A lot can happen between now and April, but that's one of the reasons I'm going to spend some time now looking at players who were surprisingly productive to close the season. In my NL-only leagues, I always like to have a handful of pitchers that I can scoop up late in a draft (or cheaply at auction) that I will actually feel somewhat comfortable plugging into my starting lineup, and I think finding the right ones can often be one of the biggest keys to the success of a deep-league team. This year, I'm sure guys that could be had could be had in the middle (if not later) of a draft in even the deepest NL-only leagues like Kyle Hendricks and Tanner Roark ended up leading many fantasy owners to victory... and even further down in the draft, starters like Bartolo Colon, Drew Pomeranz, and Anthony DeSclafani provided solid numbers for the better part of the season, outperforming so many pitchers that were drafted so far above them. So before my head is filled with random off-season player updates and spring training craziness, I'm going to start jotting down names of some pitchers that I'm already thinking may be on be target list late in my NL-only drafts next spring.
One thing they all have in common is that they ended the season strong, appearing in the top 20 NL starting pitchers in terms of fantasy value over the last month of the season. But they are most likely under the radar of many fantasy owners who either had a strong team on autopilot, or a team that dropped out of the race some time around the All Star break and checked out on their teams weeks or months ago. (I almost included Alex Reyes in this list, but promising rookies never seem to be under the radar of fantasy owners, at any point in the season). Also, they are all on bad teams, which is probably not a coincidence... finding under-the-radar decent players on bad real-life MLB teams is always something to consider, in my opinion. I know this can lead to a (not completely unfounded) fear of lack of wins when it comes to starting pitchers, but I wrote months ago about how I've given up trying to chase wins because they're just too unpredictable whether a pitcher is on a good team or not. And if you play in a league that uses quality starts or some other advanced stat instead, even better.
Jerad Eickhoff. He's one of those pitchers who seemed to struggle every time I turned on a Phillies game and watched him, so I was slightly surprised at how impressive his overall numbers were this season: 3.65 ERA/1.16 WHIP, with 167 strikeouts vs. 42 walks in 197.3 innings. Every time he got into a funk with a couple of bad starts he seemed to rebound nicely, and actually ended the season as one of the top pitchers in the NL over the final month or so, with a 2.52 ERA/.87 WHIP and 5 quality starts in 6 tries. I liked him as a deep sleeper coming into 2016, and I will most likely target him in 2017 as well on a Phillies team that figures to slowly but surely put things together over the next few seasons.
Dan Straily. I was surprised that there didn't seem to be much trade chatter involving Straily mid-season given how valuable I think he could have been to a contending team down the stretch, but perhaps the Reds had already realized that he might be a valuable block in their rebuilding project. His numbers this year: 3.76 ERA and 1.19 WHIP with 162Ks versus 73 BBs. His last month features very similar (but slightly better) numbers: 3.41 ERA/1.20 WHIP, and 31 strikeouts in 31.7 innings. Most importantly, his home/road splits actually favor the home side; he seems to have no problem pitching at the hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark (an 8-1 record there, with a 2.90 ERA and .197 batting average against).
Chad Bettis. OK, we're bumping it down a few rounds now with these next two guys -- even looking at their stellar numbers of late it may be hard for me to pull the trigger in March, but I always like to have a couple starting pitcher options to at least consider at the very end of a draft. As you'd expect from a Rockies starter, Bettis' numbers on the year aren't pretty (4.79 ERA/1.41 WHIP), but he had a very solid final month to end the season. Over the last 28 games, his ERA was 3.03, with a 1.10 WHIP, and 23 strikeouts to 9 walks. Also, it turns out he really does not have significant home/road splits -- what stood out to me instead are his pre and post-All Star break numbers: 5.65 ERA with a .305 batting average against before the break, 3.75 ERA and a .241 batting average against after. Obviously not a guy you're going to build even an NL-only rotation around, but he'll probably be on my $1 flyer list at the end of my NL-only auctions.
Wily Peralta. Peralta had as disastrous a start to the season as an opening day starting pitcher could, and was finally demoted on June 11th, at which point he had a revolting 6.68 ERA. When he returned to the big leagues on August 9th (due to Junior Guerra's injury, not his pitching -- his minor league numbers were equally atrocious), he seemed to be a changed pitcher. Who knows if he figured something out at AAA or just realized he was pitching to save his career, but his ERA went down with each and every start he made from that point forward. He closed out the season with extremely impressive numbers: 5 quality starts out of 6 attempts, with a 2.84 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP, plus 34 strikeouts and only 7 walks. And his matchups were not soft: two of those starts were against the Cubs including one at Wrigley, and he also faced the Cardinals, plus pitched in two of the best hitters' parks in the league, Cincinnati and Colorado. Like Bettis, he ended the season strongly enough that I will be keeping an eye on him heading into 2017, just in case the magic continues.