13 Spot Guys Ready to be Everyday Fantasy Starting Pitchers


Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

We’re definitely getting ready for fantasy baseball season here. Yesterday, Clave Jones started our annual countdown and today, Michael Dixon keeps things going with 13 spot starters from last year that are ready to be everyday guys in 2014. 

Previous Countdown Pieces: 14.

For one reason or another, everyone that you’re about to read about spent most of 2013 on your fantasy baseball waiver wires. Some were hurt but went un-rostered once healthy, others bounced back and forth between the majors and minors, or the bullpen and the rotation, others don’t fit the classic “star pitcher” mold, while some were just ineffective.

Whatever the reason, they certainly fell under the description of “Free Agent Pitchers” in your fantasy leagues last season. I’m expecting different things in 2014, as these guys are poised to be full-time fantasy starting pitchers. Let’s have a look at them, going group-by-group.

  • Young Postseason Studs: Sonny Gray, Oakland Athletics; Michael Wacha, St. Louis Cardinals.

To be fair, I don’t think we’re exactly looking at sleepers, but Sonny Gray and Michael Wacha are both ready be full time, top-of-the-rotation type of pitchers for contending teams. As excellent as they were in the 2013 postseason, citing that small of a sample size actually shortchanges what they did throughout the year in both the minors and majors. [table id=287 /]

Neither possesses the control of a Greg Maddux, but both consistently throw strikes, which isn’t something that is said about young power pitchers that often. Both also pitch on contending teams in good pitcher’s parks.

Lastly, I like that both organizations turned them loose and let them pitch that many innings in the regular season.

  • Other Youngsters: Henderson Alvarez, Miami Marlins; Brandon Beachy, Atlanta Braves; Tony Cingrani, Cincinnati Reds;  Erik Johnson, Chicago White Sox; Danny Salazar — Cleveland Indians.

Well, let’s do this one by one.

— Alvarez: Not hard to fly under-the-radar when you’re on the Marlins and not named Jose Fernandez, but Henderson Alvarez gave Marlins fans a lot to be hopeful about. Unlike Gray and Wacha, Alvarez isn’t a strikeout guy but his control is even better, which will go a long way towards giving you a good WHIP. You may need to take on a light win total, but in Miami’s park, Alvarez should have a fine ERA and WHIP. A perfect guy to couple with a higher strikeout guy on your roster.

— Beachy: Fully healed from Tommy John surgery, you should expect big things from Brandon Beachy this year. Looking at his career stats, it’s awfully hard to find something wrong. [table id=288 /]

Now that he’s healthy and will have a full off-season, look for Beachy, Kris Medlen, Julio Teheran, and Mike Minor to form one of the best rotations in all of baseball. Having Craig Kimbrel at the end of game to close out his wins won’t hurt either.

— Cingrani: Sometimes, it’s just best to let the numbers do the talking. [table id=289 /]

I’d say that Tony Cingrani is ready to be a full time guy.

To preserve the arm of the 24-year-old lefty, it’s possible that the Reds may look to use him in more of a relief role, at least at times. But even if that happens, Cingrani’s strikeout rate and consistently low WHIP make him a good MRI candidate at worst.

— Johnson: This isn’t the first time I’ve said this so it may seem like overkill, but if you want to add a youngster to your fantasy baseball team, you want him to be someone who can throw strikes. Johnson’s BB/9 rate in the minors of 2.7 tells me that he can certainly do that.

But like some of the other top guys mentioned already, Erik Johnson can also strike people out, as he has an MiLB K rate of just under one an inning.

Johnson has a plus fastball and three pitches to back it up. He should also absolutely have a spot in the White Sox rotation locked up, so you’ll get him for a full season.

— Salazar: The sample size is not a big one for Danny Salazar, but it’s pretty dang good. If you look at his career Minor League numbers, you’ll see a solid 3.10 ERA and 1.182 WHIP. But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that even those numbers are deceptively bad.

Remember that Salazar broke into pro ball at the age of 17. So, while they weren’t bad at all, his first few years were a little rough. Staring in 2012, the numbers are even better. [table id=291 /]

You never want to overreact too much to what’s happened in the minors, or to a small MLB sample size. But when they show similar things, it’s okay to get a little more excited.

You may be a little concerned about a pitch count, as Salazar is only 24 and has never had a big inning season. But until I see him struggle, I won’t be convinced that he’s anything other than a future star.

  • Under the Radar 2013 Stars: Andrew Cashner, San Diego Padres; Ivan Nova; New York Yankees Travis Wood, Chicago Cubs.

