Carlos Marmol - RP, CHC
Despite the fact that he saved 20 games for the Cubs with a gaudy 11.7 K/9 rate last year and entered this season as the team's closer, Marmol wasn't an especially popular item in fantasy drafts.
The warning signs were easy to see. Last year, although he notched 20 saves with plenty of strikeouts and a solid 3.42 ERA, his already problematic control worsened as he issued 45 walks in 55 1/3 innings, contributing to an ugly 1.53 WHIP. The Cubs seemed almost desperate to trade the right-hander this offseason, and then in spring training he put up a 6.97 ERA with five strikeouts and nine walks.
Sure enough, there was fire behind all that smoke. Marmol jumped out to an awful start, allowing five runs in his first three appearances, and was booted from the closer spot before the 2013 season was a week old. Many fantasy players who'd taken the gamble in drafts ditched him in favor of a less volatile source of saves. Marmol is now owned in only 35 percent of Yahoo! leagues and 16 percent of ESPN leagues.
That could change quickly. Cubs manager Dale Sveum has made clear that he sees Marmol working his way back into the closer role, telling reporters, "That was part of the deal."
Already the righty has shown marked improvement since being bumped out of the pressure-packed assignment, logging four scoreless outings while walking only two of 16 batters. He's gotten back to relying on his dominant slider and appears to be regaining some confidence. If that continues, it shouldn't take long for him to return to the ninth inning.
As much of a mess as he's been at times, we can't forget that from 2010 to 2011 Marmol saved 72 games while piling up 237 strikeouts in 151 innings, making him a fantasy goldmine. Whether he still has that in him is debatable – his command has faltered and his velocity has dropped a bit – but he's still only 30 years old.
Because saves are such a commodity in most fantasy leagues, you don't find a player with this kind of track record and upside available on the wire very often, but Marmol's slump has created a rare opportunity to jump in on the ground floor. He's down and out right now, but his arrow is pointing up, and those who buy low could be exceedingly happy if he's back to succeeding and racking up strikeouts as the Cubs' closer in a month.
Ricky Nolasco - SP, MIA
Nolasco has long been one of fantasy baseball's most noted sleepers. Although he hasn't been able to replicate the numbers from his breakout campaign in 2008, when he went 15-8 with a 3.52 ERA as a 25-year-old, Nolasco has been a sabermetric stud, annually putting up peripherals that suggest the mediocre results belie the quality performance. Just compare Nolasco's ERA to his fielding-independent FIP over the past four seasons:
Year: ERA / FIP
2009: 5.06 / 3.35
2010: 4.51 / 3.86
2011: 4.67 / 3.54
2012: 4.48 / 3.87
FIP loves good strikeout-to-walk ratios and Nolasco has generally excelled in that department, with a 3.66 mark over those four seasons. Yet, his on-field results have continued to lag behind, and at this point even stat-heads have lost patience, especially in light of his declining strikeout rates. From '09 to '12, Nolasco's K/9 dropped from 9.5 to 8.4 to 6.5 to 5.9. This year, through three starts, he's at 4.7.
The Marlins still have faith in the right-hander, who remains relatively young at 30. They made him their Opening Day starter and he's responded by pitching like a No. 1, with a 3.12 ERA and 1.27 WHIP through three starts.
Ironically, the ERA now seems superficially good in contrast with his ho-hum peripherals. One shouldn't expect him to keep cruising while maintaining anything resembling his crummy 9/6 K/BB ratio. The big question from a fantasy perspective is whether he still has it in him to boost the secondary numbers and start missing some bats again. If so, maybe this is the year his ERA finally follows suit. Run support will be an issue for him in Miami when it comes to tallying victories, but with his reliable durability Nolasco is always a good bet to stay healthy pitch deep into games. Deep-league players seeking rotation help could do a lot worse.