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Di Fino: Pitchers rising from the East

by | Senior Fantasy Writer
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Themes are overrated. Instead, enjoy a potpourri of Fantasy thoughts that might help you in your waiver wire hunting over the next six weeks, or, possibly, in some of your drafting next year:

Here's something that inadvertently just kind of happened this year: I universally added three rookie pitchers who came over from Japan in the offseason:

Yu Darvish ($16 in Tout Wars auction): 4.52 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 162 strikeouts.
Wei-Yin Chen ($2 FAAB bid in Tout Wars): 3.70 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 118 strikeouts.
Hisashi Iwakuma ($2 FAAB bid in Tout Wars): 4.16 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 58 strikeouts.

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I had a strategy going in to the Tout Wars auction where I would try to grab three pitchers for between 15 and 19 dollars. I ended up with Ricky Romero ($15), Darvish and Jon Lester ($17). The gambit didn't exactly turn out how I wanted (the gambit did, the results ... are still incomplete, at best), but I was able to patch things up with Chen and, eventually, Iwakuma. Next year, I think I'd go as high as $14 for Darvish, $7 for Chen and $1 on Iwakuma at the auction. Of course, Darvish could go on an otherworldly hot streak to end the season, and that could bump his value up to $19-20, which might make him a little too rich for my budget.

Chen, on the other hand, could go on a roll, and I don't think his value for next year would change much. He came into this year without much fanfare, and I could see that carrying over, despite his successful 2012 campaign. Chen was pitching well early and started the season hot, shutting down the Yankees, White Sox, and Angels in his first three starts. His numbers in Japan suggested he could sustain this -- not a lot of strikeouts, but great control (1.06 WHIP over four seasons in Japan) and some stellar ERA numbers (his 1.54 ERA in 2009 stood out as one example). It was Chen, in fact, who eventually led me to Iwakuma. As a member of Seattle's bullpen, Iwakuma was thrust into an unfamiliar role in middle relief; in Japan, Iwakuma started all 113 of his appearances. So, over 30 1/3 innings as a reliever, Iwakuma put up an unimpressive 4.75 ERA and 1.43 WHIP. But then, in July, the Mariners added him to the rotation. After a couple five-inning, stretching-out appearances, Iwakuma hit his stride. In seven starts, his ERA sits at 3.73. His numbers in Japan (2.67 ERA, 1.13 WHIP), like Chen, suggest that this isn't just sustainable, but can possibly be improved upon.

So, for the rest of the year? Iwakuma may end up being the best. He has a fresh arm from all the time in the bullpen, and he definitely has the friendliest home park of the three. Chen will probably remain steady, in a Mark Buehrle-ish manner, and Darvish will remain an x-factor -- capable of great things, able to contribute in strikeouts, but hampered by walks and inconsistency.

If you listen to the podcasts, watch the show, or read bitter replies on Twitter, you'll know that I hate the practice of slotting starting pitchers with RP eligibility into relief pitcher spots. It makes no sense -- there's no skill involved in blindly putting starters into the RP spots, and it doesn't reflect any measure of Fantasy skill, other than bumping up someone like Chris Sale's draft value because he can get you points in the RP slot.

Of the top 25 RPs in standard H2H point leagues, eight are starters (Chris Sale, Lance Lynn, Matt Moore, Lucas Harrell, Jeff Samardzija, Felix Doubront, Jose Quintana and Mike Fiers). Conversely, the waiver wire in our Podcast League -- 12 teams, standard scoring -- features the likes of Rafael Betancourt, Jim Henderson, Steve Cishek, Jared Burton, Wilton Lopez, Heath Bell, Santiago Casilla, Frank Francisco, Carlos Marmol, and Ryan Cook. So if a team loses a closer? No big deal -- not only are plenty available on the wire, but that owner can also snag a two-start Miguel Gonzalez to plug into the RP slot, as well. People argue that it's strategy and game play; I consider it a hindrance and an easy way out of having to make a tough Fantasy decision.

That being said, I'm totally fine with playing Hanley Ramirez at shortstop. Yes, he's played primarily third base this season. Position players are moved around with far more frequency than pitchers. And Ramirez's return to shortstop shows how fluid that practice is. There is a world of a difference between feasting on RP eligibility for starting pitchers -- thus making closers nearly irrelevant and turning values of some players upside down -- and slotting a hitter at a position he primarily played the year before. It's all arguable and a matter of tastes, but, in my mind, one is harmless lineup shuffling in a system built for being vague (utility, middle infield, corner infield spots), while the other greatly alters the strategy involved with the game.

