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February 11, 2011

Fantasy Beat

One of These Things is Not Like the Others

by Jason Collette

Which one of these four starting pitchers would you want to first acquire on your fantasy team based on the PECOTA projections above?

PITCHER

WINS

IP

K

WHIP

ERA

FRA

A

12

191

154

1.33

4.15

4.51

B

10

139

131

1.28

3.80

4.13

C

9

135

113

1.24

3.88

4.22

D

11

157

108

1.31

3.84

4.17

I’m guessing it would not be Pitcher A, but the February Average Draft Position (ADP) report from mockdraftcentral.com shows that drafters prefer Pitcher A by a considerable margin. The ADP values for the four pitchers are as follows:

Despite having the worst projections in the ratio categories and not even the strongest K/9, Pitcher A is going nearly two full rounds before the next pitcher on this list goes and I am left to wonder why do people love Matt Garza, our Pitcher A, that much? Did his 2010 no-hitter and the switch to the National League really inflate his value to the point people are taking him over better projected pitchers?

Garza is a fantasy asset best watched on television, rather than on a spreadsheet. When he is on, his stuff is very nasty, but that has not fully translated into success in his overall statistics. Consider the fact that Garza’s home run rate has risen each of the past four seasons as he has transitioned from being more groundball oriented and become more of a flyball pitcher. In 2007, his G/F ratio was 1.27 and 48 percent of his balls in play were of the groundball variety. That has slowly shifted the opposite direction and last season, his G/F was 0.80 and just 36 percent of his balls in play were on the ground while 45 percent where in the air. This is not a good trend for a pitcher that is leaving a park that has traditionally suppressed home runs (while simultaneously moving to one that inflates home runs).

2010 ball in play data shows that had Garza pitched in Wrigley Field last season rather than Tropicana Field, he would have surrendered four more home runs at home.  Garza’s flyball tendencies were helped by the Rays outstanding outfield defenders, a group that included Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton, and Ben Zobrist on most nights, and that defensive prowess does not exist in the Cubs outfield. Lastly, when scanning PECOTA, it rates Garza’s collapse percentage at 32 percent—the highest of the four pitchers above by a full ten percentage points.

The other three pitchers on the table above are, in order of appearance, Daniel Hudson, Shaun Marcum, and Madison Bumgarner.  Hudson only threw 95 innings at the big league level last season but had an outstanding debut with 8.0 K/9, a .241 opponents’ batting average, and eight wins in his fourteen starts for a disappointing Diamondbacks team. If you factor in his work in Triple-A, he won 19 games while striking out 192 batters and walking just 58 in 189 innings pitched. PECOTA sees Hudson leveling off a bit compared to his ratios last season, but also shows his strikeout rate spiking from last season and his 58 percent improvement rating and 24 percent breakout rating are the strongest of all four pitchers on the table above.

Marcum leaves the unfriendly Rogers Centre and the tough AL East lineups to bring his undervalued game to the NL Central.  Marcum has a few strong trends that make him an intriguing pitcher heading into 2011. For instance, his K/BB ratio has improved each of the past four seasons from 1.7 to a very strong 3.8 last season—and that was coming off of Tommy John surgery, where the last thing to return to a pitcher is their command. Additionally, his strikeout rate has improved each of the past three seasons from 6.9 up to the very solid 7.6 he posted last season. A peek at his player card shows his WARP in a four year climb from 0.7 up to 4.6 last season and 22 of his 31 starts in 2010 were quality starts. His one oddity is one that Rays’ manager Joe Maddon exploited several times in that Marcum is more effective against left-handed batters than righties due to his excellent change-up. American League teams picked up on that in 2010 and righties hit .298/.345/.514 against Marcum in 392 plate appearances while lefties hit just .190/.233/.299 in 408 plate appearances.  That will be an interesting trend to follow in 2011 as he crosses over to the National League: his numbers against lefties have improved in each of the past four seasons.

Bumgarner came into 2010 with decreasing velocity concerns but got that heat back as the 2010 season went on. He was a key part of the Giants’ eventual push through to the World Series title and he is still just 21 years old. His monthly splits last season were rather strong except for August and most of that damage was done in one start against Cincinnati, in which he gave up seven earned runs , seven hits and three home runs in under three innings pitched.  He had a 2.27 ERA in July, a 1.13 ERA in September, and his WHIP in those same months was 1.18 and 1.09. Throw in the 3.3 K/BB, his pitcher-friendly home park and a 46 percent ground ball rate, and there is a lot to like about this young, talented left-handed pitcher. Never mind that he gets to pitch in a division that includes the suspect offenses in San Diego, Arizona, and Los Angeles.

Matt Garza has not distinguished himself significantly enough to be going nearly two full rounds before Hudson, Marcum, or Bumgarner. If you are uncomfortable drafting Bumgarner first due to his age and limited experience, that is an understandable risk aversion. However, there is strong value there with both Hudson and Marcum, and if you let your league mates continue to reach for Garza as the mock drafters are doing in February, there is a strong chance you will get a pitcher with a higher final value than Garza in 2011. In particular, PECOTA confirms my own personal feelings that Daniel Hudson is in for a very solid 2011 season and that he should be the pitcher going at 110, and not Garza. 

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

Related Content:  Matt Garza,  Shaun Marcum

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