John Munson/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports

10 Spot Start Pitchers Ready for Jump to Next Level

This isn’t the first or last time you’ll hear this from me, but drafting the game’s elite pitchers early in a fantasy baseball draft is a real risk. They only play once every five games, so even a true ace like Justin Verlander has his effectiveness limited.

Therefore, I rely a lot on guys for spot starts, or spurts. All of these players spent a lot of 2012 on the fantasy baseball waiver wire and naturally, were available for streaming, or for a more protracted period of time during hot streaks. I’m looking for that to change in 2013, and for the better. I’m expecting these pitchers to make a transition from temporary fantasy fix, to long term fixtures for your fantasy baseball team in 2013. Let’s take a look.


  • Homer Bailey – Cincinnati Reds

What? A pitcher named Homer? How could this be?

Sorry, I know that that joke has been told a lot since Homer Bailey came into the league in 2007, but I just wanted to try it out to see if there was some prize for being the millionth person to tell the joke. Turns out there’s not, so now let’s get down to business.

Of all of Bailey’s stats, the one that really jumps out at me is his K:BB ratio (this won’t be the last time you hear that). When you pitch at the Great American Ballpark, you have to be ready to allow some home runs. But if those home runs come with nobody on base, they don’t hurt you that much. That’s how Bailey ranked in the top (or bottom) 20 in home runs allowed in 2012, but still finished the season with a nice 3.68 ERA.

The other part of that ratio are the strikeouts, and 168 in 208 innings will give you a nice start towards being competitive in strikeouts. Put all of this in with being a part of a good team that wins a lot of games, and it’s hard to see Bailey being a drain in any fantasy category.

Bailey has been around for a long time, so it’s hard to remember that he’ll only be 27 in May. Look for a good 2013 campaign from the Cincinnati right-hander.


  • Wade Davis – Kansas City Royals

Being up front here, the biggest reservation I have including Wade Davis on this list is that he had by far his best year as a professional in 2012, only as a reliever. The Royals do have some pitching depth, so it’s not inconceivable that he’ll end up in the bullpen in 2013. But I included him here for a few reasons.

  1. As of this moment, he’s in the Kansas City starting rotation, at least according to their website’s depth chart.
  2. If by chance he does get bumped to the bullpen and comes anywhere close to his 2012 output, you have a very valuable fantasy player, even from the bullpen.

Now, Davis’ BB:9 ratio in 2012 didn’t really stand out against the rest of his career, but his strikeout ratio was phenomenal. Some of this comes from pitching out of the bullpen, but that’s also attributed to learning how to make hitter’s bats miss the ball. Davis was never a bat starter, but it was easy to get moved to the bullpen in the Tampa rotation. Now, he’s not in that spot anymore and used a year in the bullpen to better himself. Davis’ 2013 outlook is very bright.


  • Scott Diamond – Minnesota Twins

Clave doesn’t think the Twins pitching staff is a real Major League rotation. I can’t say that I completely disagree, but I am willing to call Scott Diamond the exception to that.

In a lot of ways, Diamond’s 2012 was the polar opposite of what Wade Davis did. Davis walked a lot of guys, but figured out how to strike hitters out, coming in at over 11 strikeouts per nine innings. Diamond doesn’t really strike anyone out, but he doesn’t walk anyone either. As a matter of fact, he led the league in walks per nine innings in 2012, and did so over 173 innings.Countdown 13 Graphic

Now, I won’t tell you that Minnesota has an explosive offense, but they’re not bad either. In 2012, they supported Diamond well enough for him to win 12 games with a 3.54 ERA. Diamond doesn’t walk anyone and has the stuff to allow soft contact, so that kind of ERA should be replicated. If that happens, look for similar wins in 2013 from the man who should be the No. 1 starter in Minnesota.


  • Jason Hammel – Baltimore Orioles

Before I get into Jason Hammel specifically, I’d like to suggest that think about coupling Hammel and Diamond together on your fantasy team. They achieve similar ERA and WHIP totals, but do so in very different ways. Look at what they would have brought your team in 2012.

Diamond/Hammel 291 288 73 113 20-15 203 3.49 1.24

Now that that’s out of the way, Hammel really showed how good he could be when pitching away from Coors Field. That’s not to say that Camden Yards is a pitcher’s palace, but it is against Coors Field.

