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April 9, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Hot Spots: Starting Pitchers

by Bill Baer

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St. Louis Cardinals 2009 PECOTA Games '09
Starting Pitcher Throws W Sv IP H HR ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 K/9 BB/9 HR/9 Starts Relief
Brad Penny RH 11 0 173.1 191 22 4.88 1.40 5.7 2.6 1.1 5.6 3.0 0.8 30 0
Heater team expert: 2007-09 in Rotation 4.43 1.39 6.6 3.1 1.1  
Erik Manning 2007-09 in Relief 3.94 1.36 7.7 3.8 0.9  

Penny is owned in 12% of ESPN leagues. The concerns are not unfounded as he has spent the better part of the past two seasons dealing with shoulder inflammation. In 2008, he missed about two months between June 15 and August 7, a month between August 14 and September 9, and the rest of the season after September 15.

His performances over the past two seasons have left much to be desired with ERA's of 6.27 and 4.88. However, he pitched extremely well when he came to San Francisco after spending the better part of 2009 with the Boston Red Sox. In five of his six starts with the Giants, he allowed two earned runs or less, including an eight-inning shut-out performance against the powerhouse Phillies offense, and a complete game shut-out against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Penny will be 32 this year but he has shown that he still has good control. Last year, he averaged fewer than 2.7 walks per nine innings. Even better, the velocity on his fastball came back, averaging 94 MPH, his highest since 2006. In St. Louis, he is their #4 starter and he has the added benefit of learning under pitching coach Dave Duncan, who has resurrected many a pitcher's career.

If you need to find a decent pitcher to round out your fantasy baseball roster, especially if you play in an NL-only league, Penny is a great under-the-radar addition.

Milwaukee Brewers 2009 PECOTA Games '09
Starting Pitcher Throws W Sv IP H HR ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 K/9 BB/9 HR/9 Starts Relief
Randy Wolf LH 11 0 214.1 178 24 3.23 1.10 6.7 2.4 1.0 7.0 2.9 1.2 34 0
Heater team expert: 2007-09 in Rotation 4.43 1.39 6.6 3.1 1.1  
Michael Street 2007-09 in Relief 3.94 1.36 7.7 3.8 0.9  

Somehow, Wolf is owned in only 35% of ESPN leagues. While it is true that Wolf benefited greatly from an unsustainable .257 BABIP last year, he is a solid low-to-mid 4's pitcher in terms of ERA. His strikeout rate has been decreasing since 2007 but so has his walk rate, which allowed his K/BB ratio to reach an impressive 2.8, his best since 2001.

Wolf is great for a spot start or two against lefty-heavy lineups such as that of the Philadelphia Phillies. Last year, Wolf neutralized lefties to the tune of a .417 OPS. You should not expect him to be that great again, but over his entire career, Wolf has a much better track record against lefties than against right-handers.

Wolf is scheduled to face the Chicago Cubs next. They are heavy on right-handers, so you probably want to avoid picking up Wolf for his next start. However, he is on pace to face the Washington Nationals in the finale of the third series of the season. The Nationals are rather weak offensively and Wolf will be better able to handle Adam Dunn, Nyjer Morgan, Adam Kennedy, and Willie Harris.

San Diego Padres 2009 PECOTA Games '09
Starting Pitcher Throws W Sv IP H HR ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 K/9 BB/9 HR/9 Starts Relief
Kevin Correia RH 12 0 198.0 194 17 3.91 1.30 6.5 3.5 0.8 6.3 3.3 0.9 33 0
Heater team expert: 2007-09 in Rotation 4.43 1.39 6.6 3.1 1.1  
David Golebiewski 2007-09 in Relief 3.94 1.36 7.7 3.8 0.9  

Correia is owned in a meager 2.5% of ESPN leagues. He is about an average pitcher in terms of walks and strikeouts and he has benefited from tossing in pitcher-friendly parks in San Francisco and San Diego. However, he will be in San Diego once again playing in an offensively-impotent division (you know, excluding the Colorado Rockies), so a repeat of '09 is possible.

Last year with the Padres, Correia rediscovered his control, lowering his walk rate below three per nine innings. He also induced nearly 7% more ground balls than he did in 2008. Furthermore, Correia did not benefit from an abnormally high BABIP or LOB%. In an NL-only league, he is a steal; in a mixed league, he can help you if you under-drafted starting pitching.

Bill Baer is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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