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Fantasy Baseball Sleepers from Every Expert (Part 1: Pitchers)

by dave
Feb 21, 2012

Sleeper Alert: One expert has Scott Baker 63 spots higher than his ADP!

Is there anything better than nailing your sleeper pick? Well, maybe winning your league, but the two often go hand in hand. To help put some sleeper candidates on your radar, we’re doing a series of posts that will reveal the top fantasy baseball sleepers from every expert we track.
For this first of three posts, we asked 25 experts for their top sleeper pick among pitchers (SP or RP). Next week we’ll follow up with hitters [update: go to hitters]. Then, in mid March, we’ll document – objectively – each expert’s sleepers (or value picks) based on his player rankings vs. ADP. We’ll also track all this data so you know whose bold predictions were the most accurate.
The expert recommendations are summarized in the table below but I encourage you to read each expert’s analysis, which is provided below the table. If you like what the experts have to say, be sure to check out their sites for more draft advice and follow them on Twitter this season. Oh, and my apologies for the super-sized sleeper post. It’s long (and it’s only Part 1 of 3), but it sure beats paying for an outdated $8 magazine, right?

Name your favorite sleeper at Pitcher (SP or RP) and tell us why you think he might surprise us this year. . .
– Starting Pitchers –
Madison Bumgarner (SF)
“Bumgarner had a nice year in 2011, but he is destined for greatness in 2012. His K rate of 8.40/9 is good, but his walk rate of 2.02 is even better. Only Roy Halladay bested him in ratio, and we know how good he is. Combine that with the fact he’s 22 years old, plays in a pitchers park, and will be squaring off against other teams #3’s most the year, and I think that sets him up for success. Did I mention he gets to face the Dodgers and Padres in half his division games? I’ll take that bet. 2012 Projection: 17-8, 2.84, 1.19, 202 Ks.” – Josh Cohen, TOFantasySports
“When thinking of ‘sleepers’ I look at who will jump in the rankings relative to their draft position. The guy who stands out to me is San Francisco’s SP Madison Bumgarner. Though he had a disappointing beginning to 2011, he wasn’t phased and finished the season strong (final: 3.21 ERA/13-13/191K/1.21WHIP). Plus, his struggles weren’t entirely his fault as he was a hard luck loser caused by curse-like Miguel Tejada errors and the Giants frustrating inability to score. At 22 years old, he’s taken strides forward both years in the majors and will continue on that path to becoming a Fantasy Ace. Consider his impressive final 2011 numbers as his floor and expect his 2012 to resemble those of the second half of 2011. Oh yeah, and Miguel Tejada is no longer a Giant.” – Brien Bonneville, TheFakeBaseball
Brandon Beachy (ATL)
“Beachy’s ability to strike batters out is near the tops of the league. He came up later in the year due to injuries to the Braves’ pitchers and was supposed to be sent back down once they were healthy, but Beachy’s performance was so good, he stuck. Look for him to be a Brandon Morrow type with more wins and a better WHIP.” – Jeremy Manning, ClubhouseGM
“Brandon Beachy had the highest K/9 (10.76) of any starter last season, while walking less than 3 batters per 9 innings. Sure, his 3.68 rookie ERA was excellent, but those numbers suggest it could be even lower (3.19 FIP). There isn’t much hype surrounding him, possibly because he went undrafted and was only recently converted to a starter, but don’t let that fool you. Brandon Beachy is a 6th round talent being taken in the 10th round.” – Tim Young, MLB Soup
Cory Luebke (SD)
“Luebke was third amongst starting pitchers in K/9 at 9.92, and he calls Petco home. If Luebke can replicate his ERA around 3.00 and eclipse 200 innings, we’ll be talking about a top ten pitcher that FantasyPros experts have ranked thirty-sixth. That is the definition of sleeper.” – Ben Pritchett, The Hardball Times

