When it comes to identifying the next fantasy baseball breakout players, Mr. Cheatsheet’s method helps narrow the field. I use a data-driven method to filter the draft pool to a small number of potential sleepers that are worthy of deeper consideration. When I look for undervalued pitchers, there are a few statistical benchmarks that I identified as being good ways to identify the pitchers who should be among the best in a luck-neutral world. While we know that pitchers like Justin Verlander should be in there, these benchmarks also identify some unheralded pitchers each year which can be found at a much cheaper price tag in your drafts. Based on past years, those unheralded pitchers often stand a good chance of being breakout players. Today, we’ll look at one of the players that is on the list for 2013 and we’ll see if Felix Doubront (SP, BOS) has what it takes to be a real sleeper.
Why He’s Here
Way back in 2005, Doubront joined the Red Sox organization at the ripe age of 17 and started mowing through their rookie leagues almost immediately. Despite having evidence of success at a young age, Doubront was never considered a major prospect for the Sox. He occasionally appeared on organization prospect lists but mainly stayed under the radar.
His minor league career hit a bump when he had a horrible season in 2007 (7.45 ERA, 1.71 WHIP) but he started to turn a corner in 2008 when he ramped up his strikeout rate in Single-A ball. His K/9 went from 5.5 to 9.6 that year and his ERA dropped to 3.69 as a result. From that point on, he rose up the ranks in the minors and maintained a 3.36 ERA as he went through Double-A and Triple-A over the next three years.
He got his first cup of coffee in the big leagues in 2010 and another taste in 2011 but only accumulated 35.1 IP over that span. In 2012, he broke camp with the team and was a starter throughout the season for them. The results of that season look discouraging if you look at the base stats of a 4.86 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP. However, if you dig deeper, you can see signs that he was fairly unlucky as evidenced by a high BABIP and by his 3.84 SIERA and 3.81 xFIP rates. In addition, he was striking out more than a batter per inning on average. The general public is looking at the high ERA and WHIP and choosing to pass on him. This is why he is going undrafted in a majority of leagues and why he is a possible sleeper for 2013.
Why He Might Fail
First off, the amount of walks that he allows is somewhat concerning and that’s not going away anytime soon. His 3.97 BB/9 last season is slightly higher than he was posting in the minors previously but not by much (3.59 BB/9 from 2009-11). So, expect him to allow a few free baserunners throughout the season in addition to giving up a fair share of hits. His BABIP was higher than league average last season which is usually a sign that the pitcher should regress back to the mean and allow less hits next year. In Doubront’s case, he has shown a history of having a higher BABIP than average throughout his entire career so this seems to be the norm for him and I wouldn’t expect a regression. Even if he dips down a bit, he seems destined to post a mark similar to his 1.45 WHIP from last season.
The other concern with Doubront is the fact that he is clearly not a groundball pitcher so is susceptible to the homerun ball. With his below-average WHIP and this possibility of letting up homers, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of reason to expect his ERA to drop next season.
Why He Might Come Through
Here’s an old fantasy blogger trick. I’m going to post you two stat lines without telling you who they are for then you’ll be amazed when I reveal who the two pitchers are.
Pitcher A: 78.4 Contact%, 9.5% SwStr%, 1.68 Strikes/Balls, 10.0 BB%, 23.6 K%, 3.81 xFIP
Pitcher B: 76.9 Contact%, 9.5% SwStr%, 1.49 Strikes/Balls, 10.5 BB%, 22.8 K%, 3.73 xFIP
My goodness, those are fairly similar numbers! They must have had fairly similar results, right? Okay, time to get your jaw ready to drop to the floor. Pitcher A is Mr. Doubront in 2012. Pitcher B is Gio Gonzalez in 2011 (while still in the American League). Of course, you would rather own Gio in your fantasy leagues but it shows that someone with Doubront’s pedigree can produce MLB success.
The difference between Gio and Felix is largely in their WHIP and HR’s allowed. Last season, Gio had a HR/FB rate of 5.8% and Felix had one that was 15.9%. Both of these rates are likely unsustainable as they are on either side of the extreme spectrum. HR/FB rates have been found to vary greatly from year-to-year and Doubront should likely see a dip here closer to the league average of 9.5%. Last year, he let up 24 HR’s but would have only let up 14 with a league average HR/FB rate (for a rate of 0.87 HR/9 which is much closer to his minor league numbers of 0.67 HR/9). Letting up a much fewer amount of HR’s will definitely allow for a decrease in ERA that should point him in a direction closer to his SIERA and xFIP numbers.
There is no doubt that his strikeouts will stay as he has shown a long history for being able to do this for years in the minors and majors. While his WHIP likely won’t drop too far, his ERA should dip down a bit with the HR’s taking a slide. For fantasy purposes, he has the ability to give you above average performance in the major stat categories aside from WHIP where he will likely hurt you a bit.
In shallow drafts, Felix won’t even be a consideration and will likely go undrafted. In those cases, he’s just a guy to keep a close eye on to see if he starts out hot. For deeper leagues or AL-Only leagues, Doubront has some potential. He profiles as a pitcher who generate a large amount of strikeouts with a decent ERA and Win totals in Boston. The biggest concern for fantasy owners is his WHIP, which should be fairly high. Other pitchers have found a way to be successful with a fairly high WHIP like Yovani Gallardo or Anibal Sanchez. Due to his strikeout ability and control of the strikezone, I see him as being worth a flier for deep leagues. In other leagues, go ahead and just keep him on your radar as a waiver wire add.