What, a Colorado pitcher? Head for the hills! If you’re like me, that’s been your knee-jerk response when dealing with Colorado pitchers in the past. This year, however, there may be a pitcher in Colorado worth a second look: Jeff Francis.
Francis dominated the minor leagues in his short time there, making it to the big leagues in his third professional year. He ran into some trouble during his first call up to the majors, however, which is unsurprising since Colorado is not the friendliest stadium for pitchers. The next year was no cakewalk either, as Francis was beaten around in his rookie season to the tune of a 5.68 ERA and a 1.62 WHIP. The good news is that he took a big step forward last year, dropping his ERA by 1.56 and his WHIP by 0.32. He is also now in his third full year as a major league pitcher, for those of you who buy into that whole thing.
If he pitched anywhere else, people would be all over the twenty-six-year-old, but people see “Colorado” next to his name and immediately turn away. Ironically, for his career Francis has a lower ERA at home than he does on the road. The talent has always been there for this former first round pick, and this is the year he could harness it.
More than just ERA and WHIP improved for Francis last year. His hits per nine innings (H/9) and home runs per nine innings (HR/9) both fell significantly. For example, his H/9 and HR/9 were both better than the likes of John Smoltz. His biggest problem has been walks, but his control should improve as he continues to gain experience.
Francis’ strikeout per nine innings ratio, or K/9, hasn’t been great so far (a 5.95 average in the majors), but he struck out a lot of people in the minor leagues (10.09 K/9 over three years), so the potential exists to improve his major league strikeout numbers. On top of that, he developed a sinking fastball over the off-season that he plans to use to a large extent. Pitchers with good sinking pitches have historically performed the best at Colorado, so this new pitch can only be a good thing.
All these factors point to continued improvement for Francis, despite pitching half his games in Colorado. With his talent, he could easily take another big jump in performance and is worth a pick up in deeper leagues. Don’t let the sight of the “Colorado” next to his name blind you to this sleeper.
Josh Dreyfuss is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Josh in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of Half Massed.
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