Way back in January, when I was participating in mock drafts seemingly every week -- and loving it, incidentally -- I tried something a bit different in one of them. I used my first 13 selections on hitters, my next three on closers and then, and only then, I started choosing starting pitchers. Some of my choices have worked out (hooray for Jhoulys Chacin, Jaime Garcia and Ryan Dempster) and others have not (boo on you, Brian Matusz and Edinson Volquez), but this season more than any I can remember, cheap, successful pitching was bountiful in the late rounds.
Check out the following pitchers all chosen in ESPN average live drafts in Round 17 or later: Josh Beckett, Madison Bumgarner, Ricky Romero, James Shields, Jordan Zimmermann, Anibal Sanchez, Jair Jurrjens and Michael Pineda, plus the pitchers I mentioned in the first paragraph. If one had chosen wisely, they could have easily gone all offense until there was no more roster room, then assembled a heck of a pitching staff.
Now, if an owner had chosen a dud like Brett Myers, he or she could have looked to free agency and still found myriad saviors sitting there waiting to be picked up. I realize we're only about halfway through the baseball season, and one might not feel so fondly about some of the "saviors" below by September, but the following starting pitchers were not selected in standard drafts. You could have built a winning rotation with these players (in order of their current Player Rater rank):
Kyle Lohse, St. Louis Cardinals: The highest-ranked starting pitcher on the ESPN Player Rater that wasn't drafted (he's ranked 16th), I can neither admit to seeing this breakout season at age 32 coming nor positively exclaim it will continue. After all, this guy has a career 4.66 ERA. I know he's inducing more ground balls than ever, and it's making his career-low strikeout rate stand up, and there's no proof his low .246 BABIP will suddenly rise a ton, but I remain a bit skeptical. Signs of the old, hittable Lohse in June (4.55 ERA) scare me. I wouldn't cut him today, not unless he blows up like Charlie Morton did -- hey, we warned you repeatedly about that one -- but if someone offers me a good hitter for Lohse, I'd make it happen.
Philip Humber, Chicago White Sox: Overlooked in the Johan Santana trade years ago, Humber found his way to Chicago and has been so good that he has forced manager Ozzie Guillen to roll with a six-man rotation. Currently ranked 22nd among starting pitchers on the Player Rater, Humber is not displaying any warning signs that scare us. He's not a strikeout pitcher, but June has been his best month for ERA, he has produced a sub-1.00 WHIP in all three months and right-handed hitters aren't touching him. I would actually trade for Humber. This is legit.
Scott Baker, Minnesota Twins: This is an odd one. It was only two seasons ago that Baker won 15 games with a 1.19 WHIP, and it's not like he was "Beckett-bad" in 2010. Still, Baker went undrafted in most ESPN standard leagues. Now healthy and on pace for more than 200 strikeouts, he remains available in 19 percent of standard leagues. That's a mistake. Baker might not top 12 wins, but the whiffs and peripheral numbers make him worth owning.
Ryan Vogelsong, San Francisco Giants: Regular readers/listeners know I've been on the Vogelsong bandwagon for six weeks and still believe he will continue to help the Giants and fantasy owners. On Monday night, after the right-hander won at Wrigley Field but allowed a season-high six runs (three earned) and a WHIP of 2.00, the haters emerged. Look, the wind was blowing out that day! And his team's defense was even worse than the wind. Forget what you once knew about Vogelsong -- how he hadn't pitched in the big leagues since 2006 and came into the season with a career ERA of 5.86 -- because it's all irrelevant. Today he's a top-40 fantasy starting pitcher.
Josh Tomlin, Cleveland Indians: The right-hander came back to earth quite a bit in early June, but in his past three starts he has won twice with a 2.70 ERA. Nothing wrong with that. At first he was way overrated, now he's underrated. Tomlin is closing in on the record for consecutive starts of five innings or more to begin a career, so he's semi-consistent, and fantasy owners have to like his respectable 3.86 ERA. I think he's capable of keeping his ERA in the 3s, with a 1.25 WHIP. I can't say I covet him in a standard league, but I own him in a deeper format and know what I'm getting, and it's neither as good nor as bad as we've seen.
Tim Stauffer, San Diego Padres: The former fourth overall draft pick (2003) finally broke out last season, with a 1.85 ERA over 82 2/3 innings. OK, so few believed that would continue, but his current 2.97 ERA is actually sustainable, in part because he pitches his home games at spacious Petco Park, where all pitchers seem attractive. He's also simply a good pitcher. Stauffer has a 3.25 ERA and good enough strikeout rate in road games, too. His June numbers are excellent, with a 1.98 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 37 whiffs in 41 innings. And for those in leagues in which this matters, you can still take advantage of his relief eligibility from last season, if you want more innings.
Other undrafted starting pitcher saviors among the top 50 on the Player Rater, entering Thursday: Bartolo Colon, New York Yankees; Jeff Karstens, Pittsburgh Pirates; Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland Indians; Josh Collmenter, Arizona Diamondbacks; Kevin Correia, Pirates; Dillon Gee, New York Mets; and Randy Wolf, Milwaukee Brewers.