One could argue that finding a sleeper ace pitcher is more valuable than a sleeper hitter. With most leagues only starting about five starting pitchers, one stud sleeper can change impact your league results substantially. I’ve worked to research appropriate benchmarks to set in order to unearth the next great sleeper pitchers each year that you can find deeper in your drafts. Now you can benefit from that research.
Much like my system for finding sleeper hitters, this is not a subjective system at all. I run last year’s numbers through some spreadsheet calculations and see who meets my researched criteria. That generates my list of 2017 sleepers.
This system is designed around finding pitchers who can dominate a batter. I’m looking for pitchers who can throw strikes, avoid walks and create strikeouts by making batters miss. This means these pitchers control their games as opposed to relying on their defense on balls put in play. From my research, I generated a few parameters that identifies the pitchers who are best at controlling a plate appearance and are poised to continue that dominance in the year ahead:
- Swinging Strike % above 8.5
- Contact % under 82.5%
- Strikes/Balls above 1.65
- K-BB% Diff above 17.5%
- Under 30 years old
The first three stats here are focused on pitch-by-pitch success. Swinging Strike Percentage shows the percentage of pitches in which the pitcher was able to make the batter not only swing but miss. Contact percentage isn’t much different than the name suggests as it measures how often the pitcher allows the batter to make contact. Strikes/Balls is a stat that I kind of invented on my own but it shows the ratio of strikes thrown compared to balls thrown by the pitcher. I’ve found that self-made stat to correlate well with current and future walk rates.
Outside of actual statistics, I’ve found that pitchers over 30 are a bit less reliable in becoming a “sleeper” so I narrow the list to only pitchers under 30.
This system has generated names such as Matt Harvey and Jake Arrieta as potential sleepers to target before they became stars.
The 2017 Potential Sleeper Pitchers
After applying all of those filters, I get a list of 17 pitchers who meet that elite criteria. Many of them are already household names like Clayton Kershaw but the list gets more interesting when we look at the pitchers who are being drafted in the later rounds that meet the criteria.
Once we look at the players who are being drafted in the later rounds, we have a list of eight pitchers this year who performed equal to star pitchers despite their results not matching up to them (blame it on high BABIP or low LOB rates perhaps). These represent our super sleeper (aka “narco”) pitchers for 2017.
- Steven Matz, Mets
- Jon Gray, Rockies
- Vince Velasquez, Phillies
- James Paxton, Mariners
- Aaron Nola, Phillies
- Robbie Ray, Diamondbacks
- Michael Pineda, Yankees
- Alex Wood, Dodgers
As readers may know, I’m a Phillies fan but I’m not manipulating the numbers here to make more Phillies appear on this list! I do think both Velasquez and Nola are high upside picks for this upcoming year. Maybe the most exciting name on this list for me is Robbie Ray. In fact, I raved about him in a recent tweet:
Robbie Ray had the 3rd highest K/9 among SP’s last year but also had bad luck in nearly every way (BABIP, HR/FB, LOB%). Huge upside pick.
— Mr. Cheatsheet (@mrcheatsheet) January 21, 2017
His elite strikeout ability is already evident and I think he could blossom into a star pitcher if other factors normalize like the BABIP and HR/FB rates.
I will be analyzing these pitchers in a bit more depth leading up to the drafts this year. Do any of these names jump out to you all as guys you’ve had your eye on already?
Luke is better known as Mr. Cheatsheet despite his last name not being Cheatsheet. He makes spreadsheets, writes blog posts and his rankings were in the top 10 accuracy among FantasyPros experts in 2014, 2016 and 2017. When he's not doing fantasy baseball things, he can be found playing board games or rating beer.