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February 11, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Value Picks in the Rotation

by Bill Baer

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The New York Mets' 2011 rotation is based on a lot of hope, but one pitcher expected to take strides is Jonathon Niese. The 24-year-old left-hander showed promise with a 7.7 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, and 3.91 SIERA. However, after a string of one-run starts from August 6-21, Niese appeared to stop dead in his tracks in terms of progress. In his next six starts to finish the season, he posted a 7.57 ERA and his walk rate ballooned to 4.8 per nine innings. Our own Marc Normandin thought he looked fatigued, and Niese admitted on Wednesday that he was.

Niese told reporters that he is working to improve his conditioning and throwing methods to avoid fatigue problems going forward. In 2011, Niese is not a big fantasy name, but with a spacious home ballpark, a propensity for ground balls, and a decent infield defense, he should emerge as a solid third-tier pitcher. PECOTA is more pessimistic, putting Niese at a 6.5 K/9, 3.6 BB/9 and 4.69 ERA. While I trust PECOTA more than my own subjective, biased judgment, I will bet on a better year for Niese.

Jeremy Guthrie has been one of those pitchers you expect to hear about every year but ends up slipping into the background unnoticed. Unfortunately, he has played on some bad teams and his disastrous 2009 seasons did not earn him much fantasy baseball respect last year. He has good control but does not often miss bats. Think of him as a slightly better version of Kyle Kendrick. His 4.62 SIERA put him in the same company as Paul Maholm and Bronson Arroyo, 116th out of 147 pitchers who threw 100 or more innings last year.

Guthrie, somehow, has evaded his SIERA in three out of his four full seasons with the Orioles. Last year, the gap between his ERA and SIERA was about 0.8; in '08, it was 0.9; and in '07, about 0.5. His BABIP has ranged from .254 to .286 so we may be seeing some legitimate ability to induce weak contact. His fly ball BABIP is not far from the American League average, but his ground ball BABIP is about 30 points below. The Orioles have not exactly had elite defenses according to PADE, so he either induces weak ground balls or has been very lucky so far.

Freddy Garcia is expected to compete for a spot in the Yankees' starting rotation in spring training. Mike Axisa of River Avenue Blues calls Garcia "the front-runner based on 157 innings he threw last year that were unquestionably below average but still better than replacement level". That is a very accurate description.

Ultimately, Garcia is not a great fantasy asset. His K/9 will fall in the 5.0-6.0 range and his overall true talent level is around a 4.50 ERA pitcher. Given his new team's elite offense and his ability to pound the strike zone, he should be better than the typical 4.50 ERA pitcher in the wins and WHIP categories. He is poison in mixed leagues, but has some limited utility in AL-only leagues.

The short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium is very scary for a pitcher like Garcia, but surprisingly he did not have much of a platoon split last year. Last year, his xFIP against right-handers was 4.67 compared to 4.52 against lefties. Neither side had a home run advantage, with right-handers converting 11.4 percent of fly balls into homers while lefties converted 11.7 percent.

Throughout his brief Major League career, Happ has been a bit of a mini Matt Cain—a pitcher who defies his ERA retrodictors due to a perceived ability to induce weak contact. Unlike Cain, however, the results finally caught up (somewhat) with the performance last year for Happ. To quote Austin Swafford of Austin's Astros 290 Blog,

Happ came over as the major piece of the [Roy] Oswalt trade and promptly did everything the critics said he would, save one–he gave up lots of flyball outs, ran up high pitch counts and walked a lot of people.  But he didn’t get shelled.  Nine of his 12 starts were quality as he went 5-4 with a 3.75 ERA.

The walks are concerning: his BB/9 for 2010 was at 4.8—unacceptable for a pitcher whose K/9 is not approaching or exceeding 10.0, like Brandon Morrow. Happ's strikeout rate, though, was above-average at 7.2. The control problems last year were not fluky, as Happ had problems even in the minors. His overall BB/9 in over 565 innings of Minor League baseball was 3.6 and hit as high as 4.7 in 2007, when he was 24 years old and threw 118-plus innings for Triple-A Ottawa.

PECOTA puts Happ on a 4.35 ERA with a 7.2 K/9 and 4.0 BB/9. It is basically last year's performance with the results he should have had. PECOTA is right on the money here: the Astros' infield defense does not appear ready to do Happ any favors. With Brett Wallace or Carlos Lee at first base, Bill Hall at second, Chris Johnson at third, and Clint Barmes at shortstop, there isn't anyone who can help lower Happ's ERA with their glove. Last year, with a different cast, the Astros ranked 29th out of 30 teams in PADE.

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

9 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links


How endearing, "Think of him as a slightly better version of Kyle Kendrick."

Also, another quick question. What exactly can the mini browser tell me? Sometimes they make sense or look comparable and other times they appear to be reaches. Like Harden and Garcia, I know they share the common ground of rehab, but beyond that..... Is that the point on the mini or is it something else?

Feb 11, 2011 07:17 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Bill Baer
BP staff

It's a quick list of other pitchers in the player's price range so you can compare their stats and make a judgment on the player's value. Like any tool, it works best with discretion.

If I'm wondering whether $8 is too much for Happ, I consult the mini-browser and I see that Ricky Romero and Mark Buehrle are in the same area. That seems reasonable to me, but given some of the other factors -- Happ's walk rate, infield defense, and offensive support -- I make a note of how less I am willing to pay for Happ.

Feb 11, 2011 14:23 PM

Is it me, or does Niese seem to be a much better value this year over Happ? Niese has better infield defense, better home field, better K/9 and BB/9, probably a better offense to support him for wins, and a better bullpen behind him.

Neither will be a star, or someone you build around. But am I over-estimating Niese? Niese seems like a pretty good value at his $5 NL only price?

Feb 11, 2011 08:20 AM
rating: 0
Marc Normandin

I was pretty upset when I missed Niese in my NL-only league the other day. I think he's going to be really solid this year, definitely a great low-cost pickup.

Feb 11, 2011 09:36 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Bill Baer
BP staff

I totally agree. For what it's worth, PECOTA gives Niese double the probability of having a "breakout" season compared to Happ.

With the cheaper players, I prefer to go with higher upside (assuming Niese's average is exactly in line with Happ, or slightly below, which it's not) since I can better afford to change if I make a mistake or a player has a down year, but I reap many rewards if I hit it on the nose.

Feb 11, 2011 14:16 PM
Dave Holgado

Rather than pile on today's other "fantasy" article (which was somewhat offensive, but more importantly, just plain bad), I thought I'd post here to say thanks, Bill, for what I thought was an outstanding piece. I can tell that you know your roto, and you know not only the usefulness of the advanced metrics for roto, but the limits to their application as well. Good stuff.

Feb 11, 2011 12:16 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Bill Baer
BP staff

Thanks for the kind words! You made my day. :)

Feb 11, 2011 14:11 PM

Am I missing something? You write: "PECOTA is more pessimistic, putting Niese at a 6.5 K/9, 3.6 BB/9 and 4.69 ERA." But his projected stats are 7.9 K, 3.1 BB, and 4.21 ERA. Is that your projection or PECOTA's on the top line of the card?

Feb 14, 2011 13:10 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Bill Baer
BP staff

The player cards are for John Burnson's Graphical Player 2011.


Feb 14, 2011 15:05 PM
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