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May 7, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Weekly Planner #6

by Craig Brown

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Six weeks into the season and we’re finding more of a mixed bag of two-start pitchers. The full plate is in the senior circuit next week as most NL teams feature a full schedule.   With the smaller number of two-start pitchers in the AL this week, there’s less quality to be found, but still some potential.

A couple of new features this week that should enhance The Planner:  First, I’ve added an asterisk next to pitchers who are owned in less than 50% of ESPN and Yahoo leagues.  Second, I’ve placed some recommendations at the bottom of the entry.  I figure it’s a waste to give the thumbs up to some pitchers (i.e. Halladay) so I’m limiting my recommendations to starters who are owned in less than 50% of the ESPN and Yahoo leagues while basing it on mixed 5x5 roto leagues.  

I’m always looking for ways to streamline the process while keeping things interesting, relevant and most importantly, useful.

As usual, the starters listed come courtesy of Heater Magazine and are subject to change.  You can download the weekly pdf file that includes breakdowns of each pitcher’s three previous starts along with his upcoming match-ups here.

*Bronson Arroyo - @ PIT, vs STL
*Luis Atilano - @ NYM, @ COL
Chad Billingsley - @ ARI, @ SD
*Aaron Cook - vs PHI, vs WAS
*Doug Davis - vs ATL, vs PHI
Roy Halladay - @ COL, @ MIL
Tommy Hanson - @ MIL, vs ARI
Dan Haren - vs LAN, @ ATL
Tim Hudson - @ MIL, vs ARI
*Wade LeBlanc - @ SF, vs LAN
Ted Lilly - vs FLA, vs PIT
*Rodrigo Lopez - vs LAN, @ ATL
*John Maine - vs. WAS, @ FLA
*Charlie Morton - vs CIN, @ CHN
*Brett Myers - @ STL, @ SF
*Jonathon Niese - vs WAS, @ FLA
Ricky Nolasco - @ CHN, vs NYN
*Ross Ohlendorf - vs CIN, @ CHN
*Scott Olsen - @ NYN, @ COL
Brad Penny - vs HOU, @ CIN
*Nate Robertson - @ CHN, vs NYN
*Greg Smith - vs PHI, vs WAS
Barry Zito - vs SD, vs HOU

The only difference between the 2009 Arroyo and the ’10 model is a slight uptick in walks.  He walked 2.7 batters per nine last summer and is at 3.4 this year, which isn’t enough to cause much concern.  His 4.43 SIERA vs. A 6.14 ERA suggests he’s a soft buy. Those pesky home runs (seven in 39 innings) continue to hurt Nolasco’s ERA.  Hopefully the wind is blowing off the lake in his start in Chicago. With an 83% contact rate compared to a 77% career mark, Billingsley is missing fewer bats, and his H/9 has climbed to 10.4.  He’s showing signs of turning things around by throwing six innings in each of his previous three starts and allowing 17 hits. (8.5 H/9)

Haren’s ERA is up and the big difference is his .321 BABIP, 50 points higher than last year.  However, the opposition is hitting a line drive 19% of the time against him this year, which is actually the lowest rate of his career.  He’s still winning though, and SIERA has him at 3.15 suggesting a positive ERA and WHIP correction.  LeBlanc owns a .368 BABIP against, yet owns a 1.16 ERA through his four starts.  He helps himself with a 7.7 K/9 and .250 BA against with runners on base.  A third supersized BABIP belongs to Niese who is at .377 through six starts.  Unlike the others, his current average is very close to his lifetime mark of .361 compiled through 14 starts.  You would think it would eventually drop, but we haven’t seen evidence that it will.

Returning from Tommy John surgery, Hudson has a pair of interesting trends:  His velocity for all pitches is slightly up, but his strikeouts are way down.  However, his 1.95 GB/FB ratio and 3.17 GO/AO ratio tell us he’s also getting a ton of ground balls.  A 4.28 SIERA warns of an impeding correction, but Penny has been dealing.  He added a split finger pitch to his arsenal and is reaping the benefit: A 1.49 GB/FB ratio and walk rate of 1.8 BB/9 have me sold.  The correction will come when his strand rate drops from it’s current 83%.

Returning from shoulder surgery, Lilly was excellent in his first start, but pounded in his next two.  He’s always been a fly ball pitcher, and this year home runs have been a problem - seven of his 10 runs allowed have scored by the round tripper.  Fellow surgery comeback kid Olsen flirted with a no-no on Thursday and has whiffed 26 in 28 innings while leaning more on his change-up.  His 1.23 GO/AO ratio says he’s getting more outs on the ground. 

Maine’s 1.67 WHIP is seventh worst in the NL and has failed to make it past the fourth inning in two of his six starts.  He’s always a risk, even in a week like this one where he has a favorable draw.  Same for Lopez, who has always had decent control (career 2.8 BB/9), it’s too bad he’s so easy to hit.  Opponents are pounding .299/.325/.463 against him through six starts.  Morton’s start on May 5 was the first time all year he allowed fewer than five runs.  Still, he has quite a way to go to reach that SIERA of 3.98. 

