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June 23, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Ailing Starters: Who to Watch

by Bill Baer

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At this point in most fantasy baseball leagues, most of the new and improved pitchers have been plucked out of the free agent pool. For instance, after three consecutive scoreless starts Jason Hammel is taken in one out of every three ESPN fantasy baseball leagues, probably more once you exclude the leagues that have gone dormant and AL-only leagues. Ian Kennedy is nearly as popular while Jason Vargas is taken in one out of every five ESPN leagues.

You need pitching help and the available talent seems barren. What are you to do? In this situation, I like to look at pitchers that are scheduled to come off of the disabled list soon to see if they may be of some use to my team. Here are a few that may be able to help you.

Erik Bedard, Seattle Mariners

Bedard has yet to pitch an inning in 2010 due to left shoulder inflammation. On the road to recovery, Bedard threw 52 pitches in a rookie league start in Peoria with good results. The Mariners will handle him with care as he is not expected to make a return until mid-July. If he returns to the Majors with the same stuff he had over the past few years, expect a well-above average strikeout rate (about 8.5 per nine) and an average walk rate (about 3.5 per nine).

Initially, after he returns, he will likely be on a pitch count which means four and five inning starts may make up most of his pitching efforts for a little while, hampering his ability to accrue wins. Furthermore, the Mariners have the American League's second-worst offense (3.41 runs per game) ahead of only the Baltimore Orioles (3.26 RPG). As such, Bedard's value is mostly tied up in ERA, strikeouts (or K/BB ratio) and WHIP.

Doug Fister, Seattle Mariners

Fister had an auspicious beginning to the 2010 season before succumbing to right shoulder fatigue at the start of June. Seven of his ten starts were of the quality variety and in eight of the ten starts he went at least seven innings. He enjoyed success despite a lack of strikeouts -- averaging just barely over four per nine innings -- due to a very low walk rate (1.3 per nine), a high rate of ground balls (52.5 percent) and a very low .240 BABIP. Despite the 2.45 ERA, SIERA put him at 4.26. Additionally, seven of Fister's ten starts were made in the spacious confines of Safeco Field, a well-established pitcher-friendly ballpark that has further deflated his numbers.

He is likely to make a return some time this weekend barring any setbacks. Take him for the ERA and WHIP and hope he put quarters in the meter so his carriage does not turn back into a pumpkin. Despite the too-low-for-comfort strikeout rate and BABIP, Fister is still better than a lot of what is available in most free agent pools, which is why he is taken in over 20 percent of ESPN leagues.

J.A. Happ, Philadelphia Phillies

Before landing on the disabled list in mid-April, J.A.  Happ defied the odds and did not allow a single earned run in ten and one-third innings of work despite a 6.50 SIERA. In those two starts, Happ walked a multitude of batters (eight) and enjoyed similar BABIP luck (.272) that catapulted him to second place in last year's National League Rookie of the Year voting.

Happ may be activated as early as the first weekend in July. Happ is not a wonderful fantasy option unless he continues to evade BABIP as his strikeout and walk rates are average and he allows far too many fly balls, especially in a hitter-friendly home ballpark in Philadelphia. Given the Phillies' offense, despite the recent struggles, Happ's biggest asset may be a propensity to accrue wins.

Jair Jurrjens, Atlanta Braves

The Braves are in a bit of a quandary when Jurrjens is activated: do they remove Kris Medlen or Kenshin Kawakami from the starting rotation? Medlen has been outstanding, allowing three runs or fewer in six of his seven starts while reaching the sixth inning in five of those seven starts. Meanwhile, Kawakami has not had nearly as much success, going only two innings in his last start against the Kansas City Royals. As such, Kawakami may be the odd man out according to David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Meanwhile, Jurrjens had started the 2010 season similar to Happ -- a decline in strikeouts and an increase in walks -- but with drastically different results. His 6.38 ERA was a lot closer to his 5.21 SIERA than the Braves would have liked. It should make you hesitate before adding Jurrjens, owned in over 40 percent of ESPN leagues, to your roster.

Bud Norris, Houston Astros

Norris will make one more Minor League start before being activated. He compiled a 6.80 ERA before landing on the disabled list in late May, but he was the victim of an astronomically-high .400 BABIP, as his 3.65 SIERA will testify. I think of Norris as a clone of Brandon Morrow: lots of strikeouts, lots of walks. The highly volatile pitcher has done well in the Friday "Value Picks" as Morrow and Felipe Paulino's production will testify. Hopefully Norris can satisfy some more fantasy baseball players.

