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January 21, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Hot Spots: Starting Pitchers

by Bill Baer

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Tom Gorzelanny, Washington Nationals

Gorzelanny showed some promise during his 2007 campaign, but had not been able to put it together for any prolonged period of time until last year with the Chicago Cubs. During his first eight starts of the season, he posted a 3.09 ERA with a 9.3 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9.

After a shaky ninth start, the Cubs moved him to the bullpen. It was not for long, though, as Gorz rejoined the rotation at the end of June (thanks to Carlos Zambrano), where he provided some value. In 14 starts, he allowed three or fewer runs nine times, including five consecutive starts following his reinsertion into the rotation. However, in those 14 starts, his K/9 dropped to 6.8 and his BB/9 rose to 4.8.

His "second-half" numbers more closely match his career numbers and reflect what you should expect from him going forward. He is a lefty with some spotty strikeout skills and poor control along with a naturally higher than average BABIP (career .307, including .320 last year).

Should you wind up with Gorzelanny on your roster, match-ups are going to be very important. He is effective against left-handers but struggles mightily against their right-handed counterparts. This means that you may want to start Gorz against a team like the Phillies (Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez) but sit him against the Braves (Martin Prado, Dan Uggla, Chipper Jones).

  • Career vs. LHB: 9.0 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 3.70 xFIP
  • Career vs. RHB: 6.1 K/9, 4.4 BB/9, 5.14 xFIP

Chris Young, New York Mets

Young has not been able to stay healthy for an entire season since 2007, but will attempt to do so this year with the Mets. Since shoulder injuries became an issue, Young's K/9 and BB/9 have both trended in the wrong direction.

The good news is that, although Young is moving out of the pitcher-friendly confines of Petco Park that saved him so many runs, he is moving into another pitcher-friendly park. Young induces quite a high percentage of fly balls (53 percent career average) which has been the key to his success over the years. According to StatCorner.com, Citi Field had a home run park factor of 90 for left-handed hitters and 94 for right-handed hitters last year. (Over 100 favors hitters, under 100 favors pitchers.)

Thanks to his fly ball tendencies, Young's BABIP is naturally lower than what we would expect from a typical pitcher. His .263 average is due in large part to his former home in San Diego, but you should expect that lower-than-average BABIP trend to continue in New York. He will likely give up a few more home runs, but his BABIP should still fall in the .270- range.

As Young will not be an integral part of your fantasy baseball roster, his injury history is not as big of an issue, since you can just drop him at a moment's notice. He has the potential to have value in mixed leagues, but for now, he is only worth taking in NL-only leagues. If you are considering him for a mixed league, keep an eye on his spring training performance. If his velocity returns to the high-80's, take a shot. If he struggles to hit 86, consider looking elsewhere. Young's K/9 dropped along with his velocity when shoulder injuries became a problem.

Jeff Francis, Kansas City Royals

A shoulder injury caused Francis to miss all of July and most of September in 2008, and then all of the '09 season. He finally returned in mid-May last year and was quite impressive, considering. His 5.00 ERA looked ugly, but his 4.08 SIERA put him in the same area as Joe Blanton and Andy Pettitte.

In 104 innings in 2010, Francis posted a 5.8 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9 and his fastball averaged 87.2 MPH, the highest it has been since '05. These are all good signs and Dayton Moore did well to pick him up on a one-year, $2 million deal with an additional $2 million available in performance bonuses.

The move from Coors Field to Kauffman Stadium should help Francis out quite a bit. Coors had a left/right home run park factor of 116/117 while Kauffman was much friendlier at 73/85.

Francis will have value in deep mixed leagues and will be a great buy-low option in AL-only leagues. Many will have either forgotten about or given up on Francis due to his injury history and poor results last year.

Bruce Chen, Kansas City Royals

Chen benefited from toenail-low expectations last year when he finished with a 4.17 ERA. Many thought Chen had turned a corner or had a career year. It was mostly an illusion. His 4.75 SIERA ranked 124th out of 147 pitchers with 100 innings of work.

Chen's mediocre 6.3 K/9 was not the issue; it was his 3.7 BB/9. He simply does not have the control to be an effective starter for prolonged periods of time.

Chen will be irrelevant in mixed leagues, but will have some slight value in AL-only leagues.

Bill Baer is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bill's other articles. You can contact Bill by clicking here

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