Last season I made a point of never drafting a starting pitcher in at least the first ten rounds of any draft. I was in seven Fantasy Baseball Leagues. I won two of those leagues and took second in three others. So, you would think that this strategy paid off pretty well and that I would stick to it in 2014. But I am not. Don’t get me wrong, I am still very against selecting a starter in the first or second rounds. I also do not advocate going pitching heavy in the earlier rounds either. But I’ve determined after years of waiting literally forever on pitchers that having at least one power arm and preferably two locked in is the best way to go. After you have locked in your guy(s) with a high K/9, low BB/9, high GB rate & HR/FB rate (all of which are a necessity to select a starter in the early rounds) then you can safely wait to form the rest of your staff. That is why I started profiling these “Late Round Starters” that you can target late and still round out a high end staff when all is said and done. Over the coming days and weeks I will profile starters who are not in high demand despite being very Fantasy worthy.
Jon Lester – LHP – Boston Red Sox
2013 Stats: 15-8, 213.1 IP, 3.75 ERA, 177 K’s, 1.29 WHIP
National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC): 172.64
Mock Draft Central: 167
FSTA Draft on January 15th, 2014: Drafted 14th round (172nd overall)
Lester was one of the most consistent starting pitchers in baseball until a disastrous 2012 campaign that saw his ERA jump a point in a half and strikeout rate drop from 8.5 to 7.3 per nine innings. He bounced back last year to win 15 games despite many indicators remaining pedestrian. Fantasy owners however remain cautious about Lester this year by not selecting him until well into the round of teens.
Over the past six seasons which includes one stinker in 2012, Lester has averaged over 16 wins per season. Obviously being the ace off of the defending World Series Champions also is very alluring to Fantasy owners. Wins are not an easy category to find especially later on in drafts. So when you get an opportunity to add a guy who will contribute in this category you take it.
Lester doesn’t throw especially hard but varies his fastball quite a bit. His cutter is specifically useful against right handed hitters. He generates quite a bit of pop-outs and weak groundballs with the cutter.
Most of the key metrics paint a positive picture for Lester. He has a career 8.0 K/9 rate, a 47.5 percent groundball rate, 0.84 HR/9 rate and 3.75 xFIP are all very positive indicators on Lester’s performance. These metrics are also very key in predicting future outcomes.
The fact is that Lester doesn’t have dominant stuff. His fastball is major league average and he doesn’t have a true swing and miss pitch in his repertoire. His contact rates are increasing each year as well which is normal but trending closer to the danger zones than we would like.
A result of more contact obviously is that he isn’t striking out as many hitters. His K/9 in 2013 was a very healthy 7.5 but down from his career average of 8.0. Furthermore, Lester’s K/9 has decreased in all but one of the past four seasons.
While he continues to get better and issuing free passes, Lester’s BB/9 rate over his career is still 3.25. This combined with the increasing amounts of contact propel his WHIP in the wrong direction. In Fantasy Baseball we look for a WHIP of around 1.20 whereas Lester is always in the 1.30 area. While this is livable, it’s a major factor in him not being an earlier round selection in most formats.
Jon Lester is a very strong #3 starter for your Fantasy Baseball team. The strikeouts are solid and he will ring up plenty of wins to justify giving up a little in WHIP & ERA. Lester is a guy who you can mix with a couple good pitchers on bad teams such as Tyson Ross & Jose Quintana. He is what you would call a “professional” pitcher and taking him in the later rounds on draft day would be classified as a very “professional” move as well.
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