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Deeper Draft Sleepers - NL Starting Pitchers

There are two main styles of player for fantasy owners in deep leagues as it pertains to starting pitching. One style leans cautious. These owners want starting pitchers who own spots in their team's rotation, thus accumulating counting stats for the long haul even if the peripherals aren't stupendous. The other style is for risk-takers. These owners want to grab high-upside players or prospects who could hit big and be major pieces for a deep-league team.

The downside of each strategy is obvious. Drafting safe in a deep league limits one's ceiling of production. A safe veteran who will throw 170 innings is a quality piece but probably won't win you anything. He may just prevent you from losing it. On the other end, those high-risk pieces could strike big, but they could also flame out and leave an owner with literally nothing of value for a main draft piece.

The best strategy for deep leagues is perhaps obvious: a combination of both. A fantasy team should hunt for smart risks while also having safe veterans ready to accumulate stats for the long haul. Leaning too far in either direction is a recipe for trouble.

Be sure to check all of our fantasy baseball lineup tools and weekly lineup resources:

 

What is a Deep Sleeper?

Everyone could have their own definition of a deep sleeper or deep league. To me, a deep sleeper is anyone who would be disregarded for a standard draft. A good baseline is the top 300 players. In 12-team leagues with 25-man rosters, the top 300 guys are taken, with everyone else hitting the waiver wire. That means our deep sleepers are anyone outside of that top 300.

 

Dodgers Candidates

Every team must deal with injuries to the starting rotation at some point throughout a season. No team is better prepared to do so than the Dodgers. There was even talk before the suspended season that Los Angeles might toy with a six-man rotation from the start to take advantage of that depth.

After the top three (Kershaw, Buehler, Price), there are as many as six guys with not insubstantial claims to be in the rotation. Of the six, Ross Stripling (ADP-320) and Alex Wood (345) feel like the best value for potential return. In his four major league seasons, Stripling has been better than average each time out and has accumulated a career 115 ERA+. For any player who vacillates between starting and relieving, everyone would expect them to be better when relieving. It's an easier job. However, Stripling actually keeps his strikeouts and walks fewer batters when he's starting.

As for Wood, getting back to the Dodgers will do him some good. Other than his blip in Cincinnati last year, Wood has been great at allowing soft contact the past five years. Opposing batters rarely barrel the ball against him, while failing to put rise on their contact either. Last year was a mess, but there is a much longer track record of the opposite for Wood.

 

Remember Me?

It's been three years since we've gotten an extended look at Johnny Cueto (331). He remains a pitcher worth taking a late flyer on. His last full season, 2016, saw him make the All-Star team and finish in the top six of Cy Young voting. He is still San Francisco's top starter, meaning we should get a comfortable look at whether or not he still has enough left in his arm. If not, owners would be forced to cut bait, but if he does, this is a man with a career 121 ERA+ and 1.19 WHIP. He flashed great performances as recently as 2018 before succumbing to the need for Tommy John surgery.

Another pitcher looking to remind folks of his ability is Zach Davies (499). Unlike Cueto, Davies has dropped under the radar simply because he's been slightly disappointing his whole career. However, he is coming off his best statistical season to date and now finds himself in a new home that is awfully kind to pitchers. There is a ceiling on Davies' value since he doesn't strike anyone out, but at pick 499, he could be a tremendous bargain regardless. Combining his ability to avoid hard contact with moving to the third-friendliest pitcher park in baseball is a recipe for good, late value.

 

Veterans

Here are a few boring veterans for you to consider. Boring value in deep fantasy leagues is about finding accumulators who won't kill you in other categories. Jose Quintana (342) hasn't thrown fewer than 170 innings since his rookie year and has struck out 20 percent of opposing batters all seven years as well. Rick Porcello (393) has eaten up innings for even longer. Jon Lester (465) is easily going the latest in drafts of any of this trio, yet he remains rock solid. The last time he didn't deliver at least 170 innings with a WAR of 2.0 and a K% of 19 percent was 2008!

 

Brew Crew

There are questions up and down the Milwaukee rotation. Even Brandon Woodruff at the top has to rebound from injury and prove last year's breakout wasn't a fluke. But either way, the other four spots in the rotation currently belong to question marks with less talent than both Freddy Peralta (416) and Corbin Burnes (461). Drafting Peralta and Burnes at SP would be a risky endeavor, but it feels like only a matter of time until one or both get a real shot in the rotation.

Peralta is a strikeout monster with a career 30 percent K%. Milwaukee took him out of the rotation for most of 2019 as he gave up too much solid contact and struggled with secondary pitches. But his fastball is electric and plays up whether he pitches in relief or starting a game.

Burnes is in a similar situation. His fastball is elite, as is his K%. Burnes has also shown great movement and spin on his curveball. But, like Peralta, it didn't help him miss hard contact last season. Burnes was barreled up an alarming 11.7 percent of the time. Drafting either of these two young arms is about taking a chance on the talent and pedigree more than last year's results. Personally, they both seem worth the risk at their respective ADPs. It is hard to find this level of arm talent already in the majors and within a hair's breadth of a rotation spot.

 

Conclusion

Pitching is always a volatile fantasy position, even in shallow leagues. Guys get hurt or run into ruts of inconsistency. The 2020 season will be an even bigger question mark for the pitching arms. To find deep league success, owners must find a balance between upside and the safety of reliability.

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