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June 3, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Value Picks in the Rotation

by Bill Baer

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Newcomers

Jordan Lyles, Houston Astros (4% Yahoo!, 4% ESPN, 24% CBS)

Lyles lived up to expectations in his Major League debut, shutting out the Chicago Cubs over seven innings. He struck out four and did not issue a walk. The 20-year-old was a highly touted prospect in the Astros system and is now getting his shot as Wandy Rodriguez went on the disabled list. Reports have Aneury Rodriguez moving to the bullpen when Rodriguez returns, allowing Lyles to remain in the rotation.

Lyles showed good control in the minors, but with a fastball that tops out in the low-90's, he may not be a pitcher that gets a lot of whiffs. That means a lot of balls in play, so his success or failure in the Majors will have more to do with luck and his team's defensive performance – not exactly a recipe for success with the Astros defense playing behind him. As such, I would only recommend Lyles in NL-only leagues for now.

Chris Narveson, Milwaukee Brewers (15% Yahoo!, 7% ESPN, 39% CBS)

Narveson has had an up-and-down 2011 season. His last two starts have been subpar, the valley to the peak that was his prior three starts. On the whole, he has a 4.68 ERA that belies his 3.73 SIERA.

Narveson's big draw in fantasy baseball circles is his ability to miss bats. He currently has an 8.5 K/9 and his BB/9 is not that bad at 3.3. However, he is not the most efficient with his pitches, which is the reason why he rarely gets past the sixth inning, limiting his value. As I heavily stressed with pitchers like Bud Norris, though, if you are going to live and die with any type of pitcher, do so with those that have high strikeout potential.

Narveson has mixed league appeal with the strikeouts alone, but he should also improve as the season goes along and some of his aberrant peripherals return to normal, such as his .322 BABIP and 67 percent left on base percentage.
 

Saying Goodbye

Jason Vargas, Seattle Mariners (9% Yahoo!, 8% ESPN, 34% CBS)

To call his last two starts bad would be generous. Vargas lasted merely three innings on May 29 against the New York Yankees, his second consecutive disappointing outing. He was coming off a nine-strikeout, no-walk game against the Angels but has struck out three and walked eight in his two starts since.

His 4.50 ERA matches up well with his 4.57 SIERA, which speaks to a slightly below-average pitcher with viability in AL-only leagues.

Jason Hammel, Colorado Rockies (7% Yahoo!, 5% ESPN, 35% CBS)

Hammel's overall performance has smelled fishy to me for a while, but he has pitched well despite not earning a W in his last six starts. As continuously mentioned in these columns, Hammel has had trouble missing bats compared to last year: his 5.2 K/9 is well below his 7.1 K/9 from 2010. If you already have Hammel, think about making a switch.

Vance Worley, Philadelphia Phillies (2% Yahoo!, 2% ESPN, 14% CBS)

As a result of his recent poor performance and public admission that he was not in the best shape, the Phillies sent Worley down to Triple-A to get stretched out. The demotion should not last long (just two or three starts), but he is not worth wasting a perfectly useful roster spot on for that period of time.
 

Sticking Around

Rick Porcello, Detroit Tigers (20% Yahoo!, 22% ESPN, 53% CBS)

Last week, when Porcello debuted on the Value Picks list, reader "hessshaun" wrote, "Porcello could either be more readily available after tonight or he could graduate your list." Porcello then went on to get smashed by the Boston Red Sox, allowing six runs in three innings. He did, however, rebound with 6 2/3 quality innings against the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday, helping Porcello's ownership rate stay stable. Given his ownership rates, this will likely be Porcello's last time on the Value Picks list unless he completely implodes against the Texas Rangers.

Nick Blackburn, Minnesota Twins (8% Yahoo!, 9% ESPN, 36% CBS)

It seemed inevitable and it finally happened: Blackburn had a bad game. Prior to his May 30 start against the Detroit Tigers, Blackburn had been on a five-game streak where he went at least six innings and allowed two or fewer runs. With high-contact pitchers, of course, you get the occasional rough outing where bloopers fall in and the defense fails to make plays. Blackburn was on his way to completely invalidating DIPS theory all by himself, but alas, it was not to be.

Blackburn has a 4.43 SIERA, which is much, much higher than his 3.57 ERA, so you should expect some continued regression going forward. As mentioned last week, he is not great for mixed leagues, but he should be taken in most AL-only leagues by now.

Jon Garland, Los Angeles Dodgers (7% Yahoo!, 2% ESPN, 16% CBS)

Garland has not received a W in any of his last seven starts, but he has nonetheless pitched well, his May 21 start notwithstanding. There is some concern, however, because he has struck out two or fewer batters in each of his last four starts. Additionally, he has been having intermittent control problems as he walked four batters in three of his five May starts. Until Garland displays more consistency, use him only in NL-only leagues.

Doug Fister, Seattle Mariners (6% Yahoo!, 4% ESPN, 22% CBS)

Fister mowed through the Baltimore Orioles on May 30, striking out nine in 7 1/3 innings. He is not known as a swing-and-miss type of pitcher, so consider that start more aberrant than indicative of a trend. However, with good control and a spacious home ballpark, Fister is a reasonable enough play in mixed leagues. It’s actually quite amazing that his ownership rates are still so low. Although his 3.24 ERA is far away from his 4.09 SIERA, Fister is not in store for a huge regression as his peripherals are all quite normal.
 

AL-Only Deep Value Pick

Josh Outman, Oakland Athletics (2% Yahoo!, 0% ESPN, 6% CBS)

Outman was recently activated from the disabled list and has pitched well in his first two starts despite walking eight and striking out just four in 13 innings. Certainly those numbers are concerning, but if Outman shakes the rust and is more like the pitcher we saw last year, he should become a mixed-league option in no time. Until then, though, his control has been suspect enough to confine him to AL-only leagues. In Outman's case, he will reap rewards for those most patient.
 

NL-Only Deep Value Pick

Zach Duke, Arizona Diamondbacks (8% Yahoo!, 12% ESPN, 10% CBS)

After suffering a broken hand in spring training, Duke made his 2011 debut against the Astros this past weekend, tossing seven scoreless innings while striking out four, walking one, and allowing just three hits.  Although the Astros are no one's idea of a juggernaut offense, he did pitch well and has a favorable upcoming schedule: his next three starts will come against the Pirates (3.85 runs per game), Marlins (4.17), and White Sox (4.21).

Throughout his career, Duke has been a high-contact pitcher with good control. As such, there is much more variance in his performance than with other pitchers. His 4.06 ERA in 2009 contrasted sharply with his 5.72 ERA last year. The big problem, of course, was a 45-point increase in BABIP that more than outweighed his improved ability to miss bats (his K/9 jumped from 4.5 to 5.4).

Duke is another pitcher I would confine to NL-only leagues. I did, however, strongly consider adding him in my 14-team mixed league because I need wins and a lower WHIP. I passed because I have no one I feel comfortable dropping for him. If you have similar specific needs, Duke can be useful in mixed leagues.

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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