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RotoAuthority League Update: Fantasy All-Stars, Pitchers Edition

The RotoAuthority League is a highly competitive 12-team fantasy baseball league run by Tim Dierkes. The settings consist of standard 5 X 5 Rotisserie scoring and 23-man lineups along with 3 bench spots. In an effort to keep owners interested as well as to infuse new blood into the league, the teams that finish below 8th place are kicked out of the league each year. The author of this column just hopes he’s not one of them.

In keeping with last week's theme, let's take a look at the fantasy All-Star pitchers in the RotoAuthority League. Once again, it's all about profit as opposed to overall production.

Hisashi Iwakuma

Owner: Philly Cheez

Investment: Free Agent Pickup

Current 5 X 5 Value: $26

The most profitable pitcher on the season went undrafted in many mixed leagues this spring. While Iwakuma did receive some preseason hype, it was rather difficult to figure out just what type of pitcher we had here. After all, he began last season as a reliever and was just brutal. Case in point, prior to the All-Star Break last year, he had a 4.84 ERA and 1.39 WHIP working mostly out of the bullpen. The Mariners then moved him into the rotation, and he broke out with a 2.50 ERA and 1.23 WHIP in 15 starts after the break. It certainly is rare that a pitcher is more successful in the rotation than out of the bullpen; however, those who took a chance on Iwakuma have found a true ace. In fact, no pitcher has provided more value in the WHIP category. Iwakuma has now gone a full calendar year performing at an elite level, so this appears to be legitimate. It's worth pointing out that he was a tad injury-prone in Japan; even so, this is a top-15 starting pitcher going forward.

Clay Buchholz

Owner: Say It Ain't So Cano

Investment: Free Agent Pickup

Current 5 X 5 Value: $24

Another fantasy ace who went undrafted in the RotoAuthority League, Buchholz is more than simply rebounding from a disappointing 2012 campaign. In fact, only Clayton Kershaw has contributed more value in the ERA category. Just as surprising, though, is that Buchholz has provided significant production in the strikeout column. While he's posted pedestrian stikeout rates the past few seasons, Buchholz has witnessed a marked spike up to 8.64 K/9 this season. Accordingly, while he's certainly benefited from an 84.1 LOB%, Buchholz has made legitimate strides this year. So what's the fantasy forecast going forward? Given that he's currently on the DL, Buchholz is no longer a player to sell in redraft leagues. In keeper leagues this actually may be an optimal time to acquire him. Overall then, Buchholz may not be the Cy Young candidate that his surface stats suggest, but this is no longer merely a spot starter in Mixed Leagues.

Patrick Corbin

Owner: Say It Ain't So Cano

Investment: Free Agent Pickup

Current 5 X 5 Value: $24

Yet another waiver wire gem, Corbin continues to enjoy a truly spectacular season in Arizona. I'm already on record here, but I think this is more of a mirage than a legitimate breakout. It's simply remarkable how drastically Corbin's fortunes have changed given that his skills have remained rather stable. In fact, the strikeout rate is actually slightly down while the walk rate is a tad higher. The real difference here lies in the luck indicators, which all favor Corbin up to this point. That isn't to say that he's a complete fluke; no, these skills are worthy of ownership in mixed leagues. Still, this is a testament to the fact there's so much that's out of a pitcher's control. I still think the post-All Star Break won't be kind to Corbin. For those in keeper leagues especially, this is exactly the type of player on which to cash in those chips. 

Shelby Miller

Owner: Brewsterville Bruins

Investment: 22nd Round pick (Acquired via Trade)

Current 5 X 5 Value: $22

The likely NL Rookie of the Year Award winner, Miller has been nothing short of fantastic this season. Entering 2012 this was by all accounts a top prospect, but he struggled at AAA last year with a 4.74 ERA. Some scouts naturally soured on Miller after these poor results. In effect, for a player with such a high ceiling, he came very cheap this preseason. While another young pitcher in New York whom we'll discuss shortly seems to be getting most of the press, Miller has been virtually as good. There's very little to criticize in this skill set. Best of all for me, though, is the strikeout rate. In today's run environment, the statistics needed to finish near the top of the standings in the pitching categories continue to be more and more pristine. With more flamethrowers today, strikeout rate has steadily risen in the post-PED world. Simply put, it's tough to own more than one or two players with relatively low strikeout rates in Mixed Leagues. Well, Miller currently boasts the 8th-best K/9 among qualified starters, and two of those ahead of him are on the DL. Long story short, this is a fantasy ace for many years to come.

Ervin Santana

Owner: E-Z Sliders

Investment: Free Agent Pickup (Acquired via Trade)

Current 5 X 5 Value: $17

In 2008 the Ervin Santana enjoyed the top breakout performance among pitchers. Indeed, he was a borderline Cy Young candidate, as he posted a 6.0 f-WAR with a 77 FIP- over 219 innings. Over the past four years, however, he's basically been an average MLB starting pitcher, which equates to waiver wire fodder in mixed leagues. Royals GM Dayton Moore acquired the Big Erv early in the offseason, and it's looking great thus far. While Santana has certainly enhanced his own performance this season, the real benefit comes from pitching for the Royals. Yes, you read that sentence correctly. After all, the Royals lead all MLB teams in UZR this season. Meanwhile, you might think of the Angels as a slick-fielding club, but they're actually just 25th in UZR. As such, few pitchers improved their surroundings as much Santana did this offseason. Overall then, this  is a classic example that context is everything in this game we play, and defense continues to be overlooked as a critical factor to a pitcher's fantasy success.

Matt Harvey

Owner: E-Z Sliders

Investment: 10th Round pick

Current 5 X 5 Value: $26

Surprise, surprise, yes Mr. Harvey made the list of top pitching values. What more is there to say about this young stud? If there are still any doubters out there, this is completely legitimate. Harvey isn't a future fantasy ace; he's already a fantasy ace. His stuff is plain filty: he leads all qualified starting pitchers in fastball velocity, and his slider is just nasty.  I don't know what to else to say other than it pains me that I don't own him in any of my half-dozen keeper leagues. Sigh...

Bartolo Colon

Owner: UP

Investment: Free Agent Pickup

Current 5 X 5 Value: $16

Jeff Locke

Owner: Philly Cheez

Investment: Free Agent Pickup

Current 5 X 5 Value: $15

Justin Masterson

Owner: UP

Investment: Free Agent Pickup

Current 5 X 5 Value: $14

For brevity's sake, let's group these final top three pitching values together. The names don't matter; it's the larger point as to what trio this indicates about how fantasy owners should approach pitching going forward. Let's take a minute to recap how the fantasy landscape has changed the past decade. When DIPS theory was not yet mainstream, sabermetric nerds like myself could more easily find undervalued starting pitchers. Flash forward to today, though, and it's just not as easy. When one couples this reality that the average fantasy baseball manager is more informed with the fact that pitching continues to be more dominant, we just can't wait on pitching anymore.

Still, more so than in the case of hitters, pitchers have so much that this is out of their control. Due to the volatility of pitching performance then, it still makes sense to gamble on pitchers to fill out your staff in the endgame. Along those same lines, spend that FAAB money early and often on starting pitchers dispaying good skills in April, even in small sample sizes. In summary, gone are the days when a fantasy owner could hold out on starting pitching; however, there will always be tremendous pitching values that go undrafted in leagues due to the volatility of the position.



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