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September 8, 2011

Value Picks

Starting Pitchers for 8/8/11

by Mike Petriello

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Newcomers
Luke Hochevar, Royals (Yahoo! 12%, ESPN 5%, CBS 34%)
Hochevar was featured as an AL-only Value Pick last week thanks to his surprisingly improved strikeout run of late, and perhaps that’s still where he belongs. However, after striking out eight without allowing an earned run in eight innings against Cleveland on Saturday, it’s time to look at him a little more closely. Showing improved velocity as the season has progressed, Hochevar has a very good 56/19 K/BB over his last ten starts, winning five as he pushes towards the first 200 inning season of his career. All of the various advanced pitching stats—SIERA, FIP, xFIP—have him between 0.50 and 1.00 runs below his unimpressive 4.76 ERA, suggesting that there’s more there than the casual fan might see. His next start is under favorable circumstances, coming later tonight against the hapless Mariners in Seattle.

Henderson Alvarez, Blue Jays (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 1%, CBS 23%)
The 21-year-old Alvarez began the season with Dunedin of the Florida State League, made an appearance in the Futures Game, and is ending with an impressive run in the bigs with Toronto. When he was called up in August, R.J. Anderson provided a quick scouting report:

The story with Alvarez is that he has good stuff but the results rarely match. Outside of an eight-game stretch as a teenager in the Dominican Summer League, Alvarez has never fanned more than seven batters per nine innings pitched. On the flip side, he has never struck out fewer than six batters per nine innings pitched either. His strikeout-to-walk ratios have remained solid-to-good and his home run rates have always been in check too.

Through six starts with the big club, that’s generally held true. He’s managed to get his strikeouts, though not a ton—25 in 36 2/3 innings—and he’s done a very good job of controlling walks, issuing just six free passes. Allowing five homers in that time is disconcerting, though three came in one game against Tampa, and getting hit by Evan Longoria (2) and Desmond Jennings is hardly an embarrassment. Since that start against the Rays, Alvarez has ripped off 14 consecutive scoreless innings, striking out nine with just one walk. That includes six scoreless against the high-powered Red Sox offense—no small feat for a pitcher of any age.

Brad Lincoln, Pirates (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 7%, CBS 8%)
Yes, that Brad Lincoln. The one who was the fourth overall pick in 2006 but saw his career derailed by injuries and inconsistency before finally making his relatively unsuccessful debut in 2010. Though Lincoln showed good control of the strike zone, little about his minor-league tenure has indicated he was worthy of being drafted ahead of Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum. That’s still the case, yet in four recent starts for Pittsburgh, he’s thrown six innings every time while allowing seven total earned runs. Now, don’t expect too much here, since he’s not striking out many and he’s not likely to keep that BABIP down at .250, but he’s walked more than one only once in those four starts, and with Paul Maholm and others hurting, the Pirates have incentive to let Lincoln show what he can do as he fights for a 2012 rotation spot.

Saying Goodbye
Brandon McCarthy, Athletics (Yahoo! 33%, ESPN 34%, CBS 61%)
It only took two months, but fantasy owners have finally acknowledged just how good McCarthy has been this season as his ESPN ownership levels have shot up by over 20 percent since last week. I assume this is the result of Saturday’s three-hit shutout (with ten strikeouts and zero walks) against Seattle, though he shouldn’t have needed that to tip the scales; McCarthy’s been very underrated since July.

Dontrelle Willis, Reds (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 1%, CBS 15%)
As much as I’ve enjoyed the resurgence of Dontrelle Willis into something resembling a serviceable major league starter again, it’s also hard to ignore that he’s still looking for his first win after eleven starts. Now, you know as well as I do that the 0-5 record isn’t entirely his fault since only one of those starts was truly awful, and the Reds have often waylaid him with poor run support or faulty relief efforts. Still, this is the time of the year when you need victories, and besides, Willis is again showing signs of the control demons that once haunted him, having now walked five in each of his last three starts.

Sticking Around
Mike Minor, Braves (Yahoo! 24%, ESPN 23%, CBS 53%)
Minor didn’t start for nearly two weeks as the weather played havoc with the Atlanta schedule, but when he did, it was more of the same quality work, allowing just one run over six innings against the Dodgers while striking out seven. In the five starts since he returned to the bigs in August, he has a 33/6 K/BB mark, holding opponents to a .723 OPS despite a BABIP that is unsustainably high at .385. Minor is expected to remain in the rotation as the Braves work around injuries to Tommy Hanson and JairJurrjens and shouldn’t need to be shut down early as is always the concern with young pitchers. He’s a clear own in NL-only leagues and is a decent mixed-league play as well.

Randy Wells, Cubs (Yahoo! 19%, ESPN 18%, CBS 28%)
The big concern after Wells’s masterful two-hit shutout of the Giants on August 29 was if he’d be able to follow it up, and he did just that, allowing the Pirates only one run over six innings on Sunday. Though he struck out just two, allowing just two earned runs over three starts is a great way to get attention, and ownership rates are slowly rising accordingly.

James McDonald, Pirates (Yahoo! 12%, ESPN 9%, CBS 46%)
McDonald is rarely spectacular, yet always consistent. For the 18th time in his last 20 starts, he allowed three earned runs or fewer when he disposed of the Astros for his ninth win of the year on Labor Day. He’ll get the Marlins in Pittsburgh on Saturday, which is good news because McDonald has a somewhat sizable home/road split, holding opponents to an OPS nearly .175 points lower in PNC Park. That makes him a very safe bet for the weekend, though do keep an eye on his usage after that; if the Pirates can get enough healthy starters together at one time, he may be shut down early since this has been his first full season as a big-league starter.

Homer Bailey, Reds (Yahoo! 14 %, ESPN 6%, CBS 43%)
After striking out 15 without a walk over his last two starts, Bailey went out and made us all look good by getting knocked out after just three innings against the Cardinals on September 3. That’s not enough to get him booted off the list, though it does make his next start on Friday in Colorado even more important.

AL-only VP
Zach Stewart, White Sox (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 7%)
Hey, if you can take a perfect game into the 8th inning of your tenth career start and end up with a one-hit shutout, that’s enough to get you some notice on this list. It doesn’t mean you’re instantly a must-add, but it’s enough to at least discuss. Stewart is only 24, yet has already been traded twice, first from Cincinnati to Toronto in the Scott Rolen deal of 2009, then to Chicago in the first part of what became the Colby Rasmus mess earlier this year. Stewart had been mainly a reliever before becoming a full-time starter this year; he profiles better out of the bullpen—who doesn’t, really—and had started just one game above Double-A before being summoned by Toronto in June. Once he got to the White Sox, Stewart provided two decent starts (three earned runs in 12 2/3 innings) followed by two atrocious ones (13 earned runs in 10 2/3 innings) before his Labor Day gem. That alone is enough to get him a few more looks, and while he’s certainly not going to provide that kind of result again, the fact that his K/BB is slightly north of three as a member of the White Sox is encouraging.

NL-only VP
Henry Sosa, Astros (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 2%, CBS 8%)

Several years ago, Sosa was one of the top pitching prospects in the San Francisco organization, but several injury-plagued seasons in addition to the kind of control issues that are common for flamethrowers have set him back to the point where he was merely worth Jeff Keppinger in a July trade. The Giants had largely given up on him as a starter, though he moved back into the rotation upon being dealt to Houston; after some tough initial outings, he’s produced three quality starts in a row. To say Sosa is a raw talent is something of an understatement, yet on a team as sorry as the Astros that’s exactly the type of arms they should be looking for.

Mike Petriello is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mike's other articles. You can contact Mike by clicking here

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