Originally written on Baseball Professor  |  Last updated 1/23/13
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Last year, there were only three pitchers who started at least 10 games while averaging more than 8.00 K/9 and fewer than 2.00 B/9. It’s easy to understand why striking out more batters while walking fewer means more value, however, those three players’ current ADPs on MockDraftCentral sit at 31st, 77th, and 226th overall. Just to back that up (the ADPs on MDC can be a bit weird before actual rankings are released) take a look at ESPN’s preliminary Top 250 rankings. Per those rankings, our three players are ranked 28th, 52nd, and UR (unranked within the 250). These three “super command” pitchers are Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia, and the subject of our next sleeper article, Marco Estrada. Marco Estrada’s pitch selection in 2012, courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net. As I mentioned above, Estrada’s command level is elite. Not only that, but Estrada is the only one in that group to have his K/9 over 9.00, not just the qualifying 8.00. Estrada has always had good strikeout numbers (career 9.02 K/9), and his strikeout rate stats (O-Swing%, Contact%, SwStr%) are all better than league average. While his fastball isn’t overpowering (it only averaged 90.1 MPH last year) the big velocity gap between his heater and his change-up (77.7 mph average) keeps hitters off-balance and is a big reason for the great strikeout numbers. However, while the strikeouts are nice, Estrada does have a problem with the types of contact he allows. Last year Estrada allowed fly balls a whopping 45.4% of the time and only generated ground balls 34.3% of the time, good for a dismal 0.76 GB:FB ratio. Only four pitchers (min. 100 IP) had a worse GB:FB last year. Fewer ground balls means fewer chances for double plays, and more fly balls means home runs are more likely. That’s never a good formula for a pitcher. While allowing a ton of fly balls can be a huge problem for some (Ervin Santana, anyone?) it’s not as big of a problem for Estrada. His 10.5% HR/FB rate was just a little under the league average (11.3%) so doesn’t have a huge problem with keeping the ball in the park, a feat he’s managed by inducing a ridiculous amount of infield flies. Estrada’s IFFB%, the percentage of fly balls that are pop-ups (basically automatic outs), was a crazy-high 18.0%. The only pitcher (min. 100 innings) with a higher rate was Johan Santana (19.3%). That mark will be tough to duplicate, but it speaks to how tough Estrada’s pitches are to square up on for batters. My 2013 expectation for Estrada is a James Shields-type stat line with fewer innings. You’ll probably get an ERA in the mid-3.00s, a whip in the 1.15-1.20 range, and an excellent K:BB ratio. (And that’s also in line with Baseball Professor’s official Estrada fantasy projection). Shields is getting drafted in the 9th round while Estrada isn’t getting drafted until the last few rounds. Take advantage of this and draft the underrated Estrada for your team this year. Tweet
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