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Fantasy Roundtable: The Undrafted

This week I get to host the Fantasy Roundtable.  I posed this question:

Which undrafted player will provide the most fantasy value in 2008, and why?  We'll define undrafted as outside of the first 276 picks in a typical mixed league.

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Patrick DiCaprio of The Fantasy Baseball Generals:

I will go with Jake Westbrook.  Last year Jake was sidelined by an oblique strain, which is not an injury that should affect him this year.  That should put him back in the 200 IP range. With the Indians and their lineup there is no reason his run support shouldn't get him into the 15 win area.  In the three years before 2007 he has an xERA right around the 4 range, and if we give him an excuse for last year because of the injury, his skills are all relatively consistent.  So what we have here is a pitcher who can win 15 games, with 200 IP and an ERA in the low fours.  Sounds pretty good for an undrafted player.

His forecast for 2008: Baseball HQ gives him 13 wins and a 4.10 ERA which looks spot on to me. Baseball Prospectus is far more pessimistic, as it always is, giving him a 4.53 ERA and 10 wins.  Even that wouldn't be too bad, though it would be useful in AL only leagues.  I am willing to go with the HQ forecast as it fits in with his overall skill level.  The Tribe bullpen is clearly good enough that whenever he comes out with a lead he should have a 90% chance or higher of getting the win, and their defense should be better this year.

The final factor? I drafted him in the Fantasy Baseball Search Expert League, so at least you can say that I stand behind what I think.  He is a great steal in the undrafted pool and if the HQ projection is correct he will easily be more valuable than many pitchers drafted ahead of him. Guys like Westbrook are what win tough leagues, not the Johnny Cuetos of the world.

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Brett Greenfield of Greener On The Other Side:

An undrafted player who will provide fantasy value in 2008 is always hard to find.  There is someone that I have in mind though.  There is a pitcher in the American League whose ERA was 3.18 last year and whose WHIP was 1.15.  This pitcher also struck out 185 batters in only 150 innings, leading all AA pitchers in 2007. Striking out that many batters in so few innings leaves him with a K/9 of 11K/9.  That is Scott Kazmir/Erik Bedard territory.  During this offseason, a trade opened up an opportunity for a rotation spot.  Moving from a hitters park in Chicago to a pitcher's haven in Oakland should be a huge benefit in 2008.  A pitcher not named Harden or Blanton garners little attention in Oakland these days, which is a big reason why this pitcher has gone undrafted in so many leagues. 

While he will start the year in AAA, he should to be in the rotation by May.  Remember, Yovani Gallardo didn't begin 2007  in the majors yet had tremendous value later on.  Traded for Nick Swisher, this small lefty could be best compared to Tim Lincecum.  After beginning the 2007 season in AAA, Lincecum came on strong for the last place Giants, and proved fantasy owners he was worthy of starting on a weekly basis.  The undrafted player who will provide the most fantasy value in 2008, despite pitching for the lowly A's, is Gio Gonzalez.

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David Chase of Brock For Broglio:

Alexei Ramirez: He has all the makings of a legitimate undrafted fantasy sleeper, and I’ll give you 5 reasons why:

1. His competition is weak (Juan Uribe at 2B, & Jerry Owens at CF)
2. He’s eligible at two scarce positions: even more important for those who play in leagues that force at least 1 CF.
3. PECOTA projects above average production in each of the 5 categories: (480PA .295/60/13/60/8)
4. Scouts who’ve gotten a great look at him, mention his athleticism in the same breath as Alfonso Soriano.
5. If you believe spring training statistics have any merit at all, then you’d appreciate his offense: .358/.375/.582 in 70 or so PA’s. (only have AB data).

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Eric Stashin of Roto Professor:

Wow, this is an extremely difficult question to answer, because there really are so many different players to choose from.  I named him an extremely deep sleeper, so I'm going to have to go with the Mets' Ryan Church

Last season, playing in the vast confines of RFK Stadium in Washington, Church was a doubles machine, racking up 43 doubles to go with 15 home runs and 1 triple.  That's a good amount of extra base hits and while Shea Stadium is no hitter's park, I have to believe that some of those doubles will find their way over the fence this season, instead of in the alleys.

Early on, it appears that the Mets are going to give him a chance to play everyday, as he has been in the starting line-up against left-handers Mark Hendrickson and Andrew Miller.  The home run off Miller he hit on Wednesday night is a great sign, since the biggest knock on him was that he struggled against left-handers.

My projection for him was .282 AVG, 23 HR, 82 RBI, 71 R, 4 SB, and that would certainly make him a useful option to fantasy owners, especially in leagues that require 5 OF'ers.  Those numbers could be pretty similar to the production owners who draft players like Raul Ibanez and Jose Guillen get, with the exception of the RBIs.  For a player you could pick up off the waiver wire, how much more would you like?

