Fantasy Baseball: 10 sleeper pitchers to consider

Volatility among pitchers is always going to be part of the fantasy baseball landscape. Hurlers will experience massive performance fluctuations as they try different pitch mixes and experience velocity ups and downs. Additionally, injuries at this position tend to wipe out players for long periods of time.

All of the warnings in the previous paragraph do not mean that fantasy managers should wait until the late rounds of their drafts before assembling their pitching staff. The “wait on pitching” philosophy that was popular several years ago has been largely debunked by now. But wise managers who make the right late-round picks can support their aces and closers with undervalued hurlers who serve as impact players.

Here are some pitchers who are available past pick 180 and have the potential to make significantly outperform their draft value.

Logan Gilbert, Seattle Mariners (ADP: 185)

Gilbert is my favorite option on this list. His rookie year was an inconsistent one, and his 4.68 ERA is overshadowing more impressive numbers such as a 3.77 FIP, 1.17 WHIP and a 4.6 K/BB rate. The youngster was largely felled by a 67.9 percent strand rate, and the combination of some positive luck regression and the natural development process that will come with experience could cause Gilbert to take a big leap this year.

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Tarik Skubal, Detroit Tigers (ADP: 185)

Skubal was a high-strikeout pitcher throughout his Minor League career and has carried that important skill into the big leagues. His K-BB percentage (18.5) ranked 27th among pitchers who threw at least 140 innings last season, and plenty of fantasy studs join Skubal among the leaders in that metric. The youngster gave up plenty of fly balls and home runs last year, and any improvement in that area could make Skubal a big part of a Tigers squad that is trending up.

Ranger Suarez, Philadelphia Phillies (ADP: 205)

Suarez was incredible during his 2021 breakout season, posting a minuscule 1.36 ERA (2.68 FIP) across 106 innings. His strikeout and walk rates were mostly unchanged when he switched from the bullpen to the rotation, which is perhaps the most encouraging sign that the 26-year-old can be successful across a heavier workload. Suarez was so good last year that he could experience major regression and still outperform his ADP.

Ranger Suarez #55 of the Philadelphia Phillies was a fantasy star in 2021
Ranger Suarez is a fantasy sleeper who, if he awakens — watch out. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Joe Ryan, Minnesota Twins (ADP: 230)

Ryan looked good in five Major League starts late last season, producing a remarkable 25 percent K-BB rate while regularly handcuffing hitters en route to a 0.79 WHIP. His career Minor League numbers are also outstanding (2.67 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 13.0 K/9 rate) and the Twins have plenty of rotation room. We could be talking about Ryan as a lineup lock in all fantasy leagues by the end of April.

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Tanner Houck, Boston Red Sox (ADP: 222)

Houck was very effective in a swingman role last season, logging a 3.52 ERA, a 1.13 WHIP and a 4.1 K/BB rate across 13 starts and five relief outings. The Red Sox kept his start length and pitch counts low, possibly fearing that Houck’s heavy two-pitch mix would not play well the third time through the lineup. For a late draft pick, fantasy managers can take a chance that Houck gets a longer leash and takes advantage of that opportunity.

Andrew Heaney, Los Angeles Dodgers (ADP: 244)

Heaney has been a constant source of disappointment for fantasy managers throughout his career, and most of us were done with him long before the 2021 season ended. And then the Dodgers came calling. Los Angeles grabbed Heaney on a one-year deal at the outset of free agency, perhaps seeing his substantial strikeout abilities as the foundation for a successful starter. The Dodgers are regularly among the league leaders in ERA, which makes me want to use a late-round pick on Heaney while I figure out his role and possible pitch mix changes.

Eric Lauer, Milwaukee Brewers (ADP: 241)

Lauer was unremarkable for three seasons with the Padres before finding his stride as a member of the Brewers rotation last year. The southpaw relied more on his secondary offerings, which helped to produce career-best marks in strikeout rate (23.9 percent), ERA (3.19) and WHIP (1.14). Still just 26 years old, Lauer could take a small step back this season and still greatly outperform his Yahoo! ADP.

Nestor Cortes, New York Yankees (ADP: 241)

Working primarily as a starter, Cortes held opposing hitters to a .266 BABIP en route to logging a 2.90 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP. The left-hander found the right mix last year of allowing plenty of fly balls while limiting hard contact and exit velocity, and Statcast put his xERA at a solid mark of 3.32. While Yankee Stadium won’t do Cortes any favors, he should be backed by a quality offense and effective relief corps.

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Cristian Javier, Houston Astros (ADP: 212)

Javier opened 2021 by posting a 3.14 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP across nine starts before a numbers game forced him to the bullpen for the remainder of the season. The Astros are unlikely to experience near-perfect health in their rotation for a second straight season, which should enable Javier to work as a starter for most or all of 2022. This might be his lowest value point for the next several years.

Taylor Rogers, Minnesota Twins (ADP: 191)

Rogers battled through an unlucky .366 BABIP to post a 3.35 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP last season. A quick look at the left-hander’s 2021 stat line shows a 2.17 FIP that is indicative of someone who could be a top-flight closer if given the opportunity. Assuming that the Twins do not sign an experienced stopper, Rogers is their best candidate to collect 30 saves.