Friday, September 21, 2007

Early '08 Sleeper Pitchers

Yes, it's way too early to be talking about 2008 fantasy baseball drafts. So what? This blog has never stayed on topic for a full 24 hours.

What are we looking for in a pitcher who'll be underrated in drafts next year? They fall into a few general categories. Naming them after examples from 2007, here we go:

The Jake Peavy category: Consistent stud who last year maintained his elite peripherals (K/9, BB/9, GB%) but had bad luck on balls in play, pushing up his ERA and WHIP.

2008 possibilities: Felix Hernandez and Jeremy Bonderman are both going to be great values next year. Trust me.

The Kelvim Escobar category: Good pitcher with a fluke bad W-L record the year before.

2008 possibilities: A.J. Burnett, Matt Cain, Ian Snell, Rich Hill, Tim Lincecum.

This isn't as helpful as the Peavy category, because most smart fantasy managers know win totals are going to fluctuate from year to year. Still, Escobar fell to around pick 200 this year, so you never know...

The Fausto Carmona category: Young power/control groundballer who's ready to shine.

2008 possibilities: Dustin McGowan is the only ideal fit here--unless you want to count King Felix--but he's worth a special mention. McGowan is what the Orioles hoped Daniel Cabrera could become. His peripherals are already in elite territory, and scouts rave over his stuff, calling him a potential number 1 starter. I wouldn't be at all surprised if McGowan has better fantasy numbers than Roy Halladay in 2008.

The Erik Bedard category: Breakout candidate with good peripherals and stuff.

This is the toughest one to predict, because you never know who's going to pull a Bedard and suddenly see a big spike in his established performance level. The ideal candidate is young with a very high strikeout rate and glowing scouting reports.

The Giants duo of Cain and Lincecum are two examples. Scouts have been drooling over their arms for years, they're both under 24, and either could instantly become a fantasy ace by shaving a few walks and sprinkling in some more strikeouts.

Scott Kazmir has already taken some big steps forward in the past couple years, but he fits the bill. Kaz and his teammate Jamie Shields should both benefit from an improved Rays defense next year. Andy Sonnanstine isn't at their level, but he could be a deep sleeper next year; check out that K/BB ratio.

I'm not the biggest Justin Verlander fan; his hype machine is set three levels too high, and he's benefited from good luck on balls in play the past two years. But he has ace-level stuff and good peripherals, and his defense should improve greatly next year if the Tigers follow through with plans to move Carlos Guillen to first base and sign a good glove at shortstop. Your league-mates might draft him a few rounds too early, but he's as good a bet as anyone to go Erik Bedard on the league, with run support to boot.

The Ted Lilly category: Good pitcher who moves to a much more pitcher-friendly environment.

No known candidates yet, and the thin free agent starter market makes it unlikely we'll see any unless a big trade goes down.

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