The Search For Narco | 2014 Sleeper Pitchers

Fantasy baseball is becoming more of a pitcher’s world each year. This only increases the need to identify great sleeper pitchers so that you can survive without using an early round draft pick on a pitcher. I started my research of identifying sleeper pitchers last season and the debut went pretty well but there is definite room for improvement in the second year of my system.

I identified some benchmarks last year based on a pitcher’s ability to create swinging strikes and avoid walks. Of all pitchers who met those benchmarks last year, they had a 3.66 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 8.2 K/9. Those are certainly respectable numbers and are above league averages but I think I made a mistake in retrospect. I cast too wide of a net and didn’t try to identify potential elite performers. I identified above average performers instead and that’s not necessarily what we’re after.

So I made some adjustments to my benchmarks to be a bit more stringent. With these new benchmarks, only 15 pitchers would have qualified prior to last season in all of baseball. Many of them are elite pitchers that you already know of like Clayton Kershaw. This group performed extremely well but I noticed that there were a couple guys bringing down the overall performance of the group such as CC Sabathia and R.A. Dickey. With a tweak of filtering out those who were at least 30 years old entering the season, it became a group of 10 pitchers that had a 2.93 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 8.8 K/9. This would have included a few pitchers that you could have gotten fairly cheap last year (Matt Harvey and Marco Estrada for instance).

Let’s take that gained knowledge and apply it to our 2014 drafts. Here are the new benchmarks:

  • Swinging Strike % Above 8.5
  • Contact % Under 82.5%
  • Strikes/Balls Above 1.65
  • K-BB Diff Above 17.5%
  • Under 30 years old

Here is my explanation from last season about each of those stats:

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. K-BB Differential is another custom stat and is a pitcher’s BB% subtracted from their K%.

Based off of last year’s numbers, the following pitchers met the benchmarks and are likely primed for success in 2014:

Clayton Kershaw (LAD) (16.5 ADP)
Yu Darvish (TEX) (34.4 ADP)
Stephen Strasburg (WAS) (45.5 ADP)
Felix Hernandez (SEA) (47.7 ADP)
Max Scherzer (DET) (59.2 ADP)
Chris Sale (CHW) (79 ADP)
Jose Fernandez (MIA) (80.8 ADP)
Sonny Gray (OAK) (210.8 ADP)
Danny Salazar (CLE) (244 ADP)
Michael Wacha (STL) (257.3 ADP)

The Average Draft Position (ADP) numbers there are to be taken with a grain of salt since we’re still in early January. Those drafted in the Top 100 surely aren’t sleepers but the bottom three on the list are way off everyone’s radar at this point yet performed at a level similar to the top pitchers in the game last year.

Throughout the preseason, I’ll be profiling these potential sleepers and talk about why you might want to take a chance on them in 2014. Stay tuned!

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  • Joe Dacquisto
    01/07/2014 at 3:44 PM

    Most of the guys listed are no brainers and will be drafted in the top 100 as mentioned in your article. Who are some of the guys that missed the cut?

  • Hogtown's Heroes
    01/14/2014 at 10:09 PM

    I would also like to see the criterion wihout BB/K and age qualifiers. In a keeper league, Kershaw to Fernandez are never going to be available to draft. Perhaps a follow up post where that net is cast a little wider?

  • Joe Dacquisto
    01/16/2014 at 6:22 PM


  • Luke
    01/17/2014 at 6:41 PM

    Good idea, Hogtown. Last year, the net was cast a bit wider but I felt it was almost too wide as it pulled in a lot of guys who had above average years but didn't really blow anyone away. Click the link at the top for how the "wider net" worked last year.

    Regardless, I'll do a follow-up that will be closer to last year's version. Good call.

  • Hogtown's Heroes
    01/18/2014 at 6:19 AM

    Greatly appreciated Luke. I have been using your spreadsheet and tips (properly) for the past two seasons and in addition to finishing 1st and 2nd in a league of 14, the system has also been fairly accurate in terms of predicting what 1/3rd of the league people will finish (once I get the proper point values in there). Looking forward to your articles leading up to the 2014 season!

  • Joe Dacquisto
    01/18/2014 at 12:36 PM

    Yes Greatly appreciated Luke. Your without a doubt one of the best in the business. I can only hope that my competition doesn't stumble upon your site. Keep up the great work!

  • Jim M
    01/31/2014 at 2:16 AM

    Love the work Luke! Very happy I stumbled onto your site. As the other commenters said, Id love to see the "wider net" similar to what you posted last year. Names like the Shark, Bailey, Burnett, Sanchez, Lynn stuck out because they were pitchers that could help the back end of a fantasy rotation while not costing too early of a draft pick.

    Look forward to reading much more of your work!

  • Luke
    02/02/2014 at 4:02 PM

    There certainly seems to be a demand for a wider view of perhaps "undervalued" pitchers as opposed to "deep sleeper" pitchers so I'll certainly post a follow-up later.