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September 29, 2010

Fantasy Beat

2010 Rookie Roundup: NL Pitchers

by Marc Normandin

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Just like on the hitting side of things, there are a number of first-year players in the National League who are deserving of your attention. Some may be sleepers and some may be overrated, but being able to pinpoint their worth before the off-season hits should help you in your planning for next year. There are quite a few rookie pitchers worth discussing, so this will not be the last article of its type in the coming weeks.

Daniel Hudson has been the darling of the second half after a trade that moved him from Chicago to Arizona. In his 79 2/3 innings pitched for the Diamondbacks, Hudson has given them the kind of arm they were supposed to be missing in the second half once Dan Haren was dealt (let's not get too excited about the prospect of the two fronting a rotation. I'm sure Kevin Towers is trying not to picture that almost reality) and may have a future as a quality pitcher in the bigs.

His SIERA is 3.21 with Arizona, which is much higher than the 1.69 ERA he has posted, not that it's a surprise his ERA isn't realistic. He's allowing 0.8 homers per nine while in Arizona, which isn't low when you consider his minor league track record but seems like it could be higher given his home park and fly-ball tendencies (remember that SIERA adjusts for the number of homers a pitcher should give up but does not take park or league into account). Let's also remember that he has a .245 BABIP despite pitching in front of a poor defensive unit, and chances are good without significant personnel changes for 2011, he will post an above-average BABIP next year. That would also cause his ERA to be higher than his SIERA.

That being said, if Hudson has an ERA of 3.75 in 2011 while whiffing eight per nine or so and keeping his walk rate better than the league average, what is there to complain about? He may not be a fantasy ace as he has looked like in the second half, but he's definitely worth holding onto or drafting. His 90th percentile this season had him with a 3.67 ERA, and while he has definitely surpassed that level (and it will be reflected in his 2011 forecast) remember that this is a pitcher who, until recently, had questions surrounding him in terms of whether he would end up in the bullpen or stick as a starting pitcher in the middle of a rotation. His 2010 means he's probably better than that, just don't forget about regression and small sample sizes when making your 2011 plans.

Jhoulys Chacin, whose name I never spell right the first time I type it despite having him on one of my fantasy teams almost all season, was a versatile addition to the Rockies in 2010. He filled in for various injured starters and even spent time in the bullpen, racking up 132 1/3 innings and posting some impressive rookie peripherals along the way. Chacin is striking out 8.9 hitters per nine while keeping with his minor league tendency to keep the ball in the yard. The 3.6 unintentional walks per nine are a bit much, but even with that his K/UBB ratio is still 2.5, and that's well above average.

Chacin has a G/F ratio of 1.5, which is almost a necessity for sustained success in Colorado. In the least shocking news you will read all day, Chacin has been better on the road than at Coors, and given his K and BB rates are essentially the same in both places, the main difference has been in the number of hits (10 more on the road) and the type (five of those were homers). That said, an ERA of 4.00 at Coors is good, especially when you strike out 8.5 per nine while you're doing it. He's been somewhat under the radar for most of 2010 as he never had a defined job outside of spot starter, also spent time in the minors, and is currently owned in just 27.4 percent of ESPN leagues, so the secret is still somewhat under wraps.

PECOTA liked him at the upper-level forecasts—his ERA at the 90th percentile and his current SIERA are almost the same figure—and given there are no oddities in his numbers (his peripherals are in line with expectations, his BABIP is right around the league average, etc.) we should expect both his 2011 forecast and production to be worthy of attention. The Rockies would be hard pressed to not find a permanent slot for him in the 2011 rotation, meaning he's a name that will be known outside of NL-only leagues starting soon.

The closer spot should be vacated in Atlanta next season, as Billy Wagner is set on retiring despite still pitching like he's in his prime (no, really—Wagner's K/9 this year is over 13, and his career rate is just under 12, never mind the 1.36 ERA). In the first season without Bobby Cox at the helm in two decades, a new manager will need to fill that role either with a veteran or internally. Peter Hjort of the Braves' blog Capitol Avenue Club puts Venters chances of winning the closer job as the least likely among the options that make sense, with Craig Kimbrel the better bet from within and the most likely path being a pitcher brought in this off-season for the purpose of closing. With that in mind though, there is reason to own Venters in many leagues, especially NL-only ones.

Amongst pitchers with at least as many innings as Venters has thrown this year (80 1/3) the Braves reliever ranks third in SIERA at 2.94. He is striking out 10 batters per nine innings, has a G/F ratio of 3.8 in addition to that, and keeps the ball in the park. He does walk quite a few batters, with just over four per nine unintentional walks per nine, but the extreme ground ball rate combined with the punch outs helps to render that mostly a non-issue.

Having a few relievers like this on your roster can help pad your stats and is capable of doing more good for your team than another starting pitcher when the quality starts to thin out in terms of who you can add. Venters was mostly a starter in the minors, so it's tough to look at his previous numbers and gauge his production as a reliever going forward. His 2010, however, has shown us that we should at the least be paying attention to him, and keep him in mind for next year.

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