on his heater and it showed with a 9.6 K/9 and a good ground ball rate, which when added to PETCO Park’s stingy dimensions makes Ross a no brainer at home at the very least, especially if that velocity gain continues. But that is not all. After the break he sported an ERA of 2.93 and a .99 WHIP in 13 starts getting stronger as the season wound down. What would you rather gamble your last pick on? Ross’s velocity gains remaining or Yunel Escobar just in case your first round pick Tulo goes down for a month? Nah, some of you will draft Yunel anyway and then scoot to the wire when Ross throws his first shutout at PETCO. I’ll already own him though, but Yunel may not completely kill your BA when Reyes is out with a hammy pull. (C’mon, you knew I would find a way to circle back to that reserve infielder dig didn’t you?)
Let’s go with a few more sleepers that might be better than drafting Marco Scutaro (Can you believe he is almost 40?) in the last round. These guys may all make a difference in 2014. 84. Erik Johnson (24), no, not the guitar player, or the tight end, the pitcher who sported a 1.96 ERA in the minors. He has a good shot at breaking camp in the White Sox rotation this Spring. 85. Archie Bradley (21) sported a 1.84 ERA and 9.0 K/9 in the minors in 2013 as well, and may make it to the Diamondbacks as soon as he gets hold of his heater which he has some trouble controlling. He projects as a possible ace. 86. Kevin Gausman 23, the 4th overall pick by the O’s in 2012 also projects as a future ace with a high 90’s heater and last season posted an obscene K/BB of nearly 6.0 in both the majors and minors. There is a good chance he breaks camp with the O’s although the signing of AJ Burnett and, just last night, Ubaldo Jiminez could change things. Either way, we will see more of him in 2014. Finally, two “veteran” sleepers who have a shot at making an impact in 2014 are 87. Danny Duffy (25) of KC and 88. Nate Eovaldi(24) of Miami. Duffy looked as good as ever after coming back from TJ surgery in 2013 and could be ready to let loose in 2014. Eovaldi has shown immense potential but still has not harnessed it. Maybe 2014 is the year.
I try not to get giddy over rookie pitching phenoms, but can anyone remember a time when there was more young pitching studs coming up all at once? That makes it easy to be sure you snag one with that last pick of the draft. If you guess right you could have 2014’s Jose Fernandez for the cost of back-up catcher David Ross. Now, we’ll wrap up with some guys that just have to be listed in the top 100, even if they have not earned it or cannot contribute in 2014.
89. Jacob Turner (22) could join his teammate Eovaldi to lead the league in walks single handedly, though both have plenty of talent.
90. Randall Delgado (24) has a place on this list because he was traded for Justin Upton. So, he has to be good right? He is a good control pitcher but is also homer prone pitching in a hitter friendly park.
91. Rick Porcello (25) saw his velocity, K rates and WHIP improve last season after years of disappointing with walks. Being the “worst” Tigers SP is not a bad thing either, no?
92. Jeremy Hellickson (26) I’m just not ready to remove him from my top 100 yet. But I can’t give you a good reason.
93. Jarrod Parker (25) Just leave him on your bench when he is not pitching at home. He’s here because I would get flack from Mark, one of my LM’s if I left him off. Yeah, he’s an A’s fan.
94. Michael Pineda (25) Yeah, as you know I’m a Yankee fan. Hey, if you read my first article of this 4 part series I promised I would get 5 Yankees in the top 100 somehow. At least he is doing better than the ex-catcher he was traded for. Did you see this quote from Jesus Montero after winter ball: “I gained a lot of weight in my country,” he admitted. “So, now, I’m on a program to lose weight. I’m working really hard to get my weight back. I wasn’t doing nothing (after finishing winter ball), just eating.” Really?
95. Mike Leake (26) Well, he did have a pretty good season. 14-7 3.37/1.25. Almost as good as Travis Wood, no? Hey, I’m at the end of the road here. 14 w’s & those ratios get you in, and prove you lucky.
96. Dillon Gee (27) He is 27, I like his name, he pitched well for me in spot starts in 2013, and I feel bad that he’ll be the odd man out when all the Mets phenoms are in the rotation.
97. Wade Miley (27) He is 27, has a good ground ball rate in a HR park, had a 2.93 ERA in 14 2nd half starts in 2013, and has more talent and Twerks better than Miley Cyrus.
99. Matt Harvey (24) – Where else am I going to put him? Besides, I’m trying to trade him for a good draft pick in a keeper league.
100. Bronson Arroyo, Mark Buehrle, Jeremy Guthrie, Jason Vargas, Paul Maholm, Eric Bedard, Ryan Vogelsong, Martin Perez, Edwin Jackson, Jose Santiago and, of course, Travis Wood. 200 IP Spot Starters Supreme. These guys are as reliable a spot starter as there is if you know when to use them. But, incorrect usage can do damage to your ratios.
Finally, I promised a couple of lists of SP not to forget about. You may not want to draft them, but keep your eyes out for good match-ups plays and keep tabs on the injury returnees in case any become reliable again. I will add that as a separate addendum later today. Thanks for reading this far, and if you missed any here are links to the first three parts. Good luck in your drafts, and I hope you Build a Better Starting Pitching Staff. Next week I’ll start trying to Build a Better Bullpen. There are many interesting closer battles that will go down to the wire this Spring, so I’ll start with the Closers and then the Middle Relievers and Specialists after that. By then we’ll be close to draft day and the Closers will hopefully be sorted out by then.