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July 8, 2011

Value Picks

Starting Pitchers for 7/8/11

by Bill Baer

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Folks, I’m sorry for my absence last Friday. I had to deal with a personal matter and could not crunch out my column in time. If you had or have any questions regarding the past few weeks in fantasy baseball, I will be happy to take up a conversation in the comments. Likewise, you are always welcome to email me, or catch me on the Twitters. Here is what I am looking at this week.
 

Newcomers

Brandon McCarthy, Oakland Athletics (5% Yahoo!, 2% ESPN, 25% CBS)

McCarthy made his return from the disabled list on Monday and pitched well against the Seattle Mariners, striking out five and walking two in six and two-thirds innings. It was a comforting outing for those who had been keeping tabs on the right-hander since he landed on the DL in mid-May, an abrupt pause in what appeared to be a promising season.

Despite the lack of strikeouts, McCarthy was a fixture in mixed leagues as a result of his very low walk rate (1.5 walks per nine innings), newfound ability to generate ground balls (48 percent), and spacious home ballpark. The bad news for prospective McCarthy owners is his team's offense: averaging fewer than 3.5 runs per game, the Athletics have the second-worst offense in the American League, ahead of only the Seattle Mariners. Wins will be hard to come by, but the rate stats (ERA and WHIP in standard roto leagues) should be just fine.

Felipe Paulino, Kansas City Royals (1% Yahoo!, 0% ESPN, 5% CBS)

It is rare that, ignoring decimal points, a pitcher will have both his ERA and BABIP in the 330's. However, since joining the Kansas City Royals, that is exactly what Paulino has done. Despite a .336 BABIP that is in line with his career average spanning 271 innings, Paulino's ERA sits at 3.38. Along with that, he has averaged nearly a strikeout per inning and has been stingy with the walks.

I have seen Paulino mentioned on other fantasy baseball sites as an AL-only pickup, which is certainly the conservative route and generally the best-principled. His BABIP has been consistently high, which may indicate a legitimate "ability" to induce hard contact, but 271 innings is not the largest of sample sizes. You can gamble on his BABIP regressing over the second half, and if you are right, Paulino can be a huge coup in mixed leagues. He is not recommended for those of you in good standing; rather, teams looking to catch up quickly could benefit from a risky maneuver such as this (nothing to lose!). He is a no-brainer in AL-only leagues. Strikeouts at such a high frequency are nearly impossible to come across in the free agent pool this late in the season.
 

Saying Goodbye

Jason Vargas, Seattle Mariners (26% Yahoo!, 34% ESPN, 57% CBS)

Vargas is on a roll lately with three complete game shut-outs since the start of June. As a result of his success, his ownership rates have shot up considerably, which makes him ineligible as a Value Pick for the time being.

Zach Duke, Arizona Diamondbacks (1% Yahoo!, 1% ESPN, 4% CBS)

Since what looked like an encouraging return in late May, Duke has been shaky in his last five starts. For his 7.62 ERA in that span of time, I blame his .392 BABIP, but that is certainly not the only culprit. Those 26 innings of work have seen just 14 strikeouts along with nine walks, not a great ratio by any means.

While Duke has never been a strikeout artist, his inability to miss bats led to the opportunity for a wild BABIP to take such a heavy toll on his results. This is the risk with any high-contact pitcher. When you take such risks, though, you can also be rewarded, but for now, take a shot elsewhere until Duke shows some improvement.
 

Sticking Around

Chris Capuano, New York Mets (14% Yahoo!, 6% ESPN, 33% CBS)

Five of Capuano's last six starts have been outstanding. Overall, in that time span, he has a 2.50 ERA and a 33-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 36 innings. The lefty looks like he is finally back in what appears to be his first full season since 2007. His 3.79 SIERA indicates that if he continues to pitch as well as he has thus far, his ERA should continue to drop.

Capuano should be a target in all mixed leagues, especially for his next three starts against the San Francisco Giants, Philadelphia Phillies, and Florida Marlins. All three teams have been lackluster offensively, each posting a team OPS+ at 92 or below. Even better, he will pitch in the Giants' pitcher-friendly home ballpark as well as the Marlins' Sun Life Stadium.

