The Super Bowl is over. The NBA season is a hot mess of bad teams, mass injuries, dunk-contest-caliber slams (due mainly to no defense), and a schedule far too compressed to do anything about any of those problems, so instead of wallowing in the darkness that the dead of winter brings (although, for much of the nation, La Niña has basically made this the winter a major non-factor), it's time to turn our attention to the rebirth that's happening all over Arizona and Florida in two weeks. Yes, pitchers and catchers are getting ready to report, which can only mean one thing: mock fantasy draft season is in full swing.
While helpful, to many, I'm not one who believes that it's imperative to participate in many (or any) mock drafts prior to your drafting season. It's not the S.A.T., it's your baseball draft. And since each draft is unique, these mocks tend to be a loose guide, not a solid blueprint for drafting strategy. The value I find in them is through the use of ADP (average draft position) the ability to uncover players who are universally underappreciated.
Those sleepers often are not found in the full-season stats most rely on at draft time, but in the statistical splits. And honestly, would you rather draft a pitcher who excelled early in the season but petered out down the stretch, or one who started slowly and had something click during the year that enabled them to finish strong? Personally, I'll take the latter, but since their overall numbers aren't gaudy, late-rising pitchers last longer in mock drafts than they should.
Let's take a look at a handful who could surprise this summer:
Doug Fister, Tigers: Perhaps it's his 11-13 record that's scaring mock drafters away but 3-12 of that record came during his four months with the lowly Mariners. There were few more valuable players down the stretch than the 6-foot-8 beanpole. Acquired from the pitching-rich yet perennially rebuilding Mariners for pitchers Charlie Furbush and Chance Ruffin, outfielder Casper Wells and minor league third baseman Francisco Martinez, Fister was 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and 11.4 strikeout to walk ratio after joining the Tigers at the non-waiver trade deadline. From Aug. 1 on, only Ian Kennedy, Clayton Kershaw and Tigers teammate Justin Verlander had more wins; only Kershaw, Cliff Lee and Javier Vazquez had a lower ERA; only Vazquez and Lee had lower WHIPs; and nobody had a better K/BB ratio.
Given the Tigers' improved offense and the fact that he's nestled into the third slot in the rotation behind Verlander and Rick Porcello, this could be a very big season for the just-turned 28-year old. He should be going higher than his current approximate ADP of 50.
Madison Bumgarner, Giants; The Giants have a wealth of talent in the rotation with Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain leading the way. While those two are getting plenty of draft respect (Lincecum is Top 5, Cain is Top 15) it's the youngest member of the Giants rotation who should prove to provide the best draft value. Bumgarner, 22, went 13-13 with a 3.21 ERA over the course of 2011, but much of his success came late. He reversed a lackluster first half when he went 4-9 with a 3.87 ERA (including 0-4, 6.17 ERA, .279 opponents average in his first five starts) by going 9-4 with a 2.52 ERA and .239 opponents average. Overall his K/BB ratio of 4.15 placed 10th in all of baseball, including an even more impressive 5.21 in the second half alone. And his second-half fielding independent pitching (FIP) of 2.81 was right in line with Cain (2.79) and much better than Lincecum's 3.67. Currently going off draft boards at 20, he's an ace in waiting and right there for the taking.
Derek Holland, Rangers: What does this guy have to do to earn fantasy respect? You'd think that following up a 16-5 regular season with 8.1 innings of two-hit, shutout ball in Game 4 of the World Series (and not to mention playing for one of baseball's best teams) would put Holland in the Top 25 or 30 starters in baseball, but no. Perhaps it's the lefty's inconsistency (eight starts with five or more earned runs allowed but a MLB second-best four complete game shutouts) that offsets his value and trust from fantasy drafters. However, for two months from Sept. 1 until the end of the World Series, Holland went 6-0 with a 2.70 ERA and .208 opponents average. And while he's not a big strikeout pitcher, his numbers were better in '11 than Dan Haren, Chris Carpenter and Ervin Santana, all of whom are currently sought after at a higher rate than Holland, who is currently not being drafted as a top 40 starting pitcher.
Vance Worley, Phillies: It's easy to be overshadowed in a starting rotation that features perennial Cy Young Award candidates Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels in the primes of their careers. That's what's going on with Worley, 24, a rising star in Philadelphia who not only cracked the NL's top staff, but was outstanding as part of it, earning him third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. In the second half Worley matched the strikeout totals of Halladay and '10 Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez while pitching fewer innings than either. He was 7-2 after the break and finished 11-3 with a firm grasp on the fourth spot on what again should prove to be a formidable starting staff. There's no reason for him to be dropping to the 80th starting pitcher in drafts. None whatsoever.
As for our mailbag: If you'd like your fantasy questions answered, send them to @SI_DavidSabino on Twitter. Not only will I send you an answer in 140 characters or less, you have a chance to appear in this space each Monday.
The Twitter Question of the Week comes from @okomodo, a.k.a. Johan K, who asks:
I'm stashing Manu Ginobili, Brook Lopez, and Eric Gordon. Crazy? Or should I drop Gordon? Thanks in advance.
In most leagues where there's a limit on the number of injured players one can carry stashing players is always risky. This year it's especially so since there have been so many significant injuries to so many top tier players, three of whom you have. If you can get away with it without harming the rest of your squad, then it's a perfectly fine practice. However, it's hard to imagine you not needing those roster spaces occupied with bodies that can help you now. That said, I would probably let Ginobili go first as he's most likely to be rested once he finally does come back to keep him fresh during the playoffs. Next would be Gordon, whose knee has become a mystery and has stretched from day-to-day to week-to-week to now month-to-month. He may come back as the 20-points-per-game scorer everyone was hoping he'd be, but more likely he'll be limited playing for a team he's unhappy with and then move back to the sideline shortly after he finally does return. So if you want to keep one, it's Lopez, who will likely be back in a Nets lineup desperate for scoring punch in the next two weeks.