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April 2, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Hot Spots: Starting Pitchers

by Bill Baer

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Cleveland Indians PECOTA 2007-09 OPS Short-Term #SP
Starting Pitcher Age W Sv IP HR K BB ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 GB% vs R vs L Rotation Slot
Mitch Talbot 26 4 0 81 8 63 31 4.78 1.48 4.7 10.2 2.8 38% 1.085 1.611 #4
David Huff 25 7 0 124 14 79 42 4.59 1.44 4.6 2.9 1.1 43% .806 .885 #5
Aaron Laffey 24 6 0 114 12 61 47 5.01 1.55 4.3 3.4 0.7 57% .785 .706 #6
Heater team expert: Overall in Rotation 4.43 1.39 6.6 3.1 1.1 48% .749 .773 Figures by Heater
Brian La Shier Overall in Relief 3.94 1.36 7.7 3.8 0.9 48% .704 .730 New upgrade
    New downgrade

Mitch Talbot has spent seven seasons in the Minor Leagues and his hard work has finally paid off. He spent most of 2009 and all of '08 and '07 in Triple-A Durham, the Tampa Bay Rays affiliate, where he has shown steady improvement. Talbot has shown good control and an above-average ability to strike hitters out; the question now is whether or not that can translate to the Major Leagues.

The 2007-09 stats on Talbot's line above only include his nine and two-thirds innings at the Major League level with the Rays in '08. I think it is safe to say that that can be ignored. As far as projections, PECOTA's seems realistic except it may be underestimating the amount of innings he will be pitching in Cleveland. I would expect a WHIP between 1.3 and the low 1.4's as opposed to the 1.5 PECOTA expects simply because he is a control pitcher who has held Triple-A hitters to a 1.36 WHIP in 376 innings.

David Huff won the #5 spot and will try to rebound from a tough rookie campaign in 2009. He pitched slightly better than his 5.61 ERA showed, as SIERA put him at 5.18. His big problem last year was an inability to miss bats. According to the Texas Leaguers Pitch F/X tool, Huff threw more than 2,200 pitches and induced only 123 total swings and misses (5.5%). He does, however, possess decent control of his pitches like Talbot, so his low walk rate has helped limit any further damage.

PECOTA's projection of Huff is rosy for sure. His inability to miss bats is a problem as last year, opposing hitters had a combined slugging percentage of .483. Huff does not have a lot of upside at this point. He may be a late bloomer, but 2009 will not be extra friendly to him, thus he also does not bring much fantasy value.

Aaron Laffey was supposed to be a key contributor to the Cleveland starting rotation by now, but he has not developed control of his fastball, slider, and change up as his walk rate has become worse and worse from 2.2 per nine innings in 2007 to 3.0 in '08 to 4.2 in '09. As a result of that and the team's need for bullpen help, he will start the season as a middle reliever, but is the team's first option to make a spot start according to HEATER Magazine's Brian La Shier.

Florida Marlins PECOTA 2007-09 OPS Short-Term #SP
Starting Pitcher Age W Sv IP HR K BB ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 GB% vs R vs L Rotation Slot
Nate Robertson 32 5 0 105 13 74 40 4.88 1.46 6.0 3.5 1.2 47% .848 .791 #5
Rick VandenHurk 24 5 0 81 10 71 33 4.08 1.37 8.8 4.6 1.6 31% .846 .890 #6
Clay Hensley 30 4 0 87 12 56 42 4.85 1.56 5.8 4.3 0.7 52% .686 .727 #7
Heater team expert: Overall in Rotation 4.43 1.39 6.6 3.1 1.1 48% .749 .773 Figures by Heater
Michael Jong Overall in Relief 3.94 1.36 7.7 3.8 0.9 48% .704 .730 New upgrade
    New downgrade

The Fish just recently traded for former 1999 fifth-round pick Nate Robertson from the Detroit Tigers. The lefty is expected to be a mainstay in the starting rotation according to HEATER Magazine's Michael Jong. Robertson has only had one above-average season, a BABIP-friendly 2006. Over his career, SIERA has him about 0.40 lower than his career 4.92 ERA. He strikes hitters out at about an average rate, but last year he saw a spike in his walk rate -- definitely a cause for concern.

Over his career, Robertson has held left-handed hitters to a sub-.700 OPS, including a .378 SLG. It would be risky, but you could pick your spots with Robertson against the lefty-heavy lineups of the Phillies and Braves. I advise against it, but that is the only redeeming fantasy value that Robertson has.

Just as a note -- because I've seen this brought up so much over the past few days -- many think the Marlins home stadium is pitcher-friendly, but it is not. Baseball Reference gave Sun Life Stadium -- as it is now known -- a one-year pitching factor of 105 (above 100 favors hitters) and a three-year factor of 101. ESPN listed it as the seventh-most homer-friendly stadium in the Majors in 2009. Robertson is moving from a park that was the 17th-most homer-friendly last year. His new home is not a reason to pick up Robertson.

In case of emergency, Rick VandenHurk is the fallback option in the event of an injury or poor performance. Last year, in 11 starts, he showed improved control with a repertoire made up mostly by a low-90's fastball and a slider. FIP and xFIP did not think highly of his 2009, despite his 4.30 ERA in about 59 innings. He allowed two or fewer runs in seven of his 11 starts last year.

The one cause for concern is his tendency to allow home runs, coupled with his high fly ball rate. Overall, though, he is relatively unknown and provides decent value. If a Marlins starter hits the DL or falters, keep VandenHurk in mind.

Clay Hensley may have lost in his quest to win a starting rotation spot, but he could still find some starts during the season. He has had a very impressive spring training, compiling a 0.55 ERA in over 16 innings. He has allowed only seven hits and one walk along with no home runs, as well as 11 punch-outs.

Hensley spent all of last year in the Minors, mostly in Triple-A New Orleans. There, he showed decent control, limited home runs, and gave the Marlins every reason to give him a chance to win a rotation spot in spring training. The Robertson acquisition nixes that idea, however. Hensley will be the long reliever for the Fish, but could find a spot start every now and then as the pitching staff inevitably accrues bumps and bruises.

Bill Baer is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bill's other articles. You can contact Bill by clicking here

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Premium Article Future Shock: Grapefru... (04/01)
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