If you're looking for pitchers who can keep your team ERA down, we have created this Cheat Sheet page specifically for the Top ERA leaders in baseball. The first cheat sheet is a list of the Top 101 ERA leaders among starting pitchers (over 10 starts each); the second cheat sheet is a list of the Top 50 ERA leaders among all relief pitchers. You can scroll down or click the quick-jump link above.
We have also created a quick reference cheat sheet to the right that details a few other, notable ERA leaders. That list shares a group of 21 more starting pitchers who had less than 10 starts, but we think should be part of your draft-day cheat sheets. Guys like Michael Wacha, Chad Billingsley, James Paxton and more who proved last season that, despite their low number of starts, should be seriously considered for your fantasy roster. There's also a quick paragraph on some of the Sleepers among that extra list of pitchers to help make your decision on draft day as to which ones will have the biggest impact on your fantasy team this season.
(All Starters under 4.00 ERA)
Notable ERA Leaders with Under 10 Starts
First, don't go all crazy by drafting these guys in your attempt to out-smart everyone in your fantasy league. We wanted to bring some of these guys to your attention to 1) remind you about some of them who didn't make the list to the left because they had less than 10 starts, and 2) because you never know who's going to be the next out-of-nowhere late pick in your draft who saves your ass in the regular season. Below are some (mostly) objective notes on who these guys are, how and why they did what they did, and what you might be able to expect out of them for your 2014 fantasy draft.
2014 Fantasy Sleepers: Pitchers
James Paxton has a good chance to be in the middle of Seattle's starting rotation in 2014. Paxton showed up and went 3-0 in 4 starts, holding up a 1.50 ERA and a 0.917 WHIP. The only issue we see is that he gave up 2 home runs in 24 innings pitched, but he also struck out 21 batters (7.9K/9). It'sa small statistical sampling, but if he keeps the ball in the ball park, we think he's a good late-round draft pick.
Tanner Roark is in the middle of an extremely-talented pitching staff in Washington, so we're not sure where he's going to fit in unless someone gets hurt. Keep him in mind just in case, though. After being brought up in August, he pitched 22.7 innings out of the bullpen with a 1.19 ERA, then he started 5 games in September and went 4-1 with a 1.74 ERA in 5 starts, iuncluding 0.903 WHIP, walking just 4 batters in 32 innings. Again, we'renot sure where he'll fit in, but if he gets a chance, you may want to take a flyer on him.
Michael Wacha is going to be in the Cardinals' rotation in 2014. He went 4-1 in the regular season with a 2.78 ERA, 1.098 WHIP and 9.0 K/9. Then, in the playoffs (excluding his one World Series start), Wacha pitched 21 innings with a 0.571 WHIP, 0.43 ERA and 22 Ks (9.43 K/9)... absolutely ridiculous. Draft him. Of course, don't expect those kind of numbers, but expect a good, solid season.
Chad Billingsley is still pitching for the Dodgers (assuming he's healthy enough to go in 2014), and he'll be pitching for a team that expects to go to the World Series. That kind of attitude can be contagious, and with Kershaw and Greinke leading the way, Billingsley won't want to look like a scrub compared to those guys. This is the first time we've expected anything above-average out of Billingsley.
Yordano Ventura is a hyped youngster for the Royals. Don't get too excited yet - Ventura doesn't turn 23 until June, so we don't think he's quite ready yet, but do keep an eye on him in a keeper league... maybe.
At the risk of kissing the Cardinals' collective pitching staff's ass too much, we'd like to draw your attention to Jaime Garcia. The dilemma we have is that his WHIP - his career WHIP - is 1.328, and that's over 5 seasons. Over those same 5 seasons, his ERA is just 3.45. His WHIP has never been under 1.301 in any season, and, with the exception of his rookie season, his ERA has never been over 3.92. He gets hurt a lot and hasn't pitched since last May, but he's gonna be ready for Spring Training. If you need an extra guy in your fantasy rotation, he's a decent filler and we have no problem believing that (if he stays healthy), he can get his WHIP down to 1.250 in 2014.
