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March 11, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Value Picks in the Rotation

by Bill Baer

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This week, we will be taking a look at some pitchers who came out of nowhere last year that may be relevant to you this year.

Let me toss out these numbers for you:

Player A: LHP, 9.3 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 3.80 ERA

Player B: LHP, 9.3 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, 3.80 ERA

Player A is PECOTA's 2011 projection for Minor, Player B is Clayton Kershaw in 2010.

I should stop talking about Minor right here, since that is clearly more than enough reason to dig around for him in every league in which you are participating. However, you may be concerned about Minor's chances to earn a spot in the Braves' rotation—after all, four of the five spots are taken by Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Derek Lowe, and Jair Jurrjens. He is in "competition" with Brandon Beachy and Rodrigo Lopez for the fifth spot. As David Lee notes in his article for SB Nation, Beachy and Lopez are just there to keep Minor from becoming complacent during spring training. The odds of either of the two making the rotation are small, barring a terrible spring in terms of poor performance or injury to Minor.

You may also be reluctant to take Minor because of his 5.98 ERA last year. That was, however, compiled in 40 and 2/3 innings and his SIERA was an amazingly low 3.29. He seemed to tire towards the end of the season, having pitched 161 innings total between Double-A, Triple-A, and the Majors.

Minor is also not being taken in ESPN leagues—he is in just over one percent currently. He may be the steal of the year if you are quick enough to act.

Wells started the season in the Cubs' starting rotation and quickly found a niche, earning quality starts in three out of his first four starts. From that point on, though, one word that described his 2010 season was "inconsistent". That was best exemplified by his performance in May, when he allowed six earned runs in two innings to the Pittsburgh Pirates, followed it up with three quality starts, and then allowed five runs without recording an out against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Overall, Wells finished with a 4.13 SIERA, not far removed from his 4.26 ERA. He also posted slightly above-average strikeout and walk rates, at 6.7 and 2.9, respectively. Additionally, he induced ground balls at a ratio of about 3-to-2. He will not win a Cy Young award, but is a good name to remember for your NL-only drafts/auctions--Wells is definitely not a household name. He has relevance in mixed leagues as well: the deeper, the better.

Richard was a boon to the Padres' starting rotation, particularly in the first half. Through June, he had a 2.74 ERA with a 7.2 K/9 and a 3.4 BB/9. However, he wore down in the second half, posting a 4.79 ERA with a 6.5 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9.

Additionally, Richard benefited from his home ballpark. In fact, going by xFIP, he was a full run better at home than on the road 3.71 to 4.72. Oddly enough, his strikeout rate was significantly better, 8.0 at home and 5.5 away. I checked to see if this was the case for all Padres pitchers and it seems like there was some legitimate strikeout advantage pitching at home—8.4 at home and 7.6 away per nine innings. Perhaps that can be attributed to a poor batters eye or the shadows.

The following chart shows Padres' pitchers' K/9 since 2007 at home and away:

In ESPN leagues, Richard is being drafted infrequently—he is only owned in 1.5 percent of leagues so far. I think he is better than last year's 4.27 SIERA indicates. If you can get him at auction for $1 or get him in the last rounds of your draft, you will be getting a decent value with Richard.

Commenting on the Twins' starting rotation, Sky Kalkman tweeted:

Twins have homer-killing park, fly ball staff, and an iffy defensive outfield. One of those things doesn't belong.

It is certainly true that the Twins have a lot of fly ball-prone pitchers, but Duensing is not one of them. Duensing started the 2010 season in the bullpen, but was inserted into the rotation in late July. In over 130 innings of work, Duensing induced grounders at a 53 percent clip, a big factor in his success—he finished with a 2.62 ERA.

Unfortunately, a big portion of that success was an illusion. Duensing finished with a 4.22 SIERA, including a 4.52 SIERA just as a starter. His problem is that he does not miss nearly enough bats to be reliable: his K/9 was just 5.4 last year. He does have decent control (2.4 BB/9) but it is all for naught if he gets on the luck dragon's bad side.

Overall, Duensing had a .272 BABIP, which sounds fluky, but I have reason to believe that at least some of it is legitimate batted-ball skill. Duensing allowed a .754 BABIP on line drives compared to the American League average .712, but a .203 BABIP on ground balls compared to the league average .231. As we know, line drives are highly volatile, but pitchers have a good amount of control over their ground and fly ball rates depending on what they throw and where they locate it.

Against right-handed batters, Duensing pounds the strike zone low and outside. Sinkers to right-handers accounted for nearly one-third of his ground balls. Fastballs in on the hands of right-handers accounted for another one-third of his grounders.

While I am optimistic about Duensing relative to last year's SIERA, I am also hesitant since the Twins severely weakened their infield defense when they did not retain shortstop J.J. Hardy or second baseman Orlando Hudson. A good portion of Duensing's grounders were hit up the middle as opposed to the corners, so an up-the-middle defensive downgrade will have a negative impact on Duensing's numbers.

Duensing is best applied in AL-only leagues. I would avoid him in all mixed leagues, even if you have the opportunity to get him for $1 late in an auction draft. You jump ahead in pitching with high-K surprises, not low-K surprises.

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

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