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June 24, 2011

Value Picks

Starting Pitchers

by Bill Baer

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Newcomers
Chris Capuano, New York Mets (9% Yahoo!, 16% ESPN, 20% CBS)

Rotowire had quite an interesting piece of information that may help explain Capuano's recent improvement:

Capuano got some help with his delivery this season from Sandy Koufax, which he believes has helped him with the location and velocity of his pitches, ESPN New York reports.

"It's called 'hooking the rubber,'" Capuano said. "Instead of standing with your foot in front of the rubber, you kind of put your back cleat on top of it so you can get a little more push off." Capuano added that it took him a while to get used to the change, as his knee was sore for a few weeks, but his legs are now stronger and he believes the tweak has helped him this year.

Koufax is, uh, not a bad guy to get pitching advice from. In Capuano's last three starts spanning 19 innings, he has posted a 1.42 ERA. Overall, his ERA is distorted a bit from some excessively bad outings, but he has allowed two or fewer runs in eight of his 13 starts. Overall, his 7.2 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, and spacious home ballpark add up to someone quite useful in mixed leagues. After his last start, his ownership rate started to increase rapidly, so he could be making an early exit from Value Picks next week.

Jason Vargas, Seattle Mariners (12% Yahoo!, 10% ESPN, 45% CBS)

Vargas is coming off of a complete game shut-out of the Philadelphia Phillies, his second over his past four starts (the other victim being the Tampa Bay Rays). Call me crazy, but that is not quite a realistic representation of the lefty's abilities. Overall, he is average across the board in terms of peripherals, as mentioned in his previous stint on the Value Picks list. His 3.75 ERA will rise, but he is still worth a look in AL-only leagues.

Saying Goodbye
Mike Leake, Cincinnati Reds (18% Yahoo!, 14% ESPN, 13% CBS)

Travis Wood was recently demoted to Triple-A, creating a spot for Leake for the foreseeable future, even as the Reds prepare to get another pitcher back from injury, as you will learn later in the column. Although Leake earned losses in each of his last two outings, he did pitch well in one game (June 17 against the Toronto Blue Jays) and only walked one in his last 13 innings of work.

Wednesday marked the first time he had allowed four or more runs in a start since he was removed from the rotation after his May 3 start against the Houston Astros. Since rejoining on May 27, he has a 2.85 ERA in 41 innings of work with a 5.0 K/9 and 1.3 BB/9, certainly respectable numbers for NL-only leagues. Due to his recent surge in popularity, however, he will make his exit from Value Picks.

Jeff Karstens, Pittsburgh Pirates (18% Yahoo!, 17% ESPN, 21% CBS)

Karstens’s ownership rates have jumped substantially since last week thanks to his start Sunday against the Cleveland Indians in which he allowed just one run over seven innings.

While his strikeout and walk rates and his batted ball profile all indicate a pitcher significantly worse than his 2.54 ERA, he is still useful in mixed leagues if he can maintain his peripherals. As Karstens makes his exit from Value Picks, consider this "last call" for grabbing him in your league.

Nick Blackburn, Minnesota Twins (14% Yahoo!, 13% ESPN, 41% CBS)

Although he took the loss on Wednesday, Blackburn's season continues to get better. In allowing two runs over six innings, he lowered his ERA from 3.16 to 3.15, which I include only for comedic purposes. That start came on the heels of his eight shutout innings against the Chicago White Sox.

Although the results have been great, he has only struck out five and walked four in his last 14 innings of work. They are indicative of the type of pitcher he is: not very good at missing bats, decent control, and a ground ball machine. His SIERA sits at 4.38, which is much more indicative of what to expect going forward. As his ownership rate in ESPN leagues has nearly tripled in the last week, he gets bumped off Value Picks but could make a reappearance after his inevitable mean-regression.

Sticking Around
Homer Bailey, Cincinnati Reds (20% Yahoo!, 8% ESPN, 51% CBS)

Bailey will rejoin the Reds' rotation on Sunday after completing his last rehab start for Triple-A Louisville. Last week, I recommended hoarding Bailey if he was available; I issue the same advice this week. Even if you wind up benching him to simply observe his first start off the disabled list, you will be hard-pressed to find a pitcher with his skill set freely available in any but the shallowest of leagues.

In his five starts prior to injury, Bailey showed average swing-and-miss stuff combined with impeccable control. He did benefit from a .240 BABIP, but the results were not too far apart from expectations. Bailey should make his return Sunday against the Baltimore Orioles and is worth pursuing in every format.

Zach Duke, Arizona Diamondbacks (2% Yahoo!, 1% ESPN, 7% CBS)

Duke has been less impressive recently after a blazing-hot start to his 2011 season. In his last 17 innings, he has just seven strikeouts and two walks to show for it, along with a 5.82 ERA (most of that coming from a disaster start against the Florida Marlins, however). Duke is another low-strikeout, low-walk hurler that seems to populate these lists throughout the season.

Duke's 29 innings have been distorted a bit by a .380 BABIP, but even when that regresses, you should expect his ERA to land somewhere in the 4.00-4.25 area. Not great, but perfectly useful in NL-only leagues.

Chris Narveson, Milwaukee Brewers (14% Yahoo!, 8% ESPN, 41% CBS)

Narveson's mediocre season continued to be mediocre in his start Monday against the Tampa Bay Rays. His four runs allowed in six and two-thirds innings was indicative of his season to date–lots of strikeouts, a bit too many walks, and an ERA that is higher than it should be. On the season, he has an 8.1 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, and a 3.89 SIERA.  Narveson is easily usable in non-shallow mixed leagues.

Doug Fister, Seattle Mariners (8% Yahoo!, 3% ESPN, 31% CBS)

I continue to be astounded by Fister's low ownership rates. While the Seattle offense is certainly not helping his cause, the performance and results have both pointed to a pitcher that has utility even in mixed leagues. No, he is no strikeout artist, but the combination of good control with a spacious home ballpark and an above-average defense helps keep hits and runs off the board. As mentioned several weeks ago, I keep expecting to boot Fister off the Value Picks island, but he keeps sticking around. Go grab him in AL-only and deep mixed leagues if you can pay no mind to his lack of W's.

AL-only VP
Freddy Garcia, New York Yankees (12% Yahoo!, 8% ESPN, 33% CBS)

The Yankees sure found a diamond in the rough with Garcia. As a Phillies fan who watched him flame out in 2007, and again with the Detroit Tigers in '08 and the Chicago White Sox in '09, I thought he was done in Major League Baseball. Garcia has proven himself, though, in his first 72 innings as a Yankee. His 3.63 ERA is backed up by serviceable strikeout and walk rates.

Be wary of Garcia in all mixed leagues, but he has a home in AL-only. His 3.63 ERA should jump up a bit as we move into the second half of the season, but he is better than most of what is left in single-league formats.

NL-only VP
Juan Nicasio, Colorado Rockies (3% Yahoo!, 5% ESPN, 23% CBS)

Nicasio was rocked by the Indians on Monday, but he has at least performed well since joining the rotation on May 28, even if the results do not reflect it. His 7.5 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9 are quite nice, especially given just how under-the-radar he has flown thus far. His 4.71 ERA may seem concerning, but it is a bit misleading given the small sample size and a fluky-high BABIP of .352. While others fret about the ERA, pick up Nicasio on the cheap in NL-only leagues.

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:  ESPN New York,  The Artist,  Espn,  Chris Capuano

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