Five buy-low pitching options
I love a good garage sale.
It may be other people's junk, but as the saying goes, sometimes -- sometimes -- hidden beneath is treasure. (No, please don't take this as an invitation to offer me your collection of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" place mats, or your stockpile of VHS workout tapes. Seriously, I'm not interested.)
Many a time I've unearthed a gem: Like the 5,000-count box of 1976 Topps cards a guy just wanted out of his garage because he needed the space; like the signed Al Hirschfeld print sold because its prior owner had no idea nor cared who he was; like the $1 1977 New York Yankees world champions plaque that a guy at a card show later told me he'd sell me (his; I still had one) for "only" $150. Heck, my desktop printer came from a garage sale, only because its previous owner had bought an extra and then decided he didn't want two.
No, none of these finds come even close to that of a Renoir painting -- yeah, that really happened -- but they're items I treasured, items in which I saw hidden value where others could not.
It's a similar endeavor in fantasy baseball leagues when you're sifting through the trade market. Besides filling needs, you're attempting to find value where others might not, an exercise we've for years called the "buy-low trade." The idea is to identify players with low perceived values, or at least beneath the player's true value, whom you can acquire on the cheap.
So as we go garage sale-ing, if you will, the following five pitchers are the treasures I'm most seeking in trade. They are the players I think will provide you more than 10 spots in additional value beyond their perceived price tags.
And I'll stress that if you own any of these pitchers, close your garage door before I -- or any rival fantasy owner -- stops by. Come to think of it, perhaps that's why I'm so much more interested in attending garage sales than hosting my own; who wants to give away their treasures anyway?Hamels
Is there something in the cheesesteaks that makes pitchers inexplicably unlucky in the win column? A year after Cliff Lee won six games, the fewest by any 200-strikeout pitcher in baseball history, teammate Cole Hamels finds himself on pace for only five victories … to go with 195 whiffs.
Hamels has seven non-win quality starts, a pace of 18; Lee had a major league high 15 last season. (As an aside, James Shields is currently the major league leader with 10; Hamels ranks second.) And while Hamels' ERA (4.56) and WHIP (1.28) aren't as sparkling as Lee's were on this date a year ago (3.18 and 1.05), Hamels' peripherals suggest that he's dealing with all sorts of correctable bad luck.
Take a look at his stats in some key categories:
2013: 69.1 LOB%, 90.9 AVG fastball/cutter mph, 27 Miss%, .161 WHAV
2012: 78.1 LOB%, 90.4 AVG fastball/cutter mph, 28 Miss%, .172 WHAV
2011: 78.4 LOB%, 90.6 AVG fastball/cutter mph, 26 Miss%, .169 WHAV
The most noticeable decline in Hamels' game this year has been his control; his 7.5 percent walk rate (as a percentage of batters faced) and 2.89 walks per nine innings ratio are his highest since his rookie year of 2006. That said, he has but four walks in his past five appearances -- those resulting in a 3.1 percent rate and 1.23 walks-per-nine -- so the case could be made that Hamels is already back on track. His one win and 5.22 ERA in those games, however, probably much more likely caught his owners' eye. Chances are his owners are losing their patience, even if to date he remains owned in every ESPN league.
Hamels' numbers from 2010-12 were remarkably consistent, and if his perceived value has suffered from either an unexpectedly ordinary start to 2013 or something as silly as a "Cliff Lee comparison" -- same team, so same bad wins luck -- then it's time to pounce. I don't rank him as this because his market price has slipped beneath this, plus the walk rate warrants watching, but Hamels has an outstanding chance at ranking one of the 10 best fantasy starters from today forward.Bailey
Justin Verlander will get all the press for having a FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching score) more than a run lower than his ERA, but Bailey's differential in those categories is similar -- and he's without question the buy-low candidate of these two. Why? Simple: Verlander is too obvious a name, with too lengthy a track record of success, for any of his owners to doubt him.