He does walk a lot of guys, but makes up for it but striking out nearly a hitter an inning. He gets into jams, but knows how to get out of them as well. Again, the home runs aren’t what makes Coors Field tough. It’s the simplicity of getting other hits, along with the homers. In 2012, fewer “other” hits dropped in against Hammel, which dropped his ERA down to a respectable level. Again, homers aren’t the problem. Homers with men on base are.

In our American League East previews, we predicted the Orioles to finish in third place, beating the Yankees. That got a little bit of backlash, but let me clarify a few things. One, we expect the Orioles and Yankees to battle for third place. Two, we expect both teams to be above .500. What that means is that Hammel should get some good run support. If he stays healthy and gets between 170-200 innings, look for a solid year.


  • Hisashi Iwakuma – Seattle Mariners

First, let’s take a look at the total numbers that Hisashi Iwakuma put up in 2012.

125.1 innings pitched, 9 wins, two saves, 101 strikeouts, 3.16 ERA, 1.28 WHIP. 

Pretty good, but it gets better. You probably noticed two saves in that stat-line. From April-June, Iwakuma was a reliever. When July began, he began his time as a starter for the Mariners. Look at what he did acting solely as a starter.

95 innings pitched, 8 wins, 78 strikeouts, 2.65 ERA, 1.23 WHIP. 

No saves, unfortunately, but that’s about half a season as a starter. Multiply that by two and your looking at a very strong fantasy pitcher. When the month of July began, Iwakuma had a season 4.75 ERA, and needed a pretty good June to get to that mark. Again, he finished the year with a 3.16 ERA. He is much better as a starting pitcher and as I detailed in my Mariners preview, I am expecting good things from him this year.

  • Mike Minor – Atlanta Braves

If you’re looking for pitchers whose careers are headed in the right direction, take a good look at the Atlanta Braves rotation. Kris Medlen fits that description, but he was a little too popular at the end of 2012 to qualify for this list. Mike Minor on the other hand, fits right in.

I will grant that a 4.12 ERA isn’t earthshaking, especially when compared to a 4.14 mark the previous year. That doesn’t look like a great leap. But remember, the 2012 mark came in more than double the innings than he had in 2011. Something else to note is the difference in WHIP. In 2011, it was a poor 1.49. In 2012, the WHIP was an exceptional 1.15. Now, his strikeout rate wasn’t quite as strong, but was more than good enough to be a good fantasy pitcher.

Also, remember Minor’s age. He turned 25 in December. The improvement he’s showed in 2012 was impressive for anyone. When you factor in his age, you’re looking at a fantasy pitching rotation staple.


  • Jonathon Niese - New York Mets

First off, we saw in 2012 that even with drawn in fences, Citi Field is still a pitcher’s park. I have a sneaking suspicion that will be the case at Safeco Field in Seattle, and Petco Park in San Diego this year, as they will both move the fences in for 2013. But why specifically does Jonathon Niese fit this description?

Well, I am glad that you asked my imagination that question, so I’ll be happy to answer. Niese wasn’t really a Dixon’s Pick option in 2012 (available in at least half of fantasy leagues), but judging by the fact that he was still available in many leagues, I don’t get the impression that fantasy baseball players out there were completely confident in him. I think I know why that was.

In 2010 and 2011, Niese’s first two full seasons, he recorded a mid-4.00 ERA in August, and couldn’t even break 7.00 in September. So, it’s easily to feel spurned by a guy who didn’t do well down the stretch. In reality, a bad September isn’t any worse than a bad May (at least in roto), but when the finish line is close, mistakes are magnified. The same is true in real baseball.

That wasn’t a problem in 2012, as Niese was actually quite strong in the second half. Take a look at his ERA/WHIP totals in August and September.

August: 2.61/1.09

September: 2.49/1.18

Heck, even in July, he had a poor ERA of 4.63, but a WHIP of 1.00. As a result of a strong second half, Niese had a sub-4.00 ERA for the first time in his career, coming in at a solid 3.40. As a result of that same strong second half, he had a sub 1.40 WHIP for the first time. As a matter of fact, he smashed that total, finishing at 1.17.

In terms of ratios, Niese is pretty solid. His strikeout per nine inning mark was a solid 7.3, while he averaged better than three strikeouts for every walk.

