Late Round: Starting Pitcher Sleepers

Hello and good morning! I’ll be changing things up a bit this week as we’ll shift away from the guys not to draft to some guys you should consider towards the back-end of your draft. When you’re looking for a sleeper, you’re essentially looking for a player you can take a risk on without devastating your roster. You’re not going to grab a sleeper early in the draft because that could prove to be detrimental to your season. Plus, taking them too early negates the sleeper tag, right?

When I put together my lists of sleepers at each position I think about a few different things. I’m not going to target a well-known player that every other guy in the draft room wants; I want a player that might be keen only to me. I also look at trends from previous seasons for players. The player may be coming off a terrible finish to the prior season, but what made that happen? You can’t just simply look at counting numbers to determine if a player is sleeper-worthy. For the same reason a player might have been coming off a down year, or a down second half, the player could have had some dumb luck as to why they had so much success.

Do some research, just don’t wing it. As they say, you can’t win a championship in the pre-season, but you sure can lose one!

One thing you’ll notice in my list of sleepers: all three of them are tied to National League teams. Due to the differences in the lineups pitchers face, the risk with a NL pitcher is generally lower. It can be said a NL pitcher only faces eight batters, while AL pitchers face a full nine. That’s just my take, though; don’t let me sway you away from those sleeper AL guys.

Jose Urena, Marlins

Urena finds himself on an awful team this year, which could cause some fellow draftees to overlook his potential. This seems to be evident already based on his ADP checking in at 402 overall (ranked 94th by me – our top 100 comes out Sunday).

Urena finished last year with an ERA of 3.82 and a WHIP of 1.27, much improved over the previous experience he had the prior two seasons. His 144 innings pitched between ’15-16 saw him post an ERA over 5.50 and a WHIP of 1.50 – not something you’re looking for out of a SP. Urena isn’t someone who is going to strike out a ton of batters, as he’s only averaging 5.7 K/9 early in his career, but his decline in H/9 each season suggest he may start missing more bats as he continues to develop at the highest level.

Urena is a pitch-to-contact guy. Last season batters had a contact rate of 82%, league average is 77%. Some might be scared with that high of a contact rate against, thinking it may be more of a luck thing that he hasn’t allowed more runners to score, pushing that ERA and WHIP higher as balls drop in and find green. Numbers could be pushing the other direction though.

Last season Urena did away with his curveball and sinker. This left him with a three-pitch arsenal of fastball, slider, and changeup. Simplifying his arsenal of pitches could be what led him to better numbers. As long as that trends carries into 2018 I think the success from ’17 follows.

Bottom line with Urena is he’s isn’t worth a draft pick in shallow leagues. In keeper/dynasty formats he’s worthy of a flier. Urena is currently penciled in as the Marlins #2 option in the rotation, which doesn’t do him any favors, but another year of experience should help him correct the batted ball numbers against him. If you’re not quite sure on Urena, put him on your watch list, but don’t hesitate to add him with early season success.

Jerad Eickhoff, Phillies

Jerad Eickhoff hits my list because there’s no real reason why he’s profiling as an undrafted player in standard formats. His current ADP has him coming at 363, behind guys like Carlos Rodon (hurt) and John Lackey (jobless). Something doesn’t add up there. I have him ranked 63rd, but I’ll admit I probably have him a little too low.

Looking at Eickhoff’s ERA and WHIP from last year, he did take a step back compared to the previous two years. A lot of that is connected to the hand injury he tried to work through last year, at least according to Eickhoff himself.

When looking at the month-to-month splits from Eickhoff it was a rollercoaster year, but you could speculate it was completely caused by injuries. During his healthy months of April and July Eickhoff maintained an ERA just below 3.44, a WHIP of 1.28 and a K/9 of 9.1. Then you look at May/June and he posted an ERA near 5.83 with a WHIP of a staggering 1.71. On June 20th, Eickhoff ended up on the DL with an upper back injury. Now look at August. He had an ERA of 5.22 and a WHIP of 1.67 in six starts. At the end of August, he was back on the DL with nerve irritation in his right hand ending his season.

Looking ahead to this year, you must toss out those injured months of 2017. If you want to get the true Eickhoff look at the 2016 season and the stats above from his healthy months of 2017. Eickhoff portrays as a pitcher who will put up an ERA comfortably between 3.50 and 4.00 with a WHIP of 1.30 and a K/9 hovering around 9.00. I’m more than comfortable with those numbers, especially given his current draft price.

Mike Foltynewicz, Braves

Mike Foltynewicz is a bit of a different kind of sleeper. I don’t view him as a guy to draft for the long term, as his second half splits the last two seasons have been atrocious. Foltynewicz hits my sleeper list as a first-half player. With an ADP of 343, he can easily be used for half a season, then dumped to the waiver wire. He hits my list at 62.

Folty’s first-half stats the last two seasons, when combined, look pretty good. The numbers tally to 142 IP, 3.74 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, and a K/9 of 8.0. If he could put those kinds of numbers together for a full season he wouldn’t fall into the sleeper category. Unfortunately, for Folty, when the calendar hits the second half of the season he becomes a different kind of pitcher.

The one positive of Folty in the second half of a season is his K/9 climbs from 8.0 to 8.5. Everything else seems to fall off a cliff. In essentially the same sample size (135.1 IP) he’s tallied an ERA of 5.45 and a WHIP of 1.49. The change in numbers could be a result of batters hitting 15 points higher, .273 in the second half compared to .258 in the first half. It could also be a simple thing of running out of gas come the second half of a season (and if that’s the case his stamina is sure to get better, maybe).

Bottom line with Foltynewicz: he’s a guy you’d love to have from April through June. Once July starts you might as well kick him to the waiver wire if you can’t find a buyer. He’s going to give you strikeouts, career 8.1 K/9, but he doesn’t miss enough bats to give you a solid full season. Draft him in the later rounds, maybe 2018 is the year he finally puts a worthy full season together.

*****

Those are a few of my sleepers for this year. They may be on the deeper side of the sleeper list, but let’s hear yours! Leave me your fantasy questions in the comment section below or on Twitter at @KennyGarvey. We’ll catch you next week with info on relievers to avoid in the 2018 season.

 

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Kenny Garvey

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I'm from eastern Iowa, yes there are more things than just corn here. I'm a baseball nerd. If there's a game televised you can bet I've got it on! Family and baseball keep me sane. Fantasy baseball far outweighs fantasy football, no doubt about it!

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