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June 4, 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
Hisanori Takahashi LH 4 42.0 40 2 3.21 1.36 9.6 3.6 0.4 7.3 4.0 1.0 3 3.43
Felipe Paulino RH 0 59.1 53 2 4.40 1.47 8.2 5.2 0.3 7.8 4.2 0.8 10 4.38
Jake Westbrook RH 3 66.0 68 8 4.36 1.41 5.0 3.4 1.1 5.0 3.6 1.1 11 4.38
Brett Myers RH 3 74.0 77 6 3.04 1.39 7.2 3.2 0.7 9.4 3.6 1.3 11 3.96
Brandon Morrow RH 4 57.0 56 5 6.00 1.58 10.4 5.4 0.8 8.3 4.8 1.2 11 3.77
Jason Hammel RH 2 44.1 54 5 6.09 1.47 7.9 2.2 1.0 6.8 2.7 0.9 8 3.57
Kris Medlen RH 3 48.1 51 4 2.79 1.24 6.7 1.7 0.7 8.8 3.2 1.0 5 3.78
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  

No cuts on this week's "Value Picks". Starting with the new guys...

Added to the list

Jason Hammel: That 6.09 ERA is menacing. I am reminded of an old episode of The Simpsons called "Lisa the Vegetarian" where Homer and Bart are chasing a rotisserie pig as it careens through nature. As it passes through some bushes, a highway, and a river before getting stuck in a dam, Homer exclaims, "It's just a little dirty! It's still good, it's still good! [...] It's just a little slimy! It's still good, it's still good! [...] It's just a little airborne! It's still good, it's still good!"

And that is how to approach Hammel's ERA. It is a bit dirty and rather slimy—and, yes, airborne—but he has pitched much, much better than his 6.09 indicates. The Colorado Rockies hurler is approaching eight strikeouts per nine innings with a minuscule walk rate a touch above two per nine. Hammel has been egregiously unlucky BABIP-wise (.363) and that has led to an inability to strand base runners (merely 61 percent). All ERA retrodictors agree that Hammel has pitched surprisingly well. He has a 3.76 FIP, 3.58 xFIP, and 3.57 SIERA.

Hammel went on the DL at the end of April with a right groin strain, but has pitched well in four starts since being removed, accruing 25.2 innings, striking out 26 and walking only three with a 3.86 ERA. 99.7 percent of ESPN leagues have passed over Hammel, so go look for him in your free agent pool if you are searching for starting pitching help.

Felipe Paulino: Paulino is cut from the same cloth as Brandon Morrow—electric fastball, lots of strikeouts, but a dire lack of command. He is averaging more than five walks per nine innings, a rate that has held true even during his stretch of three consecutive quality starts. He dominated the Cincinnati Reds on May 30, shutting them out through eight innings. In his two starts prior, he had allowed two runs in six innings each.

Every now and then, with pitchers like Paulino and Morrow, you will get an absolute gem. Paulino's most recent came on May 8 at home against the San Diego Padres when he struck out 11, did not issue a walk, and allowed only one run in seven innings of work. Unfortunately, Paulino receives scant run support (2.7 runs on average) so he will not be helping you in the wins department as his current 0-7 record would indicate. However, he is a decent stopgap with high-strikeout potential, still un-owned in more than 99 percent of ESPN leagues.

Still on the list

Hisanori Takahashi: Takahashi was shelled in his most recent start in San Diego but that should not deter you from picking up Takahashi. However, the southpaw is scheduled to take the bump on Sunday against the Florida Marlins, a lineup that is very heavy on right-handed hitters. Takahashi has been hit around by right-handed hitters to the tune of a .766 OPS, more than 240 points higher than the OPS of left-handers. The Marlins have collectively hit for a .788 OPS against lefties so far this season. Furthermore, the Marlins have hit him around in a small sample of four and one-third innings of work: in 24 plate appearances, Marlin hitters have accrued a .522 on-base percentage and .688 SLG.

If you put any stock in the platoon split or the small amount of previous success the Marlins have had against him, you may be inclined to pass over Takahashi until after his start on Sunday. The Mets are without fallback options if Takahashi flounders on Sunday, so his rotation spot appears secure at least in the near future. Even if you skip Takahashi this time around, you can still get a few starts out of him before his job is remotely in jeopardy.

Jake Westbrook: The Cleveland Indians offense is providing him with fewer than four runs per game on average, but as his name is being floated in trade rumors, he could end up on a contending team with a more potent offense. As such, he would earn wins more frequently.

