Ricescapades: Five Buy-Low Pitchers For Keeper Leagues, NL Edition

Ian Kennedy's uncharacteristically homer-tastic year might make him a steal in a trade. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

We've covered the hitters, so now it's time to move 60 feet and six inches further up the diamond and take a look at some pitchers to zero in on as buy-low options in keeper leagues. The standard rules apply. Look for pitchers who are having an uncharacteristic uptick or downturn in a certain rate stat or who have spent the season swimming in bad luck. Anybody who remembers Cole Hamels's 2009 season can tell you how a pitcher's ERA can fluctuate even when he's pretty much the same guy, only the beneficiary or victim of the defensive unit behind him.

A quick, general note about buy-low candidates in keeper leagues. Any player over the age of 30 is typically seen as poison in dynasty leagues, however irrational that may be. This is especially the case for pitchers, and it gets worse with every year past that 30th birthday. A lot of managers are willing to part with a solid 30-something if you throw young players at them in hordes, even if they're B-grade prospects. So the first thing to watch out for when doing the buy-low thing in your keeper league is that manager who freaks out because his star pitcher just turned 33.

Anyways, after the jump, five pitchers who might be good buy-low candidates in keeper leagues. We'll stick to the NL this time, and tackle the AL next week.

Ian Kennedy

In 2011, Kennedy won 21 games and finished with a 2.88 ERA, seemingly cementing his status as a breakout future ace. However, his xFIP was 3.50, and some regression in ERA seemed likely for 2012. Well, regress he has, entering Thursday with a 4.44 ERA and a mediocre 11-11 record.

There's not much Kennedy can really do about the won-loss record, given the general lack of control any pitcher has over that kind of thing. However, much of the uptick in ERA has been caused by a new found proclivity for giving up home runs. Kennedy has surrendered 26 homers in 162 innings this season, after giving up just 19 all of last year. That is the highest rate of home runs he has ever given up, and that has been inflated by a hideous second half (14 home runs allowed in just 54.2 innings, yikes!). Despite pitching in a homer-friendly ballpark, he isn't allowing a substantially higher amount of fly balls, so this is likely a flukish bout with the gopher ball. A good bet to bounce back in 2013, even if it's not star-level like in '11.

Mike Minor

Speaking of inflated home runs rates, Minor has been the poster boy for gopher ball-itis this season. In the first half of 2012, Minor surrendered 19 home runs in just 92 innings. Not surprisingly, his ERA rose to a brutal 5.97. About a month ago, I surmised that he'd probably cut that total down a bit, since the long ball trouble was not something he'd battled so far in his young professional career.

Lo and behold, he did just that. In 51.1 second half innings, Minor has given up just five homers, and he's been a totally different pitcher, ringing up a 2.45 ERA in that span. It's clear that his first half gopher ball troubles were simply an illusion. Minor is going to be a solid starter for years to come, and since he's likely to still finish the season with an ERA north of 4.00, you'll probably be able to swing a good deal for him from an unsuspecting fellow owner.

Cliff Lee

Lee's 3-7 record and subpar (for him) 3.67 ERA have led some to believe that he's in the middle of a crappy year. Truth be told, though, he's actually been pretty damn good. His season shouldn't be characterized as poor so much as simply unlucky and...bizarre. Lee has made 23 starts this year and yet has received a decision in just ten of them. Shades of Joe Magrane in 1988. The Phillies are giving him some horrible run support and, if his .318 opponents' BABIP is any indication, they're playing some pretty bad defense behind him as well.

Despite all that, Lee is actually leading the league in K:BB ratio, and has posted healthy strikeout numbers. The cause of that inflated ERA? You guessed it...he's giving up more home runs. Since his 1.2 rate of home runs allowed per nine innings is his highest since 2007, it screams fluke. Couple that with the general keeper league aversion to any player over the age of 30, and Lee is a great guy to nab on the cheap if you can, as he's likely got another four or five years as a top-shelf pitcher left in him.

Cory Luebke

Your ability to grab Luebke on the cheap hinges completely on how freaked out his owners are about the Tommy John surgery that finished his 2012 prematurely. Luebke burst on the scene last season by posting a (somewhat shocking) 9.9 K/9 when thrust into San Diego's starting rotation. In five starts this season, his strikeout totals were down, but he was just as effective, and his fantasy value will always be a bit higher as long as he works his magic at Petco Park.

Since Tommy John surgery has an extremely high rate of recovery these days, going after Luebke for next season and beyond could pay off big time. Take a look at who owns him and try to gauge if they're the type of manager who has the patience to ride a dead roster spot for another six-to-eight months.

Tim Lincecum

Here we go. Lincecum is either suffering a bump in the road to a Hall of Fame career, sort of a Greg Maddux 1987 kind of year, or he's so screwed up as to be beyond redemption. He's still striking out a solid amount of hitters, but his velocity is down substantially and his command has been awful. Lincecum this season has walked 4.1 batters per nine innings, the worst rate of his career. Since he doesn't throw in the high-90's anymore, that's not really going to fly.

Lincecum is the ultimate boom or bust pick right now. If he's going to get it back together and become Cy Young material again, you're never going to get a better opportunity than right now to buy him cheap. The fact that he's still striking batters out, despite it all, makes one think we might see the old Freak we know and love once again.

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