Atilano isn’t a strikeout pitcher (4.8 K/9 through eight minor league seasons), but with 10 walks in 17 innings he’s struggled with his control since joining the Nationals, which hurts his already slim value.  Cook is another pitcher who suddenly has control issues.  His 4.7 BB/9 is a full two walks higher than his career rate.  Beware as he draws Halladay in his first start of the week.

Myers is keeping the contact rate low (78%) but that contact is usually solid as he is allowing too many base hits (10.6 H/9).  The 1.06 GB/FB ratio helps him avoid the big inning - he has yet to allow more than two runs in a frame this year.  Wins could be difficult to find this week as he has starts versus Penny and Zito. Robertson has been almost exactly as advertised but has a pair of enticing match-ups this week.  Maybe a decent grab for the week in a deep NL-only league.  Opponents own an unsightly .452 BABIP against Davis, but 36 of his 45 hits are singles.  His 3.73 SIERA against his 8.13 ERA is the largest gap in the league.  His poor luck extends to his match-ups as he will square off against Hanson in his first start and Halladay in his second.

Smith was initially an injury replacement for Jeff Francis.  He hasn’t done anything to hang onto that spot and Francis is close to going on a rehab assignment, but the Rockies need arms for their rotation.  You don’t need arms as badly - Smith’s 20 walks in 28 innings should be enough to scare you off.  Ohlendorf made only one start before landing on the DL with back spasms.  He struck out six in a four inning Double-A rehab start on Wednesday.

As a junkballing left-hander myself, I have an affinity for Zito, who has yet to allow a home run in 42 innings.  However, opponents are hitting only .225 when they put the ball in play, his strand rate is an unsustainable 82% and his SIERA of 4.19 is a stern warning to handle with care.  

We will close out the NL with a couple of gimmies... No sophomore slump here: Hanson has bumped his K/BB ratio from 2.52 as a rookie to 3.17 this year... Understatement of the year: Halladay is good at pitching.

NL Recommended
Arroyo, LeBlanc and Olsen have the match-ups and the stuff to post some quality numbers this week.

*Brian Bannister - vs CLE, vs CHA
*Trevor Cahill - @ TEX, @ LAA
*Fausto Carmona - @ KC, @ BAL
John Danks - @ MIN, @ KC
Matt Garza - @ LAA, vs SEA
*Matt Harrison - vs OAK, @ TOR
Cliff Lee - @ BAL, @ TB
*Brandon Morrow - @ BOS, vs TEX
Andy Pettitte - @ DET, vs MIN
*Joel Pineiro - vs TB, vs OAK
*Rick Porcello - vs NYA, vs BOS
Javier Vazquez - @ DET, vs MIN
*Dontrelle Willis - vs NYA, vs BOS

Carmona has cut his walk rate, but at 4.1 BB/9, it’s still too high.  My first reaction to his 3.86 ERA?  Smoke and mirrors.  SIERA has him at 5.20.  Bannister has made four good starts and two stinkers.  After using a power change-up to post a 1.47 GB/FB ratio last summer, the sinking action isn’t working as well.  His current 0.90 GB/FB ratio is within his career mark of 1.07.

Entering this year, I was convinced that this was the season where Danks made the leap into the starting pitching elite.  Early returns (6.6 H/9, 2.4 BB/9 and a 7.1 K/9) have done nothing to dampen my enthusiasm.    Speaking of elite starters, any conversation has to include Garza, who has been simply brilliant in the early going.  His K/BB ratio has improved every year and is currently at 2.8.  He’s only made a pair of starts, but we can safely say Lee isn’t feeling any ill effects from the abdominal strain that caused him to miss the start of the season.  He hasn’t walked a batter in his first 15 innings.

Nobody misses more bats than Morrow.  He’s getting a swing and miss in 23% of his strikes, tops in the majors with Tim Lincecum.  If only he could do something about his walk rate of 5.4 BB/9.

Harrison has allowed 36 base runners in his last three starts covering 21 innings.  It’s been an unholy combination of hits and walks.  Cahill won’t make anyone forget about Brett Anderson, and with two uneven starts is an option only in the deepest of AL-only leagues.  

An MRI revealed “mild irritation”
in Pettitte’s elbow, putting him in jeopardy for his starts this week.  The Yankees hope to avoid the DL, but at the very least he will skip a turn.  It's probably a good idea to deactivate him this week. His teammate Vazquez makes this list because his scheduled start (against the Red Sox) was pushed back.  That can’t inspire confidence.  Same can be said about his 9.78 ERA and 4.96 SIERA.

As I mentioned the other week, even though Pineiro has departed the House Of Duncan, he’s still getting groundballs at a high rate.  He’s owns a 2.31 GB/FB ratio.  His 1.57 WHIP is more the result of some seeing eye grounders and his .347 BABIP against leads me to believe it’s going to get better.  Tough draw this week with the Rays, though.

Porcello and Willis have a pair of starts against the Yankees and Red Sox this week? The second and third best offenses (R/G) in the AL?  Pass.

AL Recommendations
This is a tough one, but I’ll go with Pineiro who can use his ground ball magic to keep the Rays in check, although it will tough to earn the win with Garza opposing. I’d like to give the thumbs up to Morrow, but the Red Sox are drawing a bunch of walks.  Maybe next time.

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

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