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May 6, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Value Picks in the Rotation

by Bill Baer

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Homer Bailey, Cincinnati Reds (2 percent ESPN; 10 percent Yahoo!)
Bailey was activated from the disabled list yesterday, then promptly tossed a gem against the Houston Astros. He looked quite good, averaging 92 MPH on his fastball, hitting 95 at times. However, his velocity did wane a bit as he threw more pitches: he hit 93 MPH just once in his final 20 pitches.

Bailey struck out seven and walked just one, while inducing whiffs on 11 of his 95 pitches. He went heavy on a fastball-slider mix—the two pitches accounted for 82 percent of his pitch selection. Looking at the NL Central, the only worry is the St. Louis Cardinals, so Bailey is looking solid in all formats right now.

Jake Arrieta, Baltimore Orioles (2 percent ESPN; 3 percent Yahoo!)
Arrieta is coming off of an impressive seven-inning, eight-strikeout performance against the Kansas City Royals (the AL's third-best offense), his fifth quality start in seven appearances. His ERA lowered to 4.35, which seems ugly for shallower mixed leagues, but expect it to drop a bit further going forward. I dislike the practice of removing a pitcher's worst outing, but seriously, take out Arrieta's performance on April 9 against the Texas Rangers and his ERA drops to 2.75.

Arrieta's strikeout and walk rates (7.6 and 3.4 per nine innings, respectively) match up with those he posted in the minors. He does not have any interesting batted-ball skills, so as long as he is inducing whiffs and is stingy with the walks, he should be a fine play in mixed leagues. Do be mindful of the match-ups, though, as the AL East is a veritable minefield. The Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and Toronto Blue Jays each have above-average offenses and the Tampa Bay Rays are not far behind.

Doug Fister, Seattle Mariners (2 percent ESPN; 3 percent Yahoo!)
[Obligatory reference to Chip Caray] Fister has been quite good for the Mariners, currently sitting on a 2.70 ERA. Normally reliant on control, Fister has seen a jump in walks, but a jump in strikeouts as well. Last year, he averaged 4.9 strikeouts and 1.7 walks per nine innings; this year, 6.4 and 3.0, respectively.

Fister tends to induce a lot of ground balls, though his 47 percent rate is not quite at Derek Lowe-esque levels. In the odd circumstance he does leave a ball up in the strike zone, pitching half his games at Safeco Field is a nice contingency plan. Unfortunately, the Mariners will not be able to afford him ample run support, making wins all the more rare for the right-hander. Fister is good for deep mixed leagues, especially if you are looking to stamp down your WHIP.

Hanging Around

Jason Hammel, Colorado Rockies (13 percent ESPN; 7 percent Yahoo!)
Hammel is puzzling to me. Last year, he posted great strikeout and walk rates, but had an abysmal ERA due to a high BABIP (only five points above his career average, however) and an unfortunate strand rate. This year, his walk rate is the same but his K/9 dropped considerably, from 7.1 last year to 5.3.

There is nothing noticeably different about Hammel. He is using his change-up seven percent more often, but he is still generating ground balls and has not benefited from a fluky BABIP (currently .295). The decline in strikeouts worries me, as ground balls plus a propensity to allow hits—his .career .323 BABIP in 592 innings is probably not random—makes me a bit skeptical going forward.

Hammel seems fine for deep (14-plus teams) mixed leagues, but the safer play is NL-only until his strikeouts return.

Brandon McCarthy, Oakland Athletics (15 percent ESPN; 15 percent Yahoo!)
Fortunately for current owners of McCarthy, the four runs he surrendered to the Texas Rangers on Monday were of the unearned variety, sparing his ERA. His two walks represented a game-high on the season—control has been his forte thus far, currently sitting on a 1.3 BB/9.

If you pay no mind to the lack of run support McCarthy will get throughout the year, he is a good pick-up in mixed leagues. Considering his .338 BABIP, an argument can be made that McCarthy will get better as the season progresses. He has only allowed one home run thus far, but considering his home ballpark in Oakland, it is unlikely that he becomes a home run magnet.

