Using Athlon Sports' Big Board as the barometer, here are some potential starting pitcher sleepers who toe the rubber to keep an eye on, as well some possible busts to potentially be wary of. Keep in mind that the "bust" tag doesn't necessarily mean that player won't produce, it's more an indication of concern that he won't do so in relation to his position on the Big Board.
Note: Starting pitcher includes players who have SP eligibility, according to Yahoo!. The player's ranking on the Big Board (200 players ranked) is listed, if applicable. UR means player was not ranked among the top 200. Player rankings from 2012 referenced are from a Yahoo! league that uses the following pitching statistics: W-SO-SV-HLD-ERA-WHIP.
2013 Fantasy Baseball Starting Pitcher (SP) Sleepers
Homer Bailey, CIN, SP (No. 177 overall)
Teammates Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos and Aroldis Chapman (who has been moved back to the bullpen as the Reds' closer) get more publicity and are ranked higher on the Big Board, but don’t overlook Bailey. For starters, his ERA and WHIP have both decreased in each of the past four seasons, as his ERA alone dropped by three-quarters of a run (from 4.43 to 3.68) in 2012. Further, look what Bailey did in the second half of last season: 6-4, 3.21 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 92 SO in 103 2/3 innings. He capped of his strong finish by pitching seven innings of one-run, one-hit ball against the Giants in the NLDS with 10 strikeouts and just one walk. Bailey will turn 27 in May and this season may be the time the No. 7 overall pick of the 2004 MLB Draft finally puts it all together.
Alex Cobb, TB, SP (UR)
With reigning American League Cy Young winner David Price, 2011 AL Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson and flamethrower Matt Moore fronting the rotation, it’s easy to lose track of Cobb. However, the 25-year-old righthander more than held his own in his first season in the majors in 2012, going 11-9 with a 4.03 ERA in 23 starts. His development was one of the reasons the Rays were willing to part with James Shields in the offseason, and if his spring training numbers (14 H, 5 ER, 2 BB, 23 SO in 19 1/3 innings so far) are any indication, he could be in for a breakthrough campaign in 2013.
Ross Detwiler, WAS, SP (UR)
The 27-year-old lefthander could be the most valuable fifth starter in the National League, if not all of baseball. Detwiler went 10-8 with a 3.40 ERA in 33 games (27 starts) for the Nationals last season. Though he’s not a high strikeout guy like teammates Stephen Strasburg or Gio Gonzalez, Detwiler minimizes the damage done by opposing hitters (149 hits allowed in 164 1/3 innings) effectively. With the Nationals’ lineup supporting him, there’s no reason to not expect another double-digit win season out of Detwiler, who could take that next step as a pitcher if he’s somehow able to improve on his control (52 BB vs. 105 SO in 2012).
Derek Holland, TEX, SP (UR)
A 16-game winner in 2011, Holland managed just 12 wins last season as his ERA went from 3.95 to 4.67. Injury could be somewhat to blame, however, as the Rangers’ lefty came down with a nasty stomach virus in June that apparently led to shoulder fatigue and caused him to miss about a month. The good news is he returned and pitched much better as the second half progressed, finishing the season with a 3.96 ERA and 37 strikeouts over his final six starts (38 2/3 innings). If healthy, Holland should have a chance to get back to his 2011 production, if not better as the 26-year-old continues to mature on the mound.
Paul Maholm, ATL, SP (UR)
Spending his first seven seasons in Pittsburgh, Maholm toiled in obscurity for the most part. This changed in 2012, as the veteran lefty was a reliable starter (9-6, 3.74 ERA) for the Cubs prior to getting traded to Atlanta. Maholm went just 4-5 in 11 starts for the Braves, but he posted an ERA of 3.54 and a WHIP of 1.19 over 68 2/3 innings. If he’s able to maintain that sort of performance for the Braves over a full season with their revamped offense supporting him, there’s no reason to think Maholm can’t match, if not surpass, his career-high win total of 13 from last season. And while he may not strike out a ton of batters (140 total in 189 innings last season), he probably won’t hurt in the ERA or WHIP categories either.
