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March 4, 2011
Value Picks in the Rotation
In the wake of injuries to Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter, the St. Louis Cardinals are scrambling to patch together a complete starting rotation. Wainwright will miss the entire season due to Tommy John surgery, but Carpenter's strained left hamstring is not serious and he should have plenty of time to heal before the start of the regular season. The Cardinals will be scanning the trade market and waiver wire for replacement candidates, but are also looking from within. Let us investigate some of those internal options.
McClellan has never started a game at the Major League level, but was a starter early in his minor league career. In 2007, the Cardinals organization decided to convert him to a reliever. The switch caused McClellan's strikeout rate to increase quite a bit, which makes sense—starters have to ration their stuff since they pitch five-plus innings every outing, while relievers can let it all hang out in their one-inning stints. Nate Silver covered this back in 2006 when Jonathan Papelbon was teetering between the bullpen and the rotation, and R.J. Anderson took a look at McClellan recently to see how he would do heading in the opposite direction, utilizing the Rule of 17.
Should the Cardinals opt to use McClellan in the rotation, expect his K/9 to drop slightly, from around 7.0 down to around 6.0. He should maintain a BB/9 north of 3.0. In auction leagues, you can do much worse for $1. In NL-only leagues, his value is all the better.
If there is anyone on the planet who can fix Ian Snell, it would be Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan. Many a bad pitcher has passed under the Gateway Arch, only to transform into a capable starter under the tutelage of Duncan.
Snell, however, is quite a project. He has been a veritable disaster over the last three seasons with a BB/9 hanging around 5.0 while his K/9 has plummeted from 8.2 in '06 to 5.1 last year. Even worse is that he is a fly ball pitcher, an uncommon trait in successful Cardinals pitchers. Let's not forget that he already had an opportunity to pitch well in the weak NL Central in his pre-Mariner days, and the results weren't impressive (a 5.06 Run Average, 1.9 K/BB ratio, and 1.1 homers per nine over 693 innings with Pittsburgh).
Duncan will most likely try to alter Snell's approach such that he induces more grounders, as he has done to so many pitchers before. Using that as a starting point, the long road to recovery can begin. For fantasy baseball purposes, however, Snell offers exponentially more risk than reward and should be avoided entirely in all formats. If, on the off-chance he gets the opportunity to start and there is legitimate improvement, he should be available in every free agent pool, ripe for your picking.
Miguel Batista, a 21-year veteran of professional baseball, is another candidate for a starting rotation job. Like Snell, he just does not strike out enough hitters anymore and he has suspect control. Furthermore, he has not been used as an exclusive starter since 2008 with the Mariners—his 7.66 RA through his 19 starts in the rotation that year may have had something to do with the move to the bullpen.
Batista had limited success as a reliever for the Nationals, but he had a .256 BABIP to thank for that, and his 4.71 SIERA agreed that it wasn't sustainable. In all fantasy formats that reward actual production on the field, Batista should be ignored.
The Arizona Diamondbacks will also have some competition at the back of their starting rotation. Armando Galarraga and Barry Enright, two of the candidates, were discussed here at the end of January and Zach Duke was covered in early December. There is, however, one more candidate: Aaron Heilman.
For some reason, some teams are keen on giving relief pitchers opportunities to win a starting rotation job. Heilman has not started a game since 2005 with the New York Mets. In the last three years, he has been a marginally-effective reliever with three different teams.
Oddly enough, both Heilman's K/9 and BB/9 have dropped significantly since '08. His K/9 trend has been 9.5, 8.1, and 6.9 while his BB/9 has been 5.5, 4.2, and 3.3. Heilman is also a fly ball pitcher with a hitter-friendly home ballpark.
With five consecutive years as an exclusive reliever, one has to question Heilman's conditioning and endurance, whether it is good enough to handle pitching five or six innings every five days, which would roughly double his typical innings output.
The verdict? If the Diamondbacks somehow decide to let Heilman start, do not expect the experiment to work, so skip over Heilman in your fantasy leagues.