(In my continued effort to bring additional voices and perspectives to COSFBA, this article is being brought to you by guest writer KJ Hanna. KJ was one of the first people I connected with on Twitter and actually lives in the same part of Brooklyn, NY where I grew up. He's had his fantasy baseball work featured on both FantasyBaseball101.com and BigTroph.com. I hope you find as much value in his contribution to this site as I do.)
Ahh, the dreaded word ALL fantasy experts and drafters love and hate…SLEEPER. Another word equally as poisonous… BOUNCEBACK. The great thing about the fantastic sport of baseball is there will always be players who fall into one or both of these categories. Luckily for you, the owner, we have already crunched the numbers and taken out most of the guess work.
You’ve all heard this already but, starting pitching is deep this year and you shouldn’t reach early for a SP early. That is, unless your league’s scoring settings heavily rewards SPs or you’re in a keeper/dynasty league. That being said, it’s in my opinion that you make your move in the middle to late rounds for pitchers and these are a few you should target.
The objective to identifying a sleeper starting pitcher is to determine which players have the upside to outperform their current draft position and provide your fantasy team with an advantage over the rest of your league at a low cost/draft pick.
AL SP Sleepers
Jeremy Hellickson – Tampa Bay Rays
Hellickson, the Rays stud prospect du jour got a huge boost once Matt Garza was traded to the Cubs in the offseason. He now has the chance to build upon his impressive numbers when called up in 2010, 3.47 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 33 strikeouts and eight walks in 31 1/3 innings.
Notably revered to be more of a control pitcher, Hellickson is deceiving in his assortment of pitches and has the potential to become an ace, however, expect peaks and valleys, especially as he gets more acquainted with the AL East mashers.
Beyond the occasional long ball and a few rookie hiccups, the only negative I can see with “Hell Boy” is that the Rays may shut him down early, limiting his innings. In that case, all formats should feel confident in grabing him in mid-late rds and sell high come July (except in Keeper/Dynasty leagues).
Max Scherzer – Detroit Tigers
I know, most of you are thinking, "Scherzer, a sleeper?". That’s right readers! After an awful start to 2010 (7.29 ERA in April and half of May) and a minor league demotion, Scherzer came back to the majors with a blazing fastball and an appetite for strikeouts.
In Scherzer’s return to the majors, he posted a 2.46 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 158 strikeouts and FINALLY showed his potential and quieted the “bust” whispers. Scherzer has the talent to become an elite fantasy starter and should be on everyone’s radar in all league formats in mid rounds on draft day. Draft with confidence.
Edwin Jackson – Chicago White Sox
EJax is an enigma. Is he an Ace or a tease? After moving to the AL, Jackson put together some fantastic strikeout and walk numbers which was a great sign of things to hopefully come. Jackson’s K/9 with the Dbacks was 6.98, with the White Sox 9.24! Not only did his K/BB improve but his fastball launched from 94 MPH to 95.3 MPH AND he lowered his overall ERA by almost 2 runs!
Jax is going late enough to take a risk/reward approach with him. His skills are pointing the way to a very productive season with plenty of run support from a stacked White Sox lineup. Grab him in the late rounds and reap the benefits in all league formats.
DEEP SLEEPER: Carlos Carrasco – Cleveland Indians
Carrasco is Spanish for “Peppered Strikezone” because that is what CC-lite does; unfortunately sometimes it results in the long ball, which can become a deterring factor in his fantasy value. One of the prospect players in the Cliff Lee deal, Carrasco, 23, could be in for a quality first full professional season.
He possesses solid upside after his 2-2 3.83 ERA, 38 K/14 BB ratio in 44.2 inngs in 2010. This kid is young and needs to find some maturity on the mound (as shown by his Spring Training numbers) but fantasy owners should consider him a quality matchup fantasy option in late rounds of deeper mixed leagues and AL-only formats.
NL SP Sleepers
Javier Vazquez – Florida Marlins
Vazquez is an established veteran pitcher who has had some very good and not so good (’04 & ’10 ironically both w/the Yankees) years. Yes, he’s 34 and yes his velocity fell predominantly last season, however, he has regained some of that lost speed this spring.
What makes Vazy a sleeper in 2011? 1. His move back to the NL East and into a pitchers ballpark. 2. He’s only 2 seasons removed from a 15 win, 2.87 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 238 K year with the Braves. 3. His current drafting position is between 175-194 in most drafts.
Fantasy owners should look to snag this vet in late rounds for Roto and H2H leagues and mid-late rounds for NL only leagues for a low-risk, high-reward investment in 2011.
Jhoulys Chacin – Colorado Rockies
One of my top targets for sleepers in 2011, this 22-yr old looked incredible in 2010 logging a 3.28 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and 138 strikeouts in 137 1/3 innings and giving up ONLY 10 home runs last season.
Chacin should miss tons of bats and cause groundballs aplenty with his low-90's fastball and filthy off speed pitches. Chacin is poised to steal the #2 spot away from Jorge de la Rosa this season and could become a legitimate real life and fantasy ace in 2011 and beyond.
Owners, grab Chacin if he falls to you in mid-late rds in all fantasy formats, especially in keeper, dynasty and NL Only leagues as he is a special breed and will bring you weekly gold.
Jordan Zimmermann - Washington Nationals
Since coming back from Tommy John surgery last season, Zimm hasn’t logged in many innings to turn heads, however, with his mid-90’s fastball and jelly leg slider, he is poised to finally show the MLB and his owners why he should be considered a valuable starting pitcher.
Though I expect strong results when on the hill, he has not pitched more than 100 innings in a season since 2008 and I don’t expect the Nats to give him more than 150-160. Zimmerman MUST be considered an injury risk by all owners and is truly the definition of a risk/reward pick, however his potential for late roundd drafting returns is exponential.
Currently going anywhere from 180-192, Zimm should be scooped up and considered a viable mid-level fantasy starter in Mixed, Roto and H2H leagues with a larger upside in NL Only and Keeper leagues.
DEEP SLEEPER: Homer Bailey – Cincinnati Reds
Can 2011 finally be the year of the Homer? Bailey, that is. I’m a believer and you should be too.
Last season, Bailey logged 109 innings, posted his highest strikeout rate to date and improved his control to drop his ’09 totals in BBs and Runs allowed. Not to mention that after his demotion to the minors in May, he came back strong posting 3.55 ERA, 9.10 K/9 and 2.93 BB/9 in 58 1/3 innings from Aug 15 on.
The addition of a splitter to his arsenal has helped his fastball’s effectiveness and keeps batters off balance more than in years past. This ultimately will help his K/9 and BB/9 numbers.
Is he a staff ace, nope, but as a No. 3/4 starter he has lower-tier fantasy starter written all over him. Upside is he gives you depth in your rotation; the downside is it may take him a month or so to get it rolling.
Bailey is being drafted between 260-330 in most drafts, so there isn’t urgency from owners at this time. NL Only owners draft him late rounds, Mixed, Roto and H2H leagues draft in very late rounds especially if you have a deep bench.