Okay, since they fall into this category, let’s look at what you would have gotten if you had Andrew Cashner, Ivan Nova, and Travis Wood on your fantasy team all season in 2013. [table id=290 /]

Pretty good. Pitchers like this are a good example of going for low walk guys, as it’s very hard to have a bad WHIP when you’re making the batter beat you. With a good WHIP, you’ll generally have a good ERA, as well. Yes, you will lack in strikeouts from an individual pitcher, but being able to roster a few extra guys and get a higher volume of innings without risking ERA and WHIP in a great way will make up for that.

So, why don’t I think these guys will experience some regression?

— Cashner: Petco Park is still a great pitcher’s yard, and his career ERA there is 2.52, while his WHIP is 1.056.

I also like the fact that Cashner’s career K rate at that stadium (6.8 K/9) is below his overall mark 7.5 K/9). That’s kind of like how some teams are better off when their quarterbacks don’t throw for a lot of yards. It frequently means that they’re ahead in games, and controlling the clock whereas a ton of passing yards means that they’re constantly behind and need points quick.

In Cashner’s case, I like that he can get the strikeouts when pitching away from the friendly confines of San Diego, but knows that he doesn’t need them when home. There, it’s okay to trust the defense a little more.

Lastly, 2013 was not only the best year of his career, but the first one where he was a starter. Andrew Cashner handled the role well, and I expect more of that in 2014.

— Nova: After a solid 2011 season, Nova fell flat in 2012, but followed that up with a nice 2013 season. The ERA wasn’t great, but you’ve got to love a 3.10 ERA pitching in the AL East and at Yankee Stadium.

Why do I like the roller coaster ride over the last three seasons? Well, it’s a sign that Ivan Nova knows how to pitch and adjust when his stuff isn’t working. That’s pretty encouraging to see from someone who just turned 27.

Unfortunately, Nova doesn’t have the same bonus of Petco Park that Cashner has going for him. Fortunately, he’s a K/9 rate over the last two seasons of 7.8, so he doesn’t have to rely on the defense quite as much. As we went over above, throwing strikes will definitely help keep the ERA and WHIP respectable, even against the league’s top offenses.

— Wood: I feel pretty good saying that Travis Wood will at least keep runners off of the bases against him in 2014? Why do I say that?

Well, his career WHIP of 1.213 is pretty good, but that includes a dismal year in 2011 when he posted a WHIP of 1.491. For a guy who’s only got four seasons and 564.2 innings pitched to overcome one rough year like that and still post a WHIP like that is pretty impressive. Since 2011, his WHIP is 1.169 and if you look at his whole career excluding 2011, it’s 1.149.

Wood is pretty similar to Cashner in that he’s not a K machine, but not terrible, either.

Like Cashner and Nova, Wood is also entering his Age 27. The fact that they’re all so young but clearly know how to pitch is a good thing for the future and certainly bodes well for 2014.

  • Ready to Bounce Back: Ian Kennedy & Josh Johnson, San Diego Padres; Brandon Morrow, Toronto Blue Jays

We finish with this trio. I’ll start with Johnson and Morrow and just remind you to look at their total bodies of work, realize that neither are terribly old (Josh Johnson is 30, Brandon Morrow will be in July), and both are coming off of seasons that were filled with injuries.

Johnson is back in the National League and at Petco Park, while Morrow showed in 2012 that he has the stuff to handle the gauntlet that in AL East — and 2012 wasn’t that long ago.

As for Ian Kennedy, I can’t get passed what he did in 2011. Maybe you can say that that was luck and that a fly ball pitcher shouldn’t have a 2.88 ERA at Chase Field, and I wouldn’t even argue with that. But now, like Cashner and Johnson, he’s got Petco Park working in his favor.

As rocky as 2013 was, we do need to consider a few things.

  1. The 4.24 ERA and 1.343 WHIP that he posted after being moved to the Padres may not look great, but he was at 5.23 and 1.419 with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The move did him some good.
  2. In 71 career innings at Petco, he has a 2.41 ERA and 1.099 WHIP.
  3. You may want to be snarky and note that until last season, every time he pitched at Petco, Kennedy was facing a usually below average Padres offense. True enough, but 47 of those innings came last season while Kennedy was a member of the Padres, and his ERA was 3.06 1.255.

He does need to get his walks down a little bit. But now that he has had a full off-season to get used to the fact that he can get away with a lot more now, I’m expecting much better things. I don’t know that he’ll return to 2011 form, but I am willing to give Ian Kennedy one more shot in fantasy baseball.

Which gives us this list.

  1. Sonny Gray
  2. Michael Wacha
  3. Henderson Alvarez
  4. Brandon Beachy
  5. Tony Cingrani
  6. Erik Johnson
  7. Danny Salazar
  8. Andrew Cashner
  9. Ivan Nova
  10. Travis Wood
  11. Josh Johnson
  12. Brandon Morrow
  13. Ian Kennedy