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Is it Time to Look in the Bottom of the Barrel for NL Pitching?

Injuries and poor performances are decimating NL-only fantasy pitching staffs, to the point where it may be tempting for owners to just give up.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Note:  In kind of a real life-imitating-fantasy transaction, apparently the Dodgers were in the process of acquiring Bud Norris as I was writing/posting this article...

My two favorite fantasy baseball leagues that I play in are both deep NL-only keeper leagues. Because I have almost no crossover between the two teams in terms of having players in common, I feel like I rarely have both teams going well at the same time. For the first part of this season, however, both teams have been absolutely sailing along when it comes to starting pitching, despite the fact that the teams don’t have a single starter in common. The last week or two, however, has brought a cold dose of reality. In both leagues, I’ve gone from having a pitching staff that was cruising on autopilot, to suddenly realizing that I may need to cobble a group of bench/waiver wire pitchers together to even field a starting lineup.

It started with Gerrit Cole going down, which was a tough blow but one I felt I could handle given how strong the rest of my staff was. But then things went from not-so-good to downright horrible… my two other top starters in that league are Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz, and anyone who is paying even a little attention to what’s been going on with the Mets rotation knows that that things on that front are not going well of late, to say the least. Syndergaard and Matz both have bone chips in their elbows but, it appears, are going to at least try to play through the pain for now… not giving me much hope for either the Mets or my fantasy team’s starting rotation. I’ve gone from having three studs at the top of my rotation to three guys whom I’m not sure will pitch much more, let alone pitch effectively, for the rest of the season.

Meanwhile, in my other league, I spent liberally on pitching and have since traded prospects for even more. It was all looking like the investment was worth it, but the last 72 hours or so have handed me a double tummy-punch that I may not be able to recover from: Clayton Kershaw has been DL’d and is out through the All Star break and possibly beyond, while Zack Greinke left his last start after two innings with an unpleasant-looking oblique injury. Meanwhile, two of my first-half over-performers, Jeff Samardzija and Aaron Nola, have both been atrocious for their last four starts or so, and I don’t feel like I can even leave them in my lineup right now.

I was in a horrible mood last night, over the sudden crash of both of my fantasy teams that I’d been nurturing over last three months, and felt like just giving up on both teams altogether despite the fact that they are both currently in the top third of the league standings. But I realize that doing so would make no sense whatsoever, especially when we haven't even turned the calendar to July yet.  So, I’m going to try to be proactive and try to do what I can to help both of my teams... even if it ultimately proves fruitless.

The first step for me was sharing my frustration -- I’m sure many fantasy baseball owners are in a similar predicament to mine due to some combination of injuries, bad luck, and (always the hardest part for me to admit) bad drafting/in-season decision making. In deep leagues like mine with little left on the waiver wire, I understand the instinct to just give up and put one’s time and effort into other teams or endeavors. But the season isn’t even halfway over, and I’m going to at least try to do what I can to keep my teams afloat while I see if they can overcome the recent rash of injuries and poor performances. On that front, here are a few waiver wire pitchers who are available in at least one of my two leagues that I may turn to, in what is admittedly a pretty desperate attempt to patch the holes in my pitching staff. They all have nightmarish numbers on the season, but have pitched well very recently.

Bud Norris. Had a predictably disastrous first couple of months. But his numbers of late are downright impressive: 2.22 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 27K/4BB over his last four starts he even managed to pick up two wins. (He was pitching against the Cubs, Mets, and Reds at home, and on the road against Miami, for the record). I’m certainly not expecting him to be the answer to all of my pitching woes, but I’ll most likely be adding him to my team, putting him in my lineup, and letting the chips fall where they may.

Jorge de la Rosa. He has a history of being surprisingly effective pitching in Colorado, but was consistently awful for the first two months this season, as he holds a stomach-churning 6.47 ERA/1.64 WHIP on the year. His last 21 innings, however: 4 wins (one in relief), 1.71 ERA/1.10 WHIP.

Jeff Locke. A 5.12 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, and 46 strikeouts in 90 innings? Yes, of course he is barely owned in any fantasy baseball format. But he has two quality starts over his last three, a WHIP of 1.12 over that time, and while he has only 9 strikeouts in those 17.7 innings, he has only allowed one walk. Basically after getting pounded in New York against the Mets, he’s thrown two gems in a row at home against two great offensive teams, the Dodgers and the Giants. His next two starts are on the road at Oakland at St. Louis, so things could get ugly. Unfortunately it’s a huge-risk, medium upside gamble at best, but I may grab him and decide whether or not to play him based on just how scary those matchups are looking and just how badly I need to add to my depleted pitching stats.

Colin Rea. More ugly numbers on the season: a 5.05 ERA and 1.42 WHIP. But things have been a bit better over his last couple of starts: 3.18 ERA/1.24 WHIP, and at least he has twice as many Ks (13) as walks (6). Unfortunately, he doesn’t exactly have juicy matchups coming up (at home again the Yankees, in Arizona to face the D-Backs), but I will probably at least keep an eye on him over the next few weeks depending on just how desperately I need to add a starter.

In some instances, it might make more sense to just leave holes in my lineup, or perhaps add a middle reliever or two, rather than taking a chance on a pitcher that may implode at any given moment. But in my situation, I know that that the categories I need help in – wins in both leagues, straight strikeouts in one league, and innings pitched in another – will warrant me taking a few dangerous starting pitching flyers. Yes, using any of these guys in place of Kershaw or Greinke is about as far a downgrade as a fantasy owner could imagine, but it’s all I’ve got to work with right now… and if my team continues the unfortunate crash-and-burn it seems to be on pace for, at least I’ll know that I tried whatever I could to get it back on track.