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May 20, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Value Picks in the Rotation

by Bill Baer

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Hitting the Trail

Jake Arrieta, Baltimore Orioles (32 percent ESPN, 25 percent Yahoo!)
Arrieta's ownership rates jumped substantially since last Friday (13 percent ESPN; 10 percent Yahoo!). He has been one of the most consistent starters in all of baseball, and looks much improved from last year. He is probably off the board in your league, but go get him if he is still around.

Jason Marquis, Washington Nationals (11 percent ESPN, 14 percent Yahoo!)
Above, I pointed out some interesting quality start streaks (Garland, for instance). Marquis has been more consistent than anyone in Value Picks thus far, managing quality starts in seven of eight starts. Overall, Marquis is very similar to McCarthy, but is much better at generating ground balls. In fact, Marquis is right behind McCarthy with a 4.11 SIERA.  He has very limited mixed league appeal; he is better in NL-only leagues, though. An added bonus is that he has earned wins in five out of his last six starts, so you can cross your fingers and hope that trend continues.

As with Livan Hernandez last week, however, anything that can be said about Marquis has been said, so he does not merit further mention in Value Picks until, perhaps, a later date.

Newcomers

Jason Vargas, Seattle Mariners (8 percent ESPN, 7 percent Yahoo!)
Vargas is coming off of an excellent outing against the Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday. He went seven innings, striking out nine and walking just two batters. Vargas was ugly in April, posting a 5.45 ERA. In May, he has been pristine, allowing one run in 23 1/3 innings.

Despite Wednesday's performance, you should not expect Vargas to rake in the punch-outs as his career average strikeout rate is just over 5.6 per nine innings. He limits the damage in rarely issuing walks, forcing batters to put the ball in play to beat him. The Mariner defense, 26th in the majors in defensive efficiency, has not helped him, and neither has his spacious home ballpark as his 1.99 road ERA is significantly lower than his 4.29 home ERA.

All things considered, Vargas is roughly average across the board. His walk rate acts as a bit of a counter-balance to his low strikeout rate, and he possesses no specific batted ball skills that would lead us to expect him to significantly out-perform his SIERA. He is great for AL-only leagues and worth a look in very deep mixed leagues.

Tyson Ross, Oakland Athletics (19 percent ESPN, 13 percent Yahoo!)
The popularity of Ross is quickly rising after four consecutive great starts in which he pitched at least six innings and allowed two or fewer runs. On Saturday, he struck out eight against the Chicago White Sox. To that point, it did not appear that Ross was going to be a strikeout machine at the major league level, despite a K/9 at 7.9 for his minor league career.

Ross' last four starts have come against some good offenses: the Cleveland Indians (first) and the Kansas City Royals (fourth), so he has not been skating by bad teams with marginal stuff. SIERA bumps him up to 4.32, however, and I think that is reasonable. He is not a hidden gem for mixed league players, but is good for AL-only leagues. If that eight strikeout performance against the White Sox becomes the rule rather than the exception, he could have mixed league value in the future.

Of course, after this was written, Ross went down with an oblique injury, and there is no timetable for his return just yet, as the severity of it is not yet known. Keep an eye on this situation, as a healthy Ross is an intriguing pitcher.

Nick Blackburn, Minnesota Twins (2 percent ESPN, 2 percent Yahoo!)
Quietly, Blackburn has righted his ship. He tossed seven innings of one-run baseball against the Athletics yesterday, his fourth consecutive great start. Sadly, the Twins have not been backing up his quality outings with run support to help him earn wins.

Blackburn walks too many batters (over three per nine innings) to justify his low strikeout rate (barely over five per nine), but his high ground ball rate will help limit the damage. He is a good fit in AL-only leagues. You can maximize his production by starting him against lineups heavy on the right-handed hitters and bench him against the lefty-heavy lineups.

Sticking Around

Jon Garland, Los Angeles Dodgers (5 percent ESPN, 10 percent Yahoo!)
In his start against the Milwaukee Brewers on Monday, Garland maintained his streak of going six or more innings and allowing three or fewer runs (a.k.a. a quality start), moving up to five consecutive starts.

The one strikeout and four walks on Monday are bothersome, but taken together, the performance was likely just a fluke. Garland is nothing special, but should be solid across the board—good enough for mixed league appeal.

Jesse Litsch, Toronto Blue Jays (4 percent ESPN, 4 percent Yahoo!)
Litsch was tagged for five runs in five innings against the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday, perhaps a result of having his start moved back a day due to the weather. Despite his 4.66 ERA, Litsch has pitched well enough to merit consideration in deep mixed leagues.

Doug Fister, Seattle Mariners (1 percent ESPN, 4 percent Yahoo!)
I think Fister's outing on May 7, when he allowed 14 hits to the White Sox, may have scared fantasy players. He has a 3.22 ERA on the season (which will not last, of course) and has overall pitched well thus far. His strikeout and walk rates are good enough for AL-only leagues.

Jason Hammel, Colorado Rockies (7 percent ESPN, 9 percent Yahoo!)
Hammel was victimized by the San Diego Padres on Sunday, allowing six runs in six innings. The Rockies' bullpen was not of any help to him, but it was still Hammel's least impressive start of the season. Last week, I discussed the significant drop in strikeouts and overall velocity, which could be cause for concern. It still worries me, but in NL-only leagues, Hammel is as good or better than the vast majority of what is left.

Brandon McCarthy, Oakland Athletics (13 percent ESPN, 13 percent Yahoo!)
McCarthy continues to impress. He allowed one run in seven innings against the struggling Minnesota Twins. He only struck out one hitter, which is low even for McCarthy. To this point, he has a 4.10 SIERA. Given the way he has pitched, that is very believable. As such, he is a dark horse mixed league candidate. I dropped him in my 14-team mixed league recently, but only because I needed strikeouts.

AL-Only

Brad Penny, Detroit Tigers (8 percent ESPN, 10 percent Yahoo!)
Penny's ability to miss bats has all but vanished this year as he has struck out four or more batters in a game just once. He has recovered quite well from a disastrous April—his ERA sat at 8.44 after four starts. In his five starts since, he has a 1.51 ERA due to some BABIP luck but also a decline in walks issued.

The sheer amount of balls in play Penny forces makes him a risk for disaster outings, but he has pitched well enough recently to merit consideration in AL-only leagues. His next start will come against the Boston Red Sox, though, so tread carefully.

NL-Only

Josh Collmenter, Arizona Diamondbacks (4 percent ESPN, 6 percent Yahoo!)
Collmenter certainly wins the prize for "funkiest delivery" in the Value Picks list. With no overpowering stuff, the unique delivery certainly adds deception and misdirection to his otherwise blasé repertoire. Collmenter ranked 19th in the Diamondbacks organization according to our own Kevin Goldstein, who published the Arizona edition of Future Shock last November. Goldstein wrote:

Command, control, deception all work in his favor; but Collmenter rarely gets out of the 80s with his fastball.
Collmenter impressed in his first major league start on Saturday, shutting out the Los Angeles Dodgers through six innings. He was beholden to an 80-pitch limit, but should be able to exceed that in the future. With Zach Duke injured, Barry Enright struggling, and Armando Galarraga gone, the D-Backs are scrambling for arms to eat up innings, which bodes well for future Collmenter starts.

He will not bring the Ks, but great control will get him through the day. For NL-only leagues, he certainly fits the bill for a spot start.

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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