Bailey, meanwhile, has never been a fantasy ace at any stage of his career, but his peripherals say that he has pitched like one. He has the majors' ninth-best qualified FIP (2.56), and the 11th-best qualified xFIP (3.05), the latter correcting for what has been an unexpectedly low 0.43 home runs per nine innings ratio by the right-hander. Bailey also has struck out as many batters (83) as he has pitched innings (83), his 9.00 K/9 ratio is the highest at any career stop (10 or more starts) since he had a 10.19 mark in 13 turns in Double-A in 2006.
Like Hamels, Bailey has suffered from oddly poor luck -- especially because his Reds rank among the top 10 teams in baseball in runs scored -- as he has five quality starts in which he failed to notch a win, in four of those pitching seven innings or more. Keith Law's No. 9 prospect entering his rookie year of 2008, Bailey has finally emerged as a potential front-of-the-rotation starter, thanks to his addition of a two-seamer, and he's an excellent bet at ranking one of the 25 best starters in fantasy moving forward.Tillman
Go ahead, say that Tillman has already realized his expectations as a mini-breakthrough player for 2013, and that there isn't much room left to grow.
Two things were behind Tillman's 15-start resurgence the final three months of 2012: He recaptured his fastball velocity (average of 92.3 mph), and he continued to perfect a cutter/slider to deepen his arsenal. Granted, Tillman's fastball velocity has slipped to 91.8 mph on average this season, but I ask: What if he's one of the many pitchers who gains velocity as the summer progresses? To that end, he has averaged 92.5 mph with the pitch in his past four starts combined, during which time he has a 9.53 K/9 ratio.
Tillman's 20.2 percent ownership in ESPN leagues shows that he still has his share of skeptics, but his career arrow is pointing upward. In his price range, he has about the best odds of a top-25-starter season.
Phil Hughes, New York YankeesHughes
Wow, a Yankees player might have low perceived value? Believe it.
Fantasy owners generally shy from Yankees pitchers -- ask Hiroki Kuroda's doubters during the 2012 preseason a little bit about that -- because of their bandbox home ballpark, and Hughes' career 1.79 homers-per-nine ratio at Yankee Stadium give them every reason to do so. He is a frustrating pitcher to own because of his gopher-itis, but at the same time, he continues to make small advances with his command and he has plenty of motivation -- he's a free agent at season's end.
Hughes' 3.65 K-to-walk ratio is his best in any of his seven big league seasons, and his miss rate on swings has risen again this year (21 percent), after taking a significant step forward last year (20 percent, up nearly 6 percent). Barring his signing in San Diego, Seattle or with the New York Mets in 2014, Hughes will never contend for an ERA crown. However, he is edging ever closer to a strikeout-per-inning average, and if he can keep his ERA beneath 4.00 he'll be a top-40 starter going forward.Reed
I've routinely been questioned for my generous ranking of Reed this season -- he was my No. 10-ranked pure relief pitcher entering the year and has landed within my top five in this space -- which hints that fantasy owners don't truly appreciate what's developing in the ninth inning in Chicago this year.
Reed is fourth in the majors in saves (19), eighth among pure relief pitchers on our Player Rater and he has a 2.17 FIP that ranks 13th among qualified relievers (and that includes middle relievers). A strikeout artist during his college and minor league days, Reed has seen his K's return this season, his K/9 rebounding to 10.50 after a disappointing 8.84 showing as a rookie in 2012. He has done this in large part thanks to improved command of his slider; he has thrown it for strikes 12 percent more often and generated swings and misses 7 percent more often.
Reed's early-career issues follow the classic pattern of a young prospect working through adjustments, unsurprising for a fly ball pitcher who calls a hitter-friendly ballpark his home. His mistakes are more magnified as a result of U.S. Cellular Field's confines, but as he progresses he's likely to only improve his ERA contributions, the one thing holding him back from clear top-five closer potential in fantasy. On skills, he has a chance to get there … this year.
