Just in case you haven’t noticed, starting pitching is plenty deep this year. Now, “deep” is a confusing term, as it sort of implies that you can wait forever to draft your first starting pitcher (SP) and be better off than the owner who opts to snag Clayton Kershaw in the first round to anchor their staff. I try to head into each one of my drafts with an open mind, but as far as taking a starting pitcher in the first round goes, sorry, I will not be doing that under any circumstances. That said, I am starting to warm up to the idea of drafting an Adam Wainwright/Yu Darvish/Felix Hernandez type in order to build a strong foundation of ratios and strikeouts and in turn provide a wider margin for error when it comes to my mid-round gambles.
But let’s get back to the “deep” discussion. I guess what I mean by deep is that after the upper-tier guys go off the board, there really isn’t much of a difference between the 30th and 60th ranked SP. I’d gladly take the 60th ranked SP at a fraction of the cost. And, the more mock drafts I do, the more I’ve become convinced that a “Stars and Scrubs” approach with starting pitchers could be the best way to go, because the “scrubs” aren’t really scrubs, even though their price tag might suggest otherwise.
This past Thursday, I participated in a 15-team mixed mock draft organized by Paul Sporer of Baseball Prospectus, and sure enough, this SP trend held to form. Listen, I don’t want to bore you with too many of the pick-by-pick details, but here’s a brief look at a few of the starting pitchers who I considered to be big-time bargains.
Johnny Cueto (Round 13, Pick 8)
Health is the biggest issue with Cueto, as a lingering back injury limited him to only 11 starts last season, but if he can stay off the DL this year, an ace-caliber stat line could follow. Keep in mind that Cueto logged at least 170 innings in four of his first five big league seasons, so labeling him as injury-prone is unfair. At #188 overall, there’s major profit potential here.
Justin Masterson (Round 19, Pick 4)
Maybe the skeptics are right that last year’s 3.45 ERA and 1.20 WHIP were largely a product of good fortune, as Masterson’s walk rate is still too high for comfort. Whatever. A dramatically increased strikeout rate combined with his ability to induce a high number of ground balls is good enough for me. I would have no problem drafting Masterson as my #3 SP in a 15-team mixed league at a #5 price.
Ian Kennedy (Round 20, Pick 2)
I know, I know, I’ve devoted way too much diary space to Kennedy over the past year, but a full season pitching his home games at Petco Park has me drinking the Kool-Aid again. The strikeout rate was still solid and he did show improvement following his mid-season trade to San Diego. As a back-end of the rotation starter in a deep mixed league, there’s little downside in taking a flier on Kennedy.
Matt Garza (Round 20, Pick 3)
Garza struggled after getting dealt to the Rangers last July (4.38 ERA, 1.32 WHIP) but the good news is that he’s back in the Senior Circuit, where he enjoyed a great deal of success while with the Cubs. Hey, he was even a pretty good pitcher during his days with the Rays in the hard-hitting AL East, recording a sub-4.00 ERA and sub-1.30 WHIP in each of his three seasons in Tampa Bay. So why is he routinely getting overlooked in these mock drafts? I have no idea. There’s no way I’ll let him last into the 20th round.
Jon Niese (Round 20, Pick 10)
Niese doesn’t appeal to me quite as much as Garza, as his track record is considerably thinner, but the Mets’ southpaw will likely find his way onto at least one of my teams this year. I’ll give him a mulligan for last season’s erratic and injury-ravaged campaign, and I remain confident that he can return to his 2012 form (3.40 ERA, 1.17 WHIP). Still just 27, Niese might even improve on that stat line. Draft him as your #6 and don’t be surprised if he performs like a #3.
Yeah, starting pitching is plenty deep this year.