October 6, 2011
The Keeper Reaper
Starting Pitchers for 10/6/11
As we transition to the offseason, “Value Picks” has become “Keeper Reapers”, the full description of which you can check out in the preface to Rob McQuown’s column from Monday. The idea is that each week we’ll be looking at a few different players from each position who might be tough keeper choices in leagues of varying depth.
Obviously, you don’t need me to tell you that if you have Justin Verlander or Clayton Kershaw, you’re probably going to want to hang onto them. But what about the guys further down on the list? For the purposes of this conversation, we’ll use the auction prices currently shown at lastplayerpicked.com’s Roto Price Guide.
Morrow’s surface stats don’t look all that great–11-11, 4.72 ERA–and that’s no doubt part of why LPP has him valued so lowly: -$1. That’s far too low, because a quick look under the hood shows a pitcher who was on the edge of being elite. 2011 is the second year in a row that Morrow’s mid-4s ERA was far higher than an excellent FIP (3.16 in 2010, 3.64 this year), and only Seattle’s Michael Pineda had a higher swinging-strike percentage than Morrow did in 2011. That helped him finish second to Milwaukee’s Zack Greinke in K/9 rate, making him one of just two of the 14 pitchers who struck out 200 batters to do so in fewer than 200 innings (he actually didn’t even come close, throwing 179 1/3, making the strikeouts all the more impressive). Morrow finished the season allowing just two earned runs in his final 21 innings, and he’ll still be just 27 headed into 2012; all signs point to him exceeding his perceived value, though pitching in the AL East will always be an obstacle.
We talked about Hochevar a few times in the late-season Value Picks pieces, because after a rough four months (ERA over 5.00 at the end of July), something clicked for him, and he became a decently usable arm over August and September. The key can be found in his strikeout rates; through his first 21 starts, Hochevar struck out just 66 in 131 innings, good for a poor rate of just 4.5 per 9. Starting with his July 28 start in Boston and continuing over his final ten starts of the season, he whiffed 62 in 67 innings, nearly doubling his previous rate and not coincidentally allowing him to post a 3.49 ERA over that stretch. The key seemed to be improved velocity, which gradually increased as the season continued.
Of course, even if Hochevar can keep up his new-found success into next season, it would still make him a usable starter at best and certainly not any type of stud. That’s probably worth keeping in AL-leagues, but in all other leagues it’s a recipe for “late round draft pick”—not someone worth using a keeper spot on.
Like Hochevar, Lilly suffered through a brutal first half (5.03 ERA, 6.8 K/9, 23 homers allowed in first 22 starts) to post a solid stretch run (2.09 ERA, 8.3 K/9, 5 homers allowed in final 11 starts). Unlike Hochevar, Lilly has a long track record of success to fall back on and a likely reason for his troubles: early-season elbow soreness. All told, Lilly ended up with a typical Lilly season, putting up FIP and SIERA numbers similar to his previous two years. There’s not a ton of upside here headed into his age 36 season, but you’re buying consistency; Lilly has tossed at least 177 innings for six seasons in a row and eight of his last nine.
I’m guessing that if you gave the average fan ten guesses at who led the American League in FIP, Brandon McCarthy might get named five percent of the time (after they asked you, “What the hell is FIP, a government agency?”, of course.) But it wasn’t Verlander or CC Sabathia or Felix Hernandez; it was the 28-year-old McCarthy—who’d thrown all of 119 major-league innings over the previous three seasons while dealing with arm injuries and general ineffectiveness—who suddenly became one of the most effective pitchers in the league.
Of course, there’s a few things keeping McCarthy out of the elite tier of starters, namely his low strikeout rate (just 6.49 per nine, in the lower third of big league starters), the anemic Oakland offense that helped him get just nine wins, and the fact that his recent track record has been less than stellar. McCarthy looks like one of those pitchers who might be more valuable in real life than in fantasy. However, since he was likely undrafted and picked up off waivers in most leagues, the minimal cost it’d take to hang on to him makes him a solid keeper risk in most leagues.
I was surprised to see Minor so low in the LPP rankings, inhabiting the -$5 range with names like Josh Outman and Dana Eveland, though I suppose a 4.14 ERA in 82 2/3 innings isn’t much to look at. Shuttled up and down between the majors and AAA thanks to the deep Atlanta rotation, Minor had four different stints with the Braves, only seeing regular time in August and September. He went 4-1 with a 3.83 ERA in that time, but most notable is a very impressive 51/15 K/BB mark over those nine starts in addition to a solid job of limiting the longball (nearly half of his seven homers allowed this season came in one game, and it’s hard to bash any pitcher for letting the beastly Mike Stanton take you deep twice). In addition, Minor was victimized by a high BABIP of .354 that should come down next year, and with a likely spot in the rotation, he should be a decent sleeper pick for the back of your fantasy rotation.