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December 10, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Hot Spots: Starting Pitchers

by Bill Baer

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Javier Vazquez, Florida Marlins

In 2010, Vazquez posted the second-lowest strikeout rate and highest walk rate of his 13-year career. His second stint in New York was another colossal failure. The Marlins were among the few clubs willing to give him another chance, thinking that a return to the National League -- and an escape from the American League East -- would create an environment in which he could rebound.

Vazquez has, for a long time, been one of those pitchers that always under-performed his defense-independent ERA. FanGraphs credits him a 3.75 pitcher according to xFIP but has a career 4.26 ERA.

At FanGraphs, Dave Cameron noted that Vazquez has been gradually losing velocity on his fastball, which could explain the lower strikeout rate. Additionally, he posted his lowest ground ball rate (under 36 percent) since such data became available in 2002.

In terms of fantasy value, Vazquez is nowhere near as good as he showed in 2009 with the Atlanta Braves, but he is also nowhere near as bad as he showed last year with the Yankees. With a move to a much more pitcher-friendly home ballpark, expecting an ERA in the high 3's or low 4's with slight regression to the mean for his K and BB rates is not unreasonable. Given how bad he was last year, he is likely to be undervalued -- a good buy-low candidate when you are scrounging around the free agent pool in late April or early May.

Aaron Harang, San Diego Padres

Harang missed six weeks between July and mid-August last year, dealing with back problems. It was a nightmare season for Harang as he also posted career-highs in ERA and BB/9 and a career-low in K/9. The good news is that, as a pitcher that induces a lot of fly balls, he will enjoy the spacious confines of Petco Park.

Still, back problems typically do not disappear so taking a flier on Harang going into the season is a risky maneuver.  Like Vazquez, pass on Harang for now but may be worth the waiver wire transaction later on in the season if one of your pitchers goes down with an injury and you need a quick fix. When healthy, he does provide some fantasy value as a slightly above-average pitcher.

Kevin Correia, Pittsburgh Pirates

Correia is another average-ish pitcher but unlike the previous two, he is moving from a pitcher's haven. Worse still, he will have the Pirates defense behind him (arguably the worst defense in the Majors in 2010) and their offense hitting for him (the National League's worst).

Correia averaged nearly four walks per nine innings last year, a trait that will suppress his value. In terms of the typical roto categories is likely to be average in one (strikeouts) and below-average in the rest (wins, WHIP, ERA). He is someone that could have some value in NL-only leagues but is irrelevant in mixed leagues.

Jorge de la Rosa, Colorado Rockies

De la Rosa resigned with the Rockies on a two-year, $21.5 million contract. 2010 was the second consecutive year in which he posted an impressive SIERA (3.63 in '09, 3.75 last year). He is all but guaranteed to post well above-average strikeout numbers, but still walks far too many.

Two things changed for de la Rosa between '09 and '10: he used his change-up significantly more (17 percent to 27 percent) and his ground ball rate spiked (45 percent to 52 percent). His strikeout rate did drop but could be explained by a hand injury that forced him to spend more than two months on the disabled list.

De la Rosa is a good pick-up in all formats as he is a boon in strikeouts and will likely provide some wins as well considering the potent Colorado offense that will be backing him. If his 2009-10 SIERA is any indicator, he should be quite valuable when it comes to ERA as well.

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:  Jorge De La Rosa

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Premium Article On the Beat: Santa Jer... (12/09)
<< Previous Column
Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Hot Spot... (12/09)
Next Column >>
Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Hot Spot... (12/13)
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