Fantasy Baseball: Finding Sleeper Pitchers

Ryan Vogelsong

Ryan Vogelsong warms up. Image courtesy of flickr user Dinur.

If you’re anything like me, you have a hard time spending early round draft picks on guys like Justin VerlanderClayton Kershaw, and David Price. I know they’re great pitchers, but spending an early pick on someone who goes once every five days is tough to do, especially in a weekly format league. Fortunately, I’ve come up with a bit of a system, and it’s pretty simple.

Step 1: Let your rivals have the top guys.

They’re just aren’t that many of them out there, and a rival having one or two of them will not make his pitching rotation unbeatable. If he has more than two, you will have a tough time matching his pitching numbers, but he won’t be able to compete offensively.

Step 2: Get High strikeout to walk ratio guys.

With the exception of the elite pitchers, these aren’t necessarily guys who strike many hitters out, but they don’t walk many either. Again, beyond the game’s truly elite arms, the guys who strike out a lot of guys also walk a lot of guys, see Francisco Liriano for that. Yes, having a guy with more strikeouts than innings pitched on your team is great, but do you really want a guy who would do very well to keep his ERA below 1.40?

Guys who don’t walk many also usually have a WHIP at around 1.20 or better, which is significantly better than average in most fantasy leagues. So, unless you’re in a league that uses stats like BBI against pitchers, you can put a few of these guys on your team and make up for the lack of strikeout production that any one of them gives you.

Actually, we don’t need an example as extreme as Liriano to prove this point. Let’s take a look at the 2012 season of Yu Darvish (who I’m a big fan of) and compare it to what Brandon McCarthy and Ryan Vogelsong combined to do. If you can only have one of these options, which would you take.

(All the numbers you’ll read here are courtesy of Baseball-Reference, unless otherwise noted.)

Option A: Darvish 191.1 156 89 83 16 221 3.90 1.280
Option B: McCarthy & Vogelsong 300.2 286 86 111 22 231 3.32 1.237

I’d take Option B personally, and it likely would have been better if McCarthy didn’t miss so much time. Obviously, we’re comparing one pitcher to two, so the counted numbers aren’t exactly fair, but let’s take a look at ERA and WHIP.

Nash, Clave, and I are all in a 15-team league, which is deeper than any league we play in. In 2012, a 3.32 team ERA would have been third, while a 3.90 ERA would have been 12th. The 1.237 WHIP would have been eighth, while the 1.280 would have been 11th.

If you knew you’d get identical production in 2013 and could only have one, Option B looks a lot more inviting. Sure, Darvish is better on his own than either Vogelsong or McCarthy, but he lags in the two average categories. What he excels at are the counted ones, but you can offset that by coupling two pitchers. Also, Darvish is pretty good, although not quite elite. There are plenty of more extreme examples that I could have used.

Coupling these low walk guys won’t get you the production of the few elite pitchers, but you won’t have to spend as much on them in an auction. In a snake draft, you may not even have to use a pick on them, as they could fall to free agency. That’s not the case with tier-two guys like Darvish or even some tier-three pitchers who can look like Sandy Koufax to one hitter, and Rick Vaughn making his major league debut the next. You just don’t have that deviation with a McCarthy or Vogelsong.

Admittedly, a fantastic strikeout to walk ratio is not a bulletproof strategy. Case in point, in 2012, Joe Blanton was second in the majors in that category (courtesy of He checked in at a 4.71 ERA, which isn’t going to get it done. But let’s take a look the top ten of that list and see how a few other stats looked in 2012.

  1. Cliff Lee (3.16 ERA/1.114 WHIP)
  2. Joe Blaton (4.71 ERA/1.262 WHIP)
  3. C.C. Sabathia (3.38 ERA/1.140 WHIP)
  4. R.A. Dickey (2.73 ERA/1.053 WHIP)
  5. Cole Hamels (3.05 ERA/1.124 WHIP)
  6. Justin Verlander (2.64 ERA/1.057 WHIP)
  7. Felix Hernandez (3.06 ERA/1.142 WHIP)
  8. Jake Peavy (3.37 ERA/1.096 WHIP)
  9. Madison Bumgarner (3.37 ERA/1.114 WHIP)
  10. Wade Miley (3.33 ERA/1.182 WHIP)

Obviously, that list includes some of the game’s best and brightest pitchers. Only Blanton isn’t a top-tier pitcher and even his WHIP was better than Darvish’s in 2012. If you keep going down that list, you’ll find some very solid pitchers who you can grab late in drafts. Put a few of those guys together and pick up a few good streamed starts through the year, and you’ll have a pretty decent pitching staff.

I certainly get the temptation to go for the top guns, but several solid arms will give you a more than formidable pitching staff, and you can get those by looking at the strikeout to walk ratio. No, you probably won’t match the guys who have a few of the top arms in the league on their teams, but you’ll come a lot closer to them in pitching than they will to you in hitting.

Topics: Brandon Mccarthy, Dixon's Picks, Ryan Vogelsong, Sleepers

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  • Clave

    Pardon me. This is just a comment test. I wouldn’t blame you for giving me a hard time for making this comment simply for the purpose of testing the changes we made to our comment system. In fact, I would prefer it as it would give me a little data around comment replies.

    • Dixon

      How did the Big V end up?

      • Clave


        • Dixon

          That’s good. I’d hate to think about that surgery being a faliure

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