One of the more painful exercises I frequently force myself to do is to look back at the prior year draft and scan the lower rounds to see where the gems were mined. Invariably, there are a number of starting pitchers that leap off the screen resulting in my palm smacking my forehead in bewilderment as to how I missed out.
But every year, great pitching performances can be found in late rounds. Your ability to sniff them out will allow you to spend more of your early picks on the boys with the big bats, which are all too difficult to find in late rounds.
To that end, allow me to present the case for three starting pitchers that I think are going far later than their worth to your fantasy squad - in descending order of preference: Shaun Marcum, Ryan Dempster, and A.J. Burnett.
Yes, I said A.J. Burnett.
Alright, this isn't really dumpster diving, but Marcum was being drafted in the 8th round on average headed into 2011 and after producing just about the same quality stats as in 2010, he's now being drafted on average in the 13th. I find that odd. But heck, maybe it's the dawn of the new Shawn Marcum market inefficiency, I don't know -- but I'll take him.
Marcum comes with some injury risk (but hell, so does this kid) but a 3.54 ERA (3.73 FIP), 1.16 WHIP with a strikeout rate over 19% in the 13th inning should be something you're interested in. What's more, for over his first 16 starts with his new squad, Marcum put up a 2.95 ERA with a swinging strike rate over 12%, inducing a 64% ground ball rate with his great change-up. He sputtered down the stretch with an ERA over 5.00 in September and a lot of people still remember how bad he looked in the playoffs. But his xFIP in September was still a respectable 3.86 -- it's just that his results were in part due to a brutal 65% strand rate and unusually high BABIP and HR/FB rate (14%).
You could be drafting Marcum as your #5 starter and he very easily could perform like a #3 in a very good rotation. Don't sleep on him on draft day.
Yes, Ryan Dempster blew up in 2011 for a 4.80 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, and he won just 10 games. But consider Dempster's FIP and xFIP over the last four years:
Dempster has actually been remarkably consistent over the last four years and if you can get past the ugliness of that 4.80, you've got a nice candidate to pluck out of one of the last rounds of the draft that just might wind up being a pretty significant contributor to your squad. His strikeout rate over the last four years: 21.9%, 20.4%, 22.7%, and 21.7%. If he can repeat in the low 20's, assuming Dempster can give you 200 innings pitched, he could net 190 K's. What's more, most projection systems see him with an ERA below 4 and a WHIP that should return back into the low 1.3 range.
There was no appreciable change in his velocity, but his slider simply wasn't as effective as it was in the past. His slider has pretty consistently been a couple runs above average per 100 pitches, but in 2011, it was a tick below average, which impacted his overall swinging strike rate and elevated his contact rate. One concern might be that his fastball velocity started to drop pretty significantly into August and September, but remember that Dempster really doesn't rely all that heavily on his straight burner -- he throws almost 30% two-seamers now, to go along with 30% sliders and double-digit change-ups.
Dempster was being drafted at about 140 in 2011, which I actually thought was pretty late given his profile, and now after one stinker over the last four years, he's pretty much free with an ADP over 300. He's an old dog, but there's reward with this risk, even if wins might be tough to come by in Chicago this season. I think he's an excellent late round flier.
I heard a pretty scathing attack on a national media outlet regarding A.J. Burnett and his inability to be effective as a starting pitcher. Citing things like wins and ERA, this radio personality levied some pretty harsh terms to describe Burnett and with a ferocity that made it seem like he just had a fresh pot. I had to laugh of course, because A.J. Burnett was far more than what his win totals and ERA indicate. And frankly, if he is ultimately traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates, he might be a better pitcher because of it.
Without even drilling down very far, there's a lot to like about Burnett. He had an 8.18 K/9 rate and an overall 20.7% K rate.That K rate bests Dan Haren, Matt Cain, Jordan Zimmermann, among others. A.J. Burnett can still give you 185 K's if he can stay on the field for 200 innings, and if he goes to the National League, it will only serve to elevate his predicted strikeouts.
Yes, he had a 5.15 ERA, but his xFIP was 3.86 in large part because of a ridiculously elevated home run rate at 17.6% HR/FB whereas his career rate is right about 11%. Yankee Stadium did him few favors, being one of the very friendliest places on earth to hit home runs for left handed batters and it's worth noting that roughly 33% of the home runs Burnett allowed were classified as "just enough" or "lucky" by ESPN's Hit Tracker.
Burnett's not going to carry your team ERA and he's likely to have a WHIP that will likely give you indigestion -- but if you're dying for strikeouts and you're in one of the final rounds of your draft, a flyer on Burnett isn't a terrible idea. His HR rates will regress, and should he maintain a swinging strike rate at his career norm of about 10%, he's going to have success in striking batters out once again. With an ADP of 386 (at mock draft central) you might even be able to grab him off the waiver wire early in the season.