3 Starting Pitching Sleepers (2022 Fantasy Baseball)
A sleeper is someone with the potential to outperform their projections, perhaps significantly. It’s similar to a breakout candidate, and it’s even possible for a player to be both. However, we can safely point to a couple distinctions.
First, the player may have already broken out once in his career. After his Rookie of the Year campaign, imagine Jonathan India (2B – CIN) has a mediocre follow-up season. Maybe he falls down the draft board in 2023, only to be snagged by some savvy manager who will enjoy the infamous third-year boom. Some guys you just can’t get groggy on. Don’t let them turn into sleepers.
Second, if most managers expect a breakout, then the player is NOT a sleeper. He may actually be overvalued. There are players every year that we convince ourselves will reach new heights, and we draft them so high that they must breakout for it to be worth it.
Distinctions aside, below you will see three “sleeper” pitchers that I think some managers aren’t thinking about in many leagues, but they’re worth tracking. For each, I will tell you what turned them into sleepers and point to signs that they may shake off their slumber. Two of these hurlers are sleeping Tigers.
Eduardo Rodriguez (SP – DET) (ADP – 130 and falling)
Rodriguez had a 4.74 ERA in 2021. That’s enough for many armchair managers to say no thank you. He’s also been known to break, but most of his injuries have been leg issues. He languished on waivers last year in my league, but there is one big reason to buy. His command is improving. With a FIP of 3.32, he was largely unlucky with a disproportionately high BABIP compared to the rest of his career.
Here’s an impertinent reflection. Max Scherzer (SP – NYM) became Max Scherzer around the same age as Rodriguez. In the same ballpark. In 2012, he had similar HR/FB ratios, but his K/9 leaped from 8.03 to 11.08. Rodriguez’s K/9 leaped from 9.43 in 2019 to 10.56 in 2021. Scherzer also started to limit walks in 2011-2012, going from 3.22 BB/9 in 2010 to 2.58 BB/9 in 2011. That’s been his average for the rest of his career. Rodriguez went from 3.32 BB/9 in 2019 to 2.68 BB/9. This doesn’t tell the whole story, but it’s fun to see the close comparison.
Rodriguez is not Max Scherzer, but the point is this: Even Mad Max had a 4.43 ERA in 2011 and took years to reach his full potential. Scherzer’s FIP in 2012, when he took the leap, was 3.27.
Rodriguez is the 43rd starting pitcher at an ADP of 130 on Fantasy Pros, but he’s moving down the draft board as we speak. I’m putting him at 33, right after Shane McClanahan (SP – TB).
Tarik Skubal (SP – DET) (ADP – 178 and falling)
Mr. Tarik Skubal is a sleeper/breakout candidate. I think he’ll be a sleeper in many leagues because of his inconsistencies last year, and some managers might be reluctant to draft a Detroit starter. He’s currently listed as the 53rd pitcher and dropping.
Last year he gave up a lot of hard contact, but don’t let that stop you from seeing his growth. In the first half, he walked hitters around 10% of the time. In the second half, he had the walks down to 4%. That’s a significant drop that could signal greater command is on the way. His groundball rate went from 33% to 44%. The HR/9 started to trend downward, too.
Don’t forget, at each minor league level his K/9 was between 10.87 and 17.43!
He’s between 9.88 and 10.41 now. I like his age, too. His ADP is 184, so if you miss other late-round targets, consider putting him on your squad. See how he does through May, where both Skubal and Rodriguez will face Pittsburgh, Oakland, Baltimore, Cleveland, and Minnesota.
David Peterson (SP – NYM) (ADP – 690)
Most of my league mates would say, “David who?”
A former first-round pick, Peterson plays for the Mets. With Jacob deGrom (SP – NYM) and Scherzer as his guides, it might be interesting to see if this 26-year-old can catapult himself onto the fantasy radar. From 2020-2021, his K/9 went from 7.25 to 9.32, and his GB% increased by 5% to 49.2%.
A broken foot last season means that he may have been lost in the mix. His xFIP was 3.93. If he can ditch the curve and throw the other four pitches with greater command, you may just look like a professional scout if you nab him.
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