If you’re one of the people considering getting caught in the trap of drafting an ace starting pitcher, think again. Currently Rounds 1 and 2 are the haven for the selection of three different pitchers: Roy Halladay (MDP 14.80), Tim Lincecum (22.16), and Felix Hernandez (25.00). The following two rounds see a bevy of SP start flying off the board including Cliff Lee (34.17), Jon Lester (40.42), CC Sabathia (45.70), Ubaldo Jimenez (47.40), and Clayton Kershaw (49.85). Now you could go ahead and invest an early pick in one of these, or even the SPs who aren’t falling much further — I’m looking at you Zack Greinke (50.40) and you Josh Johnson (57.25) — or you could wait, and wait … and wait, and just play your cards right, manage your innings correctly, and win your league. How? I’m glad you asked.
It’s been a very popular strategy the past number of years, waiting on pitching. It’s right up there with not overpaying for closers or chasing saves (despite those arguably contradicting one another, but I digress), or over-investing in a player a year too soon (looking at all of you who joined Wieters-mania a few years ago). What I’d like to do is show you some starting pitchers you can get late, late, and if you simply manage their innings wisely, you can end up with ace numbers, albeit at a lower inning total, than their aforementioned counterparts at a fraction of the price.
Mike Pelfrey, NYM (MDP 261.42)
2010 Totals: 15-9, 204.0 IP, 213 H, 83 ER, 68 BB, 113 K, 3.66 ERA, 1.38 WHIP
Some of you may recall 2010 as the year Big Pelf looked unhittable, then couldn’t get a batter out, then settled somewhere in between the two, finishing with season totals that aren’t really sexy at all. However, take a closer look and see that even when Pelfrey was falling off the mound and balking everybody in sight, he was a monster at the friendly confines of Citi Field in 2010.
2010 Home: 10-3, 124.0 IP, 114 H, 39 ER, 44 BB, 72 K, 2.83 ERA, 1.27 WHIP
Okay, so the 5.23 K/9 isn’t rivaling Tim Lincecum, but 10 wins and 124 solid innings of 2.83 ERA, 1.27 WHIP pitching in the early teen rounds certainly isn’t hurting your team. Pelfrey loves pitching at Citi Field, as this home/road disparity rang true in ‘09, the park’s inaugural season, we well. The Mets may be in $1 billion of debt, and may fight to crack the 80-win barrier in 2011, but one thing you can count on is Mike Pelfrey showing up to pitch when he’s in Queens. Factor in any growth as a pitcher you may be considering as he’s just a few months beyond his 27th birthday, as well as the possibility of starting him against weaker NL offenses or in friendly NL parks (think the Padres at PETCO Park, where he threw a gem last year, or the Pirates at PNC Park, where he did almost the same thing) and you’re looking at about 125 innings of top level surface category ratios with a K/9 that doesn’t kill you in a rotisserie league. Use those extra 75 IP he spares you to start a high K reliever with awesome ratios and together you’ve got yourself an ace that you drafted with two late picks. Not bad.
Clayton Richard, SD (MDP 266.81)
2010 Totals: 14-9, 201.2 IP, 206 H, 84 ER, 78 BB, 153 K, 3.75 ERA, 1.41 WHIP
Like the previously mentioned Pelfrey, Clayton Richard’s 2010 season didn’t end up being a whole heck of a lot to look at. Ratios didn’t kill you, the 6.83 K/9 was decent enough, and 14 wins were a pleasant surprise, but hardly somebody you’re targeting in your draft, unless…
Aside from the fact that the lefty pitcher absolutely destroys left-hand batters, he also pitches like Cy Young at PETCO Park in San Diego, where he happens to pitch half his games. Now, it of course comes as no surprise that the golf course that is the Padres home stadium makes its pitchers’ numbers deflate, but look at just how good Richard was in front of his home crowd of Diego-ites… San Diego-ins… San Diego-uns… San Dieg-ons… San Diegans.
2010 Home: 6-6, 105.2 IP, 88 H, 37 ER, 41 BB, 94 K, 3.15 ERA, 1.22 WHIP
So the .500 record isn’t doing him any favors, but the 8.01 K/9 and an ERA more than a half run lower than his season total certainly are. If he’s able to maintain this level of pitching success at PETCO Park in 2011, and there’s no reason to believe he can’t, then expect that win total to creep to eight, nine, maybe even double digits like it did with Pelfrey in ‘10. All this and all you have to do is pass on Marlon Byrd or Justin Smoak, both being drafted ahead of Richard according to the Café’s own Median Draft Position tracker.
