A key to winning in keeper leagues is purchasing quality pitching at discount prices. While the simplest way to get discount starters is grabbing prospects, finding bargains among non-rookies requires the owner to find players whose stats do not reflect their talent. Situations arise where talented pitchers become available at discount prices, but getting these pitchers is always a gamble. Non-rookie pitchers purchased at bargain prices often share many similarities. When trying to find the next “Edwin Jackson” or “Cliff Lee,” teams should consider pitchers who fall among any of these categories.
Category #1: “The Ex-Prospect”
Description: these are pitchers everybody wanted when they arrived in the major leagues only to watch them struggle. However, since pitching in the majors is a learning process, sometimes giving these pitchers “one last chance” pays off.
Examples: the best example is Zack Greinke. Greinke was the top high school pitcher in the country and arrived quickly in the majors before mental issues sidetracked his career. His value was virtually zero before ‘08. Nevertheless, Greinke bounced back because of incredible natural talent. Other examples include Scott Baker, Phil Hughes, Gavin Floyd (’08 version), and Edwin Jackson.
Warning: There is always the concern the pitcher is simply not that good, and these ex-prospects can cause serious damage. For example, Dewon Brazeton posted several massive ERA’s before his career ended. Personally, I have struggled through several seasons of Jeremy Sowers.
Criteria: Is the pitcher: (1) under age 27, (2) ever picked in the first round of the amateur draft or ranked on Baseball America’s top 100 prospect list, and (3) ever suffered a significant injury?
2010 Candidates: Homer Bailey, Andrew Miller, Ian Kennedy, and Luke Hochevar.
Category #2: “The Injured Pitcher”
Description: these pitchers achieved big league success in the past but are currently on the disabled list and/or returning from an extended stay on the DL. Injured pitchers are ideal for rebuilding teams willing to hold them on their roster until they return.
Examples: A great example is Chris Carpenter, who returned from injury problems to have a spectacular season in ’09. Other examples include John Lester and Yovani Gallardo, who both returned from serious medical issues to post solid numbers.
Warning: For every Chris Carpenter, there are several pitchers who never recover like Mark Prior, Jason Schmidt, Mark Mulder, and John Thomson. Therefore, a good sense of “letting go” is required when owning injured pitchers because they will clog your roster. Moreover, like G’N’R fans waiting 15 years for “Chinese Democracy,” owners sometimes find the results did not justify the wait.
Criteria: has the pitcher: (1) pitched within the past 1 ½ seasons, (2) been a #1 or #2 quality starter immediately before going on the DL, and (3) been mentioned in an article discussing significant progress?
2010 Candidates: Brandon Webb, Tim Hudson, Ben Sheets, Chris Young, Jeff Francis, Justin Duchscherer, and Jake Westbrook.
Category #3: “The Ex-Star”
Description: these are struggling pitchers who achieved previous big league success. This description ranges from pitchers who struggled enough to be purchased at a slight discount (i.e., Cole Hamels) to pitchers who were so awful last season they can be purchased at almost zero (i.e., Chien Ming-Wang).
Examples: The best example is Cliff Lee, who posted dismal numbers in ’07 before winning the Cy Young in ’08. The performance was surprising, but it was less shocking when you consider Lee won 15 games in ’06. Zack Duke was solid last season despite struggling the previous two years.
Warning: Ex-Stars have ruined many fantasy baseball pitching staffs. They are particularly damaging because—unlike ex-prospects (who go to AAA)—they keep pitching, and overly-devoted owners are never forced to release them. Also, even if a pitcher succeeds, there is always some concern their struggles could return (i.e., Brad Lidge in ‘09).
Criteria: Look for pitchers who: (1) posted a solid season (sub-4 ERA or 15 wins) within the past three years, (2) are under age 32, and (3) have no obvious reason (i.e., long-term injuries and/or steroids) the performance cannot be repeated.
2010 Candidates: Scott Kazmir, Dice-K, Chien Min-Wang, and Ian Snell.