Jason Marquis, Washington Nationals (14 percent ESPN; 11 percent Yahoo!)
On Wednesday, Marquis ran into trouble against the Philadelphia Phillies, who always seem to hit him well (5.61 ERA in 102-plus innings). He walked two and struck out two, not a good partner for the ten hits he allowed.

If you missed out on McCarthy, or if you play in an NL-only league, give Marquis a shot. His strikeout and walk rates are nearly identical, and Marquis gets even more ground balls (56 percent, to be exact). Like McCarthy, an argument can be made that Marquis has room for improvement since he has been BABIP-unlucky thus far (currently .326 compared to his .285 career average).

Livan Hernandez, Washington Nationals (5 percent ESPN; 7 percent Yahoo!)
Hernandez avoided a disaster start against the Phillies on Tuesday, but the performance was nothing spectacular. The Phillies had tons of base runners thanks to ten hits and four walks against only three strikeouts. As mentioned last week, Hernandez is a very volatile pitcher with the propensity to throw a gem or a dud on any given night. His variance is best applied to NL-only leagues, especially since he has neither bat-missing capabilities nor pristine control.

Joel Pineiro, Los Angeles Angels (14 percent ESPN; 6 percent Yahoo!)
Pineiro held the Rays to one run in seven innings of work on Saturday. As expected, he kept most of the batted balls on the ground, a feature improved greatly under the tutelage of pitching coach Dave Duncan when Pineiro was with the St. Louis Cardinals. Furthermore, Pineiro displayed his trademark great control, walking only one batter.

Because he is not a pitcher that gets a bunch of whiffs, Pineiro is less helpful in shallower leagues. In AL-only and very deep mixed leagues, go snag him. Otherwise, hold out for someone with a better strikeout rate unless you desperately need to deflate your WHIP.

Packing Up the Bags

Jeff Francis, Kansas City Royals (2 percent ESPN; 4 percent Yahoo!)
Back to the drawing board for Francis, who has allowed five runs in each of his past three outings. His control was poor in his last start against the Baltimore Orioles, allowing four walks in five and two-thirds innings. Francis is clearly not as bad as he has looked recently, but his fastball has been averaging barely above 85 MPH, compared to 87-88 where he sits normally.

Francis will improve, but he is risky nonetheless. He is AL-only and should remain as such even if he rebounds since the strikeouts are not a frequent occurrence.

For Your NL-Only...

Dustin Moseley, San Diego Padres (8 percent ESPN; 9 percent Yahoo!)
If you have been reading my columns on even a semi-regular basis, you know I am a huge fan of strikeouts in fantasy baseball. Not only do they constitute one-fourth of the standard roto categories for pitchers, they are excellent predictors for future performance. So my instant reaction upon looking at Moseley's stats was revulsion. However, there is a method to Moseley's madness.

Yes, that 3.7 K/9 is not quite enough and the 2.1 BB/9 is nice but not mind-shatteringly amazing, but he is Derek Lowe-ian—unlike Fister—with the ground balls. He also pitches for the Padres, who lay claim to the most pitcher-friendly ballpark in baseball—quite a nice partnership. And then figure in that the National League does not have a designated hitter.

Moseley's 1.63 ERA will go up rather abruptly, but is he a 4.76 ERA pitcher as his career average indicates? I am not buying it. If you are not worried about racking up strikeouts, Moseley is an under-the-radar option for NL-only leagues.

For Your AL-Only...

I scoured a list of some of the most freely-available arms in the American League (10 percent owned or under), but I do not feel comfortable recommending any of them. Rather than force a name here, I will leave this spot absent until next week. Or, if you prefer, refer to Arrieta and Fister, mentioned at the beginning of the column.

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

Related Content:  Dustin Moseley,  Espn,  Strikeouts,  Doug Fister

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