One of the keys to the kingdom in fantasy baseball is grabbing some bargains on the mound in your fantasy league. Below, are five staff selections for pitchers who could be bargains in your leagues come draft day.

Andrew Cashner, Padres
If I would have told you entering the 2015 season that Cashner would increase his strikeout rate and pitch 184-plus innings, how many of you might have made him a top-20 pick? The excellent velocity and movement on his pitches were still there in 2015, but sadly for Andrew, the results were not.

While his 2.55 ERA in 2014 was probably a bit lucky, it appears his 4.34 2015 ERA lacked at least that much luck. He is currently being taken after Anibal Sanchez, Doug Fister, Andrew Heaney, Edison Volquez, Ian Kennedy, Aaron Nola, Joe Ross, Alex Wood, Jimmy Nelson, Mike Leake, and others. I will happily take Cashner with his stuff and home ballpark over these alternatives. —Jeff Quinton

Anibal Sanchez, Tigers
Sanchez was awful in 2015, there’s no disputing that. He was shut down in mid-August after 25 starts on the year, although a September visit to Dr. Andrews revealed his right shoulder had no structural damage. Sanchez’s 4.99 ERA was his highest mark since 2008, and was the first time it registered above 4.00—let alone nearly 5.00—since then. His DRA was slightly better at 4.37, but the main cause of Sanchez’s trouble was his inability to keep the ball in the yard. He allowed 29 home runs, the most in the American League, in his 157 innings pitched, which was highly out of character for Sanchez, as he allowed 13 long balls in 2013 and 2014 combined in 308 innings. Almost assuredly, his astronomical HR:FB rate of 16 percent will come down in 2016, and his ERA should float back down towards his 3.64 career mark as a Tiger as a result.

A recommendation to target Sanchez is not implying that a return to his stellar 2013 season (2.57 ERA, 10 K/9) is in order, but he is tweaking his mechanics this spring in an effort to do so. Sanchez’s strikeout (20.9 percent) and walk rates (just over seven percent) in 2015 were right in line with his career averages, as was his fastball velocity.

Sanchez is currently going 294th overall in NFBC drafts, which I feel is too late. He’s coming off the board as the 79th starter, behind the likes of Marco Estrada (257th overall), who is going an average of two rounds earlier, Alex Wood (273rd overall), and Tyler Glasnow (284th overall)—which seems quite out of line to me. Looking at the starters going outside of the top 60, Sanchez looks like as strong bet to me to jump back inside the top 50-60 starters in 2016, which would make him a bargain where he’s currently being picked. —J.J. Jansons

Hector Santiago, Angels
Currently being drafted as the 93rd-best starting pitcher, and the 335th-overall fantasy player, Santiago is one of the best low-round options to vastly outproduce his draft position. He snuck into the top-50 starters in 2015 and owns a career 3.55 ERA. The left-hander is consistently overlooked because his peripherals, and thus his FIP, don’t match his earned run average, which makes most fantasy players squeamish. The problem with that narrow line of thought, though, is that Santiago has vastly outperformed his FIP in each of his big-league seasons.
















At some point, it should be recognized that the southpaw hasn’t just slightly beaten his FIP in every major-league season, but has crushed it. This is likely due to his healthy strikeout rate, extremely low ground-ball rate, and his friendly home park—much like what Marco Estrada did a year ago, but over a longer period of time. If Santiago can crack the double-digit win total (which is admittedly a bit random), he’s much more valuable than the 93rd-overall starting pitcher. —J.P. Breen

James Shields, Padres
While it is certainly possible that 2015 is the new normal for Shields, it seems unlikely based on a couple of statistical markers that jump out of his profile. First, his numbers against left-handed batters were incredibly bad. Lefties slashed .278/.368/.522 against Shields last year. This is so far out of line with his previous career numbers that you would have to go zip lining across the Grand Canyon (metaphorically speaking, of course) to get to Shields’ next worst season against lefties. The other marker that jumps out for Shields is his high home run total. I’m not a big believer in xFIP, but Shields’ xFIP was much closer to his ERA in 2013 and 2014 than it was to his extremely high 3.91 ERA in 2015. It is not especially likely that Shields is going to bounce back to his 2013-2014 numbers with the Royals, but it is also difficult to believe that a pitcher with such solid peripherals across the board is simply going to fall off of the map completely. Shields’ durability ensures that even if he is only a guy who puts up a 3.75 ERA that it should come with enough strikeouts to put his floor fairly close to where he is currently being drafted in NFBC leagues. —Mike Gianella

Drew Smyly, Rays
It appears the attitudes many have towards pitchers in fantasy is changing a bit this year, with players targeting starters earlier in drafts than typical tradition. Even given that, there’s still a need for high-upside targets later in draft. Drew Smyly fits that bill. I suspect much of the relative lack of hype around him is due to the fact that he only made 12 starts last year. Despite that, there’s plenty of evidence that he can be an effective mid-round target in 2016. Throughout his career, he’s shown an ability to keep his ERA down despite some problems with the long ball. Pitching in Tampa helps with that, of course. In 2015, he also took his strikeout ability to the next level, bringing his K/9 all the way up to 10.4. Although it may not stay quite that high over a full season, he did increase his swinging strike rate to include him among names like Stephen Strasburg and Danny Salazar. It’s completely feasible he could strikeout a batter an inning over a full year, at least.

Even if he doesn’t pitch a full slate next season, he could finish with a sub-3.50 ERA and 175+ strikeouts, putting him well above his current draft position. Although that puts him closer to Garrett Richards-like production, he’s being drafted at the back of the top-50 starting pitchers, in the 11th round of 15-team drafts. According to NFBC ADP data, he’s currently being selected behind Luis Severino, Jeff Samardzija, and Carlos Rodon, among others. Each of them carry considerable upside as well, but none have quite compiled the type of resume that Smyly has put together in the last couple years. On top of that, he’ll only be 27 in 2016, putting him squarely in his prime with room to grow. Instead of reaching for one of the hot second-year pitchers, or a bounce-back from someone like Samardzija, you’d be better off waiting on Smyly in the middle of the draft. —Matt Collins

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