By David Sabino
May 27, 2010
Nine For Now

Pitching is the hardest part of assembling and managing a fantasy baseball team. Hurlers are the most fragile and inconsistent of any players on the field. As hitting stats decline late in drafts, you're as likely to pick up good pitching late as you are early on, which brings us to this week's Nine For Now. These nine pitchers were all overshadowed by more expensive options on their teams and were available late in your drafts, or even on waivers afterwards, and all have distinguished themselves as must-have fantasy pitchers going forward. For more insights, follow SI's fantasy expert David Sabino on Twitter at SI_DavidSabino.

1 Jaime Garcia, Cardinals
Jaime Garcia, Cardinals
The Cardinals entered the season featuring two Cy Young Award candidates, Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, but after winning the last spot in the rotation during an open audition in spring training and through nine starts, the young lefthander from Mexico is firmly in the discussion. Garcia has been one of the top starters in baseball, going 4-2 with a 1.14 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 45 strikeouts in 55 1/3 innings through nine starts. He's held opponents scoreless in four of his starts and hasn't allowed more than two earned runs in any of the five others.
2 Phil Hughes, Yankees
Phil Hughes, Yankees
Now we get why the Yankees were so reluctant to part with Hughes as part of a Johan Santana deal. Overshadowed by the likes of CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte, the fourth-year righty is following up one of the best seasons ever for a middle reliever (1.40 ERA, .172 opp. batting average in 51 1/3 innings of relief in '09) with one of the top years in recent history for a young Yankee. Hughes leads the team's starters in allowing an opposing batting average of just .202, he's tied with Sabathia for the team lead in strikeouts (49) and is tied for second in both wins (five) and ERA (2.72). Hughes has a good chance to join Pettitte, Stan Bahnsen and Lefty Gomez as the only Yankees with 15 wins, 150 strikeouts and a sub-3.00 ERA in a season before his 26th birthday.
3 Mat Latos, Padres
Mat Latos, Padres
One of the top starters on the best staff in the big leagues, Latos, 22, is allowing fewer than one baserunner per inning (0.99 WHIP), helped in large part to a complete-game one-hit win two weeks ago in San Francisco. Throw out a bad start in Florida and Latos' numbers become microscopic: 0.85 WHIP and his ERA drops more than a full run from 3.09 to 2.05.
4 Shaun Marcum, Blue Jays
Shaun Marcum, Blue Jays
Another Tommy John surgery success story, Marcum hasn't missed a beat from the success he enjoyed early in his career and has filled the void created by the loss of Roy Halladay less than a year after being shut down from a rehab assignment following the elbow reconstruction procedure. Playing in the game's toughest division, he's anchored a surprising staff that's kept the Jays in the race by going 4-1 with a 2.82 ERA and straight up 1.00 WHIP in 67 innings.
5 Jeff Niemann, Rays
Jeff Niemann, Rays
Part of the reason the Rays have been frontrunners has been their dominance away from St. Petersburg, winning 19 of 24 away games. Niemann, slotted as the fourth starter behind James Shields, David Price and Matt Garza has been a main reason, by going 4-0 with a 2.29 ERA and 1.02 WHIP. And although he hasn't picked up a decision at home, he's been almost as good, just unlucky, pitching to a 2.95 ERA with a .240 opposing batting average and 1.22 WHIP.
6 Colby Lewis, Rangers
Colby Lewis, Rangers
The AL strikeout leader through April, Lewis' triumphant return from two outstanding seasons in Japan has been slightly derailed recently, but with a power arm and Mike Maddux as his tutor, Lewis' 4-2 record, 3.45 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and more than one strikeout per inning rate can't be considered a fluke.
7 Clayton Richard, Padres
Clayton Richard, Padres
Who would you rather have?
Player A: 4-2, 2.73 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 6.6 K/9.
Player B: 3-4, 6.05 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 8.0K/9.
Player A is the surprising lefty Richard, acquired as one of four players the Padres received for Player B, Jake Peavy, last season. While Peavy's time on the South Side has been a nightmare, Richard's time in San Diego has been a dream both for the Padres and those astute enough to draft him.
8 Mike Pelfrey, Mets
Mike Pelfrey, Mets
Once the most common man offered up as trade bait in deals proposed by New York sports talk callers, Pelfrey is pitching himself into the ranks of the off-limits, even in fantasy leagues as he's tied for third in the NL in wins (six) and ranks 13th in ERA (2.86). Never a strikeout artist, he's pitching to a career-high rate of 6.2 per inning and has given the Mets a sorely needed complement to staff ace Johan Santana.
9 Doug Fister, Mariners
Doug Fister, Mariners
Seattle manager Don Wakamatsu hasn't had much to joke about this season but recently he mentioned that he would have his third and fourth starters, Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee, pitching against the Angels in Anaheim. You might think he's lost his mind, but take a look at the numbers of Doug Fister and Jason Vargas and you'll see he's not off his rocker. Fister has been especially surprising, as he leads the AL with a 2.03 ERA, having allowed just two home runs in 62 innings. While he's a fantasy liability in strikeouts (just 26 for the season), Fister's efficiency (he's third in the majors behind Carl Pavano and Roy Halladay with 1.45 walks per nine innings) makes him worthy of a spot on any roster.

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