Quality starting pitching is important in Major League Baseball's biggest games, and it's important to figure out how to get good value outside of the aces on your fantasy squad.
This trio of right-handed starters will command the hill in 2013 as some of the premier sleepers that are worth a shot in the latter stages of fantasy drafts.
Whether it was an encouraging end to last year, the presence of other stars around them or lack of other hurlers on their respective teams staffs to win games, these 20-somethings are ready to get their primes kick-started.
Here is a breakdown of each pitcher and why each is a good candidate to be very productive from a fantasy standpoint.
Jeff Samardzija, Chicago Cubs
Samardzija has all the tools to succeed in the MLB, with the versatile pitching arsenal and imposing physical attributes to be the Cubs' ace. Now that he has a full year of starts under his belt, this is the perfect time for Samardzija to key a Chicago turnaround.
The numbers last year were uneven, as Samardzija notched a 9-13 record with a decent 3.81 earned run average. After the All-Star break, though, that last figure dropped nearly a full run from 4.71.
After turning down the option to play in the NFL coming out of Notre Dame, Samardzija struggled to crack the Cubs' rotation until last year. As Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune reports, the pitcher eliminated distractions in his life—and it clearly paid dividends.
...Last year we met and I told (GM Theo Epstein)...That in previous years, I didn’t feel like I had done everything I can. I thought I worked hard in the offseason and did a lot of things, but I didn’t think, especially in midseason (of 2011) I was putting myself where I needed to be to be the best I can be.
A newly committed Samardzija is a great sign for Cubs fans and for those who would like to add him onto their fantasy staff.
As ESPN points out, the 9.27 strikeouts Samrdzija racked up per nine innings came in fourth in all of baseball. If he can keep fanning at that rate, there is no reason that he shouldn't continue to improve as he becomes more acclimated to playing in the big leagues.
Brandon Morrow, Toronto Blue Jays
Morrow was the only Blue Jays starter to win 10 games last season—even though he spent time on the disabled list in the middle of the season. 2012 saw him post a 10-7 record and a 2.96 ERA, as he displayed consistency throughout.
Sometimes, it's a bit risky to take a player like Morrow, who is coming off of one good campaign following two relatively poor ones. That should contribute to a dip in his stock, but the other big factor that will have him in the later rounds actually works to his advantage.
Now that Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey, and Josh Johnson have been added to the fold, along with a revamped batting order, there won't be pressure on Morrow to be the proverbial man.
The 28-year-old right-hander couldn't quite establish himself as a surefire ace, but he is definitely worth a selection in the later stages of fantasy drafts.
His new, higher-profile teammates will get far more press, yet Morrow should go about his business effectively again. What makes him such an asset is how infrequently he walks hitters, and his cut fastball and extremely fast slider will continue to baffle the opposition in two-strike situations.
Matt Harvey, New York Mets
Don't let his 3-5 record in 2012 be deceptive, because Harvey still posted a 2.74 ERA, a 1.15 WHIP and struck out 70 batters in just 59 innings. It's a relatively short track record, but the Mets don't really have many other options to turn to.
As a result, the imposing 6'4", 225-pound hurler will to take the bump as the favorite to be New York's best pitcher this season without Dickey around.
In his major league debut, the flame-throwing Harvey overpowered the Arizona Diamondbacks, striking out 11 batters in just 5.1 innings pitched to key a 3-1 Mets victory.
The only concern is Harvey's control, which was a little erratic at times last year. In 10 starts, he walked multiple batters nine times, including six with three free passes or more. That may stretch his pitch count, but Harvey should be prepared for it.
What's nice about Harvey is that his four-seam fastball is unquestionably his strength. That was the pitch he threw 68 percent of the time in his first start and 61 percent overall for the season (h/t BrooksBaseball.net).
More heat puts less strain on Harvey's arm, and if he can continue to get away with that many heaters while maintaining a low earned run average, he will be an asset for your fantasy squad.