Hiroki Kuroda (NYY)
“Kuroda has had only one winning season in his four year career, all previously with the Dodgers, but has a career ERA of just 3.45. He recorded 16 losses, a career high, for the Dodgers in 2011 but at the same time only gave up 3.07 runs a game while striking out 161 batters in 202 innings, all career highs. The run support was not there at all for Kuroda last season. Fast forward to today and Kuroda has all the run support he could ever want in New York. If he can maintain his career ERA I wouldn’t be surprised to see 15 wins in 2012.” – Zach Greubel, WinMyFantasyLeague
John Danks (CWS)
“Everything went wrong for Danks last year, mostly due to poor run support, an injury, and a .313 BABIP (.293, .267, .274 last 3 years). Despite his struggles, he sported a career high K/BB rate (2.93), and his fastball velocity (91.6 mph) and Swinging Strike % (9.3) stayed consistent. Entering his age 27 season, I expect something equal or better than his 2010 numbers (213 IP, 15 W, 3.72 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 162 K), which made him a top 35 starting pitcher in most 2011 drafts. His current ECR is 58th among starting pitchers, and I suspect he could fall lower than that in many drafts.” – Eric Radom, FansFantasyFootball
Ted Lilly (LAD)
“My pick is the perennially underrated Ted Lilly. Despite a rocky first half last season, Lilly still finished the season with a 3.97 ERA, a 1.16 WHIP, and 7.38 K/9. After the All-Star break, he posted an ERA of 2.94, a 0.99 WHIP, and a K/9 of 8.40. Still, in drafts for the upcoming season, Lilly is being drafted behind guys like R.A. Dickey, Jonathan Sanchez, Shelby Miller, Carlos Zambrano, and Jonathan Niese. He is by no means a flashy player to have on your fantasy squad, but by season’s end, you’ll be glad you drafted him instead of those pitchers and many others.” – Greg Smith, TheFakeBaseball
Scot Baker (MIN)
“Not exactly a sleeper, but since I have him almost 30 spots higher than the ECR for SP, I must be expecting more from Baker than everyone else. I believe Baker is consistently rated lower than he deserves, based on physical perception. He doesn’t look as intimidating as Roy Halladay or Chris Carpenter, even though he has a better career K/9 rate than both of them. If you need more proof, read this FanGraphs piece.” – Gavin Tachibana, Fantasy Baseball Champ
“Should have a bounce back year. Flying under the radar right now.” – Matt Viere, FantasySportsPrime
Bud Norris (HOU)
“Norris has two full seasons in the majors now, and in both seasons his SIERA and XFIP have been under 4.00. In 2010 he suffered from bad BABIP and strand rate luck and had an ERA well over 4.00. But in 2011 his luck was neutral and he posted a 3.77 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and 8.52 K/9. Since when do numbers like that justify an ADP of 90 among starters? Bud should be drafted in every league and started in almost every start.” – Brett Talley, The Fantasy Fix