Ted Lilly, LAD (MDP 148.20)
2010 Totals: 10-12, 193.2 IP, 165 H, 78 ER, 44 BB, 166 K, 3.62 ERA, 1.08 WHIP
If there were a ‘Perennially Undervalued in Each of the Last Five Seasons in a Row’ Award, Ted Lilly would win it unanimously. Look at those numbers! Ever since this guy found his control he’s been a fantasy goldmine and has managed to fly below the radar for half a decade, putting up nothing but totals that far surpass his draft position; 2011 should be no different. He’s traded in Wrigley Park for Dodger Stadium, where he finished last season, and here’s something you may not know about Lilly when pitching at Dodger Stadium in his career:
Career Dodger Stadium: 4-3, 57.2 IP, 43 H, 25 ER, 14 BB, 55 K, 3.90 ERA, 0.99 WHIP
Are you kidding me? A sub-1.00 WHIP in nine starts? What’s even scarier — he was even better than that at Dodger Stadium after joining Los Angeles last season! Now, he’ll cost you a earlier pick than the previous two contestants here, but the trade off is you can start him more liberally, save a bad match up and/or bad ballpark (think the Yankees in their new video game stadium); hardly a sacrifice when you’re talking in the neighborhood of Round 12 or later, right? I didn’t think so.
Jake Westbrook, STL (MDP 283.40)
2010 Totals: 10-11, 202.2 IP, 203 H, 95 ER, 68 BB, 128 K, 4.22 ERA, 1.34 WHIP
These numbers look pretty blah from most perspectives until you take a look at what Westbrook did after his switch from the Cleveland Indians over to the National League and the soon-to-be former ball club of Albert Pujols, the St. Louis Cardinals.
2010 STL Totals: 4-4, 75.0 IP, 70 H, 29 ER, 24 BB, 55 K, 3.48 ERA, 1.25 WHIP
I see I’ve got your attention now. But it gets better. Take a look at how Westbrook did at home in Busch Stadium after he was acquired by the Cards, and the pot looks even sweeter.
2010 Busch Stadium: 3-1, 33.2 IP, 27 H, 7 ER, 8 BB, 29 K, 1.87 ERA, 1.04 WHIP
Phew. Look at those ratios. If Jake can maintain a semblance of the ability that he showed after transitioning to the National League, this guy is a must start at home, and a pretty good start most weeks. The cost? Unless you live in the greater Missouri area, a pick somewhere in the 20th or later rounds. While your league mates are selecting putzes who will be on the waiver wire after their first 0-for-4 (Alberto Callaspo, Julio Borbon), you’re snagging a guy who is going to log you a good amount of real good innings. He may not be fanning a batter per inning, but if he’s shelling out ratios like this, do you really care?
Jake Peavy, CHW (MDP 215.85)
2010 Totals: 7-6, 107.0 IP, 98 H, 55 ER, 34 BB, 93 K, 4.63 ERA, 1.23 WHIP
Jake Peavy’s fall from one of the most dominating starting pitchers in Major League Baseball has been fast and ugly. Batters used to stand no chance as he’d mow down opponent after opponent, playing in the friendly confines in San Diego. Despite what you may think about U.S. Cellular Field, though, it treated Peavy pretty well in ‘10.
2010 Home: 3-3, 46.0 IP, 39 H, 20 ER, 16 BB, 49 K, 3.91 ERA, 1.20 WHIP
The ratios may not be as eye popping as some of the previously mentioned pitchers, but the K/9 north of 9.0 is impressive and what we had come to expect from Jake throughout his career. In fact, in 10 career starts at U.S. Cellular Field, Peavy has looked good in the past two seasons combined.
U.S. Cellular Career: 5-3, 58.0 IP, 48 H, 23 ER, 20 BB, 62 K, 3.57 ERA, 1.17 WHIP
You couldn’t stomach these numbers in Round 18? Who are you busy drafting, Magglio Ordonez? Peavy seems to be a good start when the Chi Sox are at home, and I’d still start him in any and all inter-league starts since he showed last year he still owns the National League by throwing a two-run, seven-inning outing in Wrigley and a three-hit, complete game shutout at Nationals Stadium just last season. The strikeouts are still there, the upside is still there, and at this portion of the draft, you should be there too.
So before you go investing your early picks on guys whose arms tend to have the propensity to fall off at the most inopportune moments, take a second look at some of the value that’s available later as you assemble your own Murderer’s Row, and outwit your opponents.
Brendan Horton is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Brendan in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of bigh0rt.
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