A 7.25 ERA in a season can do wonders for your sleeper status. Mike Fiers can attest to that. Fiers was limited to just 22.1 major league innings in 2013 after a batted ball struck and broke his arm, but that was enough time for him to allow eight home runs and 18 earned runs. It’s a pretty alarming streak, especially for a former 22nd-round draft pick who tops out just shy of 90 mph. Perhaps that’s why I can’t find Fiers in the top 250 for 2015 on ESPN or anywhere else I look.
I expect to have Fiers on a lot of my rosters this season, even in shallower formats. That 7.25 ERA from 2013 is certainly jarring, but his 3.74 ERA from 2012 and 2.13 ERA from 2014 are much more palatable. Meanwhile, in both of those healthy seasons, Fiers exceeded nine strikeouts per nine innings and walked between two and two and half batters per nine innings. Fiers was one of just 16 pitchers with a 9.0 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 or better in 2014:
Fiers has some strong company. In addition to the 10 established stars, the list features three of the bigger breakout performers from 2014 in Corey Kluber, Jake Arrieta and Collin McHugh. It also features Carlos Carrasco, who it feels like is atop everyone’s sleeper list for 2015.
I don’t dislike Carrasco, but while he boasts several obvious advantages—such as a 95 mph fastball and a clear rotation spot—over Fiers, Fiers has some nice advantages of his own. First, he pitches in the NL, which allowed a 3.66 ERA to all pitchers in 2014 compared to 3.82 for pitchers in the AL. Second, he should have much better defensive support. The Indians were the worst defensive team in baseball in 2014 with -68 Runs Saved. The Brewers were neutral, but they are likely to improve with the loss of free agent Rickie Weeks who cost the team 17 runs last season. Third, Fiers benefits from the extra strike calls generated by Jonathan Lucroy’s pitch framing, which Jeff Sullivan showed was far and away the best in baseball in 2014.
Fiers comes with some risks, the most pressing of which is his lack of definite job. Yovani Gallardo, Matt Garza, Kyle Lohse, and Wily Peralta are likely all ahead of Fiers in their rotation, and prospect Jimmy Nelson had decent peripherals in his 69.1 major league innings in 2014, even if his 4.93 ERA did not reflect them. Still, the last pitcher on your fantasy roster will have risk, and in my mind, few can match Fiers demonstrated upside; injured 2013 aside, he has shown elite strikeout and command numbers every year and at every level. Fiers lives in the 80s, and he’s awesome.
Scott Spratt is a fantasy sports writer for FanGraphs and Pro Football Focus. He is a Sloan Sports Conference Research Paper Competition and FSWA award winner. Feel free to ask him questions on Twitter – @Scott_Spratt