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Justin Germano is my current suggestion to anyone looking for deep pitching help. And forget about it being a two-start week for him -- Germano could have some nice value in his one-start weeks as well. His major league numbers aren't the most exciting: In 284 innings over the course of seven seasons, Germano has a 4.82 ERA and 1.36 WHIP. He has struck out just 175 batters in that time. But, so far this season, Germano has managed a 3.19 ERA and, more importantly, a 1.15 WHIP. In 13 minor league seasons, Germano had an impressively-low 1.21 WHIP. In fact, since 2010 -- after spending a season in Japan (just a weird coincidence for this column) -- Germano had a 3.06 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in 226 2/3 minor league innings. It's the WHIP that makes him such an attractive option; Germano issued just 31 walks over the last three minor league seasons. In his brief MLB time since 2010, he has a 3.65 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. His low WHIP could make him a sneaky play for owners looking to stabilize their ratios the rest of the way.

Bryce Harper is going to be awesome next year. I spelled it out in a column earlier this year -- there's historical backing of this, with additional backing of the theory coming from Mike Trout. I'd expect Harper to hit 30 home runs, steal 30 bases and bat around .310. It might look insane right now, but after Trout hit .220 last year, it might've looked just as crazy to suggest he'd have a chance at 30 home runs, 50 steals and a .340 average this season. It would be wise to try and get Harper cheap as a keeper now from an owner who might have soured on him during this debut season.

Yoenis Cespedes might be right behind Harper in breaking out big-time next year. Consider that he played hurt, lost time to injury, and is a rookie who has never played in the minor leagues before this season. He's batting .301 with 15 home runs and 10 steals. That puts him at about 30-20 for a full, 162-game season ... if he just repeats his 2012 numbers. I'd bump those up for his second year, and imagine him at least threatening to join Harper in the 30-30 club next year.

Even if the season ended today, Rajai Davis will have averaged 40 steals a season over the last four years. Making the feat even more impressive? In only one of the past four seasons did he manage over 400 at-bats.

One silver lining to his disastrous season: Eric Hosmer has already equaled last season's total of 11 steals. And he's only been caught once. Last year, it took him 523 at-bats to hit that mark (and he was caught five times); he has just 416 at-bats so far this year. Along with J.D. Martinez and Brett Lawrie, Hosmer could be a stellar, sneaky bounce-back pick for 2013.

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The biggest diappointment for me this season is Everth Cabrera having just 20 steals. It may not seem like a big deal -- stressing over a player owned in 12 percent of leagues -- but, with his speed, he should have 30 at this point. And those 10 extra steals could mean three or four extra points in Rotisserie leagues, which could mean the difference between "mired in fourth" and "nipping at first" as the season winds down.

If I had Melky Cabrera in a keeper league, the most I'm keeping him at is six dollars. It's a combination of not knowing which team may sign him next year, Fantasy players ascribing his breakout seasons to PED use (thus driving down his price) and a general "meh" attitude when he comes up in queues. I'm not entirely sure you'll be able to get him for six dollars in an auction next year, but that's as high as I'll bid when his name comes up.

There's a decent team to be made this week from the typical waiver wire in a 12-team standard league ...
C: Wilin Rosario, C, Rockies
1B: Kendrys Morales, 1B, Angels
2B: Omar Infante, 2B, Tigers
SS: J.J. Hardy, SS, Orioles
3B: Mike Moustakas, 3B, Royals
OF: Ryan Ludwick, OF, Reds
OF: Rajai Davis, OF, Blue Jays
OF: David Murphy, OF, Rangers
UT: Chipper Jones, 3B, Braves
SP: Miguel Gonzalez, SP, Orioles
SP: Hisashi Iwakuma, SP, Mariners
SP: Mark Rogers, SP, Brewers
SP: Freddy Garcia, SP, Yankees
SP: David Phelps, SP, Yankees
RP: Rafael Betancourt, RP, Rockies
RP: Dale Thayer, RP, Padres

In fact, I'll score this team against my opponent next week and report back on it. I'm betting this team of scrappy underdogs could get a win against a normal team, if things fall the right way.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Nando Di Fino at @NandoCBS . You can also send our staff an e-mail at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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