You will always find value with starting pitchers in shallow mixed leagues, but even in the deepest of NL-Only 5×5 leagues, there are usually a handful of pitchers from year-to-year that produce solid earnings, yet never get the love they deserve. In most cases, these pitchers are undervalued because of their strikeout totals, the team they pitch for, the metrics show regression, or simply that there is never any buzz when their names are called out.
I target these pitchers each year, knowing the investment will be low and the earnings will be positive. Now mind you, you don’t want to fill up your pitching staff with pitchers of this ilk, especially in 5×5 leagues. Yet it seems many forget there are three other traditional starting pitcher categories in 5×5, get hung up on K/9 rates and pass these pitchers by. In my experiences, in competitive NL- Only 5×5 leagues, grabbing one or two of these unappreciated arms in your respective drafts or auctions can help you pile up quality innings and wins without hurting your ratios.
Here are five pitchers in the Senior Circuit that are often overlooked for various reasons, but offer consistent results. In the write-ups below, “Salary” is the average salary of the players, derived from the prices in CBS, LABR, and Tout Wars, as prepared by Mike Gianella. “Earnings” are based on Mike’s Rotisserie-style, 5×5 formulas he provided in his Retrospective Player Valuation article from November 20th.
Kyle Lohse – Brewers
- 2014 Salary – $6
- 2014 Earnings – $16
For my money, Lohse has been the most underrated fantasy starting pitcher in the NL the past four years. As for his effectiveness, the numbers do not lie:
- 2011 – 14 wins, 3.39 ERA, 1.168 WHIP, 111 K
- 2012 – 16 wins, 2.86 ERA, 1.090 WHIP, 143 K
- 2013 – 11 wins, 3.35 ERA, 1.168 WHIP, 125 K
- 2014 – 13 wins, 3.54 ERA, 1.150 WHIP, 141 K
Despite these consistent double-digit fantasy earning seasons, Lohse can always be had for a fraction of the cost, as indicated by his average salary last year. The knocks on Lohse are plentiful: his low K/9 rates, his FIP, his potential BABIP normalization, his proneness to the long ball, his age… you can probably talk to a few fellow owners in your respective leagues who can rattle off a few more reasons not to like Lohse. The fact is, Lohse is a good pitcher and delivers for his owners. The numbers show he pitches better than his FIP would indicate, and as for the low BABIP numbers, that’s the norm for Lohse. Here are his BABIP stats the past four years: .279, .277, .281 and .278—that’s not a small sample size.
Lohse is not a pitcher who you can evaluate solely based on advanced metrics. Many owners do, and that’s why he is always a very profitable pitcher.
Jorge De La Rosa – Rockies
- 2014 Salary – $1
- 2014 Earnings – $11
Yes, I know he pitches in Coors Field—but that is actually a good thing for De La Rosa.
De La Rosa has been the anchor of the Rockies staff the past two seasons posting a 30-17 record over 62 starts. Like most Rockies pitchers, the home/road splits have really impacted the lefty’s numbers… just not as you would expect. Over the past two seasons at Coors Field, De le Rosa has put up a remarkable 20-3 record with a 2.92 ERA and 1.24 WHIP (and only 12 home runs allowed) over 29 starts. No, that is not a misprint – there is a reason why the Rockies pulled the trigger on a two-year, $25 million extension last September. While his days of the big K/9 rates are probably over, his ground-ball rates have jumped the past two years, and he has certainly figured out the formula for pitching in Coors.
He has put up double digits in earnings in 5×5 NL-Only leagues the past two seasons after being limited to 13 starts over the 2011 and 2012 seasons due to TJ surgery. His peripherals will limit his overall value, but he can always be had at a bargain and the past two season show you should not be afraid to consider him because of the park he pitches in. In fact, based on his splits you might want to reserve him when he pitches on the road.
Mike Leake – Reds
- 2014 Salary – $3
- 2014 Earnings – $12
Leake reminds me a little of his former teammate with the Reds, Bronson Arroyo. Not a hard thrower, uses an assortment pitches, not much appreciation, but never misses a start and is pitcher who is usually undervalued come draft day. Just look at this year: Coming off a 14-7 season with a 3.38 ERA and 1.29 WHIP, he still just went for an average salary of $3 in auctions, despite earning $11 in 5×5 in 2013.
The former eighth-overall pick in the 2009 draft, Leake has averaged 30 starts a year in each of his first four big league seasons. He does not pitch in a pitchers park, and historically he has been a much better pitcher away from Great American Ballpark, but did post a 3.26 ERA and 1.158 WHIP at home in 2014. What provides some excitement going forward is Leake’s spike in his K/9 rates last year (striking out a career high 164), he upped his grounder rate to 53 percent and he is entering what might be the prime of his career: the age-27 season.
He has cracked double digits in earnings in three of his first four seasons (including the past two) in NL-Only 5×5 formats, despite the less than stellar strikeout totals. He has been an NL-Only play the past few years, but is proving to be a mixed league play to fill out your staff. He had a couple of rough starts in September that skewed his overall stats, and that might help you get him at even a better value.
Jonathon Niese – Mets
- 2014 Salary – $6
- 2014 Earnings – $11
Niese is certainly not the most exciting pitcher, his fastball tops out around 90 MPH, but he is extremely reliable averaging 28 starts and 10 wins with a sub-4.00 ERA and solid K:BB ratios the past five seasons for the Mets. No, he does not throw hard, so the lefty relies on his arsenal of breaking pitches and cutter to attack opposing hitters. His K rates are modest, but he induces a high percentage of groundballs (ranked 14th among all NL pitchers in 2014) and also improved upon his BB/9 rates last year.
He had a solid first half posting a 2.96 ERA and 1.210 WHIP over 17 starts, but struggled right after the break over a handful of starts before finishing the season strong in September. While never putting up great earnings, he has always posted positive earnings in NL-Only 5×5 formats. His time in New York could be ending based on the deep Mets rotation and his run-ins with manager Terry Collins, but wherever he pitches this year, his consistency will make him a nice addition to round out any fantasy staff and won’t cost you that much.
Bronson Arroyo – Diamondbacks
- 2014 Salary – $4
- 2014 – Earnings – $4 (86 IP)
I felt Arroyo needed to be on this list, not only because he is one of my favorites in this category over the years, but because he still earned his $4 salary in just 86 innings. Despite coming off back-to-back $12 seasons, he still only went for that average $4 salary this year in these expert auctions. The soft-tossing righty is never going bowl you over with his stuff, but he has been as reliable as they come, never missing a start in his career until going down in June with a torn ulnar collateral ligament and electing to undergo Tommy John surgery a month later.
Over his 11 years as a starting pitcher in the majors, there is only one season that Arroyo did not post positive earnings, and that was in 2011 when he was diagnosed with mono before the season. Yet, he still pitched through the illness making all 32 starts that season. He is recovering from TJ surgery, but said he hopes to be ready for opening day. With any other pitcher I would say that is unlikely, but considering Arroyo’s documented off-season throwing regime, I would not rule it out. Even if he is not ready for opening day, Arroyo is someone you can either grab for $1 in the end game or draft on your reserves, stashing him away until he comes back. Arroyo has turned himself into a ground-ball pitcher, as his worm-killer rates have increased in each of the past four years, including inducing ground balls at a 54 percent clip in 2014. He will put up a couple of stinkers each year, as most pitchers do, and give up his share of long flies, but in the end he grinds out positive innings year in and year out.
Again, none of these pitchers will single-handedly win you any pitching categories, but will provide affordable stability to round out your staffs. Remember, not every starter needs to be a big strikeout pitcher to provide value in 5×5 leagues.
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