Originally written on Baseball Professor  |  Last updated 11/16/14

When I added this question to our list of the  Top 100 Offseason Questions last fall, I thought it would be a subtle way of suggesting you target Cory Luebke as a fantasy sleeper. I definitely did not expect him to have an ADP of 137 (the 39th starting pitcher off the board), right around more established or well-known options such as Tim Hudson, Jeremy Hellickson, Shaun Marcum, Chris Carpenter and Anibal Sanchez. But, as pitchers and catchers are preparing to report, that’s exactly where we find Luebke. Perhaps his rising draft stock makes this question even more important. When should you draft Luebke?

That depends on how we project him. There are a few things we know about Luebke’s 2012 season:

  • He won’t win a lot of games pitching for the Padres
  • He pitches in a pitcher-friendly park
  • He has elite strikeout potential, fanning 9.72 batters per nine innings in 116 1/3 career innings as a starter
  • He has a career 1.13 WHIP as a starter, fueled by a .226 OBA (product of a respectable .282 BABIP)
  • He has never topped the 139 2/3 innings he threw last season
  • He will be 27 years old in March

Adjusting for the grind of a full season, something Luebke hasn’t really experience, we could reasonably expect a WHIP in the 1.15-1.20 range and a strikeout rate over 8.00 K/9. Let’s also say he throws 175-190 innings, about 35-50 more than last year (this isn’t an unreasonable total for a young starter because, in reality, Luebke isn’t that young).

Tim Stauffer won nine games for the Padres last year, throwing 185 2/3 innings with a 3.73 ERA. Clayton Richard won five games in a half-season of work (99 2/3 innings, 2.88 ERA). San Diego hasn’t really improved much, so it would be reasonable to expect Luebke to win games at the same rate assuming he finishes with a similar ERA to Stauffer and Richards’ high-3.00 marks. Given the success he’s had in the majors thus far and his excellent strikeout-to-walk ratio, I’d be surprised if Luebke’s ERA approaches 4.00.

That gives us 9-11 wins with a 3.20-3.50 ERA (in my estimation), 1.15-1.20 WHIP and 160-190 strikeouts depending on how high his strikeout rate is and how many innings he throws (160 Ks would be an 8.00 K/9 over 175 innings, 190 Ks would be a 9.00 K/9 over 190 innings).

How do those high- and low-end projections rank at the position? The nine wins, 3.50 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 160 strikeouts yields a PSR of 1.50, which would have ranked 48th among all starting pitchers last season (interestingly, one spot ahead of Sanchez, the man who Luebke is getting drafted right behind in mid-February mocks). The 11 wins, 3.20 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 190 strikeouts would yield a PSR of 3.61, which would have ranked 25th among all starters last season.

So, at worst, Luebke ranks as the 48th-best starting pitcher, and in a reasonable best case scenario he barely cracks the top 25. Is that worth drafting as the 39th starter? Definitely, but should you reach any higher on Luebke?

Here’s a shortlist of pitchers currently getting drafted before Luebke:

  • Jonny Cueto
  • Matt Garza
  • Hellickson

That’s about it. I wouldn’t take Luebke over Brandon Beachy. I wouldn’t take him over Jordan Zimmermann. I wouldn’t take him over Matt Moore, Josh Johnson, Adam Wainwright or Michael Pineda. Yu Darvish and Gio Gonzalez are close, but I still think I’d take those two over Luebke.

That makes Luebke the 36th starting pitcher off my personal draft board. According to Mock Draft Central, the pitcher getting drafted 36th at the position is Carpenter with an ADP of 125. That makes Luebke a 10th-13th round pick depending on how deep your league is, and likely makes him a low-end number three or a solid number four for most fantasy rotations.

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