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The 'oldie-but-goodie' pitchers

2/22/2011

I drafted Philadelphia Phillies left-hander Jamie Moyer in a deep fantasy league last March -- a really deep league -- not only because I expected him to win double-digit games with passable peripherals, but also to make a point to naysayers that I practice what I preach. Not all fantasy baseball sleepers are young guys. Moyer, now a spry 48-year-old recovering from Tommy John surgery and still planning on pitching in 2012, won nine of his 19 starts, with a high ERA but a WHIP that would have ranked 10th among major league starting pitchers had he qualified. It's true, Moyer delivered a 1.10 WHIP, better than Josh Johnson, Ubaldo Jimenez and all but nine qualified starting pitchers in baseball. In a 16-team league, he made for a valuable last-round pick.

It would be foolish for me to recommend Moyer today, of course; he's not likely to pitch this season. But in accordance with last week's "oldies but goodies" blog on hitters 35 years or older to keep an eye on, I figured I would do the same with pitchers. Moyer turned 35 way back in 1998, but the hurlers below crossed that threshold a bit more recently. Before you go ignoring them on draft day, or in a few cases select them later than their production dictates, because of their age, look a bit closer at their production. You might be surprised.

Chris Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals: There is one top Cardinals pitcher scaring fantasy owners because of a potential elbow injury ... but it's not Carpenter, it's Adam Wainwright. Carpenter made 35 starts last season and finished 18th among starting pitchers on the ESPN Player Rater. We rank him 12th among starters, so there's obviously no age discount there. It's safe to rely on Carpenter for a few more seasons.

Tim Hudson, Atlanta Braves: Hudson's return from Tommy John surgery went better than expected, and he delivered his best season since being traded from Oakland in 2004. An extreme ground-ball pitcher, Hudson likely will be discounted by fantasy owners more for the lack of strikeout potential than his age. We ranked him far worse than his 2010 Player Rater value -- he finished 14th! -- but I wouldn't let him drop too far.

Hiroki Kuroda, Los Angeles Dodgers: Now 36, Kuroda's major league WHIP stands at an impressive 1.17, which in itself would have ranked in the top 20 in baseball last season. He hasn't won much in L.A. -- he's 28-30 in three seasons -- but he has raised his strikeout rate each season, and he certainly hurls in the right ballpark to have success. Kuroda is probably the most underrated pitcher on this list. With a little run support, his annual peripherals indicate a 15-win season is quite possible.

Ted Lilly, Los Angeles Dodgers: My guess is most people aren't aware how long Lilly has been around. This will be his 13th season, and he continues to provide strong strikeout rates and a standout WHIP. Like Kuroda, we can't be sure of the wins, but Lilly certainly seemed to adapt to Los Angeles after the deadline-day trade, winning seven of 12 starts and flashing a 0.99 WHIP and more than a strikeout per inning. He's an extreme fly-ball pitcher, which should play well in his new digs. I'd draft Lilly and Kuroda before Hudson, and all of them among the top 30 starting pitchers.

Derek Lowe, Atlanta Braves: I'm not a huge fan of Lowe because he generally hurts a fantasy team's ERA and WHIP without helping in strikeouts. The thing is, he always seems to provide wins. Lowe has won 12 or more games all nine seasons he has been a starting pitcher, and he has won 31 games in two seasons for the Braves. Thank his durability and a rubber arm that doesn't appear to be wearing down as he approaches 38 years old. We as a group ranked Lowe poorly (No. 98 among starting pitchers), behind stalwarts Phil Coke, Vicente Padilla and Chris Narveson, but I have him in the 70-75 range, meaning he's free-agent fodder in standard leagues but a wise addition when it's his turn for a two-start week.

Others to watch: I bet most people don't care that Carl Pavano is 35, and don't trust him anyway, based on his New York Yankees years. But this guy was the No. 35 starting pitcher on the Player Rater last season, and he reminds me of the aforementioned Lowe, but with a better WHIP. He should win games. ... Age seems irrelevant for knuckleball pitchers, but did you know R.A. Dickey finished 10th in the big leagues in ERA last season? No, I don't expect a repeat, and he's not going to help in strikeouts (and probably not wins while pitching for the New York Mets), but he's a top-75 starter. ... I won't go near Livan Hernandez, but if innings are a category in your league, he should provide them. He did finish better on the Player Rater last season than such pitchers as Gavin Floyd, Jeff Niemann, Brandon Morrow and Brian Matusz.

Relief pitchers: I probably don't need to tell you that Mariano Rivera remains a dominant closer. He's also 41, and last season we saw Trevor Hoffman fall apart at 42. I just don't see much comparison past that. Other closers who are 35 or older include Francisco Cordero, Ryan Franklin and Joe Nathan. All are risky, for different reasons I suppose, but I don't see age as a major factor here. Cordero has lost command, and a guy throwing 105 mph is setting him up. Franklin has the command but doesn't strike out many hitters. And Nathan is coming off Tommy John surgery. To me they're all relatively safe bargains.