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Fantasy Freestyle – 2015 end game and waiver wire recap: AL-only pitcher’s edition

In my last article I profiled position players who hovering near the bottom of our sheet prices, or off our radars entirely, on draft day but proved to be fantasy assets in deep AL-only formats. This week we’ll turn our attention to junior circuit hurlers who provided substantial dividends for their owners this year despite accounting for a fraction of their auction salary dollars and FAAB budgets. We’ve broken these out by starting pitchers and bullpen arms so each get their dues.

Starting Pitchers

Marco Estrada, SP, Toronto Blue Jays
Expert league auction values: CBS –$1/LABR – $1/Tout Wars – $2
AL-Only 5×5 earnings – $18
AL-Only 4×4 earnings – $22

Even though Estrada was a serviceable NL-only starter with the Brewers back in 2012 and 2013, and even cracked double digits in earnings those years in those formats, the veteran right-hander was low on many preseason sheets after being acquired by the Blue Jays in the offseason for Adam Lind. This was primarily due to his shift to the bullpen, but also because the fear of a flyball pitcher heading to Toronto. However, when Daniel Norris was going through a "dead arm" period early in the season, and was optioned to Triple-A, Estrada was inserted into the Blue Jays rotation in May and remained there from that point forward. Estrada really excelled in the second half for his fantasy owners, putting up a 2.78 ERA and 0.915 WHIP over his 15 starts to go with a 7-3 record. While the metrics show he may have been a little lucky (.225 BABIP), he did lead the AL in H/9 at 6.7, and his 1.044 season WHIP was second only to Dallas Keuchel in the junior circuit. For those who gambled on Estrada either in the end game or in the early-season FAAB frenzy, he was a game changer in AL-only formats.

Chris Young, SP, Kansas City Royals
Expert league auction values: Undrafted
AL-Only 5×5 earnings – $13
AL-Only 4×4 earnings – $16

When the Royals signed the 6-foot-10 hurler in March, he seemed like an afterthought in our world. However, the 36-year-old veteran made the Royals’ Opening Day roster as a bullpen arm, and was then an integral part of their rotation for over two months from May through July. Young was 6-2 with a 1.98 ERA on June 16th and proved to be waiver-wire gold even after he returned to the Kansas City bullpen in August. His 11 wins and solid ratios over 123 innings this season made the Princeton graduate an Ivy League-level FAAB find.

Edison Volquez, SP, Kansas City Royals
Expert league auction values: CBS –$2/LABR – $2/Tout Wars – $1
AL-Only 5×5 earnings – $10
AL-Only 4×4 earnings – $9

Much of Volquez’s resurgence in 2014 was attributed to shifting leagues and moving to Pittsburgh under the tutelage of Ray Searage, so when Volquez left Pittsburgh after one season and headed to Kansas City as a free agent, many doubted that he could sustain his success. The veteran right-hander proved the skeptics wrong and was a steady arm in the Royals rotation all season. Volquez put up a solid first-half line (8-4. 3.31 ERA and 1.236 WHIP) and only a poor September hurt his overall fantasy numbers. When you can grab a pitcher to chew up 200 1/3 quality innings at Volquez’s 2015 cost, it’s a major win.

Lance McCullers, SP, Houston Astros
Expert league auction values: Undrafted
AL-Only 5×5 earnings – $10
AL-Only 4×4 earnings – $8

I wrote about McCullers way back in November in my Houston Astros 2015 Team Preview, thinking he could have an impact in 2015. However, I envisioned he would make his contribution as a reliever, not as a starter. Well, he did make an impact despite only logging 125 2/3 innings in his rookie campaign. The 22-year-old only allowed more than three earned runs in two of his 22 starts, and a first-inning implosion in Arlington in August is the only poor outing he had all season. His 9.2 K/9 helped his owners in 5×5 formats, and if you were able to snatch him up in keeper leagues, this former first-round pick was not only productive this year, but should be a nice piece in 2016.

Mark Buehrle, SP, Toronto Blue Jays
Expert league auction values: CBS –$1/LABR – $2/Tout Wars – $3
AL-Only 5×5 earnings – $9
AL-Only 4×4 earnings – $11

One of my all-time favorites, if Buehrle decides to retire after this season it will be a loss for baseball, as we might not see a starting pitcher like the workhorse southpaw again. While he fell just 1 2/3 innings short of his 15th consecutive season with 200, he did achieve 15 straight years of 30+ starts, and more importantly in our world, 15 consecutive seasons of positive fantasy earnings in AL-only 4×4 formats, and 14 seasons of positive AL-only 5×5 earnings. Never spectacular, but always steady, Buehrle’s 15 wins and decent ratios made him another solid ROI performer in AL-only formats.