Despite pitching for a team that was 74-88, Niese won 13 games in 2012. Not bad at all. Also, remember that the Mets had one of the worst bullpens in baseball in 2012. That may not seem like a good thing, but sometimes a bad outing is really bad statistically because the pitcher didn’t have time to work his way out of it. I don’t see Niese getting any quick hooks with what’s going to be behind him in 2013.


  • Jeff Samardzija - Chicago Cubs

For the first time in his career, Jeff Samardzija was a full-time starter in 2012. In nearly 175 innings, he struck out more than a hitter an inning and struck out more than three guys for every man that he walked. Those are both phenomenal marks and a guy who can put up both in the same season is someone to watch.

A while back, Clave wrote about Command Ratio and detailed Samardzija as a guy who projects to have a good year. I’ll let you read that take, but he also projected good years for Minor and Niese. Before anyone asks, no Clave and I are not the same person. I’ll let you read Clave’s take for more detail, but I want to make one more point on Samardzija.

Because he was a receiver at Notre Dame and has been in the national spotlight since his breakout season there in 2005, you may think he’s getting up there in age and ready to start declining. The truth is, The Shark will be 28 on opening day and was really just learning the ropes as a starter in 2012. Unfortunately the wins may not be there in 2013, as the Cubs don’t promise to be that good of a team. But Nash gave a simple piece of advice on that when talking about building a pitching rotation.

Chase Ks, not wins or saves

Short, but sweet. Samardzija will rack up a ton of strikeouts next year, and should have a strong ERA and WHIP to go along with them.


  • Drew Smyly – Detroit Tigers

It will be easy for Drew Smyly to fly under the radar in 2013, given the stars on his own team and pitching rotation. But in just short of 100 innings, Smyly posted an ERA under 4.00, WHIP under 1.30, strikeout:walk ratio just under 3, and had just under one strikeout an inning. Not bad for a guy who won’t even turn 24 until June.

In my Tigers’ Preview, I included both Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly, even though Detroit already boasts four strong veteran starters in Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, and Anibal Sanchez. Obviously, both Porcello and Smyly won’t be in the starting rotation, barring some injury. But if one is traded, it needs to be Porcello. If neither is traded and one gets bumped, it needs to be Porcello. Smyly is just the better pitcher.

He does need to cut his walks down, but are there any pitchers with 100 career innings (rounding up) that that doesn’t apply to? Not many of them have an ERA and WHIP that as a fantasy owner, you can work with. Smyly does. I would look for him to cut the walks down and have an ERA/WHIP closer to 3.50/1.25. Again, easy to be under the radar on that team, but he’s ready to be a long haul starter, both for real and fantasy baseball.


  • Jason Vargas – Los Angeles Angels

If you’ve been reading this site from the beginning, this isn’t the first time that you’ve read about Jason Vargas. It’s not even the first time you’ve read about him on this countdown.

Because while Vargas had two bad months in 2012, he also had four months where his ERA was 3.51 or lower. In July, he was stellar, coming in at 1.64 with a WHIP of 1.02. Looking a little beyond that, Vargas sports a good walk rate, which leads to a strong K:BB ratio, even though he’s not a classic strikeout guy. Looking forward to 2013, things look very bright for Vargas to put it together for the course of a full season.

It’s not that Safeco Field was bad for pitchers, but Angel Stadium is even a little better. In addition to that, the Angels are a better team than the Mariners, much better. That’s worth noting for one obvious reason, run support, but something else, too.

Pitchers on bad teams often get into trouble because they know that if they allow more than two or three runs, their team won’t win. So, they nibble the corners, walk batters, and then have to come in and challenge with men on base. But the 2012 Angels were one of the best offensive teams in the league, and now they’ll have Mike Trout for a full year, and Josh Hamilton. That means that Vargas won’t have to pick the corners as much, meaning he should throw fewer pitches in trouble.

I saw a similar leap with Matt Cain after the 2008 season. He was always good, but got into trouble sometimes because he knew his team wouldn’t score. Starting with 2009, the Giants have been a much better team, and Cain has jumped to being one of the best in the game. Vargas doesn’t have Cain’s K rate, but he’ll be an every day fantasy starter this year.


We’re continuing our countdown until the release of our 2013 Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit:

13 Dollar Players Who’ll Triple Your Money
12 Bargain Bin Outfielders
11 Pitchers You Shouldn’t Touch With a 60’6″ Pole

Tags: 2013 Fantasy Baseball Countdown Countdown 2013 Jonathon Niese Mike Minor Pitchers Pitching Scott Diamond

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