The time is now to pick up Zach Duke. We wrote about him during the offseason, suggesting he could be this year's version of Joe Saunders. Since that January article, Duke has done what we had envisioned: He sported a 3.86 ERA over eight spring starts.
Zach has been quoted this spring having said things like "I feel right now" and "I have more control of my pitches." Manager John Russell said, "Duke has showed a renewed committment." Quotes of this nature are certainly positive ones and Duke is no stranger to success.
It was in 2005 where he took the league by storm. He went 8-2 with a 1.82 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP that year. But, that was then and this is now, right?
Two weeks away from turning 26, Duke could have easily made offseason adjustments. His first start of the season is exactly the type of start you can expect from him: 6-7 innings, four strikeouts, 2-3 earned runs and a possible walk here and there.
Our January comparison of Duke to Joe Saunders certainly limits his fantasy value. Duke isn't a strikeout pitcher, which is never a good thing. He also pitches for the Pirates, which isn't a good thing either. But, like we saw with Lincecum last year, if you can sport a solid ERA and go deep into ball games, you give your team a good chance to win, despite low run support.
The comparison to Saunders is limited, however. Saunders struck out 103 batters in nearly 200 innings. Duke could be more closely alligned to teammate Paul Maholm, who struck out 139 batters. For the first time in three seasons, Duke's K/9 ratio improved in 2008 by 23%. With all of the improving he's done thus far, a slight improvement in his K/9 ratio again isn't out of the question.
Both Saunders and Maholm provided WHIP's that were very helpful at 1.21 and 1.28 respectively. Both held ERA's below 4.00 as well. Saunders, though, won 17 games while Maholm won only 9.
More importantly, neither were drafted in any fantasy league. Zach Duke wasn't drafted in any fantasy league this year either.
Pitching for the Pirates and three awful seasons in a row have put Duke on many fantasy back-burners, but this post-hype sleeper could exceed expectations in 2009.
If you have roster room, you might want to consider adding him. He will make two starts next week at home against the Astros and Braves.
This week, as in every week, there will be a tracker in the left frame tracking the Fantasy Player of the Week.
This article also appears on Fantasy Phenoms - be sure to take a look as they will help you pummel your opponent into submission week after week.