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Sleepers and Busts: The Starting Pitchers

Brandon Funston
Roto Arcade

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Atlanta's Alex Wood is bringing the funk to the Braves rotation. (Getty)

For the past month, the Yahoo fantasy crew has offered up its player rankings for the upcoming 2014 fantasy baseball campaign. Now, with the season only a couple weeks away, we felt it was time to take a deeper dive into the rationale behind those rankings, specifically where each expert has most drastically veered from the group-think (Yahoo ADP) path. Below, each expert explains his dissenting opinion on a couple players he likes more than the Yahoo ADP and a couple players he likes less than the ADP. For this exercise, we'll call them our sleepers and busts at the middle infield positions. In case you missed them, here's our sleepers and busts in the outfield, down on the corner and up the middle.

THE SLEEPERS

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Alex Wood, Atl - With his funky delivery and change-up heavy approach, Wood produced nearly a K per IP last season and produced a near 50 percent ground-ball rate. The only concern was whether he was going to see more time in the rotation or in the bullpen. But Tommy John victims Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy (not to mention Mike Minor starting the year on the DL) means the Braves will be leaning on Wood as a starter out of the gates — that he's been lights out this spring certainly didn't hurt his cause. Wood is going as the No. 56 starter, on average, in Yahoo drafts, but I have him pushing top 30 territory. (Brandon Funston)

Ivan Nova, NYY - Nova is another spring sizzler, tallying 21 strikeouts to just two walks through 19.2 IP. His early '13 campaign was interrupted by a triceps injury, but after he returned, he was among the top 20 most valuable fantasy starters over the final three months of the season, posting a 2.59 ERA in over 100 IP. Armed with one of the better curveballs in the league, a pitch he leaned on more than a third of the time in '13, Nova is trending in the right direction as he hits his prime (age 27). His ability to get hitters to swing-and-miss, and also swing at pitches outside the strike zone continue to rise, while his BB/9 rate has fallen in each season. There's a lot to like for a guy only being drafted in roughly half of Yahoo leagues. (Funston)

Phil Hughes, Min - It's about time he left the rough-and-tumble AL East, where four of the parks beat him up (6.56 ERA at Boston, 5.92 in New York, 5.69 in Toronto, 5.66 at Baltimore). Target Field should restore his confidence, and push his HR/FB clip into a reasonable area. Hughes's K/BB rate has been solid his entire career; there's ability here, and juicy post-hype sleeper value. (Scott Pianowski)

Travis Wood, ChC - The extreme fly-ball pitchers tend to be underrated; the important thing is that they're dictating outcomes more than the average pitcher. Sure, they have higher ERAs than normal, but they also have lower WHIPs. Wood's 3.11 ERA last summer was luck-driven and not fully supported under the statistical hood, I concede that, but he also was unlucky to make 18 of his stats at home (note his 2.70/1.09 ratios on the road). Sometimes you can get an over-correction discount on a player, simply because the market fears a sucker play. I'll take Wood for a buck in most mixers, thanks - look for an ERA in the mid-3s, useful in a deeper pool. (Pianowski)

Tyson Ross, SD – He posted a 2.93 ERA and 0.99 WHIP with 85 strikeouts over 80.0 innings after the All-Star break last season. His SwStr% (11.1) is the type of mark elite hurlers produce, and Ross benefits from calling PETCO Park home (his numbers last year look even more impressive when you realize he tossed 71.2 innings on the road compared to 53.1 at home). His average FB velocity was 94.2 mph, and Ross' slider is already among the very best in the game. I rank him as a top-35 fantasy starter entering 2014, so he looks like a steal at his current draft price. (Dalton Del Don)

Marco Estrada, Mil – Over the last two years (minimum 250.0 innings), only Cliff Lee and Adam Wainwright have had a better K:BB ratio than Estrada's 4.50. He gives up too many homers to suggest he's going to suddenly join the elite ranks, but at minimum, Estrada will be a big help in WHIP and Ks. He recorded a 2.15 ERA and 0.75 WHIP with a 56:11 K:BB ratio over 58.2 innings after the All-Star break last season, so don't sleep on him. It's too bad Estrada pitches in such a homer-friendly park, but he's being undervalued regardless. (DDD)

