By Zach Steinhorn
Aging pitchers are generally avoided like the plague in
fantasyland, as most owners would rather take a chance on the young
flamethrower with that all-important “upside.” That strategy usually works, but something strange is happening in 2010: many of
these grizzled veterans are actually providing tremendous return on their draft day investment. Let’s discuss four pitchers who are
defying the odds.
Hudson, SP Braves: Hudson
was a popular sleeper pick after pitching very well in his return from Tommy
John surgery last September, but no one could have seen this coming. Not only
has the right-hander reclaimed his ace status, but he’s turning in the finest season
of his career with a 14-5 record, 2.15 ERA and 1.09 WHIP through 25 starts.
doesn’t offer much in the strikeout department, his low walk rate (2.94 BB/9)
and a knack for inducing tons of ground balls will help keep his ERA down. Expect
continued top-notch production from the 35-year-old sinkerballer.
Wagner, RP Braves: 2010
was supposed to be Wagner’s final season in the big leagues, but the lefty closer might want to delay those retirement plans. Another Tommy John surgery success story, he’s dominated opposing hitters to the
tune of a 1.71 ERA and 0.87 WHIP, and allowed runs in just eight of his 54
appearances this season. Owners who were willing to take on the injury risk and
draft Wagner with a mid-round pick are being handsomely rewarded.
Dickey, SP Mets: Now
this one is baffling. Just about the only positive development in what has been
a bitterly disappointing season for the Mets is the emergence of Dickey, who
entered the season with a career ERA of 5.43. The 35-year-old was called
up from the Minors back in mid-May to serve as a rotation fill-in, and three months later he’s 8-5 with a 2.41 ERA through
18 starts. I remain skeptical as to how much longer his good fortune will last,
but the guy deserves a ton of credit for transforming from an ineffective
hard-thrower to a successful knuckleball pitcher. Who knows — maybe he can
follow in Tim Wakefield’s footsteps and pitch into his mid-40’s. Nice story,
but banking on Dickey to carry your fantasy staff down the stretch is very dangerous.
Pettitte, SP Yankees: The consensus opinion of Pettitte has remained the same
for years: better real-life pitcher than fantasy pitcher. While he was
certainly worth drafting as an innings eater who could rack up a decent number
of wins, owners didn’t expect help in the ERA and WHIP categories from the veteran southpaw. Well, we’ve
been treated to a pleasant surprise this season. Not only was Pettitte 11-2
through 18 starts before going down with a groin injury, but he ranked among
the Major League leaders in ERA (2.88) and held opposing hitters to a .242
average. Pettitte is expected back sometime in
early to mid-September, but the 38-year-old has already far exceeded his owners’ wildest expectations.
- Desmond DeChone Figgins is on the wire in nearly one fifth of Yahoo! leagues (81 percent owned), but you’ll probably need to trade for him in competitive groups. That would be a good move right now. The dual-eligible (2B, 3B) infielder has a .384/.430/.493 line with six steals over his last 19 games and has trended better in the second half throughout this career.
- Ryan Kalish (3 percent) profiles as more of a 15-20 steal player than a true burner, but he has enough power to compensate. Baseball America’s No. 5 Red Sox prospect before the season went 10-for-29 with a homer and a steal in his first nine big league games and should should enjoy starting duties in hitter-friendly Fenway Park at least until Mike Cameron is healthy.
- In a league where everyone hits, Peter Bourjos (1 percent) hit the most. The speedy outfielder, who forced Torii Hunter to right field, set Pacific Coast League records with 56 hits and 37 runs in July. He’s also stolen 27 bases in 32 tries this season after swiping 32 in Double-A last year and 50 at Class A in ’08. Playing time over Juan Rivera is assured and a future move to the leadoff spot could pay big time dividends.
- Only four Major League teams have stolen more bases than the A’s this year. Coco Crisp (7 percent) and Cliff Pennington (11 percent) won’t provide power, but they should each hit between .255 and .265 with 8-10 swipes the rest of the way.
- Lorenzo Cain (1 percent) is just a flyer at this point. The outfielder showed speed, contact ability and a decent eye in the Minors, but it’s unclear how much he’ll play once Carlos Gomez returns from the DL. An 8-for-16 start is encouraging, though.
- Manny Acta continues to bat Michael Brantley (7 percent) leadoff most days despite a .167 average and two steals in 128 at-bats this season. A turn in luck (.180 BABIP) could reward that faith in a guy with a .303 career Minor League average and 59 thefts in 183 Triple-A games.
With eight weeks of regular season remaining, I think we can officially declare it CRUNCH TIME 2010.
- Check if Adam LaRoche (62 percent owned in Yahoo! leagues) is still hanging around your waiver wire. He’s LaRaking .339 with five homers and 15 RBIs in his last 16 games and has a career .301/.363/.547 line after the All-Star break.
- Pat Burrell (3 percent) loves him some National League. The outfielder is hitting .283/.378/.493 in 164 at-bats with the Giants and is now batting fifth or sixth regularly.
- Matt LaPorta (11 percent) has a career .563 Minor League slugging percentage. He’s going to start hitting home runs at some point. With a pair of dingers in his last four games, this could be that point.
- Third trade’s a charm for Brett Wallace (4 percent). A hot streak could land him regular at-bats from the Astros’ three-hole and the third base eligibility is a bonus. Expect 6-8 home runs with an average that won’t kill you.
- Hey, the Royals are finally giving Kila Ka’aihue (1 percent) and his .521 career Triple-A slugging percentage a big league shot. Leis for everyone!
- Mike Morse (2 percent) is very quietly batting .316 with eight homers and 20 RBIs in 114 at-bats for the Nationals this season. He’ll hit sixth behind Zimmerman, Dunn and Willingham while Nyjer Morgan is on the DL.
- Mitch Moreland (0 percent) looks more like an average/doubles hitter than a true masher, but all bets are off in Rangers Ballpark and that lineup. He’ll see regular at-bats as the left-handed side of a first base platoon with Jorge Cantu.
- Dan Johnson (0 percent — don’t all jump on the bandwagon at once!) hasn’t seen regular Major League playing time since ’07 and spent last year hitting .215 in the Japanese Central League. He’s probably not very good. Even so, he hit second on Saturday and cleanup Sunday, and that should lead to some runs and ribbies on the days when Tampa Bay manages more than one hit.
Guys I’m looking at after Funky Tuesday, which is my favorite flavor of Tuesday, barely edging Tasty Tuesday.
extended tryout replacing Ted Lilly in the Cubs rotation. Hello NL-only leagues!