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If you've been following along with this series over the last week or so, you've heard my spiel about sleeper being a slippery term. "Values" feels more precise.

It would come as a shock if you hadn't heard of any of the guys we're going to be discussing today. All we're trying to do here is identify the players who seem like they cost less than they should.

As we draw closer to the start of the season, I'm offering my thoughts on potential 2018 fantasy baseball draft bargains at every position. Today we're covering National League starting pitchers.

Editor's Note: Get a full-season MLB Premium Pass for 50% off before Opening Day. Exclusive access to our Draft Kit, in-season lineup tools and over 200 days of DFS. Sign Up Now!

 

Snag These Senior Circuit Starters

Johnny Cueto, San Francisco Giants

At the rate Giants pitchers are going lately, Cueto might be hurt by the time you read this. He spent a good chunk of time in 2017 unable to pitch due to blisters, which also led to his results taking a nose dive. After clearing 210 innings in four of the previous five seasons (running a 2.80 ERA and 1.08 WHIP while winning 73 games, all top 10 marks among starters during that time frame), Cueto fell to 157 innings of 4.52/1.45 ball. It wasn’t a good look, but he’s only 32 years old and it feels like many fantasy owners have written him off after one rough season. I’d rather have him than Jon Lester, who went through similar struggles and is going 40 picks earlier.

Chase Anderson, Milwaukee Brewers

After three seasons of streamer-quality work with the Diamondbacks, Anderson was a pleasant surprise for fantasy owners in 2017 in a season where those were hard to come by on the pitching side. Added velocity allowed him to more effectively throw his fastball up in the zone, which in turn unlocked the rest of his arsenal. Despite a prolonged absence due to an oblique strain, Anderson wound up producing excellent ratios (2.74 ERA, 1.09 WHIP) and striking out close to a batter per inning in his 25 starts. The numbers over his final 16 games are eye-popping: 1.94 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 25.8 K%. Can he do that over a full season? Almost certainly not, but at the current price (175 ADP), he doesn’t have to do that to turn a profit.

Kenta Maeda, Los Angeles Dodgers

Maeda spent time on both the disabled list and in the bullpen as the Dodgers engaged in some…let’s call it creative accounting with their rotation. Between management exploiting the new 10-day DL and quick hooks from Dave Roberts, Maeda ended up pitching just 134 innings across 29 appearances (25 starts). When he did pitch, like many others in 2017, he saw a sharp uptick in his home run rate. But Maeda also maintained or improved upon his strikeout, walk, pop-up, swinging strike, and first-strike rates from his rookie year, and his contact quality was virtually identical.

Taijuan Walker, Arizona Diamondbacks

Prediction: No Arizona pitcher benefits more from the humidor in Chase Field than Walker. The issue for him has always been the reliability of the secondary offerings behind his plus mid-90s fastball, and last season both his slider and curveball produced excellent results on the road while getting pummeled at home. The biggest perk of the humidor for pitchers is improved grip, and that should help Walker’s breaking pitches play better at home. The humidor will also cut down on home runs, which have been an issue for him in the past. Walker falls just outside the top 200 ADP, well behind teammates Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, and Zack Godley. They’re all likely to outperform Walker, but he may wind up the best surplus value.

Joe Musgrove, Pittsburgh Pirates

Gerrit Cole got most of the ink after the trade that sent him to Houston, but Musgrove got the more significant boost in our game. He was on the outside looking in with the Astros’ rotation, and now has a guaranteed starting role in Pittsburgh. The Pirates also play in PNC Park. Musgrove’s most significant flaw was vulnerability to the long ball, and his new home suppresses them more than almost any other park. Assuming the shoulder issue he’s dealt with this spring doesn’t linger, he’s a great candidate to finish out your fantasy rotation with an ADP well outside the top 300.

 

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