We’re in the midst of the preseason in which the vast majority of fantasy leagues will be hosting their fantasy drafts, and fantasy owners everywhere are looking for tips and tricks to give them a strategic edge over the competition. Luckily, not everyone in your league is smart enough to read RotoGraphs on a regular basis. While I’m not certain it’s the equivalent of fantasy baseball PEDs, it seems damn close.
Since we’ve now established the apparent correlation between RotoGraphs and fantasy steroids, here are a few thoughts to stuff in your back pocket on a pair of pitchers, one concerning a guy who should be drafted in every league and one who will be lucky to have a 5% ownership rate on Opening Day:
RHP Hisashi Iwakuma, Seattle Mariners
Iwakuma finished the 2013 season as the sixth-best fantasy starter, so he’s far from being considered an under-the-radar sleeper. However, due to a finger injury this spring, his draft stock has plummeted to the point that he’s going #113 overall and as the #38 pitcher, and I’ve been seeing him go even lower than that in the mock drafts I’ve perused. Fantasy owners should know he’s been cleared to start throwing with no restrictions. While he should be unavailable on opening day, he’s not expected to miss a significant chunk of the season.
Fantasy owners seem to undervalue Iwakuma because he doesn’t offer a prodigious strikeout rate. After all, his career K-rate in the big leagues is 7.46 K/9 and he’s about to turn 33 years old. Don’t overlook the right-hander on draft day based on those numbers, though. In 314.2 career innings as a starter in the big leagues, he has a 2.66 ERA and 3.58 FIP. His career WHIP as a starter is 1.07, and playing in Safeco has helped keep his home-run rate under control and likely helped him outperform his FIP on a consistent basis.
In addition, Iwakuma has better stuff than his league-average strikeout rate would suggest. His 10.3% swinging-strike rate was 21st-best among qualified starters last year, ranking better than Jose Fernandez and James Shields. Furthermore, he owns a swinging-strike rate that’s better than the league average on his fastball and splitter. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to believe his strikeout rate could experience a modest jump in 2014. After all, only three starters with a higher swinging-strike rate ended the season with a lower overall strikeout rate.
If you’re content to stash Iwakuma on the DL for a few weeks at the beginning of the season, he could be a nice injury-sleeper on draft day.
LHP Will Smith, Milwaukee Brewers
In previous weeks, I’ve made my discomfort with Brewers’ closer Jim Henderson quite clear. I’m worried about his command and underlying platoon-split issues, and I would not be surprised if he proved unable to hold the closer’s role throughout the entire year. Brandon Kintzler and Francisco Rodriguez appear to be candidates for any vacancy in the ninth inning for Milwaukee, but perhaps the most-intriguing arm in the bullpen is lefty Will Smith.
Smith compiled a 3.24 ERA last year with the Kansas City Royals, working almost exclusively out of the bullpen. In fact, he had a 2.45 ERA as a reliever. He struck out 32.8% of opposing batters and only walked 5.3%, which gave him one of the better K/BB ratios in the league. He’s doing the exact same thing this spring, as he has 11 strikeouts and only one walk in the Cactus League. Of course, the southpaw struggled with the long ball, which could continue to be an issue in homer-friendly Miller Park, but he possesses the ability to be truly dominant over extended periods of time. He could offer help with ratios — he had a 0.93 WHIP last year — and offer above-average strikeouts for a reliever. I mean, the dude whiffed 50% of the lefties he faced last year. That’s a ridiculous number, even with the small-sample-size caveat included.
If Henderson struggles, Will Smith could be a sleeper candidate for saves in Milwaukee. The upside is that he’ll offer strikeouts and good ratios for owners in deeper leagues, who will still benefit even if he never moves into the closer’s role. In holds leagues, he becomes even more valuable. For standard leagues, though, Smith is a guy to put on your watch list. If trouble seems to be brewing in the ninth inning for Milwaukee, he’s a guy to grab off the waiver wire before your competitors have a chance to do the same.
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