MLB - Fantasy Baseball - Top 10 2013 Starting Pitcher Sleepers
1. Jeff Samardzija | Chicago Cubs
Even though Samardzija finished last year with a losing record and an ERA over 3.8, he has the makings of a fantasy ace. In his first full season as a starter, Samardzija's 9.27 strikeouts per nine innings ranked fourth. Samardzija was not without some rough spots, however. He got roughed up in June with a 10.41 ERA over five outings. Samardzija also allowed seven home runs in six August starts.
In his final 13 games, the former golden domer posted a 2.58 ERA with an impressive .211 batting average against while striking out 95 batters in 87.1 innings. Also, Samardzija allowed more than three earned runs on just two occasions, fanned six or more a total of nine times and recorded all three of his double-digit K efforts in that span.
2. Ryan Vogelsong | San Francisco Giants
From May through July, Vogelsong was on top of his game, winning a dozen games with a 1.88 ERA and a .216 batting average against. He got touched up the rest of the way, however, to the tune of a 5.85 ERA in the next dozen starts. Thankfully, Vogelsong recovered in his final three outings by allowing just a single earned run before posting a 1.09 ERA in four postseason games.
Vogelsong turns 36 in late July, but managed to move the mark from slightly fewer than seven strikeouts per nine innings in 2011 to 7.5 last year. He also cut his walks per nine down slightly, while seeing a similar batting average against and WHIP.
After proving the success of two years was no fluke, Vogelsong has likely peaked following an extended trip to baseball Siberia. He's not the flashiest of arms, but Vogelsong is able to keep base runners from scoring and is a solid contributor in each pitching column.
3. A.J. Burnett | Pittsburgh Pirates
Getting out of the American League East was long overdue for Burnett. After three uneven seasons with Blue Jays, he flamed out with the Yankees sporting an ERA over five in his final two seasons in the Bronx.
With the Pirates, Burnett was just a little north of eight strikeouts per nine while cutting down on his walks doing a better job keeping balls out of the seats. Burnett has now recorded better than eight strikeouts per nine in five of the last six years. His ERA of 3.51 was Burnett's best since his final year with the Marlins back in 2005.
At 36 years old and a name that doesn't excite anyone, Burnett among the undervalued vets to plant in the middle of your fantasy rotation.
4. Mike Minor | Atlanta Braves
Minor was a totally different pitcher after the All-Star break. In his first 16 starts, Minor posted an ugly 5.97 ERA while allowing 19 home runs and 40 walks over 92 innings. After the flip switched, he held opponents to a sub-.200 batting average, a 2.16 ERA, yielding seven home runs and 16 walks in 87.1 frames.
The improvements in command are a welcome addition, but came at the expense of some strikeouts. Minor fanned 7.63 per nine in the first half, but dropped to 6.90 following the break.
Minor turned 25 in late December and certainly has the potential to maintain the control while delivering plenty of whiffs. With so many eyes on Braves ace Kris Medlen and his incredible run at the end of 2012, Minor could be getting overlooked.
5. Lance Lynn | St. Louis Cardinals
In his first full season in the major leagues, Lynn posted an impressive K per nine rate of 9.20, good for fifth-best among qualifying starters. His batting average on balls put in play was .321, the highest in the National League. Teammates Adam Wainwright and Jake Westbrook also posted very high BABIP figures, so hopefully the Cardinals leather proves more useful in 2013.
On the down side, Lynn experienced big issues against left-handed hitters. Of the 16 home runs he surrendered, 11 came against lefties. While right-handed bats only hit for .237 off Lynn, lefties knocked him around at a .272 clip. He only walked 11 right-handers compared to 53 free passes drawn by lefties. Finally, Lynn fanned 111 righties to only 69 lefties.
If Lynn can make the needed adjustments and avoids the arm fatigue that sent him to the bullpen late in the year, he'll certainly improve an impressive, but slightly flawed, season.
6. Mike Fiers | Milwaukee Brewers
Among pitchers that threw at least 120 innings last year, Fiers' K per nine rate of 9.52 ranks fifth in all of baseball. It remains to be seen if he can put up similar figures over an entire season, but Fiers was able to collect strikeouts throughout his time spent in the minor leagues.
Oddly enough, Fiers is the furthest thing from a flamethrower. Last year, his fastball rarely broke 90 mph. However, Fiers throws a lot of strikes and sports a very consistent delivery that continues to work well for him.
7. Shelby Miller | St. Louis Cardinals
After an impressive 2011 season spent in High-A and Double-A, Miller struggled during his first couple of months in Triple-A last year. However, he rebounded with a 2.89 ERA and 53 strikeouts in his final 37.1 innings and was called-up to pitch primarily out of the bullpen at the tail end of the season.
Miller is among the top pitching prospects in the game and is currently battling Joe Kelly for a rotation spot. Miller's potential makes him a late-round option to consider. If Miller doesn't land the gig right away, he'll quickly return to the Lou should Jaime Garcia's troublesome shoulder act up again.
8. James McDonald | Pittsburgh Pirates
If you can stomach the walks, McDonald is a dirty source for strikeouts that is available in the later rounds. In each of the last two years, he's posted an ERA of exactly 4.21 while also throwing precisely 171 innings. However, McDonald displayed several areas of improvement.
McDonald saw his K per nine rise from 7.47 to 7.95, while cutting his walks from 4.11 down to 3.63. Still not great, but a positive. His batting average against also shrunk from .263 to .230.
In 2011, McDonald was erratic all season. Last year, he was excellent in the first half. In his first 17 starts, McDonald posted a 2.37 ERA with a .196 batting average against with a K per nine over eight. He fell apart from there, putting up a 7.08 ERA and had opponents hitting .286 against him over the final dozen starts.
9. Alex Cobb | Tampa Bay Rays
In his final 11 starts, Cobb struck out 57 batters in 67 innings with a 3.09 ERA and a .224 batting average against. That span also includes getting shelled for eight runs in mid-August. In the other 10 starts, Cobb did not allow more than three earned runs in a single outing.
David Price is the clear headliner in a rotation that also features the intriguing young arms of Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson. It's easy for Cobb to be passed over, but he's coming into his own as a source of above-average strikeouts and solid overall production.
10. Dillon Gee | New York Mets
Even though he's coming off shoulder surgery, Gee is worthy of a final round flyer. He made 17 starts last year, allowing three or fewer runs on 13 occasions. Gee also showed some good command and struck out nearly eight batters per nine innings.