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January 28, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Hot Spots: Starting Pitchers

by Bill Baer

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Armando Galarraga, Arizona Diamondbacks

Galarraga will be competing for the #5 spot in the Diamondbacks' starting rotation. Known as the author of the perfect game that never was, Galarraga tends to be given more credit than he is actually due. The truth is, he is a replacement-level pitcher with very little to offer in the majors, never mind for fantasy baseball purposes.

His K/9 has declined in each of the past two seasons, and his walk rate is too high for a pitcher that induces lots of contact. Even with a .261 BABIP thanks to a lot of fly balls (49 percent), he still could not escape a 4.49 ERA. Among pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched, Galarraga's 5.23 SIERA ranked 144th out of 147, just beating out Scott Kazmir, Jake Arrieta, and Ryan Rowland-Smith.

The move from Detroit's Comerica Park to Arizona's Chase Field will not help his numbers, either. Comerica had a left-handed home run park factor of 90 while Chase was at 114. Both parks were about average with regards to right-handed home runs.

Galarraga is fantasy baseball poison. Avoid at all costs.

Barry Enright, Arizona Diamondbacks

Enright, another competitor for the D-Backs' #5 spot, is similar to Galarraga but enjoyed significantly more success as a result of his much lower BB/9 (2.6 to Galarraga's 3.2). Galarraga stranded the usual 73 percent while Enright stranded 85 percent.

We will need more information before we can conclude this, but Enright did induce some weaker contact. However, Enright's fly ball tendency (50 percent) is not a great mix with typically high Arizona temperatures.

Enright just missed out on the 100 IP qualification for SIERA, but if we lower that to 99 (bending the rules!), his 5.13 SIERA ranked 143rd out of 148 pitchers, just ahead of Galarraga. Enright's lack of punch-outs is yet another deterrent for fantasy baseball purposes. In general, avoid the D-Backs' #5 starters as best as you can.

Wandy Rodriguez, Houston Astros

The Astros signed Rodriguez to a three-year, $34 million deal recently, hoping that the left-hander can maintain his run of success. Rodriguez struggled well into June last year -- in his first 14 starts, he compiled a 6.09 ERA and a low 6.2 K/9 and 4.1 BB/9. In his next 18 starts, though, he turned a corner, posting a 2.03 ERA with a 9.5 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9, including four 10-strikeout games.

His second-half numbers line up much better with what we saw from him in 2008 and '09, when he posted SIERAs of 3.59 and 3.50, respectively. In spite of his first-half struggles, Rodriguez still finished with a 3.63 SIERA in 2010 as well.

What happened in that first half, though? I asked my go-to Astros guy, James from Astros County. He wrote to me:

After that fateful Texas game [on June 18], there was some concern about skipping him, or dropping him from the rotation, but Brad Mills was quoted as saying:

"There's some concern there. We're going to continue on his program and continue to talk to him about some things. (Pitching coach Brad Arnsberg) is going to talk to him on the side, and we might take a little bit different approach for his next outing."

I'm also not sure about what kind of stock you put into it, as well, but the Astros switched up the catcher on him. Humberto Quintero had been his catcher for 15 starts, and Wandy posted a 6.19 ERA (.359 BABIP), and a slash-line of .317/.391/.460. In 18 starts with Jason Castro, which started in the game following the Texas game, he posted a 1.96 ERA (.264 BABIP - 50 points below his career BABIP), with a slash-line of .203/.267/.326. So what happened? Lower BABIP, tinkering with his mechanics, and Wandy got some confidence back.

With the typical Wandy Rodriguez, you get a pitcher who throws a lot of innings, gets a bunch of strikeouts, is stingy with the walks, and induces plenty of ground balls (48 percent last season). He is among the more valuable starting pitchers around. The only thing you have to worry about with Rodriguez is the wins, but that is almost entirely out of his control and should not scare you away whatsoever.

Jason Hammel, Colorado Rockies

Despite several mentions in my columns here last year, Hammel finished 2010 disappointingly with a 4.81 ERA. His 3.83 SIERA severely disagreed with the finish, and when you look at his .328 BABIP, you understand.

However, despite the nice K/9 and BB/9 (7.1 and 2.4), Hammel has nearly 562 innings in his career and an average BABIP at .325. We are starting to get the sense that Hammel's infield defenses have been terrible or that he has a knack for allowing hits. The spacious confines of Coors Field certainly work against him in that matter, but we shall investigate.

Last year, the Rockies had a defensive efficiency of .683, 23rd out of 30 teams. Their park-adjusted DE was -1.0, meaning that the Rockies' defense turned one percent fewer balls in play into outs than a league average defense would, adjusting for Coors Field. UZR agrees, as the Rockies ranked 25th with a -5.2 UZR/150.

Among infielders, Melvin Mora, Jason Giambi, Ian Stewart, Todd Helton, and Clint Barmes all posted in the negative UZR/150. Mora and Barmes are gone and will be replaced by Jose Lopez, an average-fielding second baseman, and Ty Wigginton, a significantly below average defender at the corner infield spots. Troy Tulowitzki is among the best-fielding shortstops, but he can only do so much.

Given a lack of a defensive upgrades elsewhere in the infield, there is no reason to expect Hammel's BABIP to regress to the typical .300 average. Thus, it is likely that Hammel will continue to under-perform his SIERA. With a better infield defense and a home park that is not advantageous for hitters, Hammel would be much more successful. But that is not the case, and it should factor into your decision on whether or not to take him during the 2011 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:  Wandy Rodriguez,  Armando Galarraga

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