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Sleepers & Busts: Soria, Kennedy

After a couple-week hiatus from Sleepers & Busts, the series returns with a look at a couple of surprise performers from 2011.

Joakim Soria, CL, Royals
ADP: 170

After enjoying a ridiculously strong three-year stretch as the Royals' full-time closer from 2008-10, Soria finally hit the inevitable rough patch in 2011. The seasons of 40-plus saves and 2.00-ish ERAs suddenly seemed like a mirage, replaced unceremoniously by a mere 28 saves and 4.03 ERA. There were plenty lowlights, particularly in a brutal first half, but the worst of it for Soria's owners was an early-season demotion from the closer's role in favor of Aaron Crow.

Ugh; not exactly what owners had in mind on draft day.

Things got better for Soria and his owners after his nadir, as the right-hander pieced together a moderate second-half recovery, although even that was tempered by a hamstring injury that cost him the season's final three weeks. More importantly, though, is that a 2012 rebound appears likely for Soria, creating an opportunity for owners to get a perennial top-10 closer at a discounted price.

Soria's peripherals were not quite as sharp in 2011 as they'd been in preceeding seasons, but his 2.95 SIERA indicates he was still a perfectly capable closer and that he pitched far better than his ERA suggests. Mostly, he suffered from some bad luck -- although there have been reports that he toyed with a new pitch in the season's first month or so before returning to his trusty old repertoire. Soria's .312 BABIP was well above his career average of .268, and his 72.3 percent strand rate was well below his excellent career average of 82 percent. If you mix in a home run rate that also clocked in above Soria's career average, you have the perfect storm for a down year.

With an ADP of 170, Soria is currently the 15th closer going off the board in mocks, but I'm confidently (and perhaps conservatively) projecting him for 35 saves and a sub-3.00 ERA, which, on my crib sheet, places him ahead of Carlos Marmol and Jose Valverde, as well as injury risks Andrew Bailey, J.J. Putz and Brian Wilson. Don't reach too far for Soria -- because it's never a good idea to reach too far for any closer -- but I wouldn't hesitate to nab him in the 12 or 13th, one or two rounds ahead of where he's currently going.

 

Ian Kennedy, SP, Diamondbacks
ADP: 70.7 

It sure is tough to look at IPK's tidy strikeout and walk rates and say that he's a potential "bust," but of course it's all relative. I think the young right-hander will once again be a solid fantasy starter in 2012, but to get him, you'll have to spend your fifth-round pick. That's a pretty steep price to pay for a good, but not great, pitcher.

IPK's surface numbers were ridiculously strong last season: 2.88 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 21 wins. The good news is that with good control and a low career BABIP, you can count on a repeat of a solid WHIP. The ERA and wins, however, are subject to regression. Kennedy's 3.44 SIERA suggests that while the ERA was not a Jeremy Hellickson-like fluke, it was nonetheless lower than it "should" have been. With just a couple more breaks going against Kennedy -- grounders bleeding through the infield or fly balls carrying into the bleachers -- the ERA will trend upward toward the SIERA. And the latter scenario is something to keep an eye on, in particular, because Kennedy is a flyball pitcher whose home ballpark is a launching pad for big flies.

As for the wins, well, you've probably heard this before if you're a regular reader here at RotoAuthority or other sites like it: They're tough to predict. Kennedy is a good pitcher, no doubt, and the Diamondbacks are a solid team with a good bullpen, but would it be a "bad" season if Kennedy ended up with 13 or 14 wins? Hardly. Consider, for example, Cole Hamels' 2011. The lefty posted a 3.03 SIERA on a great team and came away with only 14 victories. You get the idea.

If Kennedy slips a few rounds, I have no problem nabbing him, but chances are, the square owner in your league won't let that happen. I say, that's fine. Be patient, and keep your focus on pitchers with equal (or greater) upside who are going later in drafts, such as Madison Bumgarner, Michael Pineda, Matt Garza, Brandon Beachy, Anibal Sanchez and Yu Darvish, to name several.



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