In my last Freestyle article, I profiled NL-only position players who were hovering near the bottom of our sheet prices, or were not even on our draft-day radars, but proved to be fantasy assets in deep NL-only formats. This week we’ll turn our attention to senior-circuit hurlers who provided substantial dividends for their owners this year despite accounting for a fraction of auction salary dollars and FAAB budgets. We’ve broken out by starting pitchers and bullpen arms so each get their respective dues.
Left shoulder surgeries the past two years had limited Garcia to just 99 innings pitched during that time, and the oft-injured lefty hurler began the 2015 season on the DL with—you guessed it—a shoulder injury. Considering the southpaw’s medical history, how much Garcia would contribute this season was uncertain. However, Garcia was activated off the DL in late May and became a mainstay in the Cardinals rotation the rest of the way. Garcia started 20 games for the first time since 2012 and registered 15 quality starts in those outings, carrying a 1.89 ERA into September 5th. While a couple of bad outings the last month of the season hurt his overall stats, 10 wins, a 2.43 ERA, and a 1.05 WHIP helped him earn $17 in standard NL-only 5×5 formats in only 129 1/3 innings. Those who gambled on this low-risk/high-reward play were rewarded nicely.
The 22-year-old with the flowing locks and rocket right arm made his debut for the Mets on May 12th, and provided immediate results for his fantasy owners, posting a 1.82 ERA and a WHIP slightly north of 1.00 over his first four starts. Syndergaard’s solid ratios and swing-and-miss rates made him one of the more reliable fantasy starting pitchers, as he was the 12th-highest earning SP in 2015 in standard NL-only 5×5 formats. Syndergaard was especially clutch for his fantasy owners over the last month of the season, when he posted a 37-to-2 K:BB ratio over 27 2/3 innings with a 0.63 WHIP.
After 13 seasons in the major leagues and 153 career wins, the former second-round pick of the Cardinals back in 2001 announced his retirement from baseball last month. Haren’s swan song was a successful one, as he posted 11 wins along with a 3.60 ERA and 1.13 WHIP over 187 1/3 innings between the Marlins and Cubs. Always a favorite of mine, Haren provided his fantasy owners with a double-digit ROI in NL-only formats, justifying his inclusion on this list.
Traded from the Mariners to the Pirates in a deadline deal, the veteran lefty had put up subpar numbers in 20 starts in Seattle. Heading to Pittsburgh and the tutelage of Ray Searage on July 31st with a 4.64 ERA and 1.41 WHIP, Happ turned his season around to the delight of Pirates’ fans and desperate fantasy owners who tossed a few bucks on the southpaw. While he made only 11 starts with Pittsburgh, Happ saw improvements across the board with his peripherals and notched seven wins with excellent ratios, earning $14 in only 63 1/3 innings. Happ was a difference-maker for those who invested in his services down the stretch.
Bartolo Colon, SP, New York Mets
Expert league auction values: CBS –$1/LABR – $2/Tout Wars – $3
NL-only 5×5 earnings – $11
NL-only 4×4 earnings – $6
The 42-year-old veteran hurler continued to defy the odds in 2015, delivering his fourth consecutive season of double-digit earnings in standard mono 5×5 scoring leagues. While the K/9 rates dipped and his ERA was north of 4.00, his 14 wins and 1.24 WHIP helped Colon once again be a great cheap option for positive earnings. Colon’s durability (30 or more starts the past three seasons) and control (1.1 BB/9 in 2015) continue to make him an intriguing late-round option in 2016 if he returns for his 19th big-league season.
Heston had never been much of a prospect, so his fantasy stock was limited heading into the 2015 season. The right-handed starter did put up decent stats in the PCL a season ago, and following a strong spring was called up for a spot start against the Diamondbacks on April 8th. It looked like his nerves got the better of him in the first inning as a HBP and his throwing error led to an unearned, but he settled down from there and worked six solid innings for his first big-league win. The rookie made 30 starts following that, with the highlight being his no-hitter against the Mets on June 9th, in which he struck out 11 batters without issuing a walk. Heston struggled in the second half, only earning three wins in his 13 starts with a 4.91 ERA, but overall he was a great FAAB find and helped his owners immensely over the first half of the season.
Here were my comments on Familia in the NL-only Landscape NL Relief Pitchers article back in March:
“I like Familia more than Mejia as a ninth-inning option, but even in a setup role Familia is a solid play in NL-only this year. Despite Mejia’s six wins and 28 saves, he only earned $3 more than Famila in 5×5 last year, so don’t be afraid to pony up a dollar for Familia’s services.”
