In what many baseball experts regarded as the "Year of the Pitcher", 2011 featured a deep pool of fantasy baseball options, particularly among starters. ERA was down league-wide, with pitchers giving up just 3.94 runs per game.
Improved pitching gives fantasy owners some flexibility with pitching options, with many top-tier aces available outside of the first five rounds. As drafts quickly approach, here are 10 fantasy aces who should be available later in later rounds.
Brandon Morrow will get strikeouts, but can he imrove his dismal 4.72 ERA?
Strikeouts galore, Brandon Morrow fanned 203 batsmen in 2011. However, he's coming off a season in which he racked up an abysmal 4.72 ERA and 1.29 WHIP.
With a changeup, cutter, slider, nasty breaking ball and a fastball that clocks anywhere from 93-98 mph, in his repertoire, Morrow has the ability to be one of the most prolific K-artists in the sport.
However, he’ll need to work on pitching out of the stretch and holding runners in scoring position to become an elite fantasy pitcher.
At 27, this might be the year Morrow breaks out. Fantasy owners should consider him as a strikeout wizard with solid upside going into the season.
Tommy Hanson could have a bounce back year in Atlanta
Few question Tommy Hanson’s fantasy potential, but many will question his ability to stay healthy after his bit with shoulder tendinitis forced him to miss eight starts last season.
Hanson’s health was a huge letdown in 2011, but his career 3.28 ERA and 1.18 WHIP demonstrates his huge upside going into 2012.
The 25-year-old Hanson is one of a handful starting pitchers fantasy owners can snag outside of the first round with the potential to be a No. 1 option. If he’s in the latter stages of your draft and you are in need of pitching, Hanson is an excellent pick.
Santana's win totals should increase as the Angels return to contention in 2012.
Ervin Santana was brilliant for the Angels last season, recording career bests in ERA (3.38) and innings pitched (228.2). Though his numbers were on par, Santana was often a hard-luck loser for the Angels, concluding 2011 with an 11-12 record.
However with the bold moves Los Angeles made this offseason, Santana’s woes might just turn around quickly this season.
Santana is rather notorious for his inconsistency and tendency to lose control on the mound from time to time—he walked 72 batters last season and has a career WHIP of 1.30—but if he can come close to his 2011 totals, he could be a 17-plus game winner in 2012.
Aroldis Chapman might be getting the headlines, but Cueto is still the staff ace.
A bicep injury forced Johnny Cueto to miss a chunk of the beginning of 2011, but was notably productive in his 24 starts last season after making a full recovery.
His 9-5 record wasn’t that impressive, but his career marks in ERA (2.31) and WHIP (1.09) helped carry an otherwise mediocre Cincinnati pitching staff. Cueto worked deeper into games in 2011 than he had any other season, lasting 6.5 innings per start to his 5.99 in 2010.
If Cueto can consistently perform and best his 2011 totals, look for him to completely overshadow the hype surrounding Aroldis Chapman and newly acquired Mat Latos.
Cueto should look reassert his staff ace role with the Reds, and could prove to be one of the biggest steals of fantasy baseball drafts.
Doug Fister was a pleasant second half surprise last season for fantasy owners.
Doug Fister had one of the best second halves in the majors last season, posting a 7-1 record and a 1.79 ERA with the Tigers in 10 starts after coming over from the Mariners.
Fister won’t post big strikeout numbers, but will eat innings and keep his ERA in the sub-3.50 range. He commandeers his pitches with precision and gave up just 37 total walks last season.
Fister is a lock for consistent fantasy production and should be considered by owners in need of a third or fourth arm in their lineup.
Can Kuroda survive the AL East?
Hiroki Kuroda found himself in Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw’s shadow all season, regardless of putting up outstanding numbers as the Dodgers second fiddle last year. A 3.07 ERA was the best of his career and earned him a one-year, $10 million contract with the Yankees.
His ERA should fluctuate a bit moving into a tough AL East. At age 37, there’s little upside to be found, but Kuroda should net more wins than he did a year ago from playing in New York and his strikeout numbers should remain on par.
He’s sent 320 hitters to the pine in the last two seasons, and will likely finish 2012 with around 150 strikeouts. Kuroda is a solid addition to any fantasy owner’s rotation and could serve as a viable mid-round option for those in need of pitching help.
Garza quietly had a career year in his first season with the Cubs.
The subject of trade rumors all winter with Theo Epstein taking the reins in Chicago, Matt Garza quietly had a career year his first season in the Windy City. Garza finished 2011 at 10-10 with a career high in strikeouts (197) and a career low 3.32 ERA.
While Garza might struggle to earn wins with the Cubs, he should be reliable for strikeouts and not giving up runs. He’s a solid mid-to-late round addition to any fantasy team.
Josh Johnson is a bona fide ace when healthy.
An injury nightmare for fantasy owners in 2011, Johnson is one of the most prolific mound generals in the league when healthy. A troublesome shoulder kept Johnson shelved for most of 2011, limiting the Marlin’s ace to just nine starts.
He has a career 2.98 ERA and should be playing on a competitive Miami Marlins club, but with his injury history Johnson presents a bit of a risk with fantasy owners.
Johnson has thrown for over 200 innings just once in his career and for a pitcher who relies on a hard fastball and slider, health is a huge concern for any fantasy owner looking to draft him.
Still, the reward is well worth the risk, so if he’s available in later rounds, fantasy owners should definitely consider gambling on Johnson.
Ubaldo Jimenez might not return to his 2010 dominance, but he still can be a phenominal fantasy pitcher
Ubaldo Jimenez was quite a disappointment for fantasy owners last season after a breakout 2010 campaign with Colorado. His ERA ballooned to 4.88 in 2011 after making headlines in the year prior, in which he set the record for lowest ERA through 11 starts at 0.78, en route to finishing the season at just 2.88.
Last year was an entirely different story for Jimenez. He was he subject of trade rumors all season, and things seemingly got worse for Jimenez when he was finally shipped to Cleveland just before the deadline. He struggled to adjust to American League hitters and posted a 5.10 ERA in 11 starts with the Indians.
Despite his struggles, Jimenez was still able to record 180 strikeouts on the year. He’s struck out at least 170 in each of his past four seasons and should be a lock to repeat or improve his strikeout total should he stay healthy.
Jimenez has a solidified role as the ace with Cleveland. He won’t have to deal with daily uncertainty of being shopped to other clubs and should be more comfortable with a full spring training with the team.
While it’s unlikely to think that Jimenez will return to his 2010 totals, he should be a much more productive fantasy player in 2012.
He's been shelved for a year, but Wainwright is one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball when healthy.
Adam Wainwright hasn’t thrown in 17 months since undergoing Tommy John surgery, but hurlers are known to bounce back strong from the elbow procedure. Just two years ago, Wainwright was a Cy Young candidate for the Cardinals with 21 wins, 213 strikeouts, a 1.05 WHIP and a 2.42 ERA in 230.1 innings pitched.
When healthy, he’s one of the most dominant pitchers in the league and a fantasy owner’s dream. While Wainwright might seem like a risk because of his layoff, Tommy John has a set-in-stone recovery timetable and it’s unlikely the injury will agitate the 30-year-old right-hander through the course the season.
Wainwright won’t be on the tail end of fantasy drafts for very long, so buy him low while you still can.