The Search For Narco | 2015 Sleeper Pitchers

Finding the ultimate fantasy sleepers each year is a tricky business but it’s a vital part of winning championships. On top of that, finding a sleeper pitcher is even more tricky than just finding an undervalued hitter. Most leagues are only starting five or so pitchers so it’s a bit harder to find a pitcher that is completely under-the-radar prior to your draft. That being said, we can certainly find pitchers who have the potential to deliver elite performances but are not being drafted among the top-shelf talent. While my search for deep sleepers on this site originated as a search to find the best sleeper hitters, I expanded the search in recent years to find those potential hidden gem pitchers too. I previewed the potential narco hitters last week so now let’s explore the pitching world.


For those that are are new here, I use the term “narcos” to refer to sleepers that are so sleepy that they are practically narcoleptic. While I had looked for sleeper hitters in all six years of my site, I didn’t start trying to crack the code for sleeper pitchers until 2013 here. Much like my sleeper hitter system, I wanted to be able to find appropriate benchmarks that would generate a list of people who met the criteria without human intervention or subjectivity getting involved.

There are many factors that can affect a pitcher’s success but the things that a pitcher has the most control over is creating strikes and avoiding walks. After the ball hits the bat, there are a myriad of different results that are sometimes out of the pitcher’s control so I tried to make my benchmarks specifically focus on finding pitchers who could dominate in the areas that they do have control over. In the first year of the the system, you were told to draft Matt Harvey and Marco Estrada prior to good years by both of them. In the second year, the system was tweaked a bit and Sonny Gray became one of the top names on the list. And, now, we enter the third year and hope to find even more success.


As I stated above, the idea behind this system is to create appropriate benchmarks that can deliver a solid list of pitchers who can generate strikes and avoid walks. The hope is that these pitchers will be least prone to bad luck because of their strike zone dominance. Based on my research, these are the parameters that I created to generate a list of elite pitchers who are poised for a big year:

  • 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 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%. And, finally, 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.

Of course, if you generate this list yourself, you’ll see most of the top pitchers in the game like Clayton Kershaw and company. So, I make sure to eliminate all pitchers who might already be drafted among the top pitchers and try to focus on pitchers who meet this criteria but are being drafted later in the drafts currently.

The 2015 Sleepers

So, after all of that number crunching and seeing who met this criteria, my list was generated. While the pitchers here should be pitchers that you’ve already heard of, they all are pitchers who have the potential to be among the elite pitchers in the league this year despite not being drafted until later in your drafts. I’ll write profiles on some of these pitchers later on in the preseason to focus in on why some of these pitchers may just be the key to your draft success in 2015. But, until then, without further ado, here is your list of 2015 narco pitchers:

  • Danny Salazar, 25, Indians – While I liked Salazar last year and he struggled enough to get demoted to Triple-A, the good news is that he’s still got the same potential and will be a bargain in your drafts as a result. After his demotion, Salazar became much closer to the pitcher we initially expected and the hope is that he can be that 3.50 ERA, 9.5 K/9, 2.3 BB/9 pitcher for a full season in 2015.
  • Jake Arrieta, 29, Cubs – It’s easy to look at last year and say it was a fluke for Arrieta given that his career ERA still sits at 4.48 despite a 2.53 ERA last season. But, looking closer at his stats and we see that his season was fairly spectacular and not luck-driven at all. Arrieta may be a bit of a late bloomer but he might also be a great draft day bargain this year.
  • Alex Wood, 24, Braves – Wood was already one of my favorite young arms and last year’s performance only moved him up the ranks. His first half was good but not great and then he finished the year with a 1.99 ERA in August and September. For some reason, the hype train hasn’t rolled in for him so you may still be able to get him relatively cheap.
  • Collin McHugh, 27, Astros – He was a relative journeyman pitcher until his breakout last season and it seems like it was a legitimate breakout. Given the fact that he’s still a relative unknown (partly due to playing in Houston), you may be able to get him at a discount this season.
  • Jacob deGrom, 26, Mets – It’s hard to say just how much hype will be affiliated with deGrom because of the fact that he won Rookie Of The Year. From the early rankings, it looks like you might be able to get him as an SP3 for your team and he very well might be one of the better options for you there.
  • Matt Shoemaker, 28, Angels – Despite his 16-4 season last year, Shoemaker isn’t really ranked very high on most lists. With a very low walk rate and good strikeout capability, this might be one of the better draft bargains at this point.
  • Carlos Carrasco, 27, Indians – Carrasco represents one of the only remnants of the trade that sent Cliff Lee to Philadelphia and his early career was looking pretty shaky until it all came together last year. While last year was the first year we saw him live up to his potential, the hope is that the trend will continue in 2015 and make Carrasco a great sleeper pitcher.
  • Michael Pineda, 26, Yankees – Pineda had a nice little return at the end of the season. He was known as a fireballer early in his career and had huge strikeout numbers. While his strikeout numbers weren’t great in his 76 IP last year, his 0.89 BB/9 was excellent and certainly a good sign. Since he hasn’t really pitched much since 2011, this might be the time to get Pineda at a huge bargain.
  • Mike Fiers, 29, Brewers – While the 2.13 ERA he had last year may not be sustainable, he still had great strikeout and walk numbers similar to his 2012 season. You should be able to get him later in the draft given that he also hasn’t pitched much the past couple seasons and he should be able to deliver very nice numbers with a 3.00-ish ERA and good strikeout numbers.

Be sure to keep checking back here to read more about these potential sleeper candidates and much more. What do you think about this list of pitchers? Do any of them stand out to you as potential aces or major risks this season?

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  • Smitty
    02/02/2015 at 8:05 PM

    Love your sleeper articles, good work. Any idea on when v. 1.0 of the cheat sheets will be out? Anxiously awaiting them! Greatly appreciate your work!

  • AJ
    02/02/2015 at 8:44 PM

    Would love some less obvious guys to be included. While outperforming your ADP technically labels you a sleeper, these are all guys that everyone is expecting to take a huge leap or continue their impressive 2014. I'd like to see some names of the next group of these guys, if that makes sense. In keeper leagues, if you're trying to get the guys on this list, you better be prepared to give up something pretty darn promising, and/or a very early draft pick. Stroman went 2nd overall in my 14-team, 10 keeper each league. Who's the next Arrieta? The next fringe 5th starter to pop up as a #2 or #3 SP? Sure you'd probably end up looking stupid on a few, but at least then it wouldn't be like calling Kris Bryant or Mookie Betts a sleeper.

  • Luke
    02/03/2015 at 4:33 AM

    Yeah, I've been waiting for a bit more data to come out before the initial release. Not a ton of good ADP or projection data yet. But I'm itching to get a release out there too so probably will have at least an initial release out in the next week.

  • Luke
    02/03/2015 at 4:36 AM

    I totally year ya, AJ. In 10 or 12 team leagues, these guys are much more "sleeper" worthy but it's definitely a different world in deeper leagues. I'll touch upon some deeper league targets a bit later on. Good call though.

  • AJ
    02/13/2015 at 11:26 PM

    Just saw your reply, thanks. Hope I didn't sound too much like an ass. I just find it extremely difficult to find any articles that pertain to even moderately serious leagues. Mrcheatsheet is leaps and bounds better than a Bleacher Report or Yahoo, though. Just seems there's very little middle ground between the 10-team redraft league advice and the detailed sabermetrics analysis that pertains to fantasy only in theory.