Fantasy Baseball 2012: 10 Lower-Tier Starters Worth the Risk

Jonathan IrwinContributor IIDecember 26, 2011

Fantasy Baseball 2012: 10 Lower-Tier Starters Worth the Risk

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    In life, there's the Thanksgiving rule. You can't take out your Christmas decorations until after Thanksgiving, or else you look a little crazy.

    In fantasy baseball there's the January rule. You can't get too excited or start mock drafting until January. Well, I'm getting a bit of a head start, or I just have a little crazy in me.

    Either way, let's talk fantasy baseball folks!

    Just like in baseball itself, often times a great rotation can make or break your fantasy team. This can be especially prevalent in head-to-head leagues where starts are everything.

    Every year I pride myself on piecing together a stellar rotation. Often times I'll take two starters in the early rounds, one in the middle, and then two high-upside guys in the later rounds. But, late round value is the most elusive, and hardest to evaluate.

    So, sit back and relax as we take a tour through the great world of fantasy baseball. Today we'll be examining late round starters who have enough upside that they're worth the risk.

Jonathon Niese

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    2011 Stats: 11-11, 4.40 ERA, 157.1 IP (27 games, 26 starts), 7.9 K/9, 2.5 BB/9
    Age (on 2012 Opening Day): 25

    Jonathon Niese has stirred up a lot of interest this offseason. It's hard to figure out why, just by looking at the numbers. But, Niese still has potential, and at just 25 years old it could be right around the corner.

    Niese is not a power pitcher, and he'll do more to limit his walks and hits than rack up strikeouts. That doesn't limit his fantasy value, as demonstrated by pitchers like Mark Buehrle and Tim Hudson.

    The Mets are struggling, but Niese could still reward owners with a nice pile of wins while limiting loses. When healthy he can be really good, and that can help in ERA. Above all he knows how to control his pitches, which means smaller counts and more innings.

    Niese will be looked over on draft day, but he can really help in roto-leagues if drafted late.

Brad Peacock

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    2011 Stats: 2-0, 0.75 ERA, 12.0 IP (3 games, 2 starts), 3.0 K/9, 4.5 BB/9
    Age (on 2012 Opening Day): 24

    Brad Peacock was the centerpiece of the Gio Gonzalez trade, and it's not hard to see why. Even though he only made two starts in 2011, you can't ignore how good those numbers look.

    Peacock is well developed, and with holes to fill there's a great chance he is in the Oakland Athletics' rotation on Opening Day. The young pitcher has gotten better at each level, and he began to show strikeout potential upon touching the upper levels (10.4 K/9 at Double-A, 9.0 at Triple-A). He's also shown really good control, posting a 0.861 WHIP at Double-A in 2011.

    One common theme you'll see with all the rookie pitchers on this list is innings limitation; Peacock is no exception to that. Because he is a rookie and had limited starts in 2011, there's a great chance the Athletics hold him under 180 innings in 2012. His value is still there, but he can't be relied on to anchor your fantasy rotation.

    Peacock has a high ceiling. His peripherals, and move to a pitchers park, will definitely create fantasy value in 2012.

Drew Pomeranz

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    2011 Stats: 2-1, 5.40 ERA, 18.1 IP (4 starts), 6.4 K/9, 2.5 BB/9
    Age (on 2012 Opening Day): 23

    Though the numbers don't exactly show it, the Colorado Rockies made out like bandits when they acquired Drew Pomeranz for Ubaldo Jimenez last season. Pomeranz is a durable lefty who features three above average pitches. He's incredibly well polished, since 2011 was his first year as a professional and he made four major league starts by season's end.

    The Rockies think highly of their new rookie pitcher, and I have no doubt he'll be in their rotation come Opening Day. Coors Field isn't a fantastic pitchers park, but even the best pitchers can dominate there (having that Rockies defense doesn't hurt either).

    Pomeranz can rack up strikeouts (10.6 K/9 in the minors), and he knows how to control his stuff. His innings could be limited, but his size and maturity might convince the Rockies to stretch him out further than they would most young pitchers.

    Either way Pomeranz should be a prize in any league on draft day, and I'd expect big things from him in 2012.

