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July 29, 2011

Value Picks

Starting Pitchers for 7/29/11

by Bill Baer

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Newcomers
David Huff, Cleveland Indians (2% Yahoo!, 2% ESPN, 4% CBS)
Huff has looked quite good in his first two MLB starts of the year. His solid performance in his last start was overshadowed by the incompetence of his team's offense and defense, at least on that particular day. The Indians' defense committed five errors behind him while Ervin Santana tossed baseball's third no-hitter of the season.

In 12 and two-thirds innings, Huff has struck out nine and walked only two—both encouraging in the very limited sample size. In his previous two seasons in the majors, Huff did not show much of an ability to miss bats but showed improvement with Triple-A Columbus this year, earning him a call-up. If his improved ability to induce whiffs is sustainable, he is yet another solid mixed league option to pop up before the end of July.

James McDonald, Pittsburgh Pirates (11% Yahoo!, 5% ESPN, 34% CBS)
Rebounding from a tough start to the 2011 season, McDonald has quietly turned his season around. He was hyped going into the season but was quickly abandoned after he posted a 10.13 ERA in his first four starts. In his 16 starts since, however, he has a 2.68 ERA with an 8.1 K/9 and 4.0 BB/9. The walks are concerning, but they have not impeded his success in the last three months. His 3.95 ERA is encouraging, but FIP is a bit pessimistic at 4.35. It is worth noting that his control has improved considerably over his last five starts, averaging just over three walks per nine innings. McDonald with improved control is a roto godsend, so he is worth pursuing in mixed leagues.

Saying Goodbye
Jeff Niemann, Tampa Bay Rays (18% Yahoo!, 24% ESPN, 54% CBS)
Niemann's ownership rates are forcing him off Value Picks for the time being. The right-hander's eight-inning, ten-strikeout performance against the Boston Red Sox on July 17 put him on every fantasy radar. He followed up that outing with six solid innings against the Kansas City Royals on Saturday. As expected, though, his four strikeouts and no walks in that start more closely resembled his true talent level. On the whole, his 3.86 ERA through 67 and two-thirds innings is right in line with his 3.78 FIP, indicating that he is an above-average arm capable of helping out most mixed-league teams. On the off-chance he is still available in your league, here is a last reminder.

Chris Capuano, New York Mets (14% Yahoo!, 5% ESPN, 34% CBS)
After winning five of his previous six starts, Capuano had lost his last three coming into yesterday (when he won despite allowing six runs). The reasons for those losses include a lot of randomness, but it is noteworthy that Capuano averaged 2.3 walks per nine innings in those six starts, but that increased to 4.3 in his subsequent four starts. The worsened control could just be a fluke, or he could be fatigued. After all, this is Capuano's first full season since 2007; it has been a while since he made 17 consecutive starts.

If the control problems turn out to be random, then mixed league owners have nothing to worry about. However, if the increase in walks is due to fatigue or injury, the lefty provides very little upside in mixed leagues. Hedge your bets.

Sticking Around
Rubby De La Rosa, Los Angeles Dodgers (6% Yahoo!, 3% ESPN, 28% CBS)
Although de la Rosa lowered his ERA to 3.49 with six innings of one-run baseball against the Colorado Rockies on Monday, he did issue four walks. Control has been an issue for the right-hander as he averaged four walks per nine innings during his minor league career, and the trend has continued in his 56 and two-thirds innings of work in the majors.

De La Rosa has the stuff to compete at the major league level, averaging nearly a strikeout per inning and inducing whiffs on nine percent of his pitches. His FIP paints a very optimistic picture at 3.42. Despite the control problems, de la Rosa is still a solid contributor to a mixed league team in the same vein as Brandon Morrow and Bud Norris last year: high risk, high reward.

Brandon McCarthy, Oakland Athletics (5% Yahoo!, 3% ESPN, 24% CBS)
McCarthy's great season continued on Tuesday with eight solid innings against the Tampa Bay Rays. In 14 starts, he has yet to walk more than two batters; pristine control is the calling card of this right-hander. He struck out only three on Tuesday, which is the downside to McCarthy: not too many strikeouts. The strikeouts are just frequent enough to keep him relevant in mixed leagues since the low walk rate (and subsequently low WHIP) are too good to pass up.