Honorable Mention (with AL-Only 5×5/4×4 year-end earnings): Hector Santiago, SP, Los Angeles Angels ($10/$7 earned); Colby Lewis, SP, Texas Rangers ($8/$6 earned).

Relief Pitchers

Shawn Tolleson, RP, Texas Rangers
Expert league auction values: Undrafted
AL-Only 5×5 earnings – $18
AL-Only 4×4 earnings – $30

Yeah, this is the reason why experts say to never overpay for saves in auctions or drafts. Heading into 2015, Tolleson not only had never registered a big-league save, but was also nursing a forearm injury during the spring that nearly landed him on the DL. Fast forward to October and the former 30th-round pick by the Dodgers in the 2010 MLB Draft saved 35 of 37 games for the Rangers following his move to the closer role in May. His 9.5 K/9 supplied additional help in 5×5 formats, and his six wins only aided his status as the top AL-only FAAB pitching acquisition in 2015.

Roberto Osuna, RP, Toronto Blue Jays
Expert league auction values: Undrafted
AL-Only 5×5 earnings – $14
AL-Only 4×4 earnings – $21

Miguel Castro and Osuna were both 20-year-old stud arms this spring, and their futures could lie in the rotation. However, back in March, they were live arms in the Blue Jays pen that was in need of a strong right-handed presence. Despite not pitching above A-ball, Osuna was called upon in April to pitch in high-pressure situations for Toronto and delivered. By late June, John Gibbons anointed the young righty as his closer, and he converted his first 16 save opportunities. Osuna finished the season going 20-for-23 in save chances with a 2.58 ERA and 0.919 WHIP. The future is bright for this Mexican hurler.

Darren O’Day, RP, Baltimore Orioles
Expert league auction values: CBS –$1/LABR – $2/Tout Wars – $1
AL-Only 5×5 earnings – $14
AL-Only 4×4 earnings – $19

Another one of my favorite AL-only endgame targets, O’Day did not disappoint his owners in 2015. For reference, here are O’Day’s AL-only earnings the past four seasons:

  • 2012: 4×4 – $15 / 5×5 – $12
  • 2013: 4×4 – $14 / 5×5 – $10
  • 2014: 4×4 – $18 / 5×5 – $13
  • 2015: 4×4 – $19 / 5×5 – $14

Sometimes numbers speak louder than words, and in O’Day’s case, just soak those earnings in.

Carson Smith, RP, Seattle Mariners
Expert league auction values: Undrafted
AL-Only 5×5 earnings – $13
AL-Only 4×4 earnings – $17

Full disclosure: I like Carson Smith. I like him a lot, actually, and if you have read my articles this year you know that full well. I drafted Smith back in February in the CBS AL-only Analyst league reserve round and also owned him in my home AL-only league because I believed in his fantasy value this season. The 6-foot-6 righty is an extreme groundball pitcher, and continued that this season by putting up a 65 percent worm-burner rate, to go along with an 11.8 K/9. I felt he was being groomed to be Seattle’s closer in 2016, but now I am confident that will most assuredly happen. Despite losing his ninth-inning role late in the year to Tom Wilhelmson, Smith was a productive fantasy arm in all formats and will prove to be gold in AL-only keeper leagues for those who tossed a few FAAB dollars on a spec play in April.

Will Harris, RP, Houston Astros
Expert league auction values: Undrafted
AL- Only 5×5 earnings – $12
AL- Only 4×4 earnings – $16

How could a middle reliever who pitched primarily in low-leverage situations make this list? Well, in short it’s due to his peripherals. Harris allowed just 42 hits in his 71 innings this season while registering 68 punchouts. If you read my Deep League Report pieces this season, I profiled Harris for several weeks until he was finally owned in the majority of AL-only leagues. I owned Harris in multiple AL-only leagues and he was a contributing factor to my success each time. Mike Gianella and I have done battle over several years in various leagues and we both appreciate the value these pitchers bring to fantasy squads. Harris’s final fantasy line is worthy of notice based on the ROI he supplied for the owners that rolled the dice on a middle reliever in Houston.

Honorable Mention (with AL-Only 5×5/4×4 year-end earnings): Kevin Jepsen, RP, Minnesota Twins ($11/$17 earned); Adam Warren, RP, New York Yankees ($10/$10 earned); Keona Kela, RP, Texas Rangers ($9/$11 earned); Ryan Madsen, RP, Kansas City Royals ($8/$11 earned); Alex Wilson, RP, Detroit Tigers ($8/$11 earned); Tom Wilhelmsen, RP, Seattle Mariners ($6/$9 earned).

Thank you for reading

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