Vance Worley (PHI)
“Despite being ranked outside the top 65 starting pitchers (via FantasyPros’ ECR), Worley has the potential to deliver a solid return for fantasy owners based on his bargain price. Expected to be the Phillies’ fifth starter, the 24-year-old went 11-3 with a 3.01 ERA and 119 strikeouts in 131.2 innings (K/9: 8.13) last year. Even if he doesn’t maintain those ratios (3.01 ERA, 8.13 K/9), the Phillies are the clear favorites to win the National League and he should get plenty of run support and opportunities for wins.” – Kevin Hanson, EatDrinkSleepBaseball
Erik Bedard (PIT)
“My non-Corey Luebke pick for a sleeper at starting pitcher is Erik Bedard. We all know of his injury-riddled past, but his talent makes him a late-round, low-risk pick worth taking. When he’s been on the mound over the past five seasons, he’s put up impressive numbers, including a 9.6 strikeouts-per-nine innings. Joining the Pirates and the National League are not going to hurt his stats, though don’t expect a ton of wins. If Bedard is healthy enough to go 175 innings, 11 wins, 175 strikeouts, 3.40 E.R.A. and a 1.25 WHIP is more than a realistic expectation. Bedard, and the newly acquired A.J. Burnett, are two veteran Pirates pitchers worth taking a chance on in 2012.” – Justin Sablich, The New York Times
Luke Hochevar (KC)
“I’m guilty of being the most optimistic Hochevar believer. I’ve ranked him 11 spots higher than the next closest expert, and my ranking of 44 places him firmly in the fourth fantasy starter region. Hochevar’s breakout began post All-Star break last year, and will continue into this year. After the All-Star break he pitched 79.1 innings to the tune of a 3.52 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. His breakout stems from an increase in usage of his slider. That pitch generated a 22.6 percent whiff rate and explains why his strikeout rate jumped from 4.57 K/9 pre-All-Star break to 7.71 K/9 post. His control also improved slightly from 2.88 BB/9 to 2.72 BB/9. He gets a ton of groundballs, 46-50 percent groundball rate, and is backed by an offense that finished 10th in Major League Baseball in runs scored in 2011. There is so much to like about Hochevar, and he’ll come quite cheap on draft day. I expect to see his line in 2012 finish in the vicinity of: 200 IP, 15 W, 170 Ks, 3.65 ERA, 1.20 WHIP. Sign me up for that.” – Josh Shepardson, The Hardball Times
Henderson Alvarez (TOR)
“Alvarez posted a 3.53 ERA, and a 1.13 WHIP in 10 starts to finish up the 2011 season. Things to like here: 54% ground ball rate and a 1.1 BB/9 rate. While he is not a traditional sleeper who can record high strikeout totals, he has great control that should allow him to post a very good WHIP, also limiting his downside. We could see a sub 4.00 ERA, with a WHIP near 1.20 from him in 2011, with upside for more if things break right. He may not be drafted in some shallow leagues and he isn’t the type of player who is likely to be reached on, but he has the potential to produce Doug Fister-like value.” – Jesse Sakstrup, RotoSummit
Edinson Volquez (SD)
“Last year was full of potholes for Edinson. Nearly two seasons removed from Tommy John surgery, many expected a return to respectability. Unfortunately, he was a complete train-wreck. A lethal combination of walks and homers inflated his ERA to puke-worthy proportions (5.71). Still, his velocity remained at pre-procedure levels. Still only 28 and now in a pitcher’s haven, Petco, he could regain value lost. Available well after pick 200, he’s a strong bounce-back candidate with SP3 upside.” – Brad Evans, Yahoo! Sports
Johan Santana (NYM)
“I would definitely not label Johan Santana a sleeper, however he does have the ability to play well above his average draft positioning. Johan is currently the 83rd ranked pitcher on Fantasy Pros rankings. Obviously his health is a major factor and concern, but his rehab is going well. He may not get you 200 innings, but if he can give you 100-150 innings of what he’s been capable of in the past, he would be a tremendous value to fantasy teams.” – Ryan Lester, Lester’s Legends

