Comeback Players: Arms (Fantasy 2015)

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Matt Harvey Comeback

Fantasy leaguers are constantly trying to unearth the next breakouts and sleepers for the coming season in preparation for their upcoming draft. Not nearly as much time and effort is spent on the less exciting prospect of comeback players, yet they can provide as much value as the other two categories.

These are the pitchers who have already shown us at least one year of high production, usually more, but had a setback last year for a variety of potential reasons. These reasons could range from season-ending surgery, to nagging injuries, to sophomore slumps, to team slumps (see 2014 Tampa Rays), to personal issues off the field. All of the following experienced one or more of these season-harming issues, and have subsequently slipped in the overall rankings.

What we have to determine is if these issues have been resolved during the off-season, or will the pitcher’s numbers continue to trend in the direction of the previous season. Is there a pattern to the regression, such as age, or wear and tear? Will those nagging injuries persist? Was it really a sophomore slump? Is the regression the new norm, or was it a one-year outlier?

So, let’s take a look at Caveball’s Top 5 starters, along with 2 relievers, who are good candidates for the comeback pitchers of 2015:


1. Yu Darvish (SP) – The Rangers 2014 season was over before it started. The team was pummeled with one injury after another. So, what would you do with Yu if you knew (say that 5 times quickly) the team wasn’t going anywhere with 7 weeks remaining in the year? Would you embellish a little typical soreness in your ace’s arm to preserve it for a year that matters? I probably would, and this is what I suspect the Ranger management did, as well. After all, the doctors didn’t find anything too serious. Consider the 28 yr. old very well rested, even if he did have a significant injury. After all, he still had 182 K in 144 IP before they pulled the plug last year. He will not come cheaper than he does this year, unless that injury was for real. (Update: I initially suspected that the Rangers had cut Darvish’s season short last year because the Rangers had fallen out of contention, and there was no point in “wasting” his arm for games that didn’t matter. Turns out the injury could be for real. On the other hand, this further supports the strategy (see: Tommy John Prospects) of staying away from pitchers, especially the 20-somethings, in the early rounds of a draft.)

2. Matt Harvey (SP) – Here’s what I wrote in Tommy John Prospects: Harvey is, of course, another elite talent who is returning this year after going under the knife for Tommy John. What is the difference in his case? Well, in a word, timing. His surgery came on October 22, 2013, which has given him a nice cushion of 16 months for recovery, two more than the prescribed upper limit of 14 months. Besides this, he will go through the entire Spring Training schedule, as well. This gives him that much extra time to iron out all the wrinkles, and rediscover his game, instead of coming back part way through the season. I suspect you won’t be able to get Harvey as low as you will be able to this year for a long time to come.

3. Cliff Lee (SP) – This year it seems that everyone’s already throwing the Phillie’s season to the wolves. That’s fair enough, but if you look at their two best arms, it won’t be for lack of effort on their part. Both Lee and Cole Hamels have all the reason in the world to bring their “A” game, as they want to be an attractive option for a contender before the trade deadline. The difference between the two is that Lee finds himself in the position of having to prove himself as a 36 yr. old coming off a season-ending injury, as well. There’s no real point in going over his numbers, because he either still has “it”, or he doesn’t. He’s either the elite pitcher we’ve known for years, or his injury last year is a sign of decline. I’ll wager my house (an A-Frame deal in the middle of a beautiful forested area… yes, okay, you got me, it’s a lean-to in the corner of a local park… everyone can dream, okay? Okay?) that it’s the former.  (Update: Renewed soreness in Lee’s elbow during Spring Training makes him too high a risk factor for 2015. The 36 yr. old could even be staring retirement in the eye with a 14-month recovery time for Tommy John surgery. As it turns out, both he and Darvish should have been included in the Tommy John Prospects article)

4. Anibal Sanchez (SP) – Yes, it’s true, he could have easily ended up in the Gimps category in our feature: Sooks, Gimps and Gamers, which was recently featured in Pro Sports Daily’s Red Zone. Sanchez has a history of injuries. He has had elbow surgery (2003), shoulder surgery (2007), and then last year’s freak pectoral injury. But that’s just it, it was a freak injury – one that doesn’t normally occur to pitchers (and he’s 8 years past the ones that typically do). Sanchez has lightened his weight-training this offseason and maintains that he’s prepared for a full campaign. If he is, then we have reason enough to be excited, as Sanchez was the league leader in ERA with a 2.57 in 2013. Oh, and he had 202 K in 182 IP that same year, as well.

5. Matt Cain (SP) – Okay, let me just copy/paste from our Sleeper Picks, because I only want to say this twice. Here we go: The 30 yr. old has dropped so far in the rankings that he now has considerable value for 2015. He may never be quite the same pitcher he once was, but if you take a closer look at his “demise” over the past couple of years, his stats are really not that bad at all:

  • 2014: 4.18 ERA/.242 BAA/1.25 WHIP (before he went on the DL last year)
  • 2013: 4.00 ERA/.228 BAA/1.16 ERA (over a full season)

I boil a lot of Cain’s “slip” down to arm fatigue. He pitched at least 217 innings for 5 straight years, not to mention all of the the post-season IP. Even the steadiest of pitchers have their down years. If you don’t believe me, just have a look at John Lester’s apocalyptic 2012 (c’mon, y’all gotta give me some love for that one), when he had a 4.82 ERA/.273 BAA/1.38 WHIP (and now look at him) Fantasy owners/experts all seem to take a “what have you done for me lately?” attitude, and tend to ignore the rest of the resume′. Buy low.


1. Drew Storen (RP) – We had to remove Storen from the Sleeper post yesterday, as Yahoo already have him ranked at 123rd overall. Of the four rankers, only Andy Behrens (at 190th) had him above the 168th position required for Caveball’s “sleeper status”. Fortunately, we can include him in the Comeback category, but there may be less value to be had here. It all depends on where he goes in each individual draft. Storen had 43 saves back in 2011, before he suffered an injury in 2012. He regained closer status part way through last season after Raphael Soriano was “relieved” of his duties. Storen is steady, with almost a K/IP and a career 2.94 ERA/.229 BAA/1.13 WHIP, but he did blow 3 of his 14 opportunities last year. If he’s still available after the 15th round in a 12-team draft, then he provides value.

2. Joakim Soria (RP) – Again, I can refer you to our Sleeper post, or I can do the work for you. Okay, Copy/Paste. I’m just too nice. Here you are: Exactly when Brad Ausmus (or Joe Nathan, himself) realizes it’s time for Nathan to hang up his cleats is anyone’s guess, but Soria should be his obvious replacement. Nathan turned 40 last year, and his stats blatantly show it: 4.81 ERA/.265 BAA/1.53 WHIP. Meanwhile, Soria, 10 years his junior, went 3.25/.222 BAA/0.99 WHIP. Speaking of 40, he twice surpassed the 40-save mark with the Royals in 2008 and 2010. So, you may not have to draft Soria, but I would keep a real close eye on Nathan until the inevitable time comes.


Update: For all of you early drafters who want to get the edge on your opponents, Caveball is ready for you this week. Tomorrow’s post will focus in on Jack Money’s “General Draft Strategy”. On Friday we release Fantasy Baseball’s ultimate cheat-sheet, Caveball’s “Chartfelt Tiers”. We’ll have a one-page printable PDF version, along with the online version, which is ready-made for your drafting pleasure. For the rest of you, we will have another strategy post on Monday which will be specific to the upcoming season: “Draft Strategy 2015″.

OK, We know you guys have your opinions. So, let’s have ’em.
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