Danny Salazar, Cle - What's not to like? Salazar gives us a whopping K-rate with few walks, and nothing about last year's stats was at all fluky. I've priced a possible innings limit into my ranks. He's absolutely legit, blessed with a big fastball and huge talent. (Andy Behrens)

Kyle Lohse, Mil - Sometimes, at the back-end of your rotation, you're just looking for dull production. Lohse won't give you significant K totals, which kills his value in league with innings caps. But he's also posted sub-3.40 ERAs in three straight seasons, with WHIPs below 1.20. That's not pure luck. (Behrens)

THE BUSTS

Matt Moore, TB - There's no denying he's got electric stuff, but I want nothing to do with Moore. His biggest fantasy positive from last season was the 17 wins. But that number was juiced by a lot of luck. He had one of the 10 lowest BABIP numbers among starters, while also finishing top 12 in highest Strand Rate. As a fly ball pitcher that is constantly struggling to locate the strike zone, it won't be pretty when his luck swings the other way. (Funston)

Jered Weaver, LAA - How many times can he pull a rabbit from a hat? Weaver has been significantly outperforming his expected ERA for years. But with an average fastball that has taken a precipitous fall into the mid-80s, and a LineDrive% that has risen as steadily as his fastball has dropped, Weaver's odds of outperforming his peripherals only get longer with each passing year. Weaver's K totals have been subpar each of the past two seasons. If his ERA finally creeps up, say, a half run, he suddenly looks a lot more like Bronson Arroyo than a borderline top 30 starter, where his ADP currently resides. (Funston)

Zack Greinke, LAD - For three years he was one of those unlucky pitchers who kept underperforming his secondary stats, but last year the gods smiled on him (2.63 ERA, 3.23 FIP, 3.45 xFIP). Be careful what you pay for. Greinke's strikeout rate fell to 7.5/9 last year and he's missed a chunk of starts in two of the past three seasons. He's usually priced as an ace, but I don't trust him as a Top 15 guy. (Pianowski)

CC Sabathia, NYY - Man, do name brands die hard (same goes for you, Jered Weaver). Sabathia's fastball clocked at 94.1 mph back in 2009, but it's been free-falling since - it trickled down to 91.3 last season. Not coincidentally, Sabathia had an ugly 4.78 ERA in 2013. Sabathia turns 34 in the middle of the year, he's been heavily worked over 13 seasons, and he's in a division where four of five parks support offense. You better believe I'm the biggest Sabathia skeptic in the industry. (Pianowski)

Gio Gonzalez, Was – I'm not necessarily down on Gonzalez, but he's yet to take that major step forward in the control department many keep waiting for, which makes him something of a risk in WHIP (his was 1.40 after the All-Star break last year). Gonzalez is approaching 1,000 career innings, and his career BB% is 10.5. Again, I don't hate Gio, it's just that I prefer the likes of Michael Wacha, Danny Salazar, Julio Teheran and Alex Cobb instead. (DDD)

C.J. Wilson, LAA – He has a 3.60 ERA and 1.34 WHIP over the two years since joining the Angels, which is fine, but I'd rather gamble on others with more upside. Wilson has a nice floor and has proven himself to be durable, but his control remains a problem, and I doubt he has another level in him at this stage of his career. (DDD)

Shelby Miller, StL - I am in no way suggesting that Miller will be a bust. Not at all. I (heart) Shelby Miller. My colleagues may rank him higher (he's currently my No. 33 SP), but really I just consider him part of a large tier of pitchers I'd be happy to own. (Behrens)

Francisco Liriano, Pit - Nope, no way. Not with your lineup. Not with Brad Evans' lineup. Not doing it. I still consider Liriano a ticking WHIP bomb. Our relationship is broken. (Behrens)

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