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October 1, 2010
Hot Spots: Starting Pitchers
Last week, we went over the disappointments among starting pitchers in fantasy baseball. This week, we will turn those frowns upside down by looking at the surprise contributors that likely kept your team from hitting rock bottom.
Myers never seemed to live up to expectations as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies. Every once in a while, he would flash his dominance but at the end of the season, he had under-performed his peripherals. Myers had problems with giving up a few too many home runs -- his HR/FB hung around the 15 percent range compared to the 10 percent average. As an Astro, that rate plunged beneath eight percent (prior to last night's start in Cincinnati, of course). The rest of his peripherals have not changed much as his strikeout and walk rates are both slightly under his career average and his ground ball rate is just a couple percentage points above.
Going forward, though, it seems logical to label Myers' season a fluke. He has always been home run prone and there is no reason to think he has changed given the relative stability of his other performance statistics. He moved from one hitter-friendly park in Philly to another in Houston. He has always had slightly more problems dealing with right-handed hitters, and Minute Maid Park is friendly to right-handed hitters. Expect Myers to pitch more like his 3.80 SIERA than his 3.14 ERA.
Chacin was mentioned plenty of times in the "Value Picks" columns throughout the year. Once you got through his sub-par walk rate and his home ballpark, you saw a great asset to your fantasy squad. He averaged nearly a strikeout per inning, kept his ERA in the low threes, and compiled a 1.27 WHIP. It is not egregious to project Chacin for a 3.75-ish ERA next season with similar strikeout and walk rates assuming the Rockies make the logical choice to make room for him in their starting rotation.
In 2009, Cahill struggled despite a friendly .276 BABIP, partially due to his above-average defense and his spacious home ballpark. 89 percent of his pitches were either fastballs or change-ups, but he did not use them effectively enough to induce whiffs as he averaged fewer than five strikeouts per nine innings of work. His control left a lot to be desired as well, finishing with a 3.6 per-nine average.
This year, Cahill increased his strikeout rate and lowered his walk rate. He introduced a curveball and became reliant on a sinker that improved his ground ball rate by nearly eight percent. The result is a much-improved pitcher -- his 4.19 SIERA is much better than last year's 5.08. But the one item that sticks out is his .237 BABIP. Sure, a portion of that is due to his sinker, his above-average defense, and spacious home ballpark, but most of it is random.
When his BABIP regresses to the mean, he will not have a good enough strikeout rate to fall back upon and his ability to strand runners will trend downwards. Cahill is likely to be tremendously overrated going into next season in fantasy baseball, so let someone else pay $20 for a pitcher that may only be worth $5.
The sixth-overall pick of the 2005 draft turned into a valuable fantasy baseball commodity. While Jose Bautista was mashing home runs, Romero solidified his spot in the Jays' starting rotation for years to come. The 25-year-old lefty put up a 3.79 ERA -- which is almost exactly in line with his SIERA -- in over 200 innings while averaging nearly eight strikeouts per nine innings.
A look at the peripherals show that, unlike Cahill, Romero has not benefited from egregious amounts of luck. With a 55 percent ground ball rate and the ability to miss bats, Romero figures to be a great fantasy asset in all but the shallowest formats. The great thing, though, is that he has plenty of room to improve.
After an impressive 2006 season that included a no-hitter against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Sanchez failed to stay healthy in each of the next three seasons. He came into the 2010 season with a lot to prove and he delivered. In 189 innings -- more than his '07-09 seasons combined -- he put up a 3.62 ERA and a 2.2 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He is now much, much better than the pitcher we saw in '06.
However, Sanchez has benefited from some HR/FB luck somewhat due to his pitcher-friendly home ballpark. That does not quite balance out his .319 BABIP so expecting him to be finish mid-threes in terms of ERA may be too much. Sanchez is better in deeper mixed leagues and NL-only leagues where you are quite content with a 4.25 ERA.
Brandon Morrow, Toronto Blue Jays
Although the Jays shut him down after his start against the New York Yankees on September 3, there was a lot to like about what you saw from Morrow. As his 4.49 ERA and 1.38 WHIP indicate, he was not exactly a fantasy baseball godsend, but a lot of what he did portends well for the future. His strikeout rate -- nearly eleven per nine innings -- and his 3.15 SIERA make him a must-have in almost any format for next year.
Morrow was besieged by a .348 BABIP and a below-average strand rate. Those will regress going forward. However, his walk rate -- 4.1 per nine in 2010 -- is also concerning and will likely prevent him from entering the upper echelon of starting pitchers. But it may also be a function of his propensity to miss bats, so you take the good with the bad, especially when the good outweighs the bad in this case. Expect Morrow to continue to be underappreciated going into 2011. Just hope that the Jays do not bounce him around from the rotation to the bullpen as the Seattle Mariners did in '08 and '09.
That wraps up SP Value Picks for the season. Like Mike Petriello, I have benefited greatly from the in-depth research that this weekly column requires. In the three fantasy leagues I am involved with, I ranked first (of ten, head-to-head), second (of eight, head-to-head), and eighth (of 14, rotisserie) in ERA. To me, that is a great validation of SIERA as that was my main weapon of choice throughout the season. Being up-to-date on the latest DIPS research by BP's own Matt Swartz and Eric Seidman, among others, gave me a huge leg up on the competition.