Well, an early-season injury to Jenrry Mejia led to Famila assuming the closer role for Terry Collins in early March, and he never looked back. The 26-year-old reliever was dominant for the NL champion Mets this past season, registering 43 saves with a 1.86 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and 9.9 K/9. Only NL saves leader Mark Melancon (51 saves, $25 earned in NL-only 5×5) earned more than Familia in NL-only 5×5 formats this season, making the Mets closer one of the top pitching bargains of 2015.
A.J. Ramos, RP, Miami Marlins
Expert league auction values: Undrafted
NL-only 5×5 earnings – $18
NL-only 4×4 earnings – $28
It’s not often you see a pitcher who allows 43 walks in 63 innings earn $10 in NL-only 5×5, but that’s exactly what Ramos did in 2014. Those command issues made many fantasy owners gun shy in 2015 fantasy drafts and deservedly so. However, while Ramos certainly walks his share of batters, he strikes out his share as well, and those who make contact have little success, evidenced by his .164 BAA in 2014. So, when Marlins closer Steve Chisek was demoted to Triple-A in early May, this exciting young arm earned ninth-inning duties to see what he could do. Ramos responded by saving 32 games while improving his K/9 (11.1) and BB/9 rates (3.3), proving he could thrive in the closer role. Keeper-league owners who acquired the talented righty reliever via FAAB early in the season should see that move pay more dividends in 2016.
Ziegler is a master of inducing the groundball (73 percent rate in 2015), and after registering 29 holds in 2014 he was settled in as the Diamondbacks setup man to begin this season. While he’s never been a big strikeout pitcher, he always has earned his keep with solid ratios (career 2.47 ERA and 1.21 WHIP over his nine-year career) making him a strong endgame play. Throw in the fact that the sidearm reliever had saved games prior to 2015, and Ziegler was more attractive based on Addison Reed’s struggles as season ago. In the end, Ziegler took over the closer role in Arizona in May and saved 30 of 32 games with solid contributions in ERA and WHIP.
After a shaky start to the 2014 season, the Pirates moved Melancon into the closer role permanently and eventually shipped Grilli to the Angels for Ernesto Frieri. While with Los Angeles, Grilli pitched better than his ERA would indicate (2.15 FIP) and continued to put up impressive K/9 numbers to close out the season. Signed by the Braves during the offseason as the expected setup man to Craig Kimbrel, that role changed to closer when Kimbrel was dealt to San Diego in the blockbuster trade last April. Even though Grilli went down in early July with a left Achilles tendon rupture, he still saved 24 games and earned $11 in standard NL-only 5×5 formats, earning a spot on this list.
Tony Watson, RP, Pittsburgh Pirates
Expert league auction values: CBS –$1/LABR – $2/Tout Wars – $1
NL-only 5×5 earnings – $11
NL-only 4×4 earnings – $14
Watson’s fantasy relevance should be of no surprise to veteran NL-only players, as the lefty reliever has been a source of positive ROI the past few seasons with the Pirates. In fact, Watson’s $16 earned a season ago was more than that of several notable starting pitchers, not to mention that he banked more earnings than five NL closers that season. The southpaw’s 1.92 ERA and 0.96 WHIP over 75 relief innings got his owners $11 in earnings in NL-only 5×5 formats this past season, the third consecutive season Watson has reached double-digit earnings in those leagues. Watson continues to be a strong endgame target, and not solely as a closer-in-waiting.
Kevin Siegrist, RP, St. Louis Cardinals
Expert league auction values: Undrafted
NL-only 5×5 earnings – $11
NL-only 4×4 earnings – $15
Seven wins and six saves with a 2.17 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and 10.8 K/9 over 81 appearances—yeah, this proves Siegrist’s 2013 season was legit and last year could be the anomaly. I would say nobody saw these fantasy earnings on the horizon, but if you tossed a FAAB flier on him in May based on his peripherals, you deserved the windfall.
Honorable Mention (with AL-only 5×5/4×4 year-end earnings): John Axford, RP, Colorado Rockies ($7/$13 earned); Aroydis Vizcaino, RP, Atlanta Braves ($8/$11 earned); George Kontos, RP, San Francisco Giants ($9/$12 earned); Jason Motte, RP, Chicago Cubs ($7/$10 earned); J.J. Hoover, RP, Cincinnati Reds ($8/$10 earned); Hunter Strickland, RP, San Francisco Giants ($8/$9 earned); Andrew Chafin, RP, Arizona Diamondbacks ($8/$9 earned).