What happens to preseason sleepers that oversleep?
After initial struggles, most are written off, forgotten or tossed into the scrap heap known as the free agent wire.
There's gold to be found in pitchers with subpar season-long numbers, yet sparking skills and recent improvement. That's why attention span is one of the most important (and underrated) skills in fantasy baseball.
Here are three young pitchers who were all touted at some point, who have pitched much better than most think -- or at the very least have the ability to pitch much better than most think.
The twig in Masterson's bike wheel is walks. It can be tough to succeed with a 4.42 walks per nine innings rate (BB/9).
There is reason to hope for some reprieve in that area. In his first two seasons, Masterson had BB/9s of 4.08 and 4.18. Dig a little deeper and he had rates of 2.07, 2.79 and 3.76 in his three longest minor league stints.
As Masterson continues to adjust to the majors, and his subpar First Strike percentage (FS%) rises from 53.9, he should be able to improve his control.
There isn't a valid, current comparison to Masterson (Clayton Kershaw, Rich Harden and Brandon Morrow fit for Ks and BBs, but not GB%), though his skills do compare favorably to the 2008 version of Ubaldo Jimenez ...
1. Jimenez turned 24 that season and finished the year with 280.2 career innings pitched. Masterson is now 25 with 293 innings pitched in his career.
2. Jimenez pulled off a 7.79 strikeouts per nine innings rate (K/9) -- 4.67 BB/9 -- 54.4 ground ball rate (GB%) line that season.
3. Masterson is at 7.53-4.42-65.2 right now.
Justin Masterson is not Ubaldo Jimenez. Jimenez commands four pitches with a fastball averaging 96.6 mph. Masterson has two strong pitches at this point and a fastball at 91.4 mph. The same upside isn't there.
That said, even if Masterson won't ever touch Jimenez's '10 stats, it's not hard to believe Masterson could produce Jimenez's '09 stats (8.17 K/9, 2.33 K/BB and 3.36 fielding independent pitching rate [FIP]), which makes him an excellent sleeper moving forward.
Chacin has a 3.23 FIP, so he's certainly performed well this season. The thing is, he can be much better. At 22, Chacin is the youngest pitcher in this group, and he's easily had the best control so far this season. His 3.86 BB/9 is nothing special in the big picture; between Masterson and Morrow, it's straight Greg Maddux-like.
The real reason to get excited about Chacin is his 9.73 K/9. He has an outstanding 73.6 Contact% (percentage of swings when batters make contact) to back it up, and he's missing bats both in the zone (83.5 Z-Contact%) and out of the zone (58 Z-Contact%).
Since he has just 60 major-league innings under his belt, batters are still making him earn it, as his 42.3 Swing% (percentage of pitches batters swing at) shows. Once he establishes an ability to consistently throw strikes, that below-average rate will likely climb -- making his stuff even more deadly.
Chacin's off-speed pitches have been excellent so far. He throws his slider 15.8 percent of the time and it's rated 6.8 runs above average. His curve (11 percent of his pitches) is at 2.3 runs above average. This is an encouraging development as his curveball was seen as underdeveloped by scouts when Chacin was throwing in the minors.
Interestingly, Chacin's out pitch in the minors, his changeup, hasn't been great so far this season. It's at 1.6 runs below average.
Once he re-establishes his changeup, Chacin will have the devastating fastball-changeup combo that made him so effective in the minors, plus the newfound sharpness on his breaking pitches.
As with all young pitchers, Chacin will be prone to bouts of inconsistency -- especially with his control. His strikeout and ground ball skills put him in a special class of young pitchers. Remember that when he inevitably tries your patience down the road.
Few pitchers intrigue like Morrow. His 10.29 K/9 is as enticing as his 4.89 BB/9 is depressing.
Five reasons to be excited about Morrow:
1. He produced a 9.38 K/9 out of the bullpen in '07.
2. He carried that K/9 over into the rotation with an 9.00 K/9 in five starts at the end of '08 (which isn't as easy as it sounds -- ask Joba Chamberlain).
3. His 10.29 K/9 is second best in baseball this season.
4. An improved curve gives him four pitches that he's comfortable using (fastball, slider, curve and changeup, all used at least 9.7 percent of the time).
5. His 82.3 Z-Contact% is third best in baseball.
From diabetes, to Seattle's mishandling of his role(s), to Tim Lincecum overshadowing him (Lincecum was local, drafted after Morrow, and seems to be doing alright for himself), there was a lot of chaos in Morrow's four years with the Mariners.
Now mostly free from those distractions in Toronto, Morrow is doing very well. His 3.60 FIP suggests he's pitched better than his 5.14 earned run average (ERA), and that's kept his value at next to nothing.
Colby Lewis -- Lewis had his fourth double-digit strikeout game June 13 and now his K/9 sits at 8.61. Lewis is overachieving slightly with a low .244 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and high strand rate (79.8 percent), but the FIP (4.04) and strikeout combination is an enticing one.
Gavin Floyd -- Since lasting just 2.2 innings and allowing six runs June 2, Floyd has been locked in. His ERA is 1.29 and his K/BB is 3.40 during that span. Floyd has run into some crummy luck this season (.355 BABIP) and things look to be falling into place for a strong second half.
60.1: Rick Porcello's strand rate this season. Porcello played into great luck last season with a 75.5 percent strand rate and .281 BABIP. This year, things have swung the other way with his sinking strand rate and .350 BABIP. Porcello is only 21 and has plenty of growing to do.
Jason Hammel -- Hammel has been dominant in his past four turns, carrying a 0.99 ERA. He's even managed to increase his K/9 to a career-high 7.24 despite worse contact numbers than last season.
Ted Lilly -- Almost everything is looking worse for Lilly this season (velocity is down, K/9 is down, BB/9 is up, etc.), except ERA. You have to give him credit for allowing one earned run over 16 innings in his past two starts.
James Shields -- Things went from good (eight innings, two runs on May 25) to bad (5.1 innings, seven runs on May 30) to ugly (3.1 innings, 10 runs on June 11) for Shields. His HR/FB is 14 percent, up from his career average of 11.4. That figure should come down, which would help his rotund 4.55 ERA.
Ricky Nolasco -- Don't look at BABIP or strand rate for bad luck signs with Nolasco, they aren't there. He has simply pitched very poorly this season. His slider, by far his best pitch, rated at 14.3 runs above average in '09, is now at two runs under average. Without his out pitch, Nolasco's O-Contact% has leapt from 55.1 to 69.5.
Statistics are current through June 15.
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