2013 Fantasy Baseball Starting Pitcher (SP) Busts
R.A. Dickey, TOR, SP (No. 52 overall)
Dickey was a deserving recipient of the National League Cy Young award last season, as his knuckleball caused opposing hitters headaches in 2012. My concern with Dickey, who is the No. 12 SP on the Big Board, has to do with his change of scenery. Besides switching teams, Dickey also is changing leagues, going from the NL to the AL. This means he will have to face the DH and some of the tougher lineups in baseball, such as the Tigers, Angels and Rangers. This switch in leagues alone is enough to expect some sort of increase to his ERA, which could also impact his win total. In the end, while I’m not expecting Dickey to fall apart in his first season in Toronto, I think we’ve already seen his ceiling, which means he only has one way to go from here. He should still be a valuable and productive SP, but don’t draft him expecting a repeat of his 2012 masterpiece.
Zack Greinke, LAD, SP (No. 53 overall)
The pitcher with the second-largest contract (six years, $147 million) in baseball history, Greinke hasn’t exactly produced like it since his 2009 American League Cy Young season. Since 2009, Greinke has averaged around 14 wins a season while posting an ERA no lower than 3.48 in any one campaign. A reliable source of strikeouts, Greinke’s overall body of work doesn’t exactly jump off the page, especially considering his new contract numbers. Add to this the fact he’s already been diagnosed with elbow inflammation before the season even starts, and you may want to think long and hard before drafting him among the top 15 SPs and top 50 players overall.
Roy Halladay, PHI, SP (No. 71)
A two-time Cy Young winner, Halladay has been one of baseball’s most dominant and feared pitchers over the past decade. Unfortunately, on the heels of last season’s disappointing performance (11-8, 4.49 ERA) and given his struggles in spring training, it appears that Halladay’s status as an elite fantasy option is in serious jeopardy. Back issues led to shoulder problems last season, reasons why he made just 25 starts and posted his highest ERA since 2000 and fewest strikeouts since 2005. A bigger concern, however, is his troubling spring training numbers (13 H, 9 ER, 3 HR, 7 BB, 10 SO in 12 IP) and the fact he was removed him from his most recent start after just one inning. The team said he was pulled because of illness, not injury, but that has done little to quell the whispers that he is hurt or the reports of diminished velocity, a lack of movement and inability to locate when he has been on the mound. The plan is for Halladay to get back out on the mound on Saturday. At this point, however, the chances of the veteran, who will turn 36 in May, being a top-20 SP in 2013 seem remote at best.
Josh Johnson, TOR, SP (No. 122)
The National League’s ERA champ in 2010, Johnson dealt with shoulder issues that limited his '11 workload to nine starts and followed that up with an 8-14, 3.81 ERA campaign in 2012. While he did rebound to pitch nearly 200 innings and poor run support can be somewhat blamed for the lack of wins, what’s more telling is that Johnson struck out 165 in 191 1/3 innings last season, compared to 186 in 183 2/3 innings in 2010. There have been reports that Johnson didn’t have near the same velocity in 2012 as he once did, so this is something to monitor this season. Johnson, like his new teammate R.A. Dickey (see above), also is switching leagues this season, so don’t be surprised to see the former Marlin go through some growing pains as he deals with the DH and AL lineups. Johnson was barely a top-75 SP-eligible performer in 2012. Even with a likely uptick in wins, it’s hard for me to buy him as a borderline top-30 SP in 2013, which is his current Big Board standing.
James Shields, KC, SP (NO. 78)
Shields was a reliable workhorse for Tampa Bay over the past six seasons. During that span he made at least 33 starts in all but one season and pitched no fewer than 203 1/3 innings in any one campaign. He also won 31 games combined in 2011-12 with an average of 224 strikeouts. Traded by the Rays to Kansas City in the offseason, he now serves as the Royals’ ace. Shields’ consistency aside, it’s the change of venues that have me worried somewhat regarding his outlook for 2013. For his career, Shields is 47-31 with a 3.34 ERA at Tropicana Field compared to a 39-42 mark with a 4.54 ERA in road starts. His road numbers include a 2-1 record with a 6.38 ERA in four career starts at his new home park, Kauffman Stadium. Shields was a top-20 SP in both 2011 and 2012, and that’s where he is currently positioned for this season. As reliable and productive as he’s been the past two seasons, don’t bank on him providing that type of production for a third straight campaign.
2013 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Big Board
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Infield
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Outfield
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Relief Pitcher
2013 Fantasy Baseball: Closer Grid
2013 Fantasy Baseball Deep Sleepers
Fantasy Baseball Studs to Avoid in 2013
Fantasy Baseball 2013: Which Injured Players are Worth Drafting?