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Late-Round Pitchers To Target

It's the end of the draft and--sensibly--you've saved your last few picks for the back end of your rotation. Or maybe you play in a deep league, with eight or 10 pitchers instead of six or seven. Either way, the aces have been gone for hours, and the last of the dependable veterans and projectable rookies are off the board. Scrolling through the names on Yahoo! or ESPN or wherever, you see bum after bum. You pause at Javier Vazquez, only to remember that he's retired. Roy Oswalt's name intrigues you involuntarily. The clock is ticking and the autodraft function will choose Jose Molina to be your third catcher in five seconds ... whom do you reach for?

I'll be reaching for one of these guys. I'll be taking a look at some pitchers with mockdraftcentral.com ADPs over 200 and K/BB ratios over 3.00 or K/9 ratios over 7.00. A special few have both, making them players not to leave undrafted when filling out your rotation. Don't get me wrong, these are warty players with low ADPs for good reasons. Some turned in disappointing seasons last year, some had inflated ERAs, some pitch for Pittsburgh, and a lot of them are injury-prone. But when you're taking your last few pitchers, you're a lot better off taking some upside than settling for the Jair Jurrjenses and Luke Hochevars of the world.

I like to look at a pitcher's K/BB numbers for potential breakouts, probably because I happened to notice that Chris Carpenter had a K/BB ratio of about 4.00 the year before he turned into an ace. That's not what usually happens, but low walks and high strikeouts tend to be a winning combination, and they tend to carry from one year to the next. Perhaps the nicest thing about pitchers like this is that they are rarely team killers--it's tough to be horrible with a K/BB over 3.00.

K/BB

Brandon McCarthy has gotten a lot of good press for his 2011 season, but it hasn't helped his 203.32 ADP. To be fair, he's getting drafted in 99% of leagues, so you can't afford to save him till the last round, but his 4.92 K/BB ratio is way above plenty of ace pitchers. His history with the DL makes him a risk, but he's definitely a risk worth taking. Jake Peavy (3.96 K/BB, 238.87 ADP), Scott Baker (3.84 K/BB, 2.10 ADP) and Chris Capuano (3.17 K/BB, 3.06.06) are pitchers of a similar vein. There's a pretty good chance they'll get injured at some point, and an unpleasantly high chance they'll miss most of any given season, but as long as they're healthy, they're valuable.

Josh Tomlin put up a surprising 4.24 K/BB in a quiet-good season for the Indians. So quiet that his ADP is 312.27 and he's getting drafted in under 13% of leagues. Josh Collmenter's shiny ERA is likely to regress, but his 3.57 K/BB tells me he shouldn't be regressing too much. His 247.97 ADP is too low.  Jonathan Niese (3.14 K/BB, 2.42.71 ADP) had another quiet-good season for a Mets team without a lot of good press. Ricky Nolasco's ERA and WHIP never seem to live up to his K/BB, which was an excellent 3.36 last year. His ADP is just 246.36 and while this might not be the year he puts it all together, the Marlins' improved offense and defense ought to help him out.

Ted Lilly disappointed last year, but he still managed 3.10 K/BB and is a good bounce-back candidate with a 236.14 ADP. Colby Lewis (3.02 K/BB, 200.41 ADP) and Homer Bailey (3.21, 257.47) could also produce good years. Bartolo Colon didn't disappoint so much as blow all expectations away. Nobody else in your league thinks he can do it again, but his 3.37 K/BB says it wasn't just blind luck. With an ADP of 396.02, he could be a last-round pick that gives you the last laugh (You know, after the fat jokes you'll hear when you call out his name on draft day...).

Finally, these pitchers excelled in small samples (between 40 and 100IP): Kevin Slowey (6.80 K/BB, not drafted), Henderson Alvarez (5.00 K/BB, 264.70), Joe Blanton (3.89, not drafted), and Tommy Hunter (3.00, not drafted). I wanted to mention Juan Nicasio (3.22, 281.25), but I just couldn't use his name and the word "excelled" in the same sentence.

K/9

There is a bit more risk in the next set of names, but I really like strikeouts; it's the category that a pitcher has the most control over and even an otherwise bad pitcher might help by striking people out. These guys come with more risk than the K/BB specialists, as plenty of them will flame out, Daniel Cabrera-style. Erik Bedard leads the list with an 8.70 K/9 in 129 1/3 innings. His injury history and place in the Pittsburgh rotation have led him to a 244.92 ADP. He'll be good while he's around, but don't count on him for a full season. Teammate James McDonald (7.47 K/9, 295.72 ADP) is more of the flame-out type, but comes with upside.

Ryan Dempster's horrible year has him buried in most drafts (246.74 ADP), but he's only a year removed from being a solid No. 3 fantasy starter. His 8.50 K/BB would be very, very valuable if he's just a little luckier this year. Edinson Volquez hasn't lived up to his hype, but his 8.61 K/9 should play well in San Diego. His 240.49 ADP doesn't reflect his upside. Mike Minor spent the year being jerked between the Majors to the minors, but he still managed an 8.38 K/9 in 82 2/3 Major League innings. If he wins the fifth starter's job, he'll be a steal with a 243.31 ADP. Felipe Paulino (8.59 K/9, 367.07 ADP), Bud Norris (8.52 K/9, 239.16), and Vance Worley (8.13 K.9, 236.80 ADP) don't have super-high upsides, but could provide the strikeouts.

Perhaps the best choices for filling out your rotation are the guys that make it onto both of these lists. They've got their share of risks, but taking two or three could land you a very good starter late in your draft. Baker (8.22 K/9, 3.84 K/BB) and Capuano (8.13 K/9, 3.17 K/BB) should be among the top targets. Colon (7.39 K/9, 3.37 K/BB), Niese (7.89 K/9, 3.14 K/BB), Bailey (7.23 K/9, 3.21 K/BB), Peavy (7.66 K/9, 3.14 K/BB), and Lilly (7.38 K/9, 3.10 K/BB) all managed to meet both criteria. 

At the end of the draft, you're confronted with two kinds of players: risky types, and players you know will be bad. Don't settle for known mediocrity. Will any of these pitchers turn be among the top 10 at season's end? Probably not. But any number of them might still exceed your investment by a wide margin.


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