The Search for Narco | 2013 Sleeper Pitchers

It is hard to quantify all of the things that go into winning a fantasy baseball league but finding sleepers and undervalued players is undoubtedly among the most important. Around these parts, I don’t just rely on gut instinct to find sleepers as I prefer to rely on digging into the stats to find hidden value. While I’ve had a system for finding sleeper hitters in the past, last year was the first year that I worked on trying to identify sleeper pitchers with such a data-driven approach.

In order to identify my sleepers, I look to find pitchers with the core skills of being able to make hitters miss while showcasing good control as well. Knowing that what happens when the ball hits the bat can sometimes be left to luck, I rely on trying to find the pitchers who do the best job with what is within their control. The stats and benchmarks I use to identify these sleeper pitchers are:

  • Swinging Strike % Above 8.5
  • Contact % Under 80%
  • Strikes/Balls Above 1.70
  • K-BB Diff Above 12%

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 invented which shows the ratio of strikes thrown compared to balls thrown by the pitcher. It shows how well the pitcher commands the strike zone and correlates well with current and future walk rates. The final stat here focuses on results as K-BB Differential is a pitcher’s BB% subtracted from K%.

These benchmarks help identify the cream of the crop as far as pitchers and you’ll see players like Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw meeting those standards. But in addition to the traditionally elite, we can find some hidden gems who meet those standards too. Last year, there were 16 players who met those standards while having an ADP above 125. You can view the list here but six of them had stellar years, four maintained their normal production, four got injured (Brandon Beachy, Cory Luebke and Felipe Paulino were all having nice years otherwise) and two were duds (though Philip Humber had a perfect game and Bud Norris seemed to just have an unlucky year).

All in all, if you were filling out your pitching staff from that list, you did pretty well for yourself.

This year, there were 23 players that came through my filter while having a current ADP greater than 125. That’s a much bigger number than previous years but the league is becoming more pitcher-dominated so I’m not completely shocked. Here are those potential sleepers:

  • Jeff Samardzija (136.8 ADP)
  • Homer Bailey (139.1
  • A.J. Burnett (147.0)
  • Anibal Sanchez (166.1)
  • Lance Lynn (180.7)
  • Jake Peavy (191.3)
  • Ryan Dempster (195.0)
  • Edwin Jackson (202.2)
  • Matt Garza (214.3)
  • Chris Capuano (227.4)
  • Marco Estrada (228.6)
  • Johan Santana (235.7)
  • Shaun Marcum (236.9)
  • Dillon Gee (266.8)
  • Bud Norris (278.2)
  • Felix Doubront (279.2)
  • Jaime Garcia (341.2)
  • Joe Blanton (Undrafted)
  • Ivan Nova (Undrafted)
  • J.A. Happ (Undrafted)
  • Jeff Karstens (Undrafted)
  • Drew Smyly (Undrafted)
  • Carlos Villanueva (Undrafted)

There are some familiar older names in this list that don’t really make you think “sleeper” when you see them. For instance, we know who Edwin Jackson or Shaun Marcum are by now and they may be undervalued but not necessarily a sleeper in the truest definition of the word. There are some unknown quantities on here though that could stand to surprise some people and those will be the ones I focus more closely on over the upcoming months. Who are Marco Estrada, Dillon Gee and Felix Doubront? Will they be valuable commodities this year or will they sink back into being fantasy bench fodder? Are any of these undrafted names due to shock the world? Many questions with many answers to come. Stay tuned.

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