Best yet: You might get him for scarcely the price of a top-10 closer.
TOP 150 PITCHERS
Note: Tristan H. Cockcroft's top 150 pitchers are ranked for their expected performance from this point forward, not for statistics that have already been accrued. For starter- or reliever-specific rankings, see the "Pos Rnk" column; these rankings can also be seen split up by position.
Rnk Player, Team Pos
Rnk Player Pos
1 Clayton Kershaw, LAD SP1 1 76 Andrew Bailey, Bos RP22 79 2 Felix Hernandez, Sea SP2 2 77 Kenley Jansen, LAD RP23 77 3 Adam Wainwright, StL SP3 3 78 Kevin Gregg, ChC RP24 78 4 Justin Verlander, Det SP4 4 79 Wandy Rodriguez, Pit SP55 72 5 Yu Darvish, Tex SP5 5 80 Yovani Gallardo, Mil SP56 63 6 Cliff Lee, Phi SP6 6 81 Trevor Cahill, Ari SP57 66 7 Max Scherzer, Det SP7 8 82 Jonathon Niese, NYM SP58 73 8 Stephen Strasburg, Wsh SP8 7 83 Jose Valverde, Det RP25 83 9 Madison Bumgarner, SF SP9 9 84 Brandon Beachy, Atl SP59 85 10 Jordan Zimmermann, Wsh SP10 11 85 Ryan Dempster, Bos SP60 87 11 Craig Kimbrel, Atl RP1 10 86 Huston Street, SD RP26 84 12 Aroldis Chapman, Cin RP2 12 87 Francisco Liriano, Pit SP61 97 13 Cole Hamels, Phi SP11 15 88 Jason Vargas, LAA SP62 81 14 Matt Harvey, NYM SP12 13 89 Rex Brothers, Col RP27 107 15 Mariano Rivera, NYY RP3 17 90 Ricky Nolasco, Mia SP63 93 16 Chris Sale, CWS SP13 14 91 Jeremy Hellickson, TB SP64 91 17 Mike Minor, Atl SP14 24 92 Chris Perez, Cle RP28 92 18 Gio Gonzalez, Wsh SP15 20 93 Jake Peavy, CWS SP65 52 19 Anibal Sanchez, Det SP16 18 94 Kyle Lohse, Mil SP66 99 20 Zack Greinke, LAD SP17 22 95 Zack Wheeler, NYM SP67 117 21 Jered Weaver, LAA SP18 21 96 Brandon League, LAD RP29 101 22 Jeff Samardzija, ChC SP19 23 97 Tim Hudson, Atl SP68 100 23 CC Sabathia, NYY SP20 25 98 Tony Cingrani, Cin SP69 146 24 Matt Moore, TB SP21 16 99 Dan Haren, Wsh SP70 82 25 Mat Latos, Cin SP22 27 100 Andrew Cashner, SD SP71 89 26 Shelby Miller, StL SP23 31 101 Trevor Rosenthal, StL RP30 111 27 Jason Grilli, Pit RP4 32 102 David Phelps, NYY SP72 113 28 Jon Lester, Bos SP24 19 103 Brandon Morrow, Tor SP73 102 29 Addison Reed, CWS RP5 29 104 Rafael Betancourt, Col RP31 90 30 Clay Buchholz, Bos SP25 35 105 Rick Porcello, Det SP74 149 31 Matt Cain, SF SP26 30 106 Andy Pettitte, NYY SP75 112 32 Homer Bailey, Cin SP27 40 107 Bartolo Colon, Oak SP76 118 33 James Shields, KC SP28 26 108 A.J. Griffin, Oak SP77 106 34 Jonathan Papelbon, Phi RP6 33 109 Jose Veras, Hou RP32 108 35 Lance Lynn, StL SP29 37 110 Jorge De La Rosa, Col SP78 