D.J. Short

Draft Strategy

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Under the Radar Hurlers

Saturday, February 26, 2011


We all know some of the popular sleepers among starting pitchers by now, so I'm not going to waste everyone's time by going in-depth about Daniel Hudson, Jordan Zimmermann, Jeremy Hellickson, Jhoulys Chacin, Madison Bumgarner or Brandon Morrow. You should know about those guys already. Instead, I'm going to focus on some under the radar targets who might not become fantasy aces this season, but could still prove to be productive options in most formats.

With the exhibition schedule kicking off this weekend, I know you have fantasy baseball on the brain. What better place to get started than Rotoworld's Online Draft Guide? It's packed with nearly 1,000 player profiles and projections, printable cheat sheets, tiered rankings at each position, customizable scoring features, ADP (average draft position) data, expert mock drafts and so much more. Your draft will be here before you know it, so you better get prepared.

James McDonald (RHP, Pirates)

The Dodgers never took advantage of McDonald's considerable potential, but the Pirates got pretty lucky when they acquired him in the Octavio Dotel deal at the trade deadline last year. The 26-year-old right-hander was immediately moved to the starting rotation and posted a 3.52 ERA over 11 starts with the club, averaging 8.6 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 over 64 innings. McDonald is a fly ball pitcher, so he was a tad on the fortunate side last season, but PNC Park can be a pretty forgiving environment for pitchers, especially against right-handed batters. Some owners might overlook McDonald because he pitches on such an awful team, but that's exactly why I like him this season. He's a pretty solid bet for 150-160 strikeouts if he spends the entire year in the rotation.

Scott Baker (RHP, Twins)

It might look a bid odd to include Baker with these pitchers, but coming off a 4.49 ERA in 2010 and offseason elbow surgery, I expect many fantasy owners to be shy away from him. Again, this is a situation where you need to take advantage. The 29-year-old right-hander has averaged 7.1 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 during his career -- including a career-high 7.8 K/9 last season -- and will make half of his starts in an excellent pitchers park, which should play perfectly to his notorious fly ball tendencies. Be sure to track reports about his elbow during spring training, but he's one of my favorite late-round targets in mixed leagues.

Jason Hammel (RHP, Rockies)

I'm not afraid to say it. Hammel is a tease, plain and simple. He was a popular sleeper target this time last year after producing solid secondary numbers and an xFIP of 3.81 in 2009. Unfortunately, he went out and posted a disappointing 4.81 ERA over 30 starts, despite once again flashing impressive secondary numbers and finishing with an xFIP of 3.81 for the second straight year. You'd think I would have learned my lesson already, but I'm willing to take the plunge again. If he can improve with runners on base -- something that he has admittedly really struggled with -- look out. If not, well, you probably didn't pay much to get him.

Tim Stauffer (RHP, Padres)

While the Padres couldn't quite hang on in the NL West last season, this former first-round pick shined down the stretch. Stauffer posted a 2.10 ERA and 22/11 K/BB ratio over six starts in September and October. The 28-year-old right-hander finished with a 1.85 ERA for the year, the lowest among MLB pitchers with at least 80 innings pitched. Of course, I wouldn't expect him to keep that up over a full season as a starting pitcher -- his xFIP of 3.74 is far more indicative of his skills -- but he has solid control, strikes out his fair share of batters and induces plenty of ground balls. He could face an innings count eventually and carries some injury risk based on his past, but I like his chances of proving profitable in PETCO Park.

Derek Holland (LHP, Rangers)

For those who have been patiently awaiting Holland's breakthrough season, this could finally be the year. Well, maybe. With Cliff Lee in Philadelphia and Brandon Webb and Scott Feldman as question marks for the early part of the season, the 24-year-old southpaw should have a clear path to a spot in the starting rotation, at the very least. Though Holland dealt with some knee and rotator cuff issues last season, he posted a 4.08 ERA and 54 strikeouts over 57 1/3 innings at the big league level. I'd like to see him improve his control and give up a few less fly balls considering his home park, but you may never see his price tag this low again.

Chris Narveson (LHP, Brewers)

Narveson doesn't exactly appear to be a promising fantasy property on the surface. He throws in the high 80s and posted a mediocre 4.99 ERA over 167 2/3 innings last season. But while others will pass, there's plenty of reason to speculate. The 29-year-old left-hander averaged 7.4 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 for the year and posted a 3.89 ERA over 14 starts after the All-Star break. If he can keep the ball in the ballpark and make some strides pitching out of the stretch -- similar to Jason Hammel -- he could be a pleasant surprise in a rotation stocked with more high-profile fantasy arms.

Bud Norris (RHP, Astros)

Sure, Norris had a pretty unremarkable 4.92 ERA and 1.48 WHIP last season, but this guy might be figuring things out. He went 11-7 with a 4.17 ERA after returning from biceps tendinitis last June. And even though his command remains his Achilles heel, he averaged 9.25 K/9 last season, higher than fantasy aces like Mat Latos, Josh Johnson, Cole Hamels and Justin Verlander. Some still wonder if he's better suited for the bullpen and he may well end up there eventually, but his ability to miss bats warrants consideration.

Carlos Carrasco (RHP, Indians)

The Indians took their sweet time giving Carrasco another shot at the big leagues last season, but he proved to be a real bright spot for the club down the stretch. Carrasco, who turns 24 in March, posted a 3.83 ERA over seven starts as a September call-up, averaging 7.7 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9. Yes, this was a very limited sample size, but Carrasco produced very similar secondary numbers on the minor league level. If the former top prospect can come anywhere close to his ground ball rate from last season, he has a chance to be a fantasy asset in 2011, especially in the pitcher-friendly Progressive Field.


D.J. Short is a Rotoworld baseball editor and contributes to NBCSports.com's Hardball Talk blog. You can also find him on Twitter.
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