At present, though, he is stuck with the Indians, nearly the victims of a perfect game thrown by Armando Galarraga on Wednesday. He is still a decent fantasy value as he will stabilize the staff ERA because he rarely tosses a clunker. And every so often, he will rack up the strikeouts—despite his K/9 barely pushing five, he has struck out seven batters in two starts and eight batters once.

Westbrook is still available in 99.5 percent of ESPN leagues. He will toe the rubber on Sunday against a below-average Chicago White Sox offense. However, the offense has struck out the least among all American League teams. This start has good W and ERA potential, not so much for K's.

Brett Myers: Myers is another arm who could change addresses before the July 31 trading deadline. It is a crime that Myers has compiled a 3.04 ERA but only earned three wins, but that is the story with starting pitchers on the Houston Astros. Seven of Myers' last eight outings qualified as quality starts, and he has not allowed a home run in three games (as with last week's write-up, that sentence comes as a total shocker to Phillies fans). He struck out ten in most recent outing against the Washington Nationals in which his defense and bullpen failed him.

It is very surprising that Myers is still available in 96 percent of ESPN leagues. As his 3.96 SIERA indicates, he is not exactly 3.04 ERA good, but still an awesome fantasy value at this point in the season. Wins, of course, will be hard to come by with the Astros offense, but Myers will still benefit your ERA, K's, and even WHIP. As seems to be the case with every pitcher on this list, Myers will start on Sunday against the Chicago Cubs. There are no evident warning flags, and Myers is a no-doubt start.

Brandon Morrow: Morrow brought a no-hitter into the seventh inning in his last start on May 31 against the Tampa Bay Rays, but Sean Rodriguez singled with two outs in the sixth. Surprisingly, Morrow only struck out one batter but he also limited himself to issuing two free passes. For a seven-inning, one-run performance, that is acceptable.

Morrow's next start will come on—you guessed it—Sunday against the New York Yankees. The Yanks lead the American League in batting average, on-base percentage, and OPS. Additionally, they are an extremely patient team (third in walks) that does not strike out often (fourth-fewest). Benching Morrow for this start is not a bad idea, even though he is coming off of an impressive outing against the Rays.

Kris Medlen: Medlen had another strong outing against the Los Angeles Dodgers last night, holding them scoreless through seven and one-third innings. His defense let him down, though, as the glovemen could not convert some easy outs. Peter Moylan poured salt in the wounds by allowing all three of Medlen's runners to cross home plate. In my mind, Medlen tossed seven and one-third scoreless innings, just like Armando Galarraga earned that perfect game over the Cleveland Indians.

Medlen's popularity is quickly rising in ESPN leagues, nearly doubling over the last week from 3.5 percent to over seven percent. Even with the uglier-than-necessary line against the Dodgers, that number should continue to increase. Despite the great pitching, however, there is a chance that Medlen will lose his spot in the rotation when Jair Jurrjens is put back on the 25-man roster from the disabled list. Jurrjens should start a rehab stint in the Minors next week. That means you can still get a good three or four starts out of Medlen with a decent chance of many more.

May Results

Pitcher On Off W IP ER H BB K HR ERA BB/9 K/9 HR/9 WHIP
Gonzalez 5/7 5/14 0 11.0 7 12 5 10 1 5.73 4.1 8.2 0.8 1.55
Harang 5/9 5/14 0 6.0 4 8 2 5 2 6.00 3.0 7.5 3.0 1.67
Kennedy 4/23 5/21 3 44.0 12 34 10 32 5 2.45 2.0 6.5 1.0 1.00
Vargas 4/23 5/21 1 34.3 10 21 12 19 2 2.62 3.1 5.0 0.5 0.96
Stammen 5/14 5/21 0 6.0 4 6 2 4 0 6.00 3.0 6.0 0.0 1.33
Gorzelanny 4/30 5/28 2 29.7 15 34 13 36 2 4.55 3.9 10.9 0.6 1.58
Masterson 5/14 5/28 0 14.3 13 22 11 7 0 8.16 6.9 4.4 0.0 2.30
Myers 5/8   2 34.0 9 30 15 30 2 2.38 4.0 7.9 0.5 1.32
Westbrook 5/21   1 19.7 10 18 5 6 3 4.58 2.3 2.7 1.4 1.17
Morrow 5/21   1 16.0 10 14 7 12 1 5.63 3.9 6.8 0.6 1.31
Takahashi 5/28   0 4.0 6 8 2 1 1 13.50 4.5 2.3 2.3 2.50
Medlen 5/28   1 13.3 6 15 2 8 1 4.05 1.4 5.4 0.7 1.28
TOTAL 11 232.3 106 222 86 170 20 4.11 3.3 6.6 0.8 1.33

Not quite as successful as last month's sub-3.00 ERA, but at least I'm not entirely to blame if you're in last place!

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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