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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

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

BP Comment Quick Links

Swingingbunts

How about these numbers: 3.55 era, 1.18 whip, 8 wins, 7.7 K/9?
That's Garza's home numbers last year. He has fantasy value if you know how to set your lineup

Feb 11, 2011 09:33 AM
rating: -3
 
Marc Normandin

Garza no longer has that home.

Feb 11, 2011 09:36 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Collette
BP staff

Or that defense

Feb 11, 2011 11:03 AM
 
Joe D.

Or that offense.

Feb 12, 2011 10:47 AM
rating: 1
 
Paul Sporer

No one saying he doesn't have fantasy value, it's just severely mitigated when you reach for him and take him above significantly better options like the ones outlined by Jason. Great piece.

Feb 11, 2011 17:04 PM
rating: 2
 
evo34

Single season home/road splits are not even close to being predictive. Thinking you are smarter than you are is how you lose in fantasy baseball...

Feb 12, 2011 21:09 PM
rating: 0
 
Doug Thorburn

I'm surprised that the IP projections don't get more play in this article, as that appeared to be the biggest outlier of the ABCD comparison. It seems that the reason for Garza's supposedly-inflated draft value is fairly clearcut - he is a known commodity with a track record, and he is the only one of the four listed pitchers to ever crack 200 IP in the majors.

I would say the beta is probably much higher for the other three pitchers mentioned. Hey, I'm all about risk-reward, but there is something to be said for minimizing risk on a fantasy pitching staff. On a rate basis the other three come out on top, but what happens to the numbers if you factor in the ~50 innings of fantasy replacement-level performance that are necessary to close the gap in playing time?

Or maybe I'm just calloused from drafting too many teams with high-upside pitching staffs, only to find myself 200 innings under threshold by June.

Feb 11, 2011 12:40 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Collette
BP staff

Doug,

I didn't mention the IP projections only because Bumgarner and Hudson get penalized for spending time in AAA last season. Garza simply has a lot of warning signs in play here and I'd rather take the risk of Hudson or Marcum improving than hoping Garza doesn't find himself homesick and missing the way Tropicana Field and the Rays defense aided his cause.

Feb 11, 2011 12:51 PM
 
SydFinch

I think that PECOTA is underestimating the bounce that Garza will get in his value by both leaving the AL East and getting to face the #8/#9 hitters in the NL Central.

In non-keeper leagues I certainly like Garza over the other 3. Also, he seems to be a "workhorse" type that can reliably give you 200 IP's per year.

Great to see your stuff on BP, Jason.

Feb 11, 2011 13:11 PM
rating: 0
 
Paul Sporer

I think his NL/8-9 bounce is at the very least mitigated and at most completely cancelled by his flyball tendencies in Wrigley Field, which is going to be troublesome.

I like Garza as much as the next guy, predicted him for 2010 AL Cy Young, but I'm not going to let my fandom of him cloud my objective judgment when it comes to assembling my teams. Jason isn't saying he's a worthless trashbag, just that he's being a bit overvalued and there are warning signs on the wall that suggest caution.

Feb 11, 2011 17:07 PM
rating: 0
 
Doug Thorburn

Jason,

I agree with the rationale, and I respect your opinion. I'm not exactly a Garza enthusiast myself, and in fact I tend to overvalue young players. But isn't there a reason that PECOTA penalizes the AAA innings? I would think that any young pitcher that is still swimming through the injury nexus, and that has never pitched a full major league season, would have a lower expected durability than a 27-year old with a clean record in terms of workload management and development. The youngsters will also be on pitch counts and team-imposed IP caps, in order to buffer the inherent injury risk.

Will Carroll mentioned that the Verducci Effect does not necessarily apply to minor league innings, as there appears to be a difference when it comes to the imposed workload at different levels of competition. In my experience working with pitchers, I have seen how many players react to playing on the biggest stage, as pitchers tend to push their physical limits for the sake of competition. Fatigue becomes a major factor, and mechanics are often sacrificed, resulting in a more taxing workload per inning.

All that said, I still like your advice, as the 50-IP gap could easily be closed by a successful late-round flyer, and there are plenty of prizes to be found under the pile of FA arms every year. Great article, and thanks for the discussion.

