After devoting last week's column to second half hitting leaders, I'm not about to ignore the pitchers. So let's check in on some of the notable players that rank among the second half leaders in the five standard rotisserie pitching categories entering play on Saturday.
Joe Kelly: 8 Wins (Tied for 4th in MLB) - Kelly throws hard, but he's always been more of a pitch to contact, ground-ball specialist than a high-strikeout pitcher, which limits his fantasy appeal. Kelly's overall results have been mediocre at best over the past two seasons, but during a seven-start stretch spanning from early-August to early-September, the 27-year-old went 7-0 with a 1.86 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. Kelly left Tuesday's start early due to shoulder tightness and the Red Sox have decided to shut him down for the remainder of the season, though he's expected to be fine for the start of spring training. Still, I'm not convinced that he will ever rise to the level of a reliable mixed league option. Maybe you throw one dollar his way in a non-mixed auction next spring and then cut bait should he struggle out of the gate.
Shawn Tolleson: 19 Saves (Tied for 1st in MLB) - It's the same old story every year. A waiver wire reliever is given an opportunity to close early in the season, thrives in the ninth inning role and holds onto the job through the end of the year. The challenge for fantasy owners is to guess right and use your precious FAAB dollars on Tolleson rather than Brett Cecil. Having notched 32 saves in 34 chances to go along with a 2.71 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 71 strikeouts across 66 1/3 innings, Tolleson has done more than enough to open the 2016 season as the undisputed stopper for the Rangers, and he could offer solid mid-round value.
Clayton Kershaw: 104 Strikeouts (1st in MLB) - What a surprise. At a position where player performance is so tough to predict from one season to the next, Kershaw remains as close to a sure thing as it gets. At 27 years of age, there's little reason to expect a considerable performance level decline anytime soon. I'll never be the guy who drafts a starting pitcher in the first round, but I wouldn't blame anyone who plans to be that guy in 2016.
Justin Verlander: 2.79 ERA (9th in MLB: minimum 60 IP) - Not too long ago, Verlander was the "sure thing" among starting pitchers. Then came a decent but not great 2013 season followed by a brutal 2014 campaign. And this year didn't start out too well either. But since the All-Star break, the former AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner rather quietly has registered a 2.79 ERA and 0.96 WHIP. I'm curious to see how the market values Verlander in 2016 drafts. Maybe he's no longer a fantasy ace, but there could be some profit potential here.
Marco Estrada: 0.94 WHIP (6th in MLB: minimum 60 IP) - Estrada has been a popular fantasy breakout candidate for quite some time now, so I'm not surprised to see him enjoy a breakout year. I am surprised that it has taken him this long. Expecting Estrada to rediscover the strikeout promise he showed earlier in his career is probably wishful thinking at this point, but he doesn't hurt himself with walks, which is always a good thing. Although the 32-year-old deserves to be drafted in most mixed leagues next spring, his pedestrian strikeout rate combined with the likelihood that this season will be as good as it gets from an ERA and WHIP standpoint makes him someone who I would settle for rather than target.