We could've written a much shorter pitcher sleeper article by simply saying, "Everyone after the top 30 in your rankings." If you've played fantasy baseball for more than a year, you should know this. But we also know that fantasy owners love filling their cheat sheets with potential aces found in the middle or late rounds, so we're here to help.
Not all the pitchers on the list below are potential aces -- far from it -- but they could all return much better value than their draft positions. That's really what you should be looking for in your draft.
That might mean passing on one sleeper in an earlier round because you can get another one with a little less upside later. Sometimes going for a double instead of a home run pays off.
2017 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers: Pitcher
Aaron Nola, Phillies.Pretty much all of Nola's advanced stats fit the profile of a No. 2 fantasy starter, but his ERA (4.78) and WHIP (1.31) will keep a lot of fantasy owners away this year. Take advantage. There are some worries about his ERA because of his home run tendencies and the tiny home park he pitches in, but if his sharp rise in strikeout and ground-ball rates last year were legit, he'll be just fine. We're buying in.
Tyler Skaggs, Angels.Skaggs returned from Tommy John surgery last year and posted a seemingly mediocre 4.17 ERA and 1.49 WHIP in 49.2 innings. But keep in mind that he struck out over a batter per inning during that stint and also had a 1.60/0.86 line with a 12.1 K/9 ratio in 39.1 minor league innings. The 25-year-old lefty will likely be on an innings limit, but the talent is there for a breakout campaign.
Matt Shoemaker, Angels.There's always reason to be nervous about fly-ball pitchers, but Shoemaker gets a good amount of Ks and is great at limiting free passes. Relying on his split-finger helped him turn around his season last year, and there's no reason to expect any different in 2017. Shoemaker posted a 2.83/1.08 line with a 8.4 K/9 and 1.2 BB/9 ratio in 130.1 innings after making that change last season.
Sean Manaea, A's.Manaeahad a brutal start to his MLB career, but after the start of June(106.2 innings), he produced a 2.95/1.09 line with an 8.3 K/9. The talent is there, as shown by his sterling minor league numbers, and we know he pitches in a great home park.
Robbie Ray, D-backs.Ray is a favorite of fantasy analysts, largely because of his shiny 11.3K/9 ratio from last year, and while that is impressive, casual fantasy owners are probably more scared off by his 4.90 ERA and 1.47 WHIP. Ray was undoubtedly hurt by some bad batted-ball luck, shown by his .352 BABIP, but he didn't help himself with a 3.7 BB/9 ratio and 1.2 HR/9. The 25-year-old southpaw clearly has upside, but he might continue to be a drain on your WHIP even as he racks up Ks and lowers his ERA. Still, in the middle-to-late rounds, you can afford that gamble.
Julio Urias, Dodgers.The 20-year-old phenomposted a 3.39 ERA and 9.8 K/9 ratio in 18 games (15 starts) with the Dodgers last year, though walks and a high BABIP plagued him, especially in the playoffs. The batted-ball luck should hopefully even out a little more, so the only real worry with Urias is his walk rate, which wasn't a problem at all in Double- and Triple-A. An innings limit looms after Urias threw just 127.2 between the minors, majors and postseason last year, but he should be stellar when on the mound.
Cam Bedrosian, Angels.With Huston Street (lat) already hurting, the door is open for Bedrosian to grab the Angels' closer job and keep it all year. The 25-year-old righty was dominant last season, finishing with a 1.12/1.09 line and 11.4 K/9. His BB-rate (3.1) is still a little high, but it's more than managable considering he noticeably improved his HR-rate (0.2).
Michael Wacha, Cardinals.Wacha is coming off a bad year, but if you really look at his numbers, they're not that much different than the previous season -- aside from a much higher BABIPand much lower left-on-base percentage. To be fair, there are injury/velocity worries here, but Wacha isjust 25, so it's unfair to say he's washed up. He likely won't cost you much more than a late-round pick, but it could pay off in a big way if Wacha can regain his pre-2016 form.
