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March 25, 2011
Value Picks in the Rotation
For many young pitchers, spring training is more than stretching routines: it is a chance to earn a full-time job in the major leagues. Today, we will look at some of the pitchers who vied for starting rotation jobs, both the winners and losers.
Drabek—the big haul in the Roy Halladay trade with the Phillies—is one of baseball's top prospects. Drabek joined J.P. Arencibia as one of the Jays' two five-star prospects, according to Kevin Goldstein. The sheer volume of words in Goldstein's "The Good" blurb illustrates just how high the ceiling is for the young right-hander: specifically, his over-the-top curveball is lauded, and he has tremendous upside with both his two- and four-seam fastballs.
Drabek impressed last year at Double-A New Hampshire, posting a 2.94 ERA in 162 innings of work. His 3.8 BB/9 left a little to be desired, but nothing that is impossible to fix. In a brief three-start stint in the majors starting in mid-September, Drabek showed poise and consistency. Three of his five walks may have had more to do with major leagues debut jitters than legitimate control issues, but until he has success over a larger sample size, there will always be questions about his ability to avoid the free pass.
Brandon Morrow, Drabek's rotation-mate, recently landed on the disabled list with a right forearm strain, and will remain there for the start of the regular season. Jeff Blair reports that Drabek will be part of the Jays' rotation along with Jo-Jo Reyes and Jesse Litsch.
Two things worry me about Drabek in fantasy baseball: his control and the AL East. The top three offenses in the American League last year were the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and Tampa Bay Rays. The Sox have added Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, while even the Baltimore Orioles have added firepower in Mark Reynolds, J.J. Hardy, and Derrek Lee. Additionally, Yankee Stadium and (at least in 2010) the Rogers Centre play very much to hitters' strengths.
I suggest avoiding Drabek in mixed leagues. His strikeout skills are not unique, as you can find similar rates with lower and more consistent walk rates. In other words, you can have your cake and eat it, too—and you also do not have to eat it in the AL East.
Brandon Beachy, Atlanta Braves
Beachy, though, is not chopped liver by any means. Throughout his three-year minor league tenure, he showed well above-average strikeout and walk rates (9.9 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9). Last year, he was used mostly as a starter with Double-A Mississippi, then stretched out as a starter when he was promoted to Triple-A Gwinnett. Overall he posted a 1.73 ERA in 119 1/3 innings with a 11.2 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9.
Great peripherals aside, it is hard to see Beachy having long-term success as anything more than a back-of-the-rotation starter. He does not possess an overpowering fastball, despite the nice strikeout rates. His secondary stuff, while good, is not of major leagues caliber. With time and dedication that could change, but for 2011 fantasy baseball purposes, temper your expectations with Beachy—do not expect an exorbitant strikeout rate. He is, though, relevant in mixed leagues and should provide good value in NL-only leagues.
Furthermore, Beachy's time in the rotation could be temporary, depending on the Braves' satisfaction with Minor's progress with Gwinnett. MLB.com's Mark Bowman suggests that minor's demotion will allow him time to work on his secondary pitches:
Minor, the seventh overall selection in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, has compiled just 175 innings in pro ball. The 23-year-old left-hander has tremendous upside, but could seemingly benefit from having a chance to spend more time refining his curveball and changeup.
"We just told him to go down and stay ready because you never know when you're going to be needed," Wren said.
As a result, be ready to cut ties with Beachy at any point during the season unless he lights the world on fire right out of the box. I would still bet on Minor making more starts for the Braves than Beachy.
Ned Yost made it official: Mazzaro will be the Royals' #5 starter when the regular season begins. The right-hander spent the past two seasons with the Oakland Athletics, yielding mixed results. In six of his 18 starts, he pitched at least six innings and allowed one run. In another five starts, he allowed four or more runs. Overall, he finished with a 4.27 ERA with mediocre strikeout and walk rates.
He is not going to be of much assistance, even in AL-only leagues. PECOTA sees him posting an ERA approaching 5.00 with similar K and BB rates as last year. Additionally, the Royals should not be helpful in accruing wins. Consider a standard roto checklist when it comes to Mazarro: "Wins, no; ERA, no; WHIP, no; strikeouts, no."
Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles
For mostly business reasons, Britton will start the season in the minors. The Orioles would prefer that he not accumulate enough service time so as to reach free agency one year sooner. The magic cut-off date is April 21, three weeks after the start of the regular season. It is after that point that you may see Britton in the majors, ready to contribute to your fantasy team.
The 23-year-old left-hander ascended through the minors at a rapid pace, jumping from Single-A Frederick in 2009 to Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk last year. At both of his stops in 2010, Britton left a mark, posting sub-3.00 ERA with good strikeout rates (7.0-7.6 K/9) and acceptable walk rates (2.9-3.1 BB/9), while continuing his trend as a ground ball specialist.
Kevin Goldstein named Britton one of two five-star prospects in Baltimore's farm system. Goldstein raved, "His low-90s sinker is the best amongst all prospects in the game with darting, heavy sink. He's gained velocity on a four-seam fastball that gets up to 95 mph, and is capable of generating plenty of swings and misses."
Britton has continued to impress throughout spring training, posting a 0.64 ERA in 14 innings of work. Given his body of work this spring, the Orioles have to be enthusiastic about Britton's future. They should be heavily considering adding him to the rotation once they successfully delay his free agency.
Jake Arrieta, Baltimore Orioles
During his trek through the minor Leagues, Arrieta showed an ability to consistently miss bats, averaging about a strikeout per inning in nearly 337 innings of work. However, in 18 starts in the majors last year, Arrieta could not reliably induce whiffs. His K/9 sat at a thoroughly unimpressive 4.7. To boot, the control issues that dogged him in the minors persisted, making him unreliable to both the Orioles and to fantasy baseball players nationwide.
Goldstein warns that Arrieta is a one-pitch pony, a trait that certainly does not yield success of any kind for starting pitchers. Many are souring on his major league prospects, and you should too.
However, Arrieta has essentially won a rotation spot as Justin Duchscherer's regular season debut is in the air, and Brad Bergesen has faltered during spring training. PECOTA forecasts a 4.43 ERA with a 6.7 K/9 and 4.3 BB/9. While not great, that kind of performance is not worthless in AL-only leagues. Arrieta could fit the bill as a spot starter on your roster. As with any AL East pitcher, be very mindful of the offenses he will be facing, though.