The key to winning a championship in fantasy baseball is to find some gems in the late rounds of your fantasy baseball drafts. Anyone can draft a top-10 player, but only the good ones can find the diamonds in the rough.
Below are some 2017 deeper starting pitcher sleepers for the American League. I analyze five hidden starting pitchers from the American League who I think will break out in 2017 and provide great return based on their current draft stock.
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Deep AL Starting Pitcher Sleepers
Matt Strahm (SP, KC)
Strahm spent the majority of his time last season as a starter in Double-A Northwest Arkansas, before skipping Triple-A and making his debut with the Royals out of the bullpen. He impressed last season, posting a 1.23 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP over 22 innings pitched. He held opposing hitters to a .171 average. What has us most excited is his strikeout ability; he posted a 12.27 K/9 last season and has always been a big strikeout guy in the minors. His swinging strike percentage (SwStr%) was 12.2%, which would place him in the top-10 among qualified starters.
The Royals have stated Strahm will be in the bullpen to begin the season, but long term projects to be a starter. This season all that is stopping him are the likes of Nathan Karns and Travis Wood, who have been underwhelming as starters in the major leagues. Strahm may be able to push the Royals hand with a strong spring training, but if not should still give you some excellent ratios from the bullpen.
Chad Green (SP, NYY)
Green made his MLB debut last season, starting eight games and coming out of the bullpen in four more. He ended the season with 4.73 ERA and 1.40 WHIP. He is heading into 2017 healthy after suffering a UCL sprain and strained flexor tendon in the beginning of September, but avoided surgery with rest/rehab.
Though the ERA and WHIP look inflated, Green flashed plenty of talent in his brief time up. He struck out 10.25 hitters per nine innings, and had an above average K/BB rate of 3.47. His SwStr% was 12.3%, just a hair better than Strahm. He has been working to improve his cutter this offseason, which was a big key to his success last season; during outings in which Green used his cutter 18 percent of the time or more, he registered a 2.86 ERA and struck out 29 batters in 22 innings of work. In appearances he used it less than 18 percent of his total pitches, Green’s ERA spiked to an abysmal 5.98 (courtesy of elitesportsny.com). He is battling with four other starters for the final two rotation spots in New York, so this will be one pitching battle to keep an eye on. Luis Severino makes for an intriguing sleeper if he wins a spot also.
Tyler Skaggs (SP, LAA)
After dealing with injuries for the majority of his career, Tyler Skaggs is healthy and ready to help the Angels. He was forced to miss all of 2015 due to Tommy John surgery, and threw only 87.6 total innings last season while dealing with shoulder soreness. Heading into 2017 he is feeling as good as he ever has, and has a rotation spot with his name on it.
A pitchers control is what takes the longest to recover after Tommy John, and Skaggs felt that impact last season. He did have a nice 9.06 K/9, but an ugly 4.17 BB/9 rate. His career average is 3.16, so expect that number to improve with Skaggs further along in his recovery. Outside of a four game stretch in August, Skaggs flashed his upside as a starter. In his first two starts he fired 12.1 shutout innings with 13 strikeouts and 3 walks. In his last three full starts (left his last start after 1.2 innings) he threw 18 innings, striking out 21 with only three earned runs. In those four starts in the middle he allowed 19 runs over 17.2 innings. There is certainly some risk here, but he has the rotation spot locked and all the upside you need from a late round pick.
Joe Musgrove (SP, HOU)
The first of two Houston pitchers on this list is Joe Musgrove. Musgrove made his MLB debut last year out of the bullpen, striking out eight over 4.1 innings. In his first start he threw seven innings, allowing one earned run with six strikeouts and no walks. His biggest asset has always been his control; from Double-A on through the minors he never had a BB/9 higher than 1.20, and in the majors last season it was only 2.32.
Despite his eight-strikeout debut, Musgrove hasn’t been known to be a big strikeout pitcher throughout his minor league career. His K/9 was just below the league average last season at 7.98, and his SwStr% was also just below average at 9.9%. However, he finds ways to use his control to induce soft contact. His outside swing rate (o-swing %) was above average at 31.3%, and his outside contact rate (o-contact %) was at 58.1%. To put it in perspective, that contact rate would have put him in the top-10 among qualified starters. He won’t blow you away with strikeouts, but can provide an excellent K/BB ratio if he wins the fifth starting spot in Houston.
Chris Devenski (SP, HOU)
After an injury early in the season, Devenski was called up from Triple-A and made his MLB debut out of the bullpen. He appeared in 48 games while making five starts, holding a 2.16 ERA and 0.91 WHIP over 108.1 innings. He had an excellent 5.20 K/BB rate, and held hitters to a .205 batting average against. Among pitchers who pitched at least 50 innings out of the bullpen, he held the fifth-lowest ERA and third-lowest WHIP. Those numbers won him Houston’s Pitcher of the Year award last season.
He is being stretched out as a starter in spring training, and will need to work on maintaining his velocity and command deeper into games. He threw his fastball and changeup most often last season, but also has a slider and curveball in his repertoire. His changeup is lights out’ according to Fangraphs the value of his changeup was the fourth highest of any pitcher in the majors behind only Kyle Hendricks, David Price, and Marco Estrada. If he earns a rotation spot out of camp, he can be a very dangerous starter for Houston.