In the past three seasons, Jake Westbrook has pitched more than 200 innings each year and won a total of 44 games. Many will argue that wins are not the best way to gauge how good a pitcher is because there are so many factors beyond the pitcher’s control that contribute to a win. While probably true, it does not dismiss the fact that win totals are the main statistic used when determining the success of a team, if a player wins the Cy Young, receives an All-Star invite, or even Hall of Fame induction. Wins are the most erratic pitching stat in reality as well as in most fantasy leagues. Pitchers that usually win but lack dominant secondary statistics are more valuable in reality than fantasy, but they still have fantasy value. In fact, the volatility of wins makes those pitchers that have a tendency to either earn or luck into a win all the more important.
Jake Westbrook is one of those pitchers and teams know it. One of the reasons for his success is his tendency to induce groundballs. Since 2004, Westbrook ranks third in the majors with a 2.94 GB/FB ratio and there is an obvious correlation between success and pitchers that limit fly balls. This is one reason why Westbrook, despite his average peripheral statistics, is in high demand. Furthermore, 2006 is also a contract year for the twenty-nine-year-old right-hander. The Indians have been actively trying to reach an extension with Westbrook while rival teams have been seeking a trade for the ground ball specialist. Compare his average line over the past three years – 15 Wins, 115 Ks, 4.01 ERA, 1.33 WHIP – to Jon Garland’s average line over the same time period – 16 Wins, 113 Ks, 4.30 ERA, 1.30 WHIP. On average, Westbrook ($1.00) has been the 92nd starter off the board (selected in the 30th round in 12-team fantasy drafts) while the aforementioned Garland ($2.19) is ranked as the 57th starter taken (and picked, on average, in the early 20th round in 12-teamers). Add the fact that Cleveland’s powerful young offense is a year older and Westbrook is pitching for a payday it should be clear the sinkerball pitcher deserves sleeper attention. Fantasy leaguers would be smart to couple Westbrook with high-end starters on weak teams like Scott Kazmir and John Patterson to virtually eliminate any secondary stat weaknesses. Westbrook has been lights out so far in spring training so expect more than 15 wins, an ERA under 4, and a career high in strikeouts from this sleeper that will be undrafted in many formats.
Matthew Robertson is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Matthew in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of Havok1517.
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