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Sleepers & Busts: Snakes And Rays Starters

Last week I looked at a trio of former Twins center fielders whose draft positions could stand to be adjusted. This week, I'm tackling a trio of young starters who put together pretty good fantasy seasons last year.

Wade Miley, ARI – ADP 156

On the surface, Miley’s rookie season was remarkable. He tallied a strong 194.2 innings and posted a terrific 3.33 ERA. He controlled the zone fantastically (1.71 BB/9), which contributed to his impressive 1.18 WHIP. Add in 16 wins, and Miley was a strong three-category pitcher. His strikeout rate of 6.7 per nine innings isn’t a fantasy asset, but it’s not a complete anchor on a staff either.

A closer look at Miley reveals that a repeat isn’t necessarily something to bank on, though. Miley’s season was fueled by a 6.9% HR/FB mark. Miley plays in a small park and doesn't limit fly balls all that well (43.3% ground-ball rate, 33.7% fly-ball rate), so regression toward 10% seems likely.

His xFIP of 3.75 (which normalizes HR/FB to the league average of around 10%) serves as a better predictor of what to expect in 2013. SIERA (3.84) agrees that his 2012 ERA will be difficult to repeat.

If Miley finds himself on the wrong side of the league average for  HR/FB as he did in his brief 2011 cup of coffee (15.4%), he could very well end up being a fantasy detriment in standard mixed leagues. Considering he averages just under 91 mph on his fastball, it wouldn't be shocking to see him in that territory.

In general, drafting low-strikeout pitchers whose value is dependent on a low HR/FB isn’t a good recipe. Miley is coming off the board ahead of Anibal Sanchez, Mike Minor, Brett Anderson, Jake Peavy and Matt Harvey. There’s starting pitching value beyond his current ADP – a lot of it with significant upside.

Final Ruling: Bust

Matt Moore, TB – ADP 116

Moore burst onto the scene in dominant fashion late in 2011, leading to lofty expectations and a lofty ADP in 2012. A dismal first half led many to lose faith in the flamethrowing lefty, but those who enjoyed his second half are aware of the type of talent Moore has.

Moore had a 3.01 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 79 punchouts in 77.2 second-half innings, and that’s with a late-season swoon in September. In 14 starts from June 15 through August 30, Moore tallied a 2.78 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 81 strikeouts in 87.1 innings. I’ll be the first to admit these endpoints are arbitrary, but I use them merely to demonstrate Moore’s ability to dominate over a sustained period of time.

Moore needs to illustrate better command (which he did as the season progressed), and as that comes so will his success. Just one year ago, Keith Law, Kevin Goldstein, Baseball America and Jonathan Mayo all agreed that the game’s top three prospects were Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and Moore. His overall numbers might not look it, but for an extended stretch late in the season, Moore showed he’s capable of reaching that hype.

His current draft position has him coming off the board after names like Ryan Vogelsong, Jonathon Niese, Ian Kennedy and C.J. Wilson. I prefer Moore to each and would be comfortable drafting him inside the Top 100 if the alternative was hoping he’d be there for me at the end of the tenth round.

Final Ruling: Sleeper

Alex Cobb, TB – ADP 240

Cobb certainly didn’t come with as much hype as his teammate, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to like about the 25-year-old. His 4.03 ERA and 1.25 WHIP don’t leap off the page, nor does his 7.0 K/9, but improvement seems to be in the cards.

Cobb’s 58.8% ground-ball rate ranked third among pitchers with 130 innings. For a guy whose infield defense is going to consist of Evan Longoria, Yunel Escobar, Ben Zobrist and James Loney – with Ryan Roberts in a utility role – that’s a great trait to have. Last year, the team struggled as a whole at shortstop (-8.5 UZR, -4 DRS). With the addition of a solid glove in Escobar and a premium defender at first base, the Rays should be among baseball’s best defensive infields, which will play to Cobb’s strength.

Beyond that, Cobb’s HR/FB was as much above average as Miley was below, and Cobb stranded just 68.5 percent of his baserunners in 2012. That’s four percent below league average, and it’s not a problem he experienced throughout the Minors for any extended period of time. From 2008 forward, he was only below 72.5 percent once – his small 41-inning sample in 2012. FIP (3.67), xFIP (3.54) and SIERA (3.51) all suggest that there’s a step forward coming for Cobb. And, with 242 strikeouts over his previous 228.1 Minor League innings, there’s room to project an uptick in K’s. He’ll need to improve a pedestrian 7.7 swinging strike rate to do so, but even if he simply maintains the status quo he can outperform his ADP.

Cobb doesn’t have ace upside, but he’s a solid K/BB guy with an elite ground-ball rate who was plagued by a previously unproblematic strand rate. In spite of this, he’s coming off the board behind Ervin Santana, Edinson Volquez (who led the NL in walks), Jason Vargas, Gavin Floyd, Ricky Romero and several other pitchers who are likely to post inferior 2013 seasons. Cobb could be going a full 2-3 rounds earlier, and you’d hear no complaint from me.

Final Ruling: Sleeper

ADPs courtesy of MockDraftCentral.com. Advanced stats courtesy of FanGraphs.com.

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