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February 25, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Value Picks in the Rotation

by Bill Baer

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In keeping with last week's theme of looking at the biggest gaps between ERA and SIERA, this week we will deal with the unluckier pitchers from 2010.

Beckett had an uncharacteristically poor 2010 season, a combination of bad luck and back problems. He was on the disabled list from May 19 to July 23, spending a total of 65 days on the shelf. His 3.2 BB/9 was his highest since his first year with the Sox in 2006, and his K/9 was down to 8.2, the lowest since '06.

However, despite the decline, Beckett still posted a 3.84 SIERA, nearly two full runs lower than his 5.78 ERA. The culprit was a BABIP approaching 50 points above the American League average, .341 to .294, the bulk of the difference coming on line drives (his .805 BABIP to the league average .712). We have not seen any year-to-year consistency with line drives for pitchers and the Red Sox were slightly above-average defensively, so I am willing to label 2010 a fluke for Beckett.

There are some reasons to worry about Beckett if his back continues to bother him, though. Our own Marc Normandin detailed this at Red Sox Beacon late last year:

Beckett has relied more on his cut fastball at the expense of his curve this season, which is something I’m a bit more nervous about. Beckett’s fastball is an excellent pitch with movement, but it’s nowhere near as effective when he isn’t using it to set up his devastating bender–when hitters know the fastball is coming, you end up with years like 2006, which was the last time his walks and homers were up and his punch outs down, though in that year he was also plenty unlucky. It would also help if he brought his first-pitch strikes back in line with the past, as he’s been much closer to the league average in that regard this year. Starting out a hitter 0-1 affords you a lot of options and puts you in control of the plate appearance–walks would drop and strikeouts would climb, and fewer pitches that turn into souvenirs would be thrown when the hitters know they are coming.

I like Beckett as a buy-low option in all formats (as long as he's healthy), especially since the Player Forecast Manager has Beckett at $7 in a standard 12-team auction roto league. Coming off a poor season, his price should be lower than normal.

Morrow was my favorite fantasy baseball asset last year, an extremely underrated pitcher with incredible stuff. He had by far the highest K/9 among starting pitchers, approaching 11 per nine innings. Tim Lincecum, in second place, had a measly 9.8 K/9. Of course, the drawback to Morrow is his high walk rate, which was at 4.1 per nine last year. His control issues are not going to go away, so it is an assumed risk, but he is still very much worth taking.

The PFM has him under $2 with the same criteria as used above, which is an absolute steal. I highly doubt you will be able to get him that cheap since the strikeouts alone make him an extremely valuable asset.

Morrow's 3.15 SIERA last year was quite awesome, but his 4.49 ERA may mislead people about his true talent. Like Beckett, Morrow was undone by line drives, which fell in for hits 13.5 percent more often than the AL average (.847 to .712). Even if a 4.49 ERA represented Morrow's true talent, I still think he would be worth going after in all formats. Strikeouts like those do not grow on trees.

Going into 2011, Morrow is the number one pitcher on my "must watch" list.

Shields had a rough 2010 season, finishing with a 5.18 ERA, worlds apart from his 3.57 SIERA. Saberists recognized that, despite the high ERA, his 8.3 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 are elite rates and the sky is the limit for the 29-year-old right-hander.

While BABIP led to some undeserved struggles, Shields has had a higher-than-normal BABIP (.308) over his career, spanning nearly 1,000 innings. His .341 overall BABIP last year is certainly due to regress, but not quite as hard as one might think, as Jason Collette discussed last month. As with Beckett and Morrow, a good portion of the excess BABIP can be blamed on line drives, so I am confident in expecting a drop.

PFM has Shields in the $8 area, which I think is accurate. I would not get into a bidding war for his services, but if you can get him for around $8, you should feel quite good about this buy-low option. This is particularly important for those of you in keeper leagues -- bet on Shields' value going up significantly if you buy into a bounce-back 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

6 comments have been left for this article.

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Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Scoreshe... (02/25)
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Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Scoreshe... (02/25)
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Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Closer S... (02/25)
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