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September 10, 2010
Hot Spots: Starting Pitchers
Let us wrap up Keepers Week with the most interesting fantasy baseball people: starting pitchers. (Okay, I may be biased a little.) In keeper leagues, you have to be ruthless with your pitching staff, willing to cut anybody at any time. That is why, earlier this season, I suggested that Johan Santana is someone you may consider passing onto somebody else before he explodes, despite the fact that he has a sub-three ERA. The National League pitchers I will be naming below are those I feel are good bets to provide solid production not only in 2011 but in years beyond.
Although his ERA is bloated at 5.33 (thanks, BABIP!), Minor has impressed a lot of people in his first 27 innings in the Majors. Overall, he struck out 31 batters including 12 in one game on August 22 against the Chicago Cubs. He walked just seven batters, giving him a strikeout-to-walk ratio of about 4.5 -- very good, especially for a young pitcher.
Minor induces swings-and-misses with a heavy dose of fastballs and change-ups with a velocity differential surpassing ten MPH. His stuff is so good that he reached Triple-A Gwinnett in only his second year of professional baseball, and he dominated.
If he had enough innings to qualify, his 2.96 SIERA would be fourth-best in the Majors behind Jered Weaver, Roy Halladay, and Mat Latos. Among those with at least 27 innings of work, Minor's SIERA still ranks 30th with most of the additional competition being relief pitchers.
The Braves may be uneasy about his ERA, but Minor should get every available opportunity to prove himself both for the rest of the regular season and in spring training next year.
Zim rebounded quickly from Tommy John surgery, enjoying tremendous success at four different levels of the Minors this season in just 40 innings combined. He averaged 7.0 strikeouts and 1.4 walks per nine innings and earned a promotion to the Majors on August 26.
Right now, his arm strength may not be where the Nationals would prefer it to be as he has gone into the fifth inning only once and has yet to surpass 86 pitches in any start. In his last start against the New York Mets, he walked four in four innings, something that is certainly not indicative of the Jordan Zimmermann the Nationals expect.
You may be nervous about investing in him given his TJ surgery but in a keeper league, pitchers of his caliber are worth the risk. Getting five more starts before the end of the season should help, and then he has the whole off-season to build up arm strength and endurance. If he is healthy, there is about a zero percent chance that Zimmermann leaves spring training without a spot in the Nationals' starting rotation, especially given Stephen Strasburg's recently-completed Tommy John surgery.
Hudson is a must-own in any format already, with just 91 innings of work in the Major Leagues under his belt. He compiled great numbers in his brief Minor League career as well, consistently averaging double-digit strikeouts per nine innings with above-average control.
Hudson made an instant impact for fantasy baseball players when he was sent to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Edwin Jackson trade. He used a heavy dose of fastballs and change-ups with an occasional slider to confuse opposing hitters. So far, Hudson has gone at least six innings in all eight of his starts while allowing two runs or fewer in seven of them. He also struck out nine or more batters while only walking three total in three consecutive starts from August 11-22, good for a strikeout-to-walk ratio over nine.
Luebke dazzled on Wednesday night, shutting out the Los Angeles Dodgers in six innings of work, earning seven punch-outs in the process. Unlike the pitchers listed above, Luebke is not as much of a strikeout machine, instead using his fastball-slider-change-up arsenal to induce ground balls, which he did at a 48 percent clip over his Minor League career.
Obviously, Luebke's home ballpark will have a lot of say in his success as Petco Park is arguably the most pitcher-friendly ballpark in baseball. For example, StatCorner.com gives Petco a home run park factor of 59 for left-handed hitters, a staggering figure to say the least (100 is average; below 100 favors pitchers).
After spending a lot of time pitching out of the bullpen for the Dodgers, McDonald is finally being given a chance to start regularly for the Pirates. Throughout his Minor League career, he posted great strikeout numbers and that has translated to his success thus far in Pittsburgh, currently averaging 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings.
The problem that has always plagued McDonald is control. In only Minor League one season at the Single-A level or greater did he average fewer than three walks per nine. He is currently close to four per nine in the Majors this season. However, as with pitchers like Jhoulys Chacin, Brandon Morrow, and Bud Norris from "Value Picks", McDonald's prodigious strikeout total makes his shaky control tolerable in an NL-only format. With coaching and some maturity, McDonald's walk rate should decrease in the coming years.