FIP likes McCarthy a lot, putting him at 2.77 compared to his 3.52 ERA. Other ERA estimators are not as friendly since McCarthy has been stingy with the home runs and has shown no significant batted ball abilities. Even the more pessimistic ones, however, still paint McCarthy as a well above-average arm. As a result, you should rifle through your league's free agent pool for him before his ownership rates start to trend upward.

Felipe Paulino, Kansas City Royals (1% Yahoo!, 0% ESPN, 6% CBS)
On Sunday, Paulino struck out fewer than seven batters for the first time since June 17. The Royals' righty has been opening eyes with some impressive high-strikeout performances. Unfortunately, a combination of bad timing and a complete lack of run support has left him the loser in four out of his last five starts.

Some of Paulino's shortcomings thus far can be blamed on a .363 BABIP since joining the Royals' rotation. In that same span of time, he has posted an 8.9 K/9 and a 2.4 BB/9, both rates that should give confidence to the few Paulino owners out there. However, Paulino has a career .346 BABIP in 284 innings, so there’s some concern that the BABIP cannot simply be pinned on chaos in the universe. The jury is still out, and this late in the season you will be hard-pressed to find pitchers that average a strikeout per inning, so take a shot with Paulino as there is a very good chance you can find him in your mixed league.

Chris Narveson, Milwaukee Brewers (14% Yahoo!, 8% ESPN, 42% CBS)
Unlike Capuano, this Chris has been improving his control as the season has progressed. Averaging 3.8 walks per nine innings in his first twelve starts, Narveson has brought that rate down to 2.8 since. The lefty has posted more consistent results as of late as well, allowing three or fewer runs in each of his previous four starts. His ERA has lowered from 4.86 at the start of the month to 4.41. With a FIP of 3.48, there is still a lot of unrealized potential. Given his recent success, he could be turning over a new leaf, making him quite viable in mixed leagues.

Doug Fister, Seattle Mariners (11% Yahoo!, 4% ESPN, 34% CBS)
As the Mariners went on a franchise-worst 17-game losing streak, Fister was given the short end of the stick. The right-hander has not earned a win since the end of May. In his last ten starts, in which he has seven losses and three no-decisions, Fister posted a 3.42 ERA with a 4.8 K/9 and a 2.0 BB/9; even his BABIP was low at .256. Fister's value in standard roto leagues has actually been adversely affected by his team's incompetence.

Many fantasy gurus will advise you to not chase wins in fantasy baseball. The converse of that is to pay no mind to pitchers unlikely to earn wins as a result of terrible run support (Fister's run support average is 2.4 per game). If you ignore the run support, there is evidence that Fister is a solid mixed league asset, as evidenced by his 3.23 FIP, which is right in line with his 3.33 ERA. And, hey, it is worth noting he pitches half his games in a pitcher-friendly ballpark.

AL-only VP
Alex Cobb, Tampa Bay Rays (7% Yahoo!, 6% ESPN, 19% CBS)
While Cobb has not been a strikeout machine nor a maven of control in his first 42 innings in the majors, he has been inducing ground balls at an impressive clip: 56 percent. By comparison, noted ground ball pitchers Tim Hudson and Fausto Carmona are at 58 and 56 percent, respectively. While Cobb is clearly not a 2.57 ERA pitcher, FIP is complimentary, putting him at 3.36. Given the small sample size, take that with a grain of salt; still, he makes for a solid pick-up in AL-only leagues. As with any AL East pitcher, however, be mindful of the inter-division competition as the Yankees, Red Sox, and Blue Jays are three of the league's top-four offenses.

NL-only VP
John Lannan, Washington Nationals (7% Yahoo!, 7% ESPN, 23% CBS)
Here is a line that completely shocked me: in John Lannan's last 11 starts, he is 5-1 with a 2.26 ERA and has allowed three runs or fewer in all 11 outings. His ground ball-to-fly ball ratio in that span of time is 1.67, which is comparable to that of Roy Halladay (1.65). The walk and strikeout rates are not very impressive, though, and his .241 BABIP in those 11 starts screams luck.  Still, Lannan is worth a shot in NL-only leagues, considering what little is left available at this time of year anyway.

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:  Control,  Espn,  Chris Capuano,  Doug Fister

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