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December 3, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Hot Spots: Starting Pitchers

by Bill Baer

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Jon Garland, Los Angeles Dodgers

After helping the San Diego Padres nearly reach the post-season in 2010, Garland will be moving north to Tinseltown. The Dodgers will slot Garland in the back of a very crowded and potent rotation that includes Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, and Hiroki Kuroda.

In 2010, Garland set career highs in K/9 and BB/9 among seasons in which he was a regular starter (since 2002). His 3.47 ERA contrasted with his 4.45 SIERA does not bode well, especially since he will no longer have the benefit of the pitcher-friendly Petco Park. Left-handers fare much better at Dodger Stadium. Using 2010 park factors from StatCorner.com, Petco's lefty home run park factor was 59 while Dodger Stadium's was 116 (over 100 favors hitters).

Additionally, Garland switches from one of baseball's better defenses in San Diego to one of baseball's worst defenses in Los Angeles. Buoyed by a .267 BABIP last year, expect Garland's numbers to match up much more closely to his SIERA in 2011.

Garland has some value in NL-only leagues but is risky in all mixed leagues. Everything about him is average and the change of address cuts into his odds of having a fluky good season as in 2010.

Hiroki Kuroda, Los Angeles Dodgers

Kuroda re-upped with the Blue Crew on a one-year, $12 million deal. As mentioned, the Dodgers' rotation looks formidable and Kuroda keeps getting better. His K/9 went from 5.7 in 2008 to 6.7 in '09 and 7.3 last year. Even better, his BB/9 stayed at a minuscule 2.2 and 51 percent of batted balls were of the ground ball variety.

Kuroda is in the middle of the Dodgers' rotation but would easily slot in the #2 spot for most teams. He is a reliable asset in any mixed league (likely to be drafted in the later rounds) and is supremely valuable in an NL-only league (mid-round). However, he is not exactly a household name, so you may be able to get some value-added if you are lucky enough to have him fall into your lap.

Zach Duke, Arizona Diamondbacks

Duke, the former Pittsburgh Pirate, finished with poor numbers in 2010, including a 5.72 ERA. He was, however, besieged by a .347 BABIP and subsequent 65.5 percent strand rate. His 4.58 SIERA from 2010 speaks better to his true talent. With a career 4.7 K/9 and 49 percent ground ball rate, he is heavily dependent on his defense and batted ball luck. Luckily for him, the Diamondbacks do have one of the better defenses in baseball.

From a fantasy baseball perspective, there is not much use for Duke in any mixed league. Only in deep NL-only leagues will he have any value. You may want to snag him late in the season if you are desperate for WHIP balance but that is about it.

Jake Westbrook, St. Louis Cardinals

2010, for Westbrook, was a tale of two seasons. With the Cleveland Indians, he put up a 4.65 ERA with a 5.2 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, and 53 percent ground ball rate. He was traded to the Cardinals on July 31. Under the tutelage of pitching coach and miracle worker Dave Duncan, he put up a 3.48 ERA with a 6.6 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, and 62 percent ground ball rate.

While the two halves are small sample sizes -- 128 and 75 innings, respectively -- there is likely something to Westbrook's improvement. J.C. Bradbury, author of Hot Stove Economics, studied "the Duncan effect", cited in this article by Tom Verducci from September 2007. Bradbury estimates that the pitching guru lowers a pitcher's ERA by 0.35.

A glance at the pitch-type breakdowns on FanGraphs shows that Westbrook, as a Cardinal, reduced his cutter usage and increased his four-seam fastball usage. As an Indian, his four-seam fastball yielded poor results while the cutter yielded positive results. Those results inverted as he donned Cardinals red.

While his 4.06 SIERA from 2010 isn't awe-inspiring, Westbrook is likely among a subset of pitchers that will be underrated in fantasy baseball, particularly in mixed leagues. He is not the type of guy you win fantasy championships with, but is able to tide you over for some spot starts while you deal with injuries and such. Westbrook will go undrafted in mixed leagues and for good reason, but keep an eye on him in the free agent pool in the middle of the season.

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:  Hiroki Kuroda,  Jon Garland,  Jake Westbrook

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article Prospectus Perspective... (12/02)
<< Previous Column
Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Hot Spot... (12/02)
Next Column >>
Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Hot Spot... (12/06)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Ahead in the Count: Ho... (12/03)

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