Jeff Niemann (TB)
“Jeff Niemann has been hampered by injuries for parts of the last two seasons, and that has limited his Fantasy value. However, when he has been healthy, Niemann has been good enough to trust in standard mixed league formats, as he has strong command and, apparently, a knack for avoiding line drives. With Matt Moore joining the Rays’ rotation this year, Niemann could be the odd man out, but he is good enough to hold down a starting role somewhere, if not Tampa Bay. He has the potential to perform like a No. 4 SP and is worth a late-round flier at the very least.” – Al Mechior, CBS Sports
Jonathon Niese (NYM)
“You have to wonder whether the BABIP problems that plagued him last year are for real, as his career BABIP is .329. His ground ball rate, strikeout rate, and walk rate showed significant improvement for the second straight year, but he actually watched his ERA rise twenty points in 2011. His 3.36 FIP was a full run lower than his 4.40 ERA, so healthy seasons out of Ike Davis and David Wright at the corners should help him out a little. He’s going at the tail end of standard drafts (if at all), but has enough upside to be a middle of the rotation fantasy option.” – James Meyerriecks, Fantasy Info Central
James Paxton (SEA)
“One of my top pitching sleepers this year is Mariners prospect James Paxton. Like Michael Pineda last season, he’ll garner more and more attention as the preseason progresses. It appears he will battle Danny Hultzen for a spot but Hultzen lacks pro experience and will have more to prove. According to John Sickels, Paxton features a mid-90’s power fastball, a hard slider, a softer curve or slurve, and an undeveloped change up. In MiLB action, those pitches led to an impressive 131 strike outs (12.4 K/9) in 95 innings, but he also walked 43 (4.1 BB/9).” – Brad Johnson, The Hardball Times
– Relief Pitchers –
Rafael Betancourt (COL)
“He turns 37 years-old in April and has 27 career saves, so many owners will skip past him when making their rankings. However, he’s had great stats of late, which includes three consecutive years with a sub-0.100 WHIP with lots of K’s. Betancourt’s only competition for the closer’s role is Rex Brothers, but he’s a lefty and manager’s tend to keep them as specialists. Betancourt’s going to give you fantastic bang for your buck.” – Joseph Buccellato, FantasyLeagueGM
“The 24th reliever off the board – according to Mock Draft Central – may not have a long history of shutting down games to his name, but his raw talent and proven effectiveness in his challenging home park — Coors Field — make him a very attractive investment at current price. He has a clean 3.00 ERA in his 150 inning pitched as a Rockie, and has been startlingly good at keeping runners off base (see his .90 WHIP in two and a half years in Colorado, and his 21 walks in said time). Oh, and as an added bonus, he has a career strikeout rate that’s better than Brian Wilson’s, for comparison’s sake. So I ask: who cares if he doesn’t have a track record of closing games? He will by this time next year.” – Nick Fleder, The Hardball Times
Kenley Jansen (LAD)
“My sleeper relief pitcher of the year for 2012 is Kenley Jansen of the Los Angeles Dodgers. He’s currently the setup man for closer Javy Guerra, but I think he will win the job in 2012 and be this year’s Craig Kimbrel. Jansen is currently being the 19th relief pitcher being drafted based on FantasyPros’ Expert Consensus Rankings. In 2011, Jansen led all pitchers in dominance with 16.1 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched. He also had a respectable ERA of 2.85 and a WHIP of 1.04. Let’s no forget that he did have 5 saves in 2011. Even if he does not take over the closer role in 2012, his strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP are more valuable than some of the #4 or #5 starting pitchers on most fantasy teams.” – Jeff Boggis, Fantasy Sports Empires
Chris Sale (CWS)
“An electric, towering (6’5) left-hander transitioning into role of SP this season. Plus he strikes out more than a batter an inning. A successful transition could equal 200+ strikeouts and 15 Wins. What’s not to like?” – Derek Gerberich, MidwestSportsFans

Addison Reed (CWS)
“The White Sox’s closer’s role is up for grabs entering spring training in 2012. New manager Robin Ventura may be skeptical of giving the ninth inning to a rookie, but Reed may force his hand. The 23-year-old righty dominated hitters in 2011, striking out 167 hitters in 115 2/3 innings between the minor and major league levels. Lefty reliever Matt Thornton not only struggles against right-handed hitters, but has control issues. In 7 save opportunities last season, he blew 4 saves, making him a risky option for saves in 2012. Even if he Thornton is named the closer to start the season, fantasy owners will likely see Reed in the closer’s role by the All-Star break (if not sooner).” – Reggie Yinger, Baseball Press
A big thanks to all our featured pros for contributing their time and advice!
If you made it down this far, you’ll be interested in Part 2 of our Sleeper series which will look at hitters. Stay tuned…
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