Third-Year Starters: MLB Fantasy Baseball Sleepers for 2011

Chris McGuirkContributor IJanuary 6, 2011

Brandon Morrow can become one of the top fantasy pitchers in 2011
Brandon Morrow can become one of the top fantasy pitchers in 2011J. Meric/Getty Images

Historically, the third year for a starting pitcher is when they finally put it all together.  It is the year where they learn how to become a pitcher not just a thrower. Check last year for example—Clayton Kershaw, Yovani Gallardo, Jonathan Sanchez and Max Scherzer all put up career years in their third season, and some of these players were considered the gems of the draft.

The following players are some third-year pitchers that could very well break into fantasy relevance next season.  If these projected mid-to-late round draft picks can somehow put it all together in their third season, they could become some of the draft gems of the 2011.

Who to Watch For

Name: Brandon Morrow

Stats: 10 W, 7 L, 4.49 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, .248 BAA, 10.97K/9, 4.07 BB/9

Analysis: After getting drafted with the fifth overall pick in the 2006 amateur draft, Morrow put up several subpar campaigns before getting traded to the Toronto Blue Jays.  Although Morrow started the season slowly, he began to show flashes of why he was drafted ahead of the likes of Tim Lincecum, Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer.

The 4.49 ERA won’t turn any heads, but the statistic that catches the eye is the 10.97 K/9 which happens to be the highest strikeout ratio in the entire MLB.  Brandon Morrow really seemed turned things around when he posted an astounding 13.08 K/9 ratio during the second half of the season before getting shut down for the year.

Like many young strikeout pitchers, Morrow needs to work on throwing strikes.  However, he was nearly unhittable at the end of the year, posting a .214 BAA after the All-Star break while also lowering his walks in the process.  Morrow has the potential to be one of the biggest draft steals in the 2011 season.

Currently projected to be drafted around the 15th round, Morrow can finish the year as a top 15 starting pitcher.

Name: J.A. Happ

Stats: 6 W, 4 L, 3.40 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, .230 BAA, 7.23 K/9, 4.86 BB/9

Analysis: Happ sure fell off of the map quickly after deemed "untouchable" by the Phillies after the 2009 season.   Injures and control problems temporarily derailed his career, but the trade to the Houston Astros gave him an opportunity to become a full time starter again.

As a member of the Astros, Happ began to show flashes of his potential, but it became apparent that walks have become his Achilles heel.  He has an impressive .230 BAA, but until he gains a better understanding of the strike zone, his WHIP will continue to be high.

Wins will be hard to come by due to the anemic offense we like to call the Houston Astros.  However, if he is able to keep his walks at a minimum, he will be an asset in rotisserie leagues due to his low BAA and ERA.  Currently drafted in the late rounds of all fantasy drafts, J.A. Happ would be a steal if he can return to his 2009 form.

Name: Ricky Romero

Stats: 14 W, 9 L, 3.73 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, .242 BAA, 7.46 K/9, 3.51 BB/9

Analysis: Romero is another one of those high draft choices that never quite lived up to their potential.  Drafted fifth overall in the 2005 draft, he bounced around in the minors and never seemed to live up to the hyped.  Romero put up subpar numbers in 2009 but made huge strides in 2010 which placed him in the long-term plans of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Romero stormed out of the gates in 2010, posting a 2.83 ERA though June.  However, the strain of a long season seemed to get to him because he posted an ERA of 6.08, 4.07 and 5.32 in the subsequent months.

With two full years under his belt, Romero should be ready to shoulder the load of a full season.  Ricky Romero could break out and become one of the more reliable fantasy pitchers in the game.

Romero is currently drafted in the 12th to 15th rounds.  Considering Romero pitches behind one of the most potent lineups in the league, he can be one of the big sleepers in 2011.

Name: Brett Anderson

Stats: 7 W, 6 L, 2.80 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, .257 BAA, 6.02 K/9, 1.77 BB/9

Analysis: Brett Anderson was one of the big sleepers for 2010 until injuries set him back for the first few months of the season.  Despite the nagging injuries, Anderson still finished the year with a very impressive 2.80 ERA and showed that he has some of the best command in the entire MLB (1.77 BB/9).  His only drawback is his lack of strikeouts, but with an extremely low WHIP and BAA, he can still be one of the elite starting pitchers next season.

The one variable for Brett Anderson is his win total for 2011.  The Athletics have upgraded their offense this past offseason with the acquisitions of David DeJesus and Hideki Matsui; this only means a higher run support for Anderson next season with a rise in his win total.

Anderson is currently drafted anywhere from the 11th to 13th rounds which would be a huge steal for a pitcher who should rank top 10 in ERA and WHIP come seasons end.

Name: Trevor Cahill

Stats: 18 W, 8 L, 2.97 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, .220 BAA, 5.41 K/9, 2.89 BB/9

Analysis: Cahill is another Athletic pitcher who improved dramatically in his second year as a starter.  He was able to lower his ERA from 4.63 to 2.97 while posting a W-L record of 18-8 which placed him top 10 in the MLB.  He showed remarkable consistency throughout the entire season posting an ERA around 3.00 both before and after the All-Star break.

Cahill’s strikeout ratio does not jump off of the page, but all signs point to Cahill increasing his strikeout total in 2011.  During his three-year stint in the minor leagues, he posted a K/9 ratio of 9.9.  Once Cahill gains a better understanding of the Majors, there is no reason why he should not be able to improve upon his current K/9 ratio of 5.41.

Trevor Cahill’s draft status ranges from the 11th round to the 15th round.  Don’t stay away from him just because he plays for the Oakland Athletics, Cahill along with his fellow young pitchers in the rotation can make a splash in 2011.

Name: Gio Gonzalez

Stats: 15 W, 9 L, 3.23 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, .229 BAA, 7.69 K/9, 4.14 BB/9

Analysis: Gio Gonzalez is another young promising pitcher that is now a part of the Oakland Athletics.  Entering his second year as a full time starter, Gonzalez was able to log 15 wins while maintaining an ERA of 3.23.

Gonzalez has the highest strikeout potential of the rotation, as demonstrated by his high strikeout total in 2011 but also has the highest walk total of the group.  If Gonzalez is able to learn how to throw strikes at a more consistent rate, he could quite possibly become one of the top fantasy pitchers in the major leagues.

Gonzalez seemed to really turn it around after the All-Star break.  In the second half of the season, he posted a 2.59 ERA while limiting opposing batters to a microscopic .218 AVG.  If Gonzalez is able to continue right where he left off, he has the potential to put up numbers similar to that few are able to replicate.

Currently drafted in the mid-to-late rounds, Gonzalez can be another one of those late round steals that provide you with a high strikeout total along with a low WHIP and ERA.


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