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Five Starting Pitcher Sleepers: National League

With Opening Day now close enough at hand that we can count the hours instead of the days, weeks, or months, the majority of fantasy baseball drafts have already taken place. Still drafting your teams? This column was meant to be ready a week earlier, but the great and unknowable forces of the universe conspired to, uh, make me not do it on time.

So, as recompense for this tardiness, please accept the following six (#SupriseBonusContent) National League pitchers who could, in my estimation, return on a modest investment. Each of these half-dozen baseball men are available either after pick 300 per NFBC data (for you procrastinators out there) or in at least 75% of Yahoo leagues (if you're tinkering at the bottom of your already-drafted roster).

In fact, five of these guys are actually under 10% owned. One could argue, quite convincingly, that these are truer, purer sleepers than the pretty boys who got drafted. Sound good? Let's hit it.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association including Baseball Writer of the Year, Football Writers of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year and many more! Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!


Zach Eflin, Philadelphia Phillies

314 ADP, 24% owned

In what will be a theme of this exercise, Eflin only recently got confirmation that he would open the season in an MLB rotation. After a handful of lousy starts the prior two seasons, the 24-year-old rode increased fastball velocity last year to an excellent first half wherein he produced tidy ratios (3.15 ERA, 1.08 WHIP) along with close to a strikeout per inning and nearly five strikeouts for every walk issued.

Like most of his teammates, Eflin faded badly down the stretch, which depressed his numbers enough to land him on this list. He'll have a better team behind him in 2019, both defensively and offensively, and fatigue should be less of an issue as he won't be asked to shoulder another 25% workload increase.


Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee Brewers

304 ADP, 9% owned

The next time Burnes takes the hill for a major league start will be his first, but we do know that he's confirmed for a rotation spot. The 24-year-old appeared in relief in 30 games (38 innings) a year ago with a 2.61 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and 35 strikeouts.

While those aren't eye-popping numbers for a reliever, Burnes has the arsenal to succeed in a larger role, with a high-spin fastball and solid slider that work well in concert. His command took the necessary step forward after making adjustments to his mechanics and his position on the mound.


Caleb SmithPablo Lopez, Miami Marlins

464 ADP, 5% owned / 590 ADP, 4% owned

We'll do the last four guys in pairs, because they come from the same teams. The Marlins announced their rotation on Monday, and both Smith and Lopez are included. Their ADP and ownership rates certainly don't reflect it, but both pitchers were beginning to get some buzz after good springs.

Let's not mince words, here: Spring training stats are still mostly noise, for all the reasons you'd expect. When those results are supported by other data points, though, that's worth noting. Smith's injury-shortened rookie season saw the 27-year-old lefty generate a ton of whiffs on both his changeup and his slider - 88 strikeouts in 77 innings overall. He also displayed strong command...usually. 18 of his 33 walks were issued in just four of his 16 starts, covering a mere 14 innings. Those rough nights aren't any less valid that the flashes of dominance we've seen from Smith, but it's easier to dream on upside when it's a least a little less theoretical.

Lopez isn't as flashy, but he also is likely to be less volatile despite being four years younger. If Smith is in the mold of say, Robbie Ray, Lopez evokes more on the order of Kyle Hendricks. He can miss bats with his curve or change, but he relies most heavily on a sinker that he can spot effectively near the edge of the zone. This results in a high chase rate on the pitch, which in turn yields a large number of harmless ground balls. The funny thing is, Lopez and Smith ultimately produced similar ratios in their rookie years. They couldn't have gotten there any differently, but both are worth keeping on your fantasy radar.


Jeff Samardzija / Drew Pomeranz, San Francisco Giants

438 ADP, 3% owned / 558 ADP, 2% owned

Even in this "what have you done for me lately" world, the speed with which we've all tossed these dudes in the garbage is impressive. Granted, they were atrocious last year - both veterans posted an ERA above 6.00 and a WHIP in excess of 1.60 - but they were also hurt and happen to have been core fantasy performers in multiple prior seasons, including 2017.

Shark has the longer track record of the two. Last season's shoulder injury snapped a five-season streak of throwing at least 200 innings. He struck out 200 or more hitters in three of those seasons, and posted respectable ratios across the entire span (4.10 ERA, 1.21 WHIP). If healthy, he's one of the better bets for heavy volume.

Pomeranz, meanwhile, entered last season coming off of two straight quality campaigns with San Diego and Boston. He eclipsed 170 innings in each season, striking out over a batter per inning and posting a 3.32 ERA in each season while winning 17 games in 2017.

The Giants are going to be pretty terrible - another reason these two are getting no love - but they at least play in the pitcher-friendliest park in the league. That should work to Pomeranz's benefit after his BABIP and HR/9 both spiked thanks in part of Fenway Park and the AL East gauntlet.

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