Innings-cap strategies don't always result in unpleasant conclusions. Sometimes the pitchers whose workloads are managed carefully in the season's early weeks -- as opposed to the much-publicized pitchers who have that happen in the second half -- wind up as elite fantasy options in the season's final weeks.
The past two seasons had excellent such examples, with both of the following pitchers ranking among the best starting pitchers during the years' respective second halves:
Kris Medlen, 2012
First half: 31 G, 0 GS, 2.95 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 15.1 K%
Second half: 19 G, 12 GS, 0.94 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 26.8 K%
Andrew Cashner, 2013
First half: 20 G, 15 GS, 3.81 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 16.2 K%
Second half: 11 G, 11 GS, 2.14 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 20.7 K%
This year, two new-to-their-rotation starters could be 2014 comparables to Medlen or Cashner, both of them soaring up this week's "going forward" rankings and both of them potentially ranked conservatively: The Atlanta Braves welcomed Alex Wood, and the St. Louis Cardinals elevated Carlos Martinez. Although neither is promised a rest-of-year rotation spot -- a primary reason that neither earned a loftier ranking -- both have clear paths to sticking in their roles, performance willing.
Wood is a familiar name to fantasy owners, having begun the season in what was then an injury-riddled Braves rotation. He's back among their starting five now following Gavin Floyd's elbow injury, but even before Floyd was lost to the disabled list, the team had announced plans to demote Wood to the minors to convert him back to a starter. This isn't a quick fix; the team set up a contingency plan and is now using it. And looking at Wood's career track record, he should be fine as a starter:
Career as starter: 18 GS, 9 QS, 3.30 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 23.0 K%
Career as reliever: 31 G, 3.16 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 27.8 K%
Wood was already 4-for-7 in terms of quality starts to begin the season, in each of those four quality starts registering a Game Score of 60 or greater. He also narrowed his lefty-righty splits as a starter, a significant skills gain: Right-handers batted .250/.293/.371 (AVG/OBP/SLG) against him in his seven starts, compared to .297/.333/.432 for left-handers. (Lefties batted just .259/.318/.310 against him in his 11 starts in 2013.) Despite his funky delivery, Wood seems to have the stuff to dominate in the role, à la Chris Sale, and it's for that reason that he'd rank perhaps as high as my top 40 starters if we had the promise of 17 more starts (the number he'd make if he started one out of every five remaining Braves games). Here's a rough rest-of-year projection:
12 GS, 3.25 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 71 K's in 79 IP.
Martinez, meanwhile, isn't quite as complete a pitcher as Wood, lacking a pitch to thoroughly dominate left-handed hitters. Lefties have batted .284/.383/.473 against him compared to .183/.247/.207 by right-handers, as Martinez's changeup remains a work in progress. Still, he has quite an opportunity now with two other Cardinals starters on the disabled list, Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia.
Martinez's long-term ceiling isn't far off Wacha's, and as he's capable of hitting 100 mph with his fastball and has a quality curveball, he'll be a good source of strikeouts with matchup capability, the primary risk in WHIP. And given time, Martinez might make the necessary adjustments to thrive in the majors; the Cardinals' history of quickly developing their young pitching is a significant factor working in his favor. Should he make those steps, there's no reason he couldn't be a starter for good. Plus, it's good that he has tallied just 43 1/3 innings, as it means he's unlikely to eclipse 120 or more. (He threw 108 in 2013 between three levels.) Here's a rough projection:
13 GS, 3.95 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 66 K's in 76 IP.
Wood and Martinez aren't the only such examples. Although he was recently demoted to the minors, for roster reasons more than performance, Kevin Gausman has the skills to stick in the Baltimore Orioles' rotation once he's recalled as the 26th man to start one of the games of Friday's doubleheader. Gausman missed the top 250 this week because of some questions about his current role -- the Orioles have six incumbent starters, and manager Buck Showalter says he'll use five going forward -- but he rose to 81st among starting pitchers, and he'd be a top-60 starter (and top-250 player overall) should the Orioles move to clear a consistent space for him.
Gausman, thanks to his outstanding command, is capable of a mid-threes ERA (think right around 3.50) with a 1.20-1.25 WHIP and perhaps a strikeout-per-nine-innings ratio of seven or greater. With 15 starts, he'd easily be worth your while.
Finally, Jesse Hahn could soon join the going-forward rankings, his fastball-sinker-cutter arsenal generating plenty of grounders and swings-and-misses, and Petco Park easing his transition to the majors. He has three consecutive quality starts since his recall, and with one or two more good outings, he'd probably be trustworthy enough to warrant a top-60 starter ranking of his own. The concern with Hahn is that he had only 38 1/3 innings of experience above Class A ball at the time of his promotion, all of those in Double-A, so he's far from a proven option. That said, he reminds me a little of Justin Masterson, except with a cutter that can neutralize left-handed hitters.
Tristan H. Cockcroft's top 250 "going-forward" rankings
For a detailed rankings breakdown by position, click here.