I don't know about you, but I hate pitchers who seem to be on the periphery of fantasy stardom, but who just can't seem to take that next step, whether it be because of injury, poor makeup, or just general flakiness. As a Giants fan, I can tell you the story of Shawn Estes, a left-handed starter who had electric stuff when he first came to the majors, with one of the most beautiful curveballs I've ever seen. After one brilliant season in which he won 19 games, Estes began to struggle annually with his control. His raw stuff was still excellent, though, and he still had that curveball, so it just seemed like he was on the cusp of returning to the fantasy elite. He was a wild card (er, not the mentally unstable kind), a pitcher who could make or break your fantasy season by either performing like a star or falling apart completely.
Of course, Estes never did regain his All-Star form. He would eventually leave the Giants and go on to almost single-handedly torpedo the Cubs' playoff run in 2003. That is the risk you run by drafting such a pitcher. The talent is obviously there, and we've seen glimpses and long stretches where it's clear that said pitcher can be a top fantasy producer. Whether they actually take that next step is another question, and it's one you have to think long and hard about in your fantasy drafts.
Here are my top six wild card pitchers for 2013. These guys could all be top shelf fantasy producers, but they could just as easily be complete wastes, so tread carefully.
With his electric stuff and his strikeout ability, Lynn seriously has the potential to be one of the top starting pitchers in fantasy baseball. Which Lynn will show up in 2013, though, is anybody's guess. Will it be the All-Star from the first half of 2012 who won eleven games and posted a 3.41 ERA? Or will it be the craptastic guy from the second half who lost his rotation spot and then imploded in two playoff starts?
If the first half Lynn materializes again and sticks around all season, we've got ourselves a top fantasy hurler with a very good chance at getting his owners 200 strikeouts and (with that high-powered offense behind him) 15 wins. If second half Lynn shows up, well...at least he'll still get you strikeouts. Lynn showed this kind of up-and-down performance in the minors as well, so he's one of the year's top high-risk/high-reward picks.
Ogando spent all of last season in the Rangers' bullpen as a setup guy, but this season he's going right back into the rotation to help bolster the end of the rotation. Ogando had a fairly successful stint as a starter in 2011, so he's shown fantasy potential before. In that year, he had a strong first half before wearing down after the All-Star Break.
Ogando throws hard and can rack up solid strikeout numbers, but he's basically a two-pitch guy (no foolin'), and it's rare that those types can last long as starting pitchers. There's the hope that Ogando can weave in a changeup here and there to keep hitters honest, although you know what they say about teaching old dogs new tricks (at 29, Ogando ain't too young). He's a nice sleeper candidate, but he could also just as easily find himself right back in the bullpen, where he honestly just might be better suited.
Fantasy owners are wondering which Beckett they'll get this season. Will it be the reinvigorated pitcher we saw in seven small sample size-addled starts with the Dodgers last season, or the pitcher who looked like he was as done as...um, fried chicken with the Red Sox through the first four months? Beckett was alternately hurt and ineffective with the Red Sox, and while his ERA was a solid 2.93 with LA, his WHIP was a none-too-great 1.33 and he still had some trouble with the long ball.
A full season in the non-DH league should help Beckett stay fantasy relevant, though his days as a strikeout asset are likely over. He has lost a few ticks of velocity off his fastball and last year his strikeout rate dipped considerably. Ideally, he'll give you a nice ERA while calling Dodger Stadium a home. Then again, 2012 was his second crappy year in three, and he's now 33 and has battled injuries the past few years, so a collapse isn't exactly out of the question.
Fiers snuck up on a lot of fantasy players last year and there's a pretty good chance more than a few owners are still unaware of his existence. Fiers was plunked into the Brewers' rotation in May of last year and shocked the masses by piling up a ton of strikeouts. In 127.2 innings last year, he struck out 135, giving owners visions of a potential 200-K sleeper in their midst.
Not so fast, there. Fiers is yet another deception guy whose fastball sits in the upper-80's. He hides the ball well when delivering to the plate, and this is generally how he gets batters to miss his offerings, but excuse me if I once again have nightmares of Dave Bush. To wit: Fiers was wholly ineffective after July, and he got absolutely rocked in six September starts. He's going to have problems with the long ball, and if he ever stops missing bats, we'll never hear from him again. However, those strikeout numbers are sure shiny, and he did the same thing in the minors and hitters never really caught on to his tricks, so he's likely worth taking a chance on.
Another guy who suffered from a case of first half/second half schizophrenia. McDonald was a Cy Young candidate when the first half ended, but he magically morphed into a batting practice pitcher in the season's second half. It was a tale of two personalities that would have made Harvey Dent proud. In the first half, he posted a 2.37 ERA, with 100 strikeouts in 110 innings and a 0.97 WHIP. He looked like the year's top breakout pitcher.
Then, Mr. Hyde took control. In the second half, McDonald surrendered an astounding fourteen home runs in 61 innings and saw his ERA shoot into the stratosphere. He certainly isn't that bad, and he had always shown the ability to succeed as a major league pitcher ever since moving to Pittsburgh. His second half dip was so out of line with everything he's done, ever, that he's a good bounceback pick. If he can't reign in those home runs, however, he'll never get his ERA under 4.00 for a full season.
Doubront feels like Jonathan Sanchez Part Deux, a guy who can rack up strikeouts but has so much trouble with his control that he still ends up as a marginal fantasy option at his best. Doubront walked four batters per nine innings last season. All those walks kill his fantasy value because he can't pitch deep into games (he averaged just 5.5 innings per start), and he ends up with a horrible WHIP. If Doubront can just shrink his walk totals a little, he'll have a few years like the 2010 version of Jonathan Sanchez, and you should jump on him. If the walks continue to swallow him whole, he'll just end up as, well...Jonathan Sanchez.