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Sleepers & Busts: AL West Aces

The AL West has a number of highly rated pitchers littered throughout its ranks, including the newly minted highest paid pitcher in MLB history. King Felix inked a seven-year, $175MM extension this offseason, and his career accolades and relative youth make a compelling argument to say he's worthy of that honor. The King is currently being drafted as the No. 7 starting pitcher, per Mock Draft Central, and that's pretty accurate. Maybe he could go above Cole Hamels, who's going an average of two spots higher, but he's in the correct vicinity. Ditto for Texas ace Yu Darvish (No. 9), whom I'd probably drop behind Matt Cain, Adam Wainwright and Gio Gonzalez, but is close enough to the right spot that I won't complain.

Let's look around the rest of the division for some murkier ace cases...

Jered Weaver, LAA - ADP 55

I'll say it right out of the gates -- I'm not touching Weaver in drafts this year. Weaver's been a fantasy rock for years, but his strikeout rate has dropped in consecutive seasons (6.8 K/9 in 2012) and much of his 2011-12 success came from high strand rates (82.6 percent and 79.2 percent) and equally low BABIPs (.250 and .241).

There's also the fact that while he's never been a flamethrower, Weaver's velocity is looking more and more like that of Livan Hernandez than Felix Hernandez these days. By the end of last season, he was creeping down into Barry Zito territory with that heater, as you can see. That diminished fastball averaged a career-worst 4.8 percent swinging strikes.

The differences were noticeable, as Weaver posted his highest line-drive rate since 2007 (21.1 percent), and he allowed home runs at nearly the highest rate of his career. Weaver maintained solid command and could rebound if he shows rejuvenated velocity, but he also made his first trip to the disabled list in in five years last season. With all of the red flags surrounding him, I'd drop him from a Top 10 pitcher to more of a Top 20 guy -- and probably at the back-end of that class. His name value is so high, however, that he'll almost certainly never drop that far. As such, it's best just to say "No Thanks" and take someone like Cain, Wainwright, Gonzalez, James Shields or Madison Bumgarner instead. Weaver's bust potential is just too high.

Final Ruling: Bust

Brett Anderson, OAK - ADP 204

Some 140 picks later in MDC drafts comes Brett Anderson -- the 50th starting pitcher off the board. That's a bit surprising for a 25-year-old with a career 3.57 ERA and 3.14 K/BB ratio. Obviously it's due to the fact that this will be his first full season removed from Tommy John surgery, but Anderson was nothing short of spectacular upon his brief return in 2012. Nearly 60 percent of the balls put in play against Anderson were of the grounder variety, and he posted a pristine 3.57 K/BB ratio to go along with a 2.72 FIP/3.06 xFIP/3.10 SIERA (small sample size caveat noted).

Anderson plays in a monstrous park with a pretty solid outfield defense behind him, though the infield defense could stand to improve for such a heavy ground-ball pitcher. Still, that he's being drafted after the likes of Homer Bailey, Alexi Ogando, Kyle Lohse and the aging Tim Hudson, among others, is fairly surprising. Just a few of the questionable non-starters going ahead of him include Mark Reynolds, Justin Ruggiano and Ernesto Frieri.

A career 3.57 ERA, 3.53 FIP, 3.55 xFIP and 3.59 SIERA show that Anderson is a solid bet for a useful ERA at that stage of the draft, with upside for improved ratios to offest his below-average strikeout rate. The Oakland "ace" (one could argue that Jarrod Parker deserves that title) is a terrific investment in the later rounds of drafts, and a definite post-injury sleeper.

Final Ruling: Sleeper

Bud Norris, HOU - ADP 411

It's tough to look at the Astros' rotation and declare anyone to be the ace of that staff, but if I have to pick one, Norris is my guy (apologies to Lucas Harrell). In terms of fantasy baseball, Norris is a one-trick pony, but's a pretty nice trick. He's whiffed 553 players in 563 2/3 career innings. Granted, 74 of those whiffs have come against pitchers that he'll no longer be facing all that often, so the K-rate will likely decline. However, we can't simply assume all of those strikeouts would vanish if he were to face position players.

Norris has still struck out roughly 24 percent of non-pitchers he's faced in his career. So let's assume that if you replace the 204 pitchers he's faced with actual hitters, that instead of whiffing 74 of those opponents, he'd have fanned 49. That drops his K/9, but still leaves a healthy mark of 8.4. Norris has averaged 169 innings per season over the past three years, so that's about 158 strikeouts in your pocket if you decide to draft the 132nd most popular pitcher on MDC.

Over the past three seasons, Norris has a 4.41 ERA but far more respectable marks in FIP (4.13) and xFIP (3.93). He's been a bit better than the numbers suggest in the National League, but that doesn't change the fact that the AL will likely hurt his ratios. Home runs have always been an issue for Norris, and facing a DH instead of facing someone like Tim Lincecum certainly isn't going to help his cause in that department.

But if you're in a deep mixed league or an AL-only setting, there's no reason that Norris should be as far down the draft board as he is over at MDC. He's surrounded by anemic strikeout rates (Bartolo Colon, Jeff Karstens, Wade LeBlanc) and players who likely don't even have jobs to open the season (Tyler Cloyd, Jeff Niemann, Josh Collmenter, Aaron Harang).

If you're in a standard 10- or 12-team mixed league, Norris can stay on the free agent list and perhaps make an occasional spot start against a weak lineup. But in deeper leagues, he's a nice source of strikeouts late in the game that could provide far more acceptable ratios than names being drafted ahead of him (I'm looking at you, Ubaldo Jimenez).

Final Ruling: Sleeper

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