Fantasy Baseball: Tim Lincecum, Jon Lester and 10 Pitching Studs Available Late
The 2012 baseball season saw many big names underperform, leaving owners disappointed and cautious coming into 2013. That also means there are bargains to be had on draft day.
While some of these players are injury concerns, others simply struggled to get hitters out last season, while still others performed admirably but did so under the radar. To qualify for this list, the pitcher had to be ranked outside the top 30 starting pitchers right now and must have some realistic chance of finishing inside the top 15.
Beware, while all these pitchers present legitimate upside, owners have already seen their dangerous downside, so measure the risk and reach accordingly.
Josh Beckett, Los Angeles Dodgers
Josh Beckett's earned run averages over the last four seasons have been 3.86, 5.78, 2.89 and 4.65. Buried in the ugly 2012 number, though, is his 2.93 ERA over seven starts after the move to Los Angeles.
The Dodgers are capable of providing massive run support, and Beckett will get to pitch in a series of pitcher-friendly parks, including his own home. But his strikeout rate has been trending downward since 2008, and the 7.0 K/9 posted in 2012 was the second lowest of his career.
Fantasy owners should balance the upside with Beckett's declining skill set. He is likely to be available late enough to be effective as a matchup start, used only in favorable circumstances.
He could also win 18 games on the back of Matt Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez and return to striking out eight batters per nine innings, as he did for those seven starts at the end of last season.
Jeff Samardzija, Chicago Cubs
Yes, the title of the article says "pitching studs," and yes, Jeff Samardzija was 9-13 with a 3.81 ERA last season. He was also fourth among all starting pitchers in K/9 at 9.27, and it was his first season as a starter.
Samardzija might be available after the first 50 pitchers are gone, depending on the league, and he is capable of 200 strikeouts and an ERA under 3.50. If he got some help from a deceptively dangerous lineup, he could win 13 to 15 games, putting together a very nice season.
But does that get him into the top 15? Probably not quite. However, the NL Central is not a powerhouse, even with the loss of lowly Houston. There are wins to be had throughout. If Kyuji Fujikawa and Carlos Marmol can provide a sturdy back end to provide Samardzija a few close wins, he could certainly sneak into unexpected and impressive company.
C.J. Wilson, Los Angeles Angels
In 2011, C.J. Wilson won 16 games, with 206 strikeouts and a 2.94 ERA. He was among the best southpaws in baseball and in fantasy. His first season in Los Angeles was less than owners expected as he won 13 games with an ERA close to four and a WHIP that jumped to 1.344.
If run support gets mentioned with regard to Beckett, it would be inexcusable to omit the fact Wilson will be buoyed by a lineup featuring Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. It would seem even a league-average starter could fall into 15 wins with that backing cast.
But Wilson has a career 8.0 K/9 and enjoys trips to Seattle and Oakland regularly, as well as a friendly home stadium.
One does not have to squint too much to see a scenario in which Wilson is among the top 15 starters at season's end.
Johan Santana, New York Mets
Is it so hard to remember Johan Santana being great? He missed all of 2011 and was predictably shaky in his return from injury in 2012, but that was to be expected.
Between 2002 and 2010, in 1,779 innings, Santana was 130-66 with a 2.90 ERA and 9.0 K/9. He finished in the top five in Cy Young voting five times in that span, at least once in each league. He also posted three years with a WHIP under 1.0.
While the odds are stacked against Santana returning to fantasy prominence, he does not need to do that to be worth a draft pick considering his current value. There is still enough talent to far surpass expectations.
Ryan Vogelsong, San Francisco Giants
It is easy to say the San Francisco Giants can pitch. But the point truly sinks in when you realize their No. 4 starter has a 3.05 ERA and 7.2 K/9 over the last two seasons (369.1 combined innings).
Ryan Vogelsong exploded onto the fantasy scene in 2011. Pitching for the Pirates between 2003 and 2006, he posted an obscene 5.87 ERA and 1.589 WHIP. He did not appear in a major league game from 2007 to 2010, but in 2011, he pitched 179.2 innings and finished with an ERA of 2.71 and career-best 1.252 WHIP for the Giants.