Dan Plesac, former pitcher and current personality on MLB Network, predicted that Danny Duffy would have a huge impact for the Royals, saying that we would win 15 games in 2014. Plesac says Duffy has all the tools, despite Duffy's statistical indicators leading us in a different direction. Duffy is coming off of Tommy John surgery (which isn't always a bad thing, honestly), but his most-recent stats indicate that he is, perhaps, not ready for prime time, so to speak. Duffy's ERA last season (in 5 starts and 24.1 innings) was a very impressive 1.85. However, his WHIP was a very bloated 1.356. These two stats normally do not go hand in hand - eventually one tends to catch up with the other. 6 of the Top 10 ERA leaders were also in the Top 10 WHIP leaders last season, and that is not an oddity or a statistical freak of nature. Eithe rDanny Duffy needs to bring his WHIP down to 1.25 or less for you to expect an ERA under 3.00, or else you can expect his ERA to be around 4.25. Of course, he could still win 15 games if he gets crazy lucky, but we never bet on luck. To be fair, Duffy does have good stuff, so we're not calling Plesac a dummy or anything. Also, Duffy is only 25 years old this season, so he could put it all together. His K/9 was at 8.1 last season which is a good sign, but we're expecting more along the lines of 12 wins with a 4.00 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP in Kansas City.
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Is Koji Uehara Really that Good?
Prior to last season, we told you that Koji Uehara was way better than anyone was giving him credit for and that someone would have no choice but to put him in the Closer role, eventually. His stats were just too dominant to ignore. Let's break Koji Uehara down historically for a moment (we'll stick to his career in the US... don't worry):
In 2010, Koji Uehara split time as the Closer for the Baltimore Orioles with a guy named Alfredo Simon. Simon saved 17 games (to Uehara's 13), and Simon had a disgusting stat line: 4.93 ERA and a 1.541 WHIP. Uehara had a 2.86 ERA and a 0.955 WHIP. Uehara would record just one more Save between this time and the 2013 season...
In 2011, Kevin Gregg was named the Orioles' Closer - a task at which he failed miserably (22 Saves, 4.37 ERA, 1.642 WHIP), then Jim Johnson (2.67 ERA, 1.110 WHIP) took over the role... and Uehara was traded to the Texas Rangers. Uehara's combined stats in 2011 were as follows: 2.35 ERA, 0.723 WHIP...
In 2012, Uehara stayed in Texas where he was made the setup man for Joe Nathan. Nathan was coming off of a series of arm injuries and was anything but a sure thing, although he did pitch quite well (2.80 ERA, 1.057 WHIP, 10.9 K/9). Uehara, however, performed even better: 1.75 ERA, 0.639 WHIP and 10.8 K/9 (and 1 Save).
In 2013, Uehara went to Boston where he was, apparently, the third option for the Closer role behind Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey. When Hanrahan and Bailey both went down to injuries, Uehara was finally made the Closer. FINALLY. Uehara, somehow, improved on his previous-season's stats by posting a 1.09 ERA, an absolutely ridiculous 0.565 WHIP and 12.2 K/9 - all career bests, which is saying something given his previous performance.
Koji Uehara turns 39 on April 3, 2014, but don't let the age scare you away. What's he gonna do, have an off year and have an ERA around 2.00 and a Whip over .0800?! Just shut up and draft him.
What Happened to Grant Balfour?
We're baffled by the fact the Grant Balfour pitched so well all last season, and then he couldn't pass the freakin' physical to play for Baltimore. WTF?! Balfour was, arguably, the most-intense Closer in baseball last season, which may have been a by-product of playing in Oakland. But now, Jim Johnson is the A's new Closer, which leaves Balfour looking for a job. Look - the A's probably know something we don't about Grant Balfour's health, and now Balfour is going to have to land somewhere where he can equal his intensity. Draft him late - he just has to catch on somewhere, doesn't he? And the fact that the A's threw him overboard may be enough of a chip on his shoulder to give him the same intensity he had last year no matter where he ends up. Then again, maybe those are bone chips in his shoulder. Still, though, draft him late as a sleeper and hope he lands a job somewhere. With all the bad teams and worse Closers out there, we think he's worth a late, sleeper pick or a $1 auction pick in your fantasy draft this season.