James Paxton, Mariners.Paxton is no stranger to preseason sleeper lists, but the 28-year-old lefty has never been able to put it all together, at least for a full season. He stayed healthy in 2016, starting 31 games between Triple-A and the majors, and despite relatively mediocre standard stats in the majors (3.79/1.31), his advanced numbers hint at a breakout to come (2.80 FIP, 8.7 K/9 ratio, 1.8 BB/9 ratio). At this point, everyone is calling Paxton a sleeper, which is a bit worrisome, but if he stays in one piece, he looks like a good bet for fantasy production.
Joe Ross, Nationals.Ross was on this list last year, and then he went out and posted very similar numbers to 2015 (aside from a bump in WHIP). His heavy reliance on his slider makes him an injury risk (indeed, he missed significant time last year), but at just 23, there's plenty of room for Ross to grow. The key for Ross might be bringing his ground-ball rate closer to his '15 level, something that would likely lower his BABIP and his WHIP.
Shawn Kelley, Nationals.Kelley is currently the front-runner for the Nats' closer job, but that could change in a hurry if Washington makes a trade for a higher-profile reliever. If Kelley gets the gig, he could be a major fantasy producer. Over the past two seasons, he's posted a 2.55/0.99 line with an 11.8 K/9 ratio, and he even picked up seven saves last season. Homers were an issue last year, which would be a big threat to his job security, but the numbers suggest he can handle the job if the Nationals give him a chance.(Update: Nats manager Dusty Baker has suggested Koda Glover is the favorite for the closer's job. Glover has a 2.09/0.90 line with a 10.9 K/9 ratio in two minor league seasons. Kelley could still take over the job at some point, especially if Glover struggles leading up to opening day.)
Ivan Nova, Pirates.Could Nova be the new Francisco Liriano? In 11 starts last year after coming over from the Yankees, Nova posted a 3.06/1.10 line. There are reasons to doubt this small sample size, including a unsustainable 0.42 BB/9 ratio. However, the big decrease in home run rate (0.56, down from 1.72 with New York) is a little more believable considering his change in situation. The 30-year-old righty has always had good stuff, but now that he's in a much better environment (and weaker hitting league), he finally could put it all together for a season.
Jerad Eickhoff, Phillies.In 41 major league starts, Eickhoff has a 3.44/1.14 line with a respectable 7.8 K/9 ratio. If he doesn't improve from those numbers, he still has value, but if he can manage to limit homers a little more, he'll be much more effective than most realize on draft day.
BlakeSnell, Rays.Snell's 1.62 WHIP and 5.2 BB/9 ratio in 19 starts last year are unsightly, to say the least, but the 9.9 K/9 ratio and 3.54 ERA are solid marks for the 24-year-old lefty. WHIP was an issue in the minors(1.29), so it's possible Snell will continue to have a high number in that category -- especially pitching in the AL East -- but his low HR rate (0.56) suggests he can continue to limit the damage to his ERA.
Raisel Iglesias, Reds.Cincinnati won't officially name Iglesias closer, instead talking about some sort of committee. Whatever the case on opening day, it seems clear that Iglesias is the Reds' best reliever, and we still think he's the most likely to get saves. In 32 relief appearances last season, Iglesias posted a 1.98/0.96 line with a 9.7 K/9 ratio, six saves, seven holds and two blown saves. He'll have fantasy value one way or another.
Daniel Norris, Tigers.Like other young pitchers on this list, Norris is a high-K guy (9.2 K/9 last year) whose WHIP is too high (1.40). But the good news is his BB-rate was manageable (2.9) last season, and he saw a noticeable uptick in velocity on his fastball and slider. Homers have been a problem in the majors, but at just 23, Norris still has plenty of room for improvement.
Luis Severino, Yankees.After a rough 2016, Severino is being overlooked -- even though he just turned 23. The young righty was decent in 2015 and has been downright dominant throughout his minor league career (2.51/1.06, 9.0 K/9 ratio), so we shouldn't be so quick to write him off. His home park and division are definitely worries, but the upside is there.
Jharel Cotton, A's.Cotton's minor league numbers (3.68/1.11, 10 K/9) suggest he could have big success in Oakland this year, but his overall fantasy impact will likely be limited by his propensity to give up homers. Still, the strikeouts and WHIP help should be there, making Cotton a cheaper alternative to volatile high-K guys like Lance McCullers or Vincent Velasquez.