Bud Norris

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    2011 Stats: 6-11, 3.77 ERA, 186 IP (31 starts), 8.5 K/9, 3.4 BB/9
    Age (on 2012 Opening Day): 27

    A lot of people didn't know who Bud Norris was before 2011, and a lot of people probably still don't.

    Norris showed great promise in 2011, and was one of the few bright spots for the Houston Astros. Despite the hideous record, Norris had a solid ERA, a lot of innings, and a big pile of strikeouts.

    However, you can see that really ugly BB/9. Also, you can do the math and calculate that Norris only averaged 6.0 innings per start in 2011. He is one of those guys that loves his strikeouts but tends to rack up the pitch count at times. That equates to too many free passes and too few innings.

    Norris still has upside, and at 27 years old he can only get better. I think 2011 was just the start, and his value can only continue to grow in 2012. Don't expect a lot of wins, but he can help with ERA, innings and strikeouts (3/5 ain't bad).

    Because of his strong peripherals, Norris can help in both roto-leagues and head-to-head leagues in 2012.

Ricky Nolasco

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    2011 Stats: 10-12, 4.67 ERA, 206 IP (33 starts), 6.5 K/9, 1.9 BB/9
    Age (on 2012 Opening Day): 29

    Every year Ricky Nolasco finds a way to get on to my fantasy team, and each year I find myself disappointed. The young Marlins pitcher was fantastic in 2008 (15-8, 3.52 ERA, 212.1 IP, 4.43 K/BB), but he's had trouble reaching that potential ever since.

    The worst thing is Nolasco loves to tease fantasy owners. He had great stretches in April and July. In 2011, he had five games with seven or more strikeouts, including an 11 K contest against the Washington Nationals on May 6th. But, his numbers still ended as they did.

    His inconsistency makes him a pariah in head-to-head leagues, but you can still ride the highs and bench him for the lows. In roto-leagues, he brings a lot of value in the form of innings and wins (2011 was his first year under .500 since 2007). He also has impeccable control, evidenced by a 2.1 career BB/9.

    No matter what the final stat line says, Nolasco is always worth a late-round pick.

Jarrod Parker

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    2011 Stats: 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 5.2 IP (1 start), 1.6 K/9, 1.6 BB/9
    Age (on 2012 Opening Day): 23

    Jarrod Parker only made one start in 2011, so the numbers don't tell us as much as we need to know. One thing that can be said is that the Arizona Diamondbacks liked him enough that they let him make a major league start without every setting foot in Triple-A. But, now that he's been traded will the Oakland Athletics be as generous?

    When one looks at his minor league numbers they're not blown away. A minor league 3.49 ERA isn't exactly dominating, but Parker has looked well polished every step of the way. He hasn't been dominate, but he's shown consistency at every level he's touched.

    Too be honest, I wouldn't be surprised if he broke spring training with a big league roster spot in 2012. Oakland has shipped off Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill and need to fill those holes in the rotation.

    Parker will have his innings limited, but that doesn't limit his roto-league value. There's definite strikeout potential, and his ERA and WHIP will benefit from Oakland's defense and pitcher's park.

    Monitor Parker's status through spring training. If he does start the season at Triple-A, continue to keep an eye on him. This guy was the main piece in the Cahill trade, that has to say something about his value.

Julio Teheran

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    2011 Stats: 1-1, 5.03 ERA, 19.2 IP (5 games, 3 starts), 4.6 K/9, 3.7 BB/9
    Age (on 2012 Opening Day): 21

    Don't let those 2011 numbers scare you. Out of all of the Atlanta Braves young pitchers, Julio Teheran has the highest ceiling of any of them. His minor league numbers are ridiculous, and he's only going to be 21 years old on opening day.

    Teheran began his minor league career as a 17-year-old, and it took him only three years to cascade to the major league level.

    Atlanta has been adamant about moving starters this season, evidenced by the trading of Derek Lowe and continued shopping of Jair Jurrjens. They know they have an abundance of top pitching talent, and they're trying to make room for their best starters. No doubt Julio Teheran tops that list.

