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May 21, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Hot Spots: Starting Pitchers

by Bill Baer

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Value Picks 2010 PECOTA Games '10
Starting Pitchers Throws W IP H HR ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 K/9 BB/9 HR/9 Starts SIERA
Craig Stammen RH 1 43.0 50 4 5.86 1.40 5.2 2.1 0.8 5.1 3.4 1.2 8 4.31
Justin Masterson RH 0 43.0 54 4 5.65 1.81 9.6 5.0 0.8 9.5 4.2 1.0 8 3.34
Jake Westbrook RH 2 46.1 50 5 4.27 1.51 6.0 3.9 1.0 5.0 3.6 1.1 8 3.92
Brett Myers RH 2 54.0 60 6 3.67 1.41 6.5 2.7 1.0 9.4 3.6 1.3 8 4.00
Brandon Morrow RH 3 41.0 42 4 6.15 1.68 11.9 5.9 0.9 8.3 4.8 1.2 8 3.53
Ian Kennedy RH 3 58.1 48 9 3.24 1.10 7.6 2.5 1.4 9.8 5.1 1.3 9 3.87
Tom Gorzelanny LH 2 46.2 43 2 3.09 1.29 9.3 3.3 0.4 9.0 4.6 1.2 8 3.37
Jason Vargas LH 3 52.2 37 4 3.08 0.99 6.0 2.6 0.7 7.0 3.8 1.4 8 4.18
Subscribe to Heater 2007-09 in Rotation 1.39 6.6 3.1 1.1  
Heater Magazine 2007-09 in Relief 1.36 7.7 3.8 0.9  

Added to the List

Brandon Morrow: Morrow can hit 100 MPH with his fastball. As you may expect, he racks up plenty of strikeouts -- 54 of them in 41 innings, a league-leading rate of nearly 12 per nine innings. "Great, where do I sign up?" you ask. As I am not a used car salesman, I must warn you about his control problems. He is averaging nearly six walks per nine innings this year, a problem he has had throughout his professional baseball career.

However, Morrow recently made some changes before his most recent start with the help of pitching coach Bruce Walton, bullpen coach Rick Langford, catchers John Buck and Jose Molina, and fellow Blue Jays starter Shaun Marcum. Walton and Langford altered his delivery, dropping his arm down for a more side-arm delivery; the catchers urged him to establish his off-speed pitches earlier instead of relying heavily on his fastball; and Marcum noticed that Morrow's back leg was collapsing and that his body was rotating too fast.

After failing to get out of the second inning in Boston against the Red Sox on May 10, Morrow got back to his winning ways on May 16 against the Texas Rangers, allowing two runs in six innings while striking out eight and walking only one. Was his success due to the altered mechanics and pitch selection, or was it simply a fluky victory? We will need a larger sample of games before we can draw any conclusions.

Morrow is a good buy-low candidate, still available in over 93 percent of ESPN leagues. He should help you in wins (given the Jays' explosive offense) and net strikeouts. If his mechanic and pitch selection alterations make a difference, ERA and WHIP should not be far behind. His 6.15 ERA is well above his 3.53 SIERA due in large part to a .383 BABIP and 66 percent strand rate -- he is prime to regress to the mean.

Jake Westbrook: Westbrook missed most of 2008 and all of '09 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He appears to have recovered just as the Indians expected. After coming out of the gates slowly to begin the 2010 season, Westbrook compiled a 3.44 ERA in his six most recent starts, including a complete game victory over the Baltimore Orioles in which he allowed only one run. Although it is still below-average, his current K/9 is at its highest since 2001, his first year with the Indians. However, he has been struggling more with control as his 3.9 BB/9 indicates.

The Indians are averaging fewer than four runs per game, so Westbrook will be in line more for no-decisions more often than not, so he is not going to help you out with wins. However, with an expected HR/FB regression (currently at 18%) and improved control (he has walked three in his last 15 innings), he should help you in ERA and WHIP and his slightly below-average strikeout rate should not be much of a hindrance. He is still available in 99 percent of ESPN leagues.

Removed from the List

Ian Kennedy: Kennedy is no longer our little secret. After his most recent start against the San Francisco Giants, his ownership rate has more than doubled from 11 percent to over 23 percent.

Jason Vargas: Vargas is not well-respected by SIERA on account of his low strikeout rate and propensity to induce fly balls. However, given Seattle's well above-average defense and spacious home ballpark, Vargas is likely to be underrated by any ERA retrodictor that does not factor in park and defense effects. Still, Vargas is no longer a "value" as fantasy players have rushed to get him. His ownership rate in ESPN leagues jumped from seven to 16 percent in the last seven days.

Craig Stammen: Despite pitching a lot better than his ERA has indicated, Stammen's time in the starting rotation may be coming to an end. The Washington Nationals have hesitated to call up phenom pitching prospect Stephen Strasburg in order to avoid his achieving Super Two status. Once the calendar turns to June, the Nationals' Super Two worries will likely go away and Strasburg could join the Major League squad for the first week of the month. Stammen is a likely candidate to be demoted.

Still on the List

Justin Masterson: As with a lot of pitchers who make their way onto the "Value Picks" list, you will want to ignore Masterson's ERA. He has been terribly unlucky thus far in 2010 with a .399 BABIP and a rate of one home run per five fly balls. With a K/9 of 9.6 and a ground ball rate at 62 percent, there is a lot to like about Masterson going forward. He is still available in 98 percent of ESPN leagues. Masterson's popularity has actually gone down by half a percentage point (which is actually a 25 percent decrease) over the last week because of his perceived inconsistency and high walk rate.

Brett Myers: Myers possesses about average strikeout stuff, above-average control and he is inducing ground balls at a higher rate than at any point in his Major League career (50%). He has historically under-performed his DIPS. This year, his ERA is about three-tenths of a run below the retrodictors, not much of a difference at all. Myers is still available in 98 percent of ESPN leagues and he should be a boon to your ERA and WHIP.

Tom Gorzelanny: Gorzelanny is no fluke. He is averaging more than a strikeout per inning and has a strikeout-to-walk ratio approaching three-to-one. The Cubs' lefty has a phenomenal 3.09 ERA despite a .329 BABIP and his 3.37 SIERA backs up the hype.

However, keep an eye on Gorzelanny. He pitched well in his start in Philadelphia on Wednesday, but he was removed from the game in the seventh inning after getting hit on his pitching hand by a batted ball. He is day-to-day and is still scheduled to make his next start on Tuesday against the L.A. Dodgers. Despite ranking third in the National League in runs per game, the Dodgers struggle against left-handers. This is a good match-up if Gorzelanny is fully healthy.

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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