by Dave De Wit
Tommy John surgeries are everywhere this year. It’s been like some freaky zombie movie, except instead of undead humans staggering towards their next victim it’s a reanimated ulnar collateral ligament making its way from mound to mound destroying elbow after elbow. The result has wreaked havoc on the fantasy community, limiting the pitching pool dramatically and leaving fantasy teams with weak rotations.
There is hope, though. There are pitchers out there, somewhere, and they can help us make it through all these terrifying zombie ligaments. There are starters on waiver wires, your waiver wires, who can help you right now and for the remainder of the season. These pitchers are available in more than 50 percent of both ESPN and Yahoo! leagues, and if you don’t pick them up soon you may never get another chance.
After spending an afternoon playing with FanGraphs’ pitching stat correlation tool, I learned that strikeout percentage minus walk percentage (K%-BB%) has the strongest correlation to in-season ERA. With this in mind, here are the best pitchers on both mixed-league and in deep-league waiver wires along with their ownership percentages.
Brandon McCarthy ARI (ESPN-1%; Y!-6%)
Technically McCarthy can be on the deep-league list as well, but, considering his ridiculously good strikeout and walk rates, he is the best pitcher featured in this article. In his ninth major-league season, McCarthy has managed to reinvent himself by adding nearly three miles per hour to his often-used sinker, which is credited to an improved off-season workout plan. Over the past three years he had a 15.7 percent strikeout rate, but this year he has bumped it all the way up to 22.2 percent all while showing that impressive control that he has always had. Now is the time to scoop this guy up, because his 5.01 ERA will plummet before you know it.
Jon Niese (ESPN-46%; Y!-42%)
Unlike, McCarthy, Niese has had amazing results in 2014. In 45.2 innings he’s allowed just 11 earned runs, good for a 2.17 ERA. He also has raised his strikeouts, which had dipped last year, to a 20 percent rate (matches his career-high). Along with the Ks, he has improved his already good control, limiting walks to a career-best 5.5 percent rate. While his ERA will buoy upwards once his high left on-base rate drops back to normal levels, he will still be every bit of a mid-to-low-3.00s ERA guy that fits perfectly into the back end of a mixed-league rotation.
Tanner Roark (ESPN-6%; Y!-27%)
The last three starts have been a roller coaster for Roark. First he pitched a complete game, nine-strikeout shutout which he followed up with a seven-run disaster. After that he came right back with 7.2 innings of two-hit ball as he held one of the league’s best offenses to just one run. While his starts have been up and down, they have definitely been more up. Since being moved into the rotation last September, Roark has completed 75.1 innings (12 starts) with a 2.87 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 19.1 percent strikeout rate and a 4.6 percent walk rate. In short, he’s been incredible. Meanwhile, most fantasy owners still think of him as a back of the rotation, swing man type. Given his track record as a starter, he’s much better.
Robbie Erlin (ESPN-1%; Y!-4%)
Add it up: Petco Park + 20.4 K% + 6.1 BB% = must-own in deep-league starter. As of right now, Erlin’s 4.22 ERA is just pedestrian enough for him to get overlooked by fantasy owners browsing the waiver wire. Last year, five qualified starters had strikeout and walk percentages that were extremely similar to what Erlin’s are now. Those five starters combined for a 3.29 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP. Sure, this is just anecdotal and in no way a guarantee, but it hopefully gives an idea of just how good those rates are.
Jake Odorizzi (ESPN-2%; Y!-4%)
Odorizzi’s trouble this has been in getting through the lineup a second and third time, but he has been able correct the problem in his last two starts. While those starts came against a struggling Indians offense in the pitcher-friendly Tropicana Field and the whiff-happy Mariners squad in their spacious ballpark, it is still encouraging. Add in the fact that he’s striking out a robust 25.6 percent of opposing batters and that the Tampa Bay Rays are very gifted at developing young pitchers, and there is plenty of reason to buy shares of Odorizzi in deep leagues at his very cheap price.