Personally, I prefer the Morrow/Norris brand of pitchers as opposed to the Jurrjens/Happ types because they are not subject to the whims of the placement of batted balls and the quality of their defense. Plus, Norris is only taken in half of one percent of ESPN leagues. Of the five pitchers on this list, Norris would be my number one choice followed by Fister, Bedard, with Happ and Jurrjens (tied) bringing up the rear.

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

Related Content:  Jair Jurrjens,  J.A. Happ,  Doug Fister

10 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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How do you feel about Volquez when he returns?

Jun 23, 2010 07:43 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Bill Baer
BP staff

I don't think there will be too many people camping outside waiting to pick him up, so I would just keep an eye on him and see how he performs in his rehab starts (he made progress today) and upon return. If his fastball is in the low to mid 90's, if he is able to consistently keep the ball down, and if his strikeout and walk numbers don't mimic that of Jair Jurrjens, then he may be worth the add.

I think you're better off adding someone like Bud Norris until we can make more definitive conclusions about Volquez's stuff.

Jun 23, 2010 13:05 PM

I drafted Happ and have carried him on the DL -- which, in hindsight, given the length of his injury was probably a fairly dumb move -- and I have been planning on adding Bud Norris in the next couple of days. Bedard is available so I could add him in the future as well.

The problem I have at this point is roster space, and if I'm going to add some of these pitchers I'm going to have to drop others. I've got Tommy Hanson, Max Scherzer, Josh Beckett, and James Shields, and obviously I wouldn't cut any of those guys. On the other hand, though, I've also got Wade Davis, Carlos Zambrano, Felipe Paulino, Ted Lilly, Vicente Padilla, Wandy Rodriguez, and Rich Harden, and some of those guys will have to bite the dust to make room for any more additions. Who should it be, if any?

Jun 23, 2010 12:44 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Bill Baer
BP staff

I can give you a more specific answer if you can provide me with some details about your league: roster size, number of players, which stats you need help with, and an example of a couple pitchers at the top of the free agent pool.

But generally speaking, I would keep Paulino, Lilly, and Zambrano and make everybody else expendable. Davis seems like an easy choice as his below average strikeout rate doesn't justify his lack of control and slight propensity to allow fly balls. Considering the offensive juggernauts in the Rays' division -- and the lack of them in Bedard's -- a Bedard-for-Davis swap seems logical as it is low-risk, medium-reward.

Lilly seems expendable too as he has been the beneficiary of a .237 BABIP. Factoring in his inability to induce ground balls (one out of every two batted balls has been a fly ball), Lilly seems to have been a bit lucky thus far in the 2010 season.

Jun 23, 2010 13:17 PM
BP staff member Bill Baer
BP staff

I'm really good at nesting comments. The above comment is a reply to OTSgamer.

Jun 23, 2010 13:19 PM

Our league has a roster of 23 players plus two DL spots. You can play ten hitters on any given day -- the eight defensive positions and two utility spots -- and up to eight pitchers can go on any given day. In terms of raw size of the pitching staff, it can go as high as you want it, though of course you're going to have to sacrifice hitters to do it. And, of course, unless you have a player for each specific position, you have to leave that space empty.

The point value of our league for pitchers is very simple. You get 10 points for a win, negative five points for a loss, and two points for a strikeout. You can gain / lose some points for some other things (earned runs, walks, quality starts, etc.) but those point values are very small, and so really at the end of the day you get points by getting wins and strikeouts and the rest is just fluff.

Hope that helps, let me know if you need some more info.

Jun 23, 2010 13:34 PM
rating: 0

Also, in terms of free agent pitching available, there is basically none. The guys in my league have gone so pitching crazy that even prospects who get called up from Triple-A are getting added to teams, even if it's basically just a one-off start before going back to the minors.

Just to give you a couple of names, though, right now the two most productive (in terms of fantasy points) starting pitchers available on the free agent market right now are, by far, Jhoulys Chacin and Tom Gorzelanny.

Jun 23, 2010 13:41 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Bill Baer
BP staff

I would seriously consider adding Chacin -- even ahead of Norris -- if I were you. He has a 3.84 SIERA and averages nearly a strikeout per inning. The Rockies have been average offensively but if he continues to pitch as well as he has, the wins should follow.

The Cubs have been using Gorzelanny out of the bullpen. Maybe they'll trade him by July 31. He was one of my better pick-ups this year. :)

Jun 23, 2010 14:08 PM

All right, so add Chacin and Norris and drop who?

Jun 23, 2010 15:07 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Bill Baer
BP staff

I'd drop Wandy Rodriguez. The Astros have no offense (thus less opportunities for wins) and he has completely lost his strikeout stuff that made him so successful last year.

Jun 23, 2010 15:11 PM
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