Starting Pitcher Sleepers are arguably the most important players in drafting your Fantasy Baseball team. Depending on how you construct your roster, finding under-valued pitchers later in drafts might be the biggest factor in whether you contend for a championship or not.
Most people draft their team with hitters on the forefront of their mind. They want their big home runs and five-tool players. Yes, we take the elite starters in the first four or five rounds. But the majority of people really fill out their pitching staff later in drafts.
So finding the starting pitcher sleepers or the under-valued guys is paramount to building a winning team. Just like with my outfielder sleepers, there is a theme of older guys that seem like boring picks. The difference is the starting pitcher sleepers are really not as old as you may think.
The rankings referenced are the Expert Consensus Rankings at Fantasy Pros as of March 14th. Make sure to check out my full rankings of starting pitchers.
2018 Starting Pitcher Sleepers
Danny Salazar, CLE – ECR : SP50, 183rd Overall
I already mentioned that Salazar is one of my favorite starting pitcher sleepers in my starting pitcher rankings. He is the type of player that gets under-valued because of a pre-season injury.
He has some discomfort in his throwing shoulder, which is much more promising than in his elbow. Salazar is an ELITE strikeout pitcher. He has a career 10.5 K/9 (strikeouts per nine innings) and a career-high 12.7 K/9 last season.
I know, he will probably miss some time. He has only made more than 25 starts once in a season, and it does not look like he will be available on Opening Day.
What makes him one of the starting pitcher sleepers is the value. You can draft Salazar after Round 18 in 10-team leagues. That is crazy for getting the kind of strikeout production that he provides.
While the injuries are worrisome, this is where Fantasy Baseball differs from its football counterpart: the DL spot. Almost every league has a DL spot where you can stash injured players. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and Salazar can without a doubt be a star contributor to your team at some point.
Cole Hamels, TEX – ECR: SP58, 219th Overall
— Pat Doney (@PatDoneyNBC5) March 13, 2018
Hamels dealt with an injury last season and did not make at least 30 starts for the first time since he really broke into the majors. I think the injury hampered him in the starts he did make as well. Yet, through all of that, he still won 11 games with a 4.20 ERA and 1.203 WHIP.
Before last year, Hamels had gone seven straight seasons with a 3.65 ERA or lower. He had also struck out at least 194 batters seven straight years. Do we really think Hamels hit such a massive drop-off at age 33?
I think he is coming back with a vengeance. He is a gamer at the highest of levels. His 6.4 K/9 (I know, I use this stat a lot. But now that I am in innings’ limit leagues, how efficiently guys get strikeouts are the best starting pitcher sleepers) was the lowest BY FAR of his career. This will turn around with his health, and I think Hamels contends for a Cy Young this year.
Rick Porcello, BOS – ECR: SP61, 241st Overall
— Tater Talk (@TaterTalkPod) March 1, 2018
So Porcello came back to Earth last year after winning the Cy Young Award in 2016. I am not going to advocate that his numbers that year are replicable. I mean the guy went 22-4 with a 3.15 ERA and 1.009 WHIP. That’s Kershaw-esque.
We know Porcello is not Clayton Kershaw. But I also think he is better than last year’s 11-17 record with a 4.65 ERA. So what went wrong?
I would say the long ball got to Porcello. He gave up 38 home runs last year, most in the league. That is 15 more than the previous season. He had never given up more than 25 in a season before, with most of his seasons right around 18 home runs allowed. That number is going to regress back to the mean, if not lower than his average.
So if he gets some better home run luck, and say just gives up the 25, that’s 13 fewer bombs for somewhere around 25 runs less allowed. He only gave up 105 earned runs all season last year, so that would be closer to 80 earned runs allowed. He only gave up 78 earned runs in his great 2016.
So just getting home run luck back on his side is a big factor. I am also optimistic that Porcello had the highest K/9 of his career at 8.0 strikeouts per nine innings. Porcello is also still just 29 years old.
So if you can just get somewhere right in the middle of 2017 and 2016, you get a Top-25 starting pitcher for the 61st starter off the board.
Jhoulys Chacin, MIL – ECR: SP107, 400th Overall
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The trend you will notice with my starting pitcher sleepers is guys that you think are actually older than they are. Chacin fits that perfectly as he just turned 30 years old in January but is entering his tenth major league season.
Chacin is a curious case to me as to why is being under-valued this season. He had a 3.89 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and a 13-10 record on an awful Padres team. He does not strike that many guys out, but sub-4.00 ERA’s do not just grow on trees. Chacin has gone there two of his last three seasons.
Even if you get something in between his 3.89 ERA in 2017 and 4.81 in 2016, you are still getting a good value as Chacin is the 107th ranked starting pitcher.
Chris Tillman, BAL – ECR: SP176, 786th Overall
SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) The Baltimore Orioles signed pitcher Chris Tillman to a $3 million, one-year contract that includes performance…
— Hot Live News (@hotlivenews24) February 25, 2018
Tillman is another guy I talked a bit about in my starting pitcher rankings. The biggest thing that stood out to me is that Tillman will only be 29 still on Opening Day. I thought he was closer to 40.
So I know, he is coming off a disastrous 2017 in which he only made 19 starts, had a 7.84 ERA, with the second highest BB/9 and highest HR/9 of his career. I think the injury had more to do with that awfulness than his actual talent trajectory.
I am a big believer in what is most common, not what happened last. Tillman has had a sub-3.78 ERA in four of the previous five seasons before last year. He had also pitched at least 172 innings in four straight years with at least 11 wins in each season.
I think he bounces back this season. The best part of being a Tillman-believer? He is the cheapest of all of the starting pitcher sleepers. You can get him as the 176th pitcher off the board. He is the lowest of risks with a strong possibility of a productive reward.
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