    The 2011 numbers are daunting, but that's expected of an inexperienced 20-year-old. He showed a little wildness, and that might never go away. But, some of the greatest pitchers of all time had some wildness (a la Pedro Martinez). Teheran has great strikeout potential and is capable of posting a mid-3.00 ERA in 2012.

    The only thing restricting his value is innings limitation. Atlanta has a lot of pitching, and that means they don't need to be in any rush with getting it all major league ready. They'll likely take their time with Teheran in 2012 and limit him to 180 innings (if not less).

    He has a lot of first half potential and promise, but don't expect him to make a lot of starts for you down the stretch. In roto-leagues there's a lot of value, but he'll need to be monitored in head-to-head leagues.

Zach Britton

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    2011 Stats: 11-11, 4.61 ERA, 154.1 IP (28 starts), 5.7 K/9, 3.6 BB/9
    Age (on 2012 Opening Day): 24

    A lot of people were talking about Zach Britton before the 2011 season, but he still seemed a pleasant surprise for fantasy owners. His first half numbers were a lot better than the second half (3.09 ERA vs. 6.58 ERA), but that's expected of any rookie pitcher. The first half at least showed promise, and that bodes well for fantasy owners in 2012.

    However, let's not throw caution to the wind. If this was 2010, this slide would've been about another Baltimore Orioles pitcher, Brian Matusz. Matusz was fantastic as a rookie in 2010, but blew up for a 10.69 ERA in 2011.

    But, I still think Britton is worth a look. He can take up innings and had a good .500 record for an Orioles pitcher. The peripheral numbers aren't amazing, but he showed penchant for the strikeout in the minors. As his control develops and he matures, those numbers will get better.

    Zach Britton was one of the top rookie pitchers in 2011, and he did not disappoint. Don't let him off your radar on draft day.

Jeff Niemann

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    2011 Stats: 11-7, 4.06 ERA, 135.1 IP (23 starts), 7.0 K/9, 2.5 BB/9
    Age (on 2012 Opening Day): 29

    At first glance the numbers look pedestrian, but there is still some upside left in Jeff Niemann. All one has to do is look at his 2011 splits.

    First half: 10 starts, 4.53 ERA, 2.36 K/BB
    Second half: 13 starts, 3.75 ERA, 3.13 K/BB

    Niemann wasn't healthy in the first half, and once well rested he looked good down the stretch. At times he was absolutely dominate. In July, he was 3-0 with a 1.06 ERA, and in August he went 4-1 with a 3.35 ERA.

    Niemann isn't a must have on any fantasy team, but he is still well worth a late-round pick. He can compile innings, and he's never posted a winning percentage lower than .500 (38-23 lifetime). And, as evidenced by his July/August run he can be very dominate at times.

    For head-to-head leagues one might want to take some caution with Niemann. He can be very good, or very bad; but, if you play his matchups right he can be an amazing asset. He has more well-rounded value in roto-leagues, where his wins and innings can give a boost to any rotation.

Matt Moore

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    2011 Stats: 1-0, 2.89 ERA, 9.1 IP (3 games, 1 start), 14.5 K/9, 2.9 BB/9
    Age (on 2012 Opening Day): 22

    Just looking at his major league numbers seems like a fantasy. No way someone can sustain that level of statistical greatness.

    Well, let's dig deeper.

    Since Moore has limited MLB experience, we can turn to his Double-A and Triple-A numbers.

    Double-A: 2.20 ERA, 11.5 K/9, 2.5 BB/9
    Triple-A: 1.37 ERA, 13.5 K/9, 3.1 BB/9

    It's ridiculous, but it's all right there. There hasn't been a pitching prospect like Matt Moore for a long time. He's incredibly developed for his age, he's mature on the mound, and he flat out knows how to pitch. At just 22 years old, it's scary to think how much better he can get.

    The biggest limitations on his fantasy impact is innings. Well, in 2010 Jeremy Hellickson only pitched 36.1 major league innings for the Rays, but, in 2011 they let him make 29 starts and pitch 189 innings. The Tampa Bay Rays love stretching out their young pitchers early on, and I can only imagine they'll take the same philosophy with Moore.

    The young starter will be a difference maker in fantasy baseball this year, and you would do well to draft him in the late rounds.