Health permitting, expect Capuano to go the way of Vargas in that his popularity will soon make him ineligible for further Value Picks examination.

Homer Bailey, Cincinnati Reds (20% Yahoo!, 10% ESPN, 51% CBS)

Bailey looked scary-good in May with a 3.00 ERA and 22-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 30 innings. Unfortunately, his promising season was put on hold as he was put on the disabled list with a shoulder sprain. He was shaky in his return on June 26 against the Baltimore Orioles but seemed to recapture his May magic on Saturday against the Cleveland Indians. A home run to Michael Brantley aside, he was solid through and through, striking out seven and walking just one batter in seven innings of work.

In my 14-team mixed standard roto league, I let Bailey eat up a roster spot while he was on the DL as I am optimistic about his chances of having a stellar second half. I would be remiss to not speak highly of him here. While his upcoming competition is a bit stiff (Brewers, Cardinals), it gets significantly easier later in July (Braves, Mets, Giants).

Chris Narveson, Milwaukee Brewers (14% Yahoo!, 6% ESPN, 34% CBS)

Narveson's disaster outing on Saturday against the Minnesota Twins was officially ruled "death by BABIP". The Brewers' lefty surrendered seven runs on 14 hits and did not make it out of the fifth inning. The big takeaway, for me, was the lone strikeout he recorded with just six swinging strikes overall, a season-low. Clearly an off-day for a pitcher adept at missing bats.

Expect better from Narveson going forward, despite an inconsistent track record. His peripherals point to a pitcher who should be enjoying significantly more success than he has thus far. While DIPS does not always match up with what happens (see: Jurrjens, Jair), the best bet is for improved results as we move into the second half.

Doug Fister, Seattle Mariners (16% Yahoo!, 10% ESPN, 36% CBS)

I do not know what more Fister needs to do to get his ownerships up so that he no longer qualifies as a Value Pick. His last three starts: 25 IP, 1.08 ERA, 13 strikeouts, two walks. His ERA on the season is 3.02 and he has vastly exceeded any pre-season expectations. In previous columns, I have remarked at how relatively low his ownership rates are compared to his production, and that continues to be the case. If you have not done so already, check your league's free agent pool for him and pick him up if possible… even if you’re in a mixed league.
 

AL-only VP

Rich Harden, Oakland Athletics (13% Yahoo!, 10% ESPN, 46% CBS)

Harden made his much-ballyhooed 2011 debut last Friday against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He held the Snakes to two runs over six innings. While the six strikeouts were Harden-esque, his zero walks raised some eyebrows. If he has shaken the control issues that dogged him all of last year while with the Texas Rangers, he becomes an immediate mixed league target. With just one start under his belt, though, he should be an AL-only consideration for the time being.

A return to form for Harden would be quite nice, but perhaps the best feature of his return to Oakland is the reunion of his extreme fly ball tendencies with the spacious confines of Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. According to StatCounter.com, it has a home run park factor of 91 for left-handed hitters and 78 for right-handed hitters (below 100 is below average).
 

NL-only VP

Vance Worley, Philadelphia Phillies (12% Yahoo!, 16% ESPN, 45% CBS)

After shutting out the Florida Marlins over seven innings on Monday, the Phillies promptly demoted him to Triple-A Lehigh Valley but only to keep him on a regular pitching schedule as the All-Star break approaches (and also to provide the team with an extra bench player in John Mayberry Jr.). After a bit of a rough patch earlier in the season when he was being shuffled between the rotation, the bullpen, and Triple-A, Worley found a groove. In his last four starts spanning 25 innings, Worley notched a 0.72 ERA with 18 strikeouts and 10 walks. The .185 BABIP certainly helps, of course.

Worley is certainly not the 2.20 ERA pitcher he has been to this point. Expect him to pitch more like a 4.00 ERA pitcher going forward, but that is still above-average and still quite useful in NL-only leagues. As the return dates of Roy Oswalt and Joe Blanton are still unknown, Worley is assured of future starts for the foreseeable future.

Bill Baer is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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