Pitching is 80% of the game, give or take a little depending on whom you speak with. But, in fantasy baseball, there’s no doubt about it: pitching is 50% of the game.
Many fantasy baseball managers enter a draft thinking that pitching is an after-thought. Rarely, does a manager spend more than 50% of his budget on his pitching staff. That’s because pitchers tend to be a bit more inconsistent than every day players. They get injured more and, except for the elite stars, they have more off years.
Yet, when it comes to fantasy baseball pitching, especially starting pitching, if you do your research, you will find the most value in this position than in all of the fantasy baseball positions.
So, here are our hot stove Top 15 Starting Pitchers Sleepers for 2012.
1. Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers — Yu Darvish is the most exciting pitcher to come to the USA since Dice-K. And, he’s a lot better. Darvish was the MVP of the World Baseball Classic and his stuff is nothing short of nasty. The Rangers have until January 18 to sign him or he’ll end up pitching in Japan again in 2012. According to this story in the Kyodo News, the Rangers bid will end in 3411. That’s 34 for Nolan Ryan and Darvish’s number 11. The Rangers bid for the negotiating rights to Darvish was reported to be $51.7 million. Darvish’s 18-6 record and 1.44 ERA were attractive enough for the Rangers to let ace C. J. Wilson walk to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
2. Matt Moore, Tampa Bay Rays — If you want to get some attention quickly, do what Matt Moore did last year when called up late in the year. Moore pitched 5 innings in a start against the Yankees and struck out 11. Against the Rangers in the ALDS, Moore gave up just one run in 10 innings of work. Moore went 12-3 with a 1.92 ERA in 27 starts for Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham this season, striking out 210 batters and walking only 46 in 155 innings. ESPN Baseball Insider Keith Law ranked Moore as the No. 2 prospect in the game. The Rays agreed. They have locked up Moore for 5 more seasons with 3 additional seasons as an option.
3. Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves — Teheran is a Rookie of the Year candidate for the pitching rich Braves. Teheran received a late call up last year for Atlanta, but he’ll be slotted into the starting rotation this year. At Gwinnett, Teheran was 15-3 with a 2.55 ERA. The Braves have 7 solid starting pitchers for 2012 and may deal Jair Jurrjens for a hitter. Teheran will battle Randall Delgado for the # 5 starting role, but we see Delgado spending most of the season at Triple-A again.
4. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox — In two years with the White Sox, Chris Sale has held opposing hitters to a .203 average as a reliever. For 2012, Sale makes a move into the Chicago starting rotation. With Sale’s ability to strike out batters (10.6/9IP), he will have success with the White Sox despite pitching in a homer friendly field for half of the games.
5. Brandon Beachy, Atlanta Braves — Beachy notched only 7 wins in 25 starts last season for Atlanta in his rookie year, but he deserved better. His 3.68 ERA and 1.21 WHIP should improve for his second season in the Bigs. We especially like his strikeout ratio (10.7/9 IP). Beachy is a 15 win guy in 2012.
6. Drew Pomeranz, Colorado Rockies — Pomeranz’s numbers last year in the minors included 20 starts and an ERA of 1.78. The 6′ 5″ lefty held opponents to a .189 batting average. We’d have him slotted even higher, but he has to pitch in home run happy Coors Field. The fastball of Drew Pomeranz tops out at 95 and he has a nice knuckle curve.
7. Cory Luebke, San Diego Padres – Ohio-born Cory Luebke went 6-10 with a 3.29 ERA last year. He appeared in 46 games, but was promoted to the starting rotation just before the all-star break and made 17 starts the rest of the way where he sported a 3.76 ERA. Luebke has a strikeout ratio over 1 (10.0/9IP) and we like the idea of his pitching in Petco as a starter for the entire season.
8. Guillermo Moscoso, Oakland Athletics — The A’s discovered a jewel last year in the 27-year-old rookie Moscoso. The right-hander made 21 starts in 2011, going 8-10 with a 3.38 ERA, 1.09 WHIP. He won’t get you a lot of strikeouts, but he pitches in a pitcher friendly park in Oakland. With so many prospects coming to Oakland in the Gonzalez deal, he’ll have to fight for a starting spot, but we think his role is secure after his strong 2011 outing.
9. Brad Peacock, Oakland Athletics – Peacock was the Nationals’ top pitching prospect, but heads to Oakland as one of the prospects in the deal that sent Gio Gonzalez to Washington. Pitching for Harrisburg and Syracuse last year, Peacock was a combined 15-3 and had a 2.01 ERA at Double-A Harrisburg and a 3.19 ERA at Triple-A Syracuse. His strikeout ratio was an impressive 10.9 per 9 IP. Peacock is a converted shortstop whose performance last year was a surprise to everybody. Picking Peacock could make you proud in 2012.
10. Brandon Morrow, Toronto Blue Jays — Morrow has spent two years as a regular starter for Toronto and his numbers are not impressive. He was 11-11 with a 4.72/1.29 last year. But, we see Morrow having a break out season thanks in part to his strikeout total of 203 last year. In fact, Bill James has Morrow projected to be a 3.68 ERA guy in 2012.
11. Michael Pineda, Seattle Mariners — Pineda was a big story last year as he sprinted to an all-star game appearance in his rookie season. Pineda seemed to tire in the second half of the year, however, as he pitched at just a 5.12 ERA over the season’s second half. Despite the second half swoon, Pineda was fifth in AL Rookie of the Year voting. With added strength and endurance in 2012, Pineda can top his overall 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 173 strikeouts in 171 innings.
12. Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals — It’s a bit strange to call Adam Wainwright a sleeper when he was slotted in as the Cardinals’ ace last year. But, when you consider that he was out for the entire 2011 season, we’ll loosely use the sleeper label on Wainwright. Wainwright’s ERA sunk lower in each of the past 4 seasons prior to last year’s elbow injury and his 39 wins over 2009 and 2010 make him one of pitching’s elite. If your managers are asleep at the wheel, you may be able to get Wainwright at a real value in 2012.
13. Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles — For the first two months of his rookie campaign last year, Britton held a sub 3.00 ERA. He tailed off considerably, however, and even earned a demotion to the minors in September. Britton finished his rookie season at 11-11 with 97 punchouts, a 4.61 ERA and 1.45 WHIP in 154 1/3 innings. We think he’ll look a lot more like the Britton we saw early in the 2011 season in 2012.
14. Bud Norris, Houston Astros — Bud Norris deserved more than six wins in 2011, but it’s hard to come by wins in Houston today. The 26-year-old lowered his WHIP by 0.15 and his ERA by 1.15 and finished 2011 at 6-11 with a 3.77 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and 176 strikeouts in 186 innings. Occasional wildness gets Norris in trouble, but he’s a solid starter for a bad team.
15. Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals — The Nationals picked up the lefty starter that they needed in the ex-Oakland ace Gonzalez. Gonzalez should have a smooth transition to the NL, where he could strike out even more batters and could even lower his WHIP. He was 16-12/3.12/1.32 in 2011. The addition of Gonzalez and a healthy Stephen Strasburg can make the Nationals into a contender in 2012.
Some other guys we liked but just didn’t quite make our Top 15 fantasy baseball pitcher sleepers for 2012 are: Jarrod Parker (Athletics); Wandy Rodriguez (Astros); Jonathan Sanchez (Royals) Jonathan Niese (Mets); Jeff Niemann (Rays); Edinson Volquez (Padres); Brett Myers (Astros); Joe Blanton (Phillies).