A Laffey matter

I admit it: I have a thing for unexciting pitchers. And Aaron Laffey certainly fits the bill.

But I also think that finding pitchers very late in the draft (or for very little money) who have some value is the best ticket to fantasy success. Given the inherent unpredicability of pitching, you can often find decent pitchers very late in the draft (or for very little money), allowing you to build a fantastic offensive team by picking offense with many of your high-dollar, early and mid-round picks.

Thus, while Aaron Laffey probably shouldn’t be the ace of your staff, he’s likely to be more valuable than the money you have to spend to get him, or the round in which you can draft him.

Laffey has had a stellar minor league career, although he has gone unnoticed in scouting circles thanks to his, ahem, below-average velocity. Indeed, Laffey’s fastball sits around 87 MPH. However, Laffey has survived – indeed, thrived – thanks to his ability to induce ground balls. Starting in 2005, here are Laffey’s GB percentages in the minors: 67%, 62.5%, 62.2%, and 54.4%. Oh, and Laffey is also fairly stingy with free passes, having issued 2.6 walks per nine innings in his minor league career (although this is artificially inflated by a high walk total back in 2004 – Laffey’s control has since improved).

Laffey’s high ground ball total allows him to keep the ball in the park, thus making up for his lack of strikeouts. You, as a fantasy baseball player, care more about the strikeouts, but hear me out: Laffey may be worthwhile even without a lot Ks.

Laffey had a decent debut in the majors in 2007, posting a 4.56 ERA. However, his FIP was 3.73. He started out 2008 quite well, but tired as the season progressed. He ended up with a 4.23 ERA, but a 4.88 FIP. Most of this was due to the fact that his ground ball percentage was about 10% lower in 2008 than it had been during the rest of his career. This is most likely an outlier – Laffey showed the ability to get more than 60% of his balls in play on the ground throughout his entire career, including in the majors in 2007. If he can revert back to his extreme ground-balling ways, he should benefit from an infield defense that will include Asdrubal Cabrera and may be able to keep his ERA under 4.

Once again, I don’t mean to argue that Aaron Laffey is a particularly great fantasy pitcher. But I think he can post an above-average ERA and WHIP, while perhaps getting a decent amount of wins (if the Indians are as good as I expect them to be). That’s not an ace, but that is a guy who’d make an excellent addition in a deep league, and someone who is likely to be undervalued.

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