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January 14, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Hot Spots: Starting Pitchers

by Bill Baer

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Brad Penny, Detroit Tigers

Penny was off to a fantastic start with the St. Louis Cardinals last year before a shoulder injury in late May ended his season. Under the tutelage of pitching coach-slash-wizard Dave Duncan, Penny increased his ground ball rate from the mid-40's to 53 percent. Additionally, his control improved considerably as his BB/9 was under 1.5, down from a career average 2.9.

There is no way to know exactly how well Penny will rebound from his shoulder injury. His fastball averaged 94 MPH last year, but a shoulder injury could cut into that. Penny also relies on a sinking fastball which helps him induce so many grounders. Will his shoulder injury reduce the sink on his two-seamer?

The Tigers signed Penny on a one-year, $3 million deal -- certainly a low-risk deal with some upside. However, for fantasy baseball purposes, Penny is a considerable risk until we acquire more information, particularly by observing his performance in spring training. Keep Penny on your list of pitchers to watch in Florida this spring.

Brandon Morrow, Toronto Blue Jays

Unlike most pitchers included in the Fantasy Beat articles thus far, Morrow has not found a new home. Since most of the wheeling-and-dealing has died down, Penny signified the only significant action with starting pitchers in the last week, so we will now look at a couple of arms that I think could pay off significantly in the upcoming fantasy baseball season.

Morrow is best-known for his 17-strikeout performance -- a near no-hitter -- against the Tampa Bay Rays last season. The best part of that outing for Morrow is that it was not a fluke. He finished the season averaging 11 strikeouts per nine innings and his 3.15 SIERA was eighth-best in the Majors among starters with at least 100 innings of work. How good is a 3.15 SIERA? Morrow was sandwiched between Adam Wainwright (3.13) and Tim Lincecum (3.16).

The biggest question mark with Morrow is his control. Despite significant improvements, his BB/9 was still above 4.0. However, as Keith Law pointed out with his well-known "arbitrary endpoints" hash-tag on Twitter:

Morrow's last 16 outings: 3.36 ERA, 96 IP, 113 K, 34 BB, 6 HR, .232/.307/.364, .321 BABIP

The per-nine strikeout and walk rates there come out to 10.6 and 3.2, respectively. The strikeout-to-walk ratio is 3.3.

As long as he is not slain by the Luck Dragon, he is due for a breakout year.

Ian Kennedy, Arizona Diamondbacks

Kennedy finally got his shot as a regular in the Majors pitching for the D-Backs last year. He made 32 starts totaling 194 innings with decent results. His 3.80 ERA was not far off of his 3.95 SIERA thanks to a 7.8 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9. He did benefit from a .265 BABIP but it did not skew his strand rate (75 percent) too far from the National League average (72 percent).

Kennedy will have utility in deeper mixed leagues and quite a bit in NL-only leagues. I don't agree with the $14 listing in the table above -- especially in comparison to Morrow at $8 -- but he will have utility in the upcoming season. Take him for his strikeouts and slightly above-average ERA and WHIP; be very excited if he has a breakout season which, at 26 years old, is still very possible.

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:  Brad Penny

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article Future Shock: Detroit ... (01/13)
<< Previous Column
Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Hot Spot... (01/13)
Next Column >>
Fantasy Beat: Starting... (01/14)
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Premium Article On the Beat: Reflectin... (01/14)

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