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October 13, 2011

The Keeper Reaper

Starting Pitchers for 10/13/11

by Mike Petriello

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Thanks to the positive response in the comments last week, this is an all-request edition of Keeper Reapers, and I actually couldn’t even get to everyone that was brought up. I’ll save those for next week, and feel free to toss out some more names.

Scott Baker | Minnesota Twins
Shallow:
NO
Medium:  
NO
Deep:
 BORDERLINE
AL-only:
YES
Super Deep:
 YES

For years, Baker seemed like the prototypical Twins starter in that he didn’t miss a whole lot of bats but got by with excellent control and relatively minimal longball damage. Recently, that has begun to change for Baker, who increased his K/9 rates from the fives and sixes in his first three years to the sevens the next three years and finally up to 8.3 per in 2011, all while keeping the walks down. That helped him collect a 3.14 ERA and 3.45 FIP this year.

So why are we not talking up Baker as a must-own in all leagues? Well, that’d be because he visited the disabled list twice (missing a combined 58 days), both with soreness in the right elbow he had surgery on after 2010. That’s the fourth time in the last two seasons he’s missed time with right arm trouble, though his September 2010 stint didn’t end up with a trip to the DL since rosters had expanded. Baker didn’t make a start after August 8, returning for two short cameo relief appearances near the end of September.

If he’s healthy—and he’s expected to be for the spring—his consistent performance and relative lack of name value make him a solid pick in later rounds. But unless you have keeper spots to spare, his injury history does make him difficult to count on in smaller leagues.

Jaime Garcia | St. Louis Cardinals
Shallow: BORDERLINE
Medium:
YES
Deep:
YES
NL-only:
YES
Super Deep:
YES

Garcia might end up being undervalued this winter simply because the casual fan might look at his ERA shooting up from 2.70 to 3.56 and wonder what was wrong with him—plus he had a shaky performance in Game 1 of the NLCS. But ERA, like wins, can be very misleading, because if anything, Garcia was even better in 2011. His strikeout rate stayed the same, but he walked more than a man fewer per game, leading to a K/BB increase from 2.06 to 3.12. He also extended that performance by over 30 innings from the previous year, making him one of the more valuable pitchers in the league. Despite the ERA leap—much of which can be chalked up to one disaster start in Colorado, where he allowed 11 runs in 3 1/3 innings—his quality peripherals helped his FIP decrease from 2010, his supposedly “superior” year.

It’s here where I almost wish we had a breakdown between daily and weekly leagues, however, because Garcia is much more valuable in the former. For the second consecutive year, Garcia had a large home/road split, with his performance in Busch Stadium (career 2.37 ERA, 608 OPS) far besting his numbers on the road (4.28 ERA, 762 OPS). Keep that in mind when trying to spot start him in 2012.

Colby Lewis | Texas Rangers
Shallow:
NO
Medium:
NO
Deep:
NO
AL-only:
BORDERLINE
Super Deep:
YES

200+ innings and 14 wins certainly carry value in the fantasy world, but Lewis wasn’t quite able to match the 2010 performance that made him such a nice story after several years in Japan. As he lost a bit of velocity on his fastball—now averaging 89 MPH—his swinging strike percentage dropped from 9.5 percent to 8.2 percent. That’s why, even though he pitched nearly the exact same amount of innings as he did in 2010, he struck out nearly 30 fewer hitters. That, combined with a troubling home run rate, made him a mediocre prospect in fantasy leagues. If anything, it was his ability to limit the longball in 2010 that seems like a fluke, because his 1.57 HR/9 rate this year isn’t all that far off his career mark of 1.34. This is not to say that Lewis shouldn’t be owned, however, because he’s durable and is on one of the best teams in baseball (though don’t expect him to benefit from 8.22 runs per gameof offensive support again). There’s just better ways to spend a keeper spot.

Ian Kennedy | Arizona Diamondbacks
Shallow: YES
Medium:
YES
Deep:
YES
NL-only:
YES
Super Deep:
YES

As a Dodger fanand Clayton Kershaw fan-boy, I spent a good amount of time this season looking down on those who tried to put Kennedy as a serious contender in the NL Cy Young race along with Kershaw, Cliff Lee, and Roy Halladay based solely on wins. I will still argue that Kennedy is not in the same class as those three superstars, but I’ll admit that in my zest to devalue pitcher wins, I may have gone too far in attempting to minimize Kennedy, because his great season was not a fluke. Kennedy made every improvement that you’d want to see from a young pitcher, striking out more, walking fewer, and keeping the ball in the park—an accomplishment considering where he calls home. He wasn’t even aided by a particularly absurd BABIP—his .270 mark essentially matches his career .269—or a park-aided Arizona offense—he ranked 36th in run support, and it’s not like coming in just ahead of Kennedy did Mike Pelfrey any favors.  Kennedy was simply outstanding this year, and at 27 years old in 2012, there’s no reason to think he’ll be anything but that again. Just don’t buy him expecting a guaranteed 22 wins, though.

Gio Gonzalez | Oakland Athletics
Shallow:NO
Medium:
BORDERLINE
Deep:
YES
AL-only:
YES
Super Deep:
YES

Though Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill got most of the attention from prospect hounds in Oakland and Brandon McCarthy turned heads with a breakout season, it was Gonzalez who led the A’s in wins, strikeouts, and ERA. Those are very surface-level stats, of course—his FIP was nearly a full run above McCarthy’s, despite besting him in ERA—but on the whole, it was a quality second full season for the 26-year-old, who has already been traded three times in his career. If there’s a continuing concern with Gonzalez, it’s with his control, and while it’s trending in the right direction, BB/9 rates of 5.11, 4.13, and 4.06 the last three years are hardly elite. That’s usually the kind of issue that can only be balanced by quality strikeout numbers, and Gonzalez did manage to finish 9th in the AL in whiffs, ahead of Dan Haren and Jon Lester. Still, until he can prove that he’ll be able to keep harnessing his control, he’ll be in the second tier of starting pitchers—which, admittedly, is still quite valuable.

Brett Anderson | Oakland Athletics
Shallow: NO
Medium:
NO
Deep:
NO
AL-only:
NO
Super Deep:
NO

Well, here’s a relatively easy one. Anderson had Tommy John surgery in July and is likely to miss most or all of 2012. It’s a tough blow for Oakland fans and fantasy owners alike, as Anderson was turning into one of the better young lefties in the league. That said, he’s not a Strasburg-level talent that requires holding on to him at all costs. Let someone else play down a roster spot all year.

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

Related Content:  Brett Anderson

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