Feb 11, 2011 13:36 PM
rating: 0
 
gregorybfoley

Garza throws like 6 mph faster than Marcum, 2 mph faster than Bumgarner and 1 mph faster than Hudson. That has to be some sort of harbinger of future success, right?

I think Marcum is getting dinged for being an injury prone junk-baller, while Bumgarner and Hudson are getting dinged for not having long track records of health and success which all seems fair to me.

Feb 11, 2011 14:44 PM
rating: -2
 
Moneyball16

I think this would be a better argument if minor leaguers with similar numbers were being compared, but Marcum is a proven major leaguer and Bumgarner and Hudson have shown no signs that their stuff isn't going to play in the majors as well as it did in the minors and both have proven themselves to a certain degree as well.

Nice article Jason.

Feb 12, 2011 01:13 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Collette
BP staff

For comparison sake - all four of these pitchers went for $11-$14 in a recent expert NL only draft and Hudson and Marcum both went for $1 more than Garza did.

http://splnex-al.baseball.cbssports.com/news/14672311

A final note I forgot to bring up on Garza - his K/9 over the final four months last season:

June - 7.5
July - 6.5
August - 6.1
September - 5.3

He also gave up 7 home runs in September and his OppBA spiked up to .314 that month. He looked gassed down the stretch. The Rays fan in me was more worried about him coming into 2011 than Shields had both remained with the organization.

Feb 11, 2011 15:37 PM
 
evo34

"Gassed," or did he just draw the Red Sox/Yanks for three of his six Sept. starts? Looking at his games log, it would appear to be the latter. His avg. FB velocity also supports the notion he was not "gassed" in Sep., as his highest avg. velocity was actually recorded in his final outing of the year.

http://www.fangraphs.com/pitchfxo.aspx?playerid=3340&position=P&pitch=FA

Feb 12, 2011 21:18 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Collette
BP staff

With visual bias, he looked gassed. His stuff lacked sharpness and location that he had earlier in the summer and facing the depleted Red Sox in September should not have been a daunting task.

Feb 13, 2011 12:47 PM
 
ScottyB

Many pay a premium for reliability. Many fantasy players have been burned by prospects and rookies before and will discount the accordingly. Therefore, the difference in average draft position

Feb 12, 2011 09:21 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Collette
BP staff

Garza has been reliable in that he has consistently finished around the $12-$14 range in his final value each of the last three seasons. Marcum, meanwhile, has seen his final roto value go up each of the past few seasons. Maybe it is just me as the guy who has watched every one of Garza's starts since 2008 but I believe fantasy owners suffer a lot of visual bias with him because his stuff is better than his overall production of late. You are paying for consistency right now but I am not sure you're going to find upside in 2011 with the many flags that are waiving around in his body of work

Feb 12, 2011 10:00 AM
 
Sal T

Welcome to BP Jason. Good stuff.

Feb 12, 2011 17:26 PM
rating: 0
 
apbadogs

I'm in a BBW fantasy baseball league, The Mudville Confederacy, and recently traded CC for Hudson and Gio Gonzalez...good move? I think so, obviously.

Feb 13, 2011 04:39 AM
rating: -2
 
BP staff member Jason Collette
BP staff

I like that move - risky, but a lot of upside.

Feb 13, 2011 12:47 PM
 
apbadogs

I think "harbinger(s) for success" are K/9 and BB/9, not velocity.

Feb 13, 2011 04:42 AM
rating: 0
 
Drew

I recall Tango doing a study awhile ago where he showed that the best predictor of success is the difference between K% and BB%. It seems improper to use K/BB ratio, especially since guys with microscopic BB% look great in that lens.

Feb 14, 2011 10:13 AM
rating: 0
 
everettcase

I was pleased to see that I preferred Pitcher B before the names were revealed, as I've been targeting Hudson in every mock I've done so far. Love Marcum too, but with Hudson going a full two/three rounds later than Marcum or Garza on ESPN, I think there's a good chance I end up with Hudson on just about every team this year. Glad to see PECOTA thinks that's good as well!

Feb 17, 2011 07:42 AM
rating: 0
 
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Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Value Pi... (02/11)
<< Previous Column
Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Value Pi... (02/11)
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Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Value Pi... (02/14)
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The BP Broadside: Awai... (02/11)

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