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Commish of Fantasy Baseball Geeks:

I think that Franklin Gutierrez will be the waiver wire gem of the 2008 season.  I think Gutierrez can threaten the 20/20 club but will probably fall a little short in the speed department.  I predict a 26/16 season with 85 R 80 RBI.  The batting average will be just that; average.  Think in the .275 range.  If he can get a chunk of ABs in the #2 hole in the Indian lineup his potential could be even greater.  Gutierrez was the #54 overall prospect in 2005 and the #31 prospect in 2004, according to Baseball America, so the potential is legitimate.  Still only 25 years old, injuries have slowed his progression after being acquired from the Dodgers in the Milton Bradley trade but he has the potential to become a fantasy asset.

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Derek Carty of The Hardball Times:

I think that the undrafted player to provide the most fantasy value in 2008 will be a starting pitcher.  I say this because of the relative volatility of pitching statistics, and when we are dealing with the law of large numbers (as we are with the number of undrafted pitchers), at least one is bound to exceed his true skill level far enough to put up ace-like surface stats.

Think about it in terms of standard deviations.  There will always - always - be 5% of players who are two or more standard deviations away from the mean.  The higher numbers you are dealing with, the farther away from the mean each standard deviation is going to be.  If we think of the mean as being the point of completely neutral luck, there will always be pitchers who get lucky and those who get unlucky.

In a standard league, 108 pitchers get drafted.  At least 30, sometimes upwards of 40 of them are relievers.  Let's say that 75 starting pitchers get drafted, to be conservative.  To begin the season, 150 pitchers begin in a major league starting rotation.  Then as the bad pitchers get filtered out, better ones take their spots in May and June.  To simplify things, even if we're dealing with just 75 starters, that's a pretty big number.  95% of 75 is 3.5.  That means that 3 or 4 pitchers will be two standard deviations or more away from the mean and receive fantastic luck.

It is impossible to predict which pitchers these will be.  Last year, guys like Fausto Carmona and Brad Penny far exceeded their skill level in terms of ERA.  However, it would have been impossible to predict that Penny would have a 4.66 HR/FB or Carmona would have a .282 BABIP and 78% LOB%.  The fact of the matter is, though, there will always be pitchers like this.

I wouldn't consider this a fool's errand, though.  There will be pitchers to come off the waiver wire who will be very valuable and do well based on their skills, even if perhaps not as valuable as those in the 5% of good luck pitchers.  Last year, it was guys like James Shields and Tim Lincecum.  And if one of these guys has good skills to begin with and happens to fall into the 5%, well, that's a recipe for a dream season.

Here are a just few guys with good skills who I think could do what a guy like Shields or Lincecum did last year: Johnny Cueto (although the low GB% and Great American's propensity to inflate homers by 28% is a red flag), Edinson Volquez, Manny Parra, J.P. Howell (though he'll need to get called up pretty quickly), Andy Sonnanstine, Kevin Slowey, Scott Baker.  Be aware that guys like Sonnanstine, Slowey, and Baker don't have as much upward mobility as the others do because of their strikeout rates.  It's rare for a pitcher like this to increase it dramatically, while a guy like Volquez would have an easier time improving his control a bit.

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Adam Ronis of Newsday:

I'm excluding potential minor league callups for this.  I'll go with the Padres Scott Hairston. He was a top prospect and is now 28. He has never been given the opportunity to play full-time, but will get the chance now with the Padres. He is a former infielder that is playing centerfield in the absence of Jim Edmonds. Even if Edmonds returns, Hairston should play left. In just 87 at-bats last season he hit .287 with eight homers and 20 RBIs. Some players take some time to develop. Hairston could be one of them.

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Tim Dierkes of RotoAuthority:

As Eric mentioned to me, it doesn't seem fair to take Cueto now for this question.  Instead I'll opt for Hiroki Kuroda, picked at position 291 in a late March ADP report.  I wrote about him here.  Even my modest 4.00 ERA/1.30 WHIP/11 win/112 Ks in 170 innings projection puts him at around $7 in value.  Why can't he post something like a 3.90 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 13 wins, 150 Ks in 190 innings? 

In that case, you're looking at a $14 pitcher, which is about where I have Ted Lilly, Fausto Carmona, Clay Buchholz, Ben Sheets, and Jered Weaver.  And like any of the picks mentioned in this roundtable, Kuroda carries no risk (aside from opportunity cost).  He debuts tonight against San Diego.

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What do you think about these picks?  Who's your top undrafted player of 2008?


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