The ERA predictably rose in 2012, but the WHIP dropped again, to 1.228, and he added another half strikeout per nine, rising to 7.5.
The Giants still have questions in the lineup, but Vogelsong could easily win 14 or 15 games and post an ERA around three. Some lucky bounces, close wins and another bump in strikeouts and top 15 is not unrealistic.
Jake Peavy, Chicago White sox
Nudged out of the spotlight with the emergence of Chris Sale in 2012, Jake Peavy quietly went about his business, posting 194 strikeouts and a 3.34 ERA over 219 innings.
While Peavy is on the wrong side of 30, he has a career 8.7 K/9. Though he has battled injuries since 2008, another full campaign could see more of the same from the former Cy Young.
In fact, 2012 was the first 30-start season Peavy has made since that award-winning year, leaving many owners to pass on him for safer alternatives.
Therein lies the value.
The AL Central, outside of Detroit, is filled with vulnerable offenses. Despite the recent addition of Michael Bourn to Cleveland, it is difficult to see any real worrisome matchups for Peavy. His owners could stumble onto a gem worth 200-plus strikeouts and an ERA at, or below, three by the time it's all over.
Michael Pineda, New York Yankees
Michael Pineda's inclusion on this list is bending the rules a bit, as he is not expected until June, at the earliest, and therefore is not going to be among the top 15 starters in fantasy, but from the day he returns until the season ends, he certainly could be.
At 22 years old in 2011, Pineda struck out over one batter per inning and finished his 171 innings with a 1.099 WHIP, good for No. 14 among qualified starters.
Pineda missed all of 2012 with a shoulder injury after the Yankees traded Jesus Montero for him during the offseason, and he is likely to miss two to three months of 2013.
While Pineda can go undrafted due to his delayed start, he should be an immediate pickup when the time comes to return to game action as the talent, helped along by a strong Yankees lineup, presents underrated second-half upside.
Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay Rays
It is entirely unfair to call Jeremy Hellickson a disappointment. The most hyped pitching prospect in baseball before 2011, through 402.1 innings, Hellickson has a 3.06 ERA and 1.193 WHIP but still draws shrugs and indifference from fantasy owners.
The problem is the 6.1 K/9 on his back.
The odd thing is, in 580.1 minor league innings, over six seasons, Hellickson posted a 9.8 K/9 and 4.63 K/BB, exhibiting excellent control along with notable swing-and-miss ability.
At 26 years old, Hellickson is by no means set in his place as a low-ERA, low-strikeout middling fantasy starter.
If Hellickson were to translate his minor league strikeouts to the majors, it would be the last piece in the puzzle, and he would immediately be a threat to finish among the top starters in fantasy.
Jon Lester, Boston Red sox
What happened? At 25 years old, Jon Lester struck out 225 batters and posted a 3.41 ERA with 15 wins. His K/9 jumped form 6.5 in 2008 to 10.0 in 2009 (more hope for Hellickson owners). In 2010, things got even better as he won 19, with a 3.25 ERA and matched the 225 Ks.
While 2011 did not quite meet Beantown's expectations, the wheels came off in 2012 when Lester went 9-14 with a 4.82 ERA and 1.383 WHIP. Then again, there is some inclination to give all Red Sox players a mulligan after 2012.
I will draft Lester in 2013 for the same reason I intend to draft Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and the aforementioned Beckett if they slip. All have shown they can be elite, all endured one of the worst clubhouse environments in recent history in 2012 and all could be significant bargains on draft day.
Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants
In the last four seasons, Tim Lincecum has four with 220-plus strikeouts. He has four years with a WHIP under 1.30 and 13 or more wins. He has one season that does not fit any of those descriptions. Which seems more indicative of his ability?
If there are still questions about his "stuff," Lincecum's 9.2 K/9 in 2012 was actually slightly higher than 2011, when his ERA was 2.74 and he finished sixth in Cy Young voting.
While he does have more wear on his arm than most 28-year-olds, he also enjoys a pitcher-friendly division, with regular starts in Chavez Ravine and Petco, not to mention calling AT&T Park home.
While the Giants offense may limit his wins potential, pencil Lincecum in for 200-plus strikeouts, an ERA back around three and a massive return on investment relative to current draft value.
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