96 36 Hiroki Kuroda, NYY SP30 34 111 Tim Lincecum, SF SP79 116 37 Hisashi Iwakuma, Sea SP31 39 112 Ian Kennedy, Ari SP80 75 38 Johnny Cueto, Cin SP32 28 113 Kyle Kendrick, Phi SP81 122 39 Sergio Romo, SF RP7 38 114 Travis Wood, ChC SP82 110 40 Alex Cobb, TB SP33 41 115 Dan Straily, Oak SP83 129 41 Edward Mujica, StL RP8 44 116 John Lackey, Bos SP84 119 42 Rafael Soriano, Wsh RP9 36 117 David Robertson, NYY RP33 127 43 Joe Nathan, Tex RP10 42 118 Mark Melancon, Pit RP34 120 44 A.J. Burnett, Pit SP34 43 119 Mike Leake, Cin SP85 121 45 Hyun-Jin Ryu, LAD SP35 45 120 David Hernandez, Ari RP35 114 46 David Price, TB SP36 46 121 Luke Gregerson, SD RP36 130 47 Glen Perkins, Min RP11 48 122 Gerrit Cole, Pit SP86 NR 48 Doug Fister, Det SP37 47 123 Ryan Madson, LAA RP37 123 49 Kris Medlen, Atl SP38 56 124 Brandon McCarthy, Ari SP87 98 50 Patrick Corbin, Ari SP39 49 125 Jhoulys Chacin, Col SP88 103 51 Fernando Rodney, TB RP12 53 126 Joel Peralta, TB RP38 131 52 Greg Holland, KC RP13 57 127 Alexi Ogando, Tex SP89 115 53 Jim Johnson, Bal RP14 54 128 Felix Doubront, Bos SP90 126 54 Julio Teheran, Atl SP40 80 129 Vinnie Pestano, Cle RP39 125 55 Tom Wilhelmsen, Sea RP15 51 130 Ryan Cook, Oak RP40 132 56 R.A. Dickey, Tor SP41 61 131 Brett Anderson, Oak SP91 135 57 Matt Garza, ChC SP42 55 132 Bronson Arroyo, Cin SP92 139 58 Derek Holland, Tex SP43 50 133 Jeremy Guthrie, KC SP93 128 59 Grant Balfour, Oak RP16 60 134 Wade Miley, Ari SP94 105 60 Tommy Milone, Oak SP44 62 135 Bud Norris, Hou SP95 134 61 Casey Janssen, Tor RP17 59 136 Miguel Gonzalez, Bal SP96 142 62 Chris Tillman, Bal SP45 69 137 Jeff Locke, Pit SP97 141 63 Jarrod Parker, Oak SP46 71 138 Kevin Gausman, Bal SP98 109 64 C.J. Wilson, LAA SP47 58 139 Joaquin Benoit, Det RP41 138 65 Jose Fernandez, Mia SP48 68 140 John Danks, CWS SP99 145 66 Michael Wacha, StL SP49 64 141 Marco Estrada, Mil SP100 104 67 Heath Bell, Ari RP18 86 142 Jacob Turner, Mia SP101 NR 68 Justin Masterson, Cle SP50 65 143 Tyler Clippard, Wsh RP42 NR 69 Bobby Parnell, NYM RP19 67 144 Jose Quintana, CWS SP102 124 70 Paul Maholm, Atl SP51 70 145 Eric Stults, SD SP103 NR 71 Josh Johnson, Tor SP52 94 146 Hector Santiago, CWS SP104 NR 72 Jim Henderson, Mil RP20 95 147 Francisco Rodriguez, Mil RP43 137 73 Ernesto Frieri, LAA RP21 74 148 Steve Cishek, Mia RP44 NR 74 Phil Hughes, NYY SP53 88 149 Samuel Deduno, Min SP105 NR 75 Ervin Santana, KC SP54 76 150 Sean Doolittle, Oak RP45 150
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