This is the second of a series of articles I will be publishing about starting pitching options that will not force you to abandon your search for offense early on in your upcoming fantasy drafts. Do not take this as an admonition to avoid drafting pitching in the early rounds. Quite the contrary, I suggest that you grab an ace early on, and if you feel comfortable taking a closer, get one of those guys, too. In my early draft experience this season, however, I see pitching as being plentiful later on, and offense to be much more scarce, especially power. Therefore, it behooves us to study the early returns and identify those starting pitchers that are available well down on the ADP lists that still provide solid value.
To spell out some guidelines, this series of articles is going to profile starting pitchers that have an ADP of 200 or better (meaning taken later than pick 200). In a 10 team league, those pitchers would be going in round 21 or later (it would be mid-way through round 16 in a 12 team league). By that point in your draft, you have more than likely filled out your starting offense and picked up an ace and closer, perhaps a couple more pitchers. Your mileage may vary depending on your actual league settings, but you get the general idea.
Please note that the projections for each of the pitchers below are my own, that I create after comparing various sources and adjusting for expected playing time, specifically, innings pitched for starting pitchers. As for the ADP numbers, I am looking at the ADP results our very own Howard Bender is compiling with his Mock Draft Army mocks.
Shelby Miller ATL ADP: 211.4
Miller had a great second half to 2014, but my concern is the decline in his strikeout rate. Looking at his pitch selection, he seemed to rely more on his fastball in the second half last season. It is a well-understood principle that starters with success at the major league level need to have secondary pitches that they can control and rely on to keep hitters off balance. Keep an eye on how he approaches hitters this spring, looking carefully to determine if he has been able to develop a reliable off-speed offering to keep the hitters honest. Personally, I would prefer any of the other three pitchers profiled here given my druthers.
2015 Projections: 11 Wins/ 140 K/3.75 ERA/1.26 WHIP over 185 innings
Mike Fiers MIL ADP: 215.1
Fiers only saw action with the Brewers late in 2014, appearing in 14 games and starting 10 of those contests. He did not allow more than three earned runs in any of his starts. His fastball clocks in just under 90 MPH, but with his control, he generated superb 9.54 K/9 and 4.47 K/BB ratios over his 71.1 innings pitched with the big league club in August and September. Beware of some regression, as he is unlike to repeat either the .236 BABIP or 82% strand rate over a full season. His control will keep him a valuable pitching asset for fantasy purposes, as his ratio stats should stabilize any fantasy pitching rotation.
2015 Projections: 12 Wins/162 K/ 3.55 ERA/ 1.19 WHIP over 180 innings
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Francisco Liriano PIT ADP: 221.4
If you pick up Liriano, you have to worry about his durability. Yes, he had an excellent second half in 2014 (2.40 ERA/1.18 WHIP over his last 15 starts), but then again, last season he pitched the most innings he has since 2010. Looking at my projections, you will see I am a believer in Liriano. He will give you an excellent boost in strikeouts, again assuming he can take the mound every fifth day. Pittsburgh has a strong offense, and the win total may be a tad underrating Liriano’s skill set and his team. Realize that if he looks as dominant this spring as he did at the back half of 2014, his ADP is going to rise significantly.
2015 Projections: 13 Wins/ 205 K/ 3.60 ERA/ 1.25 WHIP over 195 innings
Jake Odorizzi TB ADP: 226.0
The 24-year-old Tampa Bay right-hander (he will be 25 when the season starts) is another starter that gets by with a less than dominating fastball (90.3.MPH in 2014), yet manages to generate a ton of strikeouts per appearance. Odorizzi does possess a successful off-speed pitch, having learned how to toss a split-changeup from fellow starter Alex Cobb last season. Issues to worry about are his extreme fly ball tendencies (0.65 GB/FB ratio in 2014) and an inability to pitch deeper into games, as he only lasted past the sixth inning in six of his 31 starts last season. If he can increase his stamina and keep up the K rate, he is a fine breakout possibility in 2015.
2015 Projections: 12 Wins/ 168 K/ 3.80 ERA/ 1.27 WHIP over 175 innings
Continue to peruse these articles as we try to uncover some late round gems for you to target in your drafts, and allow you to build a formidable starting rotation without sacrificing offense to do so. Also, if there is interest in later round middle relievers, I would be glad to include those pitchers in future articles as well. If you have any questions about starting pitching or fantasy baseball, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.