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Starting Pitcher Sleepers: Week 18 Waiver Wire Pickups


The average major league pitcher is just over 6'2'', but you'd be surprised at how many of the top pitchers are between 6'4" and 6'7". Being unusually tall seems almost imperative for a pitcher in today's game. The league average, however, is brought down a bit by a handful of pitchers who are well undersized for their position. For this week's column, I am going to talk about three pitchers 6'0'' and below who tend to fall under the radar in fantasy baseball.

 

Fantasy Baseball Waiver Wire Sleepers

Marcus Stroman, TOR

Owned in 45% of Yahoo! Leagues

Marcus Stroman Toronto Blue Jay MLB NewsThe shortest active starting pitcher in baseball, Stroman has made quite an impression in his first stint in the major leagues. The Long Island native made his debut as a starter on May 31, just less than two years after being selected in the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft out of Duke University. Although a bit inconsistent, having not made it out of the fourth inning twice in 10 games started, he has shown signs of dominance, with a quality start in each of his other eight outings. Stroman's 3.21 ERA to date is on par with his career 3.24 ERA in parts of three seasons in the minors, and while his 3.93 K/BB ratio is slightly lower than the 4.38 K/BB ratio he posted in the minors, that number should improve as he gets more comfortable facing major league hitters.

Despite his lack of size, Stroman has a plus, mid-90s fastball, and he mixes in four different offspeed pitches very well. He can strike out batters and induces a lot of ground balls, which has led to stinginess with the longball-- Stroman allowed just 15 long balls in 166.2 frames in the minors and only five so far in 67.1 big-league innings. The 23-year-old is riding a 14-inning scoreless streak; he should be owned in all AL-Only leagues and all but the shallowest of mixed leagues as he continues to improve going forward.

 

Mike Leake, CIN

Owned in 41% of Yahoo! Leagues

By dbking on Flickr (Originally posted to Flickr as "IMG_6250") [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsLeake may be the fifth-best pitcher on the Reds, but that paints an inaccurate picture of his reliability and value. He is coming off of a 2013 campaign in which he set career-highs in innings pitched, wins and ERA, and he seems to be continuing to improve. His 3.73 ERA so far in 2014 isn't anything special, but his 3.78 FIP is above average. Unlike Stroman, Leake's fastball sits comfortably around only 91 mph, which makes sense for a pitcher of only 5'10". He has a deep arsenal of secondary pitches to accompany the fastball, though, and he does an excellent job of mixing them up and keeping the ball low in the zone. He has relied less on his cut fastball, and as a result it has been more effective. The 26-year-old righty is not much of a strikeout pitcher, though he is currently boasting career-highs in K/9 and K/BB ratios, at 6.81 and 3.66, respectively.

Leake's greatest strength, however, is inducing ground balls, which comes from his ability to command his pitches. His 2.11 GB/FB ratio in 2014 puts him 11th in all of baseball. As Cincinnati's hitters find their way back from the disabled list and presumably regain top form, Leake's 3.95 runs of support per start will increase, and the win total along with it. Leake should not be unowned at this point in any NL-Only league, and he's definitely a reliable option in a deep mixed league or as an injury replacement in shallower mixed leagues.

 

Jeff Locke, PIT

Owned in 17% of Yahoo! Leagues

RotoBaller-MLB-News-Fantasy-Baseball-Jeff-LockeAt 6'0", Locke isn't unusually short, but he is still below the league average, and he is another strong sleeper candidate. A solid young prospect for the Braves and later the Pirates, Locke's career got off to a bit of a rocky start. Granted it was a small sample size, with a 6.48 ERA in 2011 and a 5.50 ERA as a follow-up in 2012 explaining why he only tossed 51 innings by age 24. In 2013, he impressed to the tune of a 2.15 ERA in the first half on his way to an All-Star selection, only to implode in the second half and fail to make the Pirates' NLDS roster. Locke began the 2014 season in the minors, and after getting knocked around at the hands of the San Francisco Giants in his only previous appearance, Locke made a spot start in early June and remained in the majors for good as he rattled off eight consecutive quality starts. His most recent outing, in which he got tagged for six runs on 10 hits over 6.2 innings pitched, should not be of any concern for fantasy owners considering how hot he had been and the fact that it happened in Colorado.

I can understand why it might make owners nervous, especially since this is roughly the time he started to struggle last year, but he appears to be a more mature pitcher now. The 26-year-old has significantly diminished his curveball usage, which had given him trouble in the past, and has worked his changeup into the equation more frequently. Most importantly, he has better managed his control, and has raised his K/BB ratio from a 1.49 in 2013 to a 4.00 in 2014. There is still a bit of a risk with trusting Locke going forward, but I think he is a different pitcher than he was even 12 months ago, and I consider him to be a viable option in NL-Only and deeper mixed leagues.

Just because freakishly tall pitchers have taken over the MLB doesn't mean that those below league average in height are untrustworthy or unreliable. All three of these starting pitchers are not only undersized, but undervalued, as well.