March 26, 2010
Hot Spots: Starting Pitchers
The Arizona Diamondbacks have a glut of starting pitchers competing for the #3-5 spots in the starting rotation. Some are kids trying to earn staying power in the big leagues while others are seasoned veterans trying to prove they can still compete with the game's best hitters. Let's start at the top and work our way down.
Ian Kennedy is essentially guaranteed a spot in the rotation. He has tossed fewer than 60 innings in his MLB career, including one inning last year. In that time, he has struggled with his control, averaging 5.6 walks per nine innings. However, he has been impressive during spring training, striking out 10 and allowing four runs on 13 hits and four walks in 13 and a third innings. Unless you play in a deep, NL-only league, Kennedy will likely go undrafted; he is owned in 0.3% of ESPN fantasy baseball leagues. Keep an eye on how he pitches in April: if he has an evident ability to limit his walks, he will make a great waiver pick-up.
As Nick Piecoro of AZCentral.com detailed, Rodrigo Lopez's numbers haven't been eye-popping, but the way he has pitched has impressed. GM Josh Byrnes said, "He's looked a lot like he did in his good years in Baltimore, so that's encouraging. His stuff is very similar. His command, pitch sequences. He's thrown very well." Lopez traditionally has had good control and induced a lot of ground balls. He is not owned in any ESPN fantasy leagues, but he will be valuable for the odd spot start especially since he plays in the offensively-weak NL West. Lopez will be good in a pinch when pitching against the Giants or Padres, especially if in San Francisco or San Diego.
Billy Buckner is next in line according to HEATER Magazine's Michael Street. Buckner has a career 5.74 ERA in over 125 innings, but SIERA likes him a lot more than that, putting him at 4.42. Of balls put in play against him, 52% have been ground balls, a great sign. He also has about average strikeout and walk rates. Buckner will provide marginal upgrades at best in most fantasy categories except wins, which he should get more of with an improved Diamondbacks offense. PECOTA projects Arizona to tie for fourth-best in the National League in runs scored.
Kris Benson has an outside chance at making the D-Backs' starting rotation. He tossed 22 and one-third innings at the Major League level last year and was not in the Majors in 2007 and '08. Even the Phillies, who were in dire need of pitching help prior to the Cliff Lee trade and Pedro Martinez signing, passed on Benson who was in their Minor League system during spring training last year. The D-Backs likely will not set their rotation until April 17, so Benson has a non-zero chance at being included, but it is a low probability. And for the team, the sooner Brandon Webb can return, the better.
Like the D-Backs, the Detroit Tigers also have some competition lining up at the back of their starting rotation.
Jeremy Bonderman has spent the better part of the last two seasons dealing with recurring shoulder issues stemming from a surgical procedure that removed a blood clot in his axillary vein. When healthy, he has posted great strikeout-to-walk ratios, backed up by his career 4.06 SIERA. Bonderman has not had a good spring training showing, but is expected to win a rotation spot anyway. Avoid him in your fantasy league until he proves he can pitch effectively again.
On the other hand, Nate Robertson has had a great spring in an attempt to win a starting rotation spot. His latest start against the Toronto Blue Jays earned the, uh, compliments of Jim Leyland. "He's doing fine. He's doing all right." Robertson has struck out 14 hitters with a 3.68 ERA in 14 and two-thirds innings. His numbers are a bit misleading though, due to the small sample of innings. PECOTA's projection, while very pessimistic, is a lot closer to his true talent level.
HEATER Magazine's Lee Panas has bumped Dontrelle Willis up to #6 in a surprising turn of events. He showed increased velocity in his last outing and has put up a microscopic 0.82 ERA in 11 innings. However, Willis has walked too many -- five -- and while it would be great if the Tigers could recoup some value from him before he hits free agency after this season, he needs to better harness his pitches and lower his walk rate before he is given the ball in meaningful baseball games. Like Bonderman, pass on Willis.
Eddie Bonine has an outside chance of making the starting rotation but the Tigers lack bullpen depth. Bonine likely will start the season in the bullpen pitching in long relief.