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Draft Strategy

2016 Category Sleepers: WHIP

by Seth Trachtman
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

It’s never too early to prepare for your draft, and some of us draft fiends are already setting our draft dates.  We’re barely into the offseason, but it’s a great time to start discussing some players to watch as we look toward 2016.


For the second year in a row, I’ll be breaking down category sleepers at each of the 5x5 roto categories. Over the next 10 weeks, I will be providing a list of sleepers per each category (BA, HR, RBI, R, SB, W, ERA, WHIP, K, SV).  Since the hot stove league still has a long way to go this offseason, for the next few weeks we will focus on players in categories that are less based on opportunity and more based on skill.   Other roto categories that are more dependent on opportunity, supporting cast, and batting order spot (R, RBI, SB) or team and manager (W, SV) will be discussed in the latter half of the 10-week series.


Before reading any further, it’s important to note the definition of a sleeper.  In this case, it’s a player who will exceed draft day ADP AND projections in a particular category.  The players are broken down by mixed league sleepers and single league sleepers.


This week we’ll be looking at WHIP sleepers, a category often forgotten about at the draft. Fantasy owners, especially those new to the game, often have a bias toward ERA given that it’s the category most often quoted as we learn the game. However, WHIP is quite important, with recent pitchers such as Phil Hughes, Dan Haren, and Bartolo Colon making a living on fantasy rosters for their WHIP contributions.


It’s simple enough to say that good control creates a WHIP asset for fantasy owners, but the table below is proof. The following table shows data from pitchers with at least 10 major league starts in the given year, proving just how important control is to finding pitchers who will help your WHIP.






 < 1.5

































Based on the yearly WHIP average at the bottom of the table, it’s clear that finding pitchers capable of producing sub-2.5 BB/9 is key when uncovering potential value for the category. With that fact in mind, here’s a rundown of 10 names to track in 2016 for fantasy leagues of varying sizes.


Mixed League Sleepers


Clayton Blackburn, Giants


San Francisco has added Jeff Samardzija to take Tim Hudson’s spot in the starting rotation, and they’ve been connected with other free agent pitchers. Still, Blackburn has been one of their top prospects for several years, and is finally on the cusp of helping. Baseball America rated him as the organization’s No. 8 prospect this offseason, coming off a terrific year at Triple-A Sacramento in which he produced a 2.85 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, and 2.3 BB/9 in 123 innings. Known especially for his control, Blackburn has a career 1.9 BB/9 in the minors and has regularly faced more advanced competition.


Going into his age 23 season, Blackburn has proven all he can in the minors. The question is whether San Francisco will take the risk and give him a rotation spot, or work him in more slowly as a swingman. Given the lack of durability we’ve seen from Matt Cain and Jake Peavy in recent years, it might not matter what role Blackburn has on paper as we enter spring training. The immediate upside of a 1.2 WHIP pitcher makes him a viable late-round or waiver addition for mixed leagues.


Tyler Duffey, Twins


The Twins organization has been known for valuing control pitchers, going back to the days of Brad Radke. Duffey is their newest model citizen, and he had an impressive rookie debut with a 3.10 ERA and 1.31 WHIP over 10 starts. His command was on point with a 2.65 K/BB ratio, though his BB/9 of 3.1 actually lagged significantly behind what we’d seen of Duffey in the minors.


Duffey had a tremendous season between Double-A and Triple-A, posting a 2.54 ERA in 22 starts with only 30 walks in 138 innings. That’s good for a 2.0 BB/9 on the year. That’s not the first time he showed prodigious control, as Duffey posted a 1.8 BB/9 the previous year while spending most of his season at Double-A. Those minor league numbers would suggest that not only is Duffey for real, but he has room to improve upon the control he showed last season. With a good spring, he should fit nicely in the middle of the Twins rotation and become a solid late-round WHIP find in most mixed leagues.


Brandon McCarthy, Dodgers


Remember me? McCarthy signed a four-year, $48 million contract with the Dodgers last offseason, only to suffer a torn elbow ligament after four starts and undergo Tommy John surgery at the end of April. The good news is having the surgery relatively early in the 2015 season gives him a chance to return before the All-Star break in 2016.


Granted, McCarthy has a long arm injury history going back to his days as a young pitcher for the Rangers, but he’s been a relatively consistent WHIP asset since his reemergence in 2011. Over that time, McCarthy has posted a sub-2.0 BB/9 in every season, and a 1.25 WHIP to go along with it. The debate here isn’t whether McCarthy can help you with WHIP, but rather if he’s worth stashing until he does return. That’s really a consideration of your league rules, and the opportunity cost of stashing him to start the year. He’s only thrown 170 innings twice in his career, but a 3.88 ERA and 3.54 FIP since his 2011 breakout while pitching mostly in the AL shows the upside beyond the help you’ll find in WHIP.


Cody Reed, Reds


The Royals probably won’t ever truly regret the package they gave up for Johnny Cueto last season based on the end result, but Reed has an opportunity to at least leave a sour taste in their mouths. The former second-round pick was terrific in a breakout 2015 season, posting a 2.41 ERA in 145.2 innings between High-A and Double-A. Not only did he post nearly one strikeout per inning, but Reed also had a vastly improved 2.6 BB/9 for the year.


While the Reds have no reason to rush Reed, they’re also likely to have ample opportunity with a supposed rebuilding effort forthcoming. Reed seems unlikely to break camp with the team considering that he hasn’t thrown a pitch above Double-A and the Reds will want to protect his service time, but it’s become clear that the lefty isn’t far off. He posted an impressive 1.16 WHIP in the minors last season, showing rare ability for a 22-year-old to miss bats at a great rate and also avoid walks. The bandwagon will be moving fast in keeper leagues after Baseball America rated him as the Reds No. 2 prospect, but he could help early in the year if he proves effective vs. major leaguers in spring training.


Adam Warren, Cubs


Warren was moved from the Yankees to the Cubs in the Starlin Castro trade this week. He served as a very effective swingman for the Yanks last season, posting a 3.29 ERA and 1.17 WHIP over 131.1 innings. He’s produced a strong 2.7 BB/9 in consecutive years, and it’s exciting to see what he has the potential to do in an NL and with acclaimed Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio. Granted, the team’s rotation is full at the time of this writing, especially following the addition of John Lackey, but Warren is a potential rotation asset along with Trevor Cahill.


Matching last season’s innings as a swingman would give Warren value in mixed leagues, and his career 2.6 BB/9 in the minors shows ability pressing on that sub-2.5 BB/9 rate that we’re targeting. Warren’s questionable role should make him cheap going into the year, and he’s proven to be a nice find over the last two seasons for his steady control.


Single League Sleepers


Tim Cooney, Cardinals


Cooney sits as a single league sleeper, but could definitely be appropriate for mixed leagues if the Cardinals don’t make any offseason starting pitcher additions. There have long been questions about whether the southpaw’s stuff would play at the major league level, and he started to answer them in his brief major league debut with a 3.16 ERA in six starts last season.


He would have received a look later in the year if not for appendicitis ending his season prematurely, but he had enough time to impress. Cooney has long been known for his tremendous control, showing a 1.6 BB/9 in 88.2 innings at Triple-A Memphis last season. For his minor league career, Cooney has a 1.8 BB/9 and 1.18 WHIP. He successfully passed Marco Gonzales on the organizational depth chart with his solid year, and his extreme flyball rate isn’t a major concern at Busch Stadium. Given injuries over the last two seasons to the existing four names in the Cardinals rotation, it’s not a stretch to expect 15-plus starts from Cooney even if he doesn’t start the year in the rotation.


Zach Lee, Dodgers


Considered the Dodgers best prospect a few years ago, Lee’s fall down the organization’s depth chart says something about his evolution as a prospect and the farm system’s vast improvement. The 2010 first-round pick doesn’t project as the high upside starter some expected earlier in his pro career, but he had a terrific 2015 season. Spending most of the year at Triple-A Oklahoma City, Lee produced a 2.63 ERA in 21 starts with a career-best 1.5 BB/9.


Lee doesn’t have the upside that he did in the low minors, but we should give him credit for re-creating himself as a control pitcher recently. He cut his BB/9 more than in half last season compared to his struggles at Triple-A Albuquerque in 2014, and looks like he’ll eventually slot in somewhere as a fifth starter. Remaining with the Dodgers organization would likely put him in a long relief role in 2016, so hopefully he finds another destination more willing to give him a rotation opportunity.


Ryan Merritt, Indians


Cleveland’s rotation has received plenty of press for the development of their power pitchers over the last few years, including Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, and Trevor Bauer. However, their ability to develop control pitchers has been nearly as impressive. Just last season we saw the return of Josh Tomlin, the poster child of control and WHIP, along with Cody Anderson’s arrival from the minors.


Merritt could be next in line. He compares well to the aforementioned control pitchers, posting a 1.2 BB/9 between Double-A and Triple-A last season at age 23. He hasn’t shown great strikeout rates, but Merritt has been consistently effective in the minors and his development has been somewhat similar to Anderson. For his career, Merritt has a 3.31 ERA and 1.4 BB/9 in the minors. Carrasco and Bauer have been mentioned in trade rumors, which would give Merritt a better chance to see the rotation in Cleveland this season.


Ryan Weber, Braves


It’s no mystery that the Braves are continuing to rebuild with an eye toward 2017. Weber hasn’t been mentioned among their better upper minors prospects, but maybe he should be. The former 22nd round pick had a breakout season in 2015, with a 2.35 ERA in 99.2 innings between starting and relieving in the minors, followed by a 4.76 ERA in five major league starts.


Weber’s calling card is terrific control and a nasty sinker that’s helped him produce a 2.46 GO/FO ratio for his career in the minors, and an even better ratio in his limited sample size of major league innings. Added is his near perfect control, posting a 0.9 BB/9 in the minors last season and a 1.9 BB/9 with the Braves. Weber averaged only 89 mph on that fastball and has shown sub-par strikeout rates, but the control and grounders give him enough upside to be an interesting NL-only play if he can find some starts next season.


Ryan Williams, Cubs


Leave it to the Cubs front office brass to find a 10th round pick with perfect control. Drafted in 2014, Williams showed unbelievable control between Low-A and Double-A last season. He finished the year going 14-3 with a 2.16 ERA and 1.1 BB/9 for the year, spending most of his time at the higher level. He also showed a strong groundball rate for the year. His repertoire is similar to Weber, though his groundball rates haven’t been quite as impressive to this point.


It’s clear that getting the majors with the Cubs in 2016 will be somewhat difficult for Williams, especially finding starts, but it’s certainly not impossible. He’s emerged quickly as one the minors’ best control pitchers, and could have a future as a solid fifth starter and WHIP find in fantasy leagues as early as the second half of this coming year.