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March 14, 2013

Sleeper Alert

Three Arms to Target

by Paul Sporer

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The nature of the “sleeper” in fantasy baseball has changed vastly in recent years. The internet era has ushered in a new level of preparedness for all fantasy managers, forcing those that hope to identify players their league-mates might be sleeping on to dig a level or two deeper—and even then, their sleeper status is far from guaranteed. In 10-team mixed leagues, there are no real sleepers; everyone is aware of the players that could provide value, and all that matters is the order in which they will ultimately be selected. Heck, there aren’t really sleepers in your 12-team NL-only leagues, either. If you are playing in a league that deep, then virtually everyone involved is knowledgeable about the pool.

Today, I am bringing you my list of “sleepers.” Call them undervalued, off-the-radar, or even simply “sleepers,” but just know that we’re diving deeper. Basically, if they appeared on the 41-80 portion of last week’s Starting Pitcher lists, then they won’t be on this list. Some of those ranked in the 65-80 range are going to fly under the radar a bit, especially in 10- and 12-team mixed leagues, but let’s jump down a level or three with this trio of arms.

Nathan Eovaldi, Miami Marlins

This young righty—acquired from the Dodgers in the Hanley Ramirez deal—quietly had the third-hardest fastball in baseball (95.19 mph) last year, among pitchers who threw at least 800 four-seamers. As you can see from the linked chart, he also logged the highest GB/FB ratio on fastballs among those in the top 10. Velocity and ground-ball generation are a nice foundation to build on, but command of the hard stuff is at least equally important. He had a nearly one-to-one of strikeouts and walks during plate appearances that ended with a fastball, which suggests that there is plenty of work left to be done in that department. Fortunately, Eovaldi’s slider is also an out pitch that is useful against both lefties and fellow righties, having accounted for 43 of his 78 strikeouts a season ago.

Eovaldi was a guy I really liked heading into 2012 (before I started at BP), and his transition to Miami is only better for us, because the park is more pitcher-friendly and he falls further off the radar on the hapless Marlins. He closed out his season with a six-start stretch that included a 3.76 ERA and 1.14 WHIP, to go with a 19.3 percent strikeout rate and a 6.2 percent walk rate, over 36 innings. Sample-size caveats apply, but that period represented 30 percent of his 2012 workload.

Alexi Ogando, Texas Rangers

Ogando was a full-time starter back in 2011, when he logged 29 starts and posted baseball’s best fastball velocity among pitchers who threw at least 1,000 heaters. He went back to the bullpen last year and was mostly awesome, but occasional home run issues inflated his ERA to 3.27. That isn’t a bad mark, by any stretch, but it’s certainly higher than you’d expect from a pitcher who also logged a 1.00 WHIP, 25.1 percent strikeout rate, and 6.5 percent walk rate in 66 innings. Ogando is expected to return to the rotation this year, which should provide a boost to his fantasy value, although his velocity readings were down early in spring training, leading some to wonder if there is an underlying health concern.

It’s hard to give too much credence to anything that happens in a one- or two-inning sample of a Cactus League outing, but you also don’t want to shrug-off everything as completely unimportant. In Ogando’s two outings since that debut, the PITCHf/x system at the Rangers’ facility clocked him between 95-98 mph and 94-96 mph, in three- and four-inning stints, respectively. He has walked at least two batters in every outing, which is a bit worrisome, and that, in tandem with the velocity concern, caused me to drop him outside of the top 80. Nonetheless, Ogando is very much on my radar, and he is right in line with his last two springs, statistically, averaging a strikeout and two base runners per inning. Ogando’s price will vacillate depending on the preferences of your league-mates, but he’s been going at a discounted rate in my most recent drafts.

Dillon Gee, New York Mets

Gee doesn’t possess the raw velocity of our first two entrants, but instead excels with strong off-speed stuff that keeps hitters off-balance and out of their comfort zones. His slider, curveball, and changeup generate the bulk of his solid 21 percent strikeout rate, but the pitches also induce plenty of weak ground-ball contact.

Gee was en route to a nice 2012 campaign, complete with big-time skills growth, before a blood clot put him on the shelf in July. Thankfully, he is okay and already slotted back into the Mets rotation. The five percentage point rise in strikeouts, three percentage point rise in ground balls, and four percentage point dip in walks from 2011 to 2012 provide ample evidence of improvement, and Gee’s 3.71 FIP was markedly lower than his 4.10 ERA last year, portending better baseline performance in 2013.

ADP Overview

From Jason’s last ADP update from NFBC drafts, Ogando is easily the costliest of these three, going at pick 224. Gee checks in at 352, and Eovaldi doesn’t even appear on the 450-deep list. For those of you in shallower (10-12 teams) mixed leagues, Ogando is the only worthwhile target right now, but put the other two on your watch list and be ready to pounce. Those of you who play in deeper or one-league-only formats should consider Gee and Eovaldi now, even if you choose to wait until the reserve rounds to obtain them. 

Paul Sporer is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Paul's other articles. You can contact Paul by clicking here

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