November 10, 2011
Resident Fantasy Genius
Fantasy Rumor Mill for 11/10/11
The Indians needed a back-end starter to round out their rotation. Rather than waiting for the price tags for a Bruce Chen or Aaron Harang or Jason Marquis to develop, they pounced on the opportunity to trade for a single season out of Braves veteran Derek Lowe for the sum of $5 million and a low-level Minor Leaguer.
I’m not surprised to see the Braves deal Lowe given their glut of young pitching talent (a problem I’m sure any number of teams wish they had), but they did so very quickly and got little in return aside from salary relief. Of course, Lowe’s value wasn’t very high, so it seems unlikely they ever would have gotten much more without paying some of his salary (especially after announcing that he probably wouldn’t be in the rotation in 2012 anyway). Still, I think Lowe is better than most give him credit for. Check out his ERA/FIP trends over the past four seasons:
Despite having the second-worst surface year of his career in 2011, Lowe actually posted his lowest FIP of the three-year period (though if we account for run environment, he was a hair above league average each year). His BABIP was a little high (.327) and he struggled with men on base (65.9 percent Left On Base Percentage), but both of those should largely correct themselves in 2012. His walk rate was the highest it has been since 2004 (again, the second-worst of his career), and that will play a big part in determining his success in 2012. However, Lowe’s ability to bounce back is no slam dunk, since he found the strike zone just 37 percent of the time this year compared to a 48 percent career average.
We also need to take into consideration the change in league and park. First, park:
Not a big change, but Jacobs Field will be slightly more favorable, especially in the home-run department. But that’s not going to be nearly enough to stave off the effects of the league change. In moving from the NL to the AL, the average pitcher gains a half-point on his ERA and loses a half-point of K/9.
In the deal, the Indians acquire a back-end starter and yet another ground-baller in the deal to go with Fausto Carmona and Justin Masterson (plus Ubaldo Jimenez, though he offers quite a bit more than grounders), but it severely diminishes the value of the trio of pitchers who were previously set to compete for the fifth starter’s job: David Huff, Jeanmar Gomez, and Zach McAllister. None were more than AL-only league picks anyway, but now they’ll have to await an injury to have any chance of drawing a big-league start.
In Atlanta, moving Lowe creates an opening in the rotation that will see Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, and possibly Arodys Vizcaino duking it out. Minor is the heavy favorite, but it’s not out of the question that the team deals another starter (possibly Jair Jurrjens) to create yet another rotational opening.
The Royals traded outfielder Melky Cabrera to the San Francisco Giants for left-hander Jonathan Sanchez on Monday… With a young lineup and plenty of talent still in the minor league system, Royals general manager Dayton Moore was willing to part with Cabrera to fill his biggest need: starting pitching.
I’m not so sure about that “young” part—Sanchez turns 29 in a couple of days—but he’s certainly a capable mid-rotation pitcher with upside if he can ever harness his control. Like Lowe, however, he’ll be making the dreaded transition from the National League to the American League, and with a worse-than-average FIP over the past three seasons and four of the last five, that could be trouble. Also like Lowe, his new park isn’t going to do much to help:
Despite entering the best park in the majors for deflating home runs, Sanchez is coming from the third-best park in this regard and therefore won’t see much of the benefit. He will, however, see a serious chunk come out of his biggest asset: his strikeout rate.
Sanchez’s lone value gain will come from an increase in run support, but that’s not going to be enough to save his mixed league value. He’ll have solid value in AL-only, but he might be too expensive because of those still waiting on a real breakout and hoping that a change of scenery will be the needed catalyst.
Barry Zito has been announced as the Giants’ fifth starter in the wake of the Sanchez deal, but he’ll be a tough guy to select on draft day, even in NL-only leagues.
Thome and the Phillies agreed to a one-year, $1.25 million contract on Friday that was made official Saturday after he passed a team physical.
I’ve talked about Thome before, stating my belief that he’s still a more than capable full-time designated hitter, but if there’s one thing we can say for certain about his role in 2012, it’s that he will not be a designated hitter. Signing with a National League team like the Phillies will limit Thome to pitch-hitting duties and, reportedly, roughly one start per week at first base. It seems likely that, at his advanced age, he’s in it for a ring now, and he took a bench job for his best chance at getting one. That absolutely destroys his fantasy value in all but the deepest of NL-only leagues, though, and there’s really no hope of recouping it.
If we’re looking forward, for those in keeper leagues, things could get interesting should Thome decide to play in 2013. He’d likely have first-base eligibility then and, if he returns to the AL, could make for a very sneaky play. Of course, retirement seems more likely, but it’s something to think about.