People always ask me, 'who are your sleepers for the coming season?' As I wrote recently in Do Sleepers Exist?, I'm pretty dubious that we can use the term as we once did before the proliferation of information that the internet has brought. However, that doesn't mean that there aren't players being drafted exceedingly low that couldn't be difference makers in the coming campaign. One of those hurlers is a guy you may never have spent 10 seconds thinking about - Tim Stauffer.
Let's start with who the hell Tim Stauffer is.
For those of you who don't know, and I assume that is a large portion of you, Stauffer was a first round draft pick by the Padres in 2003. However, he has never quite reached the heights expected of him after he was worked very hard his last two years in college (he has lost a few mph off his fastball from those days). Stauffer has made 38 starts and 64 appearances in his career going 14-19 with a 4.06 ERA and 1.36 WHIP over 250.1 innings. So why am I wasting the time to devote an entire column to him today? You all wanted me to talk about "sleepers" right? Well here is an example of a hurler who, if given a chance at significant innings, could be a strong NL-only option in 2011.
(1) Stauffer appears to have a shot at the 5th starters role with the Padres. Here's how the rotation would appear to be lined up at the moment:
Mat Latos, Aaron Harang, Wade LeBlanc, Clayton Richard
It looks like the 5th starters spot will come down to a battle between Cory Luebke, Dustin Moseley and Stauffer.
(2) Petco is still a wonderful place to pitch no matter what role a pitcher finds himself in.
(3) Stauffer finished last season with a 1.85 ERA in 82.2 innings. Amongst pitchers who threw 80-innings in 2010 that was the best mark in baseball.
(4) Stauffer posted a 1.08 WHIP in 2010. Amongst pitchers who threw 80-innings in 2010 that was the 8th best mark in baseball.
(5) Stauffer was equally effective last season no matter what role he filled. As a reliever: 1.87 ERA, 1.11 WHIP in 43.1 innings (25 games) As a stater: 1.83 ERA, 1.04 WHIP in 39.1 innings (seven games)
(6) Stauffer does a solid job of keeping the ball on the ground leading to a career GB/FB mark of 1.31. That's a solid rate, but last season he took things to a whole new level which resulted in a GB/FB mark of 1.76. Given that he induced 10 percent more ground balls last season (54.5%) than his career average (45.9%) it is fair to speculate that some regression will be forthcoming in 2011, but it's tantalizing to think how much success he could have if he can continue to get batters to beat the ball into the ground.
Will Stauffer be able to match his ERA and WHIP from '10 in the coming season? I don't think he has a chance to do that even if he ends up in the bullpen. His line drive rate was far too low last season at 14.6 percent (career 18.9), and because of all the ground balls his homer total was terrific (only three allowed in 82.2 innings). Those numbers will normalize, at least somewhat, this season, and with that both of his ratios will rise. Still, that doesn't mean that they wont end up in a zone where they would still remain strong totals in an NL-only league.
The real key to his success might be the ability to throw quality strikes while avoiding the free pass. Last season his BB/9 mark was 2.61, a massive improvement over the 4.19 mark he posted in 2009. Given that his strikeout rate has been in the mid six's the past two seasons, it's important that he limits the walks.
Will Stauffer be a mixed league option in 2011? He might be if he is given 30 starts, but that doesn't mean I would go all in on him. Conversely, I do think he is a strong option in NL-only leagues while at the same time being someone you can consider rostering in deep mixed leagues in the reserve rounds.
Anyone can tell you that James Shields is a sleeper heading into the season, but you wanted a deep sleeper. I just gave you a report on one of the guys that might fit that bill in 2011.
By Ray Flowers
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The co-host of The Drive on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (Sirius 210, XM 87: Mon-Thurs 7 PM, Fri. 9 PM EDT), Ray also hosts a show Sunday night (7-10 PM EDT). Ray has spent years squirreled away studying the inner workings of the fantasy game to the detriment of his personal life. Specializing in